Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Time I Definitely Did Not Get Picked Up in the Checkout Line

Last night I had a strange sort of experience that first made me feel embarrassed, then kind of sad, then grateful. This is how it went.

I zipped out to the store by myself after dinner, before bedtime, just for a few things I hadn't gotten earlier in the week--a few bags of frozen fruit, some canned goods, pickles, cabbage, flour... Basically I mostly got the preserved food that I'm too lazy to have put up for myself last summer. (Is it laziness? Or is it gluttony? Because I don't recall ever having any abundance of food that needed preserving.) It wasn't supposed to be a lot of food, but for a family of six, pretty much any grocery trip ends with a lot of food. Anyway, there was only one checkout open, and I was in a hurry to get home and put the girls to bed, so I just zipped right into line. There was a man who fell into line behind me and we were standing there (it was a long line) for probably a full minute or more, when I heard him say, "You just barely beat me." I turned around and saw he was a man probably about my age, blonde hair, blue eyes, smiling at me, ...pretty smarmy seeming (and absolutely not a man who could harvest and cook me a delicious dinner with nothing but sticks and skill, unlike the hunk I married.) I responded with a delicate, "Huh??" He repeated himself, and I could plainly see his expression change from cool to regretful. It only got worse as I started apologizing and gesticulating and speaking in a volume that would never be considered an "inside voice." He only had a couple of pillows in his cart, and I begged him to please go ahead of me since he had so little and I had OMG SO MUCH FOOD, and his expression just slid further and further into outright disgust and he said, "It's ok, I'm good." I turned around and prayed for the line to move along so I could get the heck out of there.

Then another cashier came up and offered me to come to her freshly opened lane. Of course, I turned around and begged Mr. Pillows to go over there, but with the same flat expression he said, "ladies first," and I hauled my cart over to the next checkout. Which, of course, was the wrong checkout. The cashier waved from one over and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm over heeeere!" So I bumped and heaved my cart out of the wrong checkout and into the right checkout, and the cashier started asking me polite questions that she really didn't want actual answers to, but of course, I answered her cheerfully in my non-inside voice, apologized some more, waved my arms, was embarrassingly over-friendly... sigh. All the usual.

Then I left. And I walked out wondering why I can't control my volume, why I can't be one of those quiet people, one of those slick, beautiful women with a soft, sultry voice and lovely smile? I don't have any desire to be picked up by creepy men in the grocery store checkout line, but neither do I desire to turn around and witness firsthand how they feel they've made a mistake, when they see that I'm not the lovely lady they were expecting, that I'm just a weird, loud, frumpy old hag with wrinkles and acne and way too many apologies. Nobody likes rejection, even if it's rejection from something in which they are totally and utterly uninterested. Rejection always stings a little.

Back at my Mom Van with the flowers painted on the sides, I loaded my groceries in the trunk, reviewing what I'd bought--canned tomatoes, pickles and cabbage for sour cabbage soup; frozen peaches for peaches and cream for the girls and their friend Helen after ballet on Wednesday; a bottle of Mrs. Meyers spray because the bottle I'd been reusing with vinegar for awhile broke and Fresh Thyme was out of their glass spray bottles; flour because I've got a whole lot of bread to bake this week. As I drove home I thought about all those things I'd bought and about the way I choose to live. It's a simple, homemade way of life that I really love. My idiosyncrasies that are over the top and embarrassing are just who I am and I shouldn't want to be quieter only because other people are quieter. If I have a desire to change who I am, it should be because I'm always feeling on the edge of getting kicked out of libraries and churches for being too loud and animated, not just because I want to be more like other people. And so what if nobody likes me, right? I've got Martin and my daughters for now, and if they someday decide to move on and away from me and never look back, I love cats and I could happily fill my whole house with cats, who cannot comment on my habits and traits. They might look at me with disgust, but they are cats!

Today I've been baking my bread and making my cabbage soup and thinking about beautiful women. Perfect, barbie doll women, with ideal traits, habits, and features that are found so attractive by so many. Mousy, sweet women who are so nice that people envy them for their kindness and compassion. Bold, successful women who know what they want out of life and go for it, and even if they don't succeed right away, they keep at it. Gentle, motherly women, who are raising up a future generation to make the world a better place. Loud, alpha-females who take every situation by storm. Women who are stepping out of their comfort zones and treading a new path in life, moving forward with as much confidence as they can muster. Empty nesters who are past the chaos and endless work of children and are watching their children go off without them. Old World grandmothers in their kitchens making bread and cabbage soup--women who would definitely not be picked up by men in the grocery store checkout line, but who are so, so very beautiful.

So I guess I should really thank Mr. Pillows if I ever see him again, for embarrassing me into seeing things more clearly, and recognizing that every "mother's apron" covered in a floral dress, every forehead wrinkle, every dark circle, every silver thread of hair, every coffee stain on the blouse of someone who uses her arms too much when she talks--- these little bits of life are really what make the women of this world so exceptionally attractive.


Wintertime Sour Cabbage Soup

One large sweet onion
1 Tbsp (or more) garlic 
As much butter as you love 
1 head cabbage 
1 can diced tomatoes
1 box or handful mushrooms 
half water, half chicken broth 
1/2 of the pickle juice from a jar of pickles

In a large soup pot, melt butter. Cut up onion and sauté with garlic until transparent. Core and cut up cabbage, add to pot. Drain can of tomatoes and add.

Cover ingredients with water, then add that same amount of chicken broth.

Slice or dice mushrooms, add to pot. Give many good shakes of dried oregano, dill, as well as salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the pickle juice.

Let boil/simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Serve hot and enjoy!

Monday, January 21, 2019

Just In Case You Aren't Like Marie Kondo

I confess I've never watched the new TV show about Marie Kondo, but I have read her book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," and I absolutely LOVED IT. It really made sense to me, and I felt like it was going to change my garbage-ridden life. The way she thought carefully about every item in her home and if it no longer served a purpose, she had a method for sending it on it's way--that really spoke to me. The way it wasn't about PURGE! PURGE! PURGE! But more about living only among things you love was right up my alley. And the fold-up style of placing clothes in a drawer legitimately changed my laundry life for the better. It sounds so RIGHT to only keep the things that really bring joy into your life, and to mindfully let go of the rest. I love it. Her method is not without sentimentality, but it's so practical at the same time--I just really, really liked what she had to say. 

And yet... My house: 

Also my house: 

One view of my kitchen: 
Aaaaaand another: 

(Two walls shelves to the right of the frame in that last picture are LOADED with mugs, bowls, kitchen towels, plants, knickknacks, and children's art!) 

So, I suppose while Marie Kondo's words resonated with me, they didn't quite leave such a lasting impression when it comes to my housekeeping. 

It's been a few years since her book came out, and I have to share a relevant story about it because it kind of encompasses who I am, as it relates to the KonMari method of keeping house. 

Not too long after the book was taking the nation by storm, a friend asked if she could borrow my copy. I enthusiastically told her I'd love to lend it to her, because it REALLY changed my life and I enjoyed it so much. I said there were some things that seemed a little over-the-top, but the general intentionality that defined her method was really something I aspired to. So, I went home and looked for the book. And I looked for the book. And I looked everywhere for that blasted book and could not for the life of me remember where I'd put it. I had to email my friend and tell her nevermind--I couldn't find it. Maybe I lent it to someone else without remembering? So sorry. 

It was a couple weeks later that my husband pulled a novel off one of our bookshelves for himself to read, and out tumbled "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo! It seems it had succumbed to the overloaded nature of our bookshelves and had fallen back BEHIND a row of books! Heh heh.. Oops! And thus, my life as it relates to the KonMari method was well illustrated. 

Also of note: I just now was looking for the book for reference, and doggone, it's lost AGAIN!! 

So, you might be wondering, "Gee, Annie, if you were sooooooo inspired by Marie Kondo's art of tidying up, why the heck do you continue to live in such squalor? Why not just implement her method and clean up your house?!" If you ask that, you'd be asking the same question I've asked myself many times over the years, but one that I've just recently come to accept. 

And the way I accepted it is this: I still DO try to live only with what "sparks joy." The tricky thing is, I find joy very easily and in a lot of places.  I can be a very sentimental person, so I tend to hold onto stories that come along with "stuff," but also I just really think a lot of things in my life are very beautiful and I love them. I'm not an official collector of anything, but I LOVE handmade pottery, so I have quite a collection and I don't want to get rid of any of them because they DO spark joy in my life, and I love serving warm drinks to my friends in them. My large amount of houseplants bring me SO MUCH JOY, while also cleaning my air! Our books? Every year we say it's time to get rid of some books, so we skim the shelves for ones that aren't necessary to keep. If we're lucky we find one to give away, but most of the time we just stand there with hearts in our eyes, feeling pleased and proud of our library that we've grown over the years. And the mess of other things like craft supplies was something I've struggled with... The yarn stash alone threatens to strangle me in the night. But if I look at it with a "does it spark joy" question upon my lips, I say, "YES IT DOES!" and I hug all my happy little skeins and make plans anew for all the gorgeous sweaters I will never actually get around to knitting.

Since the airing of the television show and the revival of Marie Kondo's fame, I've again been faced with the idea that my house is a little cluttery and maybe it's time I do something about it. When I read her book those years ago, I definitely felt the push. And I think I did clear out a good deal, and I maintain that her words impacted me and the way I live among my hoards of things. I do not believe, however, that we have to be minimalists in order to live in a joyfully stocked home. I don't agree with putting a number on possessions. It took me a long time to love my house and my way of decorating because it's quite cluttery... and in the age of minimalism I often feel guilty about the amount of clay mugs and plants I have. But over the last few years, as we've moved a number of times, and been forced to embrace pretty extreme minimalism for different periods, I've just come to realize more and more how much the things I have DO spark joy in my life. I'm not a shopper by nature, which means that most of my possessions have come to me through other people. Many were gifts, some were inherited, and a few we buy with intention. If I love something disposable, I make it not disposable--for example, a plastic dish soap dispenser that I bought years ago from TJ Maxx... I really don't think it's meant to be used for years--it's just thin plastic! But I can't let it go! So I keep refilling it, and it keeps making the mundane task of dishwashing prettier. We also don't have a lot of storage in this house so almost everything we have has to be stored in plain sight. This means I hang kitchen tools (colander, dustpan--I absolutely ADORE my dustpan-- hot pads, etc.) on the walls to double as art and bring me even more joy. Instead of living in a tidy, empty-ish house, I live in a crowded, overstocked house, but everything has a place and everything is a treasured item. 

It might be true that my style of decorating is not very in-style right now. It is most definitely true that I'll never be a minimalist and that it's taken me a long time to realize that, but it's also true that I'm a happier person for having realized it and for embracing who I am and the fact that I don't live with a bunch of junk, but a large amount of treasured belongings. I think that's the key difference. 

In case you are like me, and feeling a little bit like the KonMari craze is not for you, I'm here to tell you that you're not alone. But also that the main thing that matters in her message is the joy. Isn't that what matters most in a lot of avenues of life? Joy! Purge your household items as it brings you joy, and embrace your clutter in the same manner if that's right for you. It's not about the stuff, it's about surrounding yourself with LOVE, BEAUTY, and JOY. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

I'm Just Sitting Here

A few Sundays ago, we went to church, just like we do every Sunday and have done every Sunday since foreverago. The morning was the usual flurry of six people sharing a bathroom, four heads of long hair to fix, four pairs of tights to be found, breakfasts, dressing, shoes, coats, all done on a short deadline.

But it happened; we all got ready: boots, coats, in the car, and on our way. We arrived on time. We found a pew near the back (habit) and sat down quietly. Anja and Greta have their own little missals that they follow along with for prayers, and Elka looks off of them and reads along. Ingrid occupies herself, or sits quietly, participating in the stand-sit-kneel parts, but not yet knowing the prayers. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was respectful. Everyone was attentive. Everyone was so.... old.

All around us were families, some with big kids, some with teens, and many with babies and toddlers.  There were all the variety of parents too, the nervous shhh-ers, the hopeful bouncers, the patient huggers. There were the up-and-down-the-aisles-to-the-bathrooms, there were the exiting-in-the-midst-of-a-tantrums, there was the inevitable runaway, and the one who seemed set on pulling the baptismal font over on herself. There were the mothers with multiple small children who were pulled in all directions. There were the fathers pacing in the back. There were the tiny little voices echoing loudly off the walls.

And then there was me.

Just sitting there. In a pew. With my four silent children. My four big, not-babyish, fully potty-trained, no-longer-napping, communicative, DID I MENTION BIG, children.

And on the inside (not the outside--I'm pretty good at stifling my feelings, which is actually probably considered an "issue," but it's a good issue to have in public when your heart is being torn out of your body and thrown into the baptismal font to look up at the tiny face peering over the edge, who is so much younger than any of your children are, reminding you of what you don't have.) I was breaking.

Now, I know I'm exaggerating a little bit--after all, Ingrid is only 4 (and eight months) and it's not a guarantee that there will NEVER be another baby in my family, even though as time creeps forward it is looking more and more likely that there won't. And my kids really are still little, and I recognize that. But even still, the stark realization is there: that there will come a Last Baby. Eventually one of these times you really do birth your youngest, who will remain your youngest for the rest of your life, and there will be no more "I'm a Big Sister!" shirts. There will be no more diapers, no more sleep regressions, no more potty training sticker charts, no more frustrations over toys all over the house, or running out of wipes at an inopportune time. There will be no more 4:00pm naps that make you want to gouge your eyeballs out, no more tantrums over bunny ears vs. loop and swoop, no more tears over cutting a sandwich the wrong direction, no more uncontrollable, joyous laughter just because you hid your face behind a blanket and then pulled it off and said "peekaboo!" There will be no more monitors, diaper genies, tinkly-song playing toys, disappearing pacifiers. No more wooden alphabet blocks. No more teeny tiny loads of laundry full of teeny tiny clothes and unbelievably tiny socks. No more bargaining for "one last bedtime story."

Okay, I'm done.

As I sat in the pew, without a baby to fuss over, without a toddler to placate, watching the other parents wrangle their own bundles of joy/energy, I thought back to how HARD it was when I was in those days. When all I wanted was for my girls to sit quietly for just ONE HOUR, and why the heck couldn't they do that? When someone always had to go to the bathroom, or was fighting, or was just being plain naughty and had to be taken to the back. Or when the baby was tired and couldn't nap with all that stimulation, or when the baby was hungry but I was too shy to nurse in church. There were so many things that made going to church--or anyplace quiet--difficult. With Ingrid I often had to take her out because she would break into song, and I didn't really want to shush her, so we would just go to the back, or outside and walk around and sing till she was done. Now she saves her songs for outside church, because she isn't 2. With Elka she would throw massive screaming rage fits and I'd have to sit in the van with her for most of the Mass. She still has those rage fits, but not nearly as often. Greta was just a wiggle worm with a super loud voice, and Anja just always sat quietly in church, because she is actually a church mouse, not a human, and Sitting Quietly is what Anja does best, no matter where she is.

Having tiny kids is a STRUGGLE. But it's a struggle that one day will be gone, almost without warning. Even though you KNOW they will grow up, it still sneaks up on you, because the hours just pass by, and you move seamlessly from diapers to little potties, to practicing your letters, to "don't forget to flush and wash your hands," to helping bake bread, to walking to the library alone, to "can you help me with my multiplication?"

And then we all know it gets worse after that, but multiplication is as far as I am right now, and I am VERY HAPPY HERE THANK YOU, I DO NOT NEED TO THINK ABOUT DATING AND DRIVING AND COLLEGE AND MARRIAGE AND LET'S JUST STOP RIGHT HERE.

If I have a point, it's this: Parents with tiny children--I love seeing your wiggle worms. I envy you, wrestling down your two year old in the pew, removing pages of the songbook from your baby's mouth, pacing your sleepy little one in the back, while you're trying to concentrate, but are legitimately distracted by important work. The bulky bucket seats, the burp cloths, the diaper bags, the toys on the floor... it's all such a fleeting gift.

Someday I'll look back on this picture of my own family and think, "Look how TINY they were! They were BABIES!!" They aren't really babies, but there will come a time when I look back at sister fights and scattered craft projects, and baking days that trash the kitchen, lost dolls, and still wanting me to snuggle them to sleep even though I have Christmas presents to sneakily work on, ALL those braids to make every Sunday, and even--EVEN--the multiplication tables, and I will wish so desperately for this time back, because this phase of young kids is a fleeting gift too. So different from the baby stage, but so special. And there are, undoubtedly, mothers older than myself in the pews around me, thinking back on all the french braids they made, and the little dresses in the closet, and the keeping track of ballet rehearsal times, and the baking they did together, and they envy me for what I have right now.

It's all just such a fleeting gift.

Postscript: One week later at church, Elka had to be removed because she was screaming that I wasn't holding her, and that I liked Ingrid better than I liked her, then Ingrid was whining "WHEN WILL CHURCH BE DOOOOOONNNNEEE" at the top of her "whisper voice," (not a whisper) and then tonight when I came out from putting them to bed I found somebody else's booger on my ear, so I guess I'm not really in the clear as much as I thought I was, but my sentiments about this topic are still very real. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sing Tradition!

Exciting news! I've re-ignited my Patreon page ( and am filling it up with videos of traditional and old folk songs. Each episode gives a brief (very brief) background of the song, then I sing it. It's very short, I think most of them are about five minutes long, and there isn't a lot of fanfare involved. Hopefully as I get it rolling I'll get some kind of credits, and work out my awkwardness to be more comfortable talking about the songs. Also, I'm hoping to have some videos of the kids singing along, but I've got to learn splicing techniques first. Technology and I have kind of a rocky relationship, so this area of my life is a little tricky right now. In fact, our relationship status would be labeled as, "It's Complicated." But, I'm doing my best! 

It's making me so happy to be doing these videos. I've been wanting to do something like this for a very long time, but was having a difficult time thinking up ways to actually make it happen. I love sharing folk songs, I love being able to sing folk songs with other people. I worry that traditional music is being altogether lost, and I really feel an obligation to do something to try and keep these songs from fading away. On top of that, my ability to play shows is only getting lower as my girls get older, which is something I hadn't anticipated. Being gone at night (when most music gigs take place) is fine and a lot of fun every so often, but it's not something I can devote a ton of time to. These videos are a perfect fit for my life right now--I can sneak them in during the day when the girls are otherwise occupied, guilt-free. 

Not just guilt-free, though. This little project is filling a space that has been empty for a long time. When I first had kids it was hard for me to be so far away from my music. As the years went by it seemed like I would never have a chance to get back to it. Even making The Bathroom Project CD was a lot more difficult than I had expected, taking up a lot of family time, costing more than I'd anticipated, and carrying a lot more frustrations than I would have liked. When I finished that disc, I was so happy to just be done with it. And don't get me wrong, I LOVE playing music with my kids. I love singing with them, I love our dance parties, I love writing songs together. But I wanted to do something just one step up. I didn't want to ditch them to go play the bars every weekend, but I felt like I needed a little corner of my life to be getting my music OUT. And this is it! Even if nobody likes these videos, I feel happy to be getting these songs out into the world. 

A little bit about Patreon: The videos I'm making are posted publicly there, for all to see. If you sign up to become a patron, you will be supporting me directly as a musician. There is NO NEED for you to do that in order to see the Sing Tradition! episodes, however, there will be other kinds of posts (outtakes, possibly goofy singalongs with the family, non-video posts related to the project or other projects) that will be on the Patrons-Only feed. 

I think Patreon is an excellent platform for artists. I feel like it's a touch of the old world in the modern age: humans supporting humans directly because they believe in them as artists. I spent some time today browsing other artists on there and it's really neat to see the variety of people and art that is represented there, and the levels at which these artists are being supported. I'd encourage you, if there is an independent artist that you really admire and want to see succeed, to look them up on Patreon and support them if they have a page. 

The videos that are posted on Patreon are also on my YouTube channel. If you go to YouTube and search "annie hatke" you will find them. Either way, I hope you enjoy them! 

Also, Martin loves his new job! Yay!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

That Thing I Said About Everyone Being A Good Person

This week my husband finished working at a job he really, really loved. It's the only time he has ever been sad to leave a job, and he was very sad. He was working in mental health as a case worker and for the past year and a half and we tried to make it work, financially, because the good he was doing was worth our own struggle, but it came to the point where keeping his job was beginning to cost us money, and at that point it was time to let it go. He'll be working in town now, which is great, and doing similar work to what he was doing before, which is also great, but still, the move was not emotionally seamless.

While we were discussing this shift in jobs, I told him how I felt his two years there had really made him a better person. He had this same job ten years ago when we were newlyweds, and since then he's had different jobs and four children, and has worked with a large range of people, but something about this most recent time in this job really brought out the best in him. And I was thinking about that and I was thinking about the Transcendentalist movement (which I've been spending an awful lot of time thinking about lately, by the way) and I thought, "You know, I think all humans are really excellent people at their core. Some just need more chipping away than others to find that bright center."

Now, you might read that and think that my husband was a big jerk-face before this job, and that would NOT be true. He was a fine, nice person. But this job chipped away a little more of his roughness and really brought out the inner shine. And it made me consider that maybe we are all super shiny on the inside, if we could find something that could chip away our outer layers to let more of the shine spill out.

This has been on my mind for a few weeks as we go through this job transition, and then tonight the girls were reading bedtime stories and Greta read the Russian story of "The Snow Girl." In case you are unfamiliar, this story is the same tired tale of the two old people who love each other so very much and their only sadness is that they have no children, so then they somehow come to have a child that isn't quite.... well.... normal. Thumbelina. Tom Thumb. The Gingerbread Boy. Pinocchio (did he have a mother, or just Giupetto?) Anyway, in this case, the parents have this daughter made of snow, and they are so happy but they wish she could come inside and sit by the fire and eat the hot cabbage soup instead of her crushed ice in a wooden bowl that the mother fixes her for every meal. And the old lady cries a lot. And she's also not a very good listener, so even though the daughter tells her that she has to continue sleeping outside in the snow and keeping her distance from hot cabbage soup, the mother just can't take that, and on Christmas Eve brings her in (I'm sorry if I'm giving away this story, but let me assure you, it's an easy one to guess as you're reading it) and the girl melts away. (Duh.) But then, surprise! the snow girl has been turned into a REAL GIRL in the night and everyone is happy and the old lady cries some more.

Anyhow, the point of the story is that all the old man and woman wanted in the WHOLE WORLD was to be able to TAKE CARE OF SOMETHING. They didn't want a child as a status symbol, they didn't want a child so they could order her around. They didn't want a child just because they were tired of chopping wood and making cabbage soup every day and wanted someone else to do it for them. They wanted a child so they would have something to take care of, and their only unhappiness with the child made of snow was that they felt they weren't taking good enough care of her. And this comes back to the shiny goodness that is inside all of us.

I guess I believe that there are horrid people in the world. I do. But FOR THE MOST PART, I really think we all have an inner desire to love and care for something. Not necessarily for everyone (although, if you're looking for the recipe for world peace...)  just something. And I think this is why people have office plants, and this is why people have pets that they absolutely adore, this is why people fill up their houses with tumbling rugrats. It's easy to look at someone and think, "Okay, wow, she reeeeeaaaallly loves her house plants, what is up with that?" It's because THOSE PLANTS NEED HER. We are all searching for something whose survival depends on us. Cats, dogs, plants, children. And it isn't because we're narcissists who want to be worshipped, it's because we all have that shiny inside that's filled with love and we want to let it out in the form of caring for another creature. And those creatures, and other people and experiences that require some sacrifice and love, inevitably chip away at our hard outer shell and let a little more of our Goodness Rays out.

Doesn't that make happiness seem so attainable?!?!?

So there you go. The Secret of Life is love and shiny insides. Let's let our light spill out! Chip, chip!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Type B, Unambitious

This week as homeschoolers we learned about Julius Caesar. My favorite part about homeschooling--and my most successful method--has been the re-learning of history alongside my kids. I expect I learned about all of this when I was in school, but I likely wasn't paying attention, so a lot of it feels new and exciting to me! Instead of just rambling off tired facts, I get really excited: "You guys, he only had his pen to defend himself, and HIS FRIENDS JUST KEPT STABBING HIM TO DEATH! AAAHHH!!" While this might be a bit juvenile of me, it seems to make a bigger imprint in the girls' memory than just the monotone reading of a text. So I consider it an all-around win.

In learning about Julius Caesar, aside from being the first and most famous emperor of the Republic, we learned about how ambitious he was. When he wanted something, he went after it and expected success. Whether genuine or not, he won the support of pretty much everybody, and just walked right up the imperial ladder to the top.

Oh my gosh, this is SO not like me.

I have dreams like anybody, but I don't really care THAT much if I succeed or not. I'm not so devoted to my aspirations that I'm willing to knock down anybody else to get to where I want to be. Does this make me spineless? Maybe. I prefer to think of myself as happy to live in the moment. Like Ferdinand the Bull, I'm happy to just sit and smell the flowers. (I hope this is not just a skewed reflection of myself, justifying the fact that I am The Laziest.)

But I'm not really lazy at all (well, okay, I'm a little bit lazy).... I'm pretty high energy, most of the time. But I'm a little bit flighty and scatterbrained, and lose interest in things too easily to call any of my interests "ambitions." That's kind of a scary word, really... it implies followthrough. I'm more of an idea-haver. I have LOTS of ideas. And I talk a lot. So all of my ideas come out of my mouth, and after I've talked about them enough to feel like they are out of my system, I think, "Well, that was a good idea! NEXT!"

I read something recently about Type B Homeschooling (unfortunately, I can't remember who was touching on this, which is really unfortunate because I like to give credit where it's due, so if I find out who this was I will edit this part to add that in.) It was an encouraging word to homeschoolers like myself who do NOT thrive on lists and organization, and it made a suggestion that I've been doing since I started homeschooling (and actually I kept my housework list this way before I was homeschooling!) which is the retroactive list-keeeping method... instead of making a list of goals before you begin, you write down everything you've done AFTER you've done it! It's really brilliant, and it avoids the anxiety that comes from staring down an impossibly long list at the beginning of your day.

Another benefit of Type B homeschooling is that sometimes when I look over my retroactively written list at the end of the day, I see that we have learned A LOT. This is because we tend to start out our morning learning about one thing (usually history--we focus a lot on history) and as we learn about one topic we just follow these rabbit trails through our day of learning. We cover so many topics by hopping along from one thought to another. I know this idea probably makes a lot of my Type A friends kind of twitchy.... to start your day with NO LIST, and to just DO WHATEVER COMES TO MIND... and I can understand that feeling because that's how I feel about organization. But this style really works for us! I feel like my kids are learning so much, just because I am so scatterbrained!

One area that being Type B is not helpful is grocery shopping. Oh, gosh. The other day the girls all had doctor appointments early in the morning, and we ended up sitting in the waiting room for an hour and a half before even being seen. When we left it was a BEAUTIFUL day and they had been SUCH troopers during that long wait with everybody around us coughing (we are germaphobes)... so I thought we'd go to the grocery on the way home and get something yummy for lunch.

Except, I had no ideas about what would be a yummy thing to get for lunch. So we wandered around, got some lunch meat and rolls, some crackers, a bag of potatoes, some biscotti, and then I said, "LET'S GO SEE IF THEY HAVE HALLOWEEN MASKS!" and on the way to the seasonal section we had to stop and ogle the adorable baby clothes and pacifiers with attached plush foxes, and the Halloween section was SO MUCH FUN, and in the end we spent a full hour and too much money on a mediocre, overpriced lunch, and a collection of really fun masks.

And this is why some people shouldn't be parents.

Just kidding! Without the kids I would have no doubt spent my day in the exact same way, except the memory would be much lonelier.

I know this might not sound like encouragement, but really, I think Type B people who have no desire to rise to the top can be just as successful at life as people who thrive on organization and success! We all are living in our own little pockets of life, doing the best we can in our best way, and just because MY best way tends to give other people hives, that doesn't mean it's not it's own kind of successful.

I mean, isn't Ferdinand the Bull one of the best children's books of all time? It's like the Type B Personality Bible! But everybody loves it! So, if you have a personality like mine, one that might not not look to outsiders like it could be a homeschooling success (or a success at all,) just remember Ferdinand, and remind yourself that without people who are able to see the absolute beauty in an ordinary day and the simplest of things around you, the world would be different. I'm not sure how it would be different, since it doesn't always feel like appreciating flowers is really making an impact on... anything... but, I'm sure there's some kind of benefit to people like us hanging around.


Friday, August 31, 2018

What Are We Even Doing Around Here?

For how excited and ready I felt as we stepped into our school year a few weeks ago, it sure didn't go at all the way I'd planned. I thought that since I was relatively on top of things (for once in my life) that we would transition with ease into learning and that the whole year would run smoothly. If you've been reading my blog for awhile you already know that I'm delusional, and this is actually just another example of that. Our school year started out horribly. The first day was a nightmare, the second day started out okay but within a few hours the nightmare from the day before was repeating itself. I realized how terribly far behind both girls are in math, despite hiring a tutor last year. They worked on multiplication ALL YEAR last year and still neither of them knows their times tables. Like, at all. If their brains are little compartments of knowledge, like little rooms lined with bookshelves that are all filled up with the things they've learned per subject, most of their rooms have pretty full shelves. Their English/Grammar/Literature shelves are quite full, their art/music shelves are packed and the whole room is bursting at the seams, Nature Room is filled up, Science is looking a little sparse, but THE MATH ROOM IS EMPTY. TOTALLY DEVOID OF LEARNED THINGS. THEY REMEMBER NOTHING. 

This was disheartening. For all of us. So many tears as they began their new math books only to discover that--how shocking!--we are moving BEYOND multiplication now! They can't handle it and there are many breakdowns. 

So, my solution has been to just not do math these past few weeks. I found them some really fun workbooks in a series called "Math Adventures" and I got a book for each girl, but Anja's hasn't arrived yet so we're waiting to begin until we can all start at the same time. I'm hoping that the cuteness and fun activities in these books will offset the fact that they're doing what they despise the most. (Except Elka. Elka LOVES math and is really good at it, and has refused to wait for the rest of us as she just plows ahead through her math book. I'm beginning to think she's not actually my daughter... even though the other two sob daily over their times tables and I get really frustrated, at least I can understand since I did the exact same thing when I was their ages. 

So, anyway, no math yet. We've been focusing on other things. 

Nature is a big one because this is the BEST time of year to get outside and observe! Our garden has exploded with monarch and swallowtail butterflies, caterpillars, and pupae. It has been so fun to find and track the caterpillars, and at one point we had four that we were monitoring--three chrysalises and a "j" shaped caterpillar. Well, the J-shape died and fell off his spot, probably to get eaten by ants. The chrysalis on the house was okay for awhile but has since turned black and has that string on it that is bad news, as did the other one we found in the garden--which then broke open and oozed out brown stuff and I was eating a croissant when I saw it and I had to run into the house screaming and spit out my croissant and throw the rest of the way and sit down and recover. It was rough. It wasn't just the gross factor, it was the heartbreak that I had been watching "Big Hungry" the caterpillar for so long and I was so excited for his metamorphosis. So to see him be eaten by a parasite inside his capsule and then ooze out was a little heartbreaking. But we still have one healthy monarch chrysalis we're watching hopefully! And we have a swallowtail on the side of the house that has been extremely interesting to watch, and I really hope we get to see it emerge. The girls decided not to bring anything inside, but to just take our chances at catching the moment where it happens naturally. I feel so emotionally invested in these little larvae, I'm having a hard time with that level of risk, but whatever. 

We've been reading aloud A LOT. This has been what's getting us through the transitional days! 

And we've been copy working and Word of the Week-ing as well as adding in weekly essays on a topic I choose. Anja and Greta have all week to think about, write, and re-write their essay and at the end of the week, I read and correct any spelling or grammar, and help them work on writing form through that. I think it will be a good little activity once we find our groove with it. 

I'd really like to start a book club for kids their ages. Looking back on the idea of "book reports," I remember a lot of the joy of reading AND letting the book soak into my mind was robbed by the forced report I had to write afterward. Sometimes I feel like the best way to process your comprehension of a book is not to just write a bland regurgitation of it, but to discuss it with other people, hear what the people got out of it, how other people related to characters, share how YOU related to characters, or how the story touched you. Also, I've noticed that with homeschooling the art of good discussion is easily ignored. I want my girls to know how to discuss things--how to state their views clearly and patiently/enthusiastically/compassionately hear the views of others. I think this is so important! And I feel like a middle school aged book club would be a good place for that. 

We haven't gotten into science yet, but when we do, we'll be doing what we ended last year doing, which is studying scientists and what they are best known for. I like the idea of having a person to go with a concept, and my girls learn well under this style. Also I'm going to veeeeeeeerrrrryyyyyyyy casually introduce them to the periodic table of elements, just so they know what it is. I'm thinking of hanging a poster of it in the bathroom so that they can passively experience it on the daily. It would be a good thing to stare at while waiting for the turtle's bathtub to fill up. (A boring job, but one from which, once the water is on, YOU CANNOT WALK AWAY.) 

Elka is doing a lot of writing and drawing on her own this year, and I'm she is invited to participate in everything the big girls do, but is not pressured. She likes to do school with them, but some of the stuff is just too old for her. She's really enjoying reading chapter books (very slowly) so that's how she spends a lot of her school time. Naturing is her favorite, and she still is the tender of the gardens. Mostly with her we are working on behavior still. Controlling her temper. Calming down tactics. Today I tried something that worked really well for her! She'd been kicking her cousin and so she had a little time out. Her time-outs and usually on the bench by the bathroom because she can see me and talk to me while I'm cooking, but she is removed from the other kids so she can't hurt them. Today she was having a super hard time with that (and with everything) so I told her that she could work off her time by helping me--I needed to get some sage from the garden but couldn't leave the stove. She joyfully helped me, and it was exactly the reset she needed! She ended up taking so much time to help me, then quietly went back to the bench, and I told her she didn't need to, she was free to go back to the kids and play. Up until that idea, she had just been sitting there screaming, unable to control herself. She is so unlike my other kids that I have a super difficult time finding things that work with her--but working off her time is a definite winner. Yay! 

Oh, the other fun thing we're doing this year is learning German as a family! Anja has been working on it independently since last year, and we had all learned a little bit with her (Martin and I took German in high school, so this is the best language for us to be able to teach them... I remember less than Martin does, but I can manage pronunciations and can read it pretty well) and had learned some German songs, but this year a homeschooling friend passed on to us an audio Learn German for Kids pack, and everyone is enjoying it so much!

One treasure I got for our History this year (in American History we are pre-civil war/women's suffrage/gold rush, but will be moving into the Civil War, where we'll really concentrate for much of the year) was from the free cart at the library--it's a 1913 book of the military history of the US. It has timelines and maps that explain the explorers, territories, which country owned what at which time, it's AMAZING. It's basically what I've been searching for on Amazon for YEARS, found in a beautiful edition from 1913 FOR FREE on a "please take this off our hands" cart outside the library. I did a major happy dance that day!

For Ancient History we are finishing up Rome, then moving on to China. I know very little about Ancient China, so this will be me learning alongside the girls. I'm excited! Sometimes I think the girls learn best when I'm learning with them because I tend to get REALLY EXCITED when I learn new, cool things. So I expect when they're in college talking about things they should be familiar with, they might think, "Oh, I remember learning about that snippet of history--Mama got really loud and started dancing around the room! How could I ever forget?!"

Is that all? That's all the formal bookwork, I suppose. We do a lot of learning "organically," as they say, when the kids ask questions and we zoom on from there. Also memorable. Also often results in me being loud and making many excited hand gestures.

This is homeschool for us in a nutshell. What are you up to around your tables and in your yards?