Sunday, May 29, 2011

Moving On

Today was a bittersweet day at church:  Our last day at the place we've worshiped and served for the last 3 1/2 years.  The ex-seminarian will take the position of pastoral intern at another church nearby, and of course we are all going with him.

It was hard to stand up in front of the congregation to receive thanks and goodbyes from everyone.  We like our church and the people in it.  Some have become good friends.  Of course, we will still see them.  It's the people who are not-quite-good friends that will disappear.  You know how those good intentions to stay in touch work out. 

In some ways, though, I breathed a sigh of relief as we walked out the door.  Like all churches, ours had problems, some pretty serious.  Our next church has problems, too, I'm sure, but we won't be in the midst of them right away.  We can be ignorant for a little while!  

It will also be nice to take a break from serving.  Is that OK to say?   We did a pretty good bit of work, the ex-seminarian most of all.  We were happy to do it, and mostly it wasn't a burden.  I will admit that nursery duty is something I do reluctantly and more from a feeling of obligation than one of joyful service.  It'll be nice, for a little while, to be like 80% of the people, just sitting the in the pews, partaking of others' service.  It probably won't last long, though.  Churches need people who are willing to work, even at things they don't particularly like.  I haven't developed the skill of deflecting work that needs to be done.   Too bad so many other people have!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Graduation Day

We always knew that the time would go by quickly, but here it is already graduation day for the seminarian.  I guess I have to come up with a new name for him.  The intern?  Probably not. 

Sometimes the last four years seemed so hard.  It seemed like the school years would never end.  Other times it seemed like it'd be fun to just go on like this forever.

Not a whole lot will change in our lives after graduation day.  The graduate will have a few weeks off, then he'll start an internship at a local church. We will change churches, but not houses.  We'll still be friends, we hope, with the people we came to know and love at our old church.  We'll make some new friends.  We hope!

This year will go by fast, too, and then it'll be time for the next adventure. What will it be?  Where will it be?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

City of Tranquil Light

It can be hard to find novels that show Christianity in a positive light these days.  I don't count the "Christian fiction" genre, as I've rarely found anything worth reading there.  But mainstream fiction usually portrays Christians in a negative way, if it portrays them at all.   And Christian missionaries? Don't get me started.

City of Tranquil Light is a beautiful novel that tells the story of a missionary couple in China in a very respectful, loving way.  These missionaries are not crazy men and women with hero complexes (think The Poisonwood Bible), but rather ordinary people who want to serve God, and find that China is the place they are sent to do just that.

Will is a young man in 1906 when he meets Edward, who is home from the mission field and looking for workers.  He asks Will to consider joining him.  Will has not felt the urge to leave home, and doesn't feel particularly gifted for missions work, yet one night, Will gets up, unable to sleep, leaves his bedroom, and sits down at the kitchen table.
As I sat there, I suddenly knew I would go to China.  The realization was as simple and definite as the plunk of a small stone in the deep well of my soul, and despite the fact that it would mean leaving what I loved most in the world, I felt not the sadness and dread I had expected but a sense of freedom and release.  The tightness in me loosened like a cut cord, and I was joyful.
Will narrates the story of his life in China:  his meeting with Katherine, Edward's sister-in-law who also joins him, their courtship and marriage while on the mission field, the trials and hardships of their life together.

Katherine tells the story too, in the form of journal entries.  It's a nice device, to present two voices in different ways.

Another of my complaints about current fiction is the bleakness of it. There is so much dysfunction and ugliness in novels.  This is the rare book that that has ugliness in it, but it's not overwhelmed by it.  There is disease and death, attacks by bandits, war.  It's sad in parts, but not bleak.  It's beautiful and satisfying. 

There are a couple of episodes that seem a little fantastical or contrived, but they were minor brow-wrinklers for me, in this otherwise lovely book.

This work of fiction is based on the lives of the author's grandparents.  Bo Caldwell also wrote The Distant Land of My Father, another book which I loved.  That book was published in 2002; City of Tranquil Light in 2010.  At this rate, I have a long wait for her next book.  I hope it won't be too long. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Summer School

May and June are the golden months in our little homeschool.  By early May we have logged our required 180 days of education for the state of Pennsylvania.  I can start counting again on July 1.   So these weeks in between are the best time of the year.

After 4 years homeschooling here I've come to the conclusion that the portfolios and evaluations don't really bother me.  It's day-counting that I find so onerous.  I've written about this too many times to go into detail again, but the counting really does intrude on our days.  I just don't like having to write down what we did, and deciding if it's a full or half day, or not a day at all.  I don't like thinking about what counts and what doesn't. 

Not much changes with regard to our daily activities whether I cam counting days or not.  We have as many outside distractions in the summer as we do the rest of the year.  In the winter we have snow days; in the spring we have mosquito- and cicada-free days.  I don't like to stop everything in the summer.  It gets boring, for one thing. And in my experience, too much vacation just makes people lazy.

So we have some summer school plans. We'll take some weeks of vacation, of course.  But otherwise, we will keep up some academics. 

Monday/Wednesday/Friday will be Math, Latin, Omnibus reading and discussions, workouts at the Y.  James will do Boy Scout merit badge work, and Eleanor will practice piano and do lots of crafts.  Both will read and will continue to log their books.

Tuesday/Thursday:  House and yard work and projects.  We have a lot to do around here.  This is the year we build a shed. I hope!   And most likely, more reading because the reading is good.  We like to read science books together, and I've gotten a few out from the library that look promising. 

There will still be time for hiking, going swimming at the Y, riding bikes, and just hanging out.   There will be entire weeks without math, but not 12 weeks all in one big chunk.  Maybe a chunk of three, tops.

A little work, a little fun, a little learning, and no time for boredom.  That looks like a good summer to me.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Field trip: Washington, DC

After nearly four years on the east coast, we finally made it to Washington.  Proximity to DC was one of the selling points we used with our kids to ease our move here from Oregon and they'd been waiting for this trip for a long time.  But, we underestimated the time we'd have for such trips during the seminary years and kept putting it off.

Then, as graduation neared, we panicked:  what if we have to move this summer and don't have time to go?  So we went during the seminarian's spring break.  Which is everyone's spring break.  Not the ideal time for a homeschooling family to go to a major tourist attraction.  But, we took our chance.

 We planned on a one-night stay. Since it's a 3-hour drive from our home, that would give us two full days to explore, if we got up early enough the first morning. I cracked the whip, had everyone packed the night before, planned breakfast on the road, and set several alarms. We set a family record for getting up and out by 7 am.    I had found a reasonably-priced room outside of town and near a metro train station.  It also included our most important feature: "free" breakfast, or as we say around here, breakfast included in the price.  This is a key time- and money-saver for us.  Nothing like getting up in the morning, ready to rock and roll, and having to think about where to find breakfast.

Most people we mentioned the trip to suggested their must-see places. Some were dubious that we would have a good time in only two days.  A few imagined us frantically running from place to place, barely having time to snap a photo of some important building, monument, or exhibit before moving on.

But they don't know how we work.

Ever since we started taking our kids places, we have cautioned them that they won't see everything.  Zoo, amusement park, museum - they have been warned that in one visit they won't see it all.  Of course sometimes it has worked out that we can see it all; if we have the time and the place is the right size.  But because of the way we visit such places, we usually can't.   We just aren't fast.  We like to look closely at exhibits.  We like to ponder the art.  We like to sit down sometimes and just enjoy the surroundings.  We like to take photos.

She must not have liked the photo she was taking here; I couldn't find it.
The week before the trip I sat the kids down at the website for the Smithsonian museums and the Google map of the National Mall area, and told them to figure out what they wanted to see most. I limited them to the Mall and told them to be specific about exhibits within the museums so we would be sure to see what was important.   James wanted to see all the monuments and memorials, and the Natural History and Air & Space Museums. Eleanor wanted to see the Natural History museum, specifically the crocheted coral reef exhibit, the First Ladies dresses at the American History Museum, and the US Botanical Garden. Further down the list were the White House and Capitol. 

They would have been happy to see more, but these were their most important places.

We arrived at our suburban metro station at 10:30, and within about half an hour were stepping out of the Smithsonian station.  We'd planned to spend the first day checking out the monuments, and that's just what we did. We saw them all.  Because I'd neglected to obtain a map ahead of time, we didn't do it the most efficient way, but we got to see everything. 

The World War II Memorial, which is just stunning.

When we were satisfied that we'd seen them all, it was time for museums.  We started out together at the American History Museum, and that's where we split up.  Eleanor and I went to see the First Ladies' dresses, and James and Dad took off to see some old ship or something.   This is another key to enjoying trips like this:  split up when necessary!  Naturally, it works better for some family configurations than others, and ours is pretty easy.  But I was surprised at the number of families traveling in packs with one or more kids complaining about the things they were seeing.  I suppose some boys and men would like to view ballgowns, but... I saw many who were just in agony.  It was crowded, hot, and, let's face it - for most boys, excruciatingly boring.

Here is one way to make a museum visit not fun:

Dad:  "Now we're going to the Air & Space Museum."

7-ish-year-old girl:  "I don't want to go there."

Dad: (angrily):  "Well, you can just wait outside, then!"

Mom stood there looking embarrassed.  The siblings rolled their eyes.  Everyone stomped out; no one looked happy.  Why couldn't the mom take the little girl somewhere else?  Everyone, even most teens, have cell phones, so it's easy to reconnect when it's time. Why  force togetherness?  Our exception to that was the memorials.  Eleanor wasn't too keen on seeing all of them, but the rest of us were.  And, I think they are important. More on that another day.

Our next stop was the Natural History museum, and we split up again.  Eleanor and I spent a lot of time at a special display of orchids and at the gemstone area. 

Detail from a huge sheet of copper.

At that point we ran out of energy, made our way to the train and then to our hotel. 

Next day, after our included-in-the-price breakfast, we got back on the train and went straight back to the Natural History museum to finish up.  The, it was time for [cue dramatic music] the Air & Space. 

Eleanor and I ditched the men right then and went to the Botanical Garden down the street.  We strolled through the conservatory and outdoor gardens.  She took a lot of photos.

 A passion flower.

She and I eventually made our way over to Air & Space and let James show us a few exhibits that were important to him.  Then we left again for the National Gallery of Art, across the street.  One treat there was seeing a Rembrandt self-portrait, and an artist working on a copy of it.  Fun! 
Just about the time the Gallery closed the seminarian called to say they were finishing up.  We met on the mall and pondered our options.  Most of us were done.  We'd seen enough museum exhibits.  James said "I could keep going to museums and never get bored. But my feet and legs hurt."  We agreed it was time to hit the road.

We didn't take a Capitol tour.  We walked by the White House and wondered what the horde of people lingering at the fence thought they'd see there.  We didn't make it to the Library of Congress (bummer for the parents) but, maybe next time. 

 Oh look, we did see the Capitol!

We saw a lot, and no one went home disappointed because he missed something important, or mad because she'd had to endure something that was (in her opinion) dull.  

But no, we didn't see it all.  We never do.  We never try.  And we're happier that way.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Life in the schoolhouse

There is a lot going on at the two kid schoolhouse, though you would have no way to know that.

The seminarian graduates later this month.  After several weeks of wondering "uh, what are we going to do now?" we were given the gift of another year without moving:  he will be taking an internship at a local church.  Feels good not to be packing and saying goodbye.  Also felt good to renew our membership to our favorite garden. I think I promised our two guest passes to about 14 people.  Uh oh.  Maybe we will have to move after all.

We went to Washington, DC, finally.  I will write a real blog with actual photos about that experience soon.  Let me just say that a brief trip to an interesting place with lots to do does not have to be frantic or disappointing. 

We had our homeschool evaluations and completed our 180 days of education for the state.  Nothing will really change in our lives, but it will be nice not to have to keep records for a while.

Our calendar is slowly emptying.  That is always a great feeling.

Reading the Richmond Lattimore translation of The Odyssey aloud is pure pleasure.  I hardly ever feel like I'm going to fall asleep reading it. 

Leafcutter ants are very cool.  They made a great science project. That is a hint.  More pictures!

I think now that I can breathe, I might have something to say here again.