Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Years Hall of Fame

The year is drawing to a close, and 2010 is going to greet me, like it or not, when I wake tomorrow morning.   Recently I have been thinking to myself that 2009 was one of my best years yet.  There are several that rank high on my list, and oh-nine joins the club of the elite greats.  There was the year that I up and traveled to China, all by my lonesome to see if I could be somebody or save somebody.  I couldn't and I didn't, but it was an amazing, life-changing journey!  There was the year I came home from China after 2 1/2 years and went to graduate school.  It was there I think I became -- Myself.  It was the year my relationship with my husband developed and grew into an engagement, then a wedding on a snowy December day in 1997.  So, ninety-seven ranks up there.  2001 goes into that "Best Years Hall of Fame" because my son arrived and transformed my life and rocked my world, and now my heart runs around outside of me, and I can only do my best to raise him and hope that it doesn't break.  2005 goes into the Hall of Fame because my daughter arrived, and unearthed in me a tenderness and magic that I didn't know was there, and I fell in love all over again.

I'm seeing a pattern here...The years that were the best were the years that were transformational--the years in which I grew and changed and "became."  There was a deeper awareness of the world, of life, of mortality, of maturity, of love that arose out of all of those things.  This year did not hold any such significant milestones--we didn't travel to faraway lands, have a baby, move to another state, or even change places that we shop--but I was transformed.

That transformation came from this:  it was this year in which I made one of the best decisions I could have ever made, and it brought a sense of peace and balance that was sorely needed.  It may seem like a small decision, but it was one that forced me to step back and "dig deep" to find the mom and teacher that my kids need me to be, the wife my husband needs me to be, and the grown-up that I need me to be.  The decision was to drop out of all co-op activities and design my own program for my particular kids, and accept the fact that my son and my daughter are who they are.  I basically removed myself from all situations in which I would be tempted to compare them to other kids and let them (and me) be.  It has been so liberating.

My resolution in 2010 is to build on this foundation.  I hope to spend less computer / screen time, more time in books, spend more time in The Book, less on facebook.   I want more time with the kids on field trips,  to walk a 5K, play more golf.  Happy New Year.  May 2010 be even more peaceful and balanced.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Goals are a Good Thing

Okay, for those of you who have made some internal resolution to take up the WEM and join in this pursuit,  here's an accessible challenge for us:  Let's get to chapter XX by Jan 9.  My friend / reading partner is probably already on chapter XXXLVINLIGHTINGREADERXXXIVL, but that's okay.  She can sit down and wait for me to catch up now that the new year is upon me and I'm fresh with new resolution and intent. 

If you are reading this for the sport of watching people set goals and not reach them so as to make yourself feel better...tsk, tsk...go get a copy and join in the fun.  Better buy one.  The library doesn't have enough renews to keep you going on DQ.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Don Quixote is on Bed Rest

The holidays and illness have knocked me off the noble steed that was carrying me into the world of Don Quixote de La Mancha.  I am ashamed to admit that I am not much further along than when I previously posted.  There are a few quiet days ahead of me here without many commitments.  I'm sure my friend Heather who agreed to read and discuss the book with me as a "reading partner" is going to find me a bit of a ball and chain in the undertaking.  Nevertheless...I post my confession and will get back to it.

I have to say, though, that I think that SWB makes this the first undertaking in her book The Well Educated Mind not so much for the value of the novel, but to test the mettle of the readers who take her challenge to become the autodidacts they claim they want to be.  I won't let you down, Susan!  I am up to the task (or will be as soon as my head clears from this cold!)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Accidental Field Trip

I called our friends to invite them to play yesterday afternoon, and on a whim she invited us to join them on an outing to a local dairy farm.  Some other families were going to investigate the possibility of buying a cow share so as to get raw milk.  I was interested, it sounded fun, so off we went.  It was muddy, but very nice for the children to see all the animals, and we were delighted with the new calves.  Here are a couple of the fun moments on the farm...Oh yes, and I am seriously considering a share to have the raw milk.  It's wonderful stuff.

Many Pages and Teeny, Tiny Print, or I'm Only on Chapter 3?!

Don Quixote is a long, long, book.  I know this undertaking is supposed to be educational, and intellectual, but with the pace my life has been taking lately, I imagine that it could take me the better part of my lifetime to read this monstrosity.  Okay, now that I've had a good rant about the stack of pages and teeny, tiny print I see sitting beside my reading chair...

I have to admit that I actually find this book to be very amusing.  I've only made it through chapter 3, but I love the scene in which the sordid inn where he stays for the night becomes the castle, the prostitutes are the "damsels in distress" and the muleteers become his hapless victims.  Finally in exasperation, the innkeeper knights the lunatic and sends him on his way.

On to chapter four...if I can stay awake.  The only problem with reading at night is that it is, well, night time and I tend to not retain what I've read as much.  The problem with reading in the morning is that I have my quiet time when I first get up.  I've also undertaken to read the entire Bible chronologically.  I've never read the Bible cover-to-cover, though I've probably read all or most of the Bible.  This morning I finished Leviticus.  I began that reading journey on November 3, so I'm covering a lot more territory reading the Good Book.  Can't help but say I find it far more inspiring, interesting and thought provoking than Don Quixote so far. 

Face it, as busy moms and homemakers, life gets in the way.  I'll excuse myself if D.Q. takes a while.  It doesn't look like Cervantes meant for it to be read in a rush, anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The First Step of the Thousand Mile Journey

What I know about Don Quixote from my personal experience is limited. I never thought much about this book, and certainly never knew it was the watershed work that was the foundation of the literary genre known as “the novel.” I knew that it involved a madman chasing windmills, but I have no concept of how that is incorporated into the plot of the book.

After reading the introduction I am thoroughly irritated because of the scholar’s insistence on spoiling the plot in the second paragraph. Yes, it is a literary masterpiece, and yes, I am reading it as an educational pursuit, but I’d still like to enjoy the book as a plot unfolding! Nevertheless the introduction laid out some important background knowledge about Cervante’s life and personal pursuits, as well as how the tale of Don Quixote de la Mancha is told.

Ch. 1 – Tells how Don Quixote went mad by becoming so enmeshed in stories of chivalry and thereby decided to become a knight-errant.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Well Educated Mind, A Journey's First Step

Here I begin my survey of human history from my human perspective.  I have undertaken the reading of The Well Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer because I want to learn the art of self-education, and not remain stagnant.  I also truly desire to model this for my chilren, that no one may take them captive through deceptive practices and doctrines.  I believe I must first articulate the reasons why I care to do this, because in so doing I may remind myself as to why I undertook this quest in the first place.  I am not what you might call a voracious reader.  I have a ravenous appetite, but continually strive against my lack of self-discipline and sometimes practical issues such as the physical exhaustion that comes from raising and homeschooling two children. 

I have concluded, then, that “slow and steady wins the race.”  I have throughout my life believed that anything done must be done with all gusto and fervor, and when that intensity cannot be sustained, then I must have failed to have the necessary passion to complete the project well.  Failure.  So here I begin to shed this erroneous belief and embark upon the journey which will likely be long and arduous and feel more like failures than successes, but I will fill my mind with valuable things, even though it will take me a lifetime. 

I should note that coinciding with this project I have also undertaken to study God’s perspective on human history and am reading the Bible through chronologically.  (Today I finished the book of Exodus.)  I am keeping a hand-written journal beside me as I read, since I prefer the intimacy of that medium for study of spiritual matters.  Also, I want to avoid the computer’s interference with my thoughts of God, as I am so easily distracted by, well, computer-y things.  This too, is a matter of self-discipline.

Bauer (SWB) says, “Sustained serious reading is at the center of the self-education project…Reading alone allows us to reach out beyond the restrictions of time and space, to take part in what Mortimer Adler has called the “Great Conversation” of ideas that began in ancient times and has continued unbroken to the present.  Reading makes us part of the Great Conversation, no matter where and when we pursue it.”

And so I begin.  I will keep a journal (in blog format) in keeping with SWB’s recommendations, and will probably make personal adjustments as I go.  I may or may not stick exclusively to her list, but at least at the outset I will keep her structure, so as to establish the discipline and get on track.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of hosting Spunky of Spunky Homeschool and three lovely young ladies (two of whom were her daughters) on a "drive by" tour of D.C. They were wrapping up their weekend here, which you can read about at her blog.

I've been following Spunky Homeschool for about two or three years, give or take. I'm not one to be a "fan" of people, really. They're all sinners, and some of them happen to come in more or less attractive packages, have been photoshopped better than others, or have managed to construct a more deceptive facade for themselves. However, it is refreshing when someone you've come to know from a distance actually is the person that they portray themselves to be. On the surface, my meeting Spunky (whose given name is Karen) seemed kind of odd...I emailed her and said, "Hey, if you're in the city, maybe we could meet..." I seriously doubted that she'd have time or desire to uproot her plans or time with her friends and family to meet a weird blog-follower, but something said, "do it anyway." Come to think of it, I would NEVER encourage my kids to just up and meet someone they meet on the internet! How crazy is that!!? But to my surprise she determined that I wasn't a psycho stalker, announced that she was free all afternoon, and so we met and ran around the city together and even got some dinner.

The pleasant reality is that after two years of reading her blog and feeling like I know who she is on some level, meeting this sister was every bit as satisfying as I could have hoped. She has no facade, she is who she is without apology, and she absolutely is as "spunky" as her name implies--there was never a dull moment. I just want to note--we did not plan the outfits.

The quintessential "Spunky quote" came when my son was fishing for coins in the fountain outside the Ronald Reagan building, since he didn't have any of his own to throw in. Dad mildly corrected him for doing it to which Spunky chimed in, "Oh, we're in Washington! It's okay to take other people's money!"

The long and short of it is this--in the search for friends in this world, you are blessed when you find the ones who really are who they say they are. Now, granted, one visit with a person doesn't give the whole picture, but first impressions are usually accurate.

Thanks Spunky for a fun day! We'll look forward to the next time!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Beginning of the School Year

I believe that we homeschoolers who say, "when are you starting school?" have the wrong idea. What do I say to that? "Ummm...I started about eight years ago and have been going strong every day since. Wait...there were those two days when I had a stomach virus and didn't get out of bed. Other than that, we've been homeschooling pretty much every day." I say this tongue in cheek because I believe that we are called to be in a constant state of teaching and training our children, and that "homeschooling" is a misnomer. It implies that we've allowed the cultural concept of how we should educate our children creep into our minds -- 17 years and countless hours of firsthand training and indocrination have nothing to do with this, of course. And this is not to offend the wonderful teachers who taught me and helped to form my life and develop the way I think about things (thanks, Fran!). I loved them all. But...since now I have a choice in the matter, I believe that education that is home based is in many cases the premier choice for cultivating a whole person, both whole parent and whole child. "Homeschoolers" from classical educators to unschoolers share this notion in spite of their vast differences in style. So for lack of better terminology at the moment, I'll identify with the sector of society best known as "homeschoolers" in spite of my subtle disagreement with the label; and the notion of "starting school" implies taking textbooks out again to start working on that kind of learning again.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a homeschool snob. I know what they mean. There's the natural rhythm of life. There comes that time of year when you just can't go anymore and you stash away the books and the whining and the routine because you're feeling a little burnt out on phonics and science projects and crafts...if you like that sort of thing. Then, you enjoy the learning that comes from critter-hunting, garden-growing, beach-combing, and campfire-lighting. It's a different kind of school entirely, but every bit as important. But somewhere around this time of year, perhaps because the leaves are showing just a tinge of red,

or perhaps because everyone around you is shopping on tax-free weekend, that question comes, "So, when are you guys going to start?" I have gotten so many different answers, from "Oh, I just can't face it. Maybe never." to the very firm, but late "Sept. 14th." We're "starting" on August 31st. What that means exactly, I'm never quite sure. It means a slight variation in our routine, in which the kids practice piano first thing in the morning and do math pages and listen to stories and do copywork and learn cursive and history and science-y type things. It means I get to relive my childhood anticipation for the first day of school all over again, but on a grander scale. I get to laminate memory cards (no home educating family should be without a laminator) and plan which science experiments and history projects we're going to do. I get to buy notebook paper and notebooks and pencils and pencil boxes and backpacks. I haven't figured out why my kids need backpacks yet, but they're cute and fun and they pack their clothes in them when we have overnights with friends.

Today I deep cleaned the basement in anticipation for our "start." It's an annual ritual of cleaning out old junk, making sure last years papers are filed away properly, books are neatly placed on the shelves, and the carpet is steam-cleaned (Please note--this is not standard. It's my own personal OCD thing with clean floors.) The planning is nearly done. The books have nearly all arrived via the friendly UPS man. The lesson planning and goal setting is very nearly complete.

Matty said to me for the first time in his life, "Mom, I can hardly wait." I said, "Wait for what, Buddy?" He said, "For school to start. I didn't feel that way before but I do now. You get better at it every year." Wow. I almost did an unsolicited, involuntary flip right there on the spot.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Firefly Frolic

My summer is conspicuously unscheduled this year. Somewhere down the line I seem to have lost the need or desire to be insanely busy along with the rest of society. I have had time time to just kick back, read a couple of books, enjoy living in my house with my garden and cats, do a little cleaning, cook some...It feels great.

Along with this sweet time of unscheduled, lazy, long days, ideas for "what to do" become a little simpler. Dad suggested this evening a surprise for the kids--stay up past bedtime to hunt fireflies. You'd think we had given them the moon for a snack! They bounded around the yard with their butterfly nets and caught many, many firefies. The sound of their delight and the sight of them running and jumping and saying, "right behind you!" and "ooh, there's one!" and then rushing to put them in the bug keeper was better entertainment than the most expensive water park.

What have we become? It was a gorgeous, breezy day today, and this evening as the winds died down and the sun began to set, we sat out on the front step to enjoy the long shadows and gathering dusk. All around us, we should have seen kids riding bikes, calling to each other, doing what kids do on warm summer evenings, but all down the street we saw not another soul. All we heard was the hum of air conditioners and houses were buttoned up tight against the threat of a degree above 72. Matty asked where everyone was and Aimee answered "in their basements watching their TVs." I'm starting to think that our neighbors must find us odd because we actually play in our yard, plant a garden, and draw on our driveway with chalk...oh yes, and catch fireflies.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Swimming Against the Tide

The last week or so has been a whirlwind of ideas coming to fruition in our household. We attended the HEAV convention in Richmond and heard the keynote speaker, Voddie Baucham give three very inspiring talks on biblical headship in the home, cultural war, and biblical manhood. The audience gave him a standing ovation. It felt good to be in that place. There was a rather large gathering of people all committed to the same (or very similar) ideals as those we hold dear. But when I looked around I couldn't help thinking how when we all part company, we are few and far between in this culture, and our views on things like biblical gender roles, marriage and family, education, and truth are not popular in everyday society. In fact, they run counter to everything this culture is founded on, and would even be construed as intolerant, extremist, even threatening, though we know otherwise.

What he said gave me courage to stand, and not just to stand against the cultural tide, but to swim against it, purposefully teaching my children and raising them in a way that will not win friends in Ceasar's eyes.
Psalm 144:11-12
Deliver me and rescue me from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful. Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nutured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.