Friday, September 27, 2013

Getting Into the Groove

Or at least something resembling a groove. No it doesn’t yet look like this. It never will look exactly like a perfect world.

Real life isn’t a straight road, with everything visible, everything expected. Who would want it that way?

My family is unexpectedly helping out a friend. It is a blessing to do so—for what would life be worth without relationships?

My Dad goes in for hip surgery this coming week. His last hip surgery went better than could have ever been expected, so we have high hopes for this one.

Russ has been busy, busy with work and coaching. The boys (Russ, Levi, and Luke) started back to swim team practices last week.

This week we added choir to our schedule on Mondays. I am so stinkin’ excited about this opportunity for the boys. The director is fabulous, and choir practice is held right after CC at the same location. (Leif is in a younger choir that meets while Levi and Luke are in their afternoon Essentials class.)

It’s a busy birthday season in my family. Lola turns three on Tuesday, and I still have no idea when exactly we will have her party. It might end up being a Bambi, Lola, Poppy party. Ivy and Ben had to share earlier this month…

This week I needed to figure out a way to keep everyone productive and moving forward, in spite of interruptions or distractions or failures in routine. Everything would come to a grinding halt (and often impossible to reign back into focus) if I had to help one child and turn my back on the others.

So I created this:

getting it done

I always knew that my two older sons were very different from one another, but that truth is more manifest than ever.

One son is a list maniac. Before I had the above list printed, he would beg for one. WHAT do I need to do in order to play on my computer? Tell me what I need to do. Write it down. How many things do I have left? Mom, do lessons with me so I can be DONE. It was like that all. day. long. He’s a visual child. A sequential child. A child motivated by rewards and checkmarks. A child who wants to be able to see the beginning and end of all things. Concrete.

[But he is also the child who thinks the point of lessons is to have them over with. As quickly as possible. With every short cut mastered. He checks the boxes (circles) as he starts each task, just to hurry along the process. He is also writing-phobic. Writing anything is like torture to this child. Art projects? Stick figures. Under duress.]

Now, he immediately digs into the lessons he can do independently (I try to have his list on the kitchen table along with copy work, maps, charts, and whatever else he’ll need). Whenever I’m available, we do the “together” lessons.

The other son, the colorful grammar chart son, is not so sequential. Or motivated by rewards (or consequences) and checkmarks. He’s imaginative, open-ended, verbal, relational, highly distractible, and can spend 3 hours not doing a math lesson—even if I’m sitting next to him. But the checklist is very good for him, as well. It makes expectations clear. It increases accountability. It helps him practice responsibility and independence, which become more and more important as he gets older. It also reduces arguments and excuses. It also means that if he wants to extend his school day by taking work to swim practice or until bedtime and into the weekend, that’s his choice (and his mother doesn’t have to pay the consequences with him).

So, let me tell you how their personalities play out when we do spelling together. [They are on the same level because I didn’t find (and fall in love with) All About Spelling until Levi was in 4th grade.] This is what happens:

I dictate a sentence.

Luke repeats the sentence aloud then writes out each word, one painstaking, slow-motion, heavy-leaded line and curve at a time. Deliberate capital letter. Almost always correct spelling. Punctuation mark at the end. Done. Next sentence.

Levi scrawls out the sentence in two seconds. Often without capital letters or punctuation. He changes names. He adds words. He turns the sentences into a play with different characters saying each sentence. He illustrates. Almost never is the sentence exactly as I’ve dictated.

We get to the “writing station” portion of the lesson. I give them five words to write and then use in original sentences. Levi holds the words in his head and writes one or two quirky sentences off the cuff. Luke writes each word and then looks at me blankly. “What do you want me to write?” “You’re supposed to come up with your own sentences.” “Just tell me what to write.”


And then there is the youngest son. I really need to figure out what to do with him. That’s my main goal for this next week as he’s been a bit aimless lately. His days are very long, with the older boys doing more school work and then going to swim practice. I decided to sign him up for AWANAS with a friend of his, and I’m thinking he needs to be in swim lessons. And he needs his own list. And some one-on-one time. But I think his needs will be hardest to meet this year.

And Lola, of course. What on earth am I going to do with Lola that won’t distract the boys?

Oh, and how am I going to force myself out of bed early every morning?


Are you a morning person?

What are some things that are working well for you school routines this year?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sentence Diagramming Challenge (Ready, Set, Go!)

I’ve chosen a few quotes from Gilead. (I finished it last night, sobbing.)

Take your pick, one or several.


Level #1

Oh, I will miss the world!

It was a general disaster.

Level #2

The sprinkler is a magnificent invention because it exposes raindrops to sunshine.

Your mother wanted to name the cat Feuerbach, but you insisted on Soapy.

(ETA: Okay, that second one is a little more tricky that it seems at first glance… Let’s add one more.)

This habit of writing is so deep in me.

Level #3

His mother would take tiny bites of her food and swallow as if she were swallowing live coals, stoking the fires of her dyspepsia.

In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe, and all that has passed here will be the epic of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets.

My grandfather seemed to me stricken and afflicted, and indeed he was, like a man everlastingly struck by lightning, so that there was an ashiness about his clothes and his hair never settled and his eye had a look of tragic alarm when he wasn’t actually sleeping.

Take a picture of your diagram(s) and email them to me (heidi (at) poetsgarden (dot) com). It doesn’t have to be perfect. I don’t have the answers, so I’m working through them (guessing) just the same. Give it a try! (If you need an idea of where to start, this link should help.)

I’ll post my diagrams (and any others that I receive) next Wednesday, along with some basic diagramming instruction.

You can do it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Friday, September 20, 2013

Incandescent. Earthy. Piercing. Rambling.


Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson 

"My grandfather seemed to me stricken and afflicted, and indeed he was, like a man everlastingly struck by lightning, so that there was an ashiness about his clothes and his hair never settled and his eye had a look of tragic alarm when he wasn't actually sleeping. He was the most unreposeful human being I ever knew, except for certain of his friends. All of them could sit on their heels into their old age, and they'd do it by preference, as if they had a grudge against furniture. They had no flesh on them at all. They were like the Hebrew prophets in some unwilling retirement...Still, they were bodacious old men, the lot of them. It was the most natural thing in the world that my grandfather's grave would look like a place where someone had tried to smother a fire."

“As you read this, I hope you will understand that when I speak of the long night that preceded these days of my happiness, I do not remember grief and loneliness so much as I do peace and comfort—grief, but never without comfort; loneliness, but never without peace. Almost never.”

"When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the 'I' whose predicate can be 'love' or 'fear' or 'want,' and whose object can be 'someone' or 'nothing' and it won't really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around 'I' like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else."

There will be more passages marked than unmarked when I have finished.

And then I will read it again. And every word will be underlined.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

One Of My Favorite Families

L Family Collage 2013

I haven’t done much photography this year, but I couldn’t resist taking a few family photos for these friends. I think this is about the fourth year I’ve taken pictures for them, and it is so fun to see the kids growing up! I’m blessed to have them in my life and in the lives of my kids!

We also spent a couple hours bowling with a bunch of charter school friends today (including these cute kids). I needed about two hours in a cool, dark, silent room under a cozy blanket after that escapade. I didn’t even get pictures of the bowling, but I spent my time socializing instead. And making sure Lola didn’t bring down the house.

We are so blessed with friends and community, and I am thankful beyond measure.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I love my life.

School @ Mt Hope

English grammar, more colorful verb charts, double chocolate banana bread—hot out of the oven, potty training. I love my life.

(I was kidding about the potty training. I’m so over it.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Crazy School

As Levi and I are getting into the car, just the two of us (after hours of too much sensory input for this introvert and obviously not enough for my extroverted son):

Levi: What music are we going to listen to?

Me: You're driving with Mom. That means we get to drive in silence.

Levi: (With a disappointed sigh) Oh, I was looking forward to some Mom-Levi time.

Me: (Feeling remorse) What would you like to talk about, Levi?

Levi: I don't know. I was going to defer to your expert knowledge of chitchat subjects.

So, you see, I’m a chitchat expert.

Not really, but let’s pretend.

We had a decent day full of lessons today. Not completely up to speed, but close. (As the above pictures demonstrate, lessons at our house are done with flair.) We have another back-to-school event with our charter school on Thursday. The boys (Levi and Luke) started swim team practice again this week after a short break. I am planning on being up to full speed this coming week. The boys start choir on Monday, as well. I’m trying to decide whether to have Leif attend Awanas or whether that is just too much on the schedule.

I’m currently reading Gilead for my ChocLit Guild book club selection this month. Every sentence is a glorious masterpiece of profound simplicity. (How’s that for a glowing recommendation?) It reminds me of Peace Like a River, which is now on my all-time top 10 books list. (Also a book which made me thrilled to have a son named Leif.)

As an aside, thank you to whoever clicked on one of my Amazon affiliate links and ordered Gilead. First, whenever you click one of my links and then place items in your cart (even when you do not purchase items I have recommended), I receive a small commission which helps support my book habit. I am immensely grateful. Second, I find it fascinating to see what people order (I can see the items ordered, but not who ordered them). I occasionally click on the books out of curiosity, and Gilead was one such occasion. You have now blessed a whole book club. Grin.

A sentence diagramming challenge is coming up shortly. Get those pencils ready. (I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start.) (This one’s for you, Kellie.)

I’ll also be writing about using CC memory work at home without being a part of a CC community. (This one’s for you, Andrea.)

In other (Big, Mysterious) news, I’m working on something exciting. It is a sort of themed year-long life project with many interconnected facets that I’ll be launching in January here at Mt. Hope Chronicles. It has to do with my Billboards post that I reposted last week. I have many details to work out (and prep work to accomplish), but I’m full of anticipation. Can you believe that January is just over three months away? I’m hoping y’all are here to join me on the journey.


P.S. Lola turns three in two weeks. I am all astonishment. This is not possible.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

End of Summer Shebang


The seasons come and go. Traditions mark the passing of time with regularity and familiarity. The end of our summer is often marked by the Renaissance Faire.

We first attended six years ago, when Leif was still in a front pack! (Oh, look how young they are. Be still my heart. I didn’t even recognize Drake at first—sword fighting with my boys—when I revisited these photos.) The following year we returned. Still, the boys so little. And again. And then again, when I was 8+ months pregnant (not many pictures that year). Did I really brave the Ren Faire just a few weeks before Lola was born? Oh, we missed a year when Lola was almost one. We were a little swamped with the shop renovation. And then again when Lola was almost two. (I loved the photos I collected last year.)

So this was visit #6 for us. Is that possible? This was the first year, though, that the weather was misty, overcast, and cool. Our days have been odd this way for a week or so—cool and misty in the morning, sun coming out and temperatures rising in the later afternoon. I will say that I prefer the cool weather at the Ren Faire to the very hot days the first few years.

Lola. She was an absolute angel today. She was so seriously interested and interactive. And fearless. She met (and loved) a wizard and a dragon. The dead guy in the road she merely met with curiosity (the roving gang of Celts must have gotten to him). The Renaissance Faire is a place where the extraordinary becomes commonplace.

Lola and WizardImg2013-09-14_0039rsRenFaireImg2013-09-14_0055rs

The kids got “rat-catching licenses” again this year. Lola really got into the spirit of things.

Rat CatchingImg2013-09-14_0056rsRenFaire 2Img2013-09-14_0072rsImg2013-09-14_0001rsImg2013-09-14_0004rsImg2013-09-14_0067rsImg2013-09-14_0022rsImg2013-09-14_0047rs

The jousting show was spectacular a few years ago. This year—meh.


Little Miss Sunshine. Have I told you lately how she makes my heart burst with her cuteness?

Lola RenFaire

And because the Renaissance Faire wasn’t enough excitement for one day, we invited a bunch of family and friends over for a pizza/ice cream sundae/outdoor movie fest. Russ turned our side porch theater into a movie theater.


And, really, there is only one movie perfect enough for a day like today.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Billboards (Reposted)

(I’m reposting this from July of last year, because I need to hear it again.)

Do you ever feel like you are heading down life’s highway, and suddenly a billboard pops up that seems to be speaking directly to you? And then another one. And then another one. And at some point, you realize God has a big message he is trying to get through to you?

good story

It all began with a trip to Virginia. I can pinpoint a specific moment: dinner with six incredible women. Susan finished her meal and then asked: ‘What is your next big thing?’  The conversation circled the table as each woman in turn told about her plans for the near or not-so-near future. I listened to plans of travel, and writing projects, and business ventures. And I thought to myself: This is the big thing. I’m going home to make PB&J sandwiches for the rest of my life.


I’m not talking about comparing myself with other women or feeling like I wasn’t worth something because I didn’t have big plans. I’m not even talking about whether someone should have plans or what they should be. Or what sacrifices one should (or should not) be willing to make for those plans. I’m talking about the fact that I use fear and excuses (lots and lots of excuses) to keep me from living a full life. A life full of possibility instead of restriction. I used to be a big dreamer-planner, but I allowed the daily grind of reality steal my dreams.

A billboard was staring me in the face. Big things are scary and hard, but they are still in the realm of possibility if you are willing to work toward them.

It had been a long time since I had read the blog Resolved 2 Worship. For some reason, I found myself reading pages and pages of archives recently.

The billboard read: What is your excuse, Heidi? You use four children as an excuse to not do anything or go anywhere. Because it is too much trouble, not enough fun. Well, it is time to step up and go on adventures. DO SOMETHING, even if it is complicated, and messy, and not every second of it is fun.

(Now, there are all sorts of other things to be learned at Resolved 2 Worship, but I felt as if God had that particular message for me at this particular time.)

So we went to the beach.


We went walking in Eugene.


Those were just warm-ups.

Then I felt called to an impromptu road trip to see my grandparents. In California. With the kids. Without Russ.


After we returned home, a friend posted a TED talk video on Facebook. I took the time to listen. To read that billboard.

The billboard read: You have to do something. Little things. But SOMETHING. Often.

And I made a list of little things (physical, mental, emotional, and social) that I could do during any hour of any day. But that kind of list doesn’t do anything, unless you do the things.

There was another kind of list I needed to create that was a form of action. It was the gratitude list I’d been thinking I should make ever since reading the remarkable book One Thousand Gifts. I needed to go through the action of writing down all the gifts God has given me, all day, every day.

I pulled out the journal Russ and the boys had given me for my birthday and thought it was just waiting for this purpose. I started my gratitude list.

Then a friend on Facebook (another point for social media) posted a picture with a quote. Yes, an inspirational quote. A dime a dozen. It got under my skin. Another billboard.


I had excuses. I’m not brave. I’m lazy and undisciplined. I can’t do it. But what is that thing? It has to have a point. I don’t want to do a thing just to say I’ve done a thing.

We went to a local Mexican restaurant. I placed our take-out order. Enchilada. Picadillo. Now, those words might not seem like much to you, but I’ve had proper Spanish pronunciation drilled into me from my infancy. It seems all wrong to say them with an English accent. So I tried to say them correctly, but nonchalantly. Because I’m insecure about doing or saying anything in front of someone else who does or says it well.

Then I get to fajitas. (It is much easier to say that with an English accent, because it is practically an English word, isn’t it? Like pizza.) Chicken. (That’s an easy one.) The (good-looking) guy smirked and said pollo. And then he asked if I wanted flour or corn tortillas. In Spanish. I turned to Russ and asked him if he wanted flour or corn tortillas. He said flour. I told the guy flour. He repeated flour in Spanish (with another smirk). I nodded. (I promise this story is going somewhere…)

See, here’s the deal. I can pronounce Spanish fairly well when I’m not feeling all self-conscious about it (which is never), but I don’t have a large Spanish vocabulary. I picked ‘corn’ out of his question and inferred based on context. But I couldn’t hear exactly what he said for ‘flour.’ Certainly not enough to repeat it. And I’m self-conscious as heck in situations like this. I should have just laughed, asked him to tell me the word for ‘flour’ again, and tried to repeat it. But instead I wanted to find a hole somewhere to hide in.

So Russ didn’t understand what was going on and thought the guy was questioning why he would want flour tortillas with his fajitas. And the guy said (with the smirk that was now permanent), ‘No, it is just that she was speaking so beautifully until she got to fajitas.’

It might come as a surprise to you all, with my life hanging out here in public like this, but I hate any sort of attention like this. I get embarrassed so. very. easily. It shouldn’t have been a big deal.

Billboard: Learn to speak Spanish fluently because I’ve always wanted to. And then be brave enough to do it.

I picked up the next book on my stack. Twelve other books on the stack have bookmarks a few pages in. The other 34 haven’t been cracked open. But book club was the following week. I should have at least a chapter under my belt before book club, no?

In two days I had finished A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.


p. 31

I wanted it to be an easy story. But nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a good story.

p. 58

We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake slowly to everything… The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given—it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral.

p. 59

I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants.

p. 68

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation… If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet.

p. 70

But I also wondered if… we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.

p. 74

‘Beneath the surface of characterization,… regardless of appearances, who is this person? At the heart of his humanity, what will we find? Is he loving or cruel? Generous or selfish? Strong or weak? Truthful or a liar? Courageous or cowardly? The only way to know the truth is to witness him make choices under pressure, to take one action or another in the pursuit of his desire.”

p. 75

In the room where I’m writing today, nothing is happening. And later there will be laundry happening, which is nothing to daydream about. I can’t deal with reality.

p. 77

My entire life had been designed to make myself more comfortable, to insulate myself from the interruption of my daydreams.

p. 86

I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.

p. 87

The real Voice is stiller and smaller and seems to know, without confusion, the difference between right and wrong and the subtle delineation between the beautiful and profane.

p. 100

A general rule in creating stories is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change…

The rule exists in story because it’s a true thing about people. Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn’t all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better.

p. 186

I realized how much of our lives are spent trying to avoid conflict. Half the commercials on television are selling us something that will make life easier. Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.

p. 246

It’s interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage, and obey God. It’s as though God is saying, Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.

One gigantic billboard: Face your fears. Be grateful for this staggering life. Be willing to change. Don’t daydream as a way to escape your life. Listen to the Master Writer. Step outside your comfort zone. Work hard.

I thought again about the inspirational quote. Do the crazy thing… I wondered who wrote it. I googled Ciona Rouse. It turns out she wrote Like Breath and Water: Praying with Africa. It is about hope-filled prayer that keeps track of miracles instead of pains. About living a story filled with prayer as vital as breath and water and being intertwined in one another’s stories.

The billboard read: Add prayer to that list. To the top of the list. Because God writes a better story.

I went to Ciona’s page on Facebook. (Uh-huh.) She lists her favorite quotes.

"Hope is the thing with feathers that perches on the soul" -Emily Dickinson

It is the first one on her list. And the quote in my email signature. And one of my inspirations for Mt. Hope. (Well, that and doing hard things. I must have forgotten somewhere along the way.)

Her cover photo? It says: You are living your story.

I think I’m getting the message.

Live a good story and DO that thing.

  • Pray (as if my life depended on it).
  • Keep a written record of miracles and God-given gifts.
  • Eat well and exercise hard.
  • Seek adventure (even when it is messy and difficult. especially when it is messy and difficult).
  • Learn Spanish fluently and be brave enough to speak it.
  • Be open to finding a BIG thing and working toward it.

I’m still thinking about several ideas. I still have lots of questions. (Such as: How to decide if a thing is worth doing, and why. Whether everyone is meant to do epic things. How to do these things in the context of family. And how to create ‘inciting incidents.’) They might come up for discussion in future blog posts. I even created a category (Living a Good Story) for the occasion.

Will you join me in this journey?

“A good storyteller doesn’t just tell a better story, though. He invites other people into the story with him, giving them a better story too… Nobody gets to watch the parade.” ~Donald Miller

Listen to the story God is writing for you. And do it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Oregon Garden


Today was homeschool day at The Oregon Garden. We went last year (without Lola) and the year before Lola was born, but this year I decided to brave it with her. All things considered, our day went very well. The weather forecast predicted 90s, so we were dressed for warm weather but the morning started out cool (in the 60s, I think) and overcast. We met up with my sister Holly, my niece Ivy, and three other friends. (And then we saw what seemed like the entire homeschooling community in the Willamette Valley…)

Lola was thrilled to be included.


The clouds burned off and the day warmed up considerably while we were in the children’s garden playing and picnicking.


This tree got hit during our crazy lightning storm last week!


It is tradition to end our day in the big fountain, and we were all rather toasty by the afternoon. Alas, the kids were sorely disappointed to find the water off for some reason. We found another fountain, though, and the day was saved.


And so we ended the day refreshed, with a squishy-squashy walk back to the truck. It was 82 degrees on our drive home. The boys convinced me to stop at the Learning Palace (an education-related store), so we had a fun stop there. It was up to 90 degrees when we got home—finally.