Yesterday as I was driving through Missouri after dropping my daughter back at college I listened to Christian broadcast radio for a while. (We got rid of satellite radio a few months ago when they cancelled all but one of their classical stations. I am even gladder about that decision now since discovering that their sacred/classical Christmas station has been cut down to a three-day period: December 24-26.)
Anyway, the program I listened to yesterday was a talk show about "faith and family" and featured a host interviewing a female guest about holiday stress. I don't remember the guest's name, but she was talking about how much women tend to burden themselves during the holiday season as they try to do whatever it takes to ensure a picture perfect celebration for their families. She said she was interested in encouraging women to keep things simple, focus on what is most important, and not try to do so much that we lose sight of the "reason for the season." It's a message I can appreciate and find myself taking to heart more and more. Last year as we were in the midst of an interstate move, I "punted" on sending out Christmas cards (gasp!). We are going to send them this year. But I am planning to keep the decorating very minimal. We are currently renting a smaller house than we are accustomed to and it is cluttered enough as it is without trying to squeeze in a lot of Christmas decor and knick-knacks. We usually chop down a real tree, but this year I am going to put up a small, (pre-lit?), artificial tree, open a box of bulbs, and call it a day. We plan to cut back the spending this year as well as we are trying to save a little more money to put toward a down payment on a forever home in the not too distant future.
But back to the radio broadcast. I was tracking with the guest very well until, towards the end of the program, she started trying to sell her line of products designed to help one attain just the right frame of mind and spiritual focus for the Advent/Christmas season. And here I was thinking I could do that by merely going to church. Silly me. :-)
If you answered yes, thank you. Because if you answered yes, you blessed your brothers and sisters in Christ, and you blessed me. If, on the other hand, you didn't sing, but only sat while those around you did so, you missed a God-given opportunity to encourage and build up, and be built up by, the Body of Christ.
Faithful church folk often give thought to how they might serve their neighbors in the congregation. Typically, they think of things like providing meals to those in need; getting involved in church governance; volunteering in the church office; serving as ushers, greeters and Altar Guild members; teaching Sunday School or VBS; or setting up for coffee hour. The list could go on. Maybe you do some of these things, or maybe you do something else. But if you aren't singing during church, you are overlooking one of the most basic callings you have as a member of a Christian congregation.
It is also one of the easiest ways you can serve, requiring no extra time on your part. You're in church anyway, right? And you have a functioning larynx? That's all you need. Contrary to what you might think, singing in church doesn't require any special training. God doesn't care whether you have a beautiful singing voice or whether you can read music and sing the right notes and rhythms, and neither do I. All that is required for this most important work is faith, the faith that was given to you in Baptism and the faith that is nourished each week as you hear the Word and receive the Sacraments. It is that faith which sings. It is that faith which cannot help but sing.
Please, dear friends. Sing. I need to hear you. My child needs to hear you. When his mind and his eyes wander, and he starts looking around the sanctuary, he needs to see not only his parents singing, but the people around him singing, with gusto. He needs for the Word of God to dwell in those around him so richly that he hears it coming at him from every corner of the room. I try my best to sing every stanza of every hymn and every line of liturgy, but sometimes I falter. Sometimes my voice cracks, or I run out of breath, or something in the hymn causes my throat to tighten and tears to well up so that I am unable to make it through to the end. That's when I need to hear you--behind me, beside me, in front of me--carrying on. That's when my family needs to hear you. And when you can't keep going, then it will be my turn to carry on for you. Together, only together, are we able to sing through to the very end.
I am a trained musician. But when I am in church what discourages me is not wrong notes or off-key singing. What discourages me is lack of singing. When you don't sing, not only do I miss out on what your voice has to contribute to the song of the assembled saints, but you miss out, too. When you passively sit while others sing, you are not experiencing the words as richly as you otherwise could. That is not to say that the Word is not having its way with you. But you are denying yourself the opportunity to have those words enter and take up residence in your being in yet another, God-given manner. And that is a grievous thing.
As the wife of a church musician, and as a church musician myself, I have heard lots of singing in church. And the truth is that some who might be tagged as the "worst" singers have over the years most beautifully sung faith into my heart. Why? Because they don't hold back. They don't worry about how they sound. They sing, from the depth of their being, because they can do no other. And in doing so, they testify to the faith they have been given and thereby build up those around them.
Along with the prophet Jeremiah, let us not just gaze upon and smell the great banquet of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that our dear Father has provided for our nourishment. Let us swallow them down ravenously and come back for more. Let us serve them up in abundance for those who join us at the table, passing the plate around, one to the next, sending it back to the Chef to get reloaded, and passing it around again. It's a feast meant to be shared, and there's a place for you, no matter how messy an eater (or singer) you may be.
Your words were found,and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15:16)
It reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago along the same lines. As parents we experience countless "lasts" with our children. Sometimes we know going in that it's the last time; sometimes we don't. Sometimes the "last" is a momentous event (graduation, confirmation); other times it's trivial (tying shoes or applying a bandage). Sometimes, while it's the last time for one child, we know there are others waiting in the wings to do the same thing. But if we're on our last child, there are all sorts of lasts that are specific not only to him but that are the last time we'll do that thing with any of our children, ever.
Yesterday something that came up in a conversation with Evan, my 10-year-old, prompted me to start reciting from the book One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. How many times I have read that book over the years, starting with Trevor (now 22), then with Caitlin (now 19), and finally with Evan. It has to have been hundreds! No wonder I can still recite large portions of it from memory. Sometimes when I do I can hear in my head the exact way it sounded on my children's lips. So it was a sweet and serendipitous surprise last night when Evan asked not only if we could read the book at bedtime, but if he could read it to me. (I am really glad my 10-year-old still likes Dr. Seuss.) We sat together, and he read, and we laughed, and I remembered. . . . and wondered whether this was another last last.
Oh, my poor, neglected blog. I bet you thought that I had left you for someone else. But I would never do that. I have just been busy.
These days in addition to all the usual mom/daughter/wife stuff, I am tutoring at Sylvan Learning Center about three half days per week, accompanying two church choirs, and spending one day per week accompanying for a local middle school. My insomnia, which seemed to have gone into remission for a while, is back. Why is it that rest is hardest to come by when you most need it? I am reminded of this cartoon I have seen a few times on Facebook (please note that "laying" in the last frame should be "lying." But I digress.):
Um, yeah. The other day Evan (my ten-year-old) told me, "Don't worry about school today, Mom. You need your rest." Since I do need my rest, I almost took him up on it, but my Responsible Self won out. Nice try, honey.
My big kids are thriving and blossoming and doing amazing things away at college, and I am thrilled for and proud of them beyond words. This is what parenting is all about--seeing them soar. If anyone ever asks me what good I ever contributed to the world I need only point at my children. They are, all three of them, better people than I, and that makes me happier than I can say.
My mom has been diagnosed with a squamous-cell carcinoma on her foot, also known as Bowen's Disease. A new journey begins.
It was a beautiful summer in Oklahoma, and is shaping up to be a beautiful fall. We are thankful.
It just dawned on me that the piece I wrote for The Federalisthas a rather wonderful ironic twist to it. In my article I took issue with the position held by Ezekiel Emanuel that it is best for a person to die before he starts to experience a steep decline in health, mental acuity, and usefulness. As part of his argument, Emanuel cites research suggesting that most people peak in their forties:
. . . by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us. . . . Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline. There are some, but not huge, variations among disciplines. Currently, the average age at which Nobel Prize–winning physicists make their discovery—not get the prize—is 48. . . . Simonton’s own study of classical composers shows that the typical composer writes his first major work at age 26, peaks at about age 40 with both his best work and maximum output, and then declines, writing his last significant musical composition at 52.
For the record, the year your humble blogger turned 50 is the same year she sold her first article to a national magazine. Take that, Emanuel.
Apparently so. Two nights ago I was having one of those nights when my brain just refuses to turn off. I have learned that if I can't get to sleep in half an hour it's not going to happen for a while and I might as well get up. This time instead of turning on Nick at Nite and watching Friends (my go-to non-medicinal remedy) I decided to write. The next morning I sent what I had written to one of my favorite online magazines. Imagine my surprise when several hours later I got an acceptance letter. Woot. My article went up on the site today (talk about fast turnaround!), so here it is in case you missed it and would like to read it.
When you're rearing an HSC (highly sensitive child), it can sometimes be hard to judge the extent to which you should shield him from things you know will upset him. On the one hand, you want to protect him from undue stress. If he doesn't like Halloween decorations, what is there to be gained by making him go places where he's going to encounter them? At the same time, you don't want to coddle him. The older he gets, the more he's going to find himself in situations where he has to handle things on his own, without Mom or Dad going ahead to make sure it's safe. So as a parent, you look for opportunities to "gently" toughen him up (assuming that's not a total oxymoron).
Yesterday in Evan's history book* we read about the Lewis and Clark expedition. The author recounted how, when the explorers ran out of food, they were forced to kill one of the horses for meat. As I heard the words coming out of my mouth, I looked at Evan. So far, so good. He was frowning, but handling it. But then we read the next paragraph:
"The horsemeat kept them from starving. But if they killed too many horses, they wouldn't be able to move fast enough to survive. So they ate some of the hunting dogs as well. . . . "
Uh-oh. There was more about how Clark disliked the dog meat while Lewis liked it, but we didn't get that far. Instead we stopped reading and I explained to my crying son that as terrible as it sounds to us as dog lovers, the humans had to come first. Not only is a human's life more valuable than an animal's, but if the humans had died of starvation, the rest of the animals would have perished as well because there would have been no one to take care of them. Evan absorbed all of this while lying on the floor trying to comfort our own dog, who he was certain was traumatized by the history lesson.
Eventually, with the passage in question behind us and the tears stemmed, we read on. But moments later, I saw this one coming: "In all that time, only one of the party had died--from appendicitis."
Sigh. Evan has long had a fear of getting appendicitis. Did his mom do an on-the-fly edit? What do you think?
. . . to read the first chapter of my daughter's novel. It is linked here. I know I'm her mom, but I am beyond impressed and totally sucked in to this story. I don't know when she will make more of it available, but if you are so inclined, please go on over and read and encourage her to see this tale through. She welcomes your comments and constructive criticism.
My son had his first Confirmation class this week. It was an orientation meeting during which parents and students were provided with an overview of the schedule and expectations for the year. Everyone was asked to sign a covenant committing to carry out those expectations as faithfully as possible. After students and parents signed on their lines, the covenants were collected, at which point Evan asked the meeting leader when he could expect to get his covenant back. You see, there were lines on the covenant not only for student and parent, but also for teacher, DCE (Director of Christian Education), and pastor. Evan wanted to make sure each of those individuals would be providing his or her signature, and he wanted his covenant back so he could see the signatures. He also wanted his covenant back so he would be able to remember what he had agreed to by signing his own name.
I don't think the normal procedure is to return the signed covenants to the students, but Evan was told he would be provided a copy. In a world in which we routinely sign on the dotted line without having read every last word of what we're signing, I appreciate how seriously my son is taking this class and his commitment to it. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone did the same?
Yesterday I had one of those days, stacked from beginning to end. I used to have them with regularity when we lived in Illinois. In Oklahoma, life has been much less intense. That has been a welcome change, but there is also something satisfying about having a day where you don't have to think about what to do because it is all laid out for you. Here is my timeline for yesterday.
6:00 Woke up, had coffee, did two hours of Sylvan online training
8:00 Woke up Evan, showered, filled out forms for new dentist
9:30-11:00 Dentist appointment for me and Evan (no cavities!)
11:00 - 12:00 Grocery shopping
12:00-1:00 - Dealt with refrigerator repair man
1:00-3:00 - The lull in the storm. Lunch, coffee/Facebook/email break, a little school with Evan, made chili so it would be ready for drive-by supper later.
3:00-5:30 - Onsite training at Sylvan Learning Center. I did my first actual teaching! Phillip came home to have supper with Evan and take him to Confirmation at 6:00.
5:30-6:30 - Raced home, had supper, cleaned up dishes, went to church for Catechism/Communion service.
6:30-8:30 - At church. Yay!
8:30-10:00 - Came home, watched some Spongebob with Evan, got ready for bed.
10:00-10:30 - Read and unwind.
10:30 - Lights out (at which point, naturally, I was unable to get to sleep).
Looking over this list now, it doesn't seem quite as overwhelming as it seemed yesterday. I think the level of Crazy I am able to tolerate is declining as my years increase. Or maybe I'm just out of practice. But you see how much homeschooling got done yesterday. You can imagine how much housecleaning got done. Luckily, not every day will be like this. I have been wanting to do something about my Facebook addiction. I think Everyday Life is going to take care of that for me!
For those who are interested, I thought I would post Evan's and my schedule. It is still a work in progress and may get tweaked. But I thought my homeschooling friends, especially, might find it interesting to compare notes.
6:00 Mom wakes up. Have coffee/chat time with hubby, exercise, check email/Facebook/blogs, shower, do morning chores, have breakfast.
8:00 Wake up Evan if he is not already up. From 8-9 he needs to do his morning routine (breakfast, grooming, chores), after which he can have free time until 9:00.
9:00-11:00 Devotion followed by first school block. No screens for either of us. School work that needs more mom involvement will be the priority during this time. At least half of school checklist needs to be completed during the morning block.
11:00-12:00 Free time if morning school done.
1:00-1:30 Silent reading, for both of us. I think in school they call it DEAR. ("Drop Everything And Read.")
1:30-3:00 Second school block. Finish assignments for the day. Practice piano. No screens (exception for me if I am writing, but no Facebook).
3:00 Free time if all schoolwork done.
This will be our general outline, but there are daily deviations, as follows.
Teaching at Sylvan Learning Center 3:30-6:30. Dad is home on Mondays so he will help out with homeschooling and cooking supper. :-D
Children’s Choir for Evan, 4:30-6:00. From there Evan and I will go directly to church for adult choir. Fast food or sack supper night!
Weekly (or semi-weekly) play date with homeschooling friends, 9:30-11:30. (Whoops, there goes that morning school block!)
Teaching at Sylvan for me, 3:30-6:30. I will need to have something prepared for supper as Phillip will come home to eat with Evan and take him to Confirmation. I will meet them at church for Catechetical/Communion service. Another sack supper night for me.
This is a lighter day! Right now there is only one scheduled activity: Schola Cantorum (children's choir) at 4:00-5:00. We hope to add swimming in the morning. Phillip has church responsibilities so I think Thursdays will be "Mom & Evan Pizza, Popcorn, and Movie Night." :-D I think Thursday will also be grocery shopping day. Um, maybe it's not such a light day after all. . . .
Most Fridays I will be playing piano at a nearby school 9-10 and 1-3. Phillip is home in the morning to help with homeschooling. In the afternoon Evan will need to work independently, with me checking his work when I get home. He won't be completely on his own, though, as Grandma and Willard (the dog) will be here to help. :-)
Teach at Sylvan Learning Center 9:00-12:00. Dad will be home most Saturday mornings.
Saturday afternoon: Laundry & housecleaning.
Church and rest, of course! Not to mention caipirinhas mixed by my favorite bartender. Yay for Sundays!
What this helps me to see is that we will not be having supper together as a family Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. I guess four family suppers out of seven is not bad. The nice thing about homeschooling is that we get more breakfasts and lunches together than families in traditional schools. Truth be told, I don't love cooking supper. I think I'm going to like this schedule. :-D
(P.S. Ironically, even though I'm going to be cooking fewer suppers, without the freedom and time to make many quick trips to the market every week, I'm also going to have to get better at planning the meals we do have together. Hmmm, I think that's another blog post. . . . )
Two new jobs.
It all starts back up this week!
In light of the above, I have been doing a lot of planning and prepping, trying to figure out how it's all going to fit together. Last fall was strange. I wasn't working. I didn't have choirs to play for. My husband was in one state, I in another as we waited for our house to sell. So the mindset of "not enough time" that has been such a defining part of my existence for the last 15 years had a chance to recede. It has been a blessedly relaxing year, but I think I am ready to have more to do. Not as much as I used to, ;-) but more. As the schedule slowly fills up I find myself feeling more motivated than I have felt in a long time. That is probably also a function of fewer bad things happening. But busy-ness is good. It makes one feel useful. God knew what He was doing when He put Adam in the Garden to "work it and keep it." Even in his pre-fallen state, Adam needed things to do. He had a sense of vocation. Of course, during the time that I wasn't working a paying job, with two children and a husband at home, I still had vocational purpose. But now there is only one child at home, and he is becoming more self-sufficient, and as he becomes even moreso I am going to have more time to serve my neighbor. I am thankful this fall that God has seen fit to give me a few more ways to do that that will also put a few more dollars in the bank. :-)
So. How can I return to a fuller schedule without its overwhelming and getting the best of me? I think I need to reclaim a few old practices that I have drifted away from in the last five or so years. The first of those is waking up early. I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool morning person. When my children were small, I made a point of waking up hours before they did just so I could enjoy those precious, quiet morning moments. I have gotten away from that, in part because I haven't needed to wake up so early but also because of plain old apathy and lack of motivation. Instead of waking up between 5 and 6 a.m., I more often wake up between 7 and 8. That is late for me. Time to start setting the alarm clock again!
Second, I need to set limits to my online time. It is so easy to wake up, pour the coffee, go into computer land, and not come out until hours later. The result is that mornings, which have always been my most productive time of day, get frittered away. To avoid that happening, I need to set start and stop times for my online activity. And once those times are set, I need to abide by them.
Third, not only do I need to assign times for waking up and going to bed and using the computer, but I need to do so for other things as well. That becomes more needful and, ironically, easier when your time is no longer your own. As I look at my weekly schedule taking shape, with choir rehearsals, Evan's activities, and paid work claiming large chunks, it is going to be important to schedule the other things I want to do. Blogging, exercise, piano practicing, reading, housecleaning, cooking, shopping, laundry . . . . They aren't going to happen organically. They need designated times, too.
If you have any tricks or suggestions that you have found helpful for staying on top of the to-do list, I would love to hear them!
You try to protect them. You think you have done so. And then you discover that no matter how hard you try, you can't completely shield them from the difficult truths of life.
A few days ago my 10-year-old and I watched an episode of Spongebob Squarepants. In it, Spongebob gets fired from his job at the Krusty Krab because his boss, Mr. Krabs, is trying to cut costs. Spongebob is fired rather than his coworker Squidward because Squidward has seniority. The rest of the episode depicts Spongebob trying various other restaurant jobs (with such success that the other owners end up fighting over and kidnapping him from one another) but ultimately getting hired back at the Krusty Krab because his presence there is so missed.
Some hours after we had watched this episode, Evan asked me, "Mom, what is seniority?" I told him, and after a pause he asked, "Does Dad have seniority?"
There was a world of meaning in that sentence. After my husband was let go from his job a few years ago, we tried our best to shield Evan from the specifics of the situation. It wasn't just a matter of his dad getting fired; it was a matter of it being done by people Evan knew and trusted. We didn't want him to be hurt by that knowledge so were careful not to speak of it around him and to explain the changes in his life in the vaguest terms possible. But ultimately, kids know when something isn't right. They know when their parents are sad. They know when their family is struggling.
I couldn't bear to tell him that no, actually, right now Dad doesn't have seniority. He's only been in his current position, and we have only been in our current church, for a year. So I fumbled for an answer, doing my best to reassure him that things are good here and that his Dad is not in any danger of getting fired the way Spongebob was. But on the other hand I can't really know that for sure, can I? We can't ever be sure what tomorrow will bring. As I write this I think it would have been better for me to tell him the truth: that even though his dad doesn't have seniority in the world, in the person and work of Jesus he has all the seniority he needs, because Jesus invites him (as He invites all of us) to sit at the head of the table, partaking of the finest food and drink even though we have not earned nor deserved it. In Jesus we need not worry about finding our place in the world, because that place has already been determined and set for us, and it is one from which there is no threat of demotion.
Job security? No, Evan, we don't really have that. Not any more than the next guy. But what we do have is the certainty of an eternal place in the Lord's kingdom, a place He created for us two thousand years ago on the cross and one from which He promises we will never be dismissed.
On Friday I took my daughter to college. On Sunday I left her there.
If you've ever seen the movie Big you'll remember the last scene. In it, the female lead, Susan, takes Josh, the little-boy-turned-big, back home to his real life. As Adult Josh trudges through the autumn leaves towards his house, Susan looks briefly away. When she turns back for a last look, Adult Josh has become Young Josh. He smiles and waves, then turns and runs home, calling for his family.
This weekend I experienced something like that, only in reverse. On Sunday after we went to church I took my daughter back to her dorm. We had to rush our goodbye, as it was already 11:30 and she had a required event to go to at noon. We had gotten some fast food, and she had hurriedly eaten in the car, but I had not eaten yet, so after we hugged goodbye I sat in the car a while longer, trying to stem the tears to the point I could take a few bites of my bean burrito. I watched my daughter half-walk, half-run down the sidewalk toward her dorm, but instead of seeing a college student I saw a kindergartener. Panic quickly ensued. What in the world was I doing, leaving a 5-year-old to fend for herself in college? This was all wrong! But a few minutes later it wasn't a 5-year-old who re-emerged from the dorm. It was a young woman. She briefly stopped to study her map, and I resisted the urge to jump out of the car, run down the sidewalk, and help her figure out where to go. I knew she needed to do this on her own, and more important, I knew she would be able to do this on her own.
This is the last look I had at my daughter on Sunday: my little-girl-turned-big, on her way to the rest of her life.
Looks like it's time for the annual homeschool planning post. Today I ordered materials for the coming year. Since I only have one student now and we are carrying several of last year's books into this year, the order was not large. Still, I obsessed over it for several weeks. This publisher or that one? That book or the other one? Even after all these years, it is hard to know what's going to work and what's not.
Here, for those who are interested in such things, is a rundown of what we plan to do for fifth grade.
We started Saxon 54 last year. We didn't get as far in it as I would have liked. The goal will be to finish it this year.
We also used Saxon for grammar last year. We still have plenty we can do in that book, too, but for fifth grade I am going to return to a curriculum we tried for the first time a few years ago. It is from Queen Homeschool Supplies and uses an integrated, literature-based Charlotte Mason approach. You can view the book here.
We have some work to do in this area. Evan has learned the basics of cursive but we have not emphasized it heavily. This year we will work on fluency. To do so I found a new product, also from Queen Homeschool, that combines the study of art with practice in handwriting. The books utilize Zaner-Bloser style, which as luck would have it is what we teach in our homeschool. Take a peek here.
This is the area I struggled with most. Evan likes science, and I want him to keep liking it. Last year we did Exploring Creation with Astronomy from the Apologia Elementary series. I love these books for the conversational approach and the beautiful illustrations, and there are at least six more books on various topics, including several branches of zoology, botany, human anatomy, and chemistry/physics. But it seems to me that when we stick too long to one topic Evan tends to get bored. So I have opted to use this A Beka book as our main science text because of the variety of topics that it covers. I have used it before and it is attractive and accessible. Plus, it comes with a useful activity book. It is possible to spend a lot of money ordering supplementary materials from A Beka (such as the lesson plans and the quiz and test booklets), but I have learned that I don't need any of that. The main text has chapter checkups that cover the same thing as the tests. And the lesson plans just lay out a day-by-day plan for getting through the book, something I think I am capable of figuring out on my own. I don't think it will take us a year to get through this book. Once we're finished, I may follow up with several volumes of the Apologia series on the topics Evan seems to enjoy most before we gear up for Jay Wile's secondary science curriculum.
Yes, we're going to do Latin this year. I don't think I've broken the news to Evan yet. We'll use Prima Latina, but here again, I didn't buy the teacher's edition or the pronunciation CD's. Unless they've been updated, those pronunciation CD's leave a bit to be desired. I took a little Latin in college and think I can manage the pronunciation as well as do without the answer book. Why do we teach Latin at this age when we probably won't stick with it through high school? I think it is beneficial for teaching an understanding of the building blocks of language that doesn't automatically come from studying only English. The learning of Latin roots is helpful in vocabulary development. Studying another language now is good preparation for learning one in greater depth later. And besides, it's fun! (Evan doesn't know that yet, but he will.)
Evan will be in Confirmation class at church this year and will receive his First Communion at the Easter Vigil (yay!). In family devotions for the last few years we have been using the Treasury of Daily Prayer. That will probably continue, but I am hoping our home devotions will become a little Evan-friendlier this year. He has often had to sit and listen to the big people talk over his head. It will be nice to tailor the teaching to his level for a change. We will, of course, incorporate the catechism songs. :-)
Reading aloud has always been the core of our home school. Our readalouds bounce between something that fits the period of history we are studying and something chosen for its literary value. Right now we are working our way through the Narnia series. We will probably pick something historical after that. To encourage independent reading (something Evan doesn't automatically do) I am planning to institute a daily silent reading time where both of us will sit and read. I need the discipline, too. I am getting my reading chops back, but I still need to work harder to carve out interruption-free time for it.
Let's see, what am I leaving out? In addition to these main areas of study, Evan will continue with piano lessons as well as sing in two choirs (one at church, the other a community children's chorus). I am also looking for a PE option for him, probably swimming or tennis (or both). Another possibility is Tae Kwon Do, which his sister enjoyed and which I think he would enjoy, too, since he is pretty keen on Power Rangers. Finally, we are working on setting up a regular, weekly time to get together with several other homeschoolers from church. We'll let the kids play while the moms chat. Maybe we'll even do something educational every now and then. :-)
Yesterday we went to the home of friends who have a swimming pool. It was a wonderful afternoon. At one point, while I was floating around the pool on an inflatable chair, I remarked that it was very comfortable but rather hard to steer. Evan replied, "You're missing the point, Mom. You're just supposed to relax."
Oh, right. That. What would I do without this kid to around to keep me properly centered? :-)
Today in Bible class we studied Luke 19:28-40, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Pastor pointed out how this point in Jesus' earthly life is in a literary sense like the turning point in a story where suddenly everything pivots and the final chapter of the narrative starts to play out. Jesus, of course, knew what was to come and in his humanity certainly felt all the overwhelming emotions one might expect. One of the men in the class asked if, since Jesus also knew the ultimate outcome (his resurrection from the dead and redemption of all creation), that knowledge might have made it easier for him to face the events of the week. Pastor responded by pointing out that we as God's people have that same knowledge. We know how the story ends, yet we still struggle every day with the crosses we are called to bear. Knowing the outcome, such that we can keep our eyes firmly fixed upon it, strengthens us in our resolve and in our faith. But it doesn't make the pain and sadness of the present any less real.
The LCMS triennial worship conference is going on right now and I am not there. For many months I had planned to accompany my husband, who is teaching and playing, but when it came right down to it we could not justify the cost of my attendance. It has been a summer of unusual expenditures, with more to come as we launch our second-born into college. So I decided to be a grown-up and make the mature decision. Of course, having made the mature decision, it now makes utter sense for me to take to my blog to whine about it. ;-)
I would have liked to have been there for many reasons. Here are a few: Harrison, Kleinig, Vieker, Wilken, Weedon, Stuckwisch, Peters, Hildebrand, Soulek, Curtis, Muth, Blersch, Esget, Kohrs, Starke, Magness . . . . The list could go on. And then there's the worship. Oh, the worship. I know, I know. I get wonderful worship every weekend. I have the best cantor in synod, after all! :-) But my husband does not have the major responsibility for worship this week in Seward. He wrote a new setting of Psalm 85 and will be playing it, but I think that is all he is doing musically, which means for most of the liturgies he will be in the pew. Oh, that I could have been sitting beside him, something I so rarely get to do. :-(
I would have also liked to have been there to attend Phillip's sessions. He is teaching a seminar (3-day course) on "Bridging the Gap" (in worship) as well as a workshop on leading hymns from the piano. I have instructed him that I will be expecting nightly updates on the day's proceedings. He has promised to comply.
The silver lining to this dark cloud is that by staying behind I am maximizing my time with two whose days under this roof are drawing extremely short. (The third has quite a few more years to go.) As for Phillip, I am anticipating another 40-50 years under the same roof with him. :-)
So here I blog, and watch from afar, and live vicariously through my husband (as I am wont to do). Not a bad deal, if you ask me. I guess it doesn't burn so much, after all. :-D
All of you who are there, the best thing you can do for those of us who aren't is to soak it all in. Bask. And then come home and rub off a little of the heaven on the ones you left behind.
As shared in Tuesday's post, yesterday was my 50th birthday. Even so, I had expected it to be a quiet day. This is because I thought my husband was out of town. Now, before you start crying foul, please know that I encouraged him to be out of town. For a Lutheran cantor, summer affords more time for worthwhile non-parish activities and projects. This July proved to be pretty busy in that regard for Phillip. First, he was asked to serve as musician for a Doxology gathering, a program with which he has had a long association and strongly believes in but that also contributes a few extra clinks to our family piggy bank. Second, it happens that this summer is the occasion of triennial worship conferences for both the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). Phillip was asked to teach a seminar at the LCMS event. He has previously presented at the WELS conference and has many friends and professional contacts in WELS, so I encouraged him to attend that one, too, since it was conveniently sandwiched between the Doxology and LCMS gatherings. I thought it would be an opportunity for him to recharge, connect with friends, and promote Liturgy Solutions on the eve of its 10-year-anniversary. He resisted because to do so would cause him to be away for my birthday. I pushed. He resisted. I pushed some more. Finally, he relented.
Only he didn't relent. As it happens, that crazy cantor had other plans.
This past Friday night we had what I thought was my 50th birthday party. It was wonderful. It did not bother me that it was not on my birthday on the calendar. I don't get too caught up in those kinds of details. What mattered to me was having my family all together. We went out to a delicious meal at a nearby German restaurant, then came home to presents and dessert. And what presents and dessert they were! I received some Estée Lauder eye shadow I've been wanting, both the original and the updated Broadway soundtrack recordings of Pippin (which Caitlin and I saw in New York), some new Birkenstock sandals, and . . . wait for it . . . a voucher for a 3-1/2 hour spa treatment. I was blown away!
See? Blown away. (I actually have no idea what I'm doing in this picture.)
So you can see why, in my mind, I had been sufficiently fêted. Who cares whether it was on the 19th or the 23rd? Not I. Yesterday, on my actual birthday, I woke up to hugs from my children, had a leisurely morning at home, and after lunch went out to do some shopping (my mom wanted me to pick out something from her since she can't shop for me). Then I stopped off at Starbucks for some coffee and computer time. It was while I was there that I received a call from my daughter. "Mom, we were just wondering where you were. It looks like there's a storm coming." I scratched my head a little because Caitlin is usually not a worrier and the weather didn't seem that ominous, but I told her I had one more stop to make and would be home directly. When I got home I went to my room to rest a while, having been instructed that I didn't need to worry about supper.
A short time later the door bell rang. I wondered who it could be, since I wasn't expecting any visitors or deliveries. I headed for the front door, which had already been opened by my children, and lo and behold, there was my husband, arms full of flowers, grocery bags, and cards. !!!!!!!!!!
Yes, I cried.
I was promptly informed that I was silly to think he would not be here on the day I actually turned 50. Then I was told to relax and open cards (solicited and collected on Facebook from many friends and family by the aforementioned husband) and enjoy a kir while supper was cooked for me. Supper turned out to be cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, Thai coconut salmon with basil on a bed of spinach and rice, green beans almondine, and strawberry-rhubarb pie. After supper, my dear ones around the table took turns sharing fond memories of their wife, mom, and daughter.
Did I mention the crying?
After a supper that was better in every way than Friday's, I looked at a few more of my Facebook birthday messages while the clean-up crew got busy. Then we settled in for a movie (this one--if you haven't watched it, you should).
Here are a few pictures from my Second Birthday.
Two of my cooks (the bartender also cooked)
The table almost set (many of my readers will appreciate the microscope in the background ☺).
My plate of deliciousness
If you're wondering about the rest of the story, it is that Phillip left Doxology a day early. He got to Oklahoma Tuesday night--Tuesday night! (the little stinker)--and stayed in a hotel. He's not going to Wisconsin (sorry, WELS). He will be here through Sunday, at which point he will head to Nebraska for the LCMS Institute.
My spa day is scheduled for next week, and will include an aromatherapy wrap with a 15-minute scalp massage, a one-hour hot stone massage, one-hour spa facial, and a spa foot treatment with paraffin. I told Caitlin she needed to come and take pictures for the blog (JUST KIDDING). I love words, and I tend to pile them on, but words and pictures are insufficient to capture the emotions of a day that I will never forget. So let me wrap this up with a nice, pithy cliché (hey, clichés are full of time-tested truth):
Sometimes I still can't believe everything that has happened. Two years ago around this time we were coming off a period of terrible, painful upheaval during which my husband had been fired and we had spent several months in limbo, without the certainty of an income going forward and without the support of our church home of 13 years. Thanks be to God that our time of uncertainty was short-lived, as He did lead my husband to a new job and us to a new church. And yet one year ago we found ourselves facing another huge change, as Phillip accepted a position in Oklahoma and we had to say goodbye again, this time to a church family we had barely had time to get to know (but already loved). As my husband left Illinois to begin his new job, I stayed behind to sell the house. Our separation lasted almost six months, and during that time my mom, who lives with us, and who had broken her hip on Christmas Day 2012, struggled mightily with post-operative pain and rehab and, eventually, another hip surgery.
This is not supposed to be a "poor me" post. On the contrary. As I look back at all we have been through and where we are now, I am reminded yet again of the Lord's infinite and gracious mercy. Sometimes when my husband and I wake up in the morning and head out to enjoy coffee on our patio, we just look at each other in disbelief. It has been a long time since we have felt this relaxed and at peace. So tonight, on the eve of my fiftieth birthday, I ask your indulgence as I pause to take stock. How am I blessed? Let me count the ways.
1) I made it to 50! (Well, almost.) And barring some very minor physical ailments, I am in good health (and could feel even better if I would work at it a little harder).
2) I have been married to my first and only boyfriend for over 27 years. He doesn't get enough credit for putting up with me. It isn't easy. (You people only see what I decide to share after much editing.)
3) I have three amazing children who only get more amazing every day. They are all in good health, and they all know their Savior. Two of them are in college on scholarship, and the third is going to be around for me to hassle at least eight more years. And I get to homeschool him!
4) My husband has a job. He enjoys his work and the people he works with. I get to piddle around making a few bucks here and there doing things I like to do. We have everything we need, and many of the things we want.
5) My mom has bounced back incredibly this year from a long period of injuries and depression. She is enjoying her days in a way she hasn't in a very long time.
6) We live in Oklahoma! It is prettier than I could have ever imagined, and yes, the mornings are like something out of a movie.
7) We belong to a great, confessional Lutheran church with a dedicated, caring staff, faithful elders, and kind and loving members.
8) Evan will receive his First Communion this year!
9) We have a great house that we are renting. (We do hope to buy again, but in the meantime, it sure is nice to not be responsible. If something goes wrong, we just dial up the landlord.)
10) Life has slowed down to the extent that we are finding time to enjoy it. As I look back over the last 15 years, it seems that so much of it was spent constantly on the go, trying to make ends meet, trying to please others, trying to prove something (not sure what), just trying, trying, trying. I don't mean that there weren't good days. There were--many of them. But they were exhausting. It is blessed relief to find ourselves in a place where there is time to breathe, time to sit, time to think, time to read, time to walk, time to watch movies and cook and play games. For so long there was no time for anything but to go on to the next thing. Now it's actually possible to make the Next Thing wait.
During some of our darkest days, a wise friend and teacher told us, "Expect blessing." When everything seems to be going wrong, it is hard to trust those words. Yet we know that in all things, even in our sufferings, God blesses, and so we cling to His promises, and wait, and hope. I don't want to make the mistake of looking at the ease of these days as some sort of reward for having come through a difficult period. We are poor, miserable sinners who have earned nothing and deserve nothing. And I know there will be hard times again. But I sure am glad for this stretch, however long it lasts, and for our Lord's grace, today and always.
"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Last week my daughter and I made our long-awaited trip to New York City! She did a great write-up of our goings and doings, and I only have a few things to add.
First, thank you to my husband, whose idea it was for us to take this trip. Thanks also go to him for valuing travel so much that he has acquired several credit cards that earn travel rewards. Our airfare for this trip was paid for entirely by points, as were two of our three hotel nights. All we had to pay for was food and activities. By far the largest expense was attending two Broadway shows. Walking in Central Park was free. The boat ride was not costly, especially since I got a discount for purchasing tickets online in advance. We only spent a couple of hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so I did not pay the "recommended" $25 per person admission price but opted for $10 instead. We got breakfast free in the hotel each day, and a friend treated us to lunch on Wednesday. It was such a big, late lunch that we didn't need supper Wednesday night, settling instead for dessert before the show. I think we only spent a little over $100 on food for both of us.
Second, let's hear it for your humble blogger! My closer friends know that I am an extremely nervous flyer. I date my nervousness to a very bumpy trip taken when I was quite pregnant with my first child. I am not sure what has changed, but in the last year I have gotten better. I don't think I grabbed my daughter's arm in panic once. We did have very nice, smooth flights. And my dear husband made sure we had direct flights (even though he had to drive us two hours to Arkansas to get them).
I am also proud of myself for successfully leading my daughter around New York City using public transportation! On the night we arrived, I spent a good half hour on the phone with my husband, who had charted out for us the subways and buses we needed to take to do what we wanted to do. That helped immensely. But I guess somewhere deep down inside I do have a little directional intuition (this will surprise my husband). We didn't make a single subway or bus mistake! There was once or twice early on that we were waiting for a subway but I somehow sensed it wasn't the right one and we backtracked and changed course. (The challenge when you're unfamiliar with the city is not finding the right train but making sure that once you have found it you head the right direction!)
We never felt unsafe. We encountered some odd characters, to be sure. Several times on the subway people came walking down the aisle, sharing their sob story and asking for money. That was uncomfortable. And there were some nearly naked people walking around Times Square. I was glad Evan wasn't there--he would have been horrified.
Caitlin asked me what my favorite parts of the trip were. It is hard to say, but seeing Pippin is probably at the top. It was stunning in every way, the consummate Broadway experience both musically and visually. The first glimpse of Times Square in the dark was magical. As Caitlin says, it was so bright it could have been daytime. By Thursday afternoon, when we got to the museum, we were already so exhausted that I don't think I enjoyed that as much as I expected. My feet were tired and hurting. We were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. After a couple of hours we gave up and went and lay on the grass together in Central Park. I enjoyed that as much as anything.
If money and time were no object, I would choose to spend at least a week and follow up each day of activity with a day of rest. I wish we could have done more. I would have liked to have taken a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty instead of just seeing them from the boat on our sightseeing tour. I would have considered walking in the area of the Twin Towers, if not actually touring the 9/11 Memorial (which has had mixed reviews). I would have liked to see Battery Park. The list could go on.
More than anything, I am thankful for the time spent with my daughter, who will be leaving for college in about four short weeks. Having this time with her, making memories that we will always share, was the best part of all.
My first and second born children were bookworms from the get-go. I never had to encourage them to read; they just did it. Number three is different. He was an early reader like his siblings, and he reads well and fluently, but he doesn't love it like they did. My daughter thinks he might simply be wired differently; I do think that is true but can't help also wondering if his different reading habits are at least partly attributable to the effect his birth order has had on my parenting and homeschooling of him. (Sigh--I'm older and tireder than I was with the first two.)
I suppose at this point cause is of little consequence. He is the reader he is, which means that for the last few years I have been trying to find books that will hook him to the point that he reads of his own volition, not because it is assigned (he will obediently read when I make him). I long to see him get lost in a book the way I used to, such that the outside world fades from view and the book completely captures his imagination for an afternoon, day, or week. Over the years there are a few things that have done that for him; I have listed below the ones I can think of right now.
Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, Peanuts and vintage Archie comics
Video game strategy guides Magic School Bus series Wayside School series Encyclopedia Brown mysteries Rush Revere series
This past week I took a chance and ordered a used set of the first five Hardy Boys books--the classic, not updated, ones. He is currently enjoying the first one, but it remains to be seen whether he will choose to read another. Some other series that have already been tried and rejected are Magic Tree House, Redwall, andPercy Jackson (we tried Percy Jackson because for a while he was enjoying reading D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, and he enjoyed it at first, but I think it was ultimately too intense for my HSC*). He does like the Narnia books, but maybe because he has seen the movies (?) he tends to read them in bits and pieces, skipping around, instead of sitting down and reading from cover to cover. So we just started The Magician's Nephew as a readaloud in the hope that maybe it will spark him to continue through the series in order.
Reflecting on all of this, I guess we are not doing so bad. I know there are parents who would be glad to see their children reading as much as my 10-year-old. I am just used to kids who read more! Perhaps I should not compare him to his siblings. But before he is beyond my influence I hope I can help him more fully experience the joy of reading. If you can comment with either commiseration or advice, please do!
If your blog is hosted by Blogger, be sure to check your spam file every now and then. I just did so for the first time in a while (thanks to a reminder from Blogger) and found three comments, going back six months, that weren't spam. I don't know why Blogger marked them as such. They were legitimate comments from people who have either commented before or whom I could easily identify. So don't forget to check every now and then to make sure you aren't missing something scintillating from someone like me! :-)
Today during the Children's Lesson, our DCE (Director of Christian Education) brought in a loaded backpack and had one of the children strap it on. He was trying to demonstrate the concept of being weighed down with a heavy burden, as described by Jesus in Matthew 11:25-30. He asked the children, "What could help lighten a heavy load like this?" One young lady who is undoubtedly at the top her class wasted no time getting right to the crux of the matter:
I guess at that point he could have called it a morning and sent them all back to their seats, but he pressed on. As he continued talking to the children about various burdens they might have in their lives, another girl volunteered that the backpack she carries to school weighs ten pounds. Our DCE asked sympathetically, "Do you ever get help with that?"
"No," she replied. "I just live with it." (She has already clearly mastered the doctrine of vocation.)
Finally, as our DCE was trying to wrap up the lesson, he mentioned worries about school as an example of something with which the children might be burdened. One young man raised his hand and matter-of-factly announced, "I don't worry about school. I'm home schooled."
Several weeks ago I dug all our old photo albums out of the garage so I could scan photos for Caitlin's graduation slideshow (featured in the previous post). At some point I realized I was missing the album covering the period of Caitlin's life from around age 1 to age 2. I searched the garage and went through every box I thought it might be in and finally gave up and did the slideshow without it. (I did already have a few scans from that time).
Well, guess what? This morning I found the errant photo album under my bed. Then I remembered: I had been looking at it one day when Caitlin came to my room, and I quickly hid it and then promptly forgot I had done so. Sheesh. Another reminder that yes, there is such a thing as the decay of the flesh. But at least I am no longer missing a photo album!
Our daughter graduated from high school yesterday. One of the many cool things about homeschooling is the ability to design and host your child's graduation ceremony! We did not have a printed program, but here is an outline, with several videos, of what we did (ceremony was held in our church's small chapel):
Two Piano Selections from the Graduate
I. Impromptu and Variations in B-flat major, Op. 142, No. 3, Franz Schubert
II. Fantasia I in D-minor, W. A. Mozart
Before the diploma presentation Phillip outlined Caitlin's accomplishments, shared some of his own memories of being her dad, and talked about what he personally appreciates about his daughter. Then together we presented her high school diploma.
Caitlin's aunt told some funny stories about little Caitlin, and Trevor reminisced about growing up with Caitlin, shared what he admires about his sister, and gave advice for the future.
I talked about Caitlin's love for stories and the importance of stories in our home school and took the opportunity to read one more story to her. It was one she especially liked from her childhood: "Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum." In the story Grover visits the museum in the title only to find that it doesn't have everything in the whole wide world. He wonders where everything else is and in the end finds a set of doors marked "Everything Else." Opening the doors he finds himself outside the museum, looking at the world spread out before him. I told Caitlin that she reminds me of Grover not only because of Grover's kindness, enthusiasm and curiosity (which sometimes leads him to forget to watch where he's going and to, um, stumble a bit) but also because being a student in the Philipp Nicolai Lutheran Academy can sometimes feel like you're growing up in a museum. We have tried as Caitlin's parents to share everything in our little museum, but there is more to be seen and learned than we can provide, and it's time for Caitlin to take full responsibility for seeking and finding it. God bless you, my dear daughter, as you head out to find your "Everything Else."
After I read to Caitlin one more time, her dad sang to her one more time. He started out with a song he wrote for her when she was still a baby--"Sweet Little Caiti-Girl"--and segued into a song by James Taylor that we have found to contain sound vocational advice: "The Secret of Life."
"The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time . . . . Try not to try too hard . . . . It's just a lovely ride."
Finally, our Pastor called Caitlin to the rail and prayed over and blessed her. Thank you so much for your words, Pastor Wilke.
Then it was time to party!
(Colors were purple and white for TRUMAN STATE.)
On the right of the table we placed copies of one of Caitlin's stories, available for guests to take (and get autographed by the author).
Caitlin and her aunt
How I'm going to miss this girl.
We have arrived at the time in life where it is a blessed event to have everyone together for a photo. (Evan was unfortunately not feeling well this day, which is why he wasn't singing in the video--poor guy seems to have picked up a sore throat at camp.)
Brother and sister
After the party we went home for gift opening.
High-fiving: we did good with our gift selection!
One of the dilemmas of a day like this is how much energy to spend on taking pictures and video so as to have a record for the future. Many thanks to my sister-in-law for taking most of these pictures. I took a little video of the ceremony, but opted to focus on the live proceedings rather than trying to videotape all of it. I am already slightly regretting that decision and wishing I had asked someone to hold the Kodak for me, but it is a pocket camera and can be inconvenient to hold for a long time. So I will just have to cherish the memories and feelings that are stowed in my heart. I find myself at a loss for more words right now except to say that I can't quite believe we are the parents of two high school graduates. I am very glad we have a few years before we will add a third. To my dear, one-and-only daughter: I hope this day in some small way communicated to you what a gift you are to our family and how much we love and cherish you. Now that this big event is in our rear view, we can start planning for the next: NEW YORK CITY!