Sunday, November 8, 2015

When memories stir the deep places

On Tuesday night, I walked the halls of an ICU for the first time in a couple of years. It was a different hospital, but the sights, the sounds, the smells and the somberness of the situation were the same. In the beeps and the attentiveness of one-on-one nursing, hope clung tight in spite of the raw thin battle line between life and death.

It stirred the deep places in me. My youngest daughter could sense it as my husband and I headed off to visit a friend this time, instead of my father-in-law. As we dashed off with no real dinner plans for anyone,  the children asked, "How long do you think you will be gone?" We replied, "We don't know."  My youngest daughter said, "Mommy...your emotions..." I didn't let her finish.

There were so many unknowns. We didn't know what we were eating for dinner; we didn't know if we'd be able to see her; we didn't know how she was doing, we didn't know when we'd be home, and I didn't know what my emotions were doing. It was the familiar, but uncomfortable dance of the unknown. Familiar. Accepted. But still uncomfortable.

And so we waited in the halls of the hospital for news, for change, for an update, for good news. Medical crisis teach the good lesson of living with the 'I-don't-knows'. They are also good for bringing friends and family together. Even while life hovers between suffering, hope, and breathing machines, there is laughter, hugs, stories, and reminiscing. The waiting room camaraderie is good for the soul. It is good not to be alone.  

On Tuesday night, not only were we reminded of the somberness of ICU journey from a couple of years ago, we were also reminded of the goodness of the Lord, particularly in the waiting room vigil that was filled with hugs, reunions, laughter, catching-up, and waiting for an opportunity to see our friend. I remembered how God touched us many times by sweet friends showing up at just the right time being His hands and feet.

I remembered how He is good even when it's hard.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Twenty three years ago today

Twenty-three years ago today I arrived in Tennessee in my shiny, bright, blue Toyota Tercel, loaded with most of my worldly goods.

I drove up a big hill and unpacked my belongings into Jill & Jane's place, where I lived for my first month in Tennessee. I secured an apartment for Tammy & I; we had mutual friends and had spoken on the phone. Our mutual friends said we had met at a retreat during college, but on that July summer day when Tammy opened the door to our apartment, we both agreed that we had never seen each other before that moment. A month later, Suzanne would join our apartment, making it a trio.

A year after I arrived in Tennessee, both Tammy & Suzanne had moved back to the Upper Midwest and I would be married to 'my friend, Kip.'  When I think of those early days of Tennessee, many, if not most, of those friends have moved away.

Growing up in Minnesota, I had always wanted to move South, where it was warmer. I had wanted adventures, to see places, to live overseas. After college I began my quest for adventure by applying for jobs outside of my home state. I interviewed in California and Michigan. I landed the Michigan job, where I spent my first year out of college. It was a trying, difficult year, but it honed my desires, specifically I realized that I didn't care as much what I would do for a career or what kind of adventures that I would have or where I would live but I definitely knew who I wanted to be with: Kip.

So I swallowed my feminine pride that wanted him to chase me, took a risk, and moved across the country to see if this friendship with Kip Jaeger might work out. And work out it did! We'll be celebrating our 22nd anniversary next month.

I needed to fly away from the home and family that I love dearly to find my own wings and to become my own person. I had no idea all that the journey would entail. Of course, none of us know that when we begin any journey or adventure. The unknown is part of the thrill & the excitement.

During these twenty three years, I have grown roots here in Tennessee and call it home. I have two homes now: Minnesota and Tennessee. Although the picture book Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say depicts a man torn between his two homes of Japan and the U.S.A, it accurately describes the emotional part of my story: both places are home, yet neither place is fully home.

Yet, perhaps that is as it should be. I am an alien and stranger on this earth waiting for my heavenly home, my true home. Although I have never been there, it is more home than any place I have ever been.

Twenty-three years ago today, this Minnesota lake girl landed in Music City to be near the love of my life. My journey here has been so much more but that's how it began and I'm celebrating that beginning today. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

The words I think

A million words run through my brain
Some of them I think
Will make it to the blog
But mostly they stay in my brain.
It  seems the thinking is stronger than the writing

The words do not come to the blog.
Instead they run havoc inside my thinker ,
rarely shutting down.
I may not write them, but I surely do think them:

I think about writing these things:
* teaching math to children
* the year that I was glad to leave and how it showed that I made no worthwhile connections,
* how we can be certain whether or not we are going to heaven
* my heart as a mom with one child home catching a snapping turtle in my backyard while one was on a college exploration trip
* the lesson I am learning about the gift of now due to two dear people that are now engaged in battle against cancer, and
* how our lives are significant whether or not we ever write a book, or a musical, or give a speech but that there is great value in being faithful in the everyday ordinary things,
* how I have three homes: my hometown, my current town and my future town in heaven,
* how God transformed the most difficult thing in my life into a love letter,
* how He sees me. Really sees me. 

Oh, how many thoughts I think.
Oh, how often I think of writing them.
But writing and thinking them are not the same thing.

Friday, May 1, 2015

7 Tips for Buying Homeschool Curriculum

It is spring and the end of school is near; the planning of the next year has begun. Auditions, registration deadlines, and curriculum fairs abound along with the sunshine, rain, and flowers.

On the one hand, it is hard for me to plan for next year because I am so focused on finishing this one; it takes most of my energy just to do school daily because my attention is divided by the many year-end events, the need to finish high school credits, and the sunshine begging us to come out and play.

Yet, on the other hand, I am still in 'school mode' which makes it easier to know where we're at in our different subjects. I have a much better idea than I will during summer about what needs to get done: whether it is just simply ordering the next level or that some area has been unduly neglected and is need of serious attention. 

Another benefit of having the coming school year planned before this one lets out means my books are either here, or will be soon, and then I don't get stuck in the back-orders of August, and we can begin school right away in the fall. With that reward in mind, it is worth the effort to do a little planning now.

This is my list of 7 tips for buying homeschool curriculum, or some thoughts on buying school books. My background is this: a homeschool mom who is finishing her eleventh year, who loves a Carole Joy Seid approach, and who is eclectic and literature based.

1) Embrace that there is always something new, no matter how long you have home-schooled.

Every year that you homeschool, you will need to buy books for the next school year. There is always something new  because, until you've graduated a student that you have home-schooled from birth to graduation, you are at least teaching one new grade each year. There is always something new because you're children's needs change as they grow, silly little creatures that they are.

However, after a few years of schooling, you will begin to gain confidence in how to pick books that work for your family's schooling style, even if it is new to you at that moment at the curriculum fair when you pick that book up. You've never seen it before. You haven't spent hours researching that curriculum on-line and then asking your friends if they have used it. Instead, you pick it up, look at it, buy it, bring it home, and it works. Wow! What an amazing sense of accomplishment and a gratifying feeling of success. If this hasn't happened yet, it will come after an unknown amount of failed decisions. They won't all be great but you'll eventually find your groove.

Although if you're on a roll, beware because you might be just like me. I was feeling confident in my homeschooling, having found a groove that was working for us. Then, BAM. I came up against something new that caused angst again. It was called high school. It came a bit as a surprise how much angst I had as we began high school and how uncertain and new I felt. It was uncharted territory and I did not like feeling like a new-comer all over again. However, I found relief in trusting the Lord anew, embracing the uncertainty, and then just doing it. It's a good reminder that there can always be something new enough to keep me humble.

2) If it's working, don't change it.

Now, I just said to embrace that there is always something new because it is always changing and now I am saying, "If it's working, don't change it." There is a difference between the changes that come due to children changing grades and having new needs, which is different than changing for change sake. Or changing because we are wondering if it is working, or if we could do it better, or if we're missing out on the latest and greatest new curriculum choices that have created a stir in our homeschool circles.

There are many voices out there saying this is the best curriculum. This can feed my insecurities or my desire for creative change, depending on the day. However, in these 11 years I have come to respect that it has taken a lot of time and energy to find a good homeschooling groove.

If it's working, don't change it.

I learned this the hard way by changing several subjects all in one year.  I couldn't do all of them. It felt like starting all over. We didn't accomplish a lot but I did learn not to do that again.  I have found in general that I only have the energy to take on one or two changes in a school year. So instead of trying to change everything or a lot of things,

3) Only change the part that isn't working.

Keep the parts that are working. For instance, if you buy a full curriculum set, and nothing works but the read alouds, keep the read alouds. Or on the other hand, if everything is working in the set, except the read alouds, skip that part and find some other great books to read.

This leads to the next point:

4) Make the curriculum work for you.

It is only a starting point. It is a guide. It is not the law; it is a help. I have found in the subjects that I am more comfortable such as language arts and history, I can be much more free-flowing in the curriculum. Whereas, it has taken me a lot longer to feel comfortable and find a direction in the math and science department.

My sister-in-law is just the opposite of me. She found math and science curriculum that worked for her and has hardly changed her course in that. But that is because she can adapt the curriculum to make it work for her. Whereas, it has taken her much longer to find language arts curriculum because she feels weaker in that.

Making the curriculum work for you leads me to my next point that:

5) In the world of student-learning styles, you must remember that teacher preferences count.

Being able to individualize education to each student is a wonderful benefit to homeschooling. And exhausting. Remember: you are the teacher; you are one person; and how you are made is an important consideration when it comes to curriculum decisions. 

You, the teacher, are the driving force. The curriculum that has you passionate and fired up, or that simply works for you, is the very best choice for you and your family. Even if no one else you know uses it. Even if everyone else is using a different curriculum. Especially if it is the newest, and latest, and greatest, and you just heard about it. But remember, if what you are doing works, keep doing it. Don't change it. The teacher's enthusiasm and interest count for much more than the individual students preferred learning styles.

You need to do what works for you so that you can get the schooling done.

In time, any teacher can learn to adapt the curriculum to the student. Remember it is a guide, and a help and should work for you.

The teacher makes the curriculum work...not the other way around. So, you need to also remember that:

6) It's okay to hate the curriculum you bought, discard it, and start fresh at any point in the school year.

It is okay to try it and hate it. Eventually you'll be okay with that. The more expensive the purchase, the harder it is to admit that it is not working and that you need to just embrace it as part of your learning curve. Sometimes I have found that I need to just try that bell and whistle. And I do. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it flops. Even now, we have four sets of empty work books on my shelf reminding of just such a decision. I just need to sell it and move on, or give it away and move on so that it can stop making me feel guilty. The sooner you can get it off your shelf, the sooner you can stop feeling guilty for that decision.

Yes, you need to stop feeling guilty and remember that:

7) You'll never have the perfect curriculum but if you keep pursuing the calling that God has given your family, you will have great memories with your children. What an honor and a privilege. That's what we will really remember anyways: all this wonderful time with our children. This curriculum buying headache: it's worth it because it means time with our kids.

What tips and insights do you have to share about buying homeschool curriculum?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Happenings Around These Parts Lately

 Here is a little bit of what is happening in the small moments of my life lately.  I sorted my bags of beans and rice into clean jars. Then I got inspired and taped the bag labels on the jars. Just a small piece of organization in my home that all the cupboards and shelves wish that they had.
 This is a snapping turtle caught by my nine-year-old son with the help of his older sister. This turtle was caught in our 'creek'. It's not really a creek. It is the drainage water from the neighborhood and yet a snapping turtle lives in it and so do crawdads. We love our creek and it has provided hours of entertainment for these suburb-bound kids.

While my nine-year-old was catching snapping turtles, my 16-year-old was off for the weekend checking out a college. Eeek! How has this happened? How have they grown up? Because the oldest was off checking out a college, I can't even believe how much joy the catching of this snapping turtle in our yard brought me.

 I am finally getting brave enough to venture out on my own and purchase flowers and plant them. I think of my flower friends and gardening in-laws who have come alongside me to help me learn how to plant things. I've learned  a few things, especially how important water is to growing things. As in, you must remember to water your plants.

I can't even believe how happy it makes me to have planted flowers in my yard. I'm not very good at gardening because I am not too good at paying attention to when it is time to plant and taking advantage of good weather. So, I love my perennial bushes and trees that provide most of the color in our yard. But I am so excited about this small amount of flowers in my yard. It is a huge accomplishment for me.
This pictures is simply because it happened to be green shirt day for us and it wasn't even St. Patrick's Day! Three of the kids randomly selected green shirts so my oldest son put on a green shirt and told me that it was green shirt day. He even got wet mowing the lawn and changed into a second green t-shirt. The best surprise of the day was that Daddy was wearing a green shirt. He leaves for work before any of us are awake and so we never know what he is wearing. So it was a fun surprise that he, too, was wearing a green shirt. So we had to take a selfie to commenorate this very important moment.

What's happening in your world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Books to help grow deeper with God

I've been pondering for quite some time a post about my top favorite books. My top favorite fiction books are quite hard to narrow into a neat & tidy finite number that can be easily scribbled about on these pages.

However, as I have been thinking and writing and sharing some of what I am learning recently, I've realized that I am drawn again and again to the same books that help me in my walk with God.

These are the books that I read again and again. In some of them, I have taken to writing in the margins the date next to something that spoke to me and maybe something of the current circumstances that go with that date. As I reread the books, it is encouraging to read the longings in my heart that I prayed about that have been answered and to re-read the words that encouraged me during a particular season or challenge in my life.

The books I have found myself in repeatedly are the  Read Through the Bible in a Year checklist from Discipleship Journal, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot, and My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

I have recently added two books to the rotation that I can see becoming regulars. They are 31 Days of Praise and 31 Days of Prayer, both of which are by Ruth Meyer. Another book on the honorable mention list is Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor.

Even as I write these few books down, I feel compelled to begin to mention the many other books that have helped influence and shape me.  

However, truly the biggest impact has been the encouragement to read the Bible directly for myself.

I read a passage of Scripture and then try to write the verse or verses that have stood out to me for that day. I say try because the writing doesn't happen every day. Yet, I like those days best. So that even when I am using a devotional such as Jesus Calling, I usually read the bible verses first, write the two or three verses down that are referenced and then read the devotional. Sometimes when I do this, I find that I spend more time -- or feel more spoken to -- in the verses referenced than in the devotional. Sometimes it is the other way around.

Before I began using devotionals more regularly, I read through books of the Bible, instead of the jumping around that occurs in the devotionals. I highly encourage this reading straight through of books of the Bible, and to reading all of it for yourself. It is good to understand the big picture, the whole word of God. Just keep reading bit by bit, day by day, year by year, for yourself. Read verses here and there due to devotional direction. Read verses in a book by book plan through the Bible. Read the passages that your pastor is teaching about. Read your Bible.

Though I find myself in the morning, reading devotionals, I still read through the Bible. I often use the read through the Bible in  a Year List and check off the books. 

If I am doing a Bible study or a devotional that day, I do that, but then, when I don't know what to do, I go back to my checklist of reading through the Bible in a  year and just pick up where I have left off.

It helps prevent me not reading my Bible just because I don't know what to read. So sometimes it has taken my three to five years to actually 'read through the whole Bible' due to my diversions. There have been other seasons when I have been determined to finish it in a year. For my son, who reads very fast, he finds a year is too long in which to read the whole Bible. He reads it much faster than that. I'm pretty sure that I have never done that.

However, my point is to find a pace that works for you and read through the entire Bible. And when you finish, begin again: either to read it in a year, or 3 months, or on the diversion trail that I have described. Do whatever pace works for you, especially for whatever season of life that you are in. Be encouraged that His word does not go back to Him void. He is faithful to bring forth fruit in your life due to the faithful reading of His Word.

In my reading times, I read a passage of Scripture, copy a verse or two that I really liked, and then I write some thoughts about what I read. Sometimes as I go through a particular book or passage, I will answer a few questions, selecting one or more from this list:

* What did I learn about God?
* What did I learn about Jesus?
* What I did learn about the Holy Spirit?
* What did I learn about man?
* What did I learn about believers?
* What did I learn about non-believers?
* Is there a promise to claim?
* Is there a command to follow?
* How can I apply this Scripture to my life?

Sometimes I will write down my prayer requests. Sometimes I will write down questions about the passage that don't make sense.

Also, when I read the Word has changed throughout the years. For many years, I read just before bed. Then, when I got married and started a full-time job, I found it hard to read at bedtime so instead I read in the nooks and crannies of my time. When I was a mother with young children, I often read during nap time, if I could stay awake. Now, with older children, I find that I can take a leisurely time reading the Word in the morning again. It sure seems luxurious; I am trying to enjoy it because life has proven that it changes. There have been seasons when I have been able to read a lot and study the Word for hours several days a week. There have been seasons when I read the verse taped to my mirror each morning and dashed off to my responsibilities for the day. And everywhere in-between (including days, seasons of laziness).

Just keep reading the Word for yourself. No matter how long it has been since you last picked it up, just keep reading: Day by Day, Week by Week, Year by Year. I hope this encourages you to do that. If I can do it, so can you. Really you can!

How about you? 
What tips do you have  about how to spend time in God's Word in order to grow deeper in your walk with Him?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Some thoughts on teaching writing

As I've been thinking about how to teach writing, I've scribbled a couple of thoughts about it here. I'm no expert on how to teach writing; I love to write, I love to teach., and I am teaching my four children  how to write and so I thought I would share a part of my  journey with you.

Content of writing versus form of writing

There are two basic layers to teaching writing: content and form. There is the WHAT of what you want to say, or the content, and then there is the HOW of what you want to say, or the form. One of the difficulties of teaching how to write is just this: learning how to write while trying to figure out what to write.

In one sense the form or rules of writing can appear easier to teach than the content of writing. Somehow the rules of writing: grammar, spelling, capitalization, and commas seem easier to correct than content but they are closely related to content because WHAT you want to say influences HOW to say it.

Yet, I do agree that Content is more difficult to teach because how can you teach someone to think and to articulate ideas if they haven't already been thinking for themselves. As I pondered this difficulty of the tension between how to write and what to write, I asked another homeschool mom in passing how she taught her children to write. She said, "They write every day" and then she had to dash off.

I wasn't sure how that helped me. But I took that little nugget and came up with a method for them to write every school day. Now, after a few years, I see the beauty in this. The way to learn how to do something, is to do it.

So it is in writing that one can learn to write. 

Learn how to generate ideas
So how do we write to learn how to write? A simple form is a 10 minute journal. Find a notebook and a pen. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Find a prompt: such as a word or a question. Start the timer. Begin writing and don't stop writing while the timer is timing, even if it means that you write: "I don't know what to write but I have to write for 10 minutes: over and over again. There is no worrying about spelling, grammar, handwriting. Just write without stopping for ten minutes.

This simple exercise teaches you how to get ideas out of your head and onto page or screen. You can use a pen and paper or a computer. This exercise is somewhat like playing scales on the piano. It gives muscle memory about how to write.

Getting to the ideas in our minds is one skill set while organizing and editing those ideas is another skill set. When I began this idea, I was surprised how much my children enjoyed doing this and asked to do this and often write longer than the prescribed time.

Later on in our schooling, the students have had writing assignments when they simply stared at me with no idea how to begin. Then I told them to set a timer and write on the topic for 10 minutes without stopping -- idea generation! Immediately they got unstuck.

I also have them edit journal entries once a week. They take one of the free-writing sessions and give it form and structure, proper spelling and punctuation along with other editing as needed, so that it can become a piece of writing that they are proud of.

The next part of learning how to write is to read. It is important to read great books, great fiction books. It will introduce the children to books that have something worth reading both because of its content and its form. It therefore becomes important to:

Find great books. Read great books. 
Read them aloud; read them quietly. Read great books.

Finding great books does not necessarily mean the top 100 classic books that every child should read before going off to college. There may be some books on that list that are great, however, not all books are great just because they are on that list.

You need to learn how to find great books that are worth reading again and again.

It starts by finding the books that impact your heart, mind, and emotions, leaving you a changed person. Now, there are those books that many love. Those are good places to start but don't worry if that book isn't for you. You will find your way in time. Although I do need to caution you that a lot of the great books were written in a time and an age where time was slower-paced than our world is so some of the great books need to be given time to warm up -- maybe even halfway through the book. Yet, even after giving it some time, you may find that the book still doesn't resonate with you. That's fine. Set it down and keep looking.You'll need to learn some discernment and learn which books are great books by reading them.

It is hard work finding great books. It is hard work to find the type of book that impacts you both with its message and with the way it is said, but keep looking because it's worth it!

When you find the great books, read them aloud and  give them to your children to read them to themselves and read them yourself and don't get in the way. Enjoy the story for the story sake. Do NOT make your student write a book report.

Do take time to discuss favorite treasured parts of the book, as long as it's not forced. Keep a quote book of favorite pages. Keep a book journal, making a list of the books you've read and what you do or do not like about them. Read what your children are reading. Ask them what they like about it. Let them enjoy the story for the story sake -- just like you would enjoy a movie without dissecting it. Read it. Enjoy it.

Remember that every great book you love or that your favorite English teacher loves or your aunt that is always reading loves just MAY not be the book that you love. But find the fiction books that craft a story that draws you in. But is imperative for you to find really great books and have your children read really great books. Writers read.

And it is in the reading great books with great ideas that it will stir and generate ideas in your students. Childhood is a time to instill in children what is beautiful, awe-inspiring, and true. Children are curious quite naturally. They are fascinated with dandelions and bring them to their mothers. Fan the flame of their interests. Talk with them. Answer their questions and ask them questions. Spend time together and these activities will build experiences, thoughts, observations, and perceptions that they can then begin to put on paper.

There are many more aspects to writing but these two are great places to start. The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease is a great book to read to be inspired to read aloud to your children and includes a book list in the back. I have found some treasures in his book and at least one of his books that he went on & on about, I didn't like. I didn't read it aloud. BUT, the rest of the book inspired me and made me want to change the world by reading stories aloud to children, adults, to all the people of the world. It gave me a great perspective.

As far as editing writing, I use Strunk & White's Elements of Style. It is not a complete how-to manual but it is concise and helpful.

Any other thoughts that you may have about teaching writing? 
Did you have an inspirational writing teacher that taught you?

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