Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Two things I should have been able to predict, but failed to:

1.  Whenever we embark on a new routine, project, or other changeup in our homeschooling, the kids get sick. Seriously.  How's that forced independence going, you might ask?   Ha!  Amidst the coughing and nose blowing and sinus washing, we're reading and discussing The Odyssey. We all love it. The math and other independent work?  Um, this sickness can't possibly last till next week.  Right? 

This happens all the time.  Seriously, I believe that this is God's way of asking me "do you really think you are in control?"   I've always said that I wish I could give my kids a full education just by reading to them.  So at least we're doing what we love.

 2.  Whenever I decide to clean out my blog reader and get serious about my computer time, I find new blogs to fill it right back up again.   Here are my new favorites:

Good Morning Girls is a Christian site for women (not young girls).  I started following their study in the book of James yesterday. They're almost finished, but thanks to the magic of the internet I can catch up.  It's perfect for me right now, in the state of mind and the stage of life I'm in.  

The Gypsy Mama hosts the Friday Minute Friday meme I discovered last week.  She's led a fascinating life and has a lot of good things to say. Lots of baby pics, too!

MexiMoxie is by a young woman preparing for the missions field.  She'll be going to Mexico, and she talks about that and shares recipes for delicious food too.

The blog list on the sidebar that shrank recently?  Growing again.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Homeschooling when you don't feel like it anymore

Maybe it's the late winter/early spring burnout so common to homeschoolers.  Maybe it's something more.  But I don't feel like homeschooling right now.  It's probably a temporary feeling, but, today and for the past few weeks, it hasn't felt that way.  Even though I continue to receive frequent reminders of the blessings of homeschooling, I'm just not that into it right now.

But we are still homeschooling.  It's almost April; even if my kids could be going to school in the future, I'm not going to send them now.  What would be the point, so close to the end of the year?   We've been counting educational days since July 1; we've only got another 30 or so to go.  It would be useless to make such a huge change now.

So how do we keep going when Mom wants to stop?   I started forcing independence.  I probably shouldn't use the word force because, of course, I can't force anyone to do anything.  But I can keep leading my kids toward independence.  That is the overall goal, after all, but right now it is just urgent for me to do so.  If I don't, we will all crash.  So each Monday I give my kids an assignment sheet with all the activities and bookwork I expect to get done that week. Some are things we do together, but most of it they do on their own, or with minimal involvement on my part.  I've actually been doing the weekly assignment sheet for a while, but I owned it.  Now they do.  It's their work, not mine. This hasn't been foolproof; more than once we've experienced frustration when a child has lost his or her assignment sheet in a pile of books or papers, or simply says "Oh, I didn't see that" or "I forgot."  We've also discovered that I sometimes forget commitments ("Oh, there's a Girl Scout meeting tomorrow?) or just overplan.  It's not always the kids' fault if not everything gets done.

We are still flexible, but the kids are in charge more now.   

I'm also just stepping back and letting them go a little more. I believe I've always encouraged this but now I am being a little more demanding about it.  We read The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct, a gorgeous and fascinating book, together last month; while some of the text was over all our heads, it inspired further research and a science-fair type project that includes a display board, artwork, and papier mache.  I provide the materials and time (it's on their weekly assignment sheets); they do the work.  This is just what I need for our portolios and my own sanity.  Oh, the kids are learning, too.  My contribution was reading the book aloud (not a burden) and buying the supplies. 

Now I am available when they need help with math, or grammar, or some other basic work, but I am not teaching them the math anymore.  I have more time for my distractions and other work, and even to go out for coffee with a friend once in a while.  One of the joys of older kids is leaving them home alone sometimes!  I am not weary when it's time for the parts of homeschooling I still love, like going on field trips and reading and discussing great literature with my kids. 

No doubt some of you reading are shaking your heads and saying something like "she thinks she's made some great discovery here?"  If I have learned one thing in my years of homeschooling, it is this:  everyone has to make their discoveries in their own time.

That goes for both kids and mom.

After the cooking contest

Yesterday I spent a lot of time thinking about James and his Scout cooking contest.  I was anxious to hear from him after dinner but figured I wouldn't.

About 8 pm the phone range.  Could it be him?  No, but it was one of the Scout leaders informing us that James was sick.  Could they give him some cold medicine?  James came on the line and said he was feeling pretty badly and would like to come home.  It's a 90-minute drive to camp... could he tough it out there for the night?  Yeah, he could.

The only thing we heard in that conversation about the contest was:  the food wasn't ready for the judges at the appointed moment.  Bummer.

He arrived home around noon: filthy, exhausted, maybe getting sick (other family members have been sick this week), but happy.  His patrol got 3rd place.  Out of just 4, so... not great.  But he was satisfied.  The stew was good, he said, once it was cooked.  The mango soda was an instant hit.  So was his couscous dessert, despite it being a little strange to most people.  The chapatis were not so great.  He'd perfected them at home but cooking on a fire is different than on an electric stove.  He thinks they just couldn't get the griddle hot enough. 

This past week was hardly stellar for our academic achievements.  But boy did he learn a lot about meal planning, shopping, and cooking.  Hm, supervising 5 boys can be hard work too, so probably some management skills got in there too.  And yesterday the boys were working hard from sunup till well after sundown.

I will be counting it as a school day.  I think I could count it as two!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

(Blog) Housekeeping


In between snuggling with my sick daughter and obsessing over my son's camping trip activities, I had some time for a little bloghousekeeping today.  I updated my blog list (left sidebar) to better reflect what I'm reading now.   I cleaned out my blog reader too.  I had too many blogs to keep up with; it was time to trim the list. 

I always feel a little guilty cutting blogs out of my reader or clicking the "stop following" button.  I know some bloggers take it personally when they lose followers.  But it's not personal; it's just a matter of time management. 

You can tell I feel guilty about it because I'm explaining it.  Kind of silly, isn't it? 

Eight minutes from right now

My Boy Scout James is away this weekend at his troop's annual cooking contest campout.  Each group of boys - a patrol - plans and makes a delicious meal in competition with each other. This is his second year attending, but his first as leader of a patrol and thus in charge of the meal.  At 5 pm - just 8 minutes away - the judges (adult leaders of the troop) will be at his patrol's table to see how their meal turned out.

James is not a cook, though he has been practicing.  And this is not a stereotypical Scout camp meal, of meat and veggies wrapped in foil and buried in the coals. The boys are required to cook at least part of their meal in the Dutch oven.   They have to brown their meat, not just toss it into the pot. The meal must be balanced meal with protein, carbs, vegetable, etc.  A dessert is required.  A beverage too - and water from the canteen doesn't count.

They earn points for difficulty, healthfulness, and presentation, among other things.   It's a big deal, lots of work and lots of fun.  For example, James took a stick of butter for his bread, but also a container of cream so they could make their own.  This was a last-minute addition.  He had asked one of this friends, a senior Scout, if taking butter would cost points.  No, he was told - but if you make your own, you'll gain points!  Same question about taking homemade chicken broth.  (James made it from a chicken he cooked a few weeks ago at a cooking  workshop at his Scoutmaster's house.)  It's fine, but it would be better if he hauled a chicken carcass up to camp and made the broth there.  Yikes.  That takes a lot of time and a lot of firewood.  He won't worry about those extra points.

I am almost certain he forgot one semi-essential ingredient:  sugar for his dessert.  But the recipe also includes honey, and I'm pretty sure -  no actually I'm just hopeful - that he will realize he can just add more of that to make up for the missing sugar.  Maybe one of the other boys in his patrol will mention that, if he forgets.

He is a forgetful boy, and likely to be a bit stressed.

He forgot the gloves for chopping up the jalapenos.  Those are not essential, but might gain him points for safe cooking.. 

His menu is chicken peanut stew, chapatis, couscous with honey, cinnamon, and nuts, and mango soda.   I know all this because I helped him practice it, but also because he typed up a nice menu for the judges to see on his table.  Too bad he left it behind.

The mango soda is just mango nectar mixed with seltzer.  It's delicious.

Though he is the leader, the other boys were invited to contribute ideas to the dinner. However, they did not care to.  I know that because they sat around my kitchen table one night talking about it, and other than approving the stew didn't express much interest.   I suspect they won't like the dessert - it does seem a little odd - but he wanted something more in keeping with his North African-ish theme than the typical apple cobbler.

All day I've wanted to text him to ask how it's going.  But Mommy needs to stay out of it, and he's not supposed to have his phone in his pocket during camp anyway.  I did ask him, if he could do it without breaking camp rules and embarrassing himself, to let me know how it went after it's all done.  I can wait till tomorrow afternoon when he gets home... but I don't want to.

Well, it's 5:10 and the judges should have moved on to the next patrol.  I'm a little sad I can't be there to see all this, but... it's right that's I'm not there. 

This post was inspired by my friend Maria who knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Another way my kids are growing up differently than I did.

I'm getting ready to run out to the library to pick up a copy of "The Sound of Music" to watch with Eleanor today.  I am not that interested in it but she is sickly and her brother is away at camp and this is what she would like to do.  We just got Netflix but it's not available to watch instantly; nothing in the vast queue we've accumulated seems interesting enough to her right now.  I know how that is, when a kid is sick.

But here is where my title comes in:  she won't want to watch it alone.  It struck me today that my kids rarely watch tv or a movie alone.  James will occasionally watch some military thing by himself.  I think he'd like the company but no one wants to join him.  I don't think Eleanor ever has, though.

They'd mostly rather not watch TV if they are going to be there alone.

I think about all hours I spent in front of the TV as a kid, alone and with my siblings and parents.  Or friends. But a lot alone.  When I was in junior high I even had my own tv in my room for a little while.  It only got the local channel, but it was good for my soaps after school.  "Dark Shadows!"  "One Life to Live."  Ah, stop me before I go googling Vikki and Nikki and Barnabas.

Anyway, this was just interesting to me this morning.  I'm glad my kids don't spend mindless hours in front of the television.  I don't spend that much time myself, and I can usually make it productive with knitting or mending or even folding laundry.  Maybe I would have liked it if my Mom had watched "Dark Shadows" with me sometimes.  I wonder what she was doing while I was watching all that TV?

More about worry

Some of my friends are worried about me since I posted about waking up worrying.

Worrying is an unhealthy, useless waste of time.  And, for those of us who (try to) follow Jesus and the teachings in the Bible, it is a sin.

But it is also not something that anyone (or I, at least) set out to do.  The worries come unbidden.  Who wakes up and decides to think, say, "what if we have to move and our house doesn't sell?"   Or "Gah!  We don't have a decent science project for our homeschool portfolio yet!"

Not I! I'd rather wake up with a feeling of happy anticipation for the day, thankful for a good night's sleep.

So we have to fight the worry with prayer. We can know that God is sovereign and still have those worries creep in.  We can understand that if God wants us to move He will work out such mundane details as selling a house.  He might not make it real easy, or as quick as we'd like.  But it'll happen. We can know that both intellectually and in our hearts.  We aren't worrying on purpose.

I think in general Christians are harder on people about worry than nonChristians.  (Broad generalization; don't assume I'm talking about you!)  So many times I've expressed a concern to someone - someone who asks how things are going or if there is any way they can pray for me, not just some random person I've decided to spill my guts to  - and they send me off with a breezy little platitude:  "Just trust and obey!"  "Oh, follow God's leading and you'll be fine!"  "As long as you're in God's will, He will take care of you!"    Well, OK then!  Thanks for asking.

One of the best Bible verses for worriers is John 14:1.  Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me."  One of my Facebook friends had that up in her status yesterday and though it is a very familiar verse, it was good to see it.  It is the perfect verse for worriers - those who worry on purpose and those who have their worries thrust upon them, unwelcome, in the early hours of the morning.

Update:  After typing "worry" so many time, I've come to realize I should have titled this post "What, me worry?"  And I have this urge to read a Mad Magazine...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Five Minute Friday: Waking up

My friend Maria turned me on to Five Minute Friday at The Gypsy Mama.  It's a little writing prompt exercise - fun!  I am in great need of blogging inspiration and this is just the ticket.  Join us over there for some sweet baby pics and some fun reading on...

Waking up.

Lately my wakeups have been abrupt.  A cry of "Mommy" from a sick girl.  My son ringing his bell - that'll scare you, hearing a bell clanging in the middle of the night, till you realize what it is and go to comfort the child with a headache.  I tried to be nice when I asked that in the future he call rather than ring.   Sometimes it's the dog, nervous at some sound outside and wanting to get out to investigate  He did that the other morning, and was so insistent that I ended up taking him in the backyard on the leash, thinking he had some business to do out there.  Oh no. He just wanted to snuffle around for night creatures.  It was 5 am; the alarm goes off at 6:30, so I stayed up.

Sometimes the thoughts in my head wake me up.   Starting the day worrying isn't something I choose to do, but sometimes it happens.  Those are the mornings I alternate between worrying and praying for help to stop worrying.   With the seminarian graduating in May, there are plenty of unanswered questions about our near future, and thus plenty to worry about - whether I want to worry or not.   Please do not leave me a comment telling me it's a sin to worry, OK?  Other comments are welcome, of course.

I look forward to the day that I wake up feeling rested and relaxed, with happy anticipation for the day.   I am not sure when that will happen, though.

That was a fun five minutes!  Try it yourself.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Carnival of Homeschooling

It's the Green Edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling, and the photos are beautiful.  Good reading to, as always.  Check it out at The Homeschool Post.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands

Are you a counselor?   I don't mean a certified professional who gets paid to solve people's problems.  I mean, are you a regular person living in the world, who has people in your life who need help with problems?  Yes, of course you are.  We all are. So you should read Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands.

I love the subtitle:  "People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change."

I've had this book for a long time and had started it more than once. For some reason it took me a few tries to get into it and finish it.  I can only assume my timing was bad because this is a wonderful book.   The author, Paul David Tripp, is associated with the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation and has written other titles for the "Resources for Changing Lives" book series.

Dr. Tripp teaches the process - what we need to do - for counseling: Love,  Know, Speak, Do.  

If we are going to help people, we need to love them.  Yes, we need to love all these pesky, annoying people in our lives.  That includes the the young mother who doesn't seem to be able to discipline her children, the friend who is always complaining, the woman who worries that she's never doing enough. Sometimes they are hard to love, but they are made in God's image, so... we make the decision to love them.

We have to know them and know their problems - their real problems, not necessarily the troubles that they present to us - if we are going to help them.  We don't assume we know without asking a lot of questions and getting true understanding of what's really going on.

Then we have to speak up.  Kindly, in love. We don't avoid confrontation.  Sometimes this kind of speaking is hard.   But,
... I am afraid we have replaced love in our relationships with being "nice."  Being nice and acting out of love are not the same thing.  Our culture puts a high premium on being tolerant and polite.  We seek to avoid uncomfortable moments, so we see, but do not speak.  We go so far as to convince ourselves that we are not speaking because we love the other person, when in reality we fail to speak because we lack love.
Then, as if the speaking wasn't hard enough, there's more: we need to do what we can to help. This is the hardest part to accomplish and the hardest to summarize.
The final aspect of our model, do, teaches us how to apply truths we have learned, personal insights we have gained, and commitments we have made, to our daily lives.  Here we teach people to be dissatisfied with the gap between their confessional and functional theology.  We lead them to live out their identity as children of God, claiming the rights and privileges of the gospel.  Do trains people in the decisions, actions, relationships, and skills of Christ-centered, biblically informed living.  
This is not just theory.  There are many practical examples that helped me see exactly how to go about this process.  It's designed to equip, not just educate.

And it's not just for people planning to become professional counselors, though it is on the curriculum.  It's for people like me who seem to be placed in counseling sessions all the time.   People like you, too.

Click the link for more information or to read the first chapter of the book. If you read it, I'd love to know what you think of it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The recurring aviary experience

We've been having a tough homeschooling season.  So tough we've even talked about school.  As in, going there next year.

This is hard to admit.  It's hard to let people know when there are difficulties, particularly when I know that some people would be silently saying "Yes!" at the prospect of us throwing in the homeschooling towel.  But, bad times happen.  Sometimes they last a day.  Sometimes they last a little longer.

So yesterday we decided to have a field trip to the zoo.  We hadn't been to the famous Philadelphia Zoo in the 3 1/2 years we've lived here.  Admission prices are high!  But thanks to one of those cool internet coupons sites, we scored some cheap tickets.  Yesterday  might not have been the best day to go - it was still cold, and rain threatened.  And, we hadn't finished some things that needed finishing. But, we needed the change in routine.

One of the best places in any zoo is the aviary.  We all love birds so that is one of the most important stops on any zoo visit.  Our zoo in Oregon had a wonderful aviary and we reminisced about it yesterday, on the way to our first Philadelphia experience.

One of our memories is very strong.  I don't think I'll ever forget it.  We had walked into the aviary and noticed how quiet it was.  Not a lot of bird action going on.  But we waited, and after a short time the birds became more active.  We sat on a bench and watched as the aviary came alive.  The birds had noticed our arrival but when we were quiet, they relaxed and went about their bird business.

Then, the door opened an a school group walked in.  Teachers, chaperones, kids.  Lots of kids!  All talking and stomping and making jokes and looking around, asking "where are the birds?"

It doesn't take birds long to disappear, you know.

So the adults marched the kids through and maybe they saw a bird or two.  But they didn't stop.  No one looked at the informational placards.  No one had a chance to listen.  Soon they were gone.

We sat still and waited.  Soon, the birds came back out.  It was one of those moments that validated our homeschooling for me:  schoolkids don't get to slow down and see the birds.

Of course to be fair, I must admit that I don't know if it was the teacher's intent to move through so quickly.  Maybe the class had spent so much time exploring other areas in detail that they didn't really have time for the birds.  Maybe they just popped in to give the kids a glimpse because the teacher loved the aviary and couldn't bear to have them miss it, even if they couldn't stop.

But the point was clear.  I wanted my kids to have time for the birds.  I didn't want them rushing through on a school field trip. 

So that was on my mind as we walked to the aviary at our new zoo.  I was enjoying a school day at the zoo while pondering taking a step that would put an end to days like this.

We walked in.  This one was set up differently from others, with separate rooms.  We spent time in each one.  The last was the best!  Full of birds we'd never seen before.  We walked around quietly, marveling at the different colors, beaks, feathers.  And then, it happened again.

In trooped a school group, a teacher in the lead, kids and chaperones behind, moving quickly through the room.  The birds disappeared, went silent and still.  We waited as the group passed.

When they were gone, a keeper came in to feed them.  She talked quietly to us about the food, and about some of the birds' habits.  Between the new silence in the room, and the promise of food, the birds came alive again.  She pointed out yellow-knobbed currasow who "doesn't seem to know how heavy she is.  She jumps onto branches that are too small and breaks them."  We watched a bit, and as the bird made her way toward the food, we could see how clumsily she moved.   The keeper then called the Victoria crowned pigeons over for their food, and they walked right past us on the way, just as close as that.  It was a wonderful experience.

And just like before, I knew that in good homeschooling times and bad, I always want my kids to have time for the birds.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

No reading, no writing

I miss blogging.  I miss reading and commenting on blogs.   The best I have been able to do the past few weeks has been to scan a few blogs in my reader but I have rarely stopped into the real thing to say hello.

Sometimes life is just busy, and sometimes there are mental or emotional distractions that make it impossible to write a book review or think about home organization projects.   Sometimes there's just nothing to say, or so much it's too hard to figure out.

Maybe soon I'll write about our last robotics competition, or about the seminarian's upcoming graduation, or about the fantastic art projects my kids have been doing.  I've been reading, a little, and have some books I'd like to comment on.   I've been cleaning and getting rid of stuff so maybe I'll jump back into the 52-week challenge. 

I guess this is a placeholder post till I have some real content.

And a hello to the people who (I hope) still have me in their reader.  I'll be back to your place soon too!