“If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” Lennart Meri
It has been a light week here since we finished our main lesson block on Tuesday. So today, Louis and Sophie made up a game to play with the United States map. It’s rather like that game you play with a group of dots where each player takes a turn making a line between two dots and the one who closes the box claims it. Louis won this time ’round.
Then the older kids worked together to locate both state and national capitals. And then made the map of the world look like a nice game of Global Thermonuclear Warfare. It was at once amusing and slightly unsettling. The winner for the longest range missile is Tonga, which managed to reach Japan going round the long way.
Geography was my favourite subject growing up and I’m extremely gratified that my own children are having so much fun with it, too.
In case you’re curious, our pretty maps are from National Geographic, and our frames are from Michael’s. The latter are wood with a plastic sheet to protect the maps. We just use regular dry erase markers.
An impromptu art lesson for my Bulgarians. They were never taught how to make art. It is clear that they desire to make art. We ALL desire to make art because we are made in the image and likeness of God. The essence of our very being is that of creator. Making art is a useful means of communication when spoken language fails. It is therapeutic.
They are learning not only how to use art materials, but also how to observe. As teenagers, they had not really learned to pay attention to how the human form, nor plants, nor anything else was made. Arms too small, bent weirdly, coming from the midsection of the body instead of from the shoulder. Trees that look like lollipops instead of like trees. In some small way I am helping them to communicate when spoken language fails.
They are showing improvement in their artworks. They practice daily. It is as though a light has been turned on in an inner room in their minds. “Aha!” And there is a rush to use their newly learned skills. It is beginning to pour out like a stream in spate.
We are finding that letting them unfold naturally was a wise decision. Forcing them too quickly would not have produced any fruit. Rushing to have them diagnosed with this or that disability before they had a chance to become themselves would have been tragic. We have had such a bumpy transition, and we still have days that are excruciatingly difficult. We tend to avoid suffering at all costs.
But in avoiding the suffering, we often miss the holiness and wholeness of life.
George, Nick, and Olivia looking for Bulgaria on the map
It has been almost one year. It has been a voyage of discovery for everyone. We have learned some about each other and a whole lot more about ourselves.
For many months, we just worked on how to belong to each other. For one of them, this will take all of her remaining childhood and likely much of her adulthood. We have experienced firsthand that there are no private sins. We have experienced firsthand that the wounded wound everyone around them. We have learned that where love is lacking, love will be poured out like a libation to the one who lacks. We have learned that in emptying ourselves, we need others to help fill us up – all of us. And we have learned that often, we don’t even have to ask. It is a grace that people readily respond to.
Since Michaelmas, we have been working on more academic pursuits. Our Bulgarians had never even seen a map. Olivia is completely illiterate and functionally not conversant in her native language. It was put down to a mild intellectual disability and a disability called dyslalia. We can find no evidence of either. After some questioning – and information volunteered by our kids – we have pieced together that they were utterly neglected at school. They weren’t offered anything like even a basic education. They were allowed to do as they pleased during school, including to go outside and lay or to sleep. Students aren’t promoted to the next grade based on achievement, merely on the number of years they have been ‘registered’.
Both of them are making progress – for Nick it is steady, for Olivia it is very slow and sporadic. Her focus has improved tremendously. When she first arrived, her limit was about five minutes of learning once or twice a day. Now, she will focus through a lesson whether or not she is able to understand. She seems to respond well to the increased structure of our normal homeschool routine. We hope that her regression in other areas (all social) signals a healing in progress. We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us in so many ways. Some have chosen items from our wish list, some have shared from their own treasure, some have donated funds toward our needs.
Our next project is to finish converting the carriage house to a large dedicated schoolroom. We made some wonderful progress last fall before Brian injured his back. We feel that having a dedicated space will benefit everyone, but especially Olivia because it will relieve the upheaval and confusion that comes with having to rearrange the dining room for meals, weekends, and hospitality. It is our hope that, like dressing for the job, having a dedicated space will place her – and everyone – in the proper focused state of mind, relaxed and ready to learn.
We estimate that completing demolition, replacing the fragile windows, insulating, wiring, heating and finishing the space will cost from $5000-$10000. Unfortunately, we will have to hire contractors to do the work. Brian’s 80 hour work week just doesn’t leave any time for such projects now. If you feel led to make a gift, you can do it via PayPal (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you prefer to send a gift by mail, please email us (email@example.com) and we will respond with our mailing address. Alternately, we invite you to shop with us. All proceeds support our family and ministries.
On Michaelmas, we started a fresh school year. We started off slowly and have now fallen into a nice rhythm again. It has been a welcome occupation for everyone. In slackening off out of consideration of our two Bulgarians, we lost our direction, became rudderless. In the end, the lack of routine wasn’t actually doing any good for the two we were trying to help. Live and learn, I suppose.
The night before, we prepared first day of school gifts and laid them out so that the children would find them in their places in the morning. We filled some silver lunchboxes with school supplies and a couple of treats.
After breakfast, Brian gave a blessing for our school year, as he always does. How lovely it is to have a resident deacon!
It was a bit disappointing to have to use the dining room as our learning space again this year, It makes it so much more difficult to be ready to welcome guests. Ah, well… It’s authentically us, right where we are today. Come on in anyway.
We start each day with the daily readings from the Mass and incense, then right on to our main lesson. After twenty years of homeschooling, I have abandoned clever ‘circle time’ poems and embraced a style of gathering that is more in-keeping with our faith. It has freed me, and relieved my anxiety.
And this year, I think that I have finally settled into a (self-designed) curriculum that will see us through the next 15 years or so. It was conceived in such a way that I can teach all of my kids, regardless of developmental level, using largely the same material and at the same time. It is a huge time and sanity saver. I’ll spend the next three years putting it to paper as we go, and then, perhaps, I’ll share it.
More than anything, I cherish watching my children work together, help each other, love each other. What a magnificent gift to be the mother of so many.
The indescribable innocence of and beneficence of Nature — of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter,–such health, such cheer, they afford forever! Henry David Thoreau
Herbe de St. Joseph (achillea millefolium)The legend is that St. Joseph hurt himself while at work and the Child Jesus brought him a sprig of this herb to stanch the bleeding. It is used today for bleeding wounds as well as for fever, inflammation, and menstruation. It is also used as a decongestant and expectorant. How blessed we are to have ample supplies of yarrow here on the farm. It is a very useful herb for the home apothecary. The essential oil from this plant is a brilliant azure. It is wonderful how God has hidden such surprises all around us!
I love teaching our children about the uses of the plants that grow here on the farm. It seems a shame to undo what God has so perfectly cultivated here. We are doing our best to plan to leave wild areas or to propagate natives to place within our gardens.