Friday, November 17, 2017

Nature Study Outing :: Fall at the Pond

The vernal pond is looking quite different this fall.  Usually it is completely dry by midsummer, but we had such heavy rains last winter/spring that the pond was overflowing most of the early part of this year. So it's just now receding to normal winter levels -- just as we're about to hit our rainy season. Check out the comparison:

last november

this november

I'm wondering how this is going to affect the life at the pond. By definition, vernal ponds completely dry up seasonally, which allows differnt kinds of creatures to bloom -- salamanders, newts, and so on -- without the threat of predators like fish. With this change, we'll have to see if those populations thrive this year.

The particular morning we were there was glorious. This spot really shines in the sunlight.

We found over a dozen boar wallows, which were fun to explore.  Lots of "I wonder" questions while we mucked about around their edges.

a wallow -- smooth sides, fairly shallow

evidence of rooting

boar prints

On this outing, we did a fun comparison of coyotebrush, which blooms in later summer through fall here. We found it in several different stages of bloom, which made a great comparison for our nature journals that evening!

gianna's in progress -- learning boar wallows are hard to draw! :)


Monday, November 13, 2017

Reflections on CM West :: Conference at Puget Sound

I didn't think I'd be able to go to this conference. With a baby due in July, a September trip didn't at all seem likely. But blessings abound and the timing actually worked out well.

This was the first time I had flown in ten years, since my oldest two were tiny.  I love traveling and used to travel a lot when I was younger, so it was a real treat to be back at an airport, going somewhere new.

San Jose down below :)

The retreat center where the Seattle team hosted the event was beautiful. Right on the water, hotel-style accommodations, lovely meeting areas and grounds.  (A bit less rustic than where we'll be in February. ;))

view from my room

Nancy Kelly was my main impetus for going to this conference. I had never heard her speak in person. She was such a wonderful model of the masterly, mindful Mason educator.  I took even more from her presentation style than from the content she shared. She gave talks on Shakespeare, Citizenship, Bible lessons, and imagination over the course of two days. Chatting with her was such an encouragement!

picture study as part of her citizenship and magnanimity talk

In addition to Nancy, there were a couple local speakers brought in to share their passions: one on Shakespearean costuming and one from the Audubon on birding with children. Both were delightfully enthusiastic.

One of my favorite parts of the weekend was when Virginia Lee and I took a walk down to the beach one morning before breakfast. Did I mention I got to meet Virginia Lee for the first time after thousands of Voxes back and forth as we work together @charlottemasonirl?

We got to watch the sun come out, changing the sky from moody to bright.

This trip was definitely about relationships, as other online friends became in-real-life friends on this trip too...

half of my daily fitbit group (mystie, betsy, and amber), nancy kelly,
virginia lee and arielle, and marcia mattern

Forging friendships, getting a break after a challenging pregnancy and recovery period, renewing energy and reaffirming my vocation.

It is always a blessing to "retreat" from ordinary home life for a time, in the company of like-minded mamas, breathing in fresh ideas.  I can't wait for February!

Monday, October 30, 2017

{This and That}

First order of business: in case you haven't heard, CM West :: Conference in Old San Juan is open for general registration!

Amber and I have a heart for developing local/regional community, and we have tried to choose speakers from this region as well.  So I want to share a little bit about the team behind this year's retreat, in case you don't know them already...

Amber, my collaborative partner and friend, will be speaking on Mother Culture, a topic she is well-versed in as the mother of teens down to tots who still finds time to read Dante and keep a Book of Centuries (among many other things!) in her free time.  Definitely my kind of gal. :)  She is the first person I go to for a considered, authentic-to-the-principles brainstorming session, and I am so grateful to have her planning this event and speaking on this topic.

Her husband Matt Vanderpol, a genuine Charlotte Mason dad and Eagle Scout, will be fleshing out Mason's thoughts on scouting and orienteering, an oft-forgotten component of the out-of-door life of the child.  He will also guide us through some hands-on activities to help us direct our own children's studies. I can personally attest to the work he has done in this area with his own kids, an area I am excited to learn more about because I know next to nothing! LOL

Jessica Severne, a mama who seems like she was born to inspire and disciple and who runs an active Charlotte Mason community a few hours north of me, will be sharing about what "Education is a Life" really means. We'll be pondering how ideas work, both through presentation and immersion. She came to our retreat last year and we have kept up communication since then.  She is a passionate and creative mom with a heart for Mason and for big ideas, so I'm anticipating her talk to just the refocus and reminder I need.

Virginia Lee Rogers, whom you may know from her guest posts on Afterthoughts, has explored Charlotte Mason's suggestions for special studies and object lessons and, perhaps more importantly, implemented with them in her family and with her nature group. She'll be sharing how she uses the Handbook of Nature Study and other resources to guide children in forming relationships with the natural world.  I met Virginia Lee for the first time at CM West in Seattle, though we have known each other online for years and are fellow team members at @charlottemasonirl.  She is flexible, friendly, and intentional. I know what she shares will bless my own knowledge in this area!

And I'll be talking about keeping this year. :)  I'm still deciding where to go with the presentation itself -- how to tackle one of the biggest impacts on my intellectual and spiritual life in one hour?  I'm thrilled, however, that we have left space in the schedule for some discussion and immersion time afterward.  So I'll be able to take a more philosophical tack during the talk and then we'll also have time for the practical bits: sampling examples from all forms and subjects, discussing how we can flex the practices to meet our own needs and those of our students, brainstorming how to overcome difficulties.  I can't wait to carve out some quiet time and start pulling all my ideas together.

We also decided on a slower pace for the conference this year based on the topics that we will be covering, allowing more time for immersion and practice.  We're aiming at a nice balance of restful and educative.

But the best part is probably meeting the other moms!  So many connections to forge and strengthen, so much shared enthusiasm and mutual encouragement.

I can hardly wait for February! And in the meantime, we're moving forward with prayerful planning.


Speaking of keeping: some of you already noticed the page I just added to the top navigation bar earlier this week: Products We Love. This was a recommendation from a reader and I'm so glad I did it -- now I have one easy place to direct people who ask what we use and why. Right now, it just highlights our keeping supplies.

(As you can see, I have a big disclaimer on there about how understanding the principles is more important than materials. It totally is. But I also know that it's nice not to have to test out every single product yourself when you are trying to equip your homeschool with supplies, as I have had to find out from a lot of trial and error. ;))


We took advantage of the hot weather this week to resume our weekly beach visits.  Lots of shorebirds at this time of year -- plovers, godwits, curlews, gulls, and more. And no one else there, which is perfect because that means my kids can run wild!


Did you listen to the Schole Sisters podcast about pre-reading, with Brandy, Mystie, and Dawn Garrett?  I loved it!  (It got me thinking about some of the reasons I pre-read -- and this is one of them. There are many more.)

I loved this post at Archipelago: Enough. I certainly have found it to be true, and I'm grateful for those that go before me that encourage me it continues to be so.


All Saints' and All Souls' Day are this week!  A few years ago I made a prayer card for our cemetery visits to pray for family and friends who have passed.  Feel free to download and print for your family or homeschool group. :)

We are getting saints' costumes ready today for trick-or-treating tomorrow, and we'll also be taking a leisure day on Wednesday for the feast -- Mass, a trip to the graveyard, some picture books about our favorite saints, and rest.  It's kind of lovely to have that promised to us in the middle of the week!


We are on break this week, so I'm staring down a to-do list a mile long as I attempt to get us positioned to start Term 2 next Monday. Hoping to pop back in here later this week with some posts that have been sitting in my drafts folder.  Until then!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Keeping Company :: Fall 2017

Welcome to Keeping Company for fall!

First: an announcement!  I'm going to be changing the format of Keeping Company a bit from here on out. Over my blog break, I had some time to think about the most effective way to host this community of keepers, and I feel like the platform for this kind of sharing has shifted largely to Instagram. Almost all the participation in this link-up happens over there with a few (very notable, very wonderful) exceptions.  And I understand why: with its visual emphasis, Instagram makes the sharing of photo examples seamless.

I, however, still love blogging and the flexibility and permanence it affords, so I want to maintain the community for those that blog also. I think I've figured out a way to do that. Here's how the opportunities to share will look moving forward:

:: I will put up a quarterly/seasonal Keeping Company post here (rather than monthly) where I will share posts from the blog world that have been linked up, update on the keeping going on in our family, and select a couple favorites from the Instagram tag to highlight.  In the comments of that post, I'd love for you to link up your blog posts and relevant articles for me to spotlight in the next edition.  (That will be in lieu of the blog linky tool that I have been using.)

:: On Instagram: come check out @keepingcompanycm!  I plan to use this new account to respost the photos tagged by the community daily-ish. This will allow you to like, comment, engage, and chat with the original posters of the images.  It will also allow me to repost people's images along with their captions, which are often just as helpful as the photos themselves. I'm hoping it will be a wonderful resource both for newbies and for moms with experience and wisdom to share.

If you're not on Instagram but still enjoy looking at the keeping photos: this account will be a public account, so anyone can view it. I will put a link to it in each Keeping Company post here, so you can hop over and take a look through with a hot cup of tea every so often. :)  But rather than rounding up Instagram photos to share here, I'll be sharing them on the @keepingcompanycm page.

I hope this will be an effective way to cater to the various needs of the Charlotte Mason keeping community. If you have further organizational suggestions, feel free to let me know!  Thanks for bearing with me as I tweak. :)


And now on to our FALL keeping conversation...

Starting the Discussion

I shared this over on Instagram, but I thought I'd include it here as well...

I reserved one little corner of our new art wall for our Weekly Paintings, which is something I instituted this year. Each week, each student chooses one thing to draw + watercolor from any of their readings for that week. It is always fun to see what they pick -- they go back and forth all week deciding what their subject should be. It is a form of narration as well, though it doesn't take the place of oral narration for us.

I encourage them to use small cards (these are artist trading cards) so that the task feels simple and pleasant rather than overwhelming. It also requires them to thoughtfully cull as they work in a small space. I have a slightly larger card available too that they can use if they insist. 😊

For the week pictured above, Xavier drew the Little Duke sitting on the King of France's lap, Cate painted a sea slug from Pagoo, Gianna copied an illustration of Judah and his mother from our copy of Ben Hur, and Vincent replicated a drawing of a centurion from Augustus Caesar's World.

This week -- well, can you guess?

Cleopatra about to drop her pearl into her goblet - from Augustus Caesar's World
Lake-Town - from The Hobbit
Mona Lisa - from Child's History of the World
Perseus and Andromeda - from Kingsley's Heroes

Just adding a little more fun and beauty to our week! (And it's great scaffolding for our other keeping too!)

I also shared the reading journal I have been keeping for our Year 6 studies.

Both of these new "forms of vitality" have enlivened our keeping routine. Are you trying out any new notebooks or notebooking habits this fall?

This Month's Round-Up

Nancy shares a collection of aphorisms from "a mother" straight from the PNEU miscellaneous archives.  I think you'll find that many are commonplace-worthy!

Carol has a bit of everything: poetry, Shakespeare, architecture, and science -- all from one student in one week!  I love snapshots like this. They help to remind me of the bigger picture.

I've been watching Amy read Anna Akhatova poems over on Instagram, and here she shares one with us.  (And some words from Miss Mason too!)

Melanie and her daughter "keep" a beautiful collection of pressed flowers for display. A wonderful handicraft!

Now it's your turn!

The Link-Up

:: For BLOGGERS: Leave a link to any blog posts related to CM-style keeping in the comments section of this post all quarter.  I will be sure to click over and read so I can highlight them here in the next edition!

:: For INSTAGRAMMERS: Tag related photos with #KeepingCompanyCM.  You can also follow my new account: @keepingcompanycm. I will be re-sharing daily on that account from posts tagged!

:: Any posts about CM-style Keeping are welcome.  Your post can be as simple as a photo of your commonplace book or your kids' drawing.

:: You can grab the button over there on the sidebar if you'd like to add it to your post or site.

Thanks for your participation, friends!  Happy to be in community with you. :)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

My Reading Journal :: A Commonplace with a Creative Twist

This post, and the many pictures that follow, is for...

The mama who wants to pre-read but needs something to liven up the task.

Or the mama who wants to get better at nature journaling by adding some extra drawing practice into her week -- but needs it to be meaningful.

Or the mama who loves keeping and is always up for trying a new notebooking process to see if it suits her mental flow.

Or the mama who relies on her children's school reading to be the bulk of her personal reading too, and so wants to engage more intimately with the material to feed her soul.

Or the mama who has a newborn and needs a little extra creative outlet to keep herself sane.

(Or maybe you meet all of those criteria, like me!)

Last year, I decided to expand my pre-reading by keeping a commonplace, maps, a timeline, and a century chart alongside my kids.  (You can see some of the results here.) For me, this was a life-giving activity rather than a time-sucking one. I appreciated adding these tasks to my week because I felt like they made my pre-reading and planning sessions more pleasant.

Schole-ified them, if you will. ;)

This year, I was wanted to try something that meshed all of these worthy actions into one notebook that would also challenge me creatively.  Because honestly, I need an excuse for creativity, especially during a newborn year.  Something new and fun sounded like just the trick.  And this notebook, which I am calling my Year 6 Reading Journal, has been working perfectly.

This is what I've "kept" so far during this first nine weeks of our school year:

in progress -- waiting for the perfect fit for that long spot on the bottom :)

my kids and I will be learning the countries of africa starting in Term 2

in progress -- still have a little corner there at the top to fill in :)

my WW2 map will be on this page

As for the logistics: this is a notebook I have been meaning to try -- it is lovely. Creamy, smooth cardstock-weight pages that lie flat, sewn bound, with a sturdy cover.  It's also, in my opinion, the perfect size for this kind of project. (The one I have is the Flexbook Sketchbook, 6x8.5, blank.  Way cheaper at Dick Blick than at Amazon, though they carry it too. I found it for a deal a year ago, and it has been sitting on my shelf waiting for the perfect use.)

Almost all of what I keep in here is for my Year 6 reading, though I have an occasional quote from someplace else that I couldn't resist adding because it struck me as "in conversation" with the readings here.  This doesn't take the place of my other commonplace books: favorite quotes from my Year 3 and Year 2 readings go in the notebook I keep for school-related selections, and then I have notebooks for Charlotte Mason reading, religious reading, etc. But the ones for Year 6 go in here.  It also doesn't take the place of my pre-reading notes; I still keep those on a weekly sheet.

I don't require myself to keep a certain amount per week; I just fit it in when I can. I keep a large post-it on the inside cover, and as I do my pre-reading for the week, I make note of quotes, diagrams, maps, or sketches I want to add.  And then when I get a chance, I know just what to start in on.

Most of my drawings here are what I think of as drawing copywork -- I am copying illustrations from our books or maps I find online. Trying to draw my own scenes and such stresses me out. So I just don't do that. ;)

To be honest, it has become one of my favorite things to do when I do get a spare moment without a babe in arms.  Can you tell?  That's why I wanted to share it here, in case it might be something you would enjoy trying as well.  I only wish I had thought of it sooner!

I'll be sharing updates from this notebook in my {Keeping Company} posts each month, when I think of it.

If you decide to try out something similar (or if you're already keeping something fun like this!), I'd love to see what your version looks like. I am always inspired to see how each mama adapts habits such as these for her own uses, needs, and personality.

Monday, September 25, 2017

{This and That}

I'm back! We just finished up what was for us, a fairly crazy few months, with a newborn, a new school year, and end-of-summer activities. But I think I can finally say I am coming out of the babymoon fog and getting my bearings again. I'm hoping to be back in this space a little more often.

Baby Damien is two and a half months old! I know, right?

I can't even stand how cute my baby boys are together.

My other kids have been a big help.  Baby-holding rotations make our school days go a little more smoothly than they might otherwise with a fussy baby in the home.  It has been a challenge for me, as all newborn days are, but we are slowly settling into a routine.

I am grateful to have all these little people underfoot -- it is loud and busy and hard, but also very joy-filled.

But wow, it is hard to imagine that I have NINE children and my oldest is eleven.  ELEVEN!  It's still a bit surreal, even to me, that our family has grown in this way.


I've got some announcements for you:

:: Later this week I am heading to Seattle for CM West :: Conference at Puget Sound.  I can't wait! (If you will be there, let me know in the comments.)  I am flying solo -- my first time flying in ten years -- and although in some ways it would be more fun with a friend along, I'm also reeeeally looking forward to the quiet.  I'm hoping to do some reading and some Term 2 brainstorming on the flights there and back.

:: During my blog break, I wrote a post on exams for the Charlotte Mason Institute.  CM-style assessment fascinates me and I was happy to share about them in yet another format, in addition to the webinar, the podcast, and the many blog posts here. Ha! ;) Really, though. I hope you find it helpful!

:: An update about the Conference in Old San Juan: the deadline for early bird registration has passed, but you can still sign up if you're so inclined.  We're about half sold out already, so it's a good time to jump in before we formally launch general registration in October.


Have you been following along at CharlotteMasonIRL?  For the next two weeks, we have invited nine guest contributors each to take over the account for a day and share A Day in the Life of their homeschool.  I'm excited to see what these mamas share because they are some of my favorite ladies on IG!

And speaking of A Day in the Life, my good friend Virginia Lee (who I'm finally going to meet in person this week!!!) wrote up a day in the life of her home at Afterthoughts. Virginia Lee is one of the most down-to-earth and intentional Charlotte Mason-educating women that I know, but unfortunately she doesn't I'm thrilled Brandy has offered her space and invited Virginia Lee to share there.  You can also follow her on Instagram, and especially if you're using AmblesideOnline like we are, I highly recommend you do!


I haven't been getting much done around the house lately thanks to my babymoon, but I did have my husband hang these big spreads of sheet metal to create a huge magnetic art wall by our front door!  Before we had a tape and sticky putty thing going, and though I love displaying my kids' work, it didn't get changed out that often because it was a hassle to peel everything off and tape it back up.  I have had this vision in my head ever since we moved into the house, so I'm happy to have it up!  Now the Big Kids can arrange their art how they want.

This was the easiest project. These are galvanized metal sheets, and each cost under $10 at Home Depot. We were able to nail it straight to the wall -- they are light and thin, so there was no need for anchors or studs.  They aren't the prettiest, but I don't mind the minimalist look at all.  And besides, I'm planning that they'll always be pretty much entirely covered with art!  :)  But I have seen people paint these before installing, which is a neat option.

PSA: I'm sure you're aware, but magnets like the ones I'm using may be dangerous for littles.  I bought a pack of 100 on Amazon for $10, and they're inch-wide disks. So not as hazardous as some of the teeny ones available, but still a concern if your board is in arm's reach of littles.  (Ours is not.) You can always swap out for large or oddly shaped magnets to make them less of a concern.  Also, sheet metal can be sharp around the edges.  The particular ones we got are not, but I have seen people frame out sheets like these with wood trim, which looks lovely and protects small hands.


I've switched my pre-reading time to Friday evenings instead of Saturday mornings for now to accommodate baby.  He goes out pretty regularly before 9pm in the evenings, so I usually have a couple hours I can spend reading in quiet on Friday nights.  I am LOVING our Year 6 books!  I did a few swaps and switches, but I am thrilled with so many of the book selections. I hope to write a bit about how we're living out the Year 6 schedule soon.

(By the way, I have a whole write-up of My Weekly Planning + Pre-Reading Session from last year, and the recent Schole Sisters episode on this topic was excellent.  Highly recommend if you are looking for ideas and encouragement to take on this task!)


I have plenty more to share, but that's all for now!  In the meantime, you can picture me like this: baby in wrap, walking laps in my house while I read aloud.  (Seriously. I am killing it with my FitBit despite not really exercising much at all yet.  Who knew newborns could get you so many steps?! :))

I'm hoping to be back later this week with a peek into one of my new additions for this school year: my Reading Journal.