Saturday, July 31, 2010

Super-smart kids and their proud mommies

Do you ever flinch when you read something like this in a blog post or message board?

"Timmy is just so bright I don't know what I'm going to do with him!"

"Sally Jean is so smart, she is begging me to teach her to read and she's only 3!"

"What suggestions do you have for math for a really advanced 4-year-old?"

These are paraphrases of comments I've read over my homeschooling years. And these comments do make me flinch. I wonder about the moms who write things like this. Are they just proud mommies writing from their hearts? Or do they have a need to make their own child's brilliance known to the world?

Everyone who reads mommy/homeschooling blogs and message boards likes reading about what other moms and homeschoolers are doing. Why else would we read? I love reading about peoples' plans and curriculum and accomplishments. I'm happy for someone whose kid wants to learn to read at age 3. I'm impressed by kids who are doing algebra in 3rd grade! Of course! It's obvious such kids are bright. Obvious. So why do their mommies need to point it out?

The child of one of my real life friends seems to me to be brilliant. The mom has never told me her child is bright. But as I see what this child does with music and math, and what she is reading, and how she plays chess, it's pretty obvious to me. I don't know if the mom blogs or posts on message boards, but if she does, I am pretty sure she does not make sure everyone knows how smart her kid is. She enjoys her child; I'm sure she is proud of her child's accomplishments. But she doesn't tell people the kid is smart; she doesn't need to. The accomplishments speak for themselves.

On the other hand, I remember a mostly-homeschooling woman I once met at a homeschool park day. One of her children did go to school. "He's just so smart," she told me. "I just can't do anything with him, he's brilliant and way above grade level in everything." I am not making this conversation up. Actually it wasn't really a conversation because I was speechless. What is the correct response? "Congratulations"? The worst part was, the child was right there. He heard his mom say this. What do you suppose was going through his mind? What do you think was going through the minds of his (obviously inferior) siblings who were not so bright?

Parents shouldn't hide their kids' successes. I think most people love to read about others' accomplishments. But we should focus on the accomplishments, not the child's brilliance. Because the brilliance will show without Mom making sure everyone can see it.

Kindergarten do-over

No, I don't get to do kindergarten over. Not my own or my kids'. But right now all the homeschooling moms are talking about curriculum; I love reading their lists and plans. In particular, the moms with little ones. They are just starting and they are excited!

When I was just starting out, I was so excited too. I had so many plans. Too many. I learned, quickly, that I was trying to do too much with my little ones. I ended up worrying too much, getting too frustrated, and not enjoying my kids enough.

So if I could do kindergarten over with my kids, I would (in no particular order)...

- play more music, and dance more.

- play more games with numbers and letters and fun.

- collect more magazines that we could cut up for collages.

- be more diligent with learning and memorization of Bible and Catechism, with books like Leading Little Ones to God (which we used, but not enough).

- not buy a full math curriculum that cost a lot of money. I'd buy a cheap little workbook and more manipulatives. More beads, more things to count and sort and mess with. Maybe I'd even skip the workbook.

- get into Five in a Row, a wonderful literature-based curriculum, sooner. We used it for too short a time.

- rely on the library more and not buy quite so many books that were not truly keepers. Oh, we would still buy books. But I would be more selective and not buy so many cheap paperbacks that we read only a few times.

- not try to teach grammar, except by speaking properly myself and reading aloud.

- have more playdates.

- not spend any less time reading than we did. I don't regret a minute I spent snuggled up with my kids and books.

- have more treasure hunts in the house, yard, or sandbox.

- spend more time outside puttering around.

- plant more flowers.

- not worry, or fret, or wonder "am I doing enough?"

Enjoy those kindergarten years, Mommies! Have fun with your kids and let them be little.

It's easy to say now that I'm well past those years. If anyone had said these things to me back then, would I have listened?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up, July 30

We are still in summer mode this week. This is the first year I've taken most of the summer off; we're usually year-rounders. We needed it, though, or maybe I just needed it. But I am starting to think about getting back to our routine before summer laziness becomes the routine. That will be hard, as August is pretty full of summer activities: Boy Scout camp for a week, then soccer skills day camp, then helping at our church Vacation Bible School.

But first we will probably complete our Harry Potter film fest. My kids came late to the Harry Potter party; my boy read the books last summer when he was 12; my girl is still thinking about it. But they are enjoying the movies. We watched four of them this week and the last two are on their way from the library!

We did about as much back-to-school shopping as we needed to, having gone way overboard with the paper and composition books and pencils in years past. We did get a cute notebook for my girl, mainly because she craves cute notebooks, and a pocket portfolio sort of thing for the Scout to keep track of his patrol and merit badge stuff. I love school supplies and was sorely tempted to buy more. But, really, we must learn self-control.

We also bought the boy some clothing for Scout camp. And a hat, to replace last year's hat not lost, but outgrown. Most of the summer hats are sold out now; it's retail fall! Get going if you need camp clothes!

We are doing a lot of reading, together and separately; this week we finished one book in the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series and started another.

We did dip our toes into the schooltime water by starting to read The War for Independence by Albert Marrin. So far, so good, though we are going a bit slowly through it, because we're still busy with summer.

Read more Weekly Wrap-ups at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Pantry and freezer food for instant hospitality

Since last weekend's day of impromptu hospitality, I've been thinking of ways I can be ready to invite someone to my home on the spur of the moment. What kinds of food lend themselves to quick preparation without a lot of fuss?

I already figured out that I can serve some variation on burritos or quesadillas at a moment's notice. But there must be other things.

Some people always have sandwich fixings around, but other than tuna that doesn't work so well for me. We don't eat enough cold cuts that we can keep a large quantity around without them going bad, and I don't think they freeze well. Lettuce, tomato and other perishables are not always to be found in my house either. I could be out of bread (though usually have a loaf of French bread in the freezer).

There are always hamburgers and usually hot dogs or sausages in the freezer, though. Burgers can be grilled from their frozen state; dogs or sausages can be quickly defrosted in the microwave or boiling water before being thrown on the grill. Buns can be a problem. But even the most impromptu invitation usually allows for someone to run into a grocery store for a bag of buns. We have all the jars of condiments ready to go in the fridge. Lettuce and tomato? Most people are OK with skipping those, I think, though if we're running into the store for buns I guess it's a quick trip to the produce aisle to get those. But now we're getting complicated again.

Pasta and sauce in a jar should be in every pantry. Vegetables or meat can be added if available.

There are decent soups to be had in cans or aseptic cartons. We like Pacific brand Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato. Of course if I really had it together I would make huge batches of soup and freeze them. Tuna doesn't have to be reserved for sandwiches; a tuna pasta or casserole is quick and filling, even if it's not everyone's idea of company food.

The other night I had planned grilled sandwiches for my family. I had some boneless chicken which I sliced and sauteed in a little olive oil. Of course I had cheese, and had bought some hoagie* rolls for the meal. I brought a small container of pesto out of the freezer. Put the sandwiches together and on the griddle and dinner was ready in a few minutes. Everyone in my house likes those sandwiches. Except for the bread I had everything on hand. Leftover chicken - if there had been any - could have gone into the freezer to be ready for another meal. If I didn't have rolls, I could have used just about any plain bread. This would also have made a nice pasta dish.

*I live near Philadelphia so it's a hoagie roll. It could also be a sub roll, a steak roll, or just a bread roll. Not quite a hotdog bun, crustier and bigger to accommodate a bigger portion of filling.

See how that goes? There are lots of things we can keep around, and ideas we can keep in our heads or in a recipe notebook so we can be ready for guests anytime.

What kinds of things are always available to eat in your house?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An admission he will come to regret

My 13-year-old went to bed surly last night and woke up surly this morning. We don't live with surliness all the time, but it's getting a little more frequent. An annoying younger sister, boredom, and nervousness over new Boy Scout responsibilities are getting to him. It's good he's going away for a week soon. We all need a break from each other.

So this morning he did not want to go pull weeds at our neighbor's. She had offered him the work earlier in the summer; between the heat and busyness he hasn't gotten to do it much. But the past few days we've been encouraging him (you might say) to get over there.

This morning he had various complaints but I said to put in 1/2 an hour. So he went with the annoying sister.

He came back laughing. He apologized for his earlier surliness. He said he felt a lot better.

I asked if maybe the physical work had helped his mood. He didn't hesitate to say yes. Then I saw the look in his eye that said "oh, I don't think I should have said that."

But I heard it. The little sister did too. And you know we won't let him forget it.

Extra-curricular or simply curricular?

My 13-year-old boy participates in a robotics club, part of the First Tech League. He fell into it via his Boy Scout troop, and it's been a great thing. He's learning how to build and program robots, and all manner of other skills. He's having a lot of fun, too.

I noticed that the club seemed to have a revolving door: kids seem to come and go, based on their parents' decisions (or demands). One kid had to take a break because his mother worried about his homework; one kid disappeared for a few weeks because he was grounded. It puzzled me because this a sort of club that requires commitment. They hope to win the competitions they are building and programming their robots for. There's real work and real learning involved. The kids have fun, but it's not just a fun club.

It frustrated the club leader. He started this club after breaking away from the one sponsored by his high school. He's very dedicated to it, and very determined. Robotics is his chosen field for college and career. He doesn't understand the attitude of the parents, taking the kids in and out. He needs people he can count on.

So he came to me and asked if I could get him plugged into the homeschool community to find new members. He said that the homeschool clubs do really well at the competitions. He could see a difference in commitment.

We had a nice talk about it. His parents see the club the same way I (and the seminarian) do - it's an important part of learning. So it's not really homeschool vs. traditional school; it's the way of thinking about it. It's an academic activity, not just a fun thing to do when there's extra time. So of course we're going to give it a priority over some other activities. We would never dream of keeping our kid out of it as punishment. Think about that! Here's an organization that promotes learning, healthy competition, and academic skills. Participation can lead to college scholarships. Why would a parent ground a kid from that?

That doesn't even address the impact losing someone has on the club. It hinders them from their work. This is a team! Do parents ground their high school player from football right before the championship game? (That is actually a real question; I'm thinking not but maybe I'm wrong.)

Of course parents have to determine the right priorities for their kids. For some it will be strictly schoolwork - grades come first. Others prioritize participation in religious activities. One boy in the group can't participate on Saturdays, his Sabbath; mine can't go off on Sunday morning and miss church. Others will put sports ahead of everything else. This is reasonable, and right. Every family has their own way. But the team can plan ahead for that. They can't plan ahead for grounding.

It's the lack of commitment to something that requires it that bothers me. It's the attitude that this isn't important and isn't valuable because it's not school. It is school; the kids are learning and growing and gaining valuable skills. It just isn't happening in a classroom.

Maybe someday, more people will get that: learning doesn't just happen in a classroom.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The messy family reforms: Project Three

The kitchen sink. Probably the worst place in the kitchen. It's crowded and always in use; there are always dishes around to deal with. And, to make it worse, it is in the direct sight line of my front door. Yes, this is what people see immediately upon entering my house:

How about a closer view of that sink area?

It's important that you know that this
picture was purposely taken on a very busy cooking day. But this is what happens when dishes stack up. (Note that there is a dishwasher in the picture; it is not working right now. Perhaps it is unfixable, a victim of our extremely hard water. My children are gaining valuable experience as they learn to wash dishes by hand!)

Also please note that my house does not tilt; I am just a poor photographer. But I learned how to fix that tonight!

I often laugh when a blogger posts before and after pictures of a really messy room. I'll look at the picture and think, "huh, that doesn't look so bad. What's the problem?" Then I'll see the after picture and not discern much, if any, difference. Close inspection reveals maybe 3 things out of place. Ha! Either these ladies are lying or they have much higher standards than I do.

My sink is stuck in a corner and though it's a double, it's very small. And shallow. That attractive white dish basin behind the water pitcher (which belongs on the coffee counter!) is used as a busing and soaking tray; the right sink is for washing, the the left sink holds a draining rack.

Here is the draining area in its usual state.

Note the orange thermos just in front of the paper towel roll. You can just barely see the nearly inaccessible fire extinguisher behind the towels. Handy! It's even better when there are large knives sticking up from the draining rack!

Now we have to fix this mess. If we wash all the dishes we can put the busing tray in the sink so it is somewhat out of sight.

Some may wonder why the Kitchen-Aid and food processor (behind the Kitchen-Aid) are taking up valuable counter space. There isn't cabinet space for them, and I use them too much to put them away in another room. It just works better for me to keep them close at hand. If I am having company and really need the space, I find a place for them elsewhere, sometimes even on my bedroom floor.

I'm OK with having a few clean dishes in the drainer; the kids are in training to put dishes away whenever they see any in there. If any are left over at night, I don't mind putting away clean, air-dried dishes in the morning. I've read it's more sanitary, too!

Note the accessibility of the fire extinguisher!

Now, even clean, this area does not look pretty. Another thing you should know is that I have no memory of the ugly green countertop and backsplash when we looked at this house. Or the cheap, worn-out cabinets. When I walked into the house the day we moved in I was stunned and thought "I would never have chosen a house with a kitchen this crummy!" And yet I did. We figure we were providentially blinded to the flaws.

A houseplant that tolerates low light and a nice valance would do a lot for this view. But that will come later. Right now we're focusing on keeping things clean and uncluttered.

This is another area that will demand constant attention, unless we start eating nothing but takeout on paper plates. Since that's not going to happen....

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling has a great theme: The history of homeschooling in America. Check it out at The Common Room.

The messy family reforms: Project updates

No, I haven't abandoned this project yet. We are still working on getting and keeping our place neat. The two areas we started are working well, and I've noticed a little overflow into other areas. We are slowly getting into the habit of clearing up. Our horizontal surfaces are not wonderfully clear all the time, because we live here and do things here. The kitchen table is difficult, there is no doubt about it. We have to be vigilant and clear it up frequently. But because we're doing that, the clutter is not building up. There is room to work: this morning I needed to go through some papers to copy and mail. There was room on the table to spread them out! It was so nice to have the space. When I finished I cleaned it up, the space was taken over almost immediatelyby a crochet book and project my girl is working on. When she's finished, she'll put it away.

I've already started the next project and it's a big one: the kitchen sink area. [Cue ominous music here.] I need some camera help before I can post that. Tonight, I hope!

How are your projects going?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Yes, I do still read to my kids.

Yes, my oldest is 13 and my younger is 11 1/2. Yes, they can read on their own. Oh yes, they read a lot! They love to read. They also love to listen. They love the luxury of listening to a story while drawing or crocheting or beading or... Of course they don't know it's a luxury. Not yet. They just know it's something we do. Something we have always done.

We read fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes we read hard books that they wouldn't read on their own. We often read our "school" books together. Sometimes we just read fun books that we enjoy. And so yes, occasionally I read books the kids could read on their own. But we enjoy the books together. We have a lot of private jokes that come from our stories. That wouldn't happen if we weren't reading together. Even if we all read the same book, but separately, it wouldn't be the same. And I would miss out. If I hadn't read the Swallows and Amazons books to my kids, I would never have known the Walker kids and Nancy Blackett. What a grim prospect.

No, I don't think I'm holding them back. Holding them back from what? How can hearing great writing hold anyone back?

Yes, it does take up a lot of my time. Of course I think it's worth my time! Why would I do it if I didn't?

I don't think my kids are embarrassed about it. I suppose my 13 year old doesn't tell the guys at Scouts about the great book his mom is reading to him. My kids know we do things differently from most other people. Do they mind? I don't know. It doesn't seem like it, because they are not asking me to stop. They are the ones asking me to read. They are the ones putting the book by my place at the table at breakfast time.

Yes, I will miss it when I have to stop doing it. I'll miss it a lot.

This is hospitality, Part Two

Today as I've gone about my morning business I've been pondering the hospitality that was showered upon my family this weekend. I decided to think of all the reasons impromptu hospitality was easier for that woman than it is for me.

1. She has a big house; my house is tiny.

This is true. But everyone pretty much stayed in two places: the kitchen and the dining room. Some of us went to the front porch for a while. But mostly we were in those two rooms all the time. The rest of the large house was empty.

2. Her dining room table can seat 12 people; my kitchen table can seat just 6, or maybe 8 if some are little.

True again. But I have a couch and chairs and side tables and folding tables so we could - and have - fit more than 12 in the living room.

3. She has a covered porch; I just have a deck.

Contrary to what I want to believe, a covered porch is not a necessity of life, or of hospitality.

4. She had food; I never have food.

It is true that she somehow serendipitously had a lot of food available: leftover pork chops, some cooked (unfrozen) shrimp, fresh salad makings. Not everyone is going to have that. But will most people have a box of pasta, tomatoes in some form, some cheese? Is there fruit around? I've been served canned peaches at someone's home, and enjoyed it. Why do I feel that's not good enough to serve at my house?

I thought about what I could have offered. I have a lot of meat in the freezer, but most meat takes a long time to defrost. But a pound of ground beef can be defrosted and browned quickly. Hm, there's almost always some frozen cooked chicken or pork or even steak to be found. Tortillas (corn and flour) are a staple in my fridge, and here in Chez Fromage there is always cheese. I never allow myself to run out of canned refried beans. Most of the time there is salsa, but not always chips.... corn tortillas can be cut up and baked in 10 minutes or so to make chips. I have onions and, usually, red bell peppers in either the freezer or the fridge. Those can be quickly sauteed.

Sounds like a Mexican fiesta, doesn't it?

Dessert? There's usually ice cream. Frozen blueberries all year long. Oatmeal, brown sugar, butter, flour... sounds like blueberry crisp. We're good to go.

Here's the other thing about food: I truly believe that when hospitality is offered from the heart, and not out of a feeling of obligation, God will provide the food. I've seen it happen many times. I've seen it happen in my own home, but I always choose to forget that. It is not a coincidence.

5. Here is the big one: her house was neat. Mine is not.

Well. What can we do about that? I will note that I was not given a house tour and did not see the "private" areas of the house. Maybe all the piles of books and papers were upstairs. I'll assume that they were; it makes me feel better.

So, now I've knocked down all the excuses I can come up with. What are yours?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

This is hospitality, Part One

Today the seminarian had the opportunity to preach for a vacationing pastor at a church about an hour away from home. He was preaching for both morning and evening services: 11 am and 6 pm. This presents a small problem: what to do during those hours? It's a little far to come home and go back. But we didn't know anyone at the church.

There was some vague talk of hanging out at the home of one of the church members. It involved lunch, and swimming. I wasn't too thrilled about this; the kids were petrified at the prospect. But, we packed up swimming things, a change of clothing, some books and games, a box of truffles for a hostess gift, and the address of the local Barnes and Noble, just in case.

The service went well and everyone in the tiny congregation was friendly. But the lunch/swim/hangout plan was not working out. Then I noticed a woman talking rather excitedly to the seminarian and heard her say, "you just come on. We'll make it work!" The kids and I were introduced to her; she commented that she had no idea what she was going to feed us but to come on. Next thing I knew we were in the car following the family (husband, wife, college-student son) home.

I gave the kids a pep talk: be polite, eat what they offer, don't roll your eyes at me to signal you're ready to go, remember it's just a few hours....

We arrived and were immediately offered lemonade and a job to do for lunch prep. We were enveloped in warmth and hospitality. The family was very comfortable. So were we (mostly).

And this is where the story of the loaves and fishes comes in.

Our hostess happened to find a big plate of leftover pork chops in the fridge. She also found some shrimp which she sauteed with zucchini and tossed with herbs, spices, and angel hair pasta. She handed me a knife and some tomatoes and cukes for a salad. Another couple from the church came in - she must have called them while on the way home - with two big containers of spaghetti and meatballs. They had been destined for the church's monthly service at a retirement home which had, coincidentally, been canceled at the last minute. A packaged angel food cake was pulled out of the freezer. Berries were washed, and leftover pudding was discovered. I sent my girl out to the car to bring out the hostess gift to add to the dessert. Just as the food was about to be ready, another couple trooped in with chips, salsa, and pies.

Within minutes we were sitting down to a feast. An impromptu, potluck feast.

There were no kids except mine, which is always difficult. My kids are pretty comfortable around adults, but adult talk can get pretty boring. But the conversations were great. We talked about someone's visit to Chincoteague Island to see the wild ponies. About a serviceman's experiences using C4 to heat up c-rations. There was an Eagle Scout at the table so of course we talked Scouts. People asked us about Oregon.

During the lull between lunch and dessert a huge thunderstorm kicked up. We went out to the huge covered porch and I sat in a swing watching the storm and talking classical education with a young, new teacher while my girl drowsed in my lap. The men and boy were talking about homemade blow guns.

Then we went in and sat back down with pie, trifle, and hot coffee. The truffles were sent back home with me because "the kids will need them in the car." I also left with a bag of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers that one of the guests brought from his garden.

Then we went back to church. After the service there were hugs all around, and thanks, and it felt like we were all good friends.

That is what real hospitality looks like: someone ready to invite people into her home at a moment's notice, confident that she can provide something for them. When I told her that if I had attempted the same thing we'd all be eating peanut butter sandwiches on hot dog buns, she laughed and said that could have been what she had today. Somehow I doubt that.

It was a wonderful day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The wrong kind of help

Yesterday I took possession of a 30-pound box of beautiful Jersey blueberries. We look forward to blueberry day with great anticipation around here. This is the third year we have had the opportunity to buy this large quantity at a great price. A friend of a friend knows someone who grows berries, or something like that. In any case, we get berries.

But this year something was different. The berries were washed on site before being packed up. I don't know why; I have a 3-degree separation from the grower so can't ask. I assume the grower did it to be helpful. How nice to have pre-washed berries, right? We can just open the box and eat!

Except that the wet berries were placed in a plastic bag which was then sealed in a cardboard box. Do you see a problem with this?

Blues are pretty sturdy as berries go. They have a longer shelf or fridge life than raspberries or strawberries. But once they are washed they go soft pretty quickly.

So when I opened my box of berries my heart sank a little. They were very wet. I knew I had to get them out of there right away. Usually I have at least 2 - 3 days before I have to make my way through the whole box, washing, sorting, and freezing. And eating! Eating beautiful fresh berries. But not this time.

So after dinner we put towels out on the kitchen table and started setting the berries to dry. At least the table was clear so we didn't have to declutter it before spreading out the towels! We covered the entire table. 30 pounds of blueberries is a lot!

As we spread we sorted through them to discard the bad ones. There were many more than in past years. Lots of soft squishy broken sad berries. We found that the towels were soaking through so we had to move things around to change them out. As we got some berries dry, we loaded up the cookie sheets to put in the freezer.

Sorting took a long time. As I sorted, I pondered the true cost of this fruit. The berries were cheap, much cheaper than I can buy them in any store. But there was so much waste! Of course with fresh produce there is always waste, but this was a lot. Then there is the time to dry and sort. (Oh wait, I'm a stay-at-home mom; my time has no value!) Then there are all those towels to wash. Water, electricity, more time.

Once again I assume the grower was trying to help. Maybe some customers requested that the berries be washed ahead of time. Maybe the ladies getting ready to make jam and can pie filling like omitting the washing step. Maybe I'm just too fussy and too critical. I'm sure that I've made mistakes trying to help someone, or inconvenienced someone in the effort to help another. We all just have to do our best and we can't please everyone.

Still, I am not sure I'll order a box next year, not unless I can be sure the berries won't be washed. I feel disloyal to this farmer I don't even know for thinking that way. How sad for him if he loses some customers in an effort to please others.

In any case, we enjoyed our cobbler last night! And we have berries for a year, and that is truly something to be thankful for.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weekly Wrap-up

Every now and then (about once a week, actually) I see a reference to The Weekly Wrap-Up and think "I ought to do that sometime." But I never get around to it. Finally, I am.

The theme this week is curriculum. Homeschooling mothers love to talk curriculum! Here are our plans for the 2010/2011 school year... as I know them so far. I have two kids, roughly 6th and 8th grades.

History is always first in our house. Yes, it's a homeschool cliche. I can't help it. First half of the year will be American Revolution and the Constitution; second half will be the start of a new cycle of world history with Veritas Omnibus I. You can read how this came about here, if you like.

We have a new curriculum for Bible Study which I am very excited about: The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study by Starr Meade. You can read more about this here.

For math, I'm sorry to say that we are picking up where we left off when we started our summer break. I had wanted to finish the books, but it didn't happen. OK, I couldn't make it happen and keep my kids and myself sane. So one child will finish Math-U-See Delta and move into Life of Fred Fractions and Key To Fractions. The other will finish the fractions books and move into Life of Fred Decimals and Key to Decimals. Whew.

Science is not decided. Science is never decided. Though my kids, at least my son, seem to have a pretty good handle on science topics. We are somewhat Charlotte Mason-ish in this way: lots of good books, observation, experiments.

For English we use a few resources. Both kids will be working in Our Mother Tongue for grammar. My boy will continue to work on his composition skills by working on Boy Scout Merit Badge worksheets (and earning the badges), article analysis, and other means as they come up. A writing curriculum does not work with this child. My girl will just write. She can do that. I use AVKO Sequential Spelling for the nonwriter/nonspeller. The child who can write can also spell. We don't use any curriculum for vocabulary except books. Both kids will read and be read to, a lot.

We'll continue Getting Started With Latin, and try to be a little more intentional and regular with it.

My girl wants to learn French so I am toying with Memoria Press First Start French. I'm still trying to decide if she is serious about it or not. She also takes piano lessons and likes lots of time for arts and crafts.

Both my children are active in Scouts, and my son participates in First Tech Robotics League so they have cool not-so-extra curriculars going on.

PE means going to the YMCA for gym time and swimming, walking/running the dog, playing with our new badminton set, and are just generally active.

I guess there is not all that much actual curriculum in there. But, those are our plans!

You can find other Weekly Wrap-Up posts, or post your own, at Weird, Unscocialized Homeschoolers.

One of the best books for...

a homemaker or homeschooling mother is not a homemaking or homeschooling book at all.

Elisabeth Elliot's Discipline, The Glad Surrender is really a book for everyone who needs a nudge to get on with it, whatever it is: work, homeschooling (though not specifically mentioned), housework, taking care of our families, our bodies and our stuff. Elisabeth Elliot knows a little bit about getting on with it and not sitting around feeling sorry for herself, or feeling that she deserves more than what she's got.

Her husband was killed while they were serving as missionaries in South America. Here is what she has to say about "getting on with it" in her chapter "The Discipline of Work:"
I never appreciated the tremendous therapeutic value of work until I lost my first husband. Since then I have been asked dozens of times, "How did you ever bring yourself to go back to the jungle?"

I doubt I could have. I did not "go back." I stayed. There was work to be done, lots of work, and there was nobody else to do it. Every day, from the first day following the final news that five men were dead, was packed with duties. My baby, my house, an airstrip to maintain, Indians to teach and employ and visit and inject and advise and help, translation work and correspondence filled the time I might otherwise have used to feel sorry for myself.
No self-pity, no sitting around because "it's too hard." Just getting on with it.

It is the sort of book I should read once a year, though I do not. I do read it every few years, and pull it out from time to time to read specific chapters. It's not a chirpy, feel-good inspirational book. I sometimes want to throw it against the wall because I don't want to hear what she has to say. It is nicely divided into short chapters, each dealing with an area of discipline: the body, the mind, time, possessions, and more.

For the person who has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, she has this to say in "The Discipline of the Body:"
My father had a ready answer for those who expressed incredulity at his "ability" to get up so early in the morning: "You have to start the night before."

My great Bible teacher, L. E. Maxwell, was asked by a friend how in the world he had ever "gotten victory" that enabled him to rise at four or five. "How long did it take? Did you have someone pray with you about it?"

"No, I get up," was his reply.
I hesitated to put in those anecdotes, because someone always goes away saying "oh, I have to get up earlier!" I like them because of the matter-of-factness: "I get up." I have no plans to start getting up at four or five am. But the point isn't the hour. It's the getting up when we need to. There is a story about a homeschooling mom/author - I can't remember her name, please leave it in the comments if you do, and correct the story as necessary - who shocked everyone around her by admitting that she rose at 8 am. What a sluggard! But her reason was sound: her husband worked late, and she wanted to be able to stay up and spend time with him. So she and her kids kept later hours to accommodate this. She was doing the right thing! But people get hung up on the hour.

Mrs. Elliot also takes on dissatisfaction with unfulfilling work, worry, undisciplined eating, laziness... I think it's all here.

I know I'm quoting too much but here is just one more, from "The Discipline of the Mind:"
"There is no real expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking," wrote Sir Joshua Reynolds. Try following a single idea through to its conclusion. How many detours did you make? How many times did you stop to pass the time of day with another idea, utterly unrelated to the first? How often did you sink into the grass as it were, at the side of the road, and let your mind float with the clouds?

Of course the book isn't perfect. I don't like the way she references Bible verses; I am lazy and prefer to see chapter and verse referenced with the passage, not in an a "notes" section in the back of the book. This way I can read the passage in my preferred translation. She uses translations with which I am not familiar, mostly the New English Bible. But that's really a minor quibble.

If you want to be challenged about your own discipline, if you want to think (and be encouraged to think), check out Discipline, The Glad Surrender.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Messy Family Reforms: Project Two

The coffee counter.

This is a little counter (just 29 inches wide) where the coffee and tea things live. Unfortunately other things find their way there: a bottle of wine, a bottle of ketchup, a flashlight, hand cream (2 containers!), bags of bread and hot dog buns, a velcro cable tie, an empty souvenir Coke bottle, crumpled up cupcake papers retrieved from the pantry, a box of jello... and dried up spilled coffee!

When the kitchen is small, we have to make the most of our space. I have very little space in the form of kitchen countertop. I made the mistake of measuring it once after a binge of reading home improvement websites. I learned that something like 11 linear feet is the bare minimum for kitchen counter space. I have 8.5, in 4 separate, small chunks. Talk about setting myself up for discontent!

But the space seems even smaller when it is a big mess and covered in stuff that doesn't belong. So what really does belong on my coffee counter, besides the coffee and tea things? This counter is an appropriate place for the kids' cell phone to live (it sits nicely on a ledge), and a flashlight. The hand cream is, um, handy there. If the ketchup, wine, cupcake papers and other misplaced items were not there, the water pitcher we use all day every day would fit too, without crowding it.

With less stuff, it will be easier to clean up any spilled coffee.

This would look better if I had a nice tray to set the tea things on. (And if I was a better photographer.) They are mostly hidden behind the big water pitcher. But this is not about buying cute things to make the room prettier. I'm not fixing up; I'm getting organized and making things easier to take care of. Pretty can come later.

So the easy part is over. The project isn't cleaning the counter; I can do that quickly. And I do - over and over. The project is keeping it this way. Can I train everyone (including myself) not to drop their Velcro cable ties there?

Posted by Picasa

Are your kids over-churched?

This article about over-churched kids is intriguing to me. I need to reread it and think about it some more. I did feel a little poke at some points.

By over-churched kids, I mean children with too much religion and not enough actual interaction with Jesus. Attending church is important and should promote spiritual growth, but sometimes there are side effects. In this post, I will describe the spiritual dangers these kids face. You can also read our follow up post that offers 9 strategies for reaching these kids.

This is not an easy topic and I expect some push back from readers. But this is an issue we need to address now, before we raise the next crop of Pharisees.

Read it and tell me what you think.

The messy family reforms: Project One update

What a pleasure it was to get up this morning, walk into the kitchen and see a clean table. I could actually notice the flowers because they weren't part of a jumbled landscape.

But it was hard to keep it that way yesterday. After every meal and every project I was reminding myself and everyone else to clear the table. My little project girl had the hardest time. She has a place in her room for crafts. I don't expect her to isolate herself there whenever she wants to work on a project, but getting her to take her stuff back to her room is a challenge.

It shouldn't be this hard. I think it will get easier as we get used to doing it.

Project Two is also small and I'll start that later today.

What little project did you start?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The messy family reforms: Project One

The kitchen table. Note I did not say kitchen. Project One is just the table. I told you the projects would be small, and asked you not to laugh.

I am not sure I know anyone who doesn't complain about the kitchen table. It's always covered in stuff. Yesterday morning I hit the wall with it: there was no room to set breakfast plates down. I wish now that I'd taken a picture but some of the things on the table were: 6 or 7 books, 3 or 4 water glasses left from last night, 2 days' worth of mail, some crumpled-up napkins, a pair of nail clippers, a piece of sandpaper, some tupperware set on a rack to dry, numerous pens and pencils, the dog page-a-day calendar, a soil test kit, the salt and pepper shaker, an empty napkin holder, a half-roll of paper towels, and a lot of crumbs.

I'm just being honest here. And that doesn't include the stuff under the table (footwear related).

I wavered between crying and yelling at everyone. (Including myself because some of that stuff was mine. Not the nail clippers, I want you to know). The seminarian was particularly concerned about sandpaper on our nice wood table. Oh yeah.

So after breakfast (mostly eaten standing up) the kids and I worked on the table. We took everything off and cleaned it well. We put away everything that didn't belong - not just on the nearest horizontal surface because there aren't any - but away. (Well, mostly. There was a pile of mail and other papers on the hearth so...) Then we put back the essentials. I refilled the napkin holder and set it, along with the salt and pepper shaker and the doggie calendar on a small tray at one end. A bowl of ripening avocados at the other end. Fresh placements at each place. The my girl went out and cut some hydrangea blooms for a vase in the middle. It looked nice. So much nicer!

The kitchen table is the place we spend most of our time. We eat there, and do schoolwork, and work on our projects. In our small house, it's not a table, it's the table for working. All the other tables are either small side tables, or permanent resting places for things like desktop computers. So the kitchen table is it. It is nearly impossible to keep it clear.

So Project One is the kitchen table. For as long as it takes - 21 days, isn't that way "they" say? - we are going to build the habit of clearing off the table whenever we are finished with what we are doing at it. We're not going to wait for company to come; we're doing to do it every day. Couple of times a day. At least.

I won't wait till we've mastered the table to start on Project Two. It's not like it takes all day to keep the table clear. Well, it might, if we have a lot of days like yesterday. My girl made confections by melting chocolate chips and spreading them over marshmallows, chex cereal, graham crackers... My boy worked on a model plane. I did some homeschool planning and messing about in my binder. All at that table. It will be a challenge.

What small project could you start today?

What area of your house really irritates you?

Finding the funny

Last night my son stabbed me.

We were goofing around in the kitchen and he was hugging me by the neck. I think there is a technical wrestling term for that, but I don't know what it is. As he pulled me tighter and his hand came closer to my face, the mechanical pencil he forgot he was holding jabbed into my cheek. And then pulled down.

Man, it hurt! It hurt badly. I squealed or made some other sound of pain and we jumped apart. I had no idea what had happened till I saw the pencil in his hand and the shocked look on his face. The seminarian came bounding into the room asking what had happened. I ran to the bathroom to check the damage. There was a lot of blood.

While I was in the bathroom trying to stop the bleeding I could hear the conversation in the kitchen. My Boy Scout - you know, the one who has his First Aid merit badge and is working on his Emergency Preparedness badge - was blubbering incoherently about macadamia nut cookies. (We had been teasing about some cookies we'd bought today.) His dad got frustrated. His voice got a little loud as he tried to figure out what was going on. "Why are you talking about macadamia cookies?" The boy got a little angry then. This had the potential to turn into one of those bad teen/parent moments. All because of a little youthful exuberance and carelessness.

I cam back into the room and explained what happened. As the seminarian examined the wound and got me some ice, he said to the boy - wait for it; you know what's coming:

"You could have put her eye out."

Oh my. Who doesn't laugh when hearing that? How many times have we joked with that line? He wasn't laughing when he said it, but soon I was. I tried, oh how I tried not to laugh. Laughing was the wrong thing to do. But, it came out. It exploded out of me. The seminarian stared at me and then burst out too. My girl started to giggle. Only the boy was not laughing. He was crying harder and angrier than ever.

We made the decision to call the doctor and were squeezed into his late-evening hours. The doc had a hard time figuring out what to write on my chart, but he emphasized the word "accident" in his report. Then he asked "how long are you going to ground your son for?"

I hadn't even thought of that. We all laughed and said we figure he'd suffered enough. I'm sure that during the hour we were gone he was stewing. I came home with a tetanus booster in my arm and some lovely butterfly bandages across my 4-centimeter slash.

The boy apologized, again. We told First Aid Boy that if he had had to call 911 he would need to do better than babble about macadamia cookies. We talked about being careful when holding dangerous objects, even everyday ones. Then we all laughed about the entire incident.

It's good to find the funny when we can. I guess he could have put my eye out. By God's grace he did not. But he got a good lesson, I think.

And a great story for the grandchildren!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The messy family reforms

We are the messy family. We are the people who don't want you to knock on our door unexpectedly. We are the ones who rush around hiding piles of stuff when company is on the way. We are the people who walk around muttering, "where did I put the staplers? Why can I never find the stapler?!"

We are the people who don't give "house tours" to guests. Ever.

We would like to have a nice neat house, and not experience terror at the idea of guests. Indeed, we try to invite people over frequently, as that's the best way to get (portions) of our house straightened up. But we are not successful at keeping it neat.

Over the years I have read many books on home organization. Some are better than others, but none has provided the key to unlock and release my hidden neat, organized self and family. Mostly they repeat what I already know: keep a simple filing system, and use it so papers don't pile up. Get rid of clothing that doesn't fit or flatter. Create a place for everything and be sure to put everything back in its place. Yep, great ideas all. Got it!

I'd say that the majority of people I know say admit to being messy; most are unhappy about it. But some people seem proud of their messiness. They are so busy doing interesting things, they say, and are so creative with numerous projects going all the time, and are interested in so many things - Renaissance people, all! - that cleaning up is just so, so... mundane. Some people say they are unhappy with the mess but really don't want to bother cleaning up. I understand that; it's boring. There are better things to do, until we can't do something because we can't find the materials, or the tables are so covered in stuff there is no place to do it. Some people are just busy and overwhelmed and don't know where to begin. Those are the people who read organizing books but never seem to be able to actually organize. That would include me.

On the other hand, there are people who seem to do nothing but clean. I know people who won't allow their kids to have craft supplies because they make a mess. Imagine a life without glitter and paper and glue! Or imagine a life where Mom is too busy cleaning to read a book or have a tea party. Some say a messy house is sinful because God is a God of order, not chaos. I can see that point, though I don't think it justifies depriving kids of fun, useful activities - and our time.

This morning I had a brain flash, an inspiration, a crisis, a prompting by the Holy Spirit - something to make me realize I have been on the wrong track in my efforts. Ideas from a few books I've read started to coalesce in my mind. I am starting a series of projects - very, very small projects to get my house neat and organized. Projects so small that some people will laugh at me.

This is a program with multiple projects and a long timeline. I've tried the quick-and-dirty organizing surges; now I'm going for slow and steady. I think getting organized may be like losing weight: we might be able to do it quickly, but it's not likely to last.

Join me as I work on my organizing projects. Just don't laugh!

Carnival of Homeschooling

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Bible curriculum for my family

The question of Bible study is a hot topic in homeschooling circles. People want to teach their children the Bible in a systematic way but don't know how. I am often asked for advice on what to use; people seem to think that a seminary student family must have it all figured out. But we really don't; we stumble along just like most everyone else. We've tried a few different programs and it seems we never find the right fit. Last year I decided to just read a book, discuss it with my kids, and have them summarize each chapter using the "who, what, when, where, why" formula. That was OK but didn't last long. I am not a Biblical scholar, and I couldn't adequately explain everything. We needed something with structure and answers, but we couldn't find what we wanted.

Now I think I've found it. Starr Meade (author of Training Hearts, Teaching Minds, among other books for kids) has just released a comprehensive Bible study program: The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study: A Complete Survey of the Bible.

This is a four-volume set (plus answer key) of consumable workbooks covering the entire Bible. This is not a one-year curriculum. It could easily take a few years to go through. It's aimed at middle- and early high-school students, but I think an upper elementary child could work through it. (As always, much depends on the student.) Adults may find they are learning something too. Really, it would be wonderful for a whole family to use together.

There are a couple of different ways I could see using this set. I think I will have my kids do the reading and answer the questions (fill-in, short answer, and short essay type) on their own; then we will get together to discuss. If I'd had it a year ago, I think I would have done most of the reading aloud and we would have worked through the questions together. I'd love to know how other families use it.

Check it out. There are .pdfs with introductory information and sample chapters here. I would love to hear from anyone who uses it!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Church history overview for kids

People often complain that teaching or learning history is boring, but that is usually because they are doing it wrong. History is story. Stories about people and events and how they relate to one another, and to us. There is nothing boring there.

Beyond the basics of wars and conquests, explorers and inventors, we want to teach our kids the history of our Church. The "History Lives" series by Mindy and Brandon Withrow is a good way to get started with younger kids.

Peril and Peace is the first volume and the only one we've used so far. One of my kids is getting a little old for them now so I'm not sure if we'll make it through the whole series. This is one of those things that I should have started earlier. (Don't we all have books we found a little too late?) The book includes a timeline of the ancient Church, stories about the Apostle Paul, the Emperor Constantine and other "famous" and not-so-famous early Christians. There are also chapters about persecutions, worship, and the creeds.

Perils and Peace

The books are written for kids aged 9 - 14. My kids could read these on their own, though we used it as a read-aloud and talked about it afterward. For some reason they preferred that, but then my kids have always enjoyed being read to. Events include persecutions, arrests and martyrdoms; these are not written in a gruesome way but younger and more sensitive kids might benefit from a parent's reading. The books would lend themselves well to oral or written narration either as read-alouds or independent reading.

Because these are stories, there is a fictional element. We don't have a record of the teenaged Augustine's conversations with his friends. But dialog helps to bring the stories and the people to life.

And that's why we read books like this. These were real people, and it can be hard to imagine them that way via a typical history text. So a little work of the imagination is not a hindrance but a help.

Samples chapters, timeline, and table of contents are available here. Check them out and tell me what you think.

How homeschooling plans change

This was going to be our year for American History. I had various resources lined up and was excited to spend an entire school year just on America. We had done the World History cycle, which included it, of course, and we did a fair bit of reading books on the topic anyway. Of course we've visited many Early American historic sites. But I wanted to really focus on it.

But I couldn't find a "spine." That's homeschool jargon for a textbook or other book to be the anchor, the main book used. Nothing looked that great. I checked all my favorite curriculum sources and my reaction to everything was "eh." Nothing made my heart sing. I was ready to settle for something pretty good, but not great.

And then I became reacquainted with Veritas Press Omnibus. This is a comprehensive History, Theology, and Western Civ program for middle and high schoolers. I'd seen it and wanted it a couple of years ago but had rejected it for various reasons. Too expensive, too hard, too something. But this time I couldn't stop looking at it in the catalog and on the website. I saw that we had many of the books already. I started talking with a friend about it. I even spoke with someone who teaches it at all levels. Everyone and everything said "do it."

But what about my American history year?

I took the "pretty good" Am Hist book out of my Amazon cart. I thought about what I really wanted to do. It hit me: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That was the main thing I wanted to get across to my kids right now. I still feel urgent about that.

So. The plan changed. We are not doing a year of American History.
We're doing a half(ish) year on the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution. We'll read Albert Marrin's The War for Independence to get started. Next week! Then we'll go through those documents slowly, using The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (not at the level of detail offered in this book, this time around), and perhaps American Government, The Core, an old textbook someone gave me. I need to look that over in a little more detail before I know if I'll use it. There will be other books, I'm sure, to help us along. Library books, websites, DVD documentaries. We'll stick with my plan to use the Early American History* course by The Teaching Company just because it's so cool.

And then in January we'll dive back into ancient history with the Omnibus.

I love the flexibility of homeschooling. I love that I don't have to plan out a year in advance. I love that I can think about what it is I really, really want my kids to learn, and then figure out how to do it. I love that freedom.

And that's part of the reason why we are studying the documents of freedom this year.

*A note on The Teaching Company. Some people gasp at the price of that DVD course. I didn't pay that. The Teaching Company puts all their courses on sale at some point during the year, with greatly reduced prices. So plan ahead, and buy the course you want when it's on sale.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Review of Books

It's been a long time since I've looked at the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. It's a great place to find new books and new book bloggers. I always find a new book to look for. I put in my thoughts about Agatha Christie's Death on the Nile this week.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My first Agatha Christie

All my life I've been around people who love Agatha Christie. My mom was an avid reader of mysteries and loved Dame Agatha. Everyone seemed to love her books; people were always surprised when I said I'd never read any. Maybe that's why I avoided reading them.

A few weeks ago I was scanning the movie offerings at the library and saw Death on the Nile. I thought that looked good so I brought it home. We never did watch it (we rarely actually watch any of the movies we get from the library), but for some reason I requested the book that same day. I was in a fever to read something by Agatha Christie.

And now I'm glad I did. It was an easy novel to read and enjoy. I thought I had the killer(s) figured out pretty early on. Then, I wasn't so sure. Then, I was sure again. There was a lot of back and forth - guessing and second-guessing. Quite fun! I thought it was going to be gruesome; it was more light-hearted in tone than I expected. Well, as light-hearted as a book with multiple murders can be. Or maybe I just read it that way. I hate bleak, dark books with no light to them so maybe I just didn't want this book to be like that.

I'm sure I'll read another Agatha Christie novel. In fact, I have Murder on the Orient Express in the library basket right now. Mom would be pleased.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chicken vultures

Costco rotisserie chicken was on my short shopping list for today. It's hot today, and going to be hot tomorrow, and I don't want to cook much. On Saturday I am providing dinner for a group of women from church and need cooked chicken for a lovely, feminine dinner salad. Costco has great chicken. I confidently walked to the chicken area of Costco at 4:30pm...

And the rotisserie area was empty.

Oh, the ovens were full of lovely chickens, going round and round and getting brown. But there weren't any chickens to buy. Then I noticed all the dazed people walking around the area aimlessly. It appeared that there had not been chicken for a while. So I found an employee and asked when there would be more; he said about 30 minutes. 30 minutes!? I have to wait 30 minutes for a chicken?

I assessed the situation and did what I always do in a crisis: called my husband. He sympathized but didn't have an answer. I walked over to the area where they keep the raw chickens; I could bring a couple home and cook them. But there weren't any of those either. What's happening here? Is there a chicken shortage crisis going on? My husband suggested I "say that a little louder and see what happens." I hung up.

I wandered around and checked out the samples, never getting too far from the rotisserie area. Lots of other people were doing that too. We were all eyeing each other suspiciously. How many chickens would they bring out at once? Would there be enough for all of us? Would I be able to get the two I needed?

Really, it was ridiculous but by then we had struck up a sort of camaraderie and were chatting as we waited. Everyone cheered as the chicken guy came out and started prepping the birds to bring out. He was the hero of the afternoon, and he knew it.

I was out of there 5 minutes later, my lovely, plump, fresh chickens in my cart. The car smelled fantastic all the way home.

Think of how convenient and wonderful that is. Isn't it amazing? And we take it for granted. We get a little crazy when there is no chicken available right now.

Wonder what would happen if they ran out of ribs?

My days/hours dilemma solved.

My homeschool days/hours documentation dilemma has been percolating in my brain for a while. Today while I was staring at my various documentation options (available from the brilliant Donna Young) praying for guidance with my new gig of homeschooling a middle schooler, I knew what I should do.

Every weekday that my kids get out of bed (which so far has been all of them) is 1/2 a school day. Because, really, there is no way that they are not spending at least 2.75 hours every single day reading, making music, doing arts or crafts, getting some form of exercise, learning home skills, learning computer skills, working on Scout merit badges, etc.

Days when we intentionally sit down and do schoolwork together (tablework, we sometimes call it) will be full days. Of course field trips to the art museum or whatever will be full days.

Special thanks for Kerri and Mrs. Darling for their comments. Comments always help. Isn't that why we do this?

Sharing struggles, bearing burdens

For as long as I can remember, people have felt compelled to spill their guts to me. Friends, coworkers, casual acquaintances, strangers on planes, in libraries, in grocery store lines... I have been asked for advice on dating, child-rearing, learning disabilities, nursing, daycare - pretty much anything related to relationships and family.

I don't know why that is. Maybe it's my maternal aspect. [snort] Maybe I just have one of those faces that invites talk. Maybe I look desperate for conversation. That might explain the strangers. They don't need to wonder if I'm trustworthy to hold their secret struggles. Most likely they're never going to see me again.

It could also be that I am often the oldest in any group I'm with. That has to do with my late-bloomer status. I finished college at 32. Got married at 39. Became a mother at 41. (I hope all this late-bloomer stuff means I'll live to be really, really old.) So perhaps other people just think I must have lots of knowledge and good advice. Ha! I know mothers 10 years younger than me, with kids 10 years older than mine, to whom I should be going for advice.

But getting back to "trustworthy:" I do try to be worthy of trust. I'd like to be a person others can talk to safely, without worrying that I'll judge them, or gossip about them.
Christians in particular like to talk about sharing our struggles and bearing each others' burdens. Women aspire to become a "Titus 2 woman" ready and able to listen and dispense godly advice to other women. Men like to have "accountability partners" to discuss their sin struggles with. It's a nice picture, that of having someone to hash over our problems with. Struggles with our children, our spouses, our mothers, our sins. (Of course all our struggles are about sin, one way or another. Ours or someone else's.) Most people would like someone they can really talk to.

But it's not that easy to find someone to talk to. It's not always safe to share problems and struggles. People are all too willing to listen; it's the responses that are the problem. I've already written about the problem of homeschooling moms who can't share their struggles with moms who don't homeschool. But it's not just those two groups.

Have you ever approached another mother about a problem with your child only to be told, first thing out of her mouth, that her child would never do that? And immediately you know it was a mistake to talk to her. It doesn't matter that her child never did whatever it was that you're asking about. What matters is that it was the first thing she said, and the way she said it. She wanted you to know that she never had that problem with her kid! Don't you dare think her child ever caused her that problem. Her parenting was so good and her child so perfect and well-trained that it is out of the question. That's not what she meant? Maybe not. Here's how to tell: listen for humility. There's a difference between "wow, I am not sure how to help you 'cause I've never dealt with that exact thing" and "well, I never had that problem with my kids!" You know which woman you will talk to again, and which woman you will steer clear of.

Or you tentatively ask a long-married lady if you can talk to her about your husband. Maybe it's a big problem, maybe small. She is eager to listen to you. After you bare your soul she tells you that you need to submit to your husband and not gossip about him. She probably has a Bible verse ready to back that up. But notice she says that after you have told her the problem. She wanted to hear it, all right. She enjoys hearing the problems. Later, in a prayer group, she will share your struggle with the others "in order for them to pray better." And you will never share with her again.

And you will wonder if there really is anyone you can talk to.

If you want to be a person others will talk to, share with, unburden themselves with, make yourself safe. Don't dispense advice; listen carefully, think, and respond in a kind and humble way. Don't pretend you have all the answers. Don't talk as though your kids, or your marriage, or your life, are perfect. It can help to relate an anecdote about a struggle of your own, even if it's not exactly related to the one presented to you. That will help the other person see that there aren't any perfect kids, perfect parents, or perfect marriages, and that she is not a failure. If it's important to you that people think your life is perfect, then keep your mouth shut and send your advice-seekers elsewhere.

Don't expect this sharing and unburdening to happen quickly. People have to get to know you. You have to be available and open to talk. You have to share your struggles a bit, too. Don't be someone who only listens! You don't have all the answers. You have something you'd like to share too, don't you? Come and tell me about it! Your struggles are safe with me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Even the older ones need us at home

Today I was finally going to make it to the womens' Bible study at church. In the 2 1/2 years we've been attending there, I have made it to exactly one session. One 2-hour class. That's it! Sometimes always seems to come up to keep me away.

I was sure I'd make it this time. The calendar has been clear. One child is away at camp. The other child is capable and happy to stay home alone. There were no pressing needs. As of 9:00 last night, I was good to go.

Then an innocent phone call related to Boy Scouts stirred up a storm. Nothing major or terrible, but the evening ended with an angry and crying teen, upset parents, an unfinished movie, and my Bible study plans dashed.

Oh well. There will be other Bible studies. But there won't be another, better time to be home with my teen, available and ready to talk with him about this problem he has. Or not talk, I guess, if he won't. But if I wasn't here it's for sure he wouldn't talk, except maybe to himself, and we know how useful that is.

While I wait for him to wake up, I'm reading a bit in Get Outta My Face! How to Reach Angry, Unmotivated Teens with Biblical Counsel. I wouldn't call my kid angry and unmotivated all the time, or even most of it. Some of the kids described in this book are far more angry than mine is, at least right now. Still, it's a very helpful book with ideas new to me, and some reminders. Yes, I know I am supposed to listen, really listen to my kids. But, do I always listen properly? How does my kid know I'm really listening?

Get Outta My Face

It's written by a school guidance counselor who's had a lot of experience with teens. Some of the situations used to illustrate the points are not particularly relevant to my homeschooling family, but the basic principles are useful. We may not deal with unfair grading practices around here, but we have other unfairness, or so I'm told. I particularly like the chapter "Clarify Narrow: Expose the Realities of Your Teen's Experience." I'll be using some of those principles in conversation with my kid today.

Should be an interesting day. I'm glad I'm able to be home for it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carnival of Homeschooling

It's been a long time since I've paid any attention to the Carnival of Homeschooling. I don't know why - there's always something good to read there. I hadn't participated in a long time either, but this week I put in my post about counting days and hours. If you read the comments you will see that I am still a bit conflicted there.

Enjoy the Carnival, hosted by Why Homeschool. I love the theme: The Punctuation Edition. A little English lesson, a little history. Fun!

Monday, July 12, 2010

An image I like

From the prologue of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West, writing about King Alexander of Yugoslavia:

He has the look of one of those men who claim that they rule by divine right whether they be kings or presidents because their minds curve protectively over their countries with the inclusiveness of the sky. When one sees President Roosevelt one is sure that he is thinking about America; sometimes his thought may be soft and loose, but it is always dedicated to the same service. Those who saw Lenin say that he was always thinking of Russia;even when his thought was hard and tight it knew the same dedication. In our own King George V we recognized that piety.

I love the image of the President's mind curving protectively over our country. I think, whatever his faults, President George W. Bush was always thinking about America. In a good way. I wish I felt that way about our current President.

This book is wonderful. Beautiful writing.

Lectures on the way to camp

Yesterday I took my girlie off to camp. She earned a boatload of cookie credits which paid part of her way to the Girl Scout camp of her choice. It's got a crafting theme, which is perfect for her. They will also do all the usual camp stuff though: swimming, hiking, archery. And since this is Girl Scout camp (Go Green!) there is also environmental education. She discreetly rolled her eyes at that one (where did she learn that?); she knew enough to be sure I was the only one who could see and I know she will be polite and respectful as she is reminded one more time to recycle.

There were so many things I wanted to talk to her about on our 90-minute drive. Things she probably already knows but that I wanted to be sure about. She is a well-socialized child, and this is not her first camp. But she was 7, I think, when she went to camp before. Things are different in the tween set.

Of course we talked about being polite and nice to everyone. Respecting the leaders. And not going off alone with anyone, neither fellow camper nor leader. That's easy stuff. She knows that. She's 11, for crying out loud!

But then there are the more subtle points. I never went to camp but I remember some bad moments in junior high. I talked to her about shy, lonely girls who might grab on to any other girl who is nice to them, and about how some girls may try to manipulate others to do what they want. Don't let someone become your "best friend." Don't feel you have to spend all your time with one person. Be nice, I said, but don't do something you really don't want to do just because someone else wants it.

"So, you mean, if there's a choice between, say, fishing and canoeing, and I want to canoe, but some girl really really wants me to go fishing with her, I should stick with canoeing?"

Yes, exactly. And don't exclude anyone; if some girls are spending free time doing something, make sure everyone is invited to join in. Most likely not everyone will want to. But don't be exclusive and don't be sneaky.

Don't be a mean girl, in other words.

On our tour something else came up. She saw her cabin and the ten bunks. She was a bit disappointed as she thought they were sleeping in tents. But the cabin is very cool - I'd like to stay there - and she quickly shook it off. And she said "I sure hope I get a top bunk." As I opened my mouth to respond, she said "I know, I know - let other people pick first."

Well, no, not exactly. Yes, we are supposed to put others before us. But, come on. I told her that she must not push in front of others to get the bunk of her choice, or jump up and down yelling "I want a top bunk! I want a top bunk!" But if she is asked her preference, she can and should say "I'd like a top bunk." She doesn't have to put herself at the back of the line, and she doesn't have to say "I don't care" or not express a preference.

(I have to say that people who won't express a preference, ever, really get on my nerves. When I have guests I often offer coffee or tea after dinner. I have both. I can make both; they are equally easy to make. I would not offer both if I was not prepared to serve both, or either. But the simple question of "coffee or tea?" causes some people much anxiety. "Whatever's easiest" or "I have no preference" doesn't help me. I'm offering you a choice, make your choice, please, or take nothing!)

So she should express her preference. Of course bunks are not like coffee or tea; there is one bunk per girl and it might work out that she simply can't get what she prefers. And if that happens she is not to sulk or complain. Or hate the girl who got the last top bunk.

But I didn't lecture her about Silly Bandz. I didn't think of them till I saw them in the camp Trading Post. We don't do Silly Bandz; we think they are beyond silly. But if I'd had the chance, I'd have told her that if everyone has Silly Bandz and she is the only one not trading them, to use some of her spending money to get some if she wants. I won't mock her for that. Jumping into a harmless and inexpensive fad for a short time in order to fit in and have more fun would be OK.

Now, if the fad of the camp was goth makeup and black fingernail polish...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Summer plans

Yes, it's mid-July so a little late to be detailing summer plans. It's been so busy around here it hasn't seemed like vacation too much - except for the brief family reunion trip that combined 30 hours of driving with about 20 of actual family fun time. Usually I am starting up our academic year now, but so far I have only been able to record a few days. But there are some summer things I'd still like to do:


My girl leaves for Girl Scout camp today! She is excited and a little nervous. It's not her first time away at camp, but it's her first where she won't know anyone at all going in.

My boy goes to Boy Scout camp next month. He's working feverishly (well, not really) on his Rifle Shooting Merit Badge requirements so he can do some shooting at camp.

Then there's soccer day camp for both. And a Vacation Bible School that we are all helping with. Why, exactly, did I agree to take on the preschool class?

By the way, all these camps count as school days. The kids will be learning skills and, of course, getting socialized.

Mom and Dad don't get to go to camp this year, except for one night at the end of Boy Scout camp to enjoy dinner, a huge bonfire, awards, and the (groan) skits.


Any sewing I get to do is usually of the maintenance or emergency variety: a pair of fleece pants for winter camp, or taking down the hem of an outgrown pair of trousers. This summer I want to make at least one tote bag, a dress for my girl, a skirt for myself, and I'd like to finish the two quilted wall hangings we started last fall.


Most people wouldn't know I like to read because I do so little of it. So this summer I want to spend more time in books. I need to get my daily Bible reading back on track; some days I only read a snippet or none at all. At this stage of my life I'm not aiming at completing the Bible in a year, but I do believe in systematic reading and I'm not doing so well at it. I also want to read The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory, Praying Backwards by Brian Chapell (a re-read and one of the best books on prayer I've read), something by Dorothy Sayers, and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West, a book that's been on my shelf for years and years but rarely touched, except to move it from shelf to moving box and back again. I opened it this morning and couldn't stand to put it down, and that was just the prologue.

That's a pretty modest list for a whole summer but it is the middle of July now. I also want to read some hammock books, which are like beach books for those of us who aren't going to the beach. And Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is over 1100 pages...

Other stuff:

When the kids aren't at camp, I want to take weekly trips to the pool (either the YMCA, of which the kids are members, or our little township pool), to a garden or nature park for drawing and observing (Mill Grove, John James Audubon's house is on the short list for this), and to a significant Pennsylvania historic place. We've still never been to Independence Hall or the National Constitution Center, which we'd better get going to right away as there is an exhibit relevant to our upcoming history studies ending on August 1. Other than the pool, these are things we should be doing weekly all year long, not just in summer.

My plans don't usually work out very smoothly - something always pops up - but it's good to have a plan anyway. At least there's the potential for success!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Help

Everyone has been raving about The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It's a huge bestseller and has an incredible number of reviews on Amazon, nearly all 5 star. I've seen phrases like "an instant classic" and "life-changing" and such, so I thought I would probably not read it. I rarely like books that other people fall in love with that way. (I also tend not to like "women's fiction" which this definitely is.) But I kept hearing about it, so I put it on hold at the library. There was a long queue; it took about 4 months for me to get it. But I had a feeling it might not be a keeper, even though it was very inexpensive for a new hardback.

So, I read it. It's a quick read, even though it's long. It held my interest well enough, but I wouldn't rave about it the way so many people have. Maybe the hype had me set up for disappointment; that often happens.

The story of the three women in Jackson, Mississippi, during the civil rights era may have been authentic enough. I am not a southerner, though I am married to one, so I don't know a whole lot about that time and place. I found I didn't care about any of the characters, particularly, and that's a bad thing in a book that's pretty much character-driven. There were some episodes in the book that seemed unbelievable and unrealistic to me, though there were many that didn't.

I think the author did a good job writing in the voice of three different women. I didn't like the voices so much, though. Something bothered me but I didn't know what till I read it in one review: the black maids spoke with a distinct accent ("I told her I gone do it"), but the white women did not. No g's were dropped, no one-syllable words turned into two with a drawl. It felt condescending to me.

I'm glad I read it so I can stop listening to people telling me I must read it. I'd read something else by the author in the future (this was her first book). But I'm going to renew my resolve to stay away from bestsellers and books declared "instant classics."