Advent for All Ages

Every year, we celebrate a number of feasts along the way to Christmastide, including the Feast of St. Nicholas, Santa Lucia Day, and then through Christmastide itself ending in Epiphany.

For those of you with tiny children, you may be establishing your holiday traditions and how you want to celebrate Advent.  For those of you with older children and teens, you may be re-evaluating what works and doesn’t work.  And, those of you with upper grades children (middle school aged, ages 12-14), may be feeling pulled in the middle that the traditions of the early years and early grades no longer hold as much magic, but you are reluctant to let go of traditions or forge something new.

For those of you establishing traditions, my advice is to take it slow and add a little bit each year.  If your children are so, so small (ie, under seven), they may not even remember things from each year and by the time they are nine or ten and you have traditions in place, they will just consider that “this is how we have always done it.”

I would also encourage you to go simple and set a model of much hand-making of gifts and cooking and baking and helping others.  Some families have Kindness Calendars for Advent.  Some have traditions of things such as baking little loaves of bread and leaving them on neighbor’s doorsteps for the Feast of St. Nicholas.  At any rate, keeping things simple, including the number of gifts a child receives, is really important.   Children do not need to plow through a roomful of gifts in order to have a meaningful holiday and in fact, once the adrenaline high of ripping paper off of packages is done, they are typically disappointed and sad (and the younger ones burst into tears).  So, think carefully about how you would like to handle gifts (and when- throughout the season, throughout Christmastide, solely on Christmas?).  If you would like some more suggestions about gifts, please see this Holiday Gifts for Children and Holiday Gifts For Children: How Much Is Too Much?  Here is a list of gifts up to the age of thirteen.   Lastly, I always found this back post by Christine Natale, with her musings on Saint Nicholas Day and starting new traditions , to be quite reassuring.

Santa Claus is another area that needs thoughtful consideration.  Different families deal with “Santa Claus” in different ways.  Some feel he is an American helper to St. Nicholas;  some feel he has no place in this season of hope and light and is purely a commercial figure, some include Santa and his reindeer as a part of Christmastide.  At any rate, if you do have Santa Claus as part of your family traditions, I am going make a plea that Santa does not give the best or biggest gift.  This is just a personal opinion – that I feel the most special gifts should come from the family – and you may feel differently.  Or some families give gifts throughout Christmastide anonymously to each other.

If you have children in the upper grades (again, around the twelve year change to add fourteen or so), I would be very careful NOT to discard traditions you think might be too “babyish” for your now older child.  Crafting, baking, and slowing down is something that is important for this age.  This may be  easier to do if you actually have younger siblings or cousins about, but sometimes even holding that magic  for a small neighborhhood child can be helpful.    I find some children around the age of 10 or so realize the “truth” about Santa Claus, but I also find that is most cases the child really doesn’t want the magic to end and may even feel sad about this.

I think the other thing to consider even more movement away from consumerism and  toward acts of kindness, toward any sort of volunteering in a community setting if that is available.  The holidays should be about fostering light throughout the world.  I find some children of this age have a tendency toward wishing for a lot of fancy, expensive, technological gifts for themselves.  Some families have no trouble with this; some families coming from a Waldorf setting look to the curriculum and see when these subjects are introduced in a Waldorf School.   In this latter  instance, not only moving toward helping others but providing appropriate boundaries consistent with your family’s values (and budget) without feeling guilty  is of import.  If you would like to think more on this subject, there are a few posts on here about gaming, about introducting computers in general, and about Pondering Portals ( a series of four posts).

Teenagers can be happy with simple things if you have built up your traditions by this time to include slowing down, enjoying the time as a family and in helping others, and limiting a huge number of commercial gifts.  Teens who have developed interests can be easy to create or buy gifts for, and the love of the wonder of nature never goes away.  Christmastide: Forest, Farm, Field, and Stream  and its follow up post  may be of interest to you in this regard.  Planning outside time for hiking, skiing, cross country skiing, (or surfing and swimming depending upon where in the world you live!) can be utterly satisfying for teens – especially if it includes a little bit of the element of something new they have not tried before!

Lastly, for all ages, limiting the calendar to the most meaningful things for your family is important.  There will be more parties, get togethers, and things to do than you can possibly attend.  Limit your calendar to the most important things that reflect your values. It is an important model to show children the truly most important things about the holiday season – being together, sharing your value or religious-based traditions, and enjoying this special time of year in helping others.

Much love to you all,
Carrie

 

Martinmas: The Light of Compassion

This week, as we continue to celebrate Martinmas, let us show the light of Martinmas as compassion that begins in our own families.  This beautiful light that begins here can then radiate out into the world.

Compassion begins first and foremost with ourselves. I speak with mothers every day who are so hard on themselves.  They are constantly thinking, “Am I doing enough for the children?  Too much?  Do I have enough boundaries or am I spoiling them?  Am I modeling a million things correctly for them so they will grow up to be good people?”  So many things to consider, and sometimes we lose the compassion for ourselves in the process.  How can we authentically model this for our children when we cannot shower ourselves in compassion?

Compassion requires listening.  It requires being open enough to really hear not only the words, but the subtext beneath the words.  Modeling this is how small children learn. Actions are the shining path of compassion.  We work on our mistakes with restitution.    We show our forgiveness and we admit our mistakes .

Kindness in the family is the first line of compassion in our entire society.  Some further ideas include this posts that I liked about the Family Kindness Project  over at My Little Poppies.  I have written about kindness in parenting as a journey back in 2009.  All it takes is a few first steps to start, to get back on track, or to consider kindness and compassion as a top priority in your home.

Let’s all use this week in celebrating Martinmas as a way to shine our light in our families.

Many blessings to you all,

Carrie

 

 

Martinmas: Warmth, Light, and Protection

 

I love this time of year.  Martinmas is nearly upon us, and it brings an entire season of warmth, light, and protection that extends all the way through Candlemas and the very first inklings of spring.

St. Martin was (and is) an exceedingly popular Saint – the patron Saint of vine-growers, winemakers, beggars, tavern keepers. It was traditionally a time of great harvesting – the wine was ready from the summer harvest, grains and vegetables were ready to be made into porridges, the larger animals were slaughtered for winter food, and the community came together and reminded themselves what we all know: that to dwell in community and unity is protection through the long, cold, hard winter nights.  This was actually a time that perhaps we in America more associate with Thanksgiving, where the fruits of the harvest were showed off (goose was the traditional meal, and in the United States this extended to turkeys),  there were games and dances and parades.   Barns and larders were filled, and the people were thankful.

Today, we recount the story of St. Martin.   St. Martin, a Roman solider, who saw a shivering beggar outside the city gates. He cut his cloak in two and used half to cover the beggar.  Later that night, in a dream it was revealed to him that the beggar had been Christ himself.  This experience, and experience is one way that we learn about faith, became transformative and set St. Martin’s life on a course of compassion and light toward the most down trodden  and poor.   We carry lanterns in a meditative walk to remind us of the light we all possess inside. And we carry lanterns in community as we shine our collective light out into humanity.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing about warmth, light, and protection as we shore ourselves not only against winter, but against division, fear, coldness and uncaring.  Instead, we will be talking about ways to nourish ourselves and our families toward warmth, unity, joy and openness, and caring.

Many blessings to you,

Carrie

 

Darkness and Freedom

This time of year brings the impetus for the nourishing spiritual work that will sustain us through the darkness and cold of winter.  As the light fades away, we ask ourselves where is the light in our souls and how is this shining into humanity?  How do we not hurt others with our thoughts, words, and deeds?  How do we live with what we have done and by what we have left undone?

The only true answer to this is inner work.  Inner work requires an awakening.  It requires looking at the dark places that are inside of us. Sometimes our irritation is with those that we see outside of ourselves, and perhaps that is a good signal to look inside ourselves. Examining the darkness is what leads to freedom.  Awakening and asking the questions is the beginning.

The great Master Waldorf teacher Else Gottgens had a checklist she used at the end of each day of teaching in grades 1-8.  She would ask herself if she had given the children real and appropriate images or pictures (not  judgements); had she used the night wisely; did every child make an effort; did she translate the main lesson into movement; did she make the children laugh; did she address one or more of the temperaments; did she teach them something new? Then she would go back and make a lesson plan based upon the observations.

I think the outer observations, if we can slow down and look, are the easier parts.  I have not made a little checklist like Else Gottgens’ for my days of parenting children ages 7-15 at home, but I have some thoughts in my mind.  Things that would govern my days like:  did we laugh together; did we find moments of reverence and wonder toward God and nature; was I kind; did I succeed in guiding ideas, perceptions, or behavior with appropriate boundaries or discussion; did I put forth a love of all people in humanity today; did I put forth a love of all of Creation; did I instill an attitude of capability, accountability, and responsibility in my children?

The harder part is the inner attitude.  What did I do that was wrong or left undone?  Where was my perception completely wrong?  Where was the Divine nudging me and I ignored?  Where did I need to forgive myself or others?  Was I humble?  Was I generous?  Where are the dark places inside of me that need rooting out?   What am I modeling and is it reflective of my innermost thoughts? Is my outward time and activities reflecting what is inwardly most important to me? I find a practice of a spiritual path to help explore and face these areas in love is a necessity.

Thinking as the days grow shorter….

Blessings,

Carrie

 

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things: Halloween and More

People who know me well know that Halloween is actually my least favorite holiday.  I am a complete Scrooge about it all – well, at least as far as the unhealthy candy, and creepy stuff – as it  just doesn’t fill my bucket.

However, I love the FALL HARVEST aspect of Halloween and my favorite of all,  pumpkins! Who ever knew that a round orange vegetable could be so lovable?   I look forward to every October to begin doing circle times about pumpkins, games with pumpkins, songs about pumpkins and harvesting, cooking with pumpkins (and moving into cranberries in November) and using All Hallow’s Eve to prepare for the festivals I do love, which is the Feast of All Saints (All Hallows), and the Feast (Commemoration) of All Souls Departed.  These are huge feasts in my religious tradition and I love it.

I also love the bright colors, fireworks, and festive food of Diwali.  Our neighborhood has been celebrating Diwali and it has been so joyous to watch and be a part of!  So many wonderful things to love this time of year!

Here are a few of my favorite things about Halloween, The Feast of All Saints ,and the Feast of All Souls Day.  Maybe you will find a few of your favorite things on this list too!

  • Using All Hallow’s Eve as a springboard to talk to my children about our upcoming religious festivals
  • Experiencing Halloween as this beautiful transition point between Michaelmas and Martinmas.  I love what the book “Festivals With Children” by Brigitte Barz says about this:  “The candle inside the pumpkin or turnip, both fruits of the earth, is like the very last memory and afterglow of the summer sun with its ripening strength.  Then for Martinmas a candle is lit within the home-made lantern; this is the first glow of a light with a completely different nature, the first spark of inner light.”
  • Carving pumpkin lanterns; roasting pumpkin seeds; shadow puppet shows; bobbing for apples; celebrating Guy Fawkes on the fifth of November!
  • Tapping into the sacred and the significant in this time; if this is the time of blurred space and time where the sacred connection between what was and what is,  what am I doing to be a part of the solution toward connectedness and love?  Where is my spiritual food coming from that will nourish me for the winter months?
  •  There is a sweet little Halloween Circle in the book, “Dancing As We Sing” that one could really flesh out with terrific songs and fingerplays such as “Five Little Pumpkins” and more (see the book “Let’s Do Fingerplays” by Marion Grayson);  pumpkin games.
  •  Christine Natale’s story called “The Littlest Pumpkin” – great for wet on wet painting or beeswax modeling or to tell before pumpkin carving! One of my favorites!  I also like the story about the little hobgoblin.  Do you all know that story as well?  Suzanne Down also has lovely stories for the younger set.
  • These posts on Halloween,   All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day,  and thinking ahead to lanterns for Martinmas!
  • For The Feast of All Saints today, I used many of the ideas from over at Loyola Press.  For The Feast of All Souls tomorrow, we will be making soul cakes.

Please share with me your favorite things about this significant time and transitioning to Martinmas!

Many blessings,
Carrie

 

October Rhythms and Meal Planning

I love October.  I love the temperature dropping, the leaves turning color and falling down, I love the golden rays of the Southern sun.  October is also when I feel the outdoors beckoning us, and the beautiful changes of seasons scatters us.

It is a perfect time to re-think rhythms and meal planning and perhaps get a little more grounded in the process.  Lately I felt like being outside, but at home and in our own neighborhood, so I think it is a good time to look at the things in our home as we head into cooler weather and  the autumnal rhythm.

Rhythm:

Well, if I had tiny children, I would be totally focused on warming meals, layers for outside, and rest and outdoor play, and work around the house.  My rhythm would be simple, lovely and held.  I urge those of you with tinies to get some old watercolor paintings and cut them into pieces and write your daily rhythm on it.  Turn off the screens for yourself and your child (if any are on during the day) and sink into the warmth of nourishing your home and each other through play, song, work, and warmth.

I find it much harder with teenagers and the spread of ages we have. So, I have settled into

  • Warm Breakfast and Discussion about the day
  • We try to start around 8:30 or 9.  This is our littlest first grader’s time.  We try to start by going outside and doing most of school outside if possible.  Make sure high schooler and sixth grader are starting with music practice and any work they can do on their own.
  • Check in with high schooler about Algebra or Spanish or other work.
  • Sixth grader’s time with me- we will be moving into Roman History before Christmas, and I want to start our time together with the idea of being a Roman soldier.  So, hearty movement and then main lesson.  Work in handwork into our read alouds and invite first grader in.  High schooler usually has work that she is trying to get done, so it has been difficult to not honor that during this time, but I am hoping to get into a better rhythm with this so my high schooler has time to do handwork too.  She has gone back to crocheting for making some holiday gifts, so that has been fun.
  • Check in with high schooler and if time, start Biology. Sixth grader and first grader do chores around the house; walk and play with the puppy.
  • Warm Lunch and Rest
  • High School Time.
  • Finish sometimes between 3-4 in the afternoon
  • We have planned  several wonderful field trips a month.
  • I have planned one main lesson period for our first grader and anyone who can join in solely for nature/seasonal crafts in the backyard or neighborhood each week.
  • What I would like to see:  my goal is to free up one afternoon a week for “open studio time” where we can complete Main Lesson Book pages that need extra time and care.
  • My other goal:  toward mid to end of November, we plan to free up entire afternoons for crafting holiday projects.🙂

This is more complex than I would like it to be, but I guess that is life with a high schooler, middle schooler, and first grader.  It is what it is at this point.  I could spend eight to ten hours a day on schooling stuff, and it just isn’t feasible for my own sanity, so this is what I do.  We start early and try to get done!

Menu Planning:

I love, love, love Heather Bruggeman’s Whole Foods Freezer Cooking Class and am doing that now and re-working some of our menu plans.  October seems like the perfect time to think more about crock pot meals, stews, baked goodies, and heartier meals (even though it has still been rather warm here during the day!)

For breakfast, lately  I have mainly been making eggs in tortillas with avocado; oven puff pancakes;  french toast; oatmeal in a rice cooker with apples and cinnamon or baked bananas over the oatmeal; buttermilk banana pancakes; frittatas.  There is a recipe for morning millet that I want to try.  I always offer fruit as well; sometimes we juice.

For snacks we have been having hummus and carrots; muffins.  And three words:  pumpkin pudding cake.

For lunch, I have mainly been making green chile chicken enchiladas; caesar salads;  kale salads; leftovers from dinner, pot pie

For dinner, I have mainly been making fast meals such as marinated pork loin (olive oil, whatever citrus I have on hand that I can juice, thyme); chicken in many forms in the crock pot or grill; shepherd’s pie; beef stew in the crockpot, and still am grilling. I always serve at least two vegetables, salad and fruit salad.  I think as the weather gets colder we might add in some rice or potatoes. I am loving roasted veggies right now –  beets, butternut squash, cauliflower are my favorites.  And I just picked up cranberries in the store, so I am excited about making cranberry sauce!

Rhythms of Self-Care:

  • Rest. I find rest and just being able to do nothing an important part of my own rejuvenation during the school year, especially as we head into winter.
  • Making time to be with  family and friends who love me.
  • Making time to exercise and cook nourishing food.
  • Participating and being a part of the life in my parish.  It encourages me and helps me so much.
  • Learning things!

Please share your rhythms of October!  I am always looking to learn from other mothers, and usually get so many wonderful ideas when we all share.

Blessings,

Carrie

 

 

Scattered October

Every year, I tell myself that  I should  plan a fall break in October. And every  year, by May or June of every year, I totally forget this intention and don’t schedule it into our school year.

But October has a way of working it out without my help.  Because, October, you scatter us so.

Out into the cooler weather and into the sunshine to play, ride horses, be with the puppy , camp, and dream.

Out into the heating up of outside the home activities that our teenager so wants and needs.

Out into the golden yellows, reds, and browns of the leaves.

October, you scatter my brain.

This month I have felt so slow.  All the children are sleeping later.  We are all looking for play and sunshine due to the cooler weather.  We are looking to change up the routine.  And we are moving so slowly in our blocks that I pretty much decided to call a vacation last week.  I didn’t tell the children that in so many words, but I told MYSELF that so I wouldn’t feel “behind” (although the whole notion of “being behind” in homeschooling  is rather  ridiculous.  Slow and behind compared to what?!  You would think I would know this after so many years of doing this!) .  We are finishing our first block of ninth grade (although I only have five blocks planned for the whole year on top of our all year round classes); our sixth grader is in the midst of her second block; and our first grader is starting his third block this week.  Our teenager is also moving through Algebra I and Spanish II and Biology (we are finishing up cellular respiration right now and will move into cell reproduction soon!) pretty well.

Maybe, after all of these years of homeschooling,  I should realize that this is a  fairly normal pace for us.  Not all of us are speedy  homeschool families,  some of us are more snail- like and distracted by bright  shiny fun than others (!!), but I always remind myself that we are steady and we do keep learning. And every year, at the end of the year, I am always surprised by how much we material we really have covered, how much the children have grown, and how another school year has gone by and how all of it just keeps integrating and overlapping and circling around again.

This year, the scattering forces of October’s golden rays  has reminded me yet again, stitched into my brain yet again,  that we might sometimes be slow  but that we try so hard as a family to learn.  We love the diversity in our world and to have our children be lovers, encouragers, and hopefully action-takers in humanity.  Let’s just go slow, and deep, and steady, and have fun.

October, maybe you scatter us in all the right ways.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful, sparkly, golden Autumn.

Many blessings,
Carrie