Celebrating the Winter Solstice

“At the midwinter solstice comes the shortest day.  This is the darkest time of year in the northern hemisphere.  We experience this in our lives as hardship – it’s cold and dark, we can feel alone and bereft.  At this time of outer darkness, we can feel challenged within ourselves to find light.” – From “Celebrating Irish Festivals:  Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations” by Ruth Marshall, Hawthorne Press

Many Waldorf resources actually do not mention celebrating the Solstice at all.  However, mention can be found in the book, “Celebrating Irish Festivals:  Calendar of Seasonal Celebrations” by Ruth Marshall as noted above.   This is tied to the Irish mounds of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.  Newgrange in particular is noted as being older than the Egyptian pyramids. The entrance of Newgrange is aligned with the position of the sunrise on the shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice.  The interior carvings of the innermost chamber are illuminated by light on this very special day! 

This book suggests rising early to greet the dawn and to watch the sunrise together.  However, I know many families who celebrate either the Eve of the Solstice (as Heather over at Beauty That Moves details beautifully in this recent post. ) or the night of Solstice itself. Some families will have a party complete with yellow foods, live fun music and dancing!  I also know families who celebrate with tea outside.    I ran through the different Winter festivals, including a mention of Solstice in this  back post.

Some families will dip candles on this special day, or make lanterns or hold a big bonfire!  Sun catchers could be lovely as well if the temperatures are enough to freeze things in your area!  This could also be a wonderful day to hold a Winter/Advent Spiral, which I detail in several back posts.

This year, we plan to celebrate the shortest day of the year by being outside, and also by baking a beautiful yellow bread.  The book “The Sun Bread” by Kleven promises to be a favorite.  I also want to sing!  Jodie Mesler  has a new “Make Way For King Winter” songbook out with several songs that could be used for the Winter Solstice.   You can see  her website  for more details.  Jodie is a great encouragement for families looking to bring season music into their family life.   The other thing I would like to do is make some simple treats for the birds, and pomanders for inside our home (pomanders remind me of the book, “The Sun Egg” by Elsa Beskow!)

I would love to hear your wonderful plans.

Blessings and love,

Carrie

The Quiet of Advent: Reflection

Advent should be the time to slow down and reflect; a time to be able  to think of others.  Yet, many of us find ourselves halfway through Advent with a very busy “to-do” list and many events to attend and with very little time to do the things we really consider the most important.

The first step to having a quiet Advent is to really whittle down outside things such as gift lists and party invitations.  You may not be able to attend every single thing you are invited to, and that is okay.  Having a day at home is as valid  a reason as  RSVPing “no”  to something as having another outside function to attend. Many of you who have read my blog for years know of my “X” the calendar method.  I just “X” out whole days to be home.  Being home is a commitment, just like being out is.

In the time and space of your own home, you can encourage a strong and cozy rhythm of play for little ones, daydreaming and pursuits of interests for older children, and time for yourself to just think.  You can think about what commitments really fuel you, and what things you are really passionate about and how your family members can each help one another and those outside your home.  What would that like look like for you and your family?

You might chuckle a little about how your family can help each other, but I often find families do have trouble with this.  If you are so insanely busy that life is rushing yourself and children to places, eating take out every night, falling into bed and doing it all over again, then something has to change and give.  There is no time for little ones to learn to do things for their parents, and no time for parents to deeply give of themselves.  Many of the families who read this blog follow a simpler lifestyle as  found in Waldorf parenting and education, but I also have many families from many different walks of life who read this blog.  It is important to honor where people are, and also to help and encourage families to simplify if they are not in a place that is sustainable.  A wonderful read for this process is Kim John Payne’s “Simplicity Parenting.”  I hope to go through this book chapter by chapter on the blog in 2016.

There are often opportunities to volunteer as a family if you search.  Many volunteer opportunities are for those over 16, yet if you look (and your state homeschooling Facebook pages can often be a good place to start!) you can find opportunities that can involve the entire family.  Your place of worship may also have these opportunities.

Start small, and start at home with your own family and children…and once that is feeling smooth to you, you can look to shine light in your little corner of the world with something that you feel deeply about.

Many blessings,
Carrie

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: Advent Week Three

I love the third week of Advent; the week of joy.  I often find myself humming the refrain of “comfort and joy” this week.  The comfort I find in the spiritual world, the joy I find in people and in hopefully contributing something positive to my little corner of the world.  Every day I meet the most fantastic, most positive people.  I met two military veterans; one of the veterans and I solved all of the United States’ challenges in our half hour meeting in SkyZone, an indoor trampoline park!

This week in the view of Advent in Waldorf Education looks at the role of the animal kingdom:

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts–
All await the birth, from the greatest and in least.

A different version I have heard is:

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts

The light of hope that we see in the greatest and the least

So this is the week the sweet felt and wooden animals make their way in the Advent tableau. If you are reading along with this themes, here are some books I have chosen for this week:

Today –13- Owl Moon  by Yolen

14- Bear Stays Up For Christmas by Wilson and Chapman

15-  Who Is Coming to My House?

16-  We Were There by Bunting

17- The Animals’ Christmas Eve – Wiersum

18-  The Legend of the Birds (found in Hark!  A Christmas Sampler” by Yolen and dePaola

19-   This is also the Feast Day of The Apostle Thomas in the Western Church, so I may try to find something about St. Thomas.  However, in keeping with the animal theme:  The Littlest Camel, from the Hark! A Christmas Sampler mentioned above.

Possible Activities:

  • Creating applesauce and cinnamon ornaments for the tree and use cookie cutter shapes of animals.  This is such a fun project for small ones! And they smell so good!
  • Make candy cane felt mice.  We do this every year to give out to neighbors  – the organic candy cane is the tail.
  • Create beeswax animals for our Advent scene.
  • Make bird treats and homemade dog treats. 
  • Look ahead for the Winter Solstice on Tuesday, December 22.  I love the book “Sun Bread” by Kleven.  I love to mark this day with getting outside!  I also like the book and ideas over at  The Crafty Crow  How about a hot cocoa bar to mark the day?
  • This week begins with “Gaudete Sunday” – Latin for “rejoice”.  We rejoice because, in the words of St. Paul, “The Lord is near”.  What could you do this week that makes you feel calm, serene and close to the spiritual world and the wonders of creation?   What brings you comfort and joy?

Please share the wonders of your week!

In joy,

Carrie

A Sweet and Gentle Santa Lucia Day

Sundays can be such busy days during Advent!  Two of our  children are  involved in choir, and they have been singing so much this month – two masses today, solo singing a part last week in a piece for the adult choir (they were so excited!), preparing music for Christmas Eve….And sometimes the feast days, especially when they fall on a Sunday, have a way of sneaking up on me.  Does that ever happen to you?  Like you really want to celebrate St. Nicholas Day or Santa Lucia Day but all of the sudden, there it is and you were not prepared!

I am here to give you some encouragement.  I don’t think festivals have to be “all or nothing”.  You can build little by little over the years.  You can start small.  It doesn’t have to be perfect or like something you see in a magazine or on the blog of someone whose family seems perfect.  My family is not perfect.  I am not perfect!   

And our children grow and change. The traditions that you start slowly and build upon will be there through the years, but they may also change and morph a little as your children grow.  It is okay.  No child stays three years old forever! (Anyone sighing with relief out there?)  Tonight we were hoping to go our local Nordic Lodge’s St. Lucy festival celebration – food and singing in Swedish! We were exhausted from this weekend of singing and our middle daughter’s birthday, but wouldn’t that have been a lovely community way to mark this day?

So, if you didn’t have buns ready this morning, or a beautiful candle- lit headpiece for your oldest daughter or a star boy hat for your son, all is not lost.  You still could make and have buns for tea, or at least make some Scandinavian cookies and have them with dinner.  Most of all, you could do an act of kindness.  St. Lucy brought food to the people of Sweden during a terrible famine.  Other legends say she brought food to the Christians in the catacombs.  So perhaps collecting food for your local food pantry would be as much in the spirit of this day as buns in the early morning (not that those aren’t festive and wonderful!).    I encourage to mark this day as you can, where you are today.   Shine your light where you live and go from there.  That, to me, is the light that this season is all about.

Embrace where you are and live it in joy! Most of all, let us be sweet and gentle to ourselves!  It doesn’t have to be big or grand or perfect to be wonderful.

Lots of love and joy today,
Carrie

Weeks Twelve Through Fourteen of Homeschooling Eighth Grade, Fifth Grade and Kindergarten

Week Twelve was the week of November 9th, we took two weeks off due to a family wedding and Thanksgiving and came back to do Week Thirteen of school the week of November 30th and Week Fourteen the week of December 7th (this week).  Normally, we slow down in December or take quite a bit of time off in December, but we have lost a lot of time this fall due to varying circumstances, so I actually feel the need to power through a little bit.  So, please know this isn’t a normal December rhythm for us!

Kindy –   There has been a lot of “life” and less normal rhythm than I would have liked leading up to our family wedding and Thanksgiving..So, we are enjoying getting some balance back with a small circle, stories to go with the weeks of Advent and the Saints we celebrate in Advent, holiday baking and crafting and long walks outside in our nice weather.

Fifth Grade –  We finished India during Week Twelve. We were exceedingly lucky as that week was the celebration of Diwali and whilst we had already attended a Diwali cultural event at our local library that had crafts, food and Classical Indian dancing, this week we had a wonderful neighbor who invited us to their home for their Diwali celebration, complete with sweets and dinner and fireworks.  So, that was a wonderful way to cap off India.  We spent most of Week Twelve talking about the caste system, reading the Mahabharata, and finishing the book, “The Iron Ring.”

I realized that in fifth grade with our first daughter, she did about fourteen pages of paintings, summaries, drawings.  This time around we did about half that – seven pages.  Part of this is due to different temperaments and capacities and part of this is due to the fact that I am much better at not over-assigning workYou do not need something in a main lesson book for every single thing you do.  Even in the Waldorf Schools, from what I have seen, most blocks seem to have around 6 to 10 pages in the Main Lesson Books, depending upon the block.  (If someone reading this has a child in fifth grade in a Waldorf School, please do write in and tell me how many pages in a Main Lesson Book your child’s work on Ancient India was, for example.  I would love a larger sample than my local area).  So please do think projects, modeling, field trips.  You are in the home environment and you are a homeschooler.  This is and should be different than the school environment.  I think if you push main lesson book drawing and writing in the grades 1-6, many (not all, but many!  There will always be those students who love to draw and write) seventh and eighth graders homeschooled students will really balk when the see main lesson books in those grades. Being mindful of the amount of sitting work for a particular block you are asking for with a particular child is so important!

Then we moved into Persia – the land itself, the creation of man, the story of King and his golden dagger and then into the life of Zarathustra and the Magi.  We painted the Land of Persia, wrote a summary about that, modeled King Djemshid and his golden dagger and did two separate pictures of Zarathustra in a chalk pastel medium.    There were also some beautiful verses and poetry I found.  Now, in  the middle  of Week Fourteen we have moved into Ancient Mesopotamia – the land and the people, Marduk, Hammurabi and his code, and hopefully into Gilgamesh by Friday.

Math and spelling are still coming along and being practiced daily in addition to our block work.   Spelling is making a few leaps;  because of challenges we are still in the land of short vowels and initial and final consonant blends but it seems as if there is an increased awareness these days that shows more is clicking and being retained in the memory.    Our daughter read “One Day in the Desert” on her own,  and we are currently reading the Childhood of Famous Americans “John Muir” since that touches on botany, ecology, upcoming mineralogy.  4-H has been busy with the homeschool meeting and the Fall Fun Day.  Choir is also busy now that we are in Advent and all of the end of the year horse show and banquet and barn work.

Eighth Grade –  We moved into Chemistry during Week Twelve, but honestly, we were still finishing up a lot of work from our American History block and didn’t get to start Chemistry until the last day and then we had two weeks of vacation.  So, we are moving slower than I would like as we mainly started Chemistry this week and I really wanted to finish this block and a block on Asian Geography before Christmas but it looks like that is not going to happen, so I will have to decide what we will begin with in January after break. 

So far we have done an intensive look at carbohydrates – sugars and starches, the solubility of sugar and salt, enzymes and how they break down carbohydrate, Fehling’s solution and the use of hydrochloric acid in breaking down carbohydrates and how this is indicated, and on a practical level how sugar is processed from sugarcane.  We looked at the history of sugar cane in the United States in Louisiana, St. Croix (US Territory), and Maui.  Now we have moved into proteins, and I hope to wrap this block up next week or so.  With proteins we are looking at how heat denatures proteins, coagulation of proteins, (cheesemaking would be great here, but we have done that quite a bit in the past). We have cooked quite a bit (meringue cookies, fudge, meat dishes)  and that has been an enjoyable part of this block for our teen.  In our look at fats next week, we will be dealing mainly with rendering fat, extracting essential oils, oil and water.  Soap making is good here, but I decided to try to keep our practical things to food making this go around, so we may experiment with some of the things we have done before, like making our own mayonnaise and ice cream.   I have tried to make this block as hands-on as possible.

In our year long course of World Geography, we finished up our page for the United States.  I gave homework about the United States and Canada,  an end of unit test for the United States  that focused on several questions to be answered in paragraphs, labeling a map with all 50 states and capitals, and labeling a physical map with natural features.   In Canada we reviewed from fifth grade all the provinces and capitals, all the physical features and then the history of independence of our neighbor and some current events with Canada’s new Prime Minister.  Our daughter finished the Canada pages, including a products of Canada map.  Spanish is also coming along; we are almost halfway through this high school level course (which, by the way,  has been so much work!)  Typing is also coming along, and our daughter got to help my husband build a new computer from scratch and learn all the parts of the computer and their functions.

We are still reading “Elijah of Buxton” but almost finished!  Finally!   Independent reading has been difficult these past weeks as “Riders of the Pony Express” was not enjoyable to our eighth grader, and she never really dove into the biography of Harriet Tubman I shared with her.  I hope to return to Harriet Tubman’s biography this spring with our Peacemakers block, and plan to instead  assign Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles” on Friday.  The next book we will read together will be “Brooklyn Bridge” by Hesse.

Math is still happening daily, mainly right now we are reviewing fractions and all the operations in fractions and financial math.   This has been a busy time with 4-H as our daughter attended the overnight Statewide Junior Leadership Conference with all kinds of leadership sessions and service opportunities; we also had the Cotton Boll and Consumer Judging Competition, and portfolio for District Project  Achievement.  I would love to talk a little bit more about homeschooling with 4-H in a different post.  I think there are many ways seniors (so for us, starting next year), can use the 4-H events and knowledge gained in preparing for DPA as part of academic credit. Choir is also busy since we are in Advent!  And the horses!

I would love to hear what you have been working on in November and December.

Blessings,
Carrie

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: Advent Week Two

The second week of Advent reminds me of the rejoicing of the plant kingdom as we progress ever nearer to the Nativity.  I love the short, little stories in the “Light in the Lantern” book for this week.  Here are a few more of our favorites this week, focused on the upcoming St. Lucia Day on the 13th, and plants and flowers:

7- Little Tree by ee cummings, story and pictures by Chris Rashka.  My father loved ee cummings, so this little book has special meaning to me.

8-  Christmas Farm by Mary Lynn Ray

9- Night Tree by Eve Bunting

10-  Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert Barry

11- A Christmas Tree for Pyn by Olivier Dunrea

12-  The Star Tree by Gisela Colle

13- Grandfather’s Christmas Camp by Marc McCutheon

If you would like to learn more about celebrating the Feast of St. Lucia, please see this back post.   Here is a  lovely gentle story for St. Lucia Day for little ears. 

These are a few of the things we love for this week:

  • Creating little moss gardens with floating walnut boats can be wonderful for children under the age of 9, although older children may (secretly) like it as well.  You can use a small tin tub, or a small pottery bowl – fill it with soil and moss and add little treasures throughout the week.   Save a walnut shell with wool for Christmas Day in which to place a little beeswax baby Jesus. 
  • This would be a wonderful week to have an Advent Spiral.  I doubt we will get to do one this year, but we have done this for many years and it was always beautiful and reverent.
  • Singing!  Many churches have caroling this week, or services of “Lessons and Carols” – Scripture reading and singing.
  • Making small gifts – candle dipping, candle rolling or other little gifts can be lovely.  We will be making some things this week.
  • Finding beautiful verses, poetry, Scripture to capture the essence of this Season.
  • Planting sweet little indoor bulbs
  • Spending time in the woods, the meadows, the farm.  Enjoying the solitude.
  • Are there any Swedish groups in your area holding special events for St. Lucia?  Could be worth it to check in your community!
  • Some wait until the last minute to get a Christmas tree; we usually do although last year I have to say the ones in the size we usually get at our local Christmas tree farm were all gone – so this could be a week to think about a tree if you don’t mind having one during the second week of Advent.

Please share the wonders of your week.

Blessings and joy,

Carrie

The Lovely Feast of St. Nicholas

Did St. Nicholas come to visit your house yesterday morning?  We have been celebrating St. Nicholas Day for many years now, first as part of the cycle of the year in Waldorf festivals in addition to our Germanic roots, and now as part of our liturgical year in the Episcopal Church.  Such a lovely day!

I love this little quote from Sarah Ban Breathnach’s “Mrs. Sharpe’s Traditions” about St. Nicholas Day:

For parents who feel frustrated by the fact that Santa Claus’s visit inevitably overshadows their religious observance of the birth of Christ, a visit from St. Nicholas can help tremendously.  For modern children who no longer believe in Santa Claus (and to Mrs. Sharp’s dismay, it seems they get younger with each passing Christmas), a celebration of St. Nicholas Day can satisfy a deep desire in children to believe in a benevolent and generous gift giver who rewards the good.

The author goes on to discuss her little treats of choice: seasonal cakes (such as iced gingerbread, lebkuchen,), a small bag of gold foil covered chocolate coins and one longed-for gift.  From Waldorf resources, “Festivals With Children” by Brigitte Barz actually has no mention of St. Nicholas Day (but does cover St. Barbara’s branches!), but Freya Jaffke covers the role of St. Nicholas in the Waldorf School setting quite extensively.  She writes:

St. Nicholas brings another true and resonant image to children on their journey through Advent…Legends about St. Nicholas describe how he emanated love and benevolence and was willing to sacrifice himself. Thus he becomes a figure who prepares and heralds the Christmas festival, at which the birth of Christ can be renewed in us each year.

When St. Nicholas visits a Waldorf classroom, he often carries a large golden book and offers the events of the past few days for small children – Jaffke writes that he does not judge, but  does expresses pleasure at things for the small children.  Only after the age of seven could one expect children to begin reflecting on their actions and perhaps undertake to improve anything or change something.  The author goes on to describe three traditional gifts – the apple (knowledge); nuts (strength!) and sweets such as gingerbread (warmth).  The author writes a lively description of the morning of a St. Nicholas visit  to a classroom with order of events.  Most of all, St. Nicholas becomes an inner preparation for the Advent season for adults and children alike.

In our home, we focus on stories of St. Nicholas and  the life of St. Nicholas.  In the past sometimes we have done homemade gifts and sometimes it was a more major gift-giving day.; sometimes we gave out nuts and fruit and made iced gingerbread.   This year we had gold foil coins and one gift plus a little set of Nativity Icons to color as ornaments for our Christmas tree (which we will get this week, I think).  I didn’t make a golden scroll or note from St. Nicholas, which I have done in past years as well, but we did go to church and celebrate again.   I have kept things as simple as possible this year to just relax and have fun with our children of widely different ages, especially when a Feast Day falls on a day where we will be at church, which is a busy day of the week for us.

This week marks the second week of Advent and tomorrow I will be sharing with you the things I love in the second week of Advent.  Please share your traditions, successes, and joys.

Many blessings,
Carrie