Category Archives: Introspective Musings

Summer is over (sort of). Featuring way too many pictures.

I have a small amount of bitterness, deep in my soul…  Just kidding.  Kind of.  Our family has become regulated by the dreaded School Calendar.  “Dreaded”, that is, if you’re a homeschooling family, not used to bending the family’s schedule to the imposed will of others.

I say that a little tongue in cheek, but the struggle is real.  Or, real-ish.

Two of my young men, Grant and Wesley, started school yesterday at a local charter school, Jefferson Preparatory High School.  Wes attended there last year as a freshman, to mostly-success.*  Grant has been homeschooled from kindergarten through 11th grade, but decided that he wanted a traditional campus experience for his senior year.  And, frankly, I was growing weary of cracking the whip for him to get his work done and not get distracted by managing his fantasy soccer team.  He will still be applying to the U.S. Air Force Academy this fall, but is also working on several other Plan Bs, virtually all of which include an AFROTC scholarship.  Those scholarships aren’t guaranteed, of course, but he is doing well in school and is set to achieve his Mitchell Award in Civil Air Patrol Cadets next month, an honor conferred to only 15% of CAP Cadets.  This is my son, by the way, who was diagnosed at age four with Nonverbal Learning Disorder.  A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing enrollment papers for Grant’s time at JPHS, I decided to see if the phone number for his old Occupational Therapist was still active.  We had a long and encouraging text conversation.  She worked with him from age four through 12, and I think Grant is still reaping benefits from our hundreds of hours with Carol the Occupational Therapist.

So, anyway.  We have decided that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks (mostly molding our family around The Dreaded School Calendar), and both Grant and Wes are enrolled.

tmp_23426-0808160734a1573460502

For my three girls (and me), summer is still in full swing.  Mostly because I’m not ready (nor am I willing) to start our homeschool year.  My 7-year-old, Fiala, got impatient with me, though, and started on her math yesterday.  I spent the day looking into co-op classes for the girls, reviewing curriculum (I’m very undecided about which way to go for our curric), and starting to plan for the school year with the homeschool group I lead.  From the bottom of my heart, I feel like a lousy leader.  Our group has upwards of 250 families in it, and I’m sort of blindly feeling my way along, very much an introverted fish out of water…  But, the benefits gained from the group (and the benefits to grant;  with 14+ years under my belt, I have a lot of experience and a lot of resources to share) outweigh the challenges.

tmp_23426-0704161909a1252305424

Fourth of July with my three girls:  Jean, Audrey, and Fiala.  (Not pictured:  three crabby and/or busy teen boys who didn’t want to brave the heat while waiting for dark to see the fireworks.)

We were able to save up some money and take a “real” vacation this summer.  Typically, we camp, because a family can camp for an entire week for the cost of one night in a hotel.  But, we decided to go to California and go to Disneyland, the beach, and even a short stay at a little mountain lake.  All six kids were with us;  I can’t help but think this may be the last vacation, all together as a family.  Grant has a friend-who-is-a-girl, a darling young woman — also homeschooled, also in Civil Air Patrol — who is from a conservative Catholic family.  Very coincidentally, her family was planning to go to Disneyland THE VERY SAME DAY we were.  Cuh-razy.  So, our families met up — their four children, our six — and we hung out all day.  I have decided that going to a day-long outing like that tempers everyone:  Kids are less squabbly, parents are less crabby.  Everyone helped each other, and it was pretty ideal.  The teens frequently ran ahead to collect Fast Passes for everyone, and Martin and I used the parent-switch pass with Jeanie, who, at 39.5″ was just a hair too short to go on most rides.  Even though it was the middle of July, we really didn’t do a whole lot of standing in line.  We were there from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., maximizing our time.  I’m so pleased that our mid-summer trip worked out so well.  A “mid-summer trip” wouldn’t be necessary if our family was 100% homeschooling — in years past, we have often waited until September when destinations have only 10% of the tourists that were there just a few weeks previous.

tmp_23426-0713160928c1458545997

tmp_23426-0717161518b419204628

At Lake Gregory, in the San Bernardino mountains.

tmp_23426-0712161501-819129742

My hubby makes our family much more fun.  This is at our off-beach cottage in Long Beach.

tmp_23426-0714161648a_HDR-1916031738

At the end of a pier in Newport Beach, at a rooftop Ruby’s Diner.

tmp_23426-071216165763672916

Wesley at the Aquarium of the Pacific, watching sea lions.  There were three, and they acted JUST LIKE the sea lions in Finding Dory.  One was bulky and bossy.  One was smaller but the bulky guy’s buddy.  They would perch on a rock and taunt a goofy-looking sea lion, who tirelessly tried to join the cool sea lion clique.

tmp_23426-0712160911_HDR-1393198187

That’s my foot and Jeanie’s, watching a kids’ show on a lazy vacation morning in our darling cottage.

My summer has also been consumed by decisions.  Like many homeschooling families — or at least, ones like mine, where the mom really can’t multitask all that well — I had saved up a ginormous list of projects to do around the house, purchases to consider, doctor’s appointments to schedule and attend, decisions to be made…  And, truly:  Those last two sentences consumed most of my summer.  Lots of research, lots of comparison shopping, lots of trawling Craigslist and local Swip Swap sites, lots of time in the car, schlepping here and there.  But, I feel like I accomplished a lot this summer, which is much more than I can say for most summers.  See?  The dreaded school schedule, to which I am beholden, lights a fire under my rear and causes me to make things happen.  It’s good.  I guess.

I have also been gardening, of course.  Right now is kind of a lull in the garden:  Yardlong green beans, Armenian cucumbers, Clemson spineless okra, and sweet white onions are pretty much the only thing I’m harvesting.  Many things have died — between the birds, the rabbits, and the heat, I feel like a garden is a fight against encroaching wildness, in order to eke out fruitfulness from our caliche clay “soil”.  To encourage myself, I started weighing my harvest in November of last year.  This summer, the lowest week of harvest was just under four pounds, and the highest week around 30 lbs.  A typical week is around 10-15 pounds.  So.  Eking is worth it.

This morning's harvest.

This morning’s harvest.

I'll be harvesting more green beans tomorrow!

I’ll be harvesting more green beans tomorrow!

About a third of my onions.

About a third of my onions.

Among the never-ending garden lessons I’ve learned:  The Phoenix area is far enough south that we really don’t get enough sun for long-day onions.  Also, sweet onions don’t keep as well as spicy ones.  And what did I plant?  Long-day sweet onions.  I’m storing my harvest in the fridge, once they cure.  I hope they keep longer, that way.

There are always lessons to be learned.  I think that is the main lesson I’ve gleaned in the last 20 years.  There are always lessons to be learned in marriage, in motherhood, in gardening, in personal growth, in relationship with God.

And on that note, I’ll sign out and clean something.  Because there is always something to be cleaned.  That’s another lesson I’ve learned.  There is always something to be cleaned.

——————-

*Wesley did get a “D” in one class, primarily because he just didn’t click with the teacher and really couldn’t figure her out…  He had the opportunity to be a T.A. in one of her classes this year — as a tutor and assistant in the French II class, as the school does not offer French III, which Wes wanted to take.  He said, “I don’t think Mrs. W would appreciate me being her T.A.”  He’s probably right.  So, he’s taking the class as a concurrent enrollment class with a local community college.  And for that “D”, we made him take summer school, and he finished the month with an “A” — barely;  it was a 90%.  Still.  G.P.A. mended.

Unexpected results…

So.

I have no mother.

If you have read this blog since 2012, you might remember that my mom passed about three years ago.  I have some wonderful mothers-in-law — two of them — my husband’s biological mother and his stepmom.  However, both are some distance from us, and we don’t see them as often as we had seen my mom.  My mom and stepdad used to come over every week to my home for dinner…  We did that for about ten years!!!  So, I’ve been feeling bereft in the “grandma” category — not just the loss of my mother, but the loss of my children’s grandmother.

I mentioned earlier that I am schooling a friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten — the little girl comes over for two hours, four days a week, and my toddler, Jean, goes to my friend’s home during that time.  My girls have loved this, and the whole plan has worked out very well.  However, an unexpected blessing I’ve received is this:  Vi, my student’s great-grandma, has become SO IMPORTANT to Jean.  Jean calls her “Memaw”, and absolutely delights in going to Memaw’s house.  She adores time with her.  Vi doesn’t understand why Jean loves her so much, but it really doesn’t matter, does it?  My two-year-old knows that she is loved and cared-for by Vi.  That matters.  I had anticipated Jean having a rough time adjusting to being at Vi’s house, four days a week, even if it is just for two hours each time.  But, no!  The opposite has proven true, and I’m so thankful.  Vi has become very important to Jean, and is filling a need that Jean must innately know that she has.

Jean loves Vi AND her dogs.

Jean loves Vi AND her dogs.

I’m also immensely thankful for “my” homeschool support group.  In late July/early August, I was anticipating this school year, and realized that my three girls really didn’t have enough friends.  For a period of about five years, our family had participated in a loosely-organized homeschool group, and it was so perfect for us….  But, that ended three years ago, as well, when my dear friend who organized it moved to Washington state.  I wanted something similar:  a true support group for the moms and a weekly park day for my children to run around and forge friendships.  However, I couldn’t find anything like that it my area — not anything that was a good fit.  Most groups now say something like, “Pay your $20 per child yearly dues and we’ll TELL you where our park days meet.”  Or, they require a high level of involvement from the parents.  Or, they require a signed statement of faith that is usually quite particular to a certain denomination.  Or, the opposite:  the group is comprised of homeschooling families who are so non-religious that, as I’m not a pagan, I was pretty sure I’d feel out of place.

So, I started a group.

I anticipated that we’d have fifteen families or so and had dreamy visions of our small, tight-knit group.  However, that hasn’t been the case:  The group is up to 99 families!!  NINETY-NINE!!  It seems to be filling a larger need that was out there, not just my own.  Now, not everyone participates every week.  But, last park day, there were ten families who came.  A weekly grading-and-chatting night that I “host” at a local coffee shop typically has 2-4 women come.  We’ve gone hiking in Sedona, touring the Musical Instrument Museum, visiting the Halle Heart Museum, attending various events at the library together, and more…

My “unexpected results” here are that:

  1. I never intended to start and lead such a large group.
  2. I never anticipated the group being such a rich blessing to me.

I wrote this to the group this morning (slightly edited to remove names):

I hope this doesn’t get too long or sappy… But I just wanted to let each of you know that I have LOVED getting to know you and as each week passes, I am becoming more thankful for what our group is becoming.

As I left Mom’s Night: Grading and Chatting last night, I was so thankful. It was “just” three of us. But, it was what I needed, after a discouraging afternoon, when, honestly, I initially thought all I wanted was a night alone. I came discouraged, and I left highly ENCOURAGED and with a huge smile on my face. I was able to share a bit with the other ladies and I hope they were encouraged by me, as well.

I had a brief message chat with another group member this morning who is going to put together a Thanksgiving celebration for our group for later this month. Again, honestly, I STINK at celebrating occasions and marking events. I’m sure that she is better than I am, and I’m SO HAPPY for her to coordinate this.

Last park day, there was an impromptu football game that was quite well-organized, completely organized BY THE KIDS. It made me shake my head in amazement and thankfulness — kids that mostly otherwise wouldn’t have known each other, and now they’re rolling in the grass, playing together. Another group of kids shared sand toys and dug for a long time! It was so precious. Two young teen girls spent a good hour or more just walking together, chatting, building a friendship. They’d never met before Thursday. I know for certain that this was such a blessing to both moms.

I guess what I’m saying is that this group is truly becoming what I hoped it would: We are sharing our strengths. We are impacting each other with advice, help, encouragement, friendship, and more. Our kids are gaining friendship and having some wonderful experiences.

So, my many heartfelt thanks to each of you who have made the time to come out to any of our events and truly share of yourself. We’re bettered and strengthened by each other. And for those who haven’t yet joined in person, I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you, as well.

Love and blessings,

Karen

Both of these situations have led me to ponder the beauty of interconnectedness.  Not the “independence” we value in our American culture, but interdependence — where I contribute what I have to the community and where I receive what I need, as well, as others contribute.

John 15:13 New Living Translation (NLT)

13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

This verse is referenced often — and obviously — by the fact that Jesus laid down His life for us.  However, it extends beyond that:  It is true love when we yield our LIVES — our activities, our priorities, our time, our energy — which results in the greater whole being built up, encouraged, strengthened, renewed, even redeemed.

Which makes me think of…

Ephesians 4:11-16 New Living Translation (NLT)

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 1He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Which, of course…. the homeschool group I lead is not the fullness of the Body of Christ.  It’s not a church.  But, we’re doing the work of Jesus when we help each other become “healthy and growing and full of love”.

And that’s good.

So…

Be encouraged today.  You may feel bereft.  You may be in a situation where you’re looking around, thinking, “This is NOT what I signed up for.”  I didn’t take on teaching a little kindergartener because my two-year-old needs a “grandma”;  that was not on my radar in the least.  I didn’t start a homeschooling support group with the intention to lead nearly 100 families;  I just wanted some kids with whom my kids could play.

However, so often, my heavenly Father knows what I need, even when I don’t know it, myself.

I traveled to Portland…

My friend Kathy told me I need to write more.  So, I comply.

Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role…  I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.

I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly.  I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.

Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.

This, however:  Worthwhile.  To me, at least.

I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before:  gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband.  Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married.  For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends.  I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year…  But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out.  Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends.  He’s a good man.

So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days.  Mountains!  The beach!  Gardens!  Farmer’s market!  City!  Country!  We packed a great deal into a short period of time.

One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.

This time is a treasure to me.  I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing.  It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us.  We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere.  There are far too many attachments here in the desert:  our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)….  So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success:  I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather…  Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment.  It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it.  I won’t.

So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.

In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.

at Salmon Creek

At Salmon Creek — on a little hike shortly after my arrival.  The only imperfection was that I forgot my binoculars at home, and there were many birds calling out to me, reminding me of my poor eyesight and forgetfulness.

IMG_20150627_165611

Mt. St. Helens — beautifully stark, profound in its impact, awesome in the recovery of the land.

We four:  Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

We four: Dee Dee, me, Allison, Kathy.

IMG_20150628_115445

At Oregon Garden in Silverton. I was quite amazed that, in its original state, Oregon had many hardwood timber forests. This particular oak was over 400 years old. The whole garden is very worthwhile, with both sculpted vistas, extensive veggie gardens, and acres of more wild, native greenery.

Upper Ape Cave.  This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lava tube.  Otherwordly and a priceless experience.  This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the cave.

Upper Ape Cave. This was 1 1/4 mile of quad-chewing, uphill scrambling, buried inside a lightless lava tube. Otherwordly and a priceless experience. This particular view is of a natural skylight, about 80% of the way through the otherwise COMPLETELY DARK cave.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon.  What a gorgeous beach -- with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools.  I *think* I saw a puffin.  I also realized that this sweater I dearly love makes me look pregnant.  Love/not-love.

Allison and me at the Haystack, Cannon Beach, Oregon. What a gorgeous beach — with wide, flat, finely-sanded expanses, punctuated by massive boulders and fascinating tide pools. I *think* I saw a puffin. I’m holding sand dollars.  I also realized that this sweater which I previously really liked makes me look pregnant. Love/not-love.

My other favorite times:

  • Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons.  The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property.  We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
  • Eating.  Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f.  We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
  • Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard.  As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard.  Blueberry bushes.  In her back yard.
  • Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values…  I feel rich in the blessings of friendship.  And we laughed a lot.  And exclaimed over the same things.  We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
  • On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud.  We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us…  And we listened to the Housefires.  Time flew.  And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop.  This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction.  We were so grateful.  (Much laughter.)

I must return.  We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.

In which I overcome idealism with some clay dirt and hard work

0428151109
For the last year or so, I’ve been discouraged and possibly even depressed over the state of a number of challenges in my life.  Part of it is, we have too many needs in this home and not enough resources to make them happen. One of the things that I don’t have that I miss terribly is a garden — a real garden. I live in the Phoenix area, and it takes a LOT of effort to get a garden going. In July, it will be three years since we moved to this house, from our previous house where I had an amazing, large-ish garden that was the source of joy, provision for our family, and exercise.

Last June, impatient for a garden, and trying to take matters into my own hands, I rented a sod cutter to remove the awful, frickin’ frackin’ Bermudagrass that grows in our clay “soil” to start my new, giant garden – about 21′ x 45′.  I had the garden plan all down on paper.  On that paper, and in my dreams, the garden was so lovely.  Well, my resources ran out: time, energy (I hurt my back badly), and money. And then, my idealism kicked in: “I want the garden that I want! A real garden! Big, with a real, Pinterest-worthy fence around it, with plumbed irrigation!” And since I couldn’t have that — that perfect plan — I pretty much gave up.

(I have 15-20 pots in which I grow quite a few veggies year ’round.  Currently, I have green onions, red bell pepper, red Swiss chard, tomatillo, asparagus, and a variety of herbs:  Italian parsley, thyme, basil, and rosemary.  But, to me, pots are not a real garden.)

It’s creeping up on a year since I gave up my grand plans.

I decided last week that I needed to abandon my idealism and just work with what was available to me, and scale down my expectations…

We have caliche clay – really compacted, sticky, hard dirt.  That picture at the top?  It has taken me seven days, working 90-120 minutes per day — to dig that much. The final size of this bed will be about 8′ x 12′. That is much more modest than my hopes… But, it’s SOMETHING.

All my efforts last summer didn’t actually remove the Bermudagrass.  It has grown back.  If you have to good fortune to be unfamiliar, it propagates by seed, by runners, and by roots (which are technically rhizomes). It is so invasive. I’m breaking up literally every cubic inch of dirt, about 8″ deep, removing as much Bermudagrass blades and roots as possible. When I have all the border blocks in and all the dirt worked, I’ll be adding: gypsum, soil sulfur, vermiculite, Ironite, homemade compost, composted steer manure, and some organic granular garden-start food. I have a fabulous planting calendar made by a local university ag program, and from that, bought all the seed I need for planting. I hope to have all the seed in the ground by Friday.

I also bought an Ein Shemer apple tree I’m really excited about. It is a variety developed in Israel, needs very few chill hours, and is an excellent eating and baking apple. (Apple Anna and Golden Dorset are the most common varieties grown here, but both are essentially a Golden Delicious, too soft for my preference and not a good baking apple.)

That’s it. That really is all I have to report. Seven days of work, and a changed outlook. Doesn’t sound like much, but the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step… Cliche, yes, but I’ve been clinging to that. I had been intimidated by the journey.

Now, I feel a billion times better for just DOING something, instead of being upset that my “ideal” isn’t happening.

Update on my oldest… Or: I Have a Son with a Full Beard

In case you’re burning with curiosity about what all is going on in our home — three sons, three daughters, two parents, two dogs, in a house in the desert — here you go!

(Well, actually, my plan was to do ONE post with ALL of us on it, but that’s going to take too long.  So, I’ll just start with Ethan.*)

(So, he likes Rhett and Link.)

(So, he likes Rhett and Link.)

My son Ethan will be 18 in June, which hardly seems possible.  He has a full beard, and I guess he looks like a connoisseur of ales, as folks frequently ask his opinion on craft beers at the grocery store where he works, Sprouts.

It took a while for us to work through what E would be doing in the fall.  He’s such a bright young man, and has never done poor work at anything;  he always produces excellent, high-quality work.  But, he doesn’t love school, and wasn’t looking forward to four more years….  But, when my husband said that, if he wasn’t in college in the fall, he would be working full time, even if that meant Ethan would need to get a 2nd or even a 3rd job, suddenly E was much more participatory in the process to get him in a school, come August.

Ethan is so very different from Grant, our second-born.  Grant has his future plans all mapped out.  Ethan just doesn’t know.  We keep waiting for inspiration or direction from God or some big audacious dream or SOMETHING that we can encourage in him, something we can help him pursue.  But, no.  Nothing definite.

He thinks he would like to possibly become a pastor some day…  Which is not necessarily an undeniable call by the Spirit to the ministry.  But, we’re running with that plan for now.  He’ll be pursuing a BA in Communications at Arizona State University West campus.  That is, if the scholarship estimator tool on the ASU website is accurate and that most of his tuition will truly be paid by whomever pays for such things — Board of Regents?  Taxpayers?  I truly don’t know.  But, I thank them in advance.

It was funny — well, not FUNNY — but as I was considering what a good major would be for Ethan, which would serve him well in ministry but also be something that he could parlay into a paying job that is not ministry-related (because who is going to hire a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, to be a full-time pastor?  No one.  He’ll likely have part-time, entry-level, or even volunteer posts, perhaps while he works on a Master’s in pastoral ministry or something like that….).  Anyway, I ran into an old youth pastor of Ethan’s, and we were chatting about him, and she mentioned that her old pastor had done that exact same thing.  And it dawned on me that I knew her old pastor, as I went to high school with him.  I sent him a private message about the idea — prepping for the ministry with a degree in Communications — and he was SO VERY encouraging.  That is, actually, exactly what he did — a BA in Communications from Arizona State.  So, that was confirmation enough.

There are a few extra hoops for homeschoolers to jump through, to gain entry into Arizona State, but it’s nothing too challenging.  Everything should be sent out in the mail either today or tomorrow.  And the main portion of his application, which is online, is already done.  So now, we wait.

If the scholarship doesn’t come through, we’ll reassess at that point.

I’m immensely proud of Ethan.  In spite of my failings, my omissions, my misdirections, my inexperience, God is faithful, and Ethan is a fine young man.

I’m also really pleased that Ethan wants to stay at home in the fall.  It’s not a “failure to launch” kind of thing;  he just loves us, and isn’t ready to leave home.  He’d rather stay at home while being at school.  We are 100% fine with that.  It’s touching, actually.  Both my husband and I had poor situations at home, when we were seniors, and we COULD NOT WAIT to leave home, to get outta there.  Ethan is solid in his relationships with us, with his friends, at our church…  He’s healthy.  That, to me, is nothing short of amazing.

Ethan flew up to the Portland area after Christmas with a bunch of friends.  It was a wonderful experience...

Ethan flew up to the Portland area after Christmas with a bunch of friends. It was a wonderful experience…

———————-

*In case you’re curious:  I cleared this whole post with Ethan.  It has his stamp of approval, or at least, there’s nothing mortifying enough to omit.

Soothed and stirred by Elizabeth Gaskell

Fiction.  Who has time for it?  I wonder, sometimes, if, as a homeschooling mom of six, I should be snipping moments out of my day, allowing myself the leisure of a good read.

I just finished my new favorite novel, and am glad I made the time.  It captivated me, encouraged me, challenged me, ministered to me.  Honestly, God spoke to me through it.  The book, and my time invested in it, was so very worthwhile.

I found the book in such an odd way:  I was reading Jacqueline Winspear’s The Care and Management of Lies, which was a fine book — about 3 stars out of 5.  In it, a character I liked mentioned that her favorite author was Elizabeth Gaskell, of whom I’d never heard.  I did a little search and found that many a BBC series or special have been made from her books, but I hadn’t seen any of them.  I put several of her books on hold and started — rather at random — with North and South.

I described the book to a friend like this:

It really is like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens had a baby and that baby was inspired by deep doctrinal issues within (and without) the Church of England and then wrote a book. Perhaps that doesn’t sound all that enchanting, but it’s right up my alley. Very engaging on every level.

It also helps that the heroine, Margaret, is struggling some heart issues similar to ones through which I am wading.  The only difference is that she is quite a bit braver and much younger.  🙂

Gaskell is particularly apt in selecting quotes to begin each chapter.  This one brought me to tears:

I see my way as birds their trackless way–
I shall arrive! what time, what circuit first,
I ask not: but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet, or stifling snow,
In some time–his good time–I shall arrive;
He guides me and the bird. In His good time!’
–Robert Browning (from ‘Paracelsus’)

I keep encouraging my own heart, “I shall arrive… In His good time!”

In another scene, Margaret is visiting a beach in the wintertime.

She used to sit long hours upon the beach, gazing intently on the waves as they chafed with perpetual motion against the pebbly shore, — or she looked out upon the more distant heaving, and sparkle against the sky, and heard, without being conscious of hearing, the eternal psalm, which went up continually. She was soothed without knowing how or why.

I have felt the same about the ocean;  it is singing an eternal psalm, and compels me to sing along with it.

Shortly after the beach scene, I cried fresh tears at this:

But she had learnt, in those solemn hours of thought, that she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it;  and she tried to settle that most difficult problem for women, how much was to be utterly merged in obedience to authority and how much might be set apart for freedom in working.

I am weighing the same issues right now — it is ever a challenge to me, balancing the pursuit of personal interests and goals and hopes with present reality and the unknown future.  Where does God want me to invest my time, energy, talents, and thoughts?  And to what end?  What’s ahead of me?  Have I missed something?  Too much dwelling on what might have been leads me to regret a very lovely present.  I typically don’t go to “what might have been” at ALL.  However, at age 41, and having very recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of marriage to such a fine man as my precious husband, I find myself a bit more retrospective lately, reflecting over my life in these last two decades.

I don’t want to ignore hopes for the future and just plod along; yet, too much time spent in wistful expectation of dreams becoming fulfilled leads me to dissatisfaction;  who can know what is in the future, anyway?  My life is truly submitted to the greater good of my whole family.  In many ways, my dreams are not my own.  I can’t just serve myself and make my dreams happen.  There are seven other people — at a minimum — whom my life greatly impacts.  To that end, I don’t believe in “follow your dreams”;  I think that’s tremendously selfish.  It’s in the American culture to serve one’s own self.  It’s not in the culture of true Christianity, though, and Mrs. Gaskell reminded me of that, frequently in how her character served others, with constant attentiveness, joy, and self-sacrifice, and profound self-control.  She didn’t pursue her own interests, or, at very least, she subjected her own interests to the needs of those around her.  Again, very un-American.  I knew, though, that what Gaskell is adducing through the life of Margaret Hale in North and South is upright… good… Godly…  Trustful in His plan for my future.  Margaret’s life both challenged and inspired me.

YET, has God called me to live a hopeless life?  By no means!  May it never be!  He is the God of hope.

Romans 15:13 (NIV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I am reminded that my hope needs to be entirely in Him.  Not in my talents.  Not in my gone youth.  Not in my plans.  Not in my abilities…  Not in those around me.  Not in circumstances.  Only in Him.  My future is unknown to me, but He is not. 

So, I continue to do what, for the most part, I have done in the last 20-ish years:  Prayerfully consider my life as a whole and my day-to-day decisions.  Do the best I can with what I have.  Hear the voice of the Father in my own spirit, through His Word, and through others. Learn and grow mentally and spiritually.  Love and worship my dear God.  Love and serve my dear family, and my local church.

In other words, I must live predominantly in the present.  This is actually a big challenge for me, because a huge part of me would LIKE to plan everything out — work toward a clear goal and just make it happen.  But… that’s not what God has had for me in the past, and it’s not what He has for me right now.  I don’t know about the future.

Psalm 31:15-17a (NASB)

15 My times are in Your hand;
Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.
16 Make Your face to shine upon Your servant;
Save me in Your lovingkindness.
17 Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You…

——————–

P.S.  For a taste of Gaskell’s North and South, head to Goodreads to peruse some reader-contributed quotes.  Gaskell’s prose is just lovely and insightful.

Why I’m still homeschooling.

“Are we going to do school today?”

This question, combined with me not knowing the answer, was one of the things that very nearly led to the end of my homeschooling career after my oldest’s Kindergarten year.  I just couldn’t seem to pull it together well enough to get a full day of school done each day. 

I had registered my son for a traditional charter school for his first grade year, but a few things happened that summer that caused me to reconsider:

  1. In spite of my many flaws and inconsistencies in our school year, not only did my five-year-old learn to read more than adequately, my three-year-old did, too. 
  2. I felt like the Holy Spirit told me that, instead of running from my flaws — lack of organization near the top of the list — I needed to find a way through them.
  3. A friend introduced me to Sonlight. 

Addressing each item above, I determined that….

  1. I didn’t need to be perfect to be a successful homeschooling teacher.
  2. I needed new organizational tools to help me, as my floundering around, unscheduled, wasn’t cutting it.  And, I had a revelation in that moment:  GOD CAN USE ANYTHING to grow me, to shape me, to mature me, to teach me, to refine my mothering.  I thought I was the teacher, but it dawned on me, that post-K summer, that I was going to learn as much — or more — than my kids would. 
  3. I had never previously heard of Sonlight, but it was exactly what I was looking for:  literature-based, Christian without being dogmatic, NOT “Amerocentric”, and, best of all, it was all scheduled out for me, in the instructor’s guides.

(I’m not saying that Sonlight is the answer to all your homeschooling prayers.  It’s just what worked FOR ME.  For our family.  Their 27 Reasons NOT to Buy Sonlight absolutely spoke to me, though…  It’s still appropriate for my goals, lo these many years later.)  

I have learned, though, that I needed more than just an instructor’s guide with check-boxes for that day’s assignments.  I needed order in our day.  

Normally, I resist the mold.  ANY mold.  I don’t want to be predictable.  One of my greatest fears when I was younger was that I would get stuck in a rut.  That seemed like the death to end all deaths, the worst possible fate.  

I still slightly rebel at schedules…  But, I have slowly learned to embrace them.

Below is a video I posted in a homeschooling group;  we were sharing about our days in short video clips.  It was a lot of fun, watching and hearing everyone talk.  I don’t recall myself EVER being videoed, that I have watched*.  To this day, I’ve never even watched my wedding video!  However, I thought it might be fun to post it here, too.

So…. my NEXT post will be on the specifics of our family’s schedule.

————-

*Wait.  That’s not quite true.  I was in about a three second clip that featured various high school seniors around my city, you know, when I was a senior in high school.  And, some clips of me grocery shopping with my then-one-year-old was featured in a grocery store’s commercials for about five years. 

 

So, after our family’s WORST year of homeschooling, ever, what do we do now?

So.  Last year was our WORST year of homeschooling ever.  The worst.  I can blame that on a number of things:  trying to implement new curriculum, having a baby in June 2013, not adjusting well to schooling five children…  But, when it comes down to it, it’s just that:  I bombed in many ways.  I dropped the ball.  And, when a homeschooling mom drops the ball, her kids lose out.  I think I’ve learned a lot from last year, and though we’re only one week into the new school year, things are running much more smoothly.  I am devoted to returning to the ways that work best for our family, rather than trying (unsuccessfully) to implement new, “easier” ways of doing things.  In short, I tried to be more laid back about school last year, and was not highly scheduled.  Even though I am NOT naturally a highly-scheduled person, I’ve had to learn to embrace the schedule, as that is the only way that I stay on top of things, my kids learn all they should, and nothing falls through the cracks.

I’d detail all my failures to you;  I’m not proud.  But, as many of my failures are shared with my children… and I don’t think they’d appreciate me blogging about all the ways that they failed, I’ll leave it vague. 

Today’s post, I’m going to share what we’re using for curriculum.  If you find discussion of curriculum tedious, you might want to stop reading right now, or just scroll through and admire our pictures.  The next post, I’m going to share how our scheduled day works, and what we do when — six children (five in school, one a nursing not-quite-toddler);  a marriage;  a part-time job;  a home remodel;  plus additional responsibilities…  Add into that at least SOME time for rest and recharging, time with friends…  It’s a tight squeeze.  Ironically, though, a tighter schedule leads to more free time.  More on that, later, though.

If you’re curious about what curriculum each child is doing, here you go:

Ethan, in July, with my Uncle Kevin and my husband, Martin, at Kevin's home outside of Marshall, Illinois.  Ethan is sporting a new, sleeker, much-shorter haircut these days...

Ethan, in July, with my Uncle Kevin and my husband, Martin, at Kevin’s home outside of Marshall, Illinois. Ethan is sporting a new, sleeker, much-shorter haircut these days…

Ethan, my oldest, is a 17 year-old senior.  He also works part time (usually three days per week) at a local natural grocery store.  He is doing a “writing intensive” semester, pretty much all the writing projects — 12 of them — from Sonlight’s Core 300, which he did not do last year. I mean, he did do Core 300, but he didn’t do the writing projects.  He is an excellent writer, but he hates writing and he is really slow.  So, we’re working on finding the hurdles and conquering them, so he won’t be afraid of writing.  He is also doing Chemistry, Apologia, at a 2-day co-op.  This is the first time I have EVER outsourced a part of our homeschooling day that isn’t extra-curricular.  He is also doing French with Rosetta Stone. So, writing, Chem, French.  He’ll be taking guitar back up in a couple of weeks, continuing lessons which he took all of last year. Second semester will be the second half of Core 300, as I didn’t realize that Sonlight’s high school government and civics course really couldn’t be done concurrently with a Core — too much work.  In other words, last school year, he did the first half of Core 300, and American Government and Civics.  So, this year, he is spending the first half of the year on a writing intensive, and the second half of the year finishing Core 300.  In addition to writing, Chemistry, French, and guitar, he is also doing daily Bible memory, and will be studying 30 minutes daily for retaking his SAT.  Lastly, we need to figure out something for driver’s ed, which he has not yet done.

Grant took a selfie, high above Winnebago, IL, as the passenger in my Uncle Gerry's single-engine plane.

Grant took a selfie, high above Winnebago, IL, as the passenger in my Uncle Gerry’s single-engine plane.

Grant is my 15 year-old sophomore.  He had a rough year last year, which is probably my biggest regret.  He is a brilliant student, but without proper guidance, he just tanks.  So, the second half of his year was pretty much a bust.  Grant is doing Sonlight’s Core 200 (which is called “History of the Church”, but really reaches beyond that, into Western Civilization).  Grant is also re-doing Geometry, though this time with Teaching Textbooks, and re-doing Biology (Apologia, here at home), and Rosetta Stone French.  We may add more into his school day, but for now, we’re going to see how he handles just Core (which is Bible, History, Literature, and grammar/writing).

Wes holding a week-old kid, Quincy, IL.  July 2014.

Wes holding a week-old kid, Quincy, IL. July 2014.

 


Wesley is my nearly-13-year-old 8th grader.  Wes is doing a Core that is new to our family, Core W — a one-year world history course.  With Ethan and Grant, it took me eight years to complete five Cores, not uncommon in families who choose Sonlight.  But, it only took Wes seven years…  So, here he is in his eighth grade year and I didn’t have any curriculum to teach him.  So, he’s doing a new one.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had to purchase an elementary/junior high curric!!  He is doing the second half of Teaching Textbooks’ Algebra 1 and doing French, as well. We are doing Easy Grammar in addition to Sonlight’s language arts. He is also doing Sonlight Science G. And Spelling Power.

Audrey, holding a baby pheasant at my Uncle Peter and Aunt Candy's home, outside of Hudson, Illinois.  July 2014.

Audrey, holding a baby pheasant at my Uncle Peter and Aunt Candy’s home, outside of Hudson, Illinois. July 2014.

Then, I have a 3rd grader (Audrey, age 8) and 1st grader (Fiala, who will be six in October). Both are doing the second half of old Core 1, which I never completed with my 3rd grader.  Yes, it took me her first grade year AND her second grade year to complete 16 WEEKS of Sonlight’s old Core 1 (which is basically equivalent to current Core B).  They are also both doing Explode the Code, and Sonlight Science 1.  Audrey is doing Reason for Handwriting Cursive (which we started last year — she loves it). They also both use Mead Primary Journals (which has a blank spot on top for a picture, then about six lines for journaling/story — I have only found these at Walmart.  I cannot recommend them highly enough.). Both use Singapore Math — 3A and 1A, respectively. Both also do Spelling Power. 

Fiala with my dear cousin Anna, in Lexington, KY.  July 2014.

Fiala with my dear cousin Anna, in Lexington, KY. July 2014.

Just a note about Fiala….  One thing I love about homeschooling is that you can tailor a child’s work to his needs.  Her needs, in this case.  If she were attending a public school, she would be only STARTING Kindergarten this year, as she has a late-October birthday.  However, she flew through Kindergarten curriculum last year, and is doing beautifully as a 1st grader.  She tested in Spelling Power at level 2.2 — 2nd grade, 2nd month.  She’s five.  And, though she is bright, she isn’t brilliant.  She isn’t a genius.  I just think our public school system is so awfully inefficient and tries to mold children to the curriculum, rather than finding what works for each child, and unsurprisingly, the child “fails”.  If you find work that is well-suited to a child’s personality, attention span, intelligence, and learning style, you may be surprised at how smart and how able your child actually is. 

Our whole family, in July.  Wes is in the white polo.  I have the fewest pics of Wes of any of my children...  Must remedy that!!

Go ahead: Bite off more than you can chew.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I'm using as bun here.  I'm enormously pleased with this burger-hack.  Most people with whom I share the idea?  Not so much.  But, seriously, you should try it!!  Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

Note the slab-slices of summer squash I’m using as bun here. I’m enormously pleased with this burger-hack. Most people with whom I share the idea? Not so much. But, seriously, you should try it!! Raw summer squash is super-mild, lightly crunchy, and holds up WAY better than a lettuce wrap.

I am still — STILL!! — working on converting an area approximately 21′ x 45′ from invasive, hard-to-kill Bermuda grass lawn into a vegetable garden.  It has occurred to me, time and again, why raised beds are so popular.  They’re a heckuva lot easier!  However, I’m looking for long-term sustainability as well as decreasing water use, and to those ends, a sunken bed is the way to go in the desert.  I already know that water drains off our property toward the to-be-garden corner.  It takes less water to hydrate sunken beds, water doesn’t evaporate as quickly, and the soil temp stays cooler when the top of the garden bed is at or below ground-level.

But, Lordy! is it ever hard work.

A couple of weeks ago, on my blog Facebook page, I posted:

Crap. I have just discovered that a giant section of our yard (about 15′ x 40′) is actually a stinkin’ CONCRETE SLAB, which was covered by about 4″ layer of dirt mixed with -1/4″ (“quarter minus”) granite gravel, which was topped with another 4″ or so of sod. A section of this takes up about a THIRD of my planned garden, right in the middle. This is going to take a jack hammer or a backhoe to remedy. Can you feel my disappointment? Ugh. Such a setback.

My friend Erin commented:

I love that you say “jackhammer or backhoe” instead of “smaller garden.” That’s the Karen I know and love!

This gave me much pause for thought.

She is totally right:  Downsizing due to difficulty was not an option.  This is mostly because, if I’m going to do this, it’s probably my ONE chance!  At least, it’s my one chance right now.  And, I want to do it right, if I’m going to do it at all — a maxim that was repeated ad nauseum during my childhood.  Secondly, if there is a giant chunk of concrete just below the surface of our yard, it probably shouldn’t just stay there;  it would only cause further difficulty down the line, and eventually need to be removed, anyway.  So, why not remove it now?

Note:  The bad news is, it’s still not removed.  The good news is that it is only a footer — about 18″ wide, a good, solid two feet deep, and about eight feet long.  More good news:  My husband has taken on removal of the concrete footer as his own personal mission.  More bad news:  this mission is subject to myriad other missions, currently being tackled by my husband.

But, back to my “pause for thought”:

It occurs to me that I typically bite off more than I can chew.  As a matter of course, I take on projects that are too big for myself.  I dream and plan into existence opportunities that end up being WAY more complex and time-consuming than I had envisioned.

At first, I started to chastise myself for this.

But, upon further reflection, I’ve decided that I like this God-given part of my personality, and here’s why:

I get loads more accomplished by biting off more than I can chew, than I would if I took life in reasonable mouthfuls.

I find that, as I’m in the throes of panic, feeling overwhelmed at all that’s on my plate, any number of things happen:

  1. I am compelled to study, research, and learn, to fill in the gaps of my knowledge.
  2. I am compelled to the feet of Jesus for His comfort, wisdom, and guidance.
  3. I am compelled to lean on my husband (and in increasing measure, my sons who are young men).
  4. I am compelled to ask the Body of Christ —  my local church — for help.

I don’t think that anyone would see a problem with the first item on my list.  For items #2-4, I must note that this is a good thing for me, as I tend to too much independence.  I believe that God created us to function interdependently, within our families, our communities, our churches…  We need each other.  I contribute my strength and abilities, you contribute yours, and we both end up further down the road, than had we been alone.

I could add a number of other benefits to the list above:

  • Hard work is good for you — body and soul.
  • Being productive is good for everyone around you.
  • Being able to genuinely and completely rest after a job well-done is a glorious feeling.

I’m sure there are more.  Feel free to share your own ideas in the comments, if you’d like!!

So, go ahead:  Bite off more than you can chew.  Sure, you’ll have moments of feeling overwhelmed, moments of panic.  But you’ll do more, go further, and just plain ol’ bear more fruit than if you live a more reasonable life.

Imperfect. Still blessed.

Six kids doesn’t feel like a lot.

And our home feels empty when anyone is missing, even just for the afternoon.

I’m not a super-mom; it helps tremendously that my oldest two are so responsible and helpful.

I get all sorts of comments – not usually negative ones – from folks who wonder “how do you do it?” and it must just be the grace of God, because although there are certainly challenges, they feel no more challenging than back when I had only Ethan. In fact, mentally and emotionally, I feel/am much more capable than I was when I was 24 years old and the mother of one child.

I certainly don’t want to whitewash anything and make it sound like EVERYTHING is FABULOUS ALL of the time! It’s not, and I cry just like any other mom, over hurts or disappointments.  My bedroom is a wreck, there are mountains of laundry to be done, I made my 8-year-old cry yesterday by confessing that I didn’t get the plans in order for her birthday party and we’d have to delay it for two weeks… In other words, not perfect.  But, overall, I feel very blessed and very thankful that God has appointed me to be the mother of six. Not many have that opportunity (though I probably have a higher-than-average count of friends who are ‘moms of many’).

But I guess what my revelation has been is this: Things don’t have to be PERFECT for me to feel and be BLESSED.

Imperfect. Downright blemished in places. But still, overwhelmingly and beautifully blessed.

From this morning.  Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, "Take a picture, Mom!" then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

From this morning. Wesley was holding baby Jean and said, “Take a picture, Mom!” then Audrey and Fiala appeared to be a part of the picture-taking.

%d bloggers like this: