Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hearth Aflame

"Peasant Woman By A Hearth" by Jozev Israels

As I was flipping through the carol section of the hymnbook the other day, humming merrily along, I stopped to sing through the words of "There's a Song in the Air." This verse in particular struck me:

"In the light of that star
lie the ages impearled;
and that song from afar
has swept over the world.
Every hearth is aflame,
and the beautiful sing
in the homes of the nations
that Jesus is King!"

I love the hearth imagery, which is why I chose the name "Little Hearth" for this blog way back when. Back then I was living in a tiny apartment over a shop on an old main street in Ontario. We were newly married, and I was just getting the hang of setting up and keeping up my own little home. I had no fireplace, no literal hearth, but I wanted our home to be a place that was lit from within. I wanted to create a place of coziness and cheer. I wanted our home life to glow with a spiritual flame. 

Now, we live in a sprawling old farmhouse on PEI, which I can hardly describe as "little!" Instead of an apartment, we have what we like to think of as our own little homestead. We have a couple of acres, a flock of chickens, and a few children. Our lives have expanded. But in many ways the vision is the same. 

Warmth. Cheer. Gathering. Sustenance. Light. A welcome refuge in the darkness. 

This vision is still my desire and prayer. That the hearth of our home would be aflame with the light of Jesus. If I were to choose the name of my blog today, I think I might just have called it "Hearth Aflame." 


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fall Seed Hunt

As part of Mud Puddles to Meteors' 30 Days of "Fall Outside," we went on a seed hunt today. This is what we found.

Speaking of seeds, we also recently discovered this delightful book:

Planting the Wild Garden
Kathryn O. Galbraith & Wendy Anderson Halperin

It's a beautifully illustrated introduction to the idea of how seeds get "planted" in the wild. We enjoyed looking at the pictures together. When we went outside for our seed hunt, we imagined how the different seeds might get around and where they might end up!

We also enjoy this book about seeds:

A Seed Is Sleepy
Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long

This is part of a growing series of introductory nature books. While it is more of an overview and doesn't dive deep into one area, I feel it presents the "idea" of a seed in a living way - with beauty, poetry, and wonder. The facts are fascinating, and it is an overall fun book.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Confessions of a Homesteading Imposter

Confession time. I’m a total fake when it comes to any form of “homesteading.” I’m a wanderer at heart. A forager by trade. Crocuses, strawberries, wild roses, mushrooms, cranberries, pinecones. I grew up wandering and gathering, taking what the forest and riverbank had to offer. I grew up wondering, listening to the water and the earth. I was never one for cultivating. 

The only garden I ever tried to grow, a tiny triangle in a friend’s half-acre of bounty, was a dismal failure. I don’t remember harvesting a single plant or fruit thereof. I weeded out the seedlings. I neglected to water. I proved that my “Little House on the Prairie” dreams were not all they were cracked up to be. I remember declaring my interest in farming to my friend’s mother, and her subtle condescension as she responded that farmers have to get up really early and work hard, you know

Now, with a little more knowledge and a little more discipline, I have reaped the rewards of what I’ve planted in our humble veggie patch. But I believe that has been more so in spite of me than because of me. This year alone the green arrow peas dried in their pods before I got out to pick them. The lettuce bolted. The spinach wilted. I watched in fascination as a horde of hungry bugs descended on the kale for a week or so, steadily devouring each leaf, and I did nothing about it. A real farmer asked me at church one Sunday what my plan was for dealing with pests. I said something along the lines of, well, I just throw things in the ground and hope for the best! He thought I was joking. The green tomatoes I dutifully harvested before the frost (I do well with hard deadlines, I must admit) are now slowly rotting in bowls on the counter.

My husband accuses me of being an idealist, and he is right. The books make it look so pretty! I don’t think I’ll be winning an award from the PEI Rural Beautification Society anytime soon. 

And I see it all as some kind of character flaw. Gardening is not actually all that difficult, and I do love to eat local. It’s the responsible thing to do, given we have a bit of land. It fits with so much of what I want for our lives here. Regardless, I lack the discipline. I lack the inner bent. Things go a bit wild, and I am prone to wander off in the only clump of trees and bushes around to measure the growth of the saplings and hunt for old man’s beard. 

While others dig in, I prefer to discover. To go out and see what Mother Nature has to offer on a given day. To linger, finger, and ponder. To be surprised. 

Perhaps it’s outright laziness. Sure, we all have preferences. Like sleeping in and more chocolate. But Laura and Mary would not have shirked their duties! They would have starved otherwise. The stakes are not as high for me, but when I look out on the dishevelled mess that is not yet ready for winter, the sad swiss chard that nobody wants to eat just now is giving me that wilted, disappointed look. 

So why do I persist, I wonder? I could just let it go, cut my losses, and buy my produce at the farmers’ market. But then I think of my childhood heroes, and if I don’t at least try, I will feel unworthy of the legacy of so many hardworking people who scraped their suppers out of the ground and stocked up for the cold months ahead. I will feel unworthy of my fertile red soil. I will feel unproductive, and somehow less than the others with their tidy rows picked and pickled in season. 

I don’t dislike gardening. I actually love getting my fingers in the dirt. I love standing with the hose in hand on a summer’s eve, just thinking about things and listening to the birds. I love eating our own carrots out of the cellar in February, and putting together a whole meal with the work of our hands and the land. There are many things I love about having a garden, but that does not mean I find it easy. It goes against my nature, somehow. But isn’t that what being a grown-up is all about? Learning to do the things you aren’t good at? Persisting in the face of the difficult? Resisting the urge to only do what comes naturally? Becoming self-disciplined enough to (one day) put the tools away before it rains and just keep weeding?

I feel I must prove myself. To whom? My family? My friends and neighbours? The whole Almanzo Wilder household? Myself? I’m not sure.

I just know that I must keep on going, like I keep on living, throwing specks of nothing into black holes and hoping whole worlds will grow. Funny thing is, they often do. 

It’s like Mother Nature is saying, I know you’d rather be napping in a mossy hollow, or dancing with the dryads, or searching for cranberries on the boreal forest floor, but if you will just kneel down here for awhile, I have something to show you. There are still surprises, even for imposters like you. There’s wonder, even in this rectangle. And you can always buy a new hoe next spring. 


Monday, October 17, 2016

Rainbow Nature Scavenger Hunt

For nature study today we did a rainbow scavenger hunt! We found everything pictured here in our front and back yard. Fall is a great time for finding so many colours. I wonder what our rainbow would look like in another season?

White ~ Birch bark, sun-bleached shell, Queen Anne's Lace

Red ~ Sandstone, Sumach leaves, Geranium blossoms

Orange ~ Carrot, Maple leaves, Birch bark

Yellow ~ Maple leaves, Dandelions, lichen, Goldenrod?

Green ~ Grass, clover, unidentified leaves, spruce, ferns

Blue & Purple ~ Asters, Swiss Chard, purple bean, clover flower

Brown ~ Birch twig, old bark, pinecones, maple leaf, dried fir, mushroom

Jack zoomed around on his balance bike to help me find most of these! He thoroughly enjoyed the hunt.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Shakespeare and Mozart in the Back Yard

This was a day where we took the books and the baby outside and read some literature in the back yard. We started a picture book version of A Midsummer Night's Dream (illustrated by Bruce Coville). We had also been listening to Mozart's Magic Flute in the car recently.

The play that ensued was a mix of a knight batting The Queen of the Night and a feisty disagreement between Oberon and Titania, the fairy king and queen. Ivy took it all in and just generally enjoyed the fresh air!


Friday, September 23, 2016

First Day of School 2016!

We officially started school on Monday! Arden was quite excited to be starting Grade 1.

We got the week off to a good start with a nice mix of activities - harvesting Arden's first yellow pepper from her garden, new colouring books, poetry, money math, an introduction to the orchestra, new paints, and a few good stories.

Highlights of the day were learning the fun poem "Ooey Gooey" (Jack's favourite) and discovering "How the Whale Got His Throat" (Arden's favourite - she did not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved).


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Florence Nightingale and the Value of Play

Stories are powerful. We read one about Florence Nightingale last week, and today the kids are busy setting up their own army hospital! It's all very organized.

This sort of thing reinforces my belief that children needs lots of time for unstructured play - time to process and engage with the ideas they are taking in. Through play, ideas can truly take root in a child's life. 

For those who are interested, this is the book we read:

It's a good introduction to Florence Nightingale and the issues of her time surrounding health care. While it's not the most compelling narrative I've ever read, the story was interesting and easy to follow. (Both my 4 and 6 year old were happy to sit through the reading.) Demi's illustrations are lovely. The image of "The Lady with the Lamp" really stuck with my 6 year old. It could also be a great springboard to discussion and more research. 


Friday, September 16, 2016

Getting schooly

We haven't officially started school yet. We've had a wonderfully full and busy summer with lots of family visiting, and I'm still finishing up some of the planning details and gathering of materials. I'm really looking forward to getting back into routine!

That being said, we're having somewhat of a schooly day today. We kept close to home because there are colds brewing. The kids went outside after breakfast, and noting how chilly it was, decided to pick all the ripe tomatoes for me, because they remember how we usually try to pick them all before a frost hits. Then we all sat down with the watercolour paints for a little while, and I had fun experimenting with colour. (I think I need some new paintbrushes.) Arden and Jack made pictures to send to our sponsor child in Guatemala, and Arden did some of the writing on the card and dictated the rest to me. Energy was low, so we had a Magic School Bus break while I sorted and sharpened pencil crayons. After lunch we sat down in the sunny living room and each picked a library book to read. One book sparked a question concerning the best way to get from France to Sri Lanka! (Any guesses as to which book we were reading?)

Now, all three children are either sleeping or quietly playing upstairs, and I'm drinking hot cocoa and thinking that I really love this kind of togetherness and learning. Even though I have a whole school term mostly planned out, I don't want to lose this sense of gentle exploration, of the natural ebb and flow of learning and living.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Order and Wonder: A Case Study

The idea and interplay of "order and wonder" was hit home to me today by a little incident with the kids. Last night on the way home from the beach, I gave Arden the map so she could track along with our route. Then she had the idea for a "craft" for school - she wanted me to print off a map so she could glue it on to a piece of cardboard and colour in the roads. Of course, I thought that was a great idea, and even though it was Saturday today, we set about to make her own little map. (This is part of wonder - of being receptive to the world and ways to learn from it every day.) 

Well, we had a glitch with the printer and I couldn't print off what I wanted to. But as she looked at the screen over my shoulder, she noticed for the first time that PEI was "completely surrounded by water!" (Yes, I'm sure I'd mentioned that before when we talked about what an island was, but today she discovered it for herself!) I then proceeded to get out the atlas to show the kids the map of Canada and where PEI was in the ocean. They were excited about this, but even more excited when I reminded them about the big puzzle of Canada that we had that we hadn't done in a long time. Filled with excitement and ready to explore some geography, we all traipsed merrily into the living room to get the puzzle when we were met with . . . a complete disaster. The room was a mess. And so was the music room/library beside it. 

To be fair, we'd been on vacation this past week, with family visiting from another province, plus the kids were sick a few of those days, so it wasn't difficult to understand why these rooms were such a mess of toys and activities. We were out of routine. We hadn't done our chores. And that meant there was literally no room anywhere to put together the puzzle. I tried to clear a path with my feet to the least messy spot. There was a game with its many parts spread all across the floor. I told the kids they needed to clean up that game before we could get out  the puzzle. Perfectly reasonable, right? 

Well, not reasonable to tired, out of routine children. What followed was an extended period of crying, complaining and general unhappiness. By the end of it all, the baby was hungry and crying, and the kids didn't even really want to do the puzzle any more. The moment was lost. 

Now, all of this is, as I said before, perfectly understandable given the circumstances. But it illustrated to me the importance of "order and wonder" when it comes to education. We had a moment of discovery and wonder - we are surrounded by water! This opened an opportunity for further exploration. I had the materials I needed. But, on this particular day, we were lacking in order. Our space was a mess. And because of that, we couldn't pursue the idea at the opportune time. It is just one example of how order actually opens the space for wonder. Order brings freedom to explore. Order brings peace. 

Later on we did end up working on the puzzle. The teachable moment is not lost forever. But order is so key to making the most of those moments when they happen. This is a good reminder for me. 


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

30 Ways We Homeschool Blog Party!

Today I am joining in on the blog party fun over at They Call Me Blessed for 30 Ways We Homeschool! There's a lot of great ideas and inspiration, so check it out! There's also a fabulous giveaway happening with tons of homeschool resources!

Here's my post: Cultivating a Life of Order and Wonder

If you are making your way to Little Hearth and Homestead from the blog party, welcome! This is where I share a little bit about our island life and homeschooling journey. My main blog, where I do most of my writing, is The Red Letters Blog. It's a quiet place where I write about finding God in the everyday, prayer, joy, parenting, and the beautiful news of Jesus. I would love for you to join me over there!


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grade 1 Teacher Prep

I am really excited about this stack of books. This is what I'll be diving into over the summer to prepare myself for Grade 1. Most of these I have already read, but I want to re-immerse myself in the ideas.

From top to bottom:

Leisure the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper
I read this a few years ago, on the recommendation of someone in the blogosphere, though I can't remember who! (Auntie Leila?) Since then, I've been reading and learning more about scholé from the likes of Sarah Mackenzie, Scholé Sisters, and Christopher Perrin. This time through, I'll be thinking about just what "leisure" (aka scholé) can look like in our family as we continue with home education. 

For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
This is one I've heard about from many different people. I believe this book had something to do with the modern resurgence of Charlotte Mason. Our library doesn't have it, so I'm borrowing from a friend. It is basically a summary of Charlotte Mason's principles and how they can be applied in the home. I've dipped into enough Charlotte Mason to be familiar with most of the concepts, but I'm really enjoying reading through it and seeing the practical side of things. This is probably something I'd like to get for my own library. (It's on the wish list!)

Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
I read this last winter, but I'd like to go through it again now that we are further into things and that Grade 1 is on the horizon. I think it would be ideal to go through with a notebook and a friend! I haven't got the accompanying podcasts yet either, which I'd like to do, and really take my time with it all. She is encouraging on a practical level, but also inspiring on the level of ideas. The teaching from rest idea is connected to the idea of scholé as well. 

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
This essay is in that big book, along with The Weight of Glory, another of my favourites! I did read it a few years ago, but I'd like to refresh my memory. Lewis said we were in danger of creating "men without chests." Who wouldn't want to read Lewis's thoughts on education? 

The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason
This one is not pictured, and I am still saving up for the hard copies, but I am reading selections on the Ambleside Online website. Currently I'm reading about habits (Vol. 1), and then I'd like to get into "masterly inactivity." 

Like I've said before, I need to get my big ideas in place before I tackle the details of curriculum selection, scheduling, and the like. (I do have my curriculum mostly picked out for the fall, though I'm still tweaking. More on that another time.) I'm looking forward to working through the stack! 


Monday, June 6, 2016

Kindergarten Overview

This is the "Description of Home Education Program" that I sent in to the Department of Education on PEI for Arden's kindergarten year. For me it was helpful in summarizing my goals for the year, without having to go into a lot of detail.

Though it may look rather official, what I put down is really just part of the natural, ongoing process of everyday learning at this stage! 


Friday, April 29, 2016

Finding Focus in the Online Frenzy

First gaze on a first book

Help! I'm getting stuck in the homeschool interwebs! In an online world of slick sites and shiny blogs, everyone's got a printable, an ebook, a newsletter, a podcast, a planner, or a curriculum that will be the one simple thing you need to either organize or revolutionize your homeschool experience! The homeschool universe is ever expanding, and there are enough ideas out there to keep you learning to infinity - and beyond!

The trouble is, I don't have till infinity. I have a few precious years with my children, and only so many hours in the day. There are many homeschoolers out there doing many wonderful things, and I have found inspiration and ideas from more than a few. But I find it all too easy to become dizzy and distracted by the plethora of options, which leads to comparison and second guessing at best, and panic at worst.

When I start to feel overwhelmed, I find it helpful to log off, sit back, and think about the core ideas behind our family's commitment to home education. I'm a person who needs to constantly reorient myself to the big picture, which focuses me and energizes me to then think about the details.

I remind myself of our underlying philosophy of education (thanks Charlotte Mason):

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life. 

I remind myself of basic governing principles for our family life (thanks Auntie Leila):

Order and wonder. 

I remind myself of our own family's goals:

To raise children whose affections are ordered toward truth, goodness and beauty, who are growing in the wisdom and skills needed to follow Christ along the unique path he is leading them in life.

I remind myself of our chosen method of getting there:

Real Life
Living Books

When I consider these ideas, I can already feel my focus returning. (Maybe I'll expand on these in another post. For now, I'm putting them out here purely for my own benefit.) I can sift through all that good information out there and select the things that best fit our own approach to education.

Like I said, I'm energized by philosophy and big ideas. So for me, the websites I find most helpful are those that feed this area. I need my own mind and spirit fortified by truth, goodness, and beauty, and then I can handle how that gets worked out in everyday life. I get bogged down in too many details. For me, the details have to flow out of the big picture.


Having said all that, here are the websites that I'm personally finding helpful as we begin this home education adventure:

Like Mother, Like Daughter - Common sense education, Charlotte Mason style (Auntie Leila introduced me to Charlotte Mason, and I have been a faithful follower of her blog since my oldest was a baby)

The Read-Aloud Revival - Cultivating a family culture around books; fun and inspiring literary podcast, with book lists and other resources

Schole Sisters - A podcast for the classically inclined, big picture meets practical application (I also enjoy the blogs of the podcast hosts)

Ambleside Online - Free Charlotte Mason curriculum and living book lists, with links to Charlotte
Mason's works online

The Circe Institute - Classical education resources, blogs and podcasts

Education is a Life - Charlotte Mason the Canadian way, written by a friend and fellow homeschooler on the island

They Call Me Blessed - A blog by another friend showing the many sides of home education


Sunday, April 3, 2016

I Speak Joy: A Mother's Blessing

I am delighted to announce the arrival of our daughter, Ivy Joy, born on Good Friday! 

What follows is a blessing I scribbled out on the back of a piece of paper one night a few weeks before she was born. We didn't know whether we were having a boy or a girl, but I had an inkling that I carried a girl. And I had more than an inkling that this baby was somehow connected to all I have been discovering about joy. Her very name is part of my blessing to her, and God's blessing to me. "Ivy" stands for faithfulness, and "Joy," well, it speaks for itself! 

My darling,

I speak joy over your coming. 
Joy as you grow, and bloom to bursting,
Joy as you waken to life in the wide world,
Joy as you are received into the arms of your family,
And joy as our Father laughs to behold His reflection in your eyes. 

I speak joy over our meeting.
Joy as we weave our bonds of love,
Joy as we learn each other’s names,
Joy through the sleepless nights,
And joy as we count each sunrise together.

I speak joy over your future.
The wonder-filled joy of discovery,
The riotous joy of whole hearted freedom,
The steadfast joy of a deep-held faithfulness,
And the fiercely won joy of the sorrowful night.

I speak joy over you.
Unspeakable and full of glory,
Fruit of the presence of God,
Fire bright and blazing beauty,
The strength of a hundred hind’s feet on the heights.

I speak joy as my mother’s blessing,
A gift of words and of heart’s desire,
A beseeching prayer for divine bestowal,
A promise kindled by heaven’s purpose,
And my song of praise overflowing. 

{This post was originally published on my main writing blog, The Red Letters Blog. For more about Ivy, parenting, prayer, joy and God, click on over!}


Saturday, February 20, 2016

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Desk Edition

~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

My "desk" is a running joke between my husband and I. Since we've lived in this house (almost 6 years), my desk has been in probably 5 different places! Also, I keep changing physical desks! (There are 3 desks in our house that I claim as "mine." Usually there's only one in use at a time.)

The trouble is, I find I need a desk for everyday stuff like household organization and paperwork, bills, home education papers, etc., and then I want a desk where I do my more creative work of writing.

(You can find me writing over at The Red Letters Blog, where I write about God, family life, prayer, and Lent.)


No, this isn't my desk - it's the sideboard in the living room. These are the flowers my husband and daughter chose for me last week. :) I love tulips!

But I find when I want to do writing, I work best in a room that is clean and pretty! I have rarely sat at the same desk for writing. In the summer, when our upstairs isn't so cold and drafty, there is a very small desk set up by a window where I often go to write. In the winter, I find I drift toward the warmer rooms, like the dining room, and write at the dining room table (after I clear it off, of course).


Just in the last few weeks, I've decided to try a different set up for my "everyday" desk. I used to have a desk in the dining room for this sort of thing, but it would end up getting stacked up with papers and books and paraphernalia, plus my laptop, and I didn't like the look of that in the dining room. Also, with the bigger table Micah made, it was getting harder to squeeze a desk in around that. I ended up doing most of my household paperwork at the table anyway.

I do like to have a central place, where I'm not isolated from the kids, and where I can take care of things as they come up throughout the day.

(My real, official desk is actually in our office. But that is the room my husband works in during the day, so it's not really accessible when I need it most. Consequently, it just became a paper dumping surface.)

So, I'm experimenting (here is where my husband laughs) with a stand-up work surface in the pantry!

We have a walk-through pantry between the kitchen and dining room. (You can see the counter with the toaster to the right, and the dining room is to the left.) It's as central as it gets, while also being somewhat out of the way.

The "desk" itself is a cube shelf turned on its end. It is mostly full of the kids art and craft stuff, though I do get one little cubby for myself!

My current philosophy of paperwork is that the less space I give it, the less it will pile up! In other words, I will have to deal with it right away. I just got the wall file, which has three slots - one for unopened mail and bills to be paid, one for receipts, and one for home education and homemaking files. The little basket is for current books, my daily planner, my home education binder, other notebooks, scrap paper, and other current papery things. My laptop just fits here, where it can be plugged in. If I need to do something quickly on the computer, I just stand and get it done, and without a chair it is less tempting to sit and get involved in unplanned browsing.

Sometimes I pull a stool over. When I need to sit down and pay bills, or do something on the computer that requires a bit of time, I just take it over to the dining room table. I do the work, then do the filing and put the computer back here.

So far it seems to be working. It's helped me keep on top of paperwork, and I like the location.

It's all part of the puzzle of where in this house to have the homeschool stuff (the paperwork and then there are the books), the household stuff, and the kids arts and crafts stuff. Some of our "school" activities are done at the dining room table (all the messy work and art/crafts), but we have another library/music room where we do other "school" things. That's a whole other set up in progress! I'm sure we will figure it out some day.

This is a shelf in the dining room which has my home education resources and books on it. (Also, homemaking, homesteading, gardening, nature guides, etc.) I still do most of my home education planning in the dining room, so it's handy here.

So this, in a way, is part of my "desk area."And books look good in any room!


Cue more husband laughter here.

This is, technically, my official desk. It's lovely. It's also been covered in un-filed paper for months. The trouble is that it's in the office, so not readily accessible. Out of sight, out of mind, and out of order! I am actually now sorting through everything that's accumulated. (Part of the nesting! We are expecting our third child at the end of March!)

But it hasn't been working for me in here. Once the paperwork is taken care of and filed for good, I don't plan to use it for everyday paperwork at all. I think I might use it as staging place for my own little projects of a more creative or crafty nature.

My dream is to create a real creative writing space somewhere in the house, but so far I haven't been able to settle on a place that works. At least writing can be fairly portable!


We had some real winter temperatures last week (-22 C). It was enough to form a thin layer of ice over the river, which still a tidal river beside our house.

Winter has treated us fairly well this year! We had some rain the other day (not a fan of rain in February), but there is still some snow left. I am happy when we a have snow cover well into March. Here's hoping!


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