Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stuck in Traffic on the Information Superhighway

oh. my. heck.

I have been away from my blog for a few months, and it's all so different now. like a completely new era in tech land. so far I have spent the past 18 minutes simply trying to remember how to a) turn on the computer; b) get it to talk to the internet; and c) log into my blogging account. unfortunately, I somehow have two or possibly three google-related accounts which apparently are not allowed to talk to one another, so I have a crazy time simply trying to decide who I am so my trusty old blog can recognize me.

last summer I set out to be a contributing writer for a neato Christianity-meeting-culture website (at least I think that's still what we call it). I contributed two or three times, then fell under the homeschool bus. today I suddenly realized I should probably withdraw from the contributing team--which sent me into a panic that I need to start contributing STAT! or my relevance as a writer will have officially withered and died.

yes. I use melodrama here, to make a literary point. in short, I am having an identity crisis.

I never have defined myself by motherhood; choosing instead to remind myself and anyone listening that I am MORE than the sum of my offspring. in the past five years, I have grown to identify myself as a spiritual development writer. yet my job description consumes me: homeschooling mama of three diverse creatures for whom I am the primary influence. together we stand at the launch of a great homestead experiment.

A Pinch Point in Escalante National Park, Utah
I'm at a pinch point. I know the river opens up to a wide cove, followed by the wild ocean; but not until I pass through the narrows. and the narrows are speaking loudly to me.

wilting lily 
fragile flower (hey--at least my inner critic compares me to flowers)
you love writing, therefore it's time to stop. 
this is always where you stop when about to really get the hang of something. 

since the speaker/writer conference I attended last summer, I have followed a dozen or two of my new friends as they grow their blogs, guest post all over the internet, and develop their ideas into really well-reasoned content. meanwhile, my portion has been to spin in place, trying to figure out my next steps.

in the positive column, I have been invited to speak my heart to two different groups; I have written a 5 part small group study on the Levitical law; I developed and taught 3 different classes at church, a total of 6 or 7 times; and we have gotten through at least 75% of a school year (never mind that we are 90% out of time). so there's that.

but my first love, the writing? thbbbbt.

i've lost my stride.

I know too much about building my audience, honing my message, and the importance of social media as a tool for my message. now I fear to post anything because I can't figure out my focus, can't figure out how to migrate my blog to a better platform (haven't tried, for that matter), and don't know that anyone really cares what I talk about anyway. do I even want to blog, when my greatest high comes from speaking to a live audience?

apparently my stride has also, in turn, lost me. because this whole login challenge underscores my efforts to start over in a strange new world. and I wonder, do I really want to come back here? do I really have anything to preserve? because maybe if I just turn off my computer, my blog, my facebook, I can get to the real business of living.

gardening. moving. having parties. learning about horses. playing in the dirt with my kids. reading books. without the constant feeling that I ought to be talking about this.

only, then who would I share all my melancholy thoughts with?

I guess you're stuck with me. because me without a melancholy outlet is probably an over-wound person, not fit for serious company.

this concludes our broadcast day. I'll be going to bed now, hoping for a less melancholy tomorrow. thanks for listening.

and last thing? I'm really fine. just working my way through that tight place, looking forward to the rush of salt air when I get to the wild ocean.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not a Tame Lion

I grow weary of the wait; the highs and lows of real estate try to tug my emotions with them like a yoyo. My courage falters and I wonder how many more times I can clean my house while trying to keep a rein on the hope in my heart.

This past weekend brought us a Friday night showing and open houses both Saturday and Sunday. Friday's show resulted in an offer--wow! But by Saturday night it was withdrawn, an obvious fishing expedition to see if we were ready to give the house away. I want to cry heartbreak! betrayal!

But I bet I am not as near the end of my rope as I think I am. I think of a character from CS Lewis' The Horse and His Boy: of Bree the magnificent-yet-lazy warhorse who thought quite highly of his physical ability, only to discover at a critical moment the ability to reach even deeper and overcome an unbelievable obstacle. Upon reflection, he realized his laziness had limited his abilities; and that it had taken an external motivator (in the form of Aslan the all-orchestrating lion sinking claws into his rump) to help him accomplish his best.

I don't know my best, but I sort of really deeply hope my motivator to accomplish it is not to weather a third lengthy experience selling a house that won't move.

Another line that repeats often throughout the seven books of Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and echoes through my head these days, refers to different characters' ability to call Aslan at will to help with their problems: He's not a tame lion. You just can't control the element that controls the game board.

Over and over I come up short against this reality: that I can not wield God and prayer like a weapon to do what I want, on my time table. I can't make God sell my house no matter how much I grovel or give him all the credit or even challenge him to catch me as I fall.

Because every time the response is different than I expected. I demand God make himself known through his speedy and powerful orchestration of my experience. Instead he leaves me to marinate in my situation until I have no pride left, and have grown wary of phrases such as "In the Lord's time" and "God knows best".

Funny thing is, he always does provide. And I have lots of life experience to point to that illustrates this. Truthfully, I've even seen some pretty amazing ways he has provided. But with the selling of real estate, I keep finding myself wishing he would do less character building and more showing off.

But I guess that's the inner longing for a perfect world, meant to draw my heart away from this earthly plane and upward toward eternity.

Whatever happens, I don't want to be the player who pouts her way through the game; because I have a good feeling that a little perspective will show me the winner. A little time will bring this process to its natural end, and this whole uncomfortable transition will only show itself in my rear-view mirror. So one more time, I hold my head high, take the next step, and wait another day.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Teachable Moments

I started the homeschool year with the idea that my philosophy of education fits with a model termed classical: involving the systematic use of memorization, dictation, narration, and copywork to organize the assimilation of knowledge across language, history, and science. The trivium seemed an efficiently appropriate way of presenting this type of education through the three stages of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. It all made so much sense.

Only real life happened. My primary student entered the homeschool arena due to her non-traditional learning style. And we have had quite a journey. As a non-traditional learner who learned how to cope by organizing information, I find my fragile organizational abilities tested by the effort of trying to find the order in my child's world. Or impress the order upon her.

Here at the end of the year, I start to recognize our group learning style may tend more toward the opposite end of the spectrum, toward the philosophy of unschool. Or perhaps the two are not so far apart as I once understood. Today, for example, we probably had a terrible day by classical standards; but I think it was a pretty stellar example of unschooling in action.

We did spend twenty minutes before lunch discussing the First Triumvirate, the three-person ruling group that formed the beginning of the Roman Empire in 60 B.C. But one of those rulers, Pompey, was known for getting pirates under control across the Mediterranean. Did you know that in a single 40-day period, he destroyed 1,300 pirate ships? We found that impressive.

To commemorate, we declared the rest of the day Pirate Day. So the kids built a giant fort in the back yard. In the face of an imminent thunderstorm. And spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between the fort and catching tree frogs at the pond down the street. Which has nothing to do with pirates whatsoever; but when Rooster brought home a gloriously huge wolf spider, I had him look at it and observe it. Which counted as a science lesson. Check.

Meanwhile, I finally roasted the Thanksgiving turkey today, to make a few more meals for my freezer. I don't understand my obsession with filling that space, with four weeks to Moving Day. But there I was, preparing a bird for the oven, and the kids suddenly crowded around to see what they could see. And one asked about all the different anatomical parts, while the other asked for a bone at the end, "Because I always read about people sucking the marrow out of the bones, and I want to see if it's really all that great."

Conversation then turned to what we will do once we move and get chickens. "Our chicks will grow up and have baby chicks then we will eat the momma and daddy birds and play with the chicks until it is their turn to grow up and get eaten."

So much for worrying about whether their "fragile constitutions" will comprehend the difference between pets and food. These kids make me proud more often than not. And again, I can chalk up that entire conversation to learning.

I am fairly sure we will find ourselves challenged yet well suited to the requirements of running a homestead. We may already have a running start between the 12 quarts of spaghetti sauce I put up over the weekend, and the six turkey-based dinners I am assembling tonight and tomorrow. We probably won't eat all that before June.

Now I suppose I had better get packing so I can be the right kind of ready for that day when it comes. I wonder what kind of educational experience we can roll into packing boxes tomorrow?


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Homeschool Report: Week 32--I Mean 31B

Here at the tail end of the school year, would you like a peek inside our ordinary day? Just a warning, it may not inspire or encourage. Hopefully it will not cause you to turn away in disapproval, but I tell myself I don't seek your approval anyway.

So far today we have learned about Judas Maccabee and the origins of Hanukkah. This is new for me, and I really enjoy learning the story for myself. I think about digging up 8 candles and lighting them to show a visual for the Menorah which would likely turn into a fun 90 minute pyro experiment on the back porch involving testing every piece of flora and trash in the back yard for flammability. But when I take a breath the kids ask, "Is that it for the lesson?" I answer, "Yes..." and one bolts for the Lego room and the other dives behind an armchair to snatch a few more words from the latest Warriors book and I decide to be happy with having finally addressed last Wednesday's lesson.

Boo's painting from a craft party last weekend

I consider panicking that we must now finish three more lessons by Friday in order to finish the history course by the end of May. Instead I fantasize about spending the next two days catching up on timeline and reviewing facts from earlier in the year, and allow myself a choice from two more palatable options: choose three lessons to skip in the next four weeks, or fudge the end of school.

In reality, I think we will both skip lessons and end the school year early, without completing the timeline. But I still have hope that in the end we will have created a host of pegs on which to hang future learning experiences set in the BC era. So I shrug, cross my fingers that I am right, and keep trudging through the lessons.

Next I direct kids into math activities. My brilliant, creative 4th grader is moving into multiple digit multiplication and long division, and still using an abacus and hashes on paper to count her way to solutions. So before today's lesson we just review simple facts up to 9 x 5. Today all the 2's represent watermelon vines, the 3's represent ears of corn per stalk, 4's represent peas per pod, and 5's represent fingers per hand. It may help, I can't tell. Two times through the review, then I set her up at the table with today's lesson, a pencil, and headphones to block distractions. I take the other two kids upstairs and challenge her to complete the lesson (5 practice problems and 22 graded cumulative problems) in 30 minutes.

The math corner in Boo's room

Lulu plays happily with manipulatives from the math bin while I introduce Rooster to subtraction. He catches on with lightning speed and soon grabs the flash cards from my hand so he can go through them faster--both sides. He also takes to the Learning Wrap-Ups like a duck to water, wrapping cord around keys to solve simple subtraction problems. At the end of 30 minutes I set him up with a time-telling game on my iPhone and go check on Boo. She has ditched the headphones and left me a note with an arrow: "Room". Hash marks cover the entire first page of the lesson; she has completed a single practice problem.

I offer to talk her through some of the problems, and she gets through half the set in 10 minutes. I see the remaining problems include four long division and the rest geometry (her favorite). So I leave her and go make lunches. I also have an enjoyable ABC flash card session with 3 year old Lulu, who, as it turns out, already knows most of her letters.

Two hours later I notice the kids playing counting games with money, and let the task-mastering slide. Then i notice Boo has finally gotten dressed and eaten lunch, but she sits reading in her armchair, insisting she cannot finish the problem set without me. How much do you help, as a parent? She is brilliant; I can't tell if the genius is locked up in the attention-deficit, or if she is just too lazy to try. Some days I try yelling; some days I try not yelling. Sometimes she responds with anger and fits, sometimes it comes out with tears and remorse. It all leads to the same end of non-productivity. This is where I am so stuck, and burned out on this kid.

Meanwhile, Rooster has built Lego machines, played bubbles with Lulu, and now sits in the garage powering a computer fan with some doodads he found out there. Perhaps later he will play in the neighborhood, but he is really hoping Boo will finish math soon so they can play on the Wii.

At 2:00, battle weary, I finally promise that for every minute she finishes before a 45 minute timer goes off, she may play for a minute on the computer. She finishes in 15 minutes. Odds are better than even I would have let her play anyway, but the challenge got the job done. And I declare this ordinary school day over, despite a lack of any language practice outside of Boo's pleasure reading. Rooster gets to start his Wii time, and I need to move on to my own agenda if I can focus on it. At this point I don't even enlist their help for dishes, I just need to get the job done.

We are moving in a month and it's time to start packing in earnest. What's more, we will be having open house most of this weekend to coincide with the new builders' Parade of Homes, so it's time to whip this house back in order. And it's Tuesday Wednesday already. If only I still cared...

I do care. A lot. But do you find sometimes that pretending apathy helps reduce your perception of stress? I suppose that sounds the same as an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. Which is where I probably am at this minute. Unfortunately, life experience has already taught me, that leads to greater stress later.

As I keep reminding myself, all my momentary stress is voluntary, and for a good cause. And I have hired a neighbor to tend my yard before the weekend, leaving me free to focus on the inside and perhaps some flowers in the front beds. It will get done.

Now, what to do with the kids for the next 90 minutes? Maybe it's time to turn them outside with eight candles and a match book.

Don't worry, I supervised.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Some Kind of Ordinary

"A good teacher is a good student first. By repeating his lessons, he acquires excellence." --M.K. Soni

Recently I had the chance to speak to forty-five women at an overnight retreat in the woods. Retreats always seem to pull me out of my daily routine and help me sense God's presence in a more tangible way. Wind blowing through trees; birds busily hopping from branch to branch; sunlight glinting off water. Nature speaks to me the song of Creation.

I set out to speak about the value of being quiet with the Creator; the message I ended up sharing included a challenge to seek God in the ordinary times of life, not just in the highs and lows of circumstance. This message was for me as much as anyone in the audience, because I have a lot of extra-ordinary swirling around me right now.

The following Monday, I awoke with a resolve to live my ordinary life and stop obsessing about when my house would sell.

Tuesday, ordinary included a dental hygiene appointment, which turned into a three hour marathon including replacing an old filling. I distinctly do not remember scheduling both procedures together, but there I was. To celebrate, I treated myself with a bacon milkshake from Jack in the Box. Interesting. The evening improved when I went for a pedicure with some girlfriends. As I was leaving, the neighbor stopped by to inform us dewberries were ripe. So the Captain set off with three kids and two buckets while I drove away.

Wednesday, my realtor called bright and early with news of a potential offer on our house. Trying to preserve ordinary, I made a quick trip to the grocery for supplies to preserve a gallon of dewberries. On the way out of the parking lot, another vehicle and mine backed into one another. Boo.

Thursday, we declined the contingent offer on our house. Nice price, but too much string attached. As consolation, I made dewberry cheesecake and jam.

Despite my effort, that week felt like a failed attempt at ordinary. But I did end up with three dewberry cheesecakes and two dozen jars of jelly and jam.

The next week--last week--fared no better. In my 6YO Rooster's life alone, he scored his first soccer goal; in response to a whisper he should not be riding with training wheels, he found a wrench, removed the wheels, and began riding the bike around the neighborhood like he has been doing it his whole life; the next day he rode it down to the retention pond and caught a 6" fish with his bare hands.

Thursday and Friday both ended up as date nights. Very good for me as I have been pretty burned out on the 100% mothering, 100% of the time business. Saturday worked out as 4 back-to-back parties, more gift-preparation and talking than I could handle--almost. Along the way, one of our cars broke down, and is still in the shop. Still not sure if it's worth fixing.

Today marks Tuesday of the third week since the retreat, and I can't find ordinary anywhere I look. This morning I had to visit the county records office to secure a copy of my baby's birth certificate. This afternoon all three kids were scheduled for a dentist appointment, with big girl Miss Boo getting two teeth extracted at the end of it. What is it with me and scheduling multiple dental procedures in one day???

I am left wondering, what does it mean to live an ordinary life?

Here is where I have lately been the student, repeating the lesson as I try to achieve excellence. Feel free to learn along with me: I think I tend to associate ordinary with boring, when all it means is, this is the standard.

What if I accept that my ordinary can still wrap itself around a pretty colorful and interesting life? This means that instead of begrudging the seemingly random events that fill my days, sucking the same-old right out of me, I embrace the variety of tasks that each day brings. It does not mean I have to go looking for more adventure than I can handle; rather, that adventure rests right on my doorstep, waiting for me to step outside and join in.

After all, Peter and John were considered ordinary men, and they lived far from ordinary lives!

"The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus."

Acts 4:13

As a result, I acknowledge a new standard for my own ordinary. Today, I choose to believe that my ordinary life does not leave me bored, frantic with the repetitive nature of home-school, parenting, housework, and necessary life tasks. I can look for it, find it again with every sunrise, and embrace the wild variety of life.

Ordinary thrives all around me.

What's your ordinary?