Friday, June 19, 2015

Seeing Stars

I keep meaning to mention that the sweet girl and I have started a mother-daughter review blog. We're talking books and movies together over at Seeing Stars, where we're known as Obi Mom and Jedi Teen. Come on over and visit if you're so inclined!

End of Another Year

Well, we've done it! Today was homeschool evaluation day, which for me always feels like the official end of our school-year, even if we finish actual schooling earlier. This year the sweet girl has had dribs and drabs of things to finish, mostly in math, so she's actually been doing a bit of "summer school" (about an hour a day) but even that is almost over now. With the official sign-off from our terrific evaluator, who loved seeing how much S. has "grown and matured," 7th grade is DONE! Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Typing, Naming, and Praying

Once a month I type up revisions to my parish's prayer sheet. This is a sheet that gets distributed to the congregation each month with updated lists of people to pray for: people in need of healing, people we work with in church outreaches, local and national community leaders, missionaries and ministry workers connected to our church in some way, people being persecuted for their faith. It's a long list. Included in it are also diocesan and international prayer cycles: we pray for various bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people at work in our diocese, in our national church body, and in the wider Anglican communion.

I long ago discovered that it's easier for me to type in the rotating lists of names than to try to lift them from online sources and paste them in. That's particularly true for the communion-wide list, which is printed online in such a way that moving names via copy/paste would wreak formatting havoc with my document, leaving me with lots to clean up and reformat. Despite the fact that it may seem a little tedious to have to type all names in one at a time, especially when some of the names are unusual to this English speaker and not easy to spell, it's still faster and tidier than doing it any other way, in my humble opinion. But more than that, it gives me time to think, ponder, and pray my way through the list as I type.

There's something wonderfully grounding and connecting about typing in a person's name (and making sure you've spelled it accurately). Even though you may never have seen or even heard of this person, typing their name somehow gives you a tangible link with who they are. Since all of the names I'm working with are names of leaders, mostly bishops and archbishops, I know that each one of them has a challenging role and a lot on their hearts, no matter where they serve. Some of the names I type in with ease, and some I stumble over, breaking them into unusual syllables and then putting them back together, wondering if my mental pronunciation is anywhere close to how you actually say the name. Some of the bishops are in countries torn by war or where Christians face daily persecution. As I type their names, I find myself lifting each of them to God and praying that the Lord will watch over his servant.

And I love the names. Some of them have three or four names, many of them biblical. Then there are names (first, middle, or last) that evoke a picture: names like Godson, Maker, and Coffin (all fascinating names for bishops, I think). There are African names like Aladekugbe and Asian names like Iso. There are names that bring to mind Irish, Scots, or Welsh saints.

Sometimes  I confess I am tired when prayer-sheet revision time rolls around, and part of me doesn't feel like taking the time to scroll through the lists and type in the letters. But most of me realizes that by the time I'm done, I will feel more in tune and more connected with people of God all around the world, and more gratefully aware of the myriad of stories that are all connected just in this one slim chapter of the story of the communion of the saints. I know my typing in these lists is just a tiny service but it's one that refuels me every month to remember what a privilege is it to be part of the worldwide body of Christ and to pray for my family.

Monday, June 01, 2015

It Must Be June

We turned the calendar to a new month today. To all intents and purposes, our school year is "done" -- at least officially. I've tallied up attendance records and we've hit our requisite number of days. All that should be left is portfolio and evaluation.

But S. still has some things to wrap up: she's still writing her final research paper for her writing course, she's got a review unit still to do in math, a few stray grammar lessons to finish up to complete the workbook, and some ongoing work in Spanish (ditto). What makes me happy is to see her willingness to keep going with all of this, in a good, disciplined way, even though it's June and we're both oh so ready for a break. The nice thing, of course, is that she can tackle these things pretty systematically on her own and still have plenty of time leftover to begin some relaxation.

The other nice thing is that we're not feeling rushed in the mornings. Which, wonderfully, means more chances to explore learning trails. This morning we lingered at the breakfast table and had an awesome conversation about missions history and the shifting of the Christian world from global north to global south, which got her so excited she actually did a little cheer for our "missionary God!" (which made my heart want to sing, naturally). At lunch, we tackled the Smithsonian magazine that arrived on Saturday and I read her the Pluto article while she ate. She did a big paper on Pluto last year, so I knew she'd find it fascinating, and she did. We're excitedly looking forward to July 14, the big NASA encounter with the dwarf planet.

So must be June. Learning continues, but it does so in a more relaxed, chasing-your-passions-down-learning-trails way. That's good for us both.

June also marks the beginning of the summer diaconate course I'm teaching, along with four independent studies. Considering I'm still grading for spring, I'm feeling like I'm not getting much of a breath, but grateful for the work. I've got final edits on some S&T work too, and a doctor's appointment this week. Never a dull moment!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Just as Geeky as my Grandmother

One of things I sometimes miss is being able to afford magazines. While I know there are many cool things that can be seen and read about online, I still love the feel and look of a magazine, especially one with good writing and gorgeous photographs.

When we recently got an offer to subscribe to Smithsonian magazine for less than a dollar an issue for a year, I confess I leaped at the chance. Our first issue came yesterday, and I gave myself some late Saturday evening/Sunday afternoon time to enjoy a few of the articles, including a great cover story about lions and a fascinating look at the current NASA mission due to fly-by Pluto next month.

It dawned on me somewhere along the way that I had a very clear picture in my mind of someone else devouring articles with a Smithsonian magazine in her hands: my grandmother, in the years she lived with us when I was growing up.

Apparently I am just as geeky as my grandmother. Which makes me absurdly happy.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sorting Papers: Quotes and Poem Scraps from the Daybook

I'm spending part of today sorting through a mountain of papers (a long overdue chore). Most of these have been stuffed into boxes over the past few years, but some of the papers go back much longer. In and among the boxes, I'm finding old student papers, scraps of poems I've written, love notes and drawings from the sweet girl from when she was little, photocopies of articles I saved for teaching or writing purposes, mission newsletters, old sermon notes, and collections of quotes and images. It's a plethora of stuff that looks like spillover from my overactive and far too busy writer-teacher brain.

Every once in a while, when I'm going through mountains like this, I pause to jot down a few of the things I'm finding. I thought I'd share a few quotes from what would be a daybook if I ever had time to make one!

"Don't feel like a failure if you're finding it difficult to pursue God's call or can't discern fruit." (~That's from some very scattered sermon notes from 2004! Eleven years ago...and I still need to hear it. Maybe more now than then.)

"Use what talent you possess. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best." (~Henry Van Dyke, not sure what source)

"The little purple house
with a roof like a cap
perched on the hill
and took a little nap

It shuttered its eyes
and dozed in the sun
and when it woke up
it was almost one

It yawned a big yawn
and its door opened wide.
It invited some friends
to come inside

And into the house
with a roof like a cap
we went right inside
and we too took a nap"

(~EMP, original/undated poem scrap, next to a doodle of a little purple house with a roof like a cap)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Planning for 8th Grade Science (First Semester)

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a homeschooling post on the blog. We’re wrapping up 7th grade year in the next week or two, so I’m busy pulling together the portfolio of the year (made more fun this year by not having a working printer in the house)! But that means I am also in one of my favorite parts of homeschooling: planning coursework for the fall.

We rely rather loosely on a classical framework, which among other things has meant that we’ve done history and science in four year cycles. The history cycle is ancient, medieval, early modern, and modern, and the science cycle is life science, earth science, chemistry, and physics. In the grammar years, it was basically an introduction to those topics, while the logic (mid-grade) years have given us a chance to press deeper into the topics and focus a bit more within each. For instance, last year (roughly 6th grade) we spent part of the year on general earth science, covered geology in a more in-depth unit, and then did close to a semester of astronomy. 7th didn’t lend itself to quite so many nifty detours, as we basically stuck to mid-grade chemistry the whole way, but chemistry lends itself to more lab-work, which the sweet girl enjoys.

For 8th grade, I’ve been going back and forth for a while about what to do. Our introduction to physics, back in the grammar years (4th grade) did not go too well. It was due to a lot of things: a harder year overall as we moved toward the logic stage, a curriculum I bought with great enthusiasm, thinking it would work for us, only to find that it really didn’t, and the fact that I have very little aptitude for teaching physics. The bottom line may simply be that it’s also the branch of science that holds almost no interest for S. I’m sure it would have helped if I could have lit a metaphorical fire under her and sparked that interest early, but alas, it didn’t happen.

Knowing that we’re approaching what should be a physics year in the cycle again, I think we’ve both been feeling a bit worried about what we’ll do. Since part of the beauty of homeschooling is that we get to play to our strengths, part of me thought of just dropping it entirely and moving straight back into the life sciences. Then again, another beauty of homeschooling, at least from my perspective, is that we can encourage a student to try something again or to stick with things that may feel harder without too much grading pressure. The learning is the adventure. If it turns out not to be your favorite subject – eh, that’s okay. But at least you can say you gave it a try and got a taste of it.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to compromise. For eighth grade, we’re going to do one semester of physics, and one of botany. The botany will give us a jump on biology in high school, and will also give the sweet girl something to look forward to in spring semester after working hard in the fall at something that isn’t as much her cup of tea.

This has turned out to be incredibly freeing for me as a teacher too. I find that planning in semester implements can feel much less daunting than planning a whole year. It helps me to think outside the box in turns of resources, including the use of resources that might make a great unit or cover several weeks, but wouldn’t work for a whole course. And I’m very happy with what I’ve managed to put together so far, though I can’t actually build the course schedule until I get some things ordered, which probably won’t be till part-way through June.

Here’s what I’m planning to use:

Physics for Middle School by Rebecca Keller, PhD
Despite the fact that they’re a bit pricey for our budget, we love these resources from Gravitas. We’ve used both their astronomy and chemistry books for the mid-grade year. Basically the text provides ten lessons and the accompanying lab book provides labs that go with each of the ten lessons. One of the things I appreciate about them is that they are well-organized, covering important topics in the field at age-appropriate levels. Because they’re good at covering important/key concepts, I can use them as jumping off places to help the sweet girl find other reading and resources that build on the information in the text. They’re also nicely designed, with colorful images and good-sized text in a slick looking paperback that feels approachable to hold and read. Finally, the teacher’s guide actually offers some further information and some possible stepping-off points for discussion.

Developing Critical Thinking Through Science, Book 2
(Critical Thinking Company)
Since S. is a hands-on kind of learner, I wanted to make sure we have at least one more good lab resource on hand, and I’m hoping this will prove to be useful. The description I’ve read indicates that most of the labs can be done with household items and a few other things you might need to buy ahead. I think it’s technically listed as “grades 4-8” which means there are probably some easier/some harder lab options throughout, which will give S. a chance to ease into things.

Exploring the World of Physics by John Hudson Tiner
(Master Books)
I can’t tell you how happy I was to discover Tiner’s Exploring the World of Chemistry this year. We found it late, alas, but we’re still trying to get it all in because we’ve enjoyed it that much. He does a fine job of looking into the history of a scientific discipline, stopping along the way to explain concepts that were discovered or developed. The writing is an interesting combination of straightforward and yet complex when it comes to the actual science being described or explained. S. enjoys exploring the history of science and has liked the Chemistry book, so I’m planning to weave the Physics book in and around the lessons and labs from our other resources. I’ve also discovered that Memoria Press provides supplemental questions and even quizzes/tests based on Tiner’s series, so I plan to pick that up as well.

I’ve already got Botany plans in the work for second semester, but I’m still exploring resources, so I’ll share more about that later.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Caring for the Vulnerable Among Us

Watching someone you love struggle with dementia is never an easy thing. My mother-in-law's challenges in the past few years -- and prior to that, her challenges as a caregiver for her husband, as he struggled with Alzheimer's -- have made me do a lot of thinking and praying. They've also made me recall the years my grandmother lived with us when I was young. How do we care best for people we love who struggle with memory loss and confusion? How do we show our love and care for them from afar, when we can't be with them all the time? How do we support the people who are their main caregivers if we're not?

There's a very helpful and thoughtful article that deals with those kinds of questions posted at the her:meneutics blog on Christianity Today. One the things I appreciate is the honesty of Benjamin Mast, the author being interviewed, when he talks about the vulnerability of elderly people with dementia and memory loss, and how easy it is for the church to overlook them. They are part of what he terms as an almost invisible demographic.

I've been wrestling with this a lot since our last family visit to Virginia to see my mother-in-law. She has been part of a moderately large non-denominational Bible church for over forty years. Yes, the same church for over forty years. While I was touched at how warmly she was welcomed to her Sunday School class when we took her to the Easter Sunday service, it was apparent that no one had been in touch with her much at all in the intervening months since she'd last been able to make it there. She struggles a great deal with loneliness, and yet from all I can ascertain, it is very rare that she receives calls from anyone at this church, and much more rare for her to receive an actual visit.

I think there are probably lots of reasons for this. Chief among them may be the contemporary, post-modern mindset that assumes that individuals would rather muddle along privately than rely on others for help. I think there is an assumption that family will do the caring, and absent that, that social services and retirement communities (my mother-in-law lives in one) will plug any care deficit. While it's true that there is a chaplain at my mother-in-law's care facility (maybe more than one?) that person is responsible for a great number of people. It also seems odd and painful to me that the local church, which would seem to be the best representative of "family of faith" there is, would so quickly fade out of the picture, even when someone has been a faithful member of that church for decades.

It may call into question how our churches can lack inter-generationality (is that a word? Well, it is now...) By that, I mean generations spending intentional time together. I don't think this has to be all the time. There are certainly times and places where it is appropriate for people to gather with people of their own age and life experience to learn at levels that fit the seasons of their lives. Young children and teenagers aren't the only people who could benefit from that. I think fellowship groups or Sunday School classes for middle aged people could be very beneficial, partly to learn and pray together over the challenges of aging! But when churches are very age-segregated, that can lead to other challenges. I know for many years that my mother-in-law had felt most at home in her own Sunday School class for older people. More and more, she felt out of place at worship, which had grown more casual and contemporary than she felt comfortable with. The people she was most connected to were her age or older, and now when she is struggling, probably many of them are as well.

All of this has made me feel deeply grateful (again, and for yet another reason) to be a part of a historical, liturgical church tradition. Anglicanism, steeped as it is in the threefold ministerial offices of bishops, priests, and deacons, reserves a very important and biblical role for deacons as leaders in pastoral and practical care for the people of God. (I love deacons! And not just because I consider many of them good friends, and have been blessed to teach in the diaconate study program in my diocese for a number of years.)  My dear husband and I have reflected lately on how glad we are to belong to a church tradition that has a long, historically-enriched, biblical practice of pastoral care. It doesn't mean that each and every church we've ever been part of has always practiced it perfectly...that's not possible. But it means that there is a much greater chance of such care being available and humbly and lovingly offered and practiced than in traditions that are shaped more by contemporary values than by historical and biblical ones.

As the body of Christ, we are to rejoice when another member rejoices and suffer when another member suffers. We are also to carry one anothers' burdens and practice loving care amongst the household of saints. And that's true no matter how old and frail the saints may be. Our love for the most vulnerable and "invisible" among us is surely a mark of our love for God.