Monday, January 9, 2017

What we didn't share in 2016

First of all, can I just take a second to say how GOOD it is to be back in blogland???  Because, wow.  You guys.  The love!  Thanks for your emails and notes.  It is good to be back, especially when the welcome is warm.  

So thanks.

There was so much I wanted to share with you last year.  The kids grew by feet, not inches.  We homeschooled, we played, we traveled.  We got an Asian kid.  And knocked up.  We renovated the back of our house.  We started new schools and made new family traditions... it was busy!

Oh, how I would like to photo dump today, but I'll restrain myself (and don't laugh when you see what that actually looks like!  I missed like 2/3 of the year!) to just the "big" moments.

1. Summer
Summer was a pretty typical affair for us, major life changes aside. 


We played.



Jake joined our neighborhood swim team (another brand spankin' new item for his ever-growing firsts resume)


We had fun cheering him on.  Or, as many as ever have fun doing anything at the same time, anyway.


We took a road trip to south western Colorado and camped at Mesa Verde.








In August, we celebrated an adoption



and two birthdays









2. Starting School

Which - obviously - they all did.  


Holy crap.  We have a high schooler in the house!


And no, I'm not homeschooling him.  For so, soooo many reasons.


We have a proud second grader.



A preschooler.  Who can't stand still, as preschoolers are likely to do.





And of course this one, who just didn't want to be left out.


3. Gender: Revealed!

There were so many other awesome moments from the fall that I wish I had time to share.  Pumpkins, costumes, trips to the mountains, cute littles hard at work on their various projects.  But without doubt, the biggest moment of our fall was finding out about our little tie breaker. 


Initially, we weren't going to find out.  I think Casey felt cheated that, despite the fact we didn't find out with Olivia, I knew she was a girl deep in my bones.  And I wasn't shy about proclaiming it to the world.

The truth is, I absolutely adore knowing who's in my belly.  I find it to be such a bonding process; one that is just precious which I was hesitant to give up.  So I twisted his arm, and we decided that finding out this way would be a nice way to bookend our pregnancies.



It was 7 years - almost perfectly to the day - after we did this:

Seriously.  We were just babies!  WHO let those two have a kid???

...but OH how much has changed!


What hasn't changed - no, not even considering this is the 4th time around - is my own practically incoherent excitement.



And the fact that I still CAN'T STAND the suspense!!!



Oh my goodness.  A BOY!!!!


There were some very fat tears of joy (me), and some very bitter tears of disappointment (Leah).

But, she has since come around, and Casey and I are over the moon.  Logan needs a buddy, and is SO beyond thrilled to have a brother.  The only one who gets his own room in this house is Jacob, so it works out absolutely beautifully that we'll have two little girls and two little boys.  

So there we have it.  That's what you missed from 2016.  In a nutshell (biggest understatement ever).  

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A New Year, and our new life

Hello, my lovely friends!  Happy New Year!

I suspect you've probably figured out by now that we took a bit of an... ahem... extended absence from the blogging process.

Along with the bells and whistles of 2017, I can now fill you in a bit about why.  There are so many details here that don't belong to me, of which I'll have to leave you in mystery, so forgive me in advance but it is only partly my story to tell.

The short and simple?


We are now a family of six!  And... a half... but I'll get to that later.

The short story is that my 14 year old cousin lost his mom, my aunt, about five years ago.  At the end of April, his daddy passed away as well.  I got on a plane to Washington on May 1st, and one week later came home with Jacob, a suitcase and a box which comprised all of his earthly belongings.  In August, we adopted him, and everybody lived happily ever after.

That's the version of events that everybody seems to want to hear.  The story that ties up neatly with a pretty little bow.

One of the things I have greatly missed about blogging is the ability to pour out my heart, to ponder, to put my struggles and experiences into words.  But I'm quickly learning two things.  One: teenagers.  They don't like it when you talk about them (weird, right?).  And two: people really like this neat and tidy little story.  It looks so good on paper.  A sad story, to be sure, but one that has a happy ending.

The truth, though, is that it isn't an ending at all.  The simple story misses all the details that make up the everyday moments of the lives we're all in the process of re-building.

Hard details.

Painful details.

The simple story keeps all the complexities and trauma and adjustments and painful endings that nobody ever wanted in a safe, unexpressed little bubble.  It ignores the fact that we are all in the midst of forging an entirely new normal that looks nothing - for him, for us, for anybody - the way life looked as the new year dawned in 2016.


But, it looks good on a Christmas card, and that is as much as most people are interested in.

Which is okay, really.

There have been so many victories, which I am convinced God prepared for us beforehand.  The fingerprints of divinity have been upon us from the very beginning.

We've discovered that safe and tidy and acceptable are not the way God usually operates.  He goes for the impossible, the unbelievable.  

The reality is that it was an act of total and utter obedience, without any understanding of what the path before us looked like or how in the world it could be accomplished; how the broken pieces could ever be put back together.

We simply stepped out in faith and made the next right choice.  And the next one after that.

All my worries and arguments are continually met with Scriptures about relying on His strength and not my own.  Scriptures that declare that God has a plan for our good, and that He wastes nothing.

Every failure and every victory, it is all in His hands.  He takes our measly fish and loaves and multiplies them into something altogether wondrous, and so much bigger than we could have imagined.

So that's where our story begins in 2017.  It has not been an easy journey, nor are we done yet on that front.  But really, really BIG things are happening in our home.  

I haven't quite figured out the balance of what I can share here in this space and what needs to remain private, nor have I figured out how to clear enough room to make time for writing as a priority.  But I do hope that I will be able to post more this year than last.

Especially because...



....well, let's just say there will be more to celebrate in 2017.

Happy New Year to you, my friends.  I pray that you are blessed even through life's challenges!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back to Homeschool 2016: On Charlotte Mason and Classical Education

Homeschool.  It's not for the faint of heart.


If you've been around over the course of this last year, you won't be surprised to hear me say that I've been struggling to really nail down the educational philosophy our family will follow. 

We are absolutely delighted with Classical Conversations.  It's a staple in our homsechool, one we're delighted to continue with. 

But our day-to-day rhythm over the last year was not what it could have been.  


 There was a leadership vacuum, and when you're the teacher, principal and curriculum-designer-extraordinaire, you have no one to blame but yourself.  


We got through, no doubt.  It was fine.  They got what they needed.  It wasn't a bad year, but neither was it a year I look back on and feel like we really accomplished our goals.

All in all, I can do better.  And with this much at stake?  I should!

So, starting all the way back in February, I was already focusing on the next school year.  I knew I wanted to change things up, but I didn't know exactly how.  In my search, I came upon Charlotte Mason, and her educational philosophy:

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

  • By Atmosphere, Charlotte meant the surroundings in which the child grows up.  A child absorbs a lot from his home environment.  She believed that the ideas that rule your life as the parent make up one-third of your child's education.
  • By Discipline, Charlotte meant the discipline of good habits - and specifically the habits of character.  Cultivating good habits in your child's life make up another third of his education.
  • The other third of education, Life, applies to academics.  Charlotte believed that we should give children living thoughts and ideas, not just dry facts.  So all of her methods for teaching the various school subjects are built around that concept.


The more I began to dig into Charlotte Mason and her musings on education, the more I became inspired.  

Her philosophy is so simple, yet powerful: Provide children with excellent and diverse ideas, keep lessons short so as to always have the child's attention, and emphasize quality over quantity (in other words: build a child's habit for excellence by requiring only their best, even if that is only a few words or lines).


She emphasizes character building and habit training as central - not supplemental - to the educational process.


It has been such an intellectual awakening for me.  THIS!  my heart has cried, This is what we have been missing in our homeschool!  

Short lessons.  Living, life-giving materials.  Emphasis on character training. 
YES!



Armed with a myriad of new tools and inspiration, and refreshed by the new direction I'd been able to pin down for us, I began to tackle it.  What would our school year look like?

Some of my lovely CC teammates use this resource, a free, Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum designed to follow the CM method of homeschooling.  

I spent a great deal of time pouring over this wonderful resource, and I badly wanted to follow it to a tee.  But how would I work all of this in while still staying true to the themes and ideas that were being presented each week in Classical Conversations?  

Given the Charlotte Mason emphasis on short lessons and mastery-over-quantity, how could a person fit all of the wonderful resources of both curricula into a single homeschool day?  

In the end, the answer was simple: I couldn't.  

There was just too much material if I tried to do each one, and do it well.

If you're a single-minded, pedagogical purist, you're probably going to want to stop reading now (I am not... you've been warned!), because what I ultimately came to was the conclusion that I was going to combine them.  I would select the best of both the Classical and Charlotte Mason methods and use them hand in hand. 

So the million dollar question: How does that look in practice?

Classical Conversations will be the spine of what we learn.  But we will use Charlotte Mason's philosophies as the core of how we learn it.

Trying to decide how to focus our learning for the year and narrowing down the resources we would use was the hard part; putting together the week-by-week was easy.  I poured over book lists (largely from HalfAHundredAcreWood) that gave me inspiration for living books which also line up with the weekly themes covered in CC.  I stole generously from the resources listed by Ambleside Online (year one for my six year old), and magic happened.

You can find a full work-up of my in-progress magic by clicking here.  


Classical Conversations history themes for Cycle 2 (1st 12 weeks) cover medieval European history through the Battle of Waterloo.  Therefore, our weekly reading correlates appropriately.
Resources I'll be using include:

From Ambleside Year One (Complete curriculum, resources and schedule: http://amblesideonline.org/01.shtml)
- Our Island Story by HE Marshall (online: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/marshall/england/england.html)
- The Trial and the Triumph by Richard Hannula
- Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin (online: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18442)
- The Aesop for Children by Milo Winter (online: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19994)
- The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (onine: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/503)
- Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (online: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32488)
- Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare by Edith Nesbit
- Now We are Six by A.A. Milne
- A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
**Though the resources remain the same, many of the assignments have been altered to better align with the CC weekly themes.  My weekly timeline no longer matches the prescribed Ambleside timeline.

From other sources (inspired largely by Half a Hundred Acre Wood):
- Story of the World (SOTW)
- The World Treasury of Children's Literature by Clifton Fadiman
- The Jesus Storybook Bible
- Assorted fiction; see week-by-week schedule

I should also note: as I set about putting all this together, I had to take into account our personal family schedule.  I knew I would need to build in breaks here and there throughout the fall, as we like to take day-trips around beautiful Colorado and celebrate the season.  I knew we would need lighter weeks to build in extra memory work practice or catch up if we got behind.  There are weeks around Halloween and Christmas where I know we'll do little besides celebrate the holiday.  That's in line with our family rhythms and what brings us joy.  In my view, that is the beauty of homeschooling: it gives each family the freedom to take time to delight in each other and their own unique family culture.

Additionally, we will continue to use All About Reading (Level 2) for phonics and Horizon Grade 2 for math.  I've decided to stick with the CM way and go back to copy work in lieu of a formal writing curriculum.  Quality over quantity!

Here is our sample schedule, which is also a work in progress:

Yep.  2nd grade in four short hours a day!  Wahoo!  

(Although, if I'm honest, I fully anticipate that we won't be able to stick to this, certainly at first.) 

If you are blessed by any of this, I hope you will feel free to use it in your own family's homeschool plan!  And, if you have any questions, please e-mail me at melissa.strassner@gmail.com.  I'll be happy to give you further information or assistance, either on my weekly plan, Charlotte Mason or Classical Conversations, if I can.

Once again in case you missed it: Find my August-December schedule by clicking

Happy Homeschooling!


I changed my font at thecutestblogontheblock.com