Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's amazing how much talk can be packed into a seven-minute drive when something needs to be said.

Last night I drove my boy off on another adventure.  Not camping with the Scouts this time, but participating in a robotics competition someplace about a hundred miles from here.  He spent the night at his robotics club leader's house so they could get an early start in the morning.

Before we left, the seminarian said goodbye and asked him if there was anything I'd neglected to lecture him about.  No, James said, "she's pretty thorough."  We went over the location of the spending money, the phone, the key, the team t-shirt...  

As always, I started crying a little bit as we left the house.  "Why do you always start bawling, Mom?" he asked.  He was very polite, but I know it's annoying.  We talked about how hard it is for parents to watch their kids grow up and start doing things separate from the family.  He speculated that he'd understand one day, when he is a parent, and I told him that he might not because typically it's the mom who has the harder time.  Then I wondered how he felt about us not going along to watch the competition.  We would like to see one, but it didn't work out for us to go this time.  He said he didn't mind, and actually kind of liked it, being on his own with his friends. 

But I was not quite satisfied.  He had told me earlier that one of the families had driven up to the competition location the day before, staying in a hotel overnight to avoid the long drive in the morning.  The whole family was going to watch the competition.  I wondered if he felt neglected because we didn't do that.  No, he said, he didn't.  He said he likes having something that is his own.  And he added that he likes the freedom.  I didn't ask exactly what he felt free of.  A crying mommie, for one thing.

I pulled into the driveway and he jumped out quickly.  He grabbed his things out of the back seat, said "Love you Mom," slammed the car door and walked up to the house.  I watched as he rang the bell and as his friend greeted him.  They nodded in that way men have.  He walked in the door, and then it was shut.

He never looked back.

I guess that's what we want, isn't it?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eat Cake (A book review)

Who needs a fun, light, optimistic book to read?  Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray came to me via a bit of book serendipity - a random comment on someone's Facebook page.  I requested it from the library as soon as I saw the title.  I don't buy much fiction anymore, and surely not a book I am not sure I will like well enough to reread.  Sorry about that, Ms Ray, nothing personal, that's just the way it goes. 

But by page 2 I knew I was hooked when I read this:
Cakes have gotten a bad rap.  People equate virtue with turning down dessert.  There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake.  No, really, I couldn't, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat.  Everyone who is pressing a fork into that first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline. But that is not a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy.  A slice of cake never made anybody fat.  You don't eat the whole cake.  You don't eat a cake every day of your life.  You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious.  You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that's safe, uncomplicated, without stress.  A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding.  A cake is what's served on the happiest days of your life.
Ruth is a suburban housewife who takes great pleasure and comfort in baking wonderful cakes.  Then one day her world turns upside down and she needs to make sense of a new order in her life.   Could that new order include cake?

There is not one bit of unpleasantness in this book.  It is as sweet and light and fluffy as the frosting on one of Ruth's cakes.  It is funny and charming and totally predictable - nothing that happened came as a surprise and nothing happened that I didn't want to happen.  

Get it sometime when you are feeling a little out of sorts and just need something fun and easy and with no sadness whatsoever.

And speaking of sweet, there are some lovely cake recipes in the back.  I think I will have to make the lemon layer cake with lemon cream frosting.  Imagine, lemon curd and whipped cream blended together to fill and frost a cake.  Wow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who deserves a baby shower?

Today I found myself at The Shades of Pink, a new blog for me.  I think I clicked through a link on someone's Facebook page to get there.  The topic is intriguing:  When a church gives a baby shower for an unwed mother, are they celebrating sin?

Apparently a young unwed mother was not given a baby shower at her church, and some ugly things were said to her regarding her sinfulness. The blogger asked the question:
Was throwing her a shower "celebrating her sin" or do you believe that everyone has to be embraced and shown the love of God?
The blogger and most of the commenters were appalled at the idea of refusing to give a shower for the baby of an unwed mother.   So far in the comments I'm the only one who thinks this is not necessarily the wrong attitude.  There's a lot of talk about grace, and about people who seem to think they don't sin, and how people are too ready to judge and condemn.  Those are my general impressions; you can click over and read the original post and the exact comments, including mine.

After leaving my comments I discovered I have more to say on the topic.  But I think I used up my comment space there, so here it is.

First of all, no one should be saying ugly things to anyone else.  Obviously.  But how does showing the love of God translate into a baby shower?

My church gave a shower to an unwed teen mother last year.  I didn't go because I was busy that night, not because I was boycotting it, though I admit I found the idea a bit unsettling.  Another woman, a mother of teen girls, confided in me that she was bothered by the upcoming shower too. She felt that the celebration was sending the wrong message to other young girls in the congregation.  She felt we were saying "go ahead, have a baby, we'll celebrate you, we'll give you a party" and that immature young women might not see beyond that.  

Maybe young girls saw it that way; maybe they didn't.  Mine didn't, because I talked to her about it.   Though we didn't go to the shower we gave a small gift and helped in other small ways.  We didn't exactly celebrate, but we didn't shun mother and baby either.  Many women in the church did as we did.  That young woman got a lot of quiet help; she was not judged or condemned. But her pregnancy was not celebrated by all.

People talk a lot about nuance and I think that's what's missing here.  People are seeing "no shower" as "judging and condemnation."  It's not, necessarily.   We can love people and help them and try to give the baby the best possible start.  But we don't have to have a party for it.

Once the shower is over, does anyone still feel like helping?   Who is taking more diapers over when the gift cards run out?  Who is bringing meals long after the party leftovers are gone?

It might surprise you to know that often it's the women who objected to the shower. 

It warms the heart to see a church rallying around a young person in trouble.  That doesn't have to include giving them a party.  No one deserves a baby shower.  It's a gift.  I don't give my kids gifts when they mess up.  I give them love and forgiveness and help if they need it.  I guess that's a gift in itself. That's the gift God gives me when I mess up. But do we throw a party?

You know what would warm my heart even more?  If a  young unwed mother was offered a shower and she turned it down.  If she said "thanks, but you know, I don't think it's really appropriate."   That would be a wonderful thing to see.

Either way, I'd buy diapers and cook dinner for her.  And I think most of you would do the same. And so, believe it or not, would most of the women who objected to the party.


Baking Bread

Leslie asked me about my bread baking.  She knows I bake bread because she's having a give-away of one of her lovely knitted creations and I mentioned my Kitchen Aid mixer and King Arthur Flour baguette pan in my comment/entry.  So here is some bread talk.

I do like to make my family's bread, or most of it.  My baking is pretty straightforward:  loaves of bread. I have tried to make hamburger and hot dog buns, but that hasn't worked out for me.  I do make naan once in a while, with my husband's help.  And I may have made pita bread.  Did I ever make bagels?  Not sure, but we talk about it frequently.  Mostly it's simple loaves.

My flour choices are pretty simple too.  White bread flour (yes, I admit I use white flour), whole wheat, sometimes rye.  Sometimes I mix them, and sometimes I add other fun ingredients like oatmeal, other cereals, flax seed, wheat germ...  

Making bread is easy with the Kitchen Aid mixer.  I don't have to knead.  It would do my arms good to knead bread dough, but there just isn't the time.  Two minutes of kneading, or 15?  We'd never have bread if I had to knead it.  I suppose a bread machine would take even less of my time but that is one appliance I never felt a need for.

Most of my bread is based on the King Arthur Flour Hearth Bread recipe.  It's very simple (I actually have it memorized now) and can be adapted to other flours.  The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook (King Arthur Flour Cookbooks) has a great bread-making tutorial that takes you through all the steps for making bread, and how to vary it. The recipe can also be found on their website, but for a beginner the instructions in the book can't be beat.

When I make baguettes, I use my wonderful baguette pan.  My husband gave this to me one Christmas or birthday years ago.  Ever since we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area 13 years ago, we have been searching for good bread, and I suppose that's when I started making our own. I haven't mastered sourdough yet, mostly because I don't want to deal with the starter, but I can make a pretty good crusty French bread using the KAF hearth bread recipe and this pan.

I keep experimenting with ways to make it more sour without using a starter that I have to tend. (My husband used to make a great sourdough with a starter, but he doesn't have time for that these days.) My latest method (which is not my invention) involves making a sponge and letting it sit overnight on the counter, or for a day or two in the refrigerator. The sponge is simply the water, yeast, and sugar called for in the recipe, plus 2 cups of the flour. I just put it in the mixer bowl, cover it, and let it sit overnight, then in the morning I proceed with the recipe. Usually I just make it plain; occasionally I toss some grated parmesan and black pepper into the dough when kneading it. After the first rise I form the loaves and ease them into the baguette pan. Sometimes, if I remember, I sprinkle some poppy and sesame seeds on the loaves just before putting them in the oven.

They are delicious and everyone wants to rip into one as soon as they're out of the oven. The baguettes are small so it's not too horrible if my family of 4 consumes one immediately. These also freeze well; I try to "bake ahead" sometimes and have a few in the freezer for days I just can't get the baking done.

For whole wheat bread, I follow the same basic recipe but use, well, whole wheat flour or a mixture of whole wheat and white (which makes it not whole wheat, right?). Occasionally I'll buy some white whole wheat flour but that's not so easy to find here yet and it's pretty expensive. This is when I add other grains to the bread.  Sometimes I soak a mixed-grain cereal like Bob's Red  Mill 8-Grain cereal in some water and add that.  I'm still messing around with that method.  The first time I tried it, I just tossed the dry cereal in with the flour but it came out a little too crunchy.  Better to soak it in hot water for a bit to soften up.  The trick here is getting the right proportion of "other" ingredients to flour, because they lack gluten and will weigh the bread down.  If it's used for morning toast, it will get eaten anyway... but I don't like heavy bread.  I add Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten flour to the dough when I use any grains other than white flour.  And I just use regular loaf pans when I make this bread, not the baguette pan.

Recently I tried the nine-grain bread recipe from The Il Fornaio Baking Book: Sweet and Savory Recipes from the Italian Kitchen which I have owned for years, but don't use often enough. That was a sentimental purchase as we used to go the restaurant when we lived in San Jose.  The biscotti recipe is wonderful. This uses cereal as noted above.  It also uses a very small amount of yeast so it takes longer to rise, but the flavor is wonderful.  The slower the rise, the more time the flavor has to develop!  But sometimes I am in a hurry.  When I make this again, I will add some of that gluten to make it a little lighter.

I also add the gluten to my rye bread to keep it from being heavy.  We love rye bread but I don't bake it often enough.  Remember party ryes? I loved it when my mother bought those little rye breads.  I used my baguette pan to make my own for our New Year's Day party.  They were perfect.  Oh, my rye bread recipe is also from King Arthur.

We sometimes talk about getting a grain mill to do our own flour, but that is for someday, maybe.  Right now I have neither the space to store one or the inclination to use one.  I buy my white all-purpose and bread flours in 25- or 50-pound bags at Costco.  If I could buy whole wheat flour like that, I would.  I like having a lot of flour, and store it in large buckets we bought years ago. Oh, I also buy a 2-pound bag of yeast at Costco and store it in the freezer.  I always have plenty of yeast.  I think I could be out of every other kind of food but could still make bread.

So that's my bread story. Anyone can make bread.  Get a basic cookbook from the library, or look at the KAF or Bob's Red Mill sites, and start.  You don't need a mixer, or fancy pans, just flour, yeast, water and salt (even the sugar is not necessary, though it does help the yeast grow). Strong arms are a plus, but this is a good way to get the kids involved. You can take turns!  Have a competition to see who can knead the longest!

What kind of bread do you like to bake?  Have a favorite baking website?  Let me know!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A book I tried to avoid, but couldn't.

Half (or more) of the Christian-mommy-blogosphere is talking about One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp, the well-known blogger of A Holy Experience.  Her book, which was released just weeks ago, has been highly anticipated and is already apparently a best-seller.

I'll be blunt and say right off that I didn't want to read the book. See, the author's writing style just doesn't work for me. (And judging by the reviews, I am the only person on the planet who feels this way.)  Where others see "poetic prose," I see odd syntax.  Honestly, it's a little hard for me to read phrases like "my eyes have rolled haughty" or "the radical wonder of it stuns me happy," sentence construction which would earn a red mark on a composition assignment.  Then there are sentences like "I fly  to Paris and learn how to make love to God" which is, grammatically speaking, a perfectly fine sentence, but is way over the top for me. Actually that entire chapter ("the joy of intimacy") is over the top for me.  But enough of that; let's get on to the good stuff.

Anyway, I did buy it.  Last week I was feeling lonely and edgy because the seminarian was going camping for a couple of nights and I was going to be the sole adult in charge at home. I just don't like that. So, I wanted some comforting reading.  I wanted something new.  And I read yet another blog post about it and... went right over to Amazon and placed my order.  It was inexpensive, I got free shipping, and I had it in my hands less than 24 hours after ordering.

And so I started reading, and I found that... it's a good book.  In many places, a very, very good book.

The basic premise is simple, though not easy:  start being grateful for the gifts in your life, and you will see more and more to be grateful for.   You will experience God and your life in a different way. You may find the joy you've been seeking. This idea of hers has been around for a while; you may have seen blog posts with gratitude lists.  Maybe you've posted one yourself.  If not, you can see what that's all about here. I think it is true, that the more we find to be thankful for, the more we will see God, and the good, in our lives.  It's the stopping to see and notice that's so hard to do.

There is more. She quotes Isaiah:
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
   and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
 then shall your light rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be as the noonday.
11And the LORD will guide you continually
   and satisfy your desire in scorched places
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water,
   whose waters do not fail.
Isaiah 58:10-11 (ESV)

Yes, the more we give of ourselves to others, even to the point of emptiness, we will be filled.  Fulfilled.  This is good to read on a night when you're exhausted, and anxious, and feel like you've given away too much.

One review I read (don't ask me where, please) included the comment that Mrs. Voskamp is not "someone who's studied theology in a seminary for years" (paraphrased) as a positive about the book.  I like theology students; I'm married to one. But this is not a theology book and it should not be read like one. It's a very personal book about one's woman's experience with God and loss and gratitude. And change. It's raw and emotional and sometimes painful to read.  Her doctrine and theology may not be a perfect fit for yours. But it's her own story.

So after all I'm glad I read the book.  I'm glad I could separate the message from the style.  I still think it's odd that I felt compelled to buy it after I hadn't wanted to.  It's also interesting that just about every word she wrote about worry applies to me right now.  I'm in a sort of worrisome time of life these days.  So it was good. Comforting and convicting:
If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting,
then to choose stress is an act of disbelief... atheism. 
Yikes, right?  Hard to read, hard to think about. 

Oh, and I started my own gratitude list.  I'm not likely to blog it; I enjoy reading others' but it's a little too personal for me to share with the world (small as my blogging world may be).  It's been only a few days but I can see the value in it, particularly when I turn something scary or annoying or worrisome into something to be thankful for.  And that, of course, is the point.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A world I don't fit into

Today my girlie has a friend over. It's an all-day, all-night playdate.  Fun.  They've scrapbooked and goofed around and now they're working on a Broadway-style production.   I love this girl and her family.

So I'm not annoyed as much as puzzled by this exchange with our young guest.

Eleanor:  Be careful!  Don't squish your cellphone!  (The girls were climbing in and out of a big shipping box and taking turns decorating it.  Yeah, they're 10 1/2 and 12 and still play in boxes.) 

Guest:  It's getting in the way!

Me:  Where is it?

Guest:  It's in my pocket!

Me:  Why don't you just put your phone with your other stuff?  You don't need it now.

Guest:  Well, my friends keep texting me to ask where I am.  And I have to text them back to say "I'm with a friend and can't talk now" but they text me back to ask what I'm doing and I text again to say "I can't talk now!"

Me:  Why don't you just stop answering them then?  You don't have to respond immediately.

She didn't answer this.  Not out of rudeness; she just didn't have anything to say.  And their game went on.

I don't get the impression that the phone and the texting was troublesome to Eleanor, who does not have her own cellphone and has never received a text in her life. (She has sent a few to her Dad, dictated by me while driving.)  I haven't had a chance to ask if it bothered her, and will probably forget about it by the time I do. It's not particularly troublesome to me, except:  here is this girl, not even a teen yet, who already feels the urgency of responding immediately to every text message from friends.  While, by the way, at the home of another friend.

Of course, it would seem rude to the texting friends if she didn't respond to them immediately.  Because they know she has the phone, and that she has constant access to it.  It's not as if she might be out of the house and away from the home phone.  She has the phone, she can answer the phone... so she must answer the phone.  

I know I'm getting old but I just don't want to be a part of that world.  And I don't want my kids to either.

But I don't guess I can stop it.

Do you ever ignore your cell phone?  Do your kids?  

Maybe there should be a tv show about what teens should be doing

The only thing I know about the TV show "Skins" is what I've seen linked on Drudge Report.  I followed one link to a preview of the show but when I saw I had to verify my birthdate to view it because of the mature content, I knew I didn't need to spend  waste my time.

But then I saw this defense of the show by one of the stars:

It's what teens are doing.

So, maybe there should be a tv show about what teens should be doing.

But who would watch that?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chain letter guilt

The other day I received email from a friend I'd fallen out of touch with.  We had been pretty good friends, but I moved and then she moved and our lives went on without each other.  I'm not sure when the emails stopped, and I don't know who owed whom a letter.  We just stopped.

My excitement at hearing from her faded as soon as I realized that it was just a chain letter.  Just a mass mailing, no personal contact.  My heart sank a little.  I am not the best at keeping in touch with old friends.  Sometimes months go by between communications.  I try to send out a quick "hi, how are you, what's up?" mail to old friends a few times a year, at least.  I don't really like that, but it's the reality of my life, and most of theirs.

Never would I dream of sending a chain letter to an old friend like that. 

But I don't like the chain letters anyway. The one I get most often is the recipe sharing letter. I never do it.  I don't know 6 or 7 or whatever number of people I need to send the letter on to in order not to break the chain.  OK, I do know that many people (I'm not that pathetic) but not that many that want to do the recipe swap. There are so many places to find recipes, why bother with a chain letter?   Usually I follow the instructions on the letter and advise the person who sent it to me that I'm not sending it on. That way she can find someone else and not break the chain.  Or not.  I don't really care one way or another.

So if I have your address, don't worry,  I will never, ever send you a chain letter.

This post is mistitled.  I have zero chain letter guilt.

That word again

We're reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a book about a black family in Mississippi during the Great Depression, in our little homeschool this week.  It's been on my list for a while but I finally pulled it out to read for a couple of reasons.  It's on our list for Reading Olympics, a book competition my kids are participating in this year.  (Teams read books and answer questions about them.)   And, it contains the word which must not be spoken, which has been on my mind again lately.  I've complained about the word before on another blog, a long time ago.  It's time again.

Everyone's heard about and expressed an opinion on efforts to remove the word from Huckleberry Finn.  Some might also have heard about the high school that's worried about staging the play "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" which contains the word, because it is so offensive.  August Wilson, the playwright, was half black, and probably used the word for a reason.  It would be ludicrous to remove it from the play.

So rather than hand Roll of Thunder off to my kids, I decided to read it to them. We haven't had a good book going for a while, and I wanted to be able to read the word and talk to them about it.  They already know they must not say the word. But I didn't want them to shy away from the book because of it.  I'm not skipping it or replacing it with "slave" (as proposed for Huck Finn) or the stupid phrase "the n-word."   That's not how the author wrote the dialog, so why would I presume to change it?

Mildred D. Taylor, the author, was hurt by criticisms for using the word.  In a speech accepting an award for her work, she said
,Now, however, there are those who think that perhaps my recounting are too painful, and there are those who seek to remove books such as mine from school reading lists. There are some who say the books should be removed because the "N" word is used. There are some who say such events as described in my books and books by others did not happen. There are those who do not want to remember the past or who do not want their children to know the past and who would whitewash history, and these sentiments are not only from whites.

In Texas recently a Hispanic father went to the school board and asked thatThe Well be removed from school reading lists because the "N" word was used. In Orange County, California a black mother objected to her son reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in a class where he was the only African-American, and the school’s solution to her objection was to seat her son in the hall while the book was being read. In a Northern state, a black church questioned a book like Roll of Thunder being presented in the schools to its children.
I am hurt that any child would ever be hurt by my words. As a parent I understand not wanting a child to hear painful words, but as a parent I do not understand not wanting a child to learn about a history that is part of America, a history about a family representing millions of families that are strong and loving and who remain united and strong, despite the obstacles they face.
In the writing of my most recent work, titled The Land, I have found myself hesitating about using words that would have been spoken in the late 1800s because of my concern about our "politically correct" society. But just as I have had to be honest with myself in the telling of all my stories, I realize I must be true to the feelings of the people about whom I write and true to the stories told. My stories might not be "politically correct," so there will be those who will be offended, but as we all know, racism is offensive.
It is not polite, and it is full of pain.
I recommend Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which is listed for kids ten and up.  I wouldn't give it to a ten-year-old to read on his own.   It is a book read together so you can stop and talk about it, often.

My kids can't comprehend that anyone ever treated black people as they were treated in this book. They flinch when I say the word.  That is a good thing.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Singing the back to work blues

It's back to work today after a too-long Christmas vacation.   I had planned our December homeschooling badly and our vacation started sooner than I'd wanted it to.  If I had been on top of things, I'd have had lots of good independent work for my kids to do while I did pre-Christmas work of my own.  Instead, the books were forgotten and my kids watched way too much tv, none of which could be considered educational in any meaningful way.  They did learn some new curse words, though, and we had some useful discussions on why there is so much adultery on tv crime shows, so maybe it wasn't all bad.  (I do like the way they audibly flinch when they hear even mild profanity.  They are still not used to it, as I was growing up.) 

We always have a hard time transitioning back to work after a vacation.  My usual lecture includes reminding my kids that their school friends have to get up and go to school for a full day when vacation is over, getting right back into math, grammar, and all that other work they do.  I know by now to their ears, that song sounds like the teacher in a Charlie Brown movie.   That argument means nothing to them:  they don't go to school.  We chose a different life, so why do I go on and on about the one we rejected? 

This year I tried something new.  The inspiration came in a conversation with a friend at our New Year's Day open house party.  When I asked her if she was back to work on Monday, she sighed heavily and said yes reluctantly. I haven't worked for quite a few years but I remembered those back-to-work days after a vacation.  Brutal. Even when I liked my job, it was hard to go back after a break.

So on Sunday as we discussed the upcoming week I talked about people with jobs instead of students at school. My kids are not employees yet, but I expect they will be someday, and they may as well understand that they will have their opportunity to sing the back-to-work blues as adults too.

For some reason this seemed to make more sense to them.  At least, they didn't argue. They seemed to actually hear my words, not the usual blah blah blah.  The seminarian and I reminisced about great vacations that ended and not-so-great jobs we had to go back to.   And great jobs that were still hard to go back to, because vacation is so much more fun.

Of course being back to work for the kids meant back to work for me, too.  I didn't have as much free time as they did over the past few weeks, but it was hard putting together the week's assignments, making sure all the books were in their proper places, and getting myself up and organized, ready to encourage them on their way today.  We had a pretty good start, and are on track to do what I set out to do.  No one complained; the morning work was done quickly and well.  Now it's lunchtime; I'm taking a quick break for myself while the kids do a few chores, then we have a little more work to do.  I try to finish the work they find tedious (math, grammar) in the morning and save the more fun work (science, history) for the afternoon.

Since our vacation started earlier than planned, we don't have any new books or activities starting today.  But I did add a new book to our breakfast time reading: Discipline, The Glad Surrender, which I have mentioned before

I had said it's a good book for homeschooling mothers but I think it's good for homeschool students as well.  The writing is mostly clear, the chapters short, and it leads to good discussion at the table.  That is how our best days start: with books and talking.  Whenever I tweak our daily routine, I leave a big chunk of time for breakfast whenever I can.  Somehow this helps them transition into their work better.  A morning prayer helps, too.

Back to work doesn't have to include the blues. 

I'm writing this post for the fifth anniversary of the Carnival of Homeschooling.  I  lack the discipline (heh) to write a post for every weekly Carnival, but I guess I've submitted a few each year.  Sometimes I forget to read it, or I'll go through a few weeks where I just ignore it because I'm tired of homeschool talk.  But I always go back.  Thanks very much to Henry and Janine Cate of Why Homeschool  for starting the Carnival!

Sunday, January 02, 2011


My boy is a pretty good Boy Scout.  He does what he's told and doesn't cause trouble. He's enthusiastic and helpful, I hear.  He's advanced appropriately and has been given responsibility as a leader of a patrol (a group of boys within a troop).  So he does pretty well.

But he's not what you call a self-starter.  He's at the point now where he gets to pick the badges he wants to earn, and start working on them. No one is pushing him to do any particular work; it's up to him to earn the badges he needs to advance in rank.  He reached this point early last fall, but he hasn't started working on any badges yet.  This isn't because there aren't any badges he's interested in; there are many.  He settled on two a few months ago.  Now he just can't get started.

So every week or so I ask him what he's doing.  The answer, of course, is nothing, which causes me to get frustrated and start to wonder what is wrong with this kid?  I ask him if he's not interested in advancing in Scouts; no, it's not that. I ask if he's done with Scouts (while praying he is not) and he looks at me as if I have two heads and no, of course not (with the silent but implied you idiot on the end). 

Then I coach him on the next steps.  Who to talk to at the next Scout meeting.  Who to call.  He still needs help sometimes with phone calls.   So far we haven't made much progress, though. One merit badge counselor said he'd be at a meeting, but wasn't.  Another hasn't responded yet to email.  Now this boy is content to wait, forever if necessary, for them to respond to him.  He feels that their turn now. Which  technically it may be, but he's the one who wants the badge, so he's got to be the one in charge.  He can't be passive.

He prefers to be passive.  It is in his nature to be passive, to let events flow over him and carry him along.  Not to make events happen.

I struggle mightily with this characteristic of his.   

Throughout all this I'm thinking about it, a lot.  Should I stop pushing him?  Should I let him succeed or fail on his own, and stop getting involved?  I don't want him to drop out of Scouts, and I'm afraid he'll do that if he stops working on rank advancement.  But, what good is it if I'm always pushing him?  I can't push him forever.  One day he is going to have to get along without his mommy telling him what to do. But is he ready for that?

Sometimes I wonder if this is a homeschool thing.  Schoolkids have their teachers telling them what they need to do, and when, and from what I gather, most (not all) parents pretty much stay out of it.  (I don't mean they are not involved, but they aren't the ones pushing the kids to get things done.  That's my impression from conversations with other mothers, not the result of scientific research on the topic.)  So why shouldn't I stay out of Scouts?   Why am I always pushing, reminding, nagging?

We are always pushing our kid to do things that, it seems, other kids don't do.  For example, if he is going to miss a Scout meeting, we make him call the guys just above and below him in the leadership hierarchy.  He used to hate making those calls, but now that he is a leader he sees the value in it.  As a leader, he finds it's helpful to know if someone is going to be absent.  Almost every week someone just doesn't show up.  I don't understand why the parents don't have their kids make that call.  Maybe they just stay out of the kids' Scout business.

Anyway, I spend time thinking about these things. 

Last week, after I helped him email the badge counselor to get started on the "Pets" badge (a no-brainer for our family), I asked him what he wanted me to do.  Keep pushing, or shut up?

He thought for a minute and said "Mom.  Remember that year I hated making phone calls so much I almost missed a campout?"  (Oh yes I do. He needed a piece of information from one of the adult leaders. He was so afraid of making that call he tried to convince me - and himself - that he really didn't want to go on this campout after all.  Once I forced him to make the call, his desire to camp came back.)  "Now, I don't mind calling people I know.  But I still hate calling people I don't know.  And you know I'm forgetful.  So..."  deep breath here; is he about to cry? "Yeah, can you help me a little longer?"

So we made a deal.  One  more rank advancement, and then he's on his own.  Can he do it?  We'll find out in about 6 months, I think.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The best and the worst

The best thing about hosting a big crowded party is... there is no time to eat any of the massive amount of food that's being served.

The worst thing about hosting a big crowded party is... being alone with all the leftovers after everyone's gone... and starving from not having eaten all day.