Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January reading

Once again I began January with a vow to  improve my reading life.  I managed to (slightly) exceed my goal of one nonfiction book and one novel for the month of January.  Yes, it's a pretty low bar, but since I am accountable to no one but myself in this, I decided to help myself be successful.  Here's what I read/am reading:
  • The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden; illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  A beautiful picture book.  Cheating?  This is a favorite Christmas read-aloud that we didn't get to till January 1. 
  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller.  Comments here.   The link is to Westminster Bookstore which is where I acquired this book.  I buy as many books as I can from them, and I'd like other folks to do the same.  They have very good prices, fast and cheap shipping, and wonderful employees. (And yes, I do receive a bit of compensation if you visit their site from here.)
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell.  I read this along with my son as part of his schoolwork.  I must say I love having older kids to read and talk about great books with.  The picture book days were fun, sure, but these days are so much better. 
  • The Iliad by Homer (tr. Fagles). Reading aloud to my kids as part of their schoolwork.  Still going; it's lengthy and I can only read aloud so much in a day!  Should be finished next week.  The link is to Exodus Books, which is where I acquired this.  It is my favorite homeschool store, located in Oregon, and I miss it so.  But at least I can order online. 
  • The School of Night by Louis Bayard.  Fiction, for me!  This was sort of a historical thriller.  It was good, not great; suspenseful, funny (not laugh-out-loud funny).  Very blurry line between historical fact and fiction; I had to look up the time and method of Walter Raleigh's death to be sure I hadn't been wrong about it all these years.  Some forehead-slapping moments when something was revealed that I should have seen coming.  
What you don't see here are all the books I started and couldn't finish.  I don't have enough time to read all the good books I want to, so I will reject a bad one pretty quickly.

I'm fairly happy with the amount of reading, but of course I would like to do more.  After a few months of reaching or exceeding my initial goal, I hope to increase the amount of nonfiction and set specific goals for types of book (biography, history, science...)  But for now... at least I'm reading.

Any recommendations?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Praying Life by Paul Miller

Prayer. Public or private, either way, prayer is something that should be so easy and yet can be so difficult, even intimidating.  There are so many books on prayer!  Some promise to teach us to pray in a specific amount of time. Some promise to revolutionize our prayer life (whatever that means).

I have often been intimidated by public prayer; when I have to pray aloud in a group I feel like a little kid among a bunch of grownups; everyone else is so eloquent and I am... not.  Even my private prayer often sounds like a task list for God.  Please do this and this and this.  Even when my request are good and right and not selfish (I'm not asking for a new car, though I may ask that my old car continue to work), it seems so hollow.

And there's the distraction!  My brain can go from earnest prayer to my daily to-do list to some random pop song without even slowing down.  Most mornings I take our dog for a walk and try to pray as we go, but it's hard to have a conversation, even with God, that's interrupted constantly... Lord, I do praise you as our soverei-- Max, leave it!... uh... thank you for... Sit!  OK, let's go... uh... ugh, I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer... Lord, please help... Max, leave it!... Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'...

But I determined to "fix" my prayer life and looked for some books.  A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World looked promising, and it seemed providential that we already own it.    It didn't promise to revolutionize anything in my life, so I started in.  This is a book about private, not public, prayer. 

The author endeared himself to me right away by talking about distractions.  I am not sure that I agree completely that being distracted is OK, though I do agree that it is normal and that our distractions may lead us to pray about something we hadn't been thinking about when we started.  Of course God sees our hearts, and hears the prayers we never manage to articulate perfectly, or even at all.   He reminds us to pray like children.  As I said, I am often intimidated by the prayers of others and even feel that my private prayers should "sound good."  My husband had to remind me that there's a difference between personal prayer, or even public prayer in, say, a Bible study setting, and prayer from the pulpit, which is somewhat prepared ahead of time.  But no matter:  we don't have to be eloquent with God.

This is not a book of method, though there is a section in which the author shares some of his own.  It is about cultivating a life of prayer in which we allow our prayers to shape our actions and our desires.  Prayer is often a long-term proposition.  Mr. Miller uses many stories of his family, including life with a disabled adult child, to illustrate this:  some of his prayers for his daughter took 20 years to be answered in a way he could see.  But of course God had been answering them all along.

A Praying Life didn't make me jump up and say "Oh! This is what I've been doing wrong!"  It did help me see that I am not doing everything wrong, though certainly there are some things I could change.  It's an encouraging, useful book, probably one to reread from time to time.

Read the table of contents and forward to the book here.

The reluctant Scout

No, not really.  My boy loves Scouts.  He started a little late, as a Webelo, so didn't go up through the Cub Scout ranks.  Now he's a Star level, with only Life rank between him and Eagle.

But today he's reluctant.  His troop is participating in a Klondike Derby, and he doesn't want to go.  He's dragging a little this early morning, unable to muster his usual Scout enthusiasm.

This is only his second Derby, though he's been in Scouts for four years.  He went during his Webelo year, and he loved it.  He was one of the little kids then, but he pitched into the work enthusiastically and was thus welcomed by the bigger boys.  (Probably didn't hurt that he is rather large himself and didn't look like a Webelo.)   He came home tired but all smiles.

The next three years he was sick at Klondike time so he hasn't been back.  These weren't sudden "ooh, I don't feel well, I can't go" kind of sick, but real sickness that had been going on.  He's sick in winter a lot.   This winter he's not, so he's going.

But his memory is not of the fun time he had as a Webelo.  That's been replaced by the stories of hardship, cold, mud, and bad food that he's heard over the years.  Yes, he does remember the steamed hamburger lunch (ugh, I'd remember that too, and not fondly).   But he's forgetting the good parts.  The shared memory of the troop is telling him he's not going to have a good time.

But he will go, because he's a Scout and a Patrol Leader and it's his job to go.  And if he is a good Scout (and of course I think he is), he will be enthusiastic and the Webelos who are under his care will have a good time too.

Scouts is a lot of fun but it's also a training ground. There is a lot of hard work involved and not every moment is pleasant.  A few weeks ago during  a conversation about some rule that had previously annoyed him at one of the troop camps, my Scout and I had one of those moments I wish I had captured on tape: "Yeah, Mom, I realized that sometimes there are things we do that seem not to have a reason, but later we find out there was a good reason after all."   Yes!

Klondike Derby may look like a day of pointless hard work, bad food, cold, and mud.  But maybe this year he will find there's a good reason for it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A day in a homeschooling life

It's been a long time since I've done a day in the life post.  Yesterday (Monday) wasn't a typical homeschool day, but it was a pretty nice one, and despite our best efforts, we got a little work done, even though we weren't supposed to.

Monday is my husband's day off, so my expectations for school work are low.  I try to plan for a 4-day week so we can be free on Mondays to do something fun as a family.  Lately, Mondays have been pretty busy with medical appointments and such, so it's a family fun day in theory only right now.  But, it's nice to be able to hang out with Dad a little too.  So, all I demand on Monday is Bible study (we use The Most Important Thing You'll Ever Study: A Survey of the Bible by Starr Meade) and math.  Oh, if we have a read-aloud going, we'll try to read some too.

Monday everyone was up pretty early.  Dad had some dental work to be done, so he was out of the house shortly after breakfast.  There was still some snow on the ground, and rain on the way, so the kids went out to sled.  We have a hill that's little more than a slight incline, but it still makes for fun snowboarding practice.  So after the kids finished their Bible reading, they were out the door.

Two hours later (!), Dad had returned, the rain had started, so the kids came in.  Just as they walked in the door the microwave exploded, so there was some excitement and cleanup needed, including making a whole new pot of hot cocoa.

(The microwave didn't exactly explode.  I was running it with a bowl of soapy water inside to create steam to soften up the crud that had accumulated.  I guess I created a little too much steam because suddenly the door burst open and water came shooting out all over the stove, surrounding counter, and me.  The water wasn't hot, so I didn't get burned, but soapy water flew everywhere, including into the pot of cocoa and all over the new stick of butter in the dish.  Between the explosion sound and my scream, it must have seemed like something pretty exciting was going on.  My microwave is really clean now.)

Wet clothes were put away and hot cocoa was consumed while the kids checked out American Rhetoric and youtube for an assignment for their speech class.  They did that for a while, then I set them to their math.  One had a final exam (Life of Fred fractions) and one worked on Khan Academy exercises.  I ran out to fill some prescriptions for the dental patient.

Somewhere in there, the kids ate lunch. I don't know what they had, but it probably  involved bread and cheese.

After lunch we wanted to settle down to our current read-aloud, The Iliad, but we remembered that my boy had some biology work to finish up from last week.  So he and I did that while my girl practiced piano. 

Somewhere in there, a few loads of laundry were completed.

Finally in the afternoon we sat down to read.  I made it through one book (chapter) before my voice gave out.  It was a long one.  We talked about it for a while, then it was time for me to think about dinner.  While I did that, the kids did some personal reading.

So we got in PE, math, history/literature, science for one, music for the other, all on a day we don't do school.

Today won't look anything that.  We'll be more structured with our time and our work.  But next Monday won't look anything like that either.  Typical day? Not really.  But a good day in a long homeschooling life.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Different and the same

We are all so different.

We are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, atheist.  Politically left of center, right of center, apathetic, ignorant.  We are unschoolers, cyberschoolers, public-schoolers and everything in between.  We drink decaf, full-caf, and nothing at all.  Our kids play shooter video games and no games. We are technologically savvy and plugged-in, and we are... not.   We protest oil pipelines and we say "drill, baby, drill." 

We are just a group of mothers and friends, and when we sit around that coffee shop table at our once-a-month gatherings, we laugh and cry and talk and enjoy each other.  We disagree and argue (not too loud) and laugh (that's when we're loud) some more.  We love the ways we are different and the ways we are the same.

And we can't wait till next month to do it all over again.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why don't I finish more books?

Today I discarded the third or fourth novel I've started this month.  I can't finish it.  I can't finish most novels I start. I want desperately to read a good story but can't find something that works for me. Why not?  There are a few reasons:

1.  Foul language. Contemporary fiction has so much foul language. Are we trying to be real?  I don't talk that way.  I know people who do, and I find them dull and annoying, and prefer not to spend time with them.  Same for fictional characters.

2.  Gratuitous casual sex.  Sick of it.  Nonmarital, extramarital (are those unbelievably old-fashioned words now?), straight, gay, I don't want to read it.  Related: stories in which infidelity (used to be called adultery) is treated as normal and has no negative consequences. 

3.  Stories in which all men are doofuses and all women are smart and capable.  Sick. Of. It.

4.  Overly sentimental stories.  Actually my first word for this category was "sappy." I know I will offend someone when I say that Christian romance fiction has got to be the biggest brain-musher I've encountered since I memorized Goodnight Moon.   Seriously.

5. Stories with too much conflict.  So much modern fiction is bleak.  "Family tragedy fiction," as I call it, piles on one horrid event after another.  A little bit of dysfunction is real; total dysfunction is depressing.

What makes you quit a novel?

And, what novels have you finished and enjoyed lately?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The dangers of Goodreads

A long time ago I signed up for Goodreads, because it looked like something I should sign up for, and then promptly forgot about it.  Actually, I think I played around with it a little, plugged in a book or two, and then forgot about it.  I remembered my account again, many months later, when a friend asked me if I could be found there.  Oops, I could,  so I logged in and friended her.  Then another friend popped in, so I had two friends at Goodreads, and started getting email with their updates.  In turn, I started adding a few more books so I wouldn't bore my two friends when they ran into me there.

Now, I have a small but growing list of books in my to-read file.  And a large pile of library books on my living room floor.  (Sometimes I forget to put the books in the to-read file and go straight to the library website to request them.)  

I didn't lack for reading material before Goodreads, but I surely have no excuses now!  One list leads to another and there is always something intriguing, isn't there? 

Of course having access to more good books doesn't mean reading more, does it?

How would I find you on Goodreads?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New frontiers in parenting: Facebook rules

Even before my kids became teens, I was thinking about life with Facebook for them.  I entered the world of social media reluctantly myself.  Facebook seemed like such a waste of time and energy, I was determined never to fall for it.  It wasn't till I discovered that my six nieces and nephews - all adults now and scattered all across the US - lived on Facebook. If I wanted to have a relationship with them, I needed to be there too.

Now I'm there every day, and I love it.  I am friends with long-lost relatives, old friends from the past, and newer friends who live all over the place.  I see my adult nieces and nephews every day now; I know what's going on in their lives and I can comment freely.  Sometimes I see things I'd rather not, but as one friend pointed out, even that helps me focus my prayers for them.

Still, I knew the dangers for teens. So when my kids' teen years approached, I spent some time formulating my rules for social media.    When my son turned 13, he couldn't have cared less about Facebook.  It was only recently that I got him to sign up, so he could join our church youth group page.   My daughter, on the other hand, was ready to rock and roll on her 13trh birthday.  I was surprised she wasn't up early that morning, creating her account and downloading photos.

My list of rules, guidelines, and advice for Facebook (and whatever social media outlet may come around next) is pretty long.  It's not just about internet safety, but about keeping their hearts safe too.  As homeschoolers, my kids are pretty sheltered from middle-school culture, with its gossip and constantly-changing friendships and alliances.  They are taking bigger steps into the big bad world and I want them to be ready for it.

Friend only people you know in real life.  My kids can't accept any friend requests unless they have personal contact with the person.  "Friends of friends" don't count.

Privacy settings are set to the most private.  All posts are seen only by friends, not friends of friends. No personal information is listed.

Mom is your friend, and has your password.  I do log into my kids' accounts periodically to check for messages and other information that I can't see from their walls.  We have always raised our kids to have little to no expectation of privacy from Mom and Dad, so it's not a big deal:  they expect it.

"If you wouldn't say it to Grandma, don't say it on Facebook."  We have always talked to our kids about the long memory of the internet.

Don't list friends as family members.  Your best friend is not your sister, no matter how close you feel today.

Understand that some people will friend you simply to increase their friend count, not because they want a relationship with you.  We have already encountered this; an acquaintance of my daughter's - who barely speaks to her when they are in a group together - friended her.  She doesn't expect much from that - though it's always possible that a Facebook friendship will pave the way to a real one.

Understand that not everyone you send a friend request to will accept it.  Shrug it off and don't let it affect your real-life relationship.

No apps that require personal information about you or your friends.  I might have to revisit this at some point, but so far, so good.

No games, period.   I might revisit this one sometime, too, but for now, I don't see a bigger potential time-waster in my kids' lives than Facebook games.

While I was working on this, I came across Sarah's great post on the topic:  Facebook and Your Teen.  She brings up some ideas I hadn't thought of, and I'll be sharing those with my kids as well. 

Some parents are afraid of social media.  I know mothers who count on their kids' other Facebook friends (adults, such as youth group leaders) to let them know if something goes wrong with their child's Facebooking.  I know parents who don't want to intrude on their kids' social lives so don't insist on being friends.  This is just crazy to me!  We need to stay on top of technology so we can participate and be watchful.

Besides, we don't want the kids to have all the fun, do we?

How are you navigating social media with your teens?  Or do you prefer not to?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Works for me: Medical records

It's been a very long time since I've found something to share on Works for me Wednesday - so long that I forgot how to do the linky and put my information in correctly! (Look for #81 - the one with no title!)  But I am back with something that does work:  my medical record sheet for doctor visits.  

This is one of those ideas that seems so simple I'm surprised more people don't do it.  But judging from the reactions I get from doctors and their assistants, people don't.  And I've been seeing a lot of doctors lately with one of my kids, so it's gotten a lot of use.

Every time we have a doctor's visit, whether for a well-child checkup or a problem, I take a medical record sheet to hand to the doctor or assistant.  They love it!  It has all the information they need without having to go through a question-and-answer process with me or the child.  Here's what it contains:

Child's name and date of birth.  Every time we go to the doctor they ask for DoB.  I was answering that question for one of my kids so many times that once when asked for mine, I gave my 14-year-old's! I got quite the look when I said "1997."

Current medications, including prescriptions, over-the-counter meds, supplements and even "therapeutic" foods such as probiotic yogurt and raw local honey.  When one of my kids was seeing a few different doctors for gastrointestinal problems, I got tired of being asked if he ate yogurt. With the information at hand, the docs don't have to ask anymore.

Recent previous medications prescribed or suggested by a doctor that we've discontinued for whatever reason.  One of my kids was seeing a specialist last fall for gastrointestinal issues, so I listed the antibiotics he'd taken over the past year as I suspect they may have been contributing to his sickness.  One doctor had prescribed something for nausea that made the kid dizzy; we stopped using it but I kept it on the list for future reference. 

Current symptoms - why we are in the office that day.  The doctor quickly scans this and then asks more questions, but it gets us beyond the basics quickly.

Previous illnesses that I think might be relevant to the current problem.  I keep these records in a file on my computer, so I can update as necessary and easily copy/paste information for each doctor's visit right before we go.  I don't go all the way back on this: I wouldn't list my 45-year-old tonsillectomy on my records sheet.  We want to keep this to one page!

To help with keeping it short, use bullet points, not chatty sentences.  It's very easy for the nurse to review when she updates the medication record, and for the doctor to scan to review symptoms.

This has streamlined our doctor visits and helped me keep track of everything I want to tell them.  Our doctors love ii!  It works for us and for me!

Get more ideas that work on Works For Me Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

New frontiers in parenting: Two teenagers

Maybe this place shouldn't be called Two Kid Schoolhouse anymore:  There aren't any kids here.

They're both teens now. 

Yesterday Eleanor turned 13. James is 14 1/2. 

And now that they are teens we are pushing up against some new frontiers:  iPods with wifi capability, and Facebook.

We're treading carefully but not hesitantly.    We want to be smart about technology, but not scared of it.

My first observation/question:  Why would a parent allow a kid to lie about her age to get a Facebook account?   The rules say you can join up at age 13.  So why are we seeing 12-year-olds on there?

My second observation:  Ask 5 people their views on the iPod Touch and wifi access, and you'll get 5 different opinions.  For now, we're going with an app that censors objectionable sites based on the child's age and some information I plugged in.  Know of anything better?   What works for your family?

More to come, as we navigate the teen years.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Peace is the word

This morning while walking the dog I found my word for the year:


I am not a peaceful person by nature.  My mother was a real worrier and that was part of her legacy to me.  One of my kids is getting it from me.  This is a good year to focus on being peaceful. (When isn't it?)

A peaceful home makes people want to be here.  We can keep it peaceful by maintaining order so we can find things (including a place to sit down and read - is your couch ever covered in clean laundry waiting to be folded?).  It's not very peaceful when I am walking around the house, muttering "Where did I put that book?" or "How many pairs of scissors do we own and why can I never find any?"  That second one is usually not muttered.

A peaceful  homeschool means we put our books and other materials way when we are finished with them.  It means we have a plan for our daily work and go through it methodically.  This leaves more time for rest and recreation during the day and does not result in a frustrated mom who says, again, "why can we never get anything done?"

A peaceful attitude means not worrying over what's coming up.  My husband is halfway through a year-long pastoral internship; in June he will need a job.  We don't know if he'll find one, or, if he does, where it will be.  We need to get ready to move.  We need to be calm as we wait.  Not easy.  I need peace.  

And I can have it.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)


Monday, January 02, 2012

One word for your year?

A few of the bloggers I read are talking about choosing a word for the year.  One word to describe the year they are planning to have.

Amber's is transformationKristen's is faith.

There are others I can't remember now.

I chose a verse for the year, but not a word.  Psalm 46:10:

 "Be still, and know that I am God.
   I will be exalted among the nations,
   I will be exalted in the earth!” 

This verse is important to me because this year has the potential for a lot of worry.  (What year doesn't?)  

My word of the year could be "still."  But... I'm still thinking about it.  "Faith" would work too.  "Be not afraid" is a short enough phrase that it could be one word.  I'll see what I come up with.

Do you choose a word to signify your year?  Tell me about it.

Here are some more I found:

Janene's is go.

Margi has two:  Simplify and Sanctify.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

More and less in 2012

More reading (books).

Less browsing (magazines, internet).

More walking.

Less snooze-button-hitting.

More talking.

Less yelling.

More music playing during breakfast, dinner... throughout the day.

What do you want more and less of this year?