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)

Friday, January 01, 2016

Out with Old! Ring in the New!

My cynical self wonders why I bother with making new resolutions and marking a new calendar year with a new set of unachievable goals. However, as I mark up my 2016 calendar and look to the coming year, I realize that, in fact, I did made progress toward many of my goals.  And instead of focusing on how much further I have to go, perhaps it is time to focus on the forward progress.

In 2015, I experienced a new sensation: the need to settle. I've always felt partly-gypsy, having no desire to make any one place "home. " This year, I felt an urgency about buying and making a home that startled me. But we did it and thru the Advent season we moved out of the lovely home we rented and into one we own (well, we co-own with Wells Fargo). As Christmas arrived, it quickly became "home" and while there are still boxes to unpack and pictures to be hung, I am happy with our progress.

I made some good decisions about my priorities, time, and limitations. I made a decision to recognize the value of what I do as a wife, mother, travel coordinator and writer and apportion my time and energies with a new focus on being realistic. So far. So good. Now as we move into the coming year, I need to keep my eyes on the ball.

I made progress in my ongoing attempts to communicate with God. Or rather, shut up and listen long enough so He can communicate with me. I have progressed using a prayer app, and this 3-minute retreat site that reminds me to be quiet. Take deep breaths. Listen.

I taught the kids new chores, introducing the youngest to the reality that "she who eats must work!" (She was tough...but dutifully empties the trash, makes her bed, and is learning to pick up the clothes on her floor.) This year we are introducing the Chore Monster app into our routine in our ongoing efforts to raise future adults, not entitled lazy bums. 

I realized with new fervency just how blessed I am to have great friends. I talked and listened with friends who struggle with unrealistic expectations for themselves, have faced some big parenting challenges, who want to pray more. They fueled me with a new kind of passion to be better instead of just doing more.  My husband, the executive manager shared great books and insights on having difficult conversations, setting and meeting goals, and doing vs. talking about doing. He gave me permission to collapse when I needed to, and made my need for a home a reality. He also provided me with frequent flier miles, making possible a real family vacation.

If I had to reflect on what I learned this last year that will power me into 2016 it is this: Focus on your strengths. Use the strengths to work on the weaknesses. Don't ignore your failures but don't make them your focus. Which is why we are not talking about weight loss and exercise this post. But maybe next year.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Kyrie Turns 9

Kyrie's birthday has come and gone. She loves a good celebration and even drew me a picture of how I should decorate her cake. She knows what she wants. Her dad was in New Orleans on her birthday so we had a celebration at a restaurant with Grandma and Grandpa and their friend Mrs. Guthrie. Later, on the weekend, we celebrated with her dad.

While he was away, her dad did leave a treasure hunt with presents at the end. Here is one stop on her hunt.

A note from dad with more clues.

She asked for red velvet cake!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Little Triumphs Among the Failures

I had BIG hopes for this summer. I always have big hopes. And that is the triumph of hope over pessimism in me.

My husband always urges me to only project doing what I can actually accomplish. But where is the challenge in that?

This summer I set out with a number of goals for the family. Among them was teaching the older two to make a meal each week. This would take methodical instruction in different cooking methods. I had the book, I had the drive. We would work on breakfast, lunch, desserts, dinner. But while my time became more and more limited, my son took up my passion and sought new instructors. 

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We have also worked for the past several summers on teaching Ben to ride a bike. (I use "we" in the sense of our marital union; we being the other half of me.) He has stubbornly resisted. This year did not start out promisingly with Ben declaring as usual that accidents happen on bikes and there is no need to be able to ride one. But a trip to Mackinac Island in May where bikes are the norm of transportation (the alternative being horses and feet) and a decision to come back in July and bike the island, did the trick. Once he decided it was a worthy reason, he learned in no time, and in our elation, his dad took him to "look" at bikes. And came home with a new one. He biked 8 miles without incident on our trip to the Island.
My last goal, to teach the kids to do more chores, feels like it has stalled. They did work on learning to clean the bathrooms with me early on, and Kyrie took on some of the weeding yesterday to earn a little money. It turns out Evie loves to husk corn. But the basement is still a pit and the girls room is actually starting to smell a little and it has me feeling a little stymied. But still there is the bathroom.

So maybe all my expectations weren't met. I still call this summer:
The Triumph of Hope.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Proliferation of Stuff and the Raising of Clutter-Free Kids

"Thanks to availability, convenience and ingenious new ways of financing, all of us, including the kids, have a mass of possessions that was unimaginable even in the 1950s or 1960s, let alone in pioneer days." -Don Aslett, "Help! Around the House: A Mother's Guide to Getting the Family to Pitch in and Clean Up"

"Stuff" frustrates me. A neighbor recently cleaned out their kids' junk and sent it home with my kids. And it wasn't the first time. I wanted to march down there with a load of our junk in return. I didn't do it; instead I took to heart that I won't give things to the neighbor kids without first asking their parents and receiving an enthusiastic response. Mere politeness won't do.

When I was a kid I remember receiving gifts on my birthday and Christmas. These two occasions were the times I received new things UNLESS I bought them. With money I earned. That was it. And it was all. I didn't feel particularly deprived.

But my own children are a different story....

In the beginning I was at fault. I sold educational toys for a while and so we had a lot early on. I quit because I despise home parties and selling at them was a form of torture for me. And the toys I gave my kids quickly were put up high and brought down when they asked for them and returned to boxes when they were through and put up again. I also used to garage sale, looking for clothes for kids and also decent furniture that we needed. The toys were cheap and if I had the kids with me, which one of them particularly enjoyed, they would ask for things. And a quarter seemed like a bargain.  I also went through a time where we went through drive-thrus way too often and I bought the Happy Meal (or equivalent) with the junky toys. I'm less exhausted now and that is once again a special occasion, instead of a weekly thing. I have repented of all these things.

I was taught to value and respect the things people sacrificed to give me. I can still tell you who gave me all the wedding gifts we received. That's the way I roll. So throwing out anything that I can identify with a person who gave something to my kids is tough. Even though, I have a suspicion that there is far less sacrifice in the many of the "things" they receive than the gifts I received as a kid. Kids' toys are cheap at this age. And the availability of credit makes them appear cheaper than they really are.

I've spent much of the last couple of years surveying the clutter in their rooms, the basement, and elsewhere with disdain over the supply side of the problem.

My kids hate clutter too. They are exhausted by it. They see their pile of stuff in their rooms and walk away. What they want to play with is the stuff I still keep up high, on the high shelves in their closets and mine that they can't reach. The stuff that has all the pieces because I make them clean up and give it back to me when they are done. And while I wish I could control the supply side, the truth is I can't.  Recently I realized that I had to quit being bothered over all the things they are given and accept that this is the way things are for them.

What I can control is:

1) My feeling that we must keep it forever. Ridiculous. Even though I know it would horrify some of the givers, the truth is, a gift is a gift, and should be released upon giving. Some things we give to others who do really value it. But I'm not so keen on this because it screams "white privilege" to box up goods to go to 3rd world countries and the poor in general, who are now being inundated with our extra leftovers instead of being given quality things they need and want. However, giving it to Goodwill means someone else has to buy it and if they have a hoarding problem, our not donating it isn't going to stop their issues.

2) My reaction. Which is to throw it in boxes and store it indefinitely. We have (no joke!) at least a dozen boxes of toys in my house that my kids didn't clean up when asked that I confiscated and they haven't even missed. On a few occasions, they have missed something and I've given them permission to look in a box and earn it back if they find it. They are amazed at how much stuff they had forgotten they owned in the first place. And they find that one thing and hand me back the box. Telling.

3) How I teach my kids to think about giving. I can encourage them to think of creative gifts that will mean more to the giver; for friends buried in stuff (which is nearly all of them), we can offer to take them to the zoo or on a park outing or lunch out instead of throwing more stuff on them. (Note to givers: Time in in far shorter supply than stuff these days. Give the gift of time.)

4) Give them experiences and memories instead of stuff on special occasions. I'm married to a guy who remembers his childhood gifts fondly, and freaks out when I suggest "no gifts for the kids this year." He also hates the mess so he is quickly coming around. And one year we gave Ben the gift of a trip to DC as his Christmas gift - he opened an envelope telling him that - and he reflected on it as his favorite gift. Kyrie is a tougher nut: gifts are her love language and she loves to give and receive. I'm still working through how to love her as she experiences love without contributing to the hoarder part of her personality.

5) Who is responsible. As my children grow older, I am giving them more responsibility for their things. When I hear them whine about how LONG it takes to clean their rooms, I can gently remind them that it would go quicker if they had less stuff. I can guide them as they determine what they no longer need. When "stuff" becomes a burden, it is time to "let it go!"

I want to respect my children and not indiscriminately discard their things. I want to make them part of the process. Which is why my house is still cluttered. I could just toss it. But that would destroy trust; it also would bypass teaching them an essential skill they need to have in life. They need to learn how to prioritize. Time, money, relationships, all those valuable resources that they are going to have to learn to manage. Our success as adults is largely attributable to how well we do this, and they are on that path right now. So we move on, learning to let go.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer Reading: Time for a Change of Pace

I love words, the sounds of words, the shapes of words, the look of words. I grew up reading biographies and Bible stories, along with the classic girl stories like Anne of Green Gables and the Little House series. But most fiction wasn't a big part of my education and so I missed most fairy tales, fantasy literature, novels. I read Madeleine L'Engle's classic "A Wrinkle in Time" for the first time my freshman year of college; the same year I heard her speak about her writing and writing in general. She expanded my world, helped me leap forward and opened up doors for me to read differently.

But I still find myself surrounded with non-fiction. I love theology and I have several that I'm always reading, re-reading, chewing on. I still love a good biography and so I'm working my way through a VERY large volume on Churchill, reading it aloud to my husband. I read parenting books and books on marriage because they hold me accountable to keep perspective about my most important work.

I have benefited greatly from being a mother, particularly a homeschooling mother because I read all the things I missed as a kid. I have watched the visible effects of what reading does for imagination and what imagination does for learning. It has happened in front of my eyes.

All that to say, that I am making a tangible decision to spend my summer reading fiction. I'm pretty particular so I worked hard to find some titles, both new and classic, to frame my list. Here goes:

1) Arts & Entertainment by Christopher Beha

2) The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell

3) Glimmerglass by Marlys Youmans

4) Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

5) All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

6) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Wish me luck!

Friday, May 08, 2015