Tag Archives: family

On a Sunday

Sitting in the worship service, looking around at others, I may only see ordinary people, but if I look closer, with eyes of gratitude, I may catch a glimpse of a higher truth. I am part of something truer than what my tired eyes are taking in. God has transformed his people into impressive examples of love and grace. I am not naive; I still acknowledge the pain and brokenness among us. We are far from exemplary on our own merits. There a few struggling with addictions among us. Some have been abused; some have abused others. Many endure profound grief. We stand and sing, however, grateful together.


Sometimes I may not sing. Most of the times I am not able to carry a tune, much less contribute to the four-part harmony our tribe practices. Sometimes I dislike the song. Yes, sometimes I am distracted by the unnecessary apostrophe floating on the screen, or the wrong homonym renders the lyrics confusing.

That’s ok, because I see she has made it to church today. She is up and down chasing crayons from under the pew, escorting wriggling legs down the aisle, and back up again, solo, but smiling. I wonder if she hears the sermon…if it is discouraging that she expends this much energy when she could have stayed home, slept in.

He gets up to say a prayer. He seems so austere at times, almost cheerless. We rarely see eye to eye on extemporaneous doctrinal issues. I have found him annoyingly conservative. But there he stands, wording a prayer of contrition so beautifully I am ashamed to remember a time his gentle words comforted me in a difficult moment last year.

We sing.

We pray.

We hear the words of God together.

It all adds up to greater substance than it would initially appear. Some of us are lonely. Some of us depressed. Some of us are struggling with sins we have dragged about as on “ponderous chains” for years. Some of us are just thankful, hopeful, eagerly leaning in to God’s promises. We live and sing and pray as if they are already true. And they are.

God transforms the ugly into something weak and fragile, distinctly vulnerable, but beautiful.

She bothers me sometimes with her abrupt manner of speaking, as if she has no time for being polite, for choosing grace over expediency. I don’t know it, but I annoy him with my stubbornness, forever asserting myself when I could have just let it go. All of these are examples of what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant by “dappled things.” Somewhere among the archaic language, the newly-hyphenated words, and melodic alliterations, we understand his message. We are a mess. We are freckled and plain, mundane, tedious, distorted and ineffective. We are hopelessly hopefully ordinary.

Pied Beauty

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow and plough;

And all trades their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who, knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers -forth whose beauty is past change.

Praise him.

We are, indeed, “all things counter, original, spare, strange.”

And not unlike Elisha and his servants seeing the LORD’s angel armies for the first time encircling Israel upon battle, we gather on a Sunday in pews nominally comfortable, with people who only appear ordinary, with “landscape plotted and pieced,” and we catch a glory-glimpse. And we praise him.

We gather each Sunday, for “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6:16).

Praise him.

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Reading through Christmas: a list

If someone were to ask me what my favorite topics are during our homeschool day, I would have to include history, but the read alouds are by far my favorite.  Even before we began homeschooling, even before I began bandying about the term “read aloud,” well, really long before my boys were even crawling, we have read together.  While there are many wonderful academic and professional articles explaining the benefits of reading aloud to our children, the most profound reason for me is the shared vocabulary and language we acquire together.  By this I do not exactly mean that we learn new vocabulary words together, or write down definitions from a dictionary, but rather our hearts speak the same language because we have traveled together through the pages of historical fiction, biographies, fantasies, allegories and adventures.

There are times when a single word conveys more than if one of us had spent dozens of words describing a scene.  How powerful and fraught with meaning the following:

C A I R  P A R A V E L

the unbreakable vow               

churning butter with Ma

“All’s well that ends well.”                                                                  coxswain              landlubber

KEELHAULING

“no good, dirty rotten, pig-stealing great great grandfather.”

S T A Y   G O L D.

You may or may not recognize all these references.  I know my boys will certainly know the context and significance of each and every one.  And if we are having a bad day, or we need a quick reminder of our bond, if we want to explain a correlation, or illustrate a similarity, we have the common (literary) language with which to do so.

Like most years, I am finding this season hectic.  In looking for a balance between a manageable school load, and maintaining a home, it is difficult to determine what is necessary.  Although I refuse to give up read alouds, I wasn’t sure we would have the stamina to begin a fresh book at this time of year.  So, what follows is our list of seasonal short stories and excerpts, nearly all set at the Christmas season.

We have only read a few so far, and who knows in what order we will share them, but here is our Christmas 2015 read aloud list (not including our advent reading, of course).  These are stories hand picked in hopes of promoting a true spirit of generosity, goodness, kindness and compassion that may long carry my boys past the holiday season.  Admittedly, it is a challenge to find read alouds simple enough for the five year old, yet engaging enough for the 12 and 13 year olds.  The following list combines some tales with thought provoking stories with complex vocabulary for the older two, as well as simpler stories which should be nostalgic for them.  If someone barely in their teens can feel nostalgia.

As we recall these stories we might contrast Scrooge with Stefan Avdeyitch.  We may see similarities in Jo March and Anne Shirley.  Whatever may come out of our reading, I hope it will ignite dialog and bind us closer together.  I hope you enjoy this list, or create one of your own.  Please share if you do.

God bless us, everyone!

CHRISTMAS Reading list 2015:

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1.”Where Love Is, God is There Also” by Leo Tolstoy.  Technically, this is not a Christmas story, but it does take place in the winter.  It quotes so much from the Gospel of Luke and Matthew and concentrates on love for mankind that it exudes the spirit of Christmas without naming it.  This is not a children’s story, but one that older children should be able to appreciate.  I can hardly make it through the poor cobbler’s tale without my voice cracking at least a bit at the end.

 

G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought.  Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.
G was in and out of the room during this longer tale, but afterward I discovered he had listened to much more of the story than I thought. Later that day, he wanted to sit with me in our sun room and sip tea from our toy wooden samovar.

2.  Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone.  A classic.

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3.  from All of a Kind Family Downtown, “Christmas Stockings” by Sydney Taylor.  I adored this book series growing up and learned so much about the practices of Jewish holidays from them.  Henny and Charlotte were my favorites, but I also harbored a special love toward Guido, their Italian neighbor.

 

 

 

 

4.  “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.  When I was about A’s age I began saving birthday money and allowances to purchase leather bound books with gold pages.  Dickens.  Poe. R.L. Stevenson.  And finally O. Henry.  This Christmas classic is both sad and heart warming.  It’s the one where the poor, young couple both get what they want for Christmas…sort of.

5.  Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I have written about this collection last year.  These letters, which the fantasy writer wrote to his children as they were growing up each Christmas, are poignant, in keeping with the times and laugh out loud funny.  Hints of his trilogy abound.  Goblins appear and make trouble.  Polar Bear inevitably saves the day…and the toys.

6.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  No explanation needed.  No matter how many movie or play versions you have seen, the original is superb.

7. from Little House on the Prairie, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus” by  Laura Ingalls Wilder.  There are many wonderful Christmas stories from this entire pioneer series, but for some reason this one has always been my guys’ favorite.

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8.  “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote.  Sad , sweet, poignant and almost lyrical in his writing, Capote recounts for us a piece of his childhood long gone.  Largely neglected in a small town in Alabama, he and his elderly cousin set out to make fruitcakes for their acquaintances.  As a bonus I found this lovely illustrated edition at our library.  Even with the lengthy text, it held even G’s interest.

 

 

 

9.  from Anne of Green Gables,  “Matthew Insists on Puffed Sleeves” by L. M. Montgomery.  Because boys know what it is like to want something so badly, too.

10.  “The Burglar’s Christmas” by Willa Cather.  A surprising ending.  A family reunion.  The meaning of grace.

11.  from Little Women, “Playing Pilgrims” and “A Merry Christmas” by Louisa May Alcott.  Jo and Marmee.  Because we may all have presents at Christmas, but there is always something more.

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Easter Sunday

Easter didn’t come with chocolates, jelly beans or an egg hunt for our family.  There was not ham or roast lamb for a big Sunday feast.  As much as I love family traditions, I just haven’t prioritized the organization it takes to pull it off for holidays and special events.  Without extended family nearby, and now that my first two boys are getting older, it just seems less of a priority.  Sometimes I allow it to make me feel a little frustrated, a little sad.

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Yet, when I reflect on our Easter weekend, I honestly don’t know how I could be disappointed.  The Midwest has been enjoying the first true signs of spring.  Trees are budding, I have seen daffodils, and the robins are plentiful .  The weather is mild, and for the most part, a light cardigan or long-sleeved t-shirt is all you need during the warmth of the day.

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My family has been out enjoying the graciousness of warmer weather for the last several days.  I can tell, because there are flakes of dried mud in my entry way where my boys have tromped in and out multiple times throughout the day.  The bicycles, scooters and skateboards  are all askew in the garage from their constant use (and apparently we need to work on training them to return to their proper place).  Although G opted for riding his scooter over an egg hunt, it has all been good, solid family time.

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Easter Sunday church services provided us with a reminder of the unbelievable nature of what we profess.  A man 2,000 years ago rose from a tightly sealed tomb, and we meet every week in his name.  We were encouraged to live boldly, bravely and pray for those in imminent physical danger.  My family was confronted with the miracle of resurrection, as well as the challenge of living out our faith even in the most potentially heinous of times.  A serious message for an eleven and (almost) thirteen-year-old.  I am thankful we were present.

As always, we read the Bible together as a family.  I am determined to find a way to practice this more regularly and meaningfully for my boys.  A gentle retelling of Christ’s death and a joyful narration of his resurrection helped us celebrate the weekend.  There is something special about Easter, but I am grateful  that every Sunday we have the opportunity to celebrate the fact that He still lives.

As I look back on our “uncelebrated” Easter,  I smile.  No, I hardly missed the jelly beans.  I hope I am correct in saying that my guys didn’t miss them either. Spring, family time, encouragement in our church, and Bible reading.  It was all more than enough.

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Do you walk to school or do you take your lunch?* (Or why we are homeschooling now)

Why does it often take us so long? Sometimes it really bothers me that it takes us so long to wake up, eat breakfast and start our day.  I mean, if we are all downstairs at 7:00 a.m., why is it sometimes 9:00, or later, before we are gathered ready to start our learning?  Is it a prime example of wasted time, how we squander moments when we could actually be utilizing them to greater advantage?  Or am  I merely revealing my type A personality, proving to myself that I feel the incorrigible need to be forever productive?  Most likely the latter.  Family ought to be a comfortable place, a place where you are allowed to just be.  While our days seem full and busy, full of individual responsibilities, it is the role of family to allow each to breathe, to enjoy one another’s company, to be thankful that we are safe and together. So why does it take us two hours to eat breakfast and collect our books? Foremost, we are not particularly go-getters in the morning.  I sit over two to three cups of coffee, thinking, planning our day, but mostly mustering the strength and stamina necessary to get us through seventh grade math and a writing task.  A is petting the cat while lying on the floor.  G is reenacting superhero battles over and over in the dining room where he has more space. S is scrambling an egg and somehow using two or three extra bowls.  Each child eats separate breakfasts and prepares it themselves, and while this is great practice in life skills, it is also not the most efficient.  I need to make my peace with this.

The truth is I am weak, but our days are fairly productive except, of course, when they aren’t.  Does that last sentence remind anyone else of Dr. Seuss?  We choose not to overextend ourselves with outside activities.  We surround ourselves with positive people we admire- mostly people from our church.  The kids have plenty of time to play, get on the iPad, lie around the house, construct things around the house from blocks, legos and random objects, create their own comic strips at 8:55 in the morning, and have plenty of time to be bored. The simple fact is it is ok we are slow starters.  We are far from squandering our time in the mornings.  I need, instead, to be savoring it.  Really, at least partially, this is why we began homeschooling.   Before we began the homeschooling adventure which has increased the chaos and noise level in our home exponentially, I read article after article advising me to write down for posterity our personal reasons for choosing home education.  The articles promised it would serve us well in times of uncertainty. I offer to you, reader of this post, a private peek into our family’s thoughts.  This is why we choose to make pancakes or scones on a weekday, why we take two hours to eat breakfast, why it is more than ok for us to bump aimlessly into one another from room to room in the mornings until we are sufficiently awake.  Just a caveat: I know many families who tackle these objectives admirably while sending their children to public school.  Keeping our kids home was not our only option, but it was the one which called the most obviously to us, beckoning a new vision for what our family could look like.  We are still living by hope and faith, eager to see how our children and family develop.  Here are my words I jotted down three years ago.  Most of the reasons are salient today.

Our Reasons to Homeschool

Family –

To regain our sense of family love

To renew our relationship with one another

To allow us to enjoy our children at their best times of the day, and to alleviate the stress of the morning scramble for the school bus and the afternoon fights over homework.

Education – 

To be in control of what and how we taught our children, including life skills, spiritual teaching, character lessons, multi-cultural topics, an international worldview, and a strong focus on their own individual academic interests.

To enjoy being directly involved in the boys’ learning and self-guided study

Due to a concern at losing them in the public school system, not wanting learning to become a drudgery, but a joy

Social – 

Due to a concern with placing A in a middle school setting too soon (that is fifth grade where we live).

To give our children more distinctly positive social opportunities

Some of you may disagree home schooling to be a viable answer to these issues.  Some of you may not even recognize or share any of these concerns regarding your own children.  That is understandable.  We may not always feel the same way as I did three years ago, or as we do today.  But this is why we are doing what we are doing now.

Doing nothing for two hours in the mornings may not be an option in a few years, but indubitably I do not miss chasing down the school bus or scrambling for a lost homework paper after cramming down toast and jam.  I can  choose to see days with slow, lazy unproductive beginnings, or I can appreciate my family all together functioning as a unit, albeit imperfectly.  My boys can wake up slowly if they choose, and they are good friends.  I don’t think I want to change that.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

*The title of this post is a bit tongue-in-cheek.  Growing up, my dad would always ask these sort of nonsensical questions, which on the surface, do not seem necessarily related.  Back in his day, however, those kids who did walk to school were also allowed to go home for lunch.  So, if you brought your lunch, you probably did not walk.  As homeschoolers we sometimes go for walks, sometimes we take our lunch, sometimes we hit Subway or Chipotle, and sometimes we just stay home for lunch.

“Travel schooling” : learning to relax

Many home school families have been amused by the term HOME schooling or HOME education, because, well frankly, we are not quite home as much as others may think.  We drive to co-ops and extra classes, drive to the parks, to social groups, and drive to countless field trips.  Perhaps we ought to call it car schooling?  But that concept might be for a different post.  Once or twice during the school year our family embarks on a major trip across country or states to visit family.  As we are out of our routine for one to three weeks, I never like to just take off all that time from academic work.  I am still quite caught up in counting the number of “school” days and making the most of every learning opportunity, besides the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult for my boys to jump back into books and studies when they have had a lengthy hiatus.  As I type these words in to my iPad, we are munching pretzels and sipping cranberry juice on the airplane while on our way back from family and friends in Arizona.  It was a successful visit in many ways.  Here are a few of the simple ways we maintained our learning while still having a fun vacation.

Make use of local museums-

While this may not always be possible depending on your budget and the affordability of your destination, museums are a wonderful way to experience new places while learning.  Although not necessary, if you can tie them in to your curriculum, even better.  This trip our family hit the art museum and science center.  On previous visits, we have explored children’s museums, geology centers and history or state museums.

Appreciate relationships as their own education-

Here is where the tired and trite socialization argument dies.  Before we officially began our home schooling adventure we comprised a concise list of all the reasons we wanted to keep our kids at home.  The freedom to travel and family closeness topped the list.  I love seeing A’s and S’s brotherly relationship solidify the longer we do this thing.  G adores being a part of his big brothers’ daily routines, and has learned an indescribable amount. Traveling only enhances this.  It is not only the relationships in our immediate family, however, that benefit us when we travel, but the relationships with everyone we meet.  This is particularly crucial for my guy with Asperger’s.  All three of my guys need to know their grandparents.  We live in a time when the value of family may be fading.  Unconditional love can be the greatest educational tool, not to mention all those extra life skills they may learn from being around different people from different generations.  Utilize them in your travels, or if you have the grandparents next door, be appreciative, and allow them to serve your family well.

Notice nature and take advantage of the outdoors-

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Regardless where your journeys take you, there will be something new to see and explore.  Taking advantage of nature centers, hiking trails and parks only makes sense.  It can be as simple as photographing and observing the diversity in our world to something more intentional.  One year we spent two weeks walking about my parents’ neighborhood identifying various cactuses – saguaro, ocotillo, prickly pear, organ pipe, cholla, etc.  One of S’s favorite memories is chasing (and catching) lizards around the Sonoran desert.

Travel lightly-

Packing textbooks and heavy curriculum is not what you want to do.  Traveling with kids can be stressful enough. Simplify.  On this trip we packed The Story of the World, volume 3 by Susan Wise Bauer, and our read aloud, which currently happens to be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  That’s it.  We read the Bible together, we practiced our copy work, we watched a couple of science videos, and did some random math practice.  Supplemented by our museum trips, it felt like just the right amount without providing too many stressful expectations.

Let go.  Come to terms with taking days off.

Honestly, I only “counted” two-thirds of our travel days toward schooling.  The rest of the time I let the guys just be.  They laid around and watched far more t.v. than is usually permitted.  They played in parks, and threw rocks at each other in the backyard.  They ate far more desserts than was typical.  They relaxed.

Now, we are back in the Midwest buckling down once more to studies and winter.  Though leaves are sparse, we love them.  “Travel schooling” allowed us to go from summery hikes to craving peppermint mochas in a single day.  It was a wonderful break.

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