Saturday, February 04, 2017

Stepping Out

I love New Year's resolutions. Or at least, I use to. At some point, I hit that realization that I made the same resolutions every single year and I was still carrying extra weight, still impatient, and still couldn't seem to focus in prayer.

When I was younger I used to think that midlife crises were the result of people realizing they weren't "young" anymore, and despairing at extra weight, the loss of hair, or some physical attribute that reminded them that their bodies were in decline heading toward that surety-death.

And while my aching back and neck, and my declining eyesight certainly are not things I'm celebrating, I'm realizing that midlife despair is more about realizing that all the things we were going to change about ourselves, those pesky bad habits, our "sins of personality" are still with us. This process of sanctification is slow going; is it even happening at all?

Even worse, some of the things that were more contained when younger, are not so easily contained. Anxiety, for instance, that I've struggled with since I was a child, has only become more evident to the outside world as I have aged and witnessed more of life to be anxious about.

So I started the year of our Lord 2017 with a kind of discouragement that I was still short-tempered and impatient, and I was still prone to second helpings and a secret stash of chocolate and thus carrying extra pounds, and that I still can't seem to focus well when I need to pray.

Only self-defeat is not really helpful. I'm always ruminating on life, always have an internal conversation happening about my short-comings and the lamentable situation of the entire fallen world and what would make a difference if it changed. Oh, and my husband and my dearest friends know these musings often go external when given a chance. (Sorry!)

Now we are into February and I have realized a couple of happy things. One is that while I've always approached exercise as this thing I should do to be thin (and it has NEVER made me thin, even when I was disciplined), I recently realized (because I'm getting old) that the goal of exercise is to help me be strong, and to keep the instrument I live in, running. Sadly, it also makes me really sore now, and I wish I had realized this when I was younger when it didn't hurt so much, but it is something. So in the last year I have finally made regular exercise, part of my life.

But more importantly, I tackled a psychological hurdle I have faced for 20 years. I started walking, alone, in my neighborhood, again. Something so simple has given me joy and a breathing space, and the capacity to pray in a new way.

Twenty years ago I was living in a part of Portland with a sketchy reputation. My cousin had just been murdered and I was dealing with all kinds of grief and anxiety there. I have always loved walking and exploring and that hadn't changed. But one day I went for a walk in my neighborhood just as the police swooped in on a drug-ring in a nearby apartment complex. It was somehow too much for me, and as much as I tried walking over the next 20 years, I always imagined predators behind the curtains of houses and couldn't do it without a racing heart and a quickened pace. Eventually I quit trying to take walks.

Two summers ago, I borrowed my mom's bike a few times and went riding in my neighborhood. It was something. I also went out walking on summer evenings with Mike.

Consciously, I wasn't really thinking about this thing I didn't do, and the reasons for it. But it started coming back to me, that I had once loved to take a walk, and that it was healing balm for me in the stress of a normal day.

This last August, I set out one morning. I took a short walk on a route I had been taking with Mike in the evening. And I just kept going. Nearly every day, except when I tried to go out one morning when it was 28 degrees and decided to set a personal limit of 32 degrees as my threshold.

I have found walking helps me with my anxiety-prone thoughts. It helps me with prayer. It helps me physically, mentally, spiritually to face life with joy and confidence.

And finally, it is something I didn't let beat me down. I tackled my fear, and won. be continued...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye 2016

On board the USS Midway

The perfection of Jesus’s divinity was expressed in the perfection of his humanity, and vice versa. He was God because he was so sublimely a man, and Man because, in all his sayings and doings, in the grace of his person and words, in the love and compassion that shone out of him, he walked so closely with God. As Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate, he could and did. ~Malcolm Muggeridge 

Our Christmas cards went out in the mail already, but the year wouldn’t be complete without a letter. The week after Christmas is the perfect time to complete it. Or, rather, procrastinators feel compelled by the new year to act.

We mark our years by the places we visit and the people we see; 2016 was no different.

Mike’s year started off at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., to watch the arguments in a First Amendment case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The organization he works for, the Mackinac Center, had performed a supporting role in the litigation. The Supreme Court only holds about 150 people at a time; even lawyers admitted to the court must queue up at 5 a.m. to be guaranteed a seat. Tip: when standing in line for four hours in January, bring comfortable shoes, handwarmers, energy bars and a newspaper to read.

Then we were all off to sunny southern California for a mid-winter vacation. We saw the USS Midway in San Diego, Lego Land, SeaWorld, Disney Land and the Reagan Library. More importantly, we played at the beach in January. Rachelle’s parents joined us and we visited Rachelle’s brother Mark in Bakersfield (our first time visiting him since he moved to California 10 years ago). A brutal (by local standards) snow storm of ½ inch nearly kept us from getting to the airport for our departure.

In March, we trekked to Walla Walla, Washington, for Grandma Bigger’s 95th birthday and saw many aunts, uncles and cousins.

In May, we drove to Boston for two days of sightseeing and then over to New Hampshire for what was, perhaps, The Happiest Wedding Ever, featuring Rachelle’s last roommate Lindsay Jones and Ben Hansen. At the end of the month Mike and Rachelle’s dad, Rick, met Mark in Indianapolis for the bucket-list experience of attending the Indy 500. Later in June Lindsay’s parents Phil and Bev Jones stopped by during a post-wedding road trip. We were still exulting on the Happiest Wedding Ever.
Amy, Janet, Rachelle in Connemara

July found Rachelle joining soul friends Amy and Janet for a seven-day visit to Ireland. Amy lives in Olympia, WA, and Janet lives in Melbourne, Australia. So, Rachelle had the easiest trip, and still managed to get a travel virus and spend three days feeling miserable. She perked up in the invigorating sea air on a ferry ride to Inis Oirr, an island off the Galway Coast. It was cold, rainy, and gusty with some big waves. Her Viking stomach returned as she watched her fellow passengers not feeling quite as well. Despite a chilly, rainy, summer in Ireland and not feeling great, it was a great trip with good friends. Highlights: Slieve League in Donegal Co., Marble Arch Caves (in N. Ireland immediately after Brexit—interesting stuff!), the Guinness Factory Tour, music and Irish dancing in Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher—breathtaking!

Cesky Krumlov

Then in August Mike took a work/study trip to the Czech Republic, spending most of a week in Prague. The people there are courageous, having thrown off Nazi and Communist occupations in the space of forty years.

Grandma Bigger & Dad Bigger on Mackinac Isl.
In September Rachelle’s Uncle Darold and Aunt Barbara traveled with Grandma Bigger to see our adopted home of Michigan. We rented a house up north, hiked, ate, golfed and rode around Mackinac Island. (Some of us on bikes, others on motorized wheelchairs.) 

Aunt Barbara, Grandma, Uncle Darold
Parents sometimes need time away from kids, which is what we did with Mike’s brother Matt and his wife Vanessa in October for a weekend trip to New York City – our first time there together in more than 10 years. We walked (a lot), visited museums (MoMA and the Guggenheim), watched a play (Something Rotten) and took in the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.

This holiday season we were able to spend time with both sides of our immediate families, with a Reitz gathering in West Virginia and a Bigger gathering back in Michigan.

Ben (12) has taken up fencing. He continues to write adventure stories and has acquired a respectable Nerf arsenal. Kyrie (10) is our Irish dancer and Party Planner-in-Chief. Evie (7) is our gymnast and humorist.

Looking back over the year, we are deeply grateful for the gifts of friendship and prayer. Merry Christmas and a blessed new year!

Mike, Rachelle, Ben, Kyrie and Evie

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Make Your Last Words Count

This is the last page of my most memorable college graduation card. I graduated 20 years ago in May and received this card from my cousin. I couldn't have known that these were her last words to me. But less a month later, she was dead, murdered by a stranger in her home at 25.

I've come to expect to be a little morose in June. It is a tough month for me and for my family. Some years I seem a little lighter; this year, I was hit with grief like brick during the Gospel reading about the resurrection of the Widow of Nain's son. I often feel twinges here and there. I can't see this picture of my cousins and me without a reminder one of us is missing. But this was all-out weeping, embarrassing-myself-in-a-public-place grief. I could not stop it.

I have realized anew with forceful strength this year that untimely death is not something you experience once. This kind of loss it is a continual loss. I lose her again at every family reunion, any time I read about violence in the news, anytime I need someone to pray with me for a family member or laugh or cry with me. I see a Yorkshire Terrier (she owned one) and I feel that loss, needlepoint and Disney characters (especially Goofy and I don't why) and I feel her loss. Sometimes I go days, even weeks, or months without feeling it, and then BAM! I'm leveled with a sense that she should be my age, living life on this planet somewhere, and this was NOT what was supposed to happen.

And with this month of sorrow, I found her card in a box of my things. I sat and cried for awhile and then I reflected a little. What a gift to give me, to tell me she was proud of me. There is all kinds of history behind those words, years of competition. She knew my hard work and struggle to get to that moment. And she acknowledged it.

Never fail to say, write, text or Facebook words of support, encouragement, and love to the people in your life who mean the most. Someday those words will be your last. And you will go down in their hearts for what you said to them. When they are sad, they will reflect and yes, miss you. But they will be grateful that you were in their world. And you said what they needed to hear.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Curriculum Reviews -- 3rd Grade

My 3rd grader is a completely different kind of learner and requires a lot more trial and error. Mostly I have to work on my approach with her and let her have some control over when she does her work. This takes some negotiation. She is more of a visual and kinesthetic learner and I can't rely on auditory instruction. She is an excellent reader and most likely to do reading on her own. Here is what we did in 3rd grade:

Bible-God's Great Covenant New Testament  by Classical Academic Press. I continue to like this series a lot; it primarily stays out of the weeds of controversy and focuses on the story of God's redeeming work. This year's focus was the Gospels and it was understandable right down to my kindergartner without being juvenile.  The teacher's guide was really busy, with a lot of supplementary information. I did not have her do the worksheets and quizzes but she did work on the memory verse and listen to the Bible reading and lesson instruction. She also helps me read to reinforce her learning style. (5 days a week)

History-Story of the World V2 by Well-Trained Mind Press, continues to be our anchor curriculum for the humanities. Everyone is involved in this class which involves a lot of external reading (we check books out from the library on literature and history and read thru them during the week.) The Activity book makes this curriculum with art, craft, cooking, sewing and other activities that support the reading, along with geography and a coloring page. Kyrie finds it much easier to write out a summary and then read it rather than giving an impromptu verbal summary. She also helps me with the reading to keep her mind focused. (4-5 days a week)

Math - We used Horizons 3 this year. The first three grades are my favorites and I watched Kyrie make a big jump in math skills. Horizons is advanced and introduces long division earlier than other curriculums. This was really challenging and an educator friend reminded me that often little minds aren't ready for long division so soon. We took a deep breath and worked through it slowly, and she has it down now. She has added some flash card programs on the tablet that she uses to work on multiplication tables and I have fallen back on Khan Academy a time or two to help with instruction on difficult concepts. We also use some Adapted Mind Math.  (5 days a week)

Grammar - Every year I realize more how much I love First Language Lessons. I have now used other grammar curricula and know how very well Language Lessons covers the topic while avoiding busy work. We can complete a lesson in 10-15 minutes and Ben still remembers his work. Our deep sadness is that it only goes through 4th grade.  Kyrie loves Language Lessons and has a strong handle on parts of speech and is excellent at memory work. (3 days a week)

Spelling and Handwriting - We used Spelling Workout C and Zaner Bloser to cover these topics. There is no need for expensive teacher's manuals and Zaner Bloser offers free lined paper printouts (by grade level) on their web site, which makes having practice paper available easy. (2-3 days a week)

Writing & Rhetoric -  We started Classical Academic Press's Writing & Rhetoric: Fable program mid-way through the year. While this program is challenging for Kyrie, she loves the creativity of it and has really pushed herself and excelled. It is an excellent introduction to writing for a beginner. (2 days a week, but 3-4 is ideal)

Science  - She participated in our local nature center classes on various topics throughout the year and jumped in on experiments with Ben.

Spanish - Kyrie is very motivated to learn Spanish and put her all into a very rigorous program for a 3rd grader. We used Classical Academic Press's Spanish for Children Primer A. On the positive side, the teacher is funny, warm, and engaging (we see her on the DVD which offers occasional humorous puppet animation clips).  The website Headventureland offers valuable reinforcement activities. However, this program moves a little fast and is more difficult to assimilate than Latin for Children Primer A. I have had 2 years of college-level Spanish and the grammar is complex. Primer A pushes through it and should probably have been about 5 chapters shorter and been stronger on review and going slower. The teacher has anything but a natural accent, which often cracks me up. Regardless, Headventureland is such a valuable resource and Teacher Julia so wonderful, that Kyrie has loved this program. (Ben is begrudgingly learning Spanish and while not loving it, he seems to enjoy the curriculum.) This is probably a better curriculum for 5th or 6th grade, but motivation is everything. And she is learning. (4 days a week, but 5 would be better)

Art/Music - I gave up piano lessons for the year and we need to continue. We did some music appreciation and she is working on Little Annie's Art Book of Etiquette & Good Manners. The fonts and styling are outdated and this book is ideal for Kindergarten/1st grade but we have enjoyed learning some thoughtful things about relationships and friendships that have been relevant this year. It has less "art" instruction than other books by the same instructor and is more of a coloring book with tips. (1 day a week)

Curriculum Review--6th grade

This year was a genuine challenge for all us; primarily an enjoyable one. It felt like getting off a country road and getting on to a 4-lane freeway. My 6th grader responded well and hit the accelerator. I tried to follow suit.

Here is what we did:

Bible-God's Great Covenant New Testament  by Classical Academic Press. I continue to like this series a lot; it primarily stays out of the weeds of controversy and focuses on the story of God's redeeming work. This year's focus was the Gospels and it was understandable right down to my kindergartner without being juvenile.  The teacher's guide was really busy, with a lot of supplementary information. It wouldn't have been necessary but it did save me time checking worksheets and quizzes. (5 days a week)

History-Story of the World V2 by Well-Trained Mind Press, continues to be our anchor curriculum for the humanities. Everyone is involved in this class which involves a lot of external reading (we check books out from the library on literature and history and read thru them during the week.) The Activity book makes this curriculum with art, craft, cooking, sewing and other activities that support the reading, along with geography and a coloring page. For Ben, we used these resources from a Catholic  mom blogger. He kept a running timeline and a notebook of written summaries as well as writing some essays. (My favorite was his compare and contrast essay on Martin Luther and Henry VIII and what they did for the Reformation.) You won't find anything on the Reformation and Copernicus's discoveries in the timeline cards and notebooking pages. These topics apparently offended the Catholic mom who made them. (Not a Flannery O'Connor kind of Catholic!)(4-5 days a week)

Math - We stayed with Horizons again and while I wish I loved the teacher's manual more, we had several parents of older children affirm this decision. One homeschooling mom said she had switched and had to come back because the spiral method Horizons uses covered the material so much better. I found myself beefing up on forgotten math concepts this year so I could better explain concepts. So far, I still know more than Ben does.... So far. (5 days a week)

Writing & Rhetoric - Ben completed Classical Academic Press's Refutation and Confirmation book and started Commonplace this year. He really enjoys the creative but structured approach to writing and I value both the writing instruction, and the emphasis on rhetoric. The introduction to these books does a great job explaining the classical approach to writing and how it differs from current modes of instruction. I don't choose books based primarily on price, but it doesn't hurt that this is one of the more economical writing programs out there. (3 days a week)

Grammar - The challenge is finding a stand-alone grammar book that doesn't want to incorporate writing and grammar. The Writing and Rhetoric series has some grammar but not enough and it is expected that the student will have other grammar instruction. Language Lessons is such a great curriculum for grades 1-4 that we floundered a bit as to where to go from there. We chose poorly for 5th grade. I went with a known in 6th-Rod & Staff. While there is some writing, you can make those exercises optional and Rod and Staff is a challenging and thorough grammar curriculum.  Ben has a pretty good knack for grammar and handles the diagramming well. We typically work through a lesson together and do the "class practice" section. If he has a clear understanding, we skip the "written exercises" and he does any corresponding workbook pages. A lesson can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. I have continued to peruse other grammar programs and with what we are doing in our overall program, we will stick with Rod & Staff for next year. (4 days a week)

Spelling - We used Spelling Workout F as both our Spelling program (one lesson on one day of the week) and for some handwriting practice. (1 day a week)

Science - Ben continued to benefit from nature and science classes at our local nature center. He just completed their four-year rotation. They don't have classes every week so he also studied Geology this year.  We like the Real Science 4 Kids program. Each lesson includes a colorfully illustrated chapter, a lab activity (I can buy a lab kit through Home Science Tools,) as well as some research questions and a folder he prepares that checks his learning before he takes the chapter quiz. It was our plan to do Astronomy as well, but we fell behind. We are beginning it in the late summer and will catch up next fall. (2 days a week)

Foreign Language - Our primary language this year was Spanish which Ben and Kyrie took together and I will write about in my 3rd grade reviews. Ben really prefers Latin but he was ahead of where he needed to be in grade level. He studied Spanish four days a week and reviewed Latin on Fridays by doing a translation exercise from the Latin History Readers (A & B). He is retaining well so will continue this next year before starting the next level of Latin in grade 8. (5 days a week-4 for Spanish; 1 for Latin review)

Art and Music  - This was definitely a weak spot this year. We took the year off from music lessons and I hope to resume again. We did some music appreciation, a trip to the symphony, some listening, but otherwise focused on art on Fridays. He is using the Feed My Sheep curriculum. It is very good art instruction, even though the fonts and appearance seem a little outdated. (1 day week)

Logic - We started Logic a year early for Ben because he was ready for it. I would normally suggest waiting until 7th or 8th grade, but he loved this class, and he uses this information all the time. We used The Art of Argument program by Classical Academic Press. We did buy the DVD and I think it was helpful to watch other students his age engaging in discussion. The text is great as a stand-alone as well. This class could be taught one-day-a-week if you wanted. We waited to start it until mid-year and worked on it two or three days a week.(2-3 days a week but for a year long class, 1 or 2 days a week would work)