Monday, October 29, 2007

"Mommy, Why Does Your Face Look Like That?"

A funny moment with the sweet girl today, one that brought me some much needed laughter...and a bit of perspective!

After a very busy couple of weeks, I finally found time to sit down today and do some work on the family finances (write checks, etc.) only to find that I had once again neglected to pay a couple of important bills. This has happened a few times lately, and it's not helping our family's already stretched-tight financial situation.

I know this isn't mere forgetfulness. I'm pretty sure I understand what's going on and how to correct it; it's just a matter of doing it. Because we've had some pretty long seasons of debt and financial hardship, and because those are the kinds of difficulties that can make me most anxious, I've been trying to "not think about it" unless and until I absolutely have to. Dumb, very dumb. Putting this out of sight and out of mind isn't helping matters. I need to be disciplined: do what I need to do well and carefully, but not give into fretting, especially since fretting is useless. It's a bit of a balancing act, and one I've obviously not been doing well.

I still had papers spread out all over the living room floor when it was time to get the sweet girl up from her afternoon rest time. I still felt terribly preoccupied with numbers when I poked my head into her room, where she was cuddling with some of her stuffed animals. I let her know rest time was over and asked if she'd like a snack.

"Yes," she said. And then added, "Mommy, why does your face look like that?"

"Like what?" I asked, probably adding to the look she was noting by my puzzlement.

"Like THAT." She tried to scrunch her own fair, unwrinkled little face. "Like your forehead is all wrinkled."

I was beginning to get it. "You mean, like this?" I asked, purposefully scowling and wrinkling my brow.

"Yes! Like that!"

I half-sighed, half-chuckled. And I told her, in all honesty, that Mommy was having to spend the afternoon thinking about bills to pay and being on the phone with people we owed money to, and that those things made me feel sort of anxious and worried, even though I know they shouldn't. "So I'm feeling worried, and I'm thinking a lot. And I guess that's why my forehead is all wrinkled," I concluded.

She listened quite placidly and seemed to accept my explanation. Except then she added, with a wise little nod, "Yes, and you're thirty-nine."

Ah yes. That too.

Sometimes you just have to laugh. And thankfully, it turns out to be the best thing in the world for your face...and your soul!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Schooling With Computers

I am discovering that I really love the simplicity of teaching and learning at home. Give us a few good books, a few good apples, a bench outside (if it's sunny and warm) or a couch inside (if it's cold and rainy) and we're good to go!

But I'm also delighting in the fact that I am homeschooling in the information age.

It's unusual for me to admit that I feel at home in my own time. Often I'm like a fish out of water. And I've always seen the "two-sidedness" of technology -- both the potential and actual blessings that come with it, and the potential and actual pitfalls.(Yes, I note the irony that I am writing this in a blogpost.) Among other things, I sometimes wonder if we're just taking in way too much information too quickly, with no way to assimilate it or respond to it meaningfully. But that's probably another post for another time.

This week I've been realizing how wonderful it is to have the internet at my fingertips when it comes to supplementing or enriching our lessons. So far at least I haven't really planned much of the "computer activities" that we've used. I just find myself getting curious about topics as I teach them, so I begin to explore on my own, the way I do with most topics in which I'm interested. Or I find helpful looking websites recommended by other parents and teachers on homeschooling forums.

This week we've used the internet for three things. We've been studying the seven continents, reviewing their names, learning where they're located on a map, and reading some facts about each. As usual, the sweet girl is utterly fascinated by Antarctica (her penguin passion never seems to fade). I found a terrific zoomable map at, where with a click of the mouse you can zoom in and out on a satellite photo of Antarctica. We had great fun with that, making the land of ice and snow bigger and smaller!

We've also been reading about Johnny Appleseed, the legendary name of the real John Chapman of Massachusetts, who traveled in the young United States planting apple trees and helping pioneering settlers. You can find the well-known Johnny Appleseed "grace" at If you're not sure you remember the tune (I wasn't!) you can even play a recording of the melody played simply on piano. They've got the words to several verses of the song in English, and the first verse in Spanish.

And then today we spent some time at this fun website: The activities there re-emphasize the letter sounds and phonics we've been working on for months. It also has simple but effective graphics and easy "click and drag" kinds of games that help S. learn basic computer skills as well as review letter sounds. That's a nice plus because I've been looking for a "gentle in" to more computer usage. We've not been in any rush to teach her computer skills. She did some game-playing on the computer at preschool last year, and she's done a bit of typing and clicking with us from time to time. I know some might think it's foolish -- there seems to be a huge push to want to get kids "computer-savvy" as quickly as possible. But frankly, although it's an important skill in our culture, I haven't felt the need or desire to have her learn it right away. It's felt more important that she spend time reading, writing, coloring, counting, stringing beads, playing with play-doh, making up stories for her tiny dollhouse family, taking walks and looking for beetles. I'm sure she will spend plenty of hours of her life on a computer; those skills will come in time just like everything else. Today it was just such fun to watch her delight in clicking on the capital A's and lower-case a's on the apple tree, and dragging each letter to the appropriate apple basket down below.

Yep, today I was thankful to live in the computer age.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Bearing Fruit

The verse we've been learning in school this week is John 15:5. "Jesus said 'I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing."

We've been talking about what it means to draw life from Jesus.

It's made me think of this picture I took a few weeks ago when we were visiting a nearby gardens where the grape vines were laden with fruit.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Starting Our Ninth Week

I just had to give a shout out: we're starting our ninth week of school today! The sweet girl and I have definitely found a good rhythm for our days (and have been able to add some of that much needed flexibility too) and I am feeling so grateful and enthused about how our school year is going.

And more good news: the Lord has provided more teaching work for me at the seminary in the spring. This will enable me to continue to freely work at home and to homeschool. We didn't know how God was going to work this out for us in the new year, and I am just feeling so grateful that he has. His blessing feels like a sign of tangible encouragement that we are doing what we are meant to be doing.

I just had to share these things on my heart this morning. I wish there were more people with whom I could share our work/homeschool/ministry journey!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Blessing of Children

While blog-hopping the other day, I found this wonderful post from a Catholic homeschooling mother and writer: 40 Reasons to Have Kids. It's a terrific list all in itself, one worth reading over and contemplating and then reading over again as you think about your own reasons you could add to it.

What makes it even more interesting is that it was written in response to another list, titled "40 Reasons Not to Have Kids" which is included at the end of this article. If you think that list sounds like a bad joke or a broad parody...well, it wasn't intended to. It's part of an actual book that apparently has become a bestseller in France. I only recommend reading the latter list 1) after you have read the life-affirming list I posted first, and 2) with an eye toward reflecting on the sadness of our life-denying culture (and finding new ways to pray for people enmeshed in it).

It's truly eye-opening to see the difference in world views: what life and children and love and parenting look like from the perspective of someone who knows and loves God, versus what they look like from the perspective of someone who seems to be mostly thinking about herself. Granted, we all fall into the latter category sometimes (because we're all sinners) but I am totally in agreement with the blogger who believes that children are a gift. In fact, a very great gift. And that they help to move us out of our selfish myopia and into an openness to all that God longs to do in us and shape us into being.

One other comment on this pair of lists: when I read the article about the author of the "No Kids" book, it pointed out that she is, in fact, the mother of two children whom she deeply regrets having. How painful that must be for her children. The journalist interviewing her asked her if she'd given copies of her book to her kids (who are, I believe, aged 10 and 13). And then came my favorite moment from the article:

For the record, she has given copies of her book to both her children. Neither has picked it up, or paid it any attention. "All they want to do is read Harry Potter," she sighs.

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I'm so thankful for the resilience of childhood. It's wonderful to realize that her children instinctively turn away from the painful and debilitating view of life that she's espousing and turn toward an amazingly written story that, among other things, provides one of the richest storied pictures you can imagine of maternal sacrificial love, and of sacrificial love at the very heart of reality. In other words, they're "escaping" into a story that's preparing them for an encounter with the Greatest Story. It's pre-evangelism, but shh! don't tell their mother. Don't tickle the sleeping dragon. Just let em' read.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Festival of Faith and Writing Booklist

Calvin College hosts the Festival of Faith and Writing on their Michigan campus every other spring. This is a festival I've been longing to go to for...oh, about a decade. They always have an amazing line-up of writers and artists. Though I've never been able to actually get there, I stay on their mailing list, in part because they provide great reading recommendations based on their speaker list.

This year they've done something fun and very smart: they've compiled a booklist based on the speaker list for the coming 2008 festival and they've posted that list as a "library" on the website librarything. If you're looking for some new reading material this fall and winter, check out this wonderful list. It's full of authors who care about the craft of writing and who wrestle creatively with the connections between life, faith and literature.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Surrendering to Fiction

I've got a bout of fiction writing coming on. I can feel it coming, almost like you can tell when you're getting the flu.

I'm kidding with that last analogy...well, sort of kidding. There's a combination of feelings for me when I think about sitting down to write stories. Some of it is birthday-coming-soon excitement. But these days, it's tinged a bit with dread too. I think it's because I have gotten out of the habit of writing fiction. It's a completely different animal from writing prose, no matter how much I enjoy that endeavor and how creative it can be. Making myself drop into fiction is a deeper sort of surrender. When I am really "into" a story, it takes huge amounts of reserve energy (and my reserves seem low). That's probably why I haven't done it as much in recent energy is going toward other things. That's not necessarily bad, but I miss the excitement and exhaustion and exhilaration of story writing.

And for the first time in a long time, stories are coming again. I'm dreaming and daydreaming about some characters I haven't visited with in years. I'm hearing story thoughts and character voices (don't worry...I'm not hearing actual voices, just finding myself imagining dialogue between characters while I'm doing other things like cooking or cleaning or showering). I've even got a couple of rather strong visual images floating around in my mind, and they're clamoring to be pinned on paper, always a bit terrifying.

And I am procrastinating. Faced with computer time this afternoon, a whole blessed hour of it, I frittered it away. Productive frittering (homeschool planning, recipe gathering, email sending...and oh yes, blogging). But lurking in the background is that realization that I am doing everything I can to do-si-do my way around the blank page that's just asked me to dance.

I need to curtsy, surrender to the music, and get on with it.

Ever stood on this creative cliff yourself? What do you do to make yourself jump? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Time To Read (Early October)

Several weeks ago I mentioned that I planned to purposefully post periodic updates about the books that the sweet girl and I are reading together. I'm doing this partly for my own record-keeping/reflections, but I also hope others might benefit from some of the book recommendations.

Our longer read-alouds thus far (since late August):
Little House in the Big Woods (Wilder)
The Boxcar Children (Warner)
The Apple and the Arrow (Buff)
Babe: The Gallant Pig (King-Smith)
The Storm: The Lighthouse Family (Rylant)
My Father's Dragon (Gannett)

Well, we're almost done with that chapter tomorrow!

As for picture books, we've had a sudden renaissance of interest in the work of Marisabina Russo, long a favorite of the sweet girl's. We started reading Russo's books when S. was about two, and they've definitely stood the test of time. Lately she's been wanting repeated reads of Waiting for Hannah; The Trouble With Baby; The Line-Up Book; and Russo's newest, The Bunnies Are Not in Their Beds. I cheerfully confess that the last one drives me a bit crazy, but it's a fun read-aloud and at least it raises good discussion about listening and obedience (though the mischievous bunnies, a la Curious George, don't always provide the most wholesome examples).

I'm feeling very grateful to Marisabina Russo, however, not only because she writes books that help my daughter tap into and learn to better express her feelings, but because of a most gracious letter she wrote to us last week. I was on her website not long ago, looking up the names of some of her newer work (at the request of the sweet girl) so we could put them on hold in our library system. When I saw she listed an email adress, I decided on a whim to contact her and let her know how much we loved her books at our house. I've been getting more bold about contacting authors in recent years, in part because I'm coming to realize how wonderful it is when people tell you that what you wrote touched them on a deep level, and in part because published authors are becoming so much more accessible in the information age. I even sent Marisabina a link to a review I wrote of her book Come Back, Hannah. Re-reading the review, which I penned a couple of years ago, brought back very fond memories of our little girl's toddlerhood and our struggles and small, daily triumphs with language acquisition.

Well, not only did Marisabina Russo enjoy my review (and say so, which was quite lovely of her) but she wrote some wonderful words just for my daughter, letting her know how happy she was that her books were so loved. It's a letter we'll treasure. And it makes me think that perhaps we should write a few more authors and let them know how much we enjoy their work! Among other things, it helps S. to know and understand that authors are real people, writing out of their real lives and experiences, and that they care about readers. At least the best ones!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Finally Fall

October got off to a very hot and summery start. Although I confess I tend to dread winter a bit, I love the weeks of fall weather that precede it, and I was a bit saddened that it still felt so hot and dry and August-like during the first week of October.

Then we walked out of our front door this morning and woosh! A crisp wind scuttled across the sidewalk and came rushing up to us with the jubliant feel of autumn. It even SMELLS like fall today! We were happy to go back for a jacket for the sweet girl.

I love autumn days. This afternoon felt just perfect for drinking a cup of tart cherry tea (sweetened with a bit of Agave Nectar, my newest find at the health food store) while cooking up a big pot of lentil soup for the young adult group that meets at our church this evening. The sweet girl is not a soup eater, but I think she enjoyed all the good cooking smells too. She peeked into the pot and said wistfully, "I wish I could go to the young adult group tonight so I could have some of that soup!" (Yes, I will save out a small bowlful for her...) Somehow lemon juice, garlic, thyme and tarragon all smell better in the fall. Onward to cornbread...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our First (and Hopefully Last) Trip to the ER

In the category of where we actually spent this weekend, at least a couple of hours of it: how about the emergency room of our local hospital?

This is not a place one ever wants to be (though we were grateful it was there). You especially don't want to be there because your five year old needs to be.

The sweet girl is OK. She had an unfortunate run-in with a large, glassed in frame which was propped up on a shelf (for some unfathomable reason) in our church nursery. We were at church yesterday doing some work -- D. had a flyer to pull together for this morning's bulletin and I was photocopying the monthly newsletter I'd just finished pulling together at home. I was at the copier across the hall from the nursery when I heard the crash, the smash, the shatters and the high-pitched screams. Not what a mother ever wants to hear. I went running as fast as I could and then had just a few moments of sheer blind panic when I saw her surrounded by broken glass, holding up bleeding hands.

We never did quite figure out what happened. She didn't know the picture was framed in glass or that it was loose and would slip. She just wanted to see "the pretty giraffe" in the picture. As far as we can tell, it started to fall (perhaps hitting her on the head and starting to break) and then she tried to ward it off by grabbing/ clutching at it. Then the whole thing just smashed to the floor. End result: lots of minor cuts but three deeper cuts, one an especially deep laceration on her left hand, between pointer finger and thumb. We couldn't get the bleeding stopped for a long time, which is why we decided a trip to the local ER was in order. The sweet girl got to experience all sorts of firsts, including x-rays (they wanted to rule out that no glass silvers were still in her skin, and thank the Lord they weren't).

So...we got home around five o'clock with a tear-stained and blood-stained little girl. She'd had the equivalent of a few stitches (they used a kind of special glue on her skin, which will help it heal and will fall off in a few days). In addition to glued and band-aided fingers (which are now partially wrapped in gauze, which we've found is easier to keep on...and we need to keep those fingers clean and dry for a few days to give them a chance to heal properly) her lips were bright red from a popsicle a kind nurse gave to her as we were leaving. She wore a sticker that said "Hug me, I was brave." And frankly, both D. and I were exhausted, almost as tired as she was! There is something about the emotions of seeing your child get hurt that are really wearing. I am just very grateful to God that she is all right.

And today is the 17th anniversary of the day her daddy and I first said "I love you" to each other. We sort of celebrate that each year as a mini-anniversary. Some years it's felt very romantic. This year we're mostly just trying to catch our breaths. Autumn's always been my favorite season but falling in love during it blessed it with an even deeper benediction and grace. And I'll tell you something: I felt so blessed that he was the man sitting next to me in the emergency room yesterday, holding our little girl on his lap and encouraging her to play math games to get her focus off the pain of her hands. I love him more than I could have believed possible seventeen years ago.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Return of an Angel"

In the category of where I truly wish I could be this weekend: I am longing to be at any one of the performances of Return of an Angel, a play about Asheville native and renowned American novelist Thomas Wolfe.

The play is being put on by the Occasional Theatre at the Asheville Community Theatre, in conjunction with other activities marking the Thomas Wolfe Festival.

My paternal grandparents George and Lola Love McCoy were good friends of Thomas Wolfe. They encouraged him in his work -- my grandmother, in fact, wrote what I believe was the only positive review of Look Homeward, Angel in the region when the book first came out (most folks native to Asheville were incensed by the candid way in which Wolfe had exposed the frailties and foibles of a number of townspeople, only thinly disguised as characters).

And my grandparents are in the play. The roles are small, but they are actual characters. The man playing my grandfather got in touch with my parents, wanting to learn as much as he could about Papaw. He's a terrifically gracious person and has been emailing our family with updates about rehearsals. If you go to the page with character profiles, you'll see photos of my grandparents next to photos of the actors playing them. (My Mamaw would have been thrilled by the beauty of the lady playing her, I think!) The little boy on my grandfather's lap in that photo is my Dad.

My grandparents are very close to my heart. I never knew my Papaw, but I certainly feel as though I did, mostly because my Mamaw lived the last five years of her life at our home in Virginia, from the time I was nine until I was fourteen. She told lots of stories. Those were formative years for me, and I will always be grateful for her influence in my life. I've also spent a lot of time in the intervening years talking to my parents about their parents, and also doing a good bit of research into our family history. I was able to trace my Mamaw's line back about ten generations to Ireland.

It's all very exciting, and you can see why I'm longing to be at the play. I felt like I came tantalizingly close to being able to go.

We're all thrilled that my beloved oldest sister is going, however. We can't wait to hear back from her with a full review. She's already heard from the playwright, and she'll get to meet her and also some of the cast on Saturday night. Once I get a full report, I hope I will be able to post again...and I hope the official website for play will post some performance pictures!

Monday, October 01, 2007

School in our Pajamas

We got many and varied responses when we began letting people know that we were really going to homeschool this year. One of my favorites came from my Dad. We were talking on the phone, and in response to me saying how much I was looking forward to the year beginning (this was back sometime in August) he replied something like: "Well, yes. But you're going to *really* do it, right? It's not like you're going to just hang out in your pajamas every morning."

This made me chuckle. It didn't upset me, because I knew exactly where my Dad was coming from. First of all, you have to understand that my Dad, bless him, truly does respect homeschoolers. Most of his grandchildren have been homeschooled, and he loves and respects the work my sister and sister-in-law have done in teaching them. He also, perhaps unbeknownst even to himself, is probably one of the biggest reasons that I decided I wanted to homeschool, because my Dad was a wonderful teacher.

I was never formally homeschooled, but I learned a lot at home, even before I was officially school age. Some of this was informal, just because my parents are both the kinds of people who love to learn and talk about what they're learning and thinking and doing. But some of it came about because my Dad took time and effort to teach me things. When I was about four, he and I had a big blue notebook we kept together. We did all kinds of things in that notebook: color wheels, rhymes, number games. I created my first poem for that notebook, which he dutifully copied down (I can still picture his careful capital letter printing in blue ink). So I had a very early example of how to pass on the joys of learning and discovery to a child.

But I know the other place my Dad is coming from too. He's "old school" in some respects, which makes sense, given the fact that he's 75 years old (or young). He appreciates formal learning, the kind of learning he himself experienced. He values order and routine. I'm his daughter, and I appreciate and value those things too, in part because I learned to from him.

In fact, one of the things I'm discovering as we move into a our sixth week of the school year is that I have to guard against falling into the trap of being too formal. One of the reasons we chose to homeschool is that we value the flexibility, the way learning can fit into the everyday and be an organic part of living. I am finding that I need to strike a creative balance between "formality" (for want of a better word) or an organized routine (which describes it better) and flexibility.

In the case of the sweet girl, learning flexibility, informality and spontaneity feel most important now. She is her Papaw's granddaughter through and through, inheriting not only his love of order and routine but mine as well, with a touch of it from her Dad too. I guess it's not surprising to find that she thrives on a schedule. She loves when we do things in the same order each day...morning prayers and Bible reading in her room; breakfast; morning chores; another brief prayertime on the living room couch; a musical interlude when we learn our Scripture verses; and on to lessons (reading, math, writing, sometimes art and poetry) before we take a walk and enjoy some sunshine and do some longer read-alouds outside. That's quickly become the shape of our usual morning, and she would love it, I think, if I varied it even less than I do. One of her great challenges, not just in schooling but in life in general, is to not shape expectations around things being done exactly the same each time we do them. I think she will likely grow up with a great love of liturgy (at least I am praying that's one of the side benefits or good fruits that will come out of this particular character trait!).

So I'm trying to let my own inner scheduler relax some mornings, and just take it easy. This morning we got a bit of a late start and S. was dawdling over breakfast, mostly because she realized it was the first day of a new month. This is always a cause for great rejoicing. We had to change the kitchen calendar and read about the new owl for October (a Western screech owl this time). We had to change the magnets on the refrigerator that spell out the month and day and date. This inspired her to put together all sorts of letters and play with sounds and decide what some of those sounds actually sounded like when you blended them.

Did I look at the clock? Several times. Did I consider telling her we had to hurry up and get dressed and get ready for "school"? Yes. But then I took a deep breath. I realized that we were "doing school." We were learning, we were enjoying learning. And we weren't, thank you, Lord, having to get ready to rush out the door (which is what we were doing this time last year).

So I relaxed. She chattered about letters; we talked about owls; I started a load of dishes and a load of laundry. And for a little while at least, we did our pajamas.

Just don't tell my Dad.