First Month

Somehow the second half of January has seemed to last much longer than the first. I look at my last post and think, “wow, was that really only two weeks ago?” And yet … I’m not sure we really did that much. I think more it’s been interior stuff, lots of thinking and pondering and feeling. Life as an HSP can get exhausting sometimes, even when everything seems calm on the surface. Plus, all the turmoil in this country right now is draining. Trying to keep my candle glowing against the darkness gets harder some days than others.

We have had some lovely moments. Carl’s sister came and spent a weekend with us. She spent one afternoon playing games with the kids while he and I snuck off on a date, and the next afternoon the three of them made supper (from the kids’ cookbooks) while Carl and I went for (decaf) coffee. The rest of the time we just hung out and enjoyed being together. A lovely family time.

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Wine tasting date! It was lovely. (The wine was good, too.)

We went to public skating this past Friday, and the kids did great and had a blast. Especially impressive considering Joy hasn’t been on the ice since we lived in Albany, and Grace hated (with a fiery passion) her skating lessons the first winter we lived here. They’ve come a long way. And then, as we were getting ready to leave, another mom and her daughter came to skate, and it took me a few minutes, but then I recognized her from my home club. Back in Canton, NY, when we were both teens. We both live here on the North Shore now and we didn’t even know it! It was great fun to reconnect, especially since it was so unexpected.

It was also fun going out for doughnuts and hot chocolate afterward. Skating is definitely going to be a weekly activity for the rest of the season. (doughnuts, maybe not every single week.) Even Carl is thinking about getting in on the action–for the first time ever he’s contemplating getting skates so we can do this as a whole-family activity! I am delighted.

I got very excited, as usual, over the US Figure Skating Championships. This year there was a little more to get excited about than usual–Nathan Chen made history by landing FIVE QUADS in the men’s free skate. And Karen Chen (no relation) was brilliant in the ladies’. Overall, figure skating looks stronger in the US than it has in at least ten years (except for ice dance, which has been strong all along and is merely continuing the tradition of greatness). In a country racked by division and suspicion, it’s beautiful to me to see the diversity, inclusivity, and joy represented by the world of figure skating.

We had our first Family Meeting this weekend, figuring out chore allotment and allowances and basically cementing the fact that we are so not in the little kid stage of life anymore. It was surprisingly fun.

I have been continuing with my French lessons on Duolingo, finding more things about the app that frustrate me no end, but at the same time I’m progressing and getting better, so it is working. I still would hate to have gone into this without at least some prior knowledge of the language, however far back in my past. And I AM getting a proper French grammar book at some point, because Duolingo never explains the rules. As my mother and any other teacher I ever had could tell you, I need explanations.

My fountain pen arrived and I promptly fell in love and never want to use any other kind of pen, and also want to write all my stories by hand again, like I did in the ancient times of my youth before computers were a thing. Even getting my grandmother’s old electric typewriter was a red-letter day when I was younger! But yes, this pen is a joy to write with, and now Carl wants one too.

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Finished Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season and found it, as usual with her books, a blend of immensely frustrating and immensely uplifting and encouraging. One thing I will say, she always makes me think. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize some of my difficulties with having a still mind, and I was able to come up with a few strategies for minimizing the constant noise in my own head, so very worth it. I’m now in the middle of re-reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography (Christmas present from my in-laws), and finding that bracing, encouraging, laugh-out-loud funny, and just wonderful. My fiction reading has been less memorable. I dutifully recorded each book, but none of them are worthy of repeating here.

Oh, and I taught the kids to knit.

And now we see what February has in store. Fingers crossed it will bring some snow …

New and Improved

When our kids were really little – like, baby and toddler – I spoke loftily about how they would always share a room, how even if we lived in a place where they could have their own bedrooms they wouldn’t, that learning to compromise and share and work with another person was so important, and that sharing created a special bond between siblings even if they hated it sometimes.

Then, when they were about five and three and we were living in a house with four bedroom, I found myself putting them in separate rooms. Gracie had started a habit of whispering to her sister half the night, and Joy was getting cranky and miserable from never having a place to go where her sister couldn’t follow. The guest room was transformed into Joy’s room, and life became much happier for everyone.

Now we’re in a two-bedroom apartment, and not-sharing is not an option, though at this point all of us wish it was. Joy is deeply introverted and high sensitive, and is reaching the stage of wanting her space to be neat, tidy, organized, and open. Grace is a chatterbox with no sense of boundaries, and still likes everything she owns to be out all the time, scattered everywhere. Things get tense.

While we can’t give them their own room – and safety rules on campus mean we can’t even let Joy go outside to play by herself – Carl and I did put our heads together to come up with a plan for making life a little better for them.

Behold: desks.

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We cleared out probably half their toys and even some books (weep) and rearranged their room to be able to give them each their own desk, on opposite sides of the room. The desk is each girl’s own space, which the other one is not allowed to touch without permission. Eventually I plan to rearrange the books left in the crates so that the ones that are more Joy’s interest are with her desk, and the same with Gracie.

And we probably lost our security deposit with these, but I don’t even care:

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Above each desk are two shelves, also for that girl alone, for trinkets and special things. And books, of course. The shelves transform the feel of the entire room; I love them so much!

We also bought some rolling carts with drawers, and shallow boxes to go under the bed, and are in the process of organizing their remaining toys so that they are clearly labeled and separated. I’m also thinking of some decorating improvements – new curtains, maybe even an area rug to go over the nasty brown carpet everywhere in the apartment.

It’s not a perfect solution, but what ever is? It’s better than it was, and that’s enough for now. Hopefully, when the girls look back on their years here while Dad was in seminary, the good memories will be the ones that have stuck.

Censorship VS Guidance

The Goosebumps books were at the entrance to the Children’s Room at the library growing up; you couldn’t help but see them whenever you went it. They were popular, too—very few of the books I loved were ever borrowed by anyone but me (this was back in the day when the patron’s name was written on the card in the back pocket, so you could see a book’s history whenever you picked it up. The nosy neighbor/author in me misses those days, when you could speculate about the other people whose names were on the card, especially if one name cropped up on several of the books you borrowed frequently. “I wonder who that person is,” you could muse. “I bet we’d be friends.” But I digress), but the Goosebumps books were always getting snatched up by kids about my age, and there were always gaping holes in the shelf.

“I don’t think so,” Mom said firmly when she saw me eying them speculatively. “Those are not a good idea with your nightmares.”

Saddened, but not wanting to mess with my nightmares—these were terrible, and plagued me well into my teens, and could be caused by nothing more than seeing a gruesome picture on a tabloid cover in the grocery store check-out line—I bypassed the Goosebumps books and went back to the delights of E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, Lloyd Alexander, and the like.

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An older friend of mine read and loved the Dark is Rising books, and lent them to me with a caveat that they might be scary in parts. So Dad read them first, and then handed them over to me saying that they did have some dark parts, but that he was pretty sure I could take it, and if I wanted to I could always talk to him about them. In fact, I loved them (as did he, and Susan Cooper remains one of our favorite authors to this day—I bought him King of Shadows for his birthday last year, in fact, and he was just as swept up as he’d ever been in one of her tales. But I digress again).

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My sister wasn’t much of a reader as a kid and teenager. While I would stay up late reading, she preferred to lull herself to sleep on logic problems. When she did read, she liked books such as Baby-Sitter’s Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and, as she got older, Sweet Valley High and Avalon romances. My parents called those “fluff” books—enjoyable but no substance to them—and the rule was you had to read a certain number of non-fluff books to the number of fluff books you were allowed. My sister grumbled a bit about this, more because she was the oldest and it was her job to complain about all of our parents’ rules than because she thought it was actually unfair, but she stuck with it. And a few years ago she was trying to convince me to give Dostoyevsky a try, because she’d read some of his books and thought they were awesome. She also still enjoys fluff books. And logic problems

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About a year ago, I was desperately trying to find books that Joy would want to read. Excited by her advanced abilities and unduly influenced by memories of the large tomes I enjoyed reading in kindergarten and first grade, I overdid a bit and overwhelmed her. While she was perfectly capable of reading the Little House books, she didn’t enjoy them, and her disillusionment with the “big” books I was giving her spread to reading in general.

Then we found the Rainbow Magic books at the library. Pumped out by computer, lame by any standards, they were nonetheless perfect for a six-year-old who enjoyed the thrill of reading “chapter books” but wasn’t ready mentally or emotionally for the themes in most MG writing. Despite the wrinkled noses of many of my friends, I cheerfully borrowed them by the armload each week for her, while at the same time giving her more picture books and other young readers (the Magic Tree House books were another big hit, which has worked out nicely with social studies, I must say—I never know when she’s going to pipe up over something we’re studying, “Oh! Jack and Annie went here.” Digressing again). I’m exceedingly thankful to have had them, especially now when I catch Joy happily curled up with any book from Ladybug Girl to the Frozen novelization to Winnie-the-Pooh to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On the other hand, when this winter the library didn’t have the next one in the series, I deliberately did not suggest ILL or skipping that one to move on to the next. Thus far, she has plenty of other reading material, and she hasn’t seem to miss the Rainbow Magic too badly.

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There’s a lot of justified complaints about censorship out there. Including and especially parents censoring what their children read. Or what other people’s children read. But sometimes parental guidance gets lost or unfairly shuffled into the same category as censorship, and I think that’s a shame. Because gentle guidance and help with reading—whether it be in limiting the number of certain types of books your kids read, or reading books before letting them read them, or telling them to wait until they are older, or even swallowing your pride to let—even encourage!—them read books that are frankly crap (and then move on when said books have served their purpose), is something that I wish more parents would do. And it’s a far cry from censorship. It is, to be blunt, simply part of what being a parent is all about.

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Clearly, Joy is much more comfortable with reading these days

Thanks to Maureen, whose tweets on this subject got me thinking about my parents, and how grateful I am to them for the way they encouraged my sister and me to be readers, and then prompted this post.

Also, in case anyone is interested, the Little House picture books are well-loved by both Joy and Grace, and went a long way toward piquing Joy’s interest in the real books once she got a little older.

Music and Story

Joy has started “bowing” (which I totally did not know was a word) with the violin, i.e. using the bow on the strings instead of simply plucking them, and thus far, anyway, the screeching has been at a minimum. I am very thankful for this. She is also improvising at the piano again, which means I get to hear a lot of the same three notes played over and over while she tries to figure out the next one. I do my best to endure this with grace, but I confess to occasionally saying “OK THAT’S ENOUGH NEXT SONG PLEASE.” These are the times a larger apartment would be nice.

She plays almost every single day, and is at the point now where I rarely have to remind her to practice. She loves both violin and piano, and usually will ask to play my guitar (which is way too huge for her) after she’s done with her two instruments. She’s also told me she wishes she could take guitar lessons, but I told her we probably ought to stick with just two instruments for now.

She has such an instinctive rapport with music. She doesn’t love to read the way I did as a seven-year-old; she’ll happily pick up a book if I suggest it, but she doesn’t usually think to read for herself. I’ll admit that I was concerned by that until I saw how lost she will get in music, making up stories and playing an accompaniment to them on the piano, composing her own little operas without even knowing what she’s doing.

She does have a deep connection with and love for story, something Carl and I wanted so much to instill in both our girls. She just expresses it through music more than through the written word. And that is just fine. In fact, it is better than fine: it is a delight.

(I suspect Gracie will be more of a reader. She already tends to get lost in books, even without being able to understand the words. Once she gets it down – yeah, my hunch is that she’ll wander around with her nose buried in a book more often than not.)

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January Snippets

Joy is learning about atoms and molecules in science right now, and hardly a day passes when Carl and I don’t look at each other and say, “Huh. I didn’t know that.” Homeschooling can be pretty awesome, folks.

Gracie is finally starting to get the hang of sounding words out properly instead of looking at them as a collection of random letters and wildly guessing at how they’re supposed to go together. Which is also pretty awesome. I suspect, when she finally “gets” it down pat, she will be a reader exceeding even her sister. She loves stories, this girl.

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I printed out From the Shadows a couple days ago to begin proper edits on it – all 161 pages. Granted, it’s still sitting on my bedside table, waiting for me to begin, but it’s nice having it there, at least. Makes me feel a little more like a proper author.

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Carl’s classes begin on Monday. This semester is going to be a bit tougher than the last – isn’t that the way of all spring semesters? – but he’s looking forward to it, and I am as well. To be perfectly honest, I’m just eager to get through this semester. Because then we’ll be halfway through, and that is tremendously exciting.

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I had suggested, back when we started reading through the Chronicles of Narnia, stopping after Voyage of the Dawn Treader (quick note: we read in published order, not chronological order, because both of us feel like you lose half the wonder of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe upon first read if you’ve already read The Magician’s Nephew, and once you start in published order, you might as well continue). I remembered The Silver Chair, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle all being slightly dark/heavy/creepy in places. It might not be a problem for Joy, but Gracie tends to have problems with nightmares as is, and she is, after all, only five.

Carl was not convinced, and by the time they’d made it through Prince Caspian all three were gung-ho to go through the entire series all at once. I subsided. They are now almost finished with The Silver Chair, and Carl has decided that after The Horse and His Boy, they will wait a few months to a year to finish the series.

I only said “I told you so” once, which I think shows great restrain on my part.

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I am not doing so great on my goal of reading one non-fiction book a month, but I have started reading a commentary on 1 Peter, which even if it takes me six months to finish will be well worth six shorter books. I also have the first collection of Dorothy L Sayers’ letters now sitting on my shelf, and I can’t wait to start perusing those (my parents gave me an Amazon gift card for Christmas, and that was top of my list to buy with it). The last few days, though, I confess to re-reading Tey, Marsh, and Christie. My brain’s been too worn out from school with the kids to tackle anything new, even light fiction. I’m starting to get annoyed with all the detectives, though – Grant, Alleyn, and Poirot alike – so it might be time to give them a break.

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I have been getting in a good-ish walk once a week the last couple weeks, thanks to Joy’s violin lessons. We walk the 1/4 mile to her teacher’s apartment and then back, going at a good brisk clip. It’s lovely, and it’s encouraging me to try to get out more than just once a week for a walk. The tricky thing is finding the time, between school and housework and cooking and writing and simply needing to make sure the children don’t take a hundred years to do their basic chores. Ah well. I’ll get it figured out at some point. I’m just thankful for being forced to walk at least once a week. It’s so much better than nothing.

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Also better than nothing is blogging little snippets here and there. If I go too long on here without writing anything, I start to get lonely. Even if the majority of my social media interactions are done on Twitter these days.

Happy approaching-the-end-of-January, friends!

Speaking of exploring Narnia ...

Speaking of exploring Narnia …

Narnia, Redux

We took a little break after finishing Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to read some picture books, some Christmas books, and Children of the Noisy Village, but now the holidays are over and we have finished traveling, and we have picked the Chronicles of Narnia back up with The Silver Chair.

Even as I type, sitting in my comfy grey recliner (“This is my silver chair,” I said smugly), Carl and the girls are curled up on the couch across from me, the girls utterly engrossed as Carl reads aloud. They are on the chapter where Caspian sails away and Eustace and Jill miss their chance to greet him. This is one of my favorite chapters, what with Glimfeather and Trumpkin and “If he’s useless, we don’t want him here!” (paraphrase) which is a favorite line in my family, and used often.

Joy especially is enthralled with Narnia. She wants to read other books like them (alas, there are few of those indeed, darling daughter!); she informed her grandmother that if she had a magic wand her first wish would be that Narnia was real; and when Carl read the description of Aslan’s Country in the first chapter of this book she had the most incredibly dreamy expression on her face, picturing it in her head. It’s the most delightful thing in the world, seeing her imagination so completely captured.

Gracie incorporates Narnia into all her play. Her stuffed moose become a reindeer, her rag doll made of white cloth becomes the White Witch, a doll stroller turned on its back becomes a sledge, and voila, all she needs is a dwarf driver (usually portrayed by one of her baby dolls). This is also a delight to observe. I have to be careful not to chortle too loudly, or she gets self-conscious and quits playing.

They loved Anne of Green Gables when I read it to Joy for school, and that was wonderful. Seeing them love Narnia so much, though … that goes beyond joy. Narnia was – is – such an integral part of my life, of my very identity. The Narnia books were some of Carl’s sole interest in reading as a child. For both of us, they helped to shape how we view the world, our ideas of heroes and sacrifice and love and friendship and adventure. It is wondrous to see our own children take fire with these very same stories.

I wonder if CS Lewis had any idea, when he wrote these books, of how deeply they would affect children of every generation ever since. I am so, so thankful for them, and for him.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Costume

Carl finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls last night before bed. They hadn’t been too sure about it at first, but round about the supper at the Beavers’ house, they were hooked. They needed a little bit of explanation about why the Witch killed Aslan, and how he came back to life (at first Gracie thought the Witch brought him back to life – that took some straightening out), and a couple other parts confused them at first, but overall they loved it.

So much so, in fact, that they are right now listening to it on audiobook while they take their afternoon rest. It’s narrated by Michael York, and I keep picturing Captain Crane from Road to Avonlea telling the tale, and it’s cracking me up.

Joy’s Halloween costume is a medieval princess, with an underdress of light blue and a sleeveless overdress of dark blue, and we figured out how to strap a toy shield at her side and fake a scabbard out of ribbon to go over her shoulder for her foam sword. Last night, I asked her if, now that we’d read the entire story, she was going to be Lucy for Halloween.

“No,” she said, looking at me like I was crazy. “I’m the oldest. I’m Susan.”

Er. Right.

I think we’ll stick with “warrior princess” so as to avoid any confused and well-meaning neighbors spoiling the ending of The Last Battle for her.

And then I really need to introduce her to Eilonwy, who is NOT a younger sister.

(Gracie, in case you are curious, if going to be a fox for Halloween. Mamma realized a couple weeks ago there was no way her princess dress would be finished in time, and the promise of getting her face painted was enough to sway her to something simpler. And even at that I only finished sewing the vest and stuffing the tail yesterday.)