Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bittersweet Changes

It has been a long and strange summer. I remember saying to a friend last spring as the school year wrapped up, "I feel a season of change coming," and I wasn't wrong. I have had little or no inspiration to write or blog, as I didn't have anything that I felt was constructive to say about much of anything. In some cases I had little inspiration to do much of anything! With regard to school issues, I felt tired and very uninspired. As I sit here writing I am glad to say that  this feeling has passed, but only because in fact, this season of change has come to fruition and now I am prepared to move forward. Normally by this time each year I have the whole calendar sketched out and notebooks set up and curriculum blocked out and set up for the year. Not this year. I haven't even started. It is t-minus five days until we start back to our academic work! Even so, I'm strangely at peace.

I have been blessed for the last five years to work with two other families consistently and other families that have come and gone from our group. We started out in Classical Conversations together, and then left and began meeting together for a smaller co-op based on Tapestry of Grace. This year, we have all reached a point where meeting together is not going to satisfy the needs of our families as it has in the past, and we are finding that we have to disband our little co-op. While I know it makes sense and is the right decision for all of us, it is bittersweet. 

These are the scenes that I will miss so much...

And with that I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to Candace, Lynelle and Lisa for allowing me to participate in teaching your children. They brought me great joy! 

I look forward to posting about the plan for this coming school year as it develops over the next few days. Thankfully today I have a whole afternoon on my own to just sort things out...Let's see what develops!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


It's been a while since I last wrote. Funny thing is, I received one of the wonderful, random emails that I receive from time to time from readers who use Google, find the blog and actually take me up on the invitation to send an email. She said, "I saw that you haven't written in a while, but thought I'd give it a shot..." I took a chance and called the phone number she put on the email and we had a lovely conversation.

The truth is, I've been in a blogging slump. I've been in a homeschooling slump...When the school year ended, I went on vacation and didn't give lessons a second thought. Usually by this time of summer the whole next academic cycle is planned, books are ordered and organized, and I'm starting to rub my hands together in happy anticipation of the school year to come. Fact is I haven't ordered one book, cleaned up the school books from last year, or given a bit of thought to what we will be covering. It's a bit disconcerting, but worrying doesn't help. I know from experience that every year is different and how we go about each year is not a copy of what we've done before. I think the Lord simply hasn't chosen to reveal to me what He has for us yet this year. We are taking a bit of a trust walk, and that's okay.

But there are these other things--I've been busy with church, CrossFit, kids' activities, and life. The house is never cleaned all the way any more and I have to take things on in small chunks. It is not how I work best, so I'm learning a new paradigm. I have been digging deeper into some hobbies--guitar, art, lifting weights. (what? did I just write that?) This week I had to go to my sister's which is three hours away to see my mom, who has Alzheimer's. I need to do this much more often than I manage to do. I need to tuck in, nurture my family, care for them deeply.

So I don't know much about what this year will bring, but I do know this: I will tuck in. It is my hope that this year will be one in which we stay close, "tucked in" together and relishing the luxury of time to spend on adventures in the Middle Ages (Tapestry of Grace, Year 2), read together, work on math together, learn how to be caring, creative, fit, healthy, whole together...My heart is quiet, but the plan seems to be just on the horizon.

Seeing my family these past couple of days reminded me that there are so many things that can interfere with what is most important. It was necessary that my mom see me. Necessary that I got to love her and remind her of what my hug feels like, even if she did think my sister was my mom! I know that her heart remembers, even if the synapses aren't firing on all cylinders! My heart was so filled with love and joy, even in the grief of this awful disease. I know that this is just going to be for a millisecond of eternity, and then life will really start for Mom. I want to be there for her, for my sister and niece, for my kids, and my husband completely and fully on this side of eternity.

L to R, Me, my niece, Mom and sister!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Reflections on Easter

I love Christmas...I love the tucked-in warmth of family time and gifts and the focus that we place on love and human kindness. It is my favorite, in a sense. Every year when Christmas comes I am so happy because of the mystery and the miracle, and let's face it, there is such an element of humanity there--God becoming flesh and being born--mom in labor, baby arriving and guests coming to visit, and then the high drama of parents fleeing for his life and the life of all humanity, all so we can have the next holiday.

But then there is Easter. Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Lent and Ash Wednesday...this 40-day anticipation. It is not tucked in. It is not even necessarily happy. It is public, and visible, and painful if entered into fully. It is an acknowledgement of the end of life, the truth of who we really are and the judgement that we deserve. It is an identification with the reality that we are sinners, and for 40 days Jesus faced intense temptation on an empty stomach, face to face with Satan and proved that he was not. So for 40 days we remember.

And then this man who was not a sinner, who had a mother, who had a family of brothers and sisters, a huge following and the weight of the world on his shoulders is falsely accused, beaten and brutally murdered, betrayed by one of his closest friends. Good Friday. Good because he laid himself down for us. Horrible in the reality of what we did to him. True story.

Then Saturday. Silent. Waiting. Knowing the end of the story but imagining all that must have been going through the minds of his family and friends. Waiting for Sunday because of longing to hear that one word...

Throughout Lent the word "Alleluia" is omitted from the liturgy. For the purpose of reflection and a reminder of the gravity of our sin, we do not celebrate. We wait.

Last night I had a dream that I was in a church with people that I know and love all around me and it was Easter morning. We were singing the hymn "All Creatures of our God and King" which has a refrain of "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia" in it. I found myself nearly swallowed in the Alleluias, the highest word of praise. The truth. I could not help but close my eyes, raise my hands, and in the moment was aware of fact that every single person there was compelled to worship in the same way. We were lost to ourselves and completely surrounded by the Truth of the Resurrection!

There is this unspeakable joy that overcomes me every single year on Resurrection Sunday. It is not a time to be tucked in with family and celebrating humanity. This is for public display! This is running through the streets and preaching material! This is the end of death if you will claim it, the end of suffering if you will believe it, the beginning of eternal life if you will have it! This is freedom! There is no law or regulation or ordinance that can defeat it. There is only the hope that we now have, and the joy that nothing can overcome us if we are in Christ. Nothing.

Alleluia. Easter is my favorite. Every. Single. Year. Forever and ever and ever. Alleluia.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Everything in its Season

Ecclesiastes 3:1
For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.

This is one of my favorite chapters of scripture. As I move through life, I have learned more and more that there are seasons for things. Everything we traverse is part of a season and as sure as winter changes to spring, so do seasons of life. Whether it be in life, death, sickness, growth, laughter, quietness, or passionate pursuit, the season will change. There are seasons in learning as well, and we must not force children into a season where they are not. In fact, we cannot force them. Trying to do so only frustrates, and I know this from painful experience with my own kids. 

Right now I find myself in a season that has me pondering our purposes. In the outside world I hear a cacophony of noise about education--Who is best in the world?  How do we test? Should we standardize? Guess what--you don't have a choice in the matter! It's happening! What about college? Should everyone go? Do you have to go to be marketable? What does that mean, anyway???

Much of education seems to be tied to the sense that inner peace is somehow connected to the inevitable job at the end of the educational tunnel, and if you can't get a job, then all is lost. Check all the boxes, and at the end you can be churned out into the marketplace to satisfy someone else's whims and answer to their demands so you can take home a lousy paycheck and buy some Ikea furniture.

Much of this external cacophony can put pressure on parents who homeschool, and especially those who choose a different path than what is typically prescribed by school systems. Classical educators and unschoolers and eclectic Charlotte Mason types, or any other "type" of home schooler that there is cannot be a stranger to the unnerving sense that overcomes from time to time that says, "You're kids are freaks and will never be able to support themselves. What on earth are you doing to them?" 

Ah, but then there is this moment...

I was sweating and fretting because I wasn't having my son do enough writing, though I wasn't entirely sure what "enough" meant. I was trying to cram him through a curriculum that he hated, and when I considered what I would be feeling were I to do the curriculum, I would hate writing too. I had to evaluate what my objective for him in writing actually is. In fact, my objective is for him to be an effective communicator. So I backed off and decided to watch and wait, and yes--I even prayed about this. Then this happened...

After a particularly lively conversation about The Wanderings of Odysseus with our Tapestry of Grace Dialectic co-op kids, one of them piped up with, "Could we write a paper that compares the gods and heroes?" 

Me: Stare. Blink. "Uhhhhhm...Yes. Yes you can. I think that is a great idea." And so began our journey of writing applicable, difficult academic papers. All the kids agreed that this was something they wanted to take on, something that they want to learn how to do, and four papers later (in two months' time) have turned out some tremendous work. They have tackled the very difficult comparison / contrast essay twice (though normally I would never start there!), a biographical essay, and the art of effective summary. They have not balked, complained or winced when given difficult critiques, but have embraced them and applied what they learned to the next paper. They have asked to receive grades, and I have given them with the understanding that I will be honest in the assessment, to which they all nodded and said that they wanted it, even if it wasn't a "good" grade. 

None of these kids were being forced to write above or outside of their particular skill or age level up to this point. All of them have been allowed to develop at their pace and in their strengths. Now that they are ages 10-13 and very much in that dialectic stage where they want to interact with information on a deeper level, they have no qualms about asking how to do it. Straight up. Honest. Just like kids, but this time more like young men and women who truly want to know...

For everything there is a season.

It showed me once again, that I really don't need to worry. I have asked for wisdom about how to do this, and watching and waiting for my children's cues for readiness has proven the best course more than once! Each of these children has a season, and we cannot create it for them. We can only model, model, model what Godly, wise, healthy living is, and provide the guidance for them along the way. It is not my job to make my children. It is my job to guide them. When they are ready, I must be prepared to meet them on the path and show them the way, even when the season changes unexpectedly, brings storms and turmoil, and when there seems to be a drought. Watch and wait. Listen the the voice of the Lord who has placed me here for this very purpose. Be faithful. diligent. prayerful. loving. kind. compassionate. merciful. every season.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Longest Winter, The Loveliest Year

It is March 30, and usually by this time of the year we have already begun the yard work for the spring, beginning the process of turning the soil and planting spring flowers and garden vegetables. Today, however, we were deluged with about two inches of rain, snow, and slush, and five days ago we had about 4 inches of snow. Again.

It has been an incredibly cold and snowy winter for us in Virginia, where we normally receive a paltry amount of snow and winter is mostly a suggestion rather than a big experience. By the time winter is here, it is nearly over. We seldom experience enough of it to grow truly weary of it. This year, most people who live here are crying "Uncle!" Even so, I have been determined not to complain, because the cold and the snow helped the kids and me to have one of the best school years we've ever had.

While most of the moms who teach their children at home are burnt-out-done-with-it-all right now, I have managed to bypass this. I do not say this to boast--believe me. Most years at this point I am nearly deranged with burn-out. Not this year, and I had to sit down and evaluate why not. Four areas of focus seem to sum it up:

Attention to health: All four members of our family have been incredibly intentional about our health this year from clean eating to working out. I have been working out 4-5 days per week at our CrossFit gym (a.k.a. box) and my husband has joined me there. The kids attend their CF Kids class 3 days a week as well. And don't think I'm uppity about all this! Clean eating is not legalism--we have the occasional cheat day, such as a burger and milkshake after a day on the slopes or a dinner out at a grilled pizza place, but we choose carefully and make sure it's a treat, not regular fare.

Attention to spirit: A renewed commitment to our church family, regular time reading the Bible and praying, and spending time in good, deep conversation together has strengthened and renewed us spiritually and emotionally.

Attention to sleep: We have made a huge effort to get more sleep. It's worth it. If we are so busy that we cannot get to bed and get the sleep that we need, then something has to go. Bed is a priority, and it is paying off with better moods, more energy, more productivity and general well-being. Down with the rat-race--I'm sleeping when I need to from now on. Funny thing is, more sleep means I wake earlier and better and have more time for the other three things on the list. See how that works?

Attention to living: School at home is the best. Really, it is, but there are just those days when I cannot face another math or grammar lesson just because it's on the list and needs to be checked off. We set weekly goals, and there have been weeks we didn't meet them all, but went skiing instead. I have encouraged the kids to keep up with their Tapestry and science reading and projects because we have the accountability of the group to keep us on point, but in other things, we have all agreed that we would trade some book work through the summer in order to do more fun things in the winter. It works out to be a very manageable pace and schedule, and it all seems to get done. There have even been weeks we were ahead in reading. Learning to ski this long, dreary winter was the reward for working hard on the days we weren't on the mountain. Figuring out how to balance CrossFit and school time and give both the high priority they deserve is good mental exercise for both kids. Figuring out how to listen to tired bodies and back off from everything rather than be a slave to the check-list has reaped huge benefits.

When I compare the way I feel this miserable, cold, dreary March to how I have been in other years at this time, the difference is remarkable. Allow me to draw an analogy from CrossFit: WODs (Workouts of the Day) are designed to be difficult every time. They are intense and there is always the potential for "redlining," "hitting the wall," "burning out." Whatever word you choose, the point in a WOD is to stay just behind the red line. Chase it as hard as you can, but not to where you have to stop so long that you lose momentum and can't get back into the action. The point is to stay consistent, but intense so that you develop your metabolic capacity. We call it "staying behind the suck." When you can successfully do this you can say that you "crushed" your workout. If on the other hand you redline and continue to push, you cause injury to yourself and your efforts are negated by needing more time to recover.

It may seem a strange analogy, but the truth applies in everything we are currently living. Homeschooling is hard. If it weren't then everyone would do it. When we begin to approach that red line, that breaking point emotionally, spiritually, physically, so many of us keep pushing, thinking that if we just endure a little longer that things will be better. We do it because of fear--fear of failing our kids, fear of not getting that God-awful curriculum done, not to mention wasting money and frustrating the spouse, fear of disappointing the in-laws or fear of appearing to the neighbors as if the kids are just goofing off all day. Actually, things are not better after pushing. We are only more exhausted than when we started and the road to recovery is that much longer.

These fears are so counterproductive! One of the key reasons we homeschool is to teach our children how to live full, healthy, and productive lives, and we think that by stressing out both them and ourselves we will achieve that? No. We must model it. Who cares what the neighbors think?

Let me add this--if you have babies, toddlers and/or pre-schoolers while at the same time juggling the needs of older learners, you have a much tougher row to hoe when it comes to avoiding burnout. However, I do believe that this same balance and pace of life can be achieved, because I have seen it done, and done well.

This time next year may be completely different, but I hope not. Whether we have a cold, snowy winter or not, I hope I can look back on this school term and remember the skills we are learning. I want to continue to let go of what other people expect of us, and do what is best for my children and my family. I want to continue to listen to what God has to say about our lives and use that as our guiding beacon. I want to stay right here, but move forward at the same time, if you know what I mean...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Lighter Side of Learning to Ski

The theme of this past year of my life has been to live life, not sit on the sidelines. CrossFit has opened so many avenues of activity for our family...Being fit is a total game-changer. I went camping last summer for the first time ever, and went tubing in a chilly river for about 4 hours. It was loads of fun. I went kayaking with my kids for the first time ever last summer. Also, loads of fun. This winter, conditions have been perfect to learn how to ski, and this is the most fun I have ever had in my whole life. Exaggerating? No. I'm serious when I say this. I have literally gone head-over-heels crazy about skiing. Literally. Head over heels.

I'm not entirely sure why strapping two flat boards to the most uncomfortable shoes I've ever worn and careening down a mountain is so much fun, but for some reason, it is. I've heard people say that they hate skiing...the cold, the snow, the speed...Okay, but most people I've talked to really like it, and so I banked on those reports.

I sincerely wish I had a video report of my first day skiing. I would love to have watched myself as I managed walking with those feet or got off of the lift for the first time. A friend of mine told me "keep your thumbs in when you hold your poles" because her roommate in college broke both of her thumbs when she fell and her poles bent her thumbs backward. I opted not to use poles, so as to avoid the broken thumb scenario. So we went through the lesson and I fell a couple of times..I did not understand what he meant when he told me how to stand up. Off with the skis. Second try. That little bunny hill was steep, and long, and scary. Then the instructor took us to the top of the bunny hill and I had to get off the lift. I got off the seat and whoa! there was a steep ramp and I flew down straight off of the lift. I landed in a pile at the bottom and would you believe it, sprained my thumb! I landed on my right hand and my thumb bent backward under me. It's still getting better. I managed to make it down the bunny slope a few times alive, and by the end of the lesson was able to stay mostly on my feet.

After the lesson I ventured up to the green-dot slope next to the lesson area. It was fiercely steep and miles long. I got off the lift and didn't fall immediately. I started down the hill, careened wildly down the slope and fell spectacularly. I lay there face down in the snow to gather my wits and heard my daughter call from behind me, "Mom? Are you okay? MOooOm!? Are you okay?" I got up looking like the abominable snowman, I'm sure. I asked the eight-year old daughter (who was zipping along everywhere she went like an old pro after one lesson) "HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?" She showed me the little snow-plow maneuver when she picked up speed. It didn't work for me. I wiped out again, this time under the ski-lift just at the moment when my friend and her daughter were floating overhead, laughing behind their gloves.

Even so, I got back on the lift and went again. I still had a grin pasted to my face, despite the fact that I spent half the time in the snow as opposed to on it. The lift operator asked if I was having a good day and I burst out at him, "YES! I'M HAVING A BLAST" and he kind of recoiled and raised his eyebrows and said, "Oh, well, good!" He probably turned to his colleague as soon as I was out of earshot and said, "Freaky lady."

After that first venture to the slopes, we went again, exactly two weeks later. I stayed on my feet a little better. I learned how to turn on my skis a bit more. I learned what an "edge" was, how to feel the weight on your downhill ski, how to get your skis parallel, and and how not to take your class group out like bowling pins by skiing right into the middle of them. Yes, that happened, and yes, I was the one skiing. I learned how to fall and "spin out." It's less fun than skiing but less painful than falling without any choice in the matter. I learned that sometimes the ski lifts go fast and you'd better be ready or you'll watch your little girl get swept away without you. I learned that they always stop the lifts for cute little girls who can't reach the ramp and get off in time. I learned that hand warmers are really necessary if you plan to ski all day in 20-degree weather.

We have found the most amazing burger place, to top all of this off. Elevation Burger in Frederick, MD is about 20 minutes' drive from the mountain, and I have to say there may be nothing better than a burger, fries and milkshake after a long day of exhausting exercise. My son ate a triple-patty burger with just everything on it. This is us, windburned, tired, but really happy about our food.

So far this is my skiing journal. We go again this week on Thursday, and I can't wait, though I realize I am taking my life in my hands through the entire experience, but isn't that really living? Here's to staying on my feet!

Let me just offer this piece of advice...don't wait until you are in your mid-forties to learn to ski. Do it yesterday. I'm sure you'll be better off!