What is Mother Culture? I am asked.
There is very helpful statement that Billy Graham made some years ago that explains it. He said, A mother must cultivate her soul so that in turn she can cultivate the souls of her children. To partake of Mother Culture is to keep growing into the person God is making her to be. In as little as fifteen minutes a day, a mother can strengthen her spirit, expand her mind, exercise her creativity, or ponder ideas that will help her in her arduous task as homemaker/home teacher. Ive revived and coined this obscure term from the past to bring hope to a new generation of mothers. My purpose in this column is to challenge my readers with a variety of Mother Culture themes. Our first subject is stress relief.Editor
A Reparative for the Stressed
By Karen Andreola
In our fast-paced lives we use up quantities of adrenaline. Stress has a way of keeping us on guard. Our attention becomes fixed on the next urgent thing. I know this is true because Ive lived this way. Responsible people (like homeschool moms) have stress. The changing needs of the children are ever present. Most of the waking hours of a homeschool mom are spent trying to meet these needs. Such responsibility brings challenges, fulfillment, and a rewarding life. It also brings stress. Stress is normal, but in the homeschool the stress of all that needs doing can, on some days, seem to hang heavily in the air. I commend you for your hard work and care, my fellow homeschooling mother. Keep advancing. Dont give up. But in order to not grow weary in well-doing, take heed: every responsible, hardworking person needs some stress reliefa reparative. The twig that doesnt bend a little will break. If normal stress has developed into a strain, it is time to become more flexible. If you tweak your daily life to try at least one of the following suggestions, you will loosen up and feel better. And you will be giving yourself a chance to rejuvenate.
A Smile of Serenity
The great masters of Renaissance art all had one thing in common: the faces of their Madonnas were faces of serenity. A mothers small smile reflects contentment. It can also foster it. When I first considered this, I was convicted. If so small a thing as a smile is thought to be part of holy, serene living, then I should purpose to smile more often. If you are already a cheerful smiling mother, skip over the next paragraph. If you would like to acquire the habit, read on to pick up a few polite pointers.
Some people muster up a grin for photographs or grin while shaking hands at church, but wear a wrinkled forehead the rest of the time. A smile is something we can wear, too. There are days when I need to remind myself of this as I am dressing in the morning. How about giving a small smilehere and there throughout the dayto those you live with? Much of my message is based on a philosophy that resists all or nothing thinking. We will reach our goals more easily if we attempt things by degrees. We should be more aware of degrees in our lives, because we are a society that takes frequent note of the temperature, whether indoors or out. Yet in our lives, if there is nothing to make us laugh, many of us dont bother to smile. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile. The tiniest turning up of the corners of your mouth is all that is required. Now, dont you feel better? You look better, too. Along with a gentle spirit comes a smile. It is okay to be faking it, because soon your mood will match that smile and, consequently, if you smile often enough, you really wont be faking it. When you smile, your children will mirror you and take on the smiling habit, too.
A Silly Joke
My husband likes to joke. When Im stressed out he can be even sillier.
How can you joke at a time like this? Ill say when things weigh heavily on my mind. Sobriety is a virtue, however, there are times when I am apt to be too serious. I feel I cant lighten up until all of my problems are solved. If they arent solved promptly I begin to brood over them.
I have a lot on my mind, too, Dean says, but I dont keep it there permanently.
He may try six times to trigger my sense of humor before he finally gets me the seventh time with something entirely silly or ridiculous.
Gotcha! he says, when I finally burst into laughter.
I dont know why I laugh at the stupid things you say.
Because Im funny, he boasts.
Then I have to admit that he is. He knows it isnt good to be serious all the time. A little comic relief loosens building tensions. What is it that makes you and your children laugh? A funny book will stir up mirth. The stories Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Twenty-One Balloons, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang have all made us giggle. We have some old Peanuts cartoon books from the 1960s that bring chuckles, too. Short, silly poems are a nice break between more serious morning lessons.
When my children were small, I would play some brass band music and wed march around the room on a rainy afternoon. It was exhilarating. We would also waltz and swing our arms like tree branches swaying in the wind to some classical music. Wed do pirouettes and skips to some lively uplifting music by Mozart, as if we were butterflies. The countenance of someone who is doing creative dance without self-consciousness is one of delight. Dancing expresses joy. It is not lifting weights or doing sit-ups or jumping jacksalthough these are good things. It is freedom to move just for the pure fun of it. With it does come the benefit of exercise and a raised heartbeat. And for those who want added benefits, it can be done with ankle weights or some sits-ups in between the dancing.
Dancing stimulates a stagnant metabolism during sluggish indoor days. I knew that without any exercise, my children would find it harder to get to bed at night. All children like to move. Try it with the blinds down if you have nosey neighbors. But do try it, and youll see it does relieve stress and brighten the countenance.
We dont march or pirouette together anymore because my children are all older now. But Ive been spotted in my kitchen waiting for spaghetti water to boil, waltzing and gliding (in a very small space) to such Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes as I Could Have Danced all Night. Wearing a wide skirt is a plus. Dancing is a healthier pick-me-up than a cup of coffee or a chocolate-anything at four oclock in the afternoon.
Greetings and Farewells
Keep up your Mother Culture with the courtesy of a simple daily ceremony that relieves stress. A Good Morning to your husband and children upon waking is so lovely a civility. Again, if you are really stressed-out, you may feel like you are faking it, but this is irrelevant. Manners make a day more pleasant. Seeing off a loved one at the door with a few encouraging words when parting demonstrates that you esteem that person. How often do we think, I may never see him again (if there is an accident on the road) so let us not act cross at each other or aloof when parting. Hello, Welcome Home, or any greeting at the door is a politeness that well-bred people do not fail to employ. These are the kinds of little moments that come our way daily that can lift us above petty stresses. Delaying the grievance of what a hard day you have had is wise procrastination.
Who else but a homeschool mom knows just how golden silence ishow golden solitude is? Whenever I can, I rise earlier than my children to sit in my morning spot. Even ten peaceful minutes does me a world of good. In the quiet of a spring morning, all that can be heard is a few twittering birds. I read my Bible in the gentle rays of the morning light that enter the eastern window. Then I pour out my prayers, thoughts, and feelings in my journal. Sometimes my prayers are short, light, and full of thanksgiving. God has blessed me. Other times I share my hurts, complaints, frustrations, and sins and make more lengthy supplications. I am also rather repetitious in asking God for help. Thus, though respectful, my prayers dont always sound so nice to me. They are certainly not the kind Id want anyone else to hear. In fact, one reason people put off praying is because they dont like the sound of their prayers. Private prayer can be so different than prayer heard from the pulpit. When I read the following passage about prayer by J.C. Ryle, it was reassuring to me. He said, I believe we are very poor judges of the goodness of our prayers, and that prayer that pleases us least, often [is the one that] pleases God most. When we pour out our hearts to God it is a prayer for Him to hear, no one else. He also said, Prayer that cost us no trouble should be regarded with great suspicion. By trouble I think he means the effort of communicating our souls, not in choosing words that sound nice and flowery. Jesus knows our every sigh. (Psalm 38:9)
Take a Walk
There are walks and there are walks. One kind is the kind you do all by yourself very brisklythe heart-pumping, perspiring kind. Taking in fresh oxygen helps me to think more clearly. (It was on some of those walks that I bandied about ideas for this article.) Walking also helps work off tension from worry, frustration, or just plain boredom. After church on Sunday I always feel sedentary, so I go outdoors to revive myself. If there is snow on the ground, I wear snowshoesif mud, boots. (We live on a dirt road.)
Another kind of walk I take is with my husband. He takes bigger strides and prefers faster, shorter walks. For the sake of his company I accommodate his steps. On our walks we can get in some good private conversation about things we dont want the children to overhear. And usually I am too out-of-breath (trying to keep up) to be tempted to dominate the conversation.
A walk with one of my daughters (now young ladies) invites discussion. We become more personal on a walk. We chatter ardently and confidentially, sharing our feelings about lifes trials in true feminine style.
Then there is the leisurely nature walk. This is a lingering stop-and-go stroll that is attentive to the progress of the seasons. The fragrance of the lilac bush doesnt go unnoticedneither does the squeaking of the chipmunks that are alarmed at our presence. We like to observe the unraveling of ferns, the hoof-prints of deer, some wildflower growing somewhere it hadnt the year before, apples getting rosier, or milkweed going to seed and sending out its white fluff on a windy day.
Autumn has the bluest skies. Thats the color I want to paint my bedroom, insisted Yolanda one day. We took months to find just the right color. A loving God created nature for our pleasure. Nature study is one aspect of the gentle art of learning and of Mother Culture that more and more mothers enjoy with their children. I know, because theyve written me to tell me so. They may admit that their intentions to do more nature study are not matched by the actual getting out of doors to do it, but when they finally do get outside, they are very happy that they took a break in their busy schedule to do some legitimate fieldwork (to use a more schoolish term).
Could you use some stress-relief during the week? If you reserve one hour on Wednesday afternoon for fieldwork, you will find it to be a welcome diversion. If a walk in your neighborhood is out of the question, observe nature in your own backyard. How many insects can you find, kids? you might ask. Then sit back and watch them hunt. How many more can you find? With a field guide handy to look up the names of these fascinating creatures, you can boast that you did a fair amount of entomology. Another day, do some bird stalking (ornithology). What are the different weeds in our yard that we have to contend with, kids? (I have a weed field guide, believe it or not. It is quite enlightening. Im not as mad at my weeds when I know their names.) During fieldwork you relax, while the children do all the work of searching, observing, and identifying. Last fall my son and I went on several mushroom walks with a mushroom field guide. The wet woods were full of themmostly bright yellow poisonous toadstools. (Be careful.)
Who was it that dictated that the only legitimate schoolwork is that which is done at a desk with a textbook open and a work-page to fill in, or by taking notes from a teachers lecture?
Tea and Sympathy
Cuppa tea? is a welcome question on a chilly day. I cant think of a more soothing gift to give a fellow homeschooling mother than an invitation to afternoon tea. I havent forgotten the few occasions Ive been invited to teabecause theyve been uncommon moments of more intimate fellowship. It has also been a pleasure to do the inviting.
Here is a hint for tea. When the invitation is given, state the times of arrival and departure. This is perfectly within the bounds of etiquette. Teatime mustnt take up all afternoon, or cause either the hostess or guest to fall behind in her duties (the very thought of which produces stress).
What to wear? Contrary to popular opinion, a simple skirt is not getting all-dressed-up. What about young children? Let the hostess plan something unusual for her young visitors to play together. It could be that of decorating an oversized cardboard box to make a playhouse for stuffed animals or a theater for puppets. Give the children a big sheet and show them how to play parachute with the same animals or lay the sheet over some lawn chairs for a tunnel or tent. Older children will enjoy a little socializing, crochet on the lawn, or a board game.
Meanwhile the hostess provides some tea choices. (Have you ever tried strawberry-kiwi?) Tea is poured from a teapot into proper cups and saucers. Most of us carry a heavy mug around the house. Cups and saucers are not typically used everyday. It would be lovely if they were. My collection of hand-me-down flowered china tea cups hang on hooks within easy reach.
As far as tea sandwiches go, I like to make those triangular cucumber and cream cheese ones that you barely have to open your mouth for. An elegant and healthy touch is to add alfalfa sprouts to a sandwich. Madeleines are easy-to-make elegant cup cakes. These buttery French cakes are baked in shallow scallop-shaped tins and then dusted with powdered sugar.
Offer to freshen your guests cup with more hot tea when you see her cup is half full. The dribbling fountain of tea pouring from pot to cup contributes to the relaxed atmosphere and conversation. As tea takes time to steep, to cool, to sip, there is nothing hectic about anything having to do with teatime. One unrushed hour can do wonders during a week of hurry. Time does tick by, nonetheless, when one is caught up in a satisfying chat. Therefore, the guest will wear a watch. Though she is to refer to it as infrequently as possible, she will use it to refrain from trespassing on the gracious hospitality of her hostess by lingering past the appointed time. We will be leaving in five minutes, children, she announces, then gathers round them to see to it that they tidy up the toys. A brief and appreciative farewell is the last pleasant note.
If arrangements for tea-time with a friend cannot be made without adding more stress to your life at present, pick your favorite window of the house and sit and watch the clouds float by while you have your own cup and saucer break. To accomplish two things at once, which seems to be the fate of most mothers, give a child practice in reading poetry aloud while you sit, sip, listen, and unwind. The child may be happy to know he or she can contribute to Mothers short moments of repose.
A Sound Sleep
Most homeschool families survive busy days because they have family ritualsone being the bedtime routine. For little ones, this routine starts soon after supper. Perhaps it involves some time with Daddy on the swing-set, then a bath, teeth brushed, pajamas, storytime, prayers, the kiss good night. Phew! I remember tip-toeing downstairs to make ready a hot drink for my husband and myself after the little ones were tucked in. We would enjoy the private ritual of sitting together in a dimly lit, empty kitchen before retiring ourselves.
With older children we have had a different ritual. Actually it is more or less a set of rules. No music played after eight oclocklive practice or otherwise. The house should be quiet after eight for reading and relaxing. Occasionally a long-distance telephone call keeps us up, but the computer is off and all work and e-mails for our home business are completed by seven or eight. Once a week we try to have a family read-aloud. Pilgrims Progress is this years book. After any private bedtime reading, the goal is lights out by nine.
Youre kidding! some have commented.
No, Im not, I respond.
Despite what others consider an unrealistic goal, there is the late night or two every weeknot to mention week-ends. Therefore, we have to remind ourselves of Ben Franklins maxim: Early to bed, early to rise. It is so necessary for healthy livingliving that can cope with the normal stress of a busy homeschool day. If you get up grumpy, you arent getting enough sleep.
My bedtime routine is to read a little something just for me. If Im only able to concentrate on two pages, at least Ive fed myself some interesting ideas before nodding off. We might watch a video on the weekend or put on the news now and again. Better news commentary, however, comes from the Washington Times Weekly or U.S. News and World Report. With these we can catch up with news on the weekend. I dont like falling asleep nightly with the deeds of the unrighteous or unpatriotic on my mind. I like the last words I read to be something more peaceful and hopeful, therefore a verse from Proverbs may be chosen. .
Dont forget to give your hubby a kiss goodnight, or whatever. He probably believes this is the best form of stress relief.
Make a joyful noise. Outdoor games that tend toward some shouting and laughter are uncommon occurrences for the more sophisticated of my readers. Given the right circumstance, however, these people might have fun giving merriment a try. If such outdoor noise is out of the question, an indoor game may suffice. Dean and I occasionally play a board game with another couple or with our own children. Im naturally not given to competition, but do enjoy some challenge and the silly laughter that comes of guessing or making mistakes. Have you ever played charades? Can any other indoor game surpass such a time of laughter and loud guessing? Singing with others in a home setting is a special time of rejoicing, whether it is indoors around the piano, or outdoors around a campfire. The few times that I have sung around a campfire have been memorable ones.
A Simmering Entrée
This morning I assembled some ingredients in the crock-pot. Every time I passed by it, I felt secure that supper would, indeed, be ready. It was a small weight off my mind. I could then turn my attention elsewheresuch as to the writing of this article. I havent tried mega- cooking, where many meals are prepared on a Saturday and then frozen. I do, however, cook double and freeze the surplus whenever I can. I mostly cook from scratch, but meals are kept simple. Vegetables are consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Did I say breakfast? Yes. For instance, two bunches of asparagus are peeled and cooked for supper one night and the leftover asparagus is used in an omelet the next morning. Dean makes the best omelets. Having a garden vegetable for breakfastcooked in a lil olive oil, of courseis a tradition borrowed from my Italian relatives. Peppers and eggs or zucchini and eggs were common dishes eaten by my father as a child. Each spring, young dandelion leaves and green onions were baked in a pie shell topped with anchovies and a lil olive oilreal Italian peasant food. Bean soups, once a staple, make good crock-pot meals today. Two vegetables and/or one vegetable and a salad are the goal for whatever Im making for supper, unless it is a casserole or soup that is already plentifully supplied with them. Im sparing of sweets and processed carbohydrates. Frequent servings of these cause uneven blood sugar levels throughout the day, which give a person cravings for more sugar. One can easily get stuck in the sweet-treat cycle. Stress and routine sweet snacking are not a good combination. Therefore, the wise words of a mother pertain here: Eat your vegetables!
Some advertising companies claim that when people impulse-buy, they get a feeling of euphoria. What they dont tell you is that the novelty of the purchase quickly wears off, and these people are left with more clutter. Books are differentso Ive told myself. A homeschooler can easily justify a weighty accumulation of them. It has been such a pleasure to purchase books for my children to read and for me to read to them. We love books. Books, books, and more books seem to have made themselves the accent of our home décor. Last winter we were having trouble walking around the numerous piles of books that didnt fit on shelves. The dust became unmanageable. Alas, the piles and stacks contributed to my cabin fever. Then came an awakening. I humbly concluded that there must be some excess in our intrusive collection. Rather than hoard, we should sort out any surplus. A further conclusion made me realize that the only way to part with our books was to be ruthless about it.
The day arrived. On a sunny April morning our used books, used curriculum, toys, and cassettes were piled high on tables in the garage. Homeschoolers came from miles around and bought books by the armload. The books sold represented twenty years of collecting and three months of my sorting (many had been in boxes in the basementa place too damp for books). I had mixed feelings that morning. It seemed as though I were giving away souvenirs of my childrens childhood as I saw the juvenile biographies, picture books, historical fiction we had enjoyed together, being carried off. But a warm feeling also came over me as I put myself in the buyers place. She was able to purchase good books for little cost. One joyful mother actually sent me a thank you note for having the sale. And I am happy that the books will be enjoyed all over again.
Some favorites carefully kept out of the sale piles are being reserved for possible grandchildren. And there are enough books remaining to keep a whole wall of shelves filled. But history repeats itself, as I find myself still purchasing the occasional odd and interesting book (with the dollars I collected at my sale). Its hopeless.
An In-between Meal Soak
Bathtubs are not just for babies. It was three oclock in the afternoon and I was in the bathtub. The telephone rang. It was someone from a publishing company, my ten-year-old daughter reported to me. (We hadnt an answering machine in those days). She thought it sounded important.
Tell them I cant come to the phone, but I will call them back. Get their number. I spoke through the tiny crack of the bathroom door. I heard her run down the hall. A minute later she returned. Raising her voice to be heard through the crack, she said, The lady on the phone laughed when I told her you were in the bathtub. She said that a bath sounded like a very nice thing to be doing. I made a mental note to tell her later that when you tell someone your mother cant come to the phone, you dont have to tell him or her what she is doing.
That was some years ago. I cant remember what came over me to take a bath in the middle of the afternoon. But the brief escape was relaxing and probably just what I needed. Fifteen minutes later I was able to return the call, feeling quite refreshed enough to face the rest of the day. Showers can be vulgar hectic things. To relieve stress, take a bath. The tub is a thing of luxury in nearly every American home. Its a pity that we busy grown-ups overlook it.
A Dabble a Day
Do you ever piddle around the garden or dabble in a hobby? I like pinching off wilted flowers and weeding (if the weeds are small)general fussing about the vegetable garden, inspecting the progress of the tomatoes, etc. How wonderful when the strawberries ripen, or when blueberries can be picked off the bush after some years of fussing over them. Quite often just a little regular fussing now and again or dabbling here and there can bring results over time. An appliqued pillow, a childrens pair of wool mittens, a set of ruffled curtains, a scene painted on a recipe box, a small braided rug, are all projects you can pick up and put aside until a more favorable time. To create something such as an herb garden or a pair of mittens is so satisfying. The September 2002 issue of Piecework states that, according to the Craft Yarn Council of America, more than 38 million Americans (1 person in 6 over the age of nine) know how to knit. This number is up more than 4 million since 1998. Last year alone, the number of knitters ages thirty-five and under grew by 400 percent.
Obviously, this disproves what many believe: that only gray-haired grandmothers knit. Im not a grandmother and Ive been knitting for years.
(This article was written in 2003. In 2007 I became a grandmother and I now
have gray hair.) Knitting helps me unwind. It steadies my nerves. Knitting is a creative, take-your-time activity that so contrasts with our typical fast-paced lifestyles. Could this be why more and more people are taking up this productive hobby? To be creative doesnt necessarily involve a huge undertaking. We homeschool moms must be careful not to bite off more than we can chew.
I thought we might have gotten carried away when we purchased and planted fifty strawberry plants. However, weve found them to be quite manageable, neatly tucked away in their long raised bed. Not only do small projects relieve tensions, but the reward for a little dabbling is so satisfying. You may not have time enough in a year to knit a cabled cardigan, or make a queen-sized quilt, or braid a large area rug, or plant a one-acre apple orchard with all the homeshooling you are doing. We partake in Mother Culture by avoiding all or nothing thinking, and by dabbling in something less ambitious, we can still come out on top.
For the atmosphere of the home to be a pleasant one, a mother must manage her life. To ensure that she serves her family with dedication, diligence and love, she reserves a little time for herself. In this way she will not wither; rather she will keep growing into the person God is making her to be. The advantages of Mother Culture do not end with herself. On the contrarythey spill over into the family circle. Perhaps you have a testimony about Mother Culture that you would like to share with the readers of Homeschool Highlights. Letters to the editor will be chosen periodically at the discretion of the staff: Mr. And Mrs. Andreola. Keep up your Mother Culture.