Monday, March 21, 2016

Nurturing myself with Faith, Writing & Art

Mentally and physically I was really struggling last week, and I needed to take time to nurture myself.  I found comfort and refreshment in prayer and my Bible as well as the encouragement of friends.  Once I felt a bit stronger I decided to relax and do some writing and art.  

I made pleasing progress with sketching using "You can draw in 30 days"

Most days when I woke up I wrote in my morning pages journal or did Bible copywork.

This is a painting I started over a year ago, but I felt stuck for many months not knowing what to do next.  Finally I asked a bunch of friends, who helped me decide that it is finished.  This means I can let myself move on to my next painting project, a set of smaller canvases.

I ordered a stack of 'How to Write' books from an online bookshop ... not sure how much time I have for novel writing, nor which story I want to resume working on, but it's a harmless and inexpensive hobby and I'm going to give it time and space and see how I go.

In a real bookshop I bought a beautiful book about Australian trees, a quotes and colouring book for Jasmine and a book about Escher's work.  I am always falling in love with particular trees, especially gum trees, and I hope this book will help me learn more of their names.

At the art shop I would have liked one of everything, but I resisted the temptation to buy too much.  I found some sketching supplies and a new game, "My Big Art Show".  We haven't played it yet, but I will let you know what we think once we have a go.

On my Facebook page GLOW this week I shared an article about the workspaces of famous scientists, which fuelled my desire for a dedicated writer's space.  We have a lovely shared study at one end of the lounge room, but I do wish for a space which is just mine.  I know that's selfish, when other people don't have a safe place to sleep.  I spent some time overthinking this and many other things.

In the midst of my woes last week, I read this message from Lisa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries:
  "Prayer does make a difference. A life-changing, mind-blowing, earth-rattling difference.  So keep praying, sweet friend. The Lord is leaning in close to listen. "  
I felt inspired to write about some of the prayers He has answered for me, and I shared my thoughts on Facebook:
Prayer has changed my life dramatically ... 🌺 
When I felt like I was striving in my faith in my own strength, I was shown scriptures like Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16-17 and Romans 12:1-2. I took a leap of faith and prayed for a sign that it was true, and He gave me a new fluent language, right then and there. My life changed in that instant. 
When I prayed "Lord, if you want me to marry again you'll have to hit me over the head, because I am not looking, I don't want to make any more mistakes in my own strength." He did. He made it abundantly clear that Pete was the one, and He made it all so beautiful in His timing. 
When I was newly remarried and very sick at Christmas camp in 2002, I went to the prayer line and asked someone to pray for me. I was instantly healed of a tummy upset I'd had since a trip to PNG 3 months earlier, a back injury from the same trip (bus with no suspension meets a car-sized pot hole) and a long-term personal health issue. Instantly healed.  
When I was at an Easter camp years later and could barely walk to the dining hall, I was so exhausted and depressed, people there prayed for me. They encouraged me with verses like Isaiah 41:14-15. I didn't know I was healed until a few days later when we went sightseeing ... I expected to struggle from the car to the visitors centre, but determined to believe I could do it with His help ... I walked to the top of Mount Kosciusko, even carrying my son (about age 9 at the time) when he got a bad stitch.  
Many more times I have had prayers answered ... sometimes instantly, sometimes with a gradual awareness of what is needed to move forward. I am praying now for another healing, no bigger or smaller than those issues, just once again humbly asking the Lord to heal me. I needed to read this, and to give thanks for all that He has already done.
One more thing I wrote publicly about was my Gratitude Journal.  Do you keep one?
My keeping of a gratitude journal started with a book, 'One Thousand Gifts' by Ann Voskamp. The idea is summarised here: 
For my gratitude diary I chose a nice notebook and started writing a list of what I was thankful for, with enough detail to remind me what I meant when I look back and read it years from now: 
1. New day, early waking, quiet morning birdsong & crickets the soundtrack for a peaceful start.
3. Blank pages, new journal, a dare to count to 1000, one thousand moments to notice and thank Him for.
4. Little people soon to emerge from slumber.
21. Happy memories of childhood bikes, trees, pools, friendships, big happy extended family. 
At the start I aimed to write 3 things a day I was thankful for, little or big. Now I just add to it sporadically.  I write straight from the heart, often as part of my prayer time, part of that ongoing conversation. I haven't reached 1000 yet, but I think I will keep going until the book is full.  There is so much to give thanks for!
This post is Part #6 the Australian Mum's Encouraging Mums blog hop.

I'd love to hear about the hobbies and activities you find refreshing, or how you nurture yourself when you feel the weight of this broken world.

Kind thoughts,

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The best of Chrysalis Island

This is my eighth year writing on Chrysalis Island.  Someone recently prompted me to reflect on the journey so far, and it was lovely looking back at my posts from 2009, seeing what my children were up to when they were little, how much has changed and which things have stayed the same.

I thought it would be fun to round up my favourite posts.
I hope some of these are informative or entertaining!

The beginning ...
Our first year homeschooling ... ALL of my posts from 2009!

A day in the life ... (I wish I had written one every year!)
2010 and
a week in our life 2010 

My homeschooled child wants to try school ... 
The discussions
If the shoe fits
The wild ride!

Children learning to read ...
The playful approach we used to support our children in their quest to become readers.
More about play-based learning

Beating the Home-Ed Blues ...
Ironing out the bugs!
Look UP!
10 ways to rescue a rotten day

Homeschooling when someone is sick ... 
The first time I wrote about the roller coaster of mental illness
A collection of tips
Still sick ... finding out why and what to do about it
10 ways to rescue a rotten day

Organising our resources ...
Overcoming perfectionism
Taming the paperwork monster
Weebly website for my children's most used web pages
iPad apps for 8-9 year olds
Plans for 2016

FUN ...
Everything to do with dough and goo

From the Heart ... 
Advice for new homeschoolers
The Heart of a Homeschool Mum (a poem)
My blogging story
My testimony
A few truths about me

I also write at ... 
Freestyle Fun - home ed ideas on Facebook
GLOW heart, mind and soul - inspiration and encouragement
and my page GLOW on Facebook

This post is Part #5 of the Aussie Mums Encouraging Mums blog hop.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Tour of our Town - Blog Hop #4

Finally you've arrived at our place!  We've looked forward to meeting each other for so long, and we could just sit and chat with a cup of tea, but why not make the most of being here and see all the sights of our beautiful home town.

Let's make this an unlimited day ... we have BOUNDLESS time, money and energy!

How shall we travel?  How about a cross between a hover-car and a hot air balloon?  Equipped with autopilot or a tour guide, so we can chat or daydream along the way.  Our hot air balloon is efficient, safe and beautiful.  We can enjoy the view as we rise above busy roads and float along effortlessly in between stops.  Settle in, your tour is ready to begin!

Stop 1 - While we're all fresh, let's visit Newcastle Museum.  Although there are excellent exhibits about local history, transport and industry (with a dramatic steelmaking demonstration), the most memorable part for children is usually lifting a car (an entire, real car) in the Supernova Hands-On Science Centre.  The museum is in the beautiful Honeysuckle Precinct on the harbour.

Around the corner is the Maritime Centre.  Can you believe we haven't been there yet?
I can't wait to see  "THEN, NOW AND TOMORROW:  a 300 year snapshot of the Hunter’s waterways and surrounds from the 1800’s to what might be in 2100."

Stop 2 - Take the ferry to Stockton, and we'll fly back over the harbour, past Nobby's headland and beach and along the coast, over King Edward Park to Bar Beach.  We'll do the Newcastle Memorial Walk the have a swim and refreshments at Bar Beach.  At low tide there are lovely rock pools to explore and a sheltered swimming corner.

Stop 3 - Library, Bookshop and Gallery hop - If you're a book-lover, let's cool down and relax at Wallsend Library.  I love the large windows and plentiful reading spots.  A short flight back into town, and we can visit MacLean's Booksellers in Hamilton, along with numerous second-hand bookstores.  Next stop is the Lovett Gallery above the Newcastle Library, then we'll go next-door to the Newcastle Art Gallery.

Stop 4 - Oakvale Farm is our next stop - we'll need half a day or more to enjoy this place, but luckily we don't have to worry about time today!  Once when we visited we were lucky enough to hold little emu chicks ... and there are often baby goats to bottle feed, koala encounters, a reptile show and lots of animals to see as we wander around.  I like the water buffalo, not a creature we encounter around here in ordinary life.  One the way back to town we'll stop at one of the many trampoline parks, so the kids can flip and jump and have a crazy time!

Stop 5 - Remember how we don't have a budget today?  Let's go to Charlestown Square where we can stock up on the bare necessities at the Apple Shop, Australian Geographic, ABC Shop, Typo ... before hunger calls us to Grill'd, which I have heard sells delicious burgers with gluten free options.

Stop 6 - One of the many trampoline parks which have been popping up everywhere, a chance for the kids to burn off some of that limitless energy.  Maybe they can do a Ninja's or Parkour class.  If there's energy to spare, let's go to Speers Point Park, and have a bike ride along the edge of Lake Macquarie.

How do you end a limitless day?  Perhaps we'll buy takeaway dinner from Top Thai in Wallsend or Raj's Corner in Hamilton, and eat in the air on the way to photograph the marvellous sunset over Mount Sugarloaf.  I have to go home, but if you want to continue why not explore Barrington Tops National Park?

It's been a pleasure having you here for a virtual visit!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Advice for new homeschoolers - Blog Hop #3

This post is part of the blog hop ... "Australian Mums Encouraging Mums".   
Blog Hop Topic #3 

This isn't a 'How To Homeschool' article ... more a collection of thoughts based on the lessons I have learned.  Best wishes as you embark on this exciting adventure!

Top Tips

Be flexible.  Be open to change and ready to embrace opportunities.  Don't be afraid to change the routine.  Unless you are totally captivated by a particular home ed philosophy, don't be too quick to label your style at the exclusion of others.  If asked I will say our style is eclectic.  I draw inspiration from quite a few home ed styles, and the way we do things changes from year to year.  We might be ore or less academic, project based or natural learning one year to the next, but our steady components are faith and books, lots of wonderful books.  I don't mind that we don't fit neatly into one group.

Let it go.  Just because your friend or a local home ed veteran thinks a program is brilliant, doesn't mean you will like it, or that it will suit your child.  If something isn't working for you and your child, let it go.  Sell it or give it away, and free up time to do more of the things which ARE working.

It's all about your child.  Personalised education is one of the strengths of homeschooling.  Remembering this will influence everything you do ... when and where your child works, their preferred learning style, whether they need a lot of social stimulation or more time spent in their own company, engaging deeply in what interests them.  Each term or so I like to brainstorm what it is that each child needs from me, as their Mum and as the facilitator of their home education.

Keep your compass handy.  Long term goals help put the short term challenges in perspective and make it easier to prioritise and make daily decisions.  You can think of long term goals as a compass ... you know where you're heading, but there are many roads on the map which will lead you there.  Some detours will add richness to your experience, but your compass will help you keep the destination in mind.  By long term goals I mean values, skills and character more than particular academic outcomes.

Time out.  We used to have more frequent, shorter breaks, but I never felt refreshed and the children were frustrated.  I spent lunchtime serving lunch to tired children, doing odd jobs and listening to sudden bursts of inspiration ... if I was lucky, I got to read, write or rest for 10 minutes.  This year I have built in a TWO HOUR break, from 11-1pm or 12-2pm.  Long enough for me to make a healthy lunch, return phone calls, check email, potter around and still have some restful quiet time.  We don't watch the clock, but knowing there will be one long break each day motivates us to start earlier and focus in the morning, and by the time we return for afternoon work, we actually feel like we've had a break.

Take care of yourself.  Caitlin has wonderfully addressed the subject of balancing Mum's needs with children's needs ... she talks about space between and the calm before the storm, and has included lots of enticing links.

Work hard, work smart.  Work hard at spending quality time with your children, reading to them, making time for games, having heart to heart conversations, finding out what makes them tick and finding out what works for your family.  Don't worry so much about matching learning to outcomes, ticking boxes, comparing your homeschool to how your friend does things.

Give your children the best of you.  Share your passion, talent, expertise, tools, knowledge and experience.  Let your children see you at work ... writing, creating art, tinkering, mending.  You don't have to set up formal lessons, just be an available, willing, informal mentor.

The freezer is your friend.  When you have spare energy or time or ingredients, cook and freeze extra meals.  I freeze single portions of paleo breakfasts and lunches, cubes of vegetable soup to use as 'secret sauce' (hidden veges) in mince dishes, and servings of cake or slice for a morning tea treat.

Pitfalls ... and how to climb out of the pit

Perfectionism.  A steady flow of 'good enough' days are better than a handful of 'perfect' days.  Don't let your desire to do 'the best' stop you from simply 'doing.'

Trying to do it all.  There are so many wonderful things to do, but trying to do too many of them at once will set yourself up for disappointment.  Brainstorm all the shiny ideas, and go wild ... but then grab a cup of tea and cross things off the list.  Some will be great ideas for the future, others you may visit in a smaller way, and others you may decide you're willing to let go of in the interests of sanity.

Putting your needs last.  Self-care is important.  That's why it gets a repeat mention.  It can also be really hard, when there are so many pressing needs around you competing for your time.  Know what you need to survive and what you need to thrive, and try to make it part of your weekly routine.

I hear the questions tumbling out ...
  • How can I possibly take time out when my child has separation anxiety?
  • How can I go to an art class when I can't even keep up with laundry?
  • How can I find time to exercise?
These are real road-blocks, but with creativity you can get past most of them.  I stay up late or wake early, sometimes both, to enjoy some solitude.  I am doing a virtual art class using a book on my Kindle, and I save inspiring ideas to an 'art class' bookmark on my computer with the intention of learning by imitation.  My children, together or individually, go with me for walk and talks after dinner.  If your children will happily stay with someone else, you can arrange to have time out to do the things which refresh you.

Introvert overload.  One of my needs is solitude.  I love my family and friends.  I choose to be with them and love our time together, but I do get overloaded and sometimes ... it's too much.  At the moment the only lengthy block of solitude I can get is late at night or early in the morning.  I can manage with those little top ups, knowing things will change at some point.  In the meantime, I choose to be grateful for the closeness.

Rotten days.  Some days nothing goes right.  After years of trial and error, I have written an article, How to rescue a rotten day, full of my best tips to help you turn the tide and move towards a graceful recovery.

The challenges change from year to year, but the way you face them teaches your children some valuable lessons:  how to bounce back, say sorry, look for the positive, compromise, negotiate, make decisions, choose gratitude and show love.  No pressure intended!


With online forums and social media, there is a lot of support for homeschoolers.  If you use Facebook, search for the type of support you need, or ask your friends which groups they find the most supportive.  It's also a good idea to join a local group to learn about what activities and opportunities are right on your doorstep.  Joining an activity or going to a park meet-up are easy ways to meet, and hopefully you'll find some people you really click with.  If there's nothing on which appeals to you, suggest something you know your children would like to do ... it's a good way to attract like-minded people.

The BEST support for your homeschooling journey is a few good friends who know what your days are like, face the same challenges and know how big the little wins really are.  My family and friends are usually supportive of our decision to homeschool, but my homeschooling best friends are a real sanity saver!  We talk by email, phone or text message, and because our children like to play together, we meet up every fortnight or so.  This year we all decided we'd prefer to meet with one family at a time, but we've also been part of lovely small groups which led to long term friendships.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.  We've all been new, and we can all benefit from each other's experiences and wisdom.  Chances are if you have a question, someone will thank you for asking it because they are puzzled by the same thing, and people are more than happy to share suggestions and possible solutions.  At the very least, you'll know you're not alone, and at best, you will find the book, website, mentor, art or music teacher, or idea to help you on your way.


At the start of this year, my 8th year homeschooling, I wrote this in my morning pages journal:
How will I deal with all the parenting, teaching, cooking and cleaning?How will I set a sustainable pace?PRAY
Sometimes it's that simple.  We have a lot to juggle, and all the best intentions and clever ideas in the world can't match the power of seeking wisdom from above.
Whether you have come to homeschooling by choice or circumstances,
Whether you are Mum to one or seven,
Whether you love homeschooling or find it a daily struggle,
Whether you have a degree or two or none,
Whether your children are livewires or lazybones ...  
Your homeschooling family will not look like anyone else's
But if it's built on LOVE 
It will be beautiful.

10 ways to rescue a rotten day

If you are having a rotten homeschool day, you are not alone.  Everyone has bad days.  They might not talk or write about them, but everyone has difficult, frustrating, no good very bad days.

There are several varieties of bad day and each comes with it's own triggers:
  • The kind you see coming ... a child is due for a blood test, it's the day after a late night, today is forecast to be a scorcher of a day, it's windy and there's bushfire smoke in the air.
  • The kind where things suddenly go really wrong ... a pet dying, illness, bad news on the phone.
  • The kind where plans can be derailed by a small trigger and before you know it things spiral out of control ... mozzie bites are SO itchy, a morning tea bike ride leaves everyone exhausted, or someone goes happily to do their work outside but gets stung by a wasp.
Now that we're all thoroughly depressed (and you probably have experiences to add to each variety), here are some possible solutions.  I'm sure there are many more and I'd love to hear your suggestions!

10 Ways to Rescue a Rotten Day:
  1. Switch off.  Just for a while, allow everyone to switch off.  Have a break and give everyone time to recover, recharge and regroup.  How long the break needs to be is determined by how bad the rotten day is, how exhausted you are and so many other factors.  
  2. Go with the flow.  When faced with an unexpected direction, don't be afraid to ditch the plan for the day and explore the rabbit trail in front of you.  For example, if everyone is distracted by local bush fires - not a direct threat that requires action - you might ease worried minds by explaining how far away the fire is, or if they are simply curious show them the RFS website, look on maps at the affected areas, teach your children to 'look for the people doing good' in any crisis, and practice your bushfire safety plan.
  3. Staff development day.  Teachers go on professional development days, why shouldn't we?  Whilst you probably still have the children at home, you might find time to research, complete paperwork and prepare future activities by delegating duties to educational shows on ABC iView, a basket full of new books and audiobooks from the library, or a box of toys reserved for such occasions.  Marble runs and dominoes work well for this at my place ... open ended, plentiful and lots of scope for creativity.
  4. Art.  Painting or modelling with clay can do wonders to calm ragged nerves and restore a peaceful mood.  Simply set it up, along with a nice snack, and start.  I mean you!  If the children join in, even better.  Alternatively, you could print some geometric patterns for anyone interested to colour, or simply sketch and doodle.
  5. Sensory play.  Like art, there are many soothing activities you can set up relatively easily, and they are a big hit with children of all ages.  Soap carving, weaving, French knitting, and Here are some ideas I have collected ... gooey things like bubble dough and oobleck.  Yes they are messy, but it will buy you an hour or two of peace and smooth everyone's rough edges.  Some of the ingredients will be things you have in the kitchen or bathroom.
  6. Choose your own adventure.  Don't forget, homeschool isn't school at home.  You have the freedom to mix things up.  The world is your classroom.  Learn outside the box.  Where can you go?  What can you do?  Think outside the box and be playful.  Walk in a different direction for a change, suggest writing using the wrong hand or by holding a texta between toes.  
  7. Change the scenery.  If things are going awry maybe it's worth a try.  If your children have been working indoors, suggest they move out to the patio or set up a tent as an office for the day.  If you need a big shake up, and if you have children who cope well with change, enlist their help in rearranging some of the furniture in a room.  
  8. Ask for help.  There are some great online home ed groups where people are free to vent their problems and other members almost always respond with encouragement.  "Me too," or "This is what worked for me ..."  Let me know if you need help finding groups to suit your needs.
  9. Play the glad game.  We read "Pollyanna" last year ... a beautiful story and there's a lot to be said for playing the 'glad game.'  There is almost always something to be grateful for, and deliberately talking with your children about what IS going well can help turn a sad day around, or at least take the edge off it.  
  10. Do the next right thing.  Nobody can see into the future, and sometimes we can't see far beyond the mess we're entangled in ... don't try to solve everything at once.  Just decide what is the next positive thing that you can do, and do that.  If that means 'have a nap', do it.  When you wake hopefully problems will seem smaller or your mind will have found a clever solution.
Move towards a graceful recovery (a personal story):

You need to decide when it's worth fighting a particular battle, and when it's time to change tack, either with a temporary detour or a major course correction.

My daughter has recently been diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis.  It's been causing such a brain fog that some of the work she normally enjoys is proving difficult and stressful.  I know from my own experience with this disease that this is temporary ... for months we have continued to work, but I try to make sure it is confidence boosting and not too taxing.  Copywork and familiar maths concepts are mostly ok ... tackling anything tricky is a recipe for a meltdown.

For a few weeks she has been incredibly tired, too tired to do almost anything, and feeling rotten in dozens of ways.  This week she finally started medication, but it will take a while to start working and she still isn't up to doing much.  If she attended 'drop off school' she would not be attending most days.  The rest of the family have stuff going on too, and it's a pretty challenging time all around.  With a relaxing pace, everyone is surviving and finding plenty to be thankful for.  Monday and Tuesday were well-spent on nurturing, and I declared the rest of the week "Creativity Week."  

The children and I always have creative things we're keen to do, and as soon as I announced it, eyes lit up and ideas tumbled out.  Plucking that simple title out of the air (or my heart) gave us permission to do special projects and engage in activities which inspire and restore us.  

Yesterday, that meant that Elijah designed and built a carry-cage for the front of his new bike.  Big enough for the all-important soccer ball.  Jasmine and I got to work on turning some plastic storage tubs into a cosy indoor rabbit hutch.  We discovered that sewing scissors cut through a plastic lid quite well, and we tossed around ideas about how to connect the two tubs with a tunnel.  Painting, cooking and Lego construction also happened, along with books, DVDs and outdoor play.  We found time to download photos from iPads and looked through old photos to see how much the children have grown.  

The rest of the week is blissfully free to finish what we have started.  Today we met new friends at a new park.  We will probably try some online art lessons, explore a new history website I subscribed to, play a new game and continue to enjoy our read-aloud books.

In hard times, give yourself permission to spontaneously declare a Project Week, Readathon, Nature Day or Baking Day.  Make it up and announce it with conviction!  Focus on being in the moment with your children, enjoy it and record it in your home ed journal.  Everyone will learn ... they will also learn how to handle adversity, and will return to routine when it's time with renewed energy.

It's not a holiday, but it's a lovely way to live, better than trudging along the same path with tired or fractious children, simply because you think you must, when what everyone needs is a lovely diversion, something new to think about and fun to do.

If you're having a rotten day, I hope some of these tips help you.
All the best, Vanessa