Tuesday, September 28, 2010


:the act of regarding something as likely to happen

It would not be a stretch to say that I am learning more from homeschooling A than she is learning from me.  One lesson I learned last week was how my lack of experience in teaching can lead to unrealistic expectations.

I began to question whether my expectations were the problem after A's first draft of a paper.  She had read biographies of three dancers and I asked her to do a project on them. She chose to write a paper.  I explained that if she chose to write a paper, I expected at least five full paragraphs - an intro, one on each dancer and a conclusion.  We worked on an outline together and talked about what points should be included in her paragraphs about each dancer.  A was inclined to include factual tidbits in these paragraphs and I wanted a more thematic approach.  I didn't want her to merely convey facts, but to analyze what she'd learned and draw some conclusions.  After the outline, A wrote a draft.

It was when we reviewed the draft together that I began to question whether A was capable of doing what I was asking of her.  Her draft wasn't bad.  But it wasn't what I was looking for and as I explained this to her, she grew visibly agitated and frustrated.  She wasn't being disrespectful, but she struggled to articulate why doing what I was asking was difficult.  I listened to her, held my ground on my expectations in a non-confrontational way and immediately e-mailed a friend with a fellow fifth grader to see whether she thought my expectations were out of line.

My friend's daughter agreed that if she were to read three biographies and write a paper on them, she would be inclined to report interesting facts from them.  Both A and her friend are capable writers for their age, so it seemed I was simply asking A to do something that she hadn't done before and there was a learning curve we needed to scale.

Without saying anything to A, I adjusted my expectations for what her final product would look like.  I still had her re-write the paper and submit a final paper.  She was diligent in its completion and I was pleased with the results.  But would I have been pleased with them had we not worked through outline, draft and discussion together?  Probably not.  But I think what I envisioned was not a paper a fifth grader can write.  At least, it's not a paper my fifth grader can write at this stage in the game.

I assert that I'm learning more than A through this experience because I'm learning to value effort over results (something I can do far more easily with my children than with myself), I'm learning to set my expectations all along the way instead of etching them in stone and I'm (hopefully) learning to apply these lessons more broadly - in parenting, in relationships, in how I see myself.

Monday, September 27, 2010


:a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance

B is in a photography club at school this year.  She is thrilled to have the excuse to take photos of anything and everything and I love the way they are using photography to help students articulate their thoughts not just in images but words.

As a treat today, I thought I would share some of B's photographs and give you a glimpse of her world and her way of seeing her world.

A Bird's Nest?

B's Serious Sister

B's Silly Sister

B's Art

The View from B's Window

Self Portrait of B

A Notebook

Our Front Window

B's Friend

B's Art Room

B's Art Club Friend
It's amazing to see the world through my daughter's eyes and realize what a good eye she has.  I especially love her photo of the front window and the translucence of the curtains.  I'm sure we would all be well served to try to see the world through someone else's eyes, if only for a few moments.  Whose perspective do you need to see through?

Sunday, September 26, 2010


1: the season between summer and winter; fall. In the Northern Hemisphere it is from the September equinox to the December solstice.
2: a time of full maturity, esp. the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

Each year around this time, I feel compelled to write about how much I love autumn.  Sometimes it's the weather that serves as my muse.  A few September weeks of 90 plus degree heat will make you want to sing, cuddle with your spouse, go for an evening walk, sit outside and read a book or all of the above.  Sometimes it's food that makes me want to celebrate the arrival of the autumnal equinox.  I love making soups, chilis and cool weather foods like chicken and dumplings.  Sometimes it's the seasonal activities.  We're merely a few weeks into the football season and there have already been great games.  Did you watch Alabama pull out a victory over Arkansas?  What about Auburn and South Carolina's shoot-out?  Or Vandy's victory over Ole Miss?  All great games.

The weather, the food and the football are all valid reasons to love fall.  But this year fall's beauty for me is that it's the total package.  It's all of the things I've already said, combined with the fact that I don't have to decide whether to wear boots - I can simply decide which pair of boots to wear.  It's the fact that fall leads to family holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and I can joyfully plan (even now, months ahead) for projects to do with my daughters to celebrate how others have blessed our family.

Fall is also a busy time for our family.  It's soccer.  It's ballet.  It's choir.  But these are things my daughters love and I delight to allow them to do those things and to watch them grow in their gifts.  And I get the opportunity daily to be thankful for a husband who is a partner in the truest sense of the word.  A man who will coach a soccer team, make dinner on a Sunday night and shuttle daughters to and from activities when said daughters need to be in two different places at the same time.

Soccer Girl

This autumn brings differences from seasons past.  Instead of ramping up for adding Nutcracker rehearsals to regular ballet classes, we are finishing up a fall production of The Little Engine that Could and starting Nutcracker rehearsals with several weeks of overlap.  Instead of me balancing housework on the weekdays while the girls are at school, the girls are learning to balance their chore load with school work and busy weekends.  Instead of guarding our time by not over-committing to volunteer commitments at a church where we have been for years, we are trying to meet people in a new congregation with the time that we do have available to us.


But fall is still fall.  I'm wearing boots today.  The first pot of chili is not far away.  A Saturday of great football (UT/LSU and Bama/Florida) awaits me in six days.  Southwestern pumpkin soup will be made in the near future - B's favorite.

And as I revel in the many gifts of the fall season, I'll be pondering the second definition of autumn listed above.  Because while I'm not sure I've reached full maturity, I do long to mature into who I'm made to be.  I long to prepare myself for the hibernation of winter by taking full advantage of the urge to slow down during autumn's shorter days and cooler temps.  Mostly, I want to savor this season for all it offers.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


:a session of exercise, drill, or practice, usually private, in preparation for a public performance, ceremony, etc.

Being a stage mom doesn't come naturally to me.  For A's 2 pm performance today, we had to arrive at 9 am.  That left time for dress rehearsal, costuming and make-up.  It also left a gap of several hours spent by most of the parents watching the rehearsals, something that I prefer not to do.  As I looked over the schedule for today, I told J that I hate rehearsal days like this because I'm so uncomfortable.  His response?  So don't watch.  My reply?  I feel judged by the other parents who do sit there and watch.  I went on to explain that I don't like to watch the rehearsal because I want the actual performance to be a surprise for me.  It's a bit like Christmas morning for me to watch A dance, especially a dance I haven't seen before.  I've found in the past that watching rehearsals mutes the performance experience for me. J asked whether I had explained that to A and whether she wanted me to watch rehearsals.  I couldn't remember whether I'd discussed it with her in the past.  He suggested I talk to her and said, "It's really A's opinion that counts. If she doesn't care whether you watch or not, who cares what other parents may or may not be thinking?"  So yesterday we talked:

Me: "A, do you know why I don't like to watch rehearsals?"
A: "Because you like for it to be a surprise."
Me: "Is that OK with you?"
A: "Yeah.  If I were you, I think I'd want it to be a surprise, too.  And it would be really hard for you to watch part of it and then leave just when I come on stage."
Me:  "OK.  Thanks, honey."
So here I sit in the hallway listening to classical musical and a faint, "5, 6, 7, 8" through the doors.  I still feel a bit guilty, like I should be doing something other than using a few quiet moments to write.  But I'm trying to quiet that voice because I also spent the last two hours setting up food for the reception, laying out t-shirts and tickets for later sales and generally helping out.  So there's really no reason for me to feel like a slacker.

Downtime during rehearsal

I'm not sure why I have so much trouble listening to what I want.  I'm much more apt to listen to the voices that tell me other things.  Voices that tell me what I want is wrong - or selfish - or odd - or any number of other things.  I'm reading a book that says one of the gifts of allowing yourself to feel hurt is that you then know what you need.  So I'm trying to be more aware of how I feel and take cues from that to help me determine what I need.

I feel overwhelmed and tired after a day from 9 to 5 with non-stop interaction.  Given that, it's not wrong for me to need a bit of quiet in the middle of rehearsal day to fortify myself for the day and the evening to come.  It's funny that my family knows and sees what I need.  J and A were quick to accept the idea that I might be better off not watching a rehearsal if I don't like to watch.  So when the voice of my own heart seems faint and just out of the range of my hearing, I'll listen to the voices of my family, who know and love me, even if I don't.  And I'll remind myself that each of us prepare for performance differently.  And, in fact, I'm not alone in my preference to not watch rehearsals.

As I sat in the hallway typing, the Executive Director of A's ballet school walked up.

P: "Are you writing?"
Me: "I am," I smiled.  "About this, in fact.  About how I hate to watch rehearsals."
P: "Really?  Me, too! It makes me so nervous."
Guess I'm not the only one.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


2: a district or locality, often with reference to its character or inhabitants

A walk through my neighborhood begins
The door closes quietly behind me
Earbuds tucked into ears
Turn the music on
Wait for a car, cross the street
I pass
A runner
A couple walking a dog
A woman just home from work, still in her skirt but with tennis shoes instead of heels, walking her dog
A couple on their way home from dinner passed by walking in the bike lane

Striding along, I glimpse houses
blinds drawn, fences locked tight that say, "Stay where you are"
windows in the door, light streaming through
brick red rooms, lime green walls, neutrals not worth noting
bars on the windows
porch lights on, swept clean and neat
dark entryways
well cared for, brightly painted
difficult to see through bushes grown high
I glimpse people

on their walk home from the grocery, bags in hand
with electronics lighting their faces as they walk
a girl with limbs grown longer than she is used to walks carefully into a room carrying something
two houses over, a band sets up: microphone stands, guitars, people flit into my field of vision

My feet beat down on sidewalks
smooth white concrete
inlaid brick, the design pleasing to the eye, even in the dim streetlight
cracked concrete, pocked with weeds
overgrown and darkened, making me slow my pace
I see doors
thown open
shut tight
full of windows
with a half window framed in green, the clear center wavy and thick like a coca-cola bottle
red, with three tiny windows set high
I ponder
What does the door to my soul look like? 
Does it let natural light in or keep others firmly on the other side? 
Are there locks, old with age, that require oil and grease to be slid open?

And then I am home, in this neighborhood of ours.  I stretch, I rest, I write.

Monday, September 20, 2010


1. the state of being gratified (pleased, satisfied, indulged, humored); great satisfaction

A scene from our van yesterday:
Me: "The Story of the World is due back at the library in just two days.  Would you guys like to listen for a little while so that we can try to finish before we return it?"
A (who is wise in the ways of the library): "Can't we renew it?"
Me: "No, someone else has it on hold, so we can't renew."
A and B, in unison: "Yes, let's listen."
Up next?  Good Queen Bess, the first female monarch of England (much to the delight of my daughters, who listened with great enthusiasm to a recounting of Elizabeth's refusal to marry).  Elizabeth's story was followed by a story from her time:  Macbeth.  The first track on Macbeth set the stage: we were told of the prophecy from the three witches that Macbeth would be king, of his relationship to the current king Duncan and of Lady Macbeth's assertion that her husband should kill his cousin to take the crown.  What would Macbeth do?  There the story paused, so I turned it off.  Much to the dismay of my children, who wanted to know what happened right away.  We waited about 24 hours before finishing the story.

How good are you at delaying gratification?  If you reach the last fifty pages of your book, are you plowing through no matter what time it is?  Or do you wait until morning to savor the book that much longer?  If you have a bag of Reese's cups in your cabinet, how long does that bag last you?  Do you eat one or two at a time or a handful?  So much of our culture is designed to teach us that instant gratification is not only fun, but our right.  Hungry?  Eat now, regardless of what time it is or what caloric value your meal has.  See something you want?  Buy it.  Who cares whether you have the money right now? 

I don't want my daughters sucked into this way of thinking.  I want them to experience the ache of desire, the pain of need, true want.  Because experiencing these things makes gratification mean so much more.

A few years ago I studied chapters 53 through 60 of Isaiah with a great group of women.  These chapters from my favorite book of the Bible made a lasting impression, in part because of what I saw in them about who we are as humans.  We are a people easily satisfied.  Easily satisfied with the junk food of life - be that literal junk food or magazines that feed our brains without teaching us, television shows that entertain us without making us think or any number of other junk foods readily available.  But while we are easily satisfied, these things lead to short term satisfaction, not true satiation.

Just like a bag of potato chips leaves your energy waning mere minutes after consumption, the metaphorical junk food that we use to satisfy our deepest needs doesn't really nurture or fill us either.  So we walk around trying to mute that ache within us with something, anything.  It's not easy to teach a ten year old, nine year old and six year old to delay gratification. Even as I've typed this post, I've been asked for snacks by all three of my daughters.  The answer?  "No, dinner is in the oven."  It's a small delay of gratification.  I can't hope to help them grasp how many children in our world, in our country, in our very neighborhood will go to dinner without snacks, without dinner, with true hunger gnawing at them from the inside.

But what I can do is teach them to recognize the ache before immediately doing something to numb it.  Because the aches in our bodies and souls point us to the things that will satisfy us lastingly - a beautiful, well made meal, a piece of magnificent art and, most importantly, a God who made us, loves us and cares for us, even as we seek gratification from so much less than his best for us.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


1a : not rigidly fastened or securely attached b(1) : having worked partly free from attachments (2) : having relative freedom of movement 

I was at a party today with my daughter A for the 5th and 6th grade club at our church.  It was the first event for the year, so A and I were introduced to people several times.  I found it a little odd to reply again and again to the question, "Where does she go to school?"  with the answer, "I'm home schooling her this year."  I'm not embarrassed about this choice.  I don't think it makes us weird.  I don't think it means we've turned into - or will turn into - social recluses.  I didn't do it to pull her away from the diversity of public school.  It's just that I really have no idea what I'm doing.  Or what I'll be doing three or six months from now.  Or what decision we'll make about school next year.

I found as I researched and prepared for this school year that it was pretty easy to get excited about home schooling.  There's a lot to like:
  • The freedom to choose subjects and curricula that suit my daughter, 
  • The opportunity to fill in the gaps in my own learning, 
  • The ability to challenge A in her reading in a way that would likely happen at only the most competitive of middle schools,
  • The chance to go more slowly for math, where she needs her confidence to grow,
  • The time to strengthen my relationship with A before we hit the turbulent waters of adolescence.

My excitement has grown as we've gotten into the school year.  A is learning a great deal.  Our schedule - especially A's schedule - is far more relaxed than it would be with three children at two schools.  She never has any afterschool work (I would say that she doesn't have any homework, but B has pointed out that all of A's work is homework!).  We've discovered great materials, read interesting books and had discussions we never would have had were I not A's primary teacher.

There are down sides:
  • I continue to be very, very tired, despite working out, despite having my daughters shoulder more responsibility for chores, despite trying to take care of myself.
  • I lack subject knowledge.  A has struggled to master pronouns - especially indefinite pronouns - and I've exhausted my knowledge on the subject.  I'm not trained in grammar and don't know another way to explain the subject other than the two or three approaches I've already taken.
  • It's hard to strike the right balance.  Am I pushing A enough?  Am I pushing her too much?

But if you asked me whether I am enjoying this journey, the answer would be yes.  In fact, I'm enjoying it so much that it's difficult not to plan how I would do things differently next year.  (For one, I would buy an actual history curriculum instead of doing so much of the work myself.  Then I'd just modify the curriculum to suit my needs.)  Or how I would do it differently with B.  (More science, faster paced math, the integration of more fantasy books into literature.)  I can do those things - I can mentally play them out in my mind - but there's a great likelihood they will never come to pass because this one year experiment may be the only time our family ventures into the world of homeschooling.

As we entered A into the magnet school lottery last November, my prayer was that God would make it clear what we should do for school in the coming year.  I had reservations about each of the options available to us, so I didn't feel confident that it would be wise to pray towards a specific outcome.  Her name wasn't selected for any of the schools we wanted and she was very far down on the waiting list.  It seemed pretty clear what the message was. 

I'll be praying the same prayer again this year as we enter not one, but two, daughters into that lottery.  If both of their names are drawn, I'll sell the home school curricula we've accumulated and move on.  Because I'm trying to hold on loosely to what I want for my children and do what is best for them.  If that means they are better served in a classroom than in my home, I'll give them that relative freedom.  It seems a fair trade off if it helps them turn into the women they were made to be.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


1: the business of designing, making, and selling fashionable custom-made women's clothing

Last week, A and I went to the Frist Center to see their Couture exhibit before it left. We had seen it this summer, but A enjoyed it so much that she wanted to go again, just the two of us. I hadn’t enjoyed the exhibit all that much the first time around, but I attributed that partly to my distraction at the time: I had not only my own children, but three others along with me. This meant I was looking for a child at nearly all times as we walked through the crowded exhibit. After our initial visit, both A and an adult friend commented on how much they enjoyed this particular exhibit. I had hoped my second trip would yield a different impression. Alas, it didn’t.

A and I had read up on Renaissance fashion the day before our trip so that we could compare and contrast the trends from centuries ago with those documented in this post-WWII fashion exploration. We also read the preview materials on the Frist website, where I found it interesting to learn that post war fashion (which emphasized the feminine) was a clear departure from wartime garb (which was utilitarian). I entered with an open mind, ready to see the displays with fresh eyes, but by the third room, I simply could not find anything I liked about this exhibit. And the more I looked, the more I asked myself, “Is this even art?”

I didn’t keep this question to myself. I asked A, who was thoroughly enjoying herself (picking a favorite dress in each room, selecting a wedding dress from the formal attire, imagining dressing her own doll in the miniature nylons and sandals on display) whether she thought this stuff was art. She did (she justifies her position on this below). I listened to her side of the story, but could not adjust my viewpoint of art to include clothing, especially this clothing.

My reaction to the side gallery, which housed the work of contemporary photographer Tokihiro Sato, was striking. Here my pulse quickened, my pace slowed. This was art. I was fascinated by his images and the technique he used to create them. I lingered with these works before finishing the couture exhibit. As we looked at the Chihuly exhibit in the upstairs gallery, A asked me if I thought this exhibit was art. It was a fair question: while painting and sculpture have long been accepted as fine art, glass, ceramics and textiles were relegated to craft status for years. Yet I have no problem seeing these media as art.

As I pondered my reaction to the couture exhibit in the days after our visit, I found two interesting points of comparison and contrast: 1) the media historically classified as craft were denigrated partly because the practitioners were mostly female and 2) part of my objection to couture was its sharp contract to sculpture, which celebrates the female form while couture celebrates its own construct of the female form. This is an important distinction for me. I gladly and proudly see glass as every bit a fine art medium as paint. I love the way many crafts marry utility with beauty. These increase, instead of decrease, their value in my eyes.

But couture? The exhibit that we saw featured only male designers and the clothing was clearly about making the female form fit the clothing, not the other way around. How else do you explain the armor worn underneath the dress to make the woman possess the desired silhouette? I think my reaction was a subconscious one – I don’t want to be told that I should look like those mannequins. So I rejected the very idea of these items being art. Does that rationally follow? Perhaps not. This may be a case where my emotional reaction to the exhibit overshadows my rational assessment of whether the content is art.

In my contemplation of all of this, I did realize that A and my friend share an important trait that I think makes them experience this exhibit differently than I do: they each have a very positive body image. I suspect that they are able to view these dresses without internalizing a pressure to be someone or look a way that they don’t. I admire that, but I’m not there yet.

I told A that I was planning to write a blog post about our visit to the museum. As a part of her weekly writing, I asked her to write a bit about our trip last week. Here are her thoughts:

Couture IS an art for all you out there. Now down to business. My mom and I went to see the Couture exhibit at the Frist again. I wanted to see it one more time before it left. My mom and I had an interesting conversation about whether clothing was an art. I felt like it was, because the clothing is beautiful and I think that anything that is made is art. She thought it wasn’t an art, because it was cloth. We saw a doll who had her own wardrobe! (“Cool!” “Wait until you hear what’s next!”) Then I saw a video that had a dress in it that looked like bubble wrap (“Wow!” “Shh!’) Then we saw the Chihuly. I think both of these are art. Mom only thought Chihuly was, but we had a good time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


3: a trial performance to appraise an entertainer's merits

I am nearing the two year anniversary of this blog. On the day of my very first post, A auditioned for Nashville Ballet’s Nutcracker for the first time. Today I sat with her as she prepared for her third audition for this production.

As we drove to the store this morning, I asked A is she was as nervous as last year before the audition. With the logic – and memory – of a ten year old, she said, “How nervous was I last year?” I laughingly replied that I wasn’t exactly sure how nervous she was last year, but that I didn’t feel as nervous this year as in years past. This is partly because we’ve been through this twice before with good results, but also because I feel ready for either outcome.

I know what awaits us if an acceptance letter arrives in two and a half weeks: tons of rehearsals, the commitment of a good chunk of our fall and a great experience for A. And if the letter says not this year? I feel fairly prepared for that as well. A is in a fall production of The Little Engine that Could and we have a pretty full fall already. I wouldn’t be sad to not spend hours driving her back and forth to Nutcracker rehearsals on top of her regular ballet classes. A part of me would quite honestly be relieved to not add this commitment to our family calendar. And A is in a fairly resilient spot, I believe. She was telling a friend today that she remembers a friend who wasn’t selected for The Nutcracker and gave up dance altogether. I don’t believe A would do that. Dance seems to be too much a part of her for one disappointment to derail her. And as hard as it is to say it, she will receive her first rejection sooner or later. Perhaps it would be easier to learn how to keep trying now rather than wait for that experience a decade down the road.

One feeling I remember from last year and the year prior at audition time was “How do I parent her through this if she doesn’t get in?” It was encouraging to realize today that I feel ready for that parenting challenge. I don’t long for her to fail, but I know it will happen eventually. I think one reason auditioning for The Nutcracker has been a big deal for our family is that it heralded a shift in our season of parenting. Before this, we were able to more or less control the level of rejection our children experience. This process is welcomes us to the real world of parenting, where your child is accepted on the basis of her talent and work ethic, along with some other factors beyond her control (is she the right height for the role?). This is how life will work. Some people like us, some people don’t. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. These are hard lessons, but I believe shielding A – or any of my daughters – from these things will only hurt them in the long run. Because they need to learn through experience that life will go on after failure just like it goes on after success. They need to see for themselves that J and I will still love them no matter what their level of achievement. They need to experience that they are still the same people – they are still A, B and K – no matter what role they may or may not play on a stage.

So as we wait for another week of auditions to take place, wait for casting decisions to be made and wait for a letter to be written and mailed, I’ll remind myself that the outcome of this casting decision doesn’t change who we are as a family. A will still be my daughter, whether she’s a lamb, a garden fairy, a Russian nesting doll or an audience member. I will still be her mother if she does not fit one of the open slots in this year’s cast. Regardless, we’ll still be people who fall, yet get back up and keep walking towards being who we were made to be.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


:the state or fact of being ignorant :lack of knowledge, education, or awareness

As we drive around town on errands, we've been listening to the best audio book I've ever encountered:  Story of the World (vol. 2).  I am learning so much and it is prompting great conversations with my girls.  Today, on a short drive to the store, we discussed slavery (question from K) and how to know which side is the right side in a conflict (B's question).

K's question about slavery came not long after we started listening to a story about Peter the Hermit who led the People's Crusade.  (It was wildly unsuccessful and the few who survived to make it to Constantinople were made slaves.)  When I turned off the CD to answer her question, B said, "Oh!  Can I explain?"  So B and A told K about slavery and why it's wrong.  I love that they understand concepts well enough to explain them to their younger sister and I love that K is listening to this text that is fairly well above her learning level and still asking us to explain portions of it to her.  After our discussion on slavery, we continued listening to the story of the Crusades.

The story of the First Crusade went unremarked - even when we got to the part where the Crusaders kill every living person in Jerusalem when they capture the city.  It was when we were listening to the story of Saladin - who fought against the crusaders on subsequent crusades - that B asked, "Is he evil?"  For those of you unfamiliar with Saladin (as I was prior to today), he was a Muslim warrior who fought to reclaim Jerusalem for the Muslim empire.  He did so with noble ways - he treated his warriors with respect, he gave away nearly all of his earnings to the poor, he prayed five times daily - in short, he lived an exemplary life with the aim of furthering his faith.  So when B said, "Is he evil?"  I was surprised.  Nothing we had heard about Saladin gave any indication that he was evil.
Me: "Does he sound evil?"
B: "Well, no. I'm just trying to figure out which side is good."
A: "I think both sides are bad.  All they want to do is fight."
Me: "They just said that when the Christians captured Jerusalem they killed everyone - all of the Muslims and the Jews they found, even the ones who had no swords."
A: "Even women and children were killed."
B: "Christians did that?  I don't like myself right now.  I think I should stop listening to this and stop thinking about history so that I can like myself again."
Me: "You know, I sometimes feel that way, too.  It makes me really sad all of the things that have been done to people in God's name."

What B was saying - in part - is the age old saying "ignorance is bliss."  When we don't know about all of the horrendous things done in the name of Christianity, it's easier to be a Christian.  The solution, for some, is to put on blinders and plow ahead, seeing only what's right before you. As you might surmise, given how much I am enjoying filling in the gaps in my history knowledge through this book, I don't believe that ignorance is bliss.  Nor do I believe that turning a blind eye is the road to feeling better about myself.  But I can understand a nine year old thinking that is the best solution.

It was particularly interesting to have this conversation today - on September 11 - when the thoughts and feelings of many in our country are conflicted about the Muslim faith.  I've been shocked to realize how little I knew about the history of this faith as I've listened to the Story of the World.  I didn't know there ever was a Muslim Empire, much less that this empire grew to be larger than the Roman Empire ever was.  I didn't know that it was the Muslim warriors who taught the French and English Crusaders the value of cleanliness.  There's a lot I didn't know and even more that I still don't know.

I will not rest in my ignorance.  I'll keep learning - even when the learning makes me regret the mistakes I've unknowingly made or makes me re-evaluate long-held beliefs.  I'll keep having tough conversations with my girls.  I'll try to be honest with them when they ask a question that I can't answer.  Because if they keep questioning, if I keep questioning, it can only lead to more answers, to more knowledge, to less ignorance.  And that's a worthy goal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


3a : a usually imaginative narrative of an event : story

As a part of our literature studies, A and I read a children's version of Canterbury Tales aloud together.  We really enjoyed it and also enjoyed analyzing what the four tales we read had in common.  Before moving on to another read aloud (know a good children's version of Don Quixote or have another suggestion of a classic follow-up to Chaucer? please share!), we decided to do a joint Canterbury Tales project.

Our project?  We agreed to each write our own Canterbury Tale as if we were pilgrims on Chaucer's journey.  Like Chaucer, we'll use first and third person narration, we'll have a casual, story telling style and our tales will be about relationships.  (As A read through this blog post, she said, "Oops!  I forgot to use first person narration.  So you won't find that in her tale, after all!)  These are all things A noted about Canterbury Tales when we discussed them together. A has enjoyed writing her tale and was able to practice her script writing as well as her story telling skills - a double bonus of a project.  I did re-type her tale for her, since her typing skills are still a work in progress and it probably would have taken her as long to type her tale as it took us to read four tales aloud.  Without further delay, I present two tales.

The Friend's Tale
One day two friends were walking along a trail in the woods.  One was beautiful, but liked things to be plain and simple.  The other friend looked plain, but loved extravagant things, and adored her boyfriend.  As they were walking along, the boyfriend popped up in front of them.  Amanda (the second girl) shrieked, "Oh! Let's go walk with him!"  "No.  I just want to keep walking, me and you," said Mary (the first girl).  "Oh come on, please?" said Amanda.  "No! We never walk together anymore!" said Mary, "I always feel left out now, because you're always with John, talking about him or watching him!  We never have quality time together anymore."  "Oh. I'm sorry. Let's keep walking together."

Up ahead John was talking to Tim, his friend.  "I wish Amanda would give me some time to myself.  She's always right there!" "Dude, let her get used to having a boyfriend.  I bet that this is her first real boyfriend.  After a while, talk to her about it.  She'll understand."  "Thanks, Tim.  You rock, dude." said John.

Up ahead the girls were talking,  "You know," Amanda said, "I think that you would like Tim.  He's a nice boy.  He's got a lot going for him.  Nice, good-looking, smart.  If I wasn't dating John I'd date him." But enough about me.  How's your life, Mary?"  "Life's treating me well, Amanda.  I am getting along with my teachers, home and school a lot better.  Sarah is doing better in school."  "Mary, sometimes I wish I still went to school with you and the others. Our little gang felt so safe.  But Mother needs me to watch the little ones while she's taking care of Grandpa."  "We miss you, too, Amanda.  I'm always updating them on how you are!"  "Thanks, Mary.  You're my best friend."

The boys had stopped for a snack break.  They heard the girls coming and John groaned, "Oh no!  Here she comes!"  "Oh, hi!  Didn't expect to see you here!" said Amanda.  "I thought you were at the store working?"  "Well, today's my day off."  "OK.  This is Mary.  She's really smart and active and loves art."  "Well, actually, I dance.  I'm going to be in a ballet this year," said Mary.  "Mary! We have to be at the pastry shop in fifteen minutes!"  "May we escort you, lovely ladies?" said Tim.  "Sure, just hurry," said Mary.  When they got to the shop, Tim whispered something in Mary's ear that made her laugh.  "I'll tell you tomorrow," she said.  "See you then," he said.  The next day he caught up with her at school and whispered, "What's your answer?"  Mary said, "Of course!"  "What?" said John and Amanda as they walked up.  "Me and Tim are now boyfriend and girlfriend."  "Welcome to the fishbowl.  I'll brief you on the details," said Amanda.  And they walked off chattering.

The Innkeeper's Tale
A tale? Oh, is it my turn already? I’ve been so busy listening to all of your tales that I’ve not spent a moment thinking about what yarn I should spin for you. What’s that? Something funny? Well, my dear, I’m not sure funny is my style. My favorite tales have always been the ones that leave you sobbing your heart out – and I’m not sure that’s good traveling fare, now is it? So… nothing funny, nothing sad. I can’t very well tell you a tale of instruction, since I’m less learned than most. I guess I’ll just do my best. Let’s have another round of ale for everyone before I get started. It’s easier to listen with some sloshing between the ears, don’t you think? Ahhh, that’s more like it. Here we go.

There once was a traveler, much like us, you see? He loved the open road, the dust on his cloak, the dirt on his sandals. When rain or ice kept him cramped inside for days on end, he longed for the road like a priest craves the sacraments, especially the wine. He was at his best with blue skies above him and hard packed dirt underneath.

It didn’t much matter where he was going as long as he was going. He walked from Canterbury to Cardiff to Nottingham and back again. He knew this lovely country and all its nooks and crannies better than he knew the back of his hand. He walked slowly, or quickly, as the land demanded: strolling through fields with wild berries, always sure to sample nature’s delights, and striding through the forest’s darkest paths, lest those less scrupulous men who lurk there catch him unawares.

In all his walking, the traveler was looking, looking for the perfect place to lay his head, looking for a home that would be strong enough to keep his heart from wandering, looking for the thing that made staying well worth it. Yet the longer he walked, the more he questioned whether such a place existed. London? Too crowded, too cramped, too corrupt. Cardiff? Too bleak, too steep, too remote. Oxford? Too pretentious, too stuffy, too much. Was there anywhere worth staying?

After years – nay, decades – of walking, strolling, sauntering, striding, looking all the while, our traveler was forced inside. The rain was unlike any he’d ever seen. And being born in this land, the sir was not unaccustomed to the damp. If the Queen’s own England were capable of hosting a monsoon, this must be the one. Day in, day out for nigh on a fortnight, then two, our traveler waited.

The inn that held him grated on his nerves. The ale? A bit stale. The meat in the pies? Tough. The fire? Smoky and not warm enough. The innkeeper? A nice enough fellow, if a bit dull. His family? Likely more of the same, though the traveler did not take much note. Yet as time wore on, as days turned to weeks and the innkeeper’s hospitality did not waver, the ale did not grow warm, the pies did not grow cold, the traveler began to wonder whether there were things of value within these four simple walls.

One night, as he reclined by the fire, he observed the working of the inn from the corner of the room. He saw much that had escaped his notice before – for he had not deigned to notice much. The room, while simple, was clean. The floors were swept regularly by a brunette with clean fingernails, a gentle countenance and a braid down her back. The pies were served carefully, steaming hot, by a lad with a clever tongue, a willing smile and a winning manner. The pints were pulled full by the innkeeper’s wife, whose eyes roamed the inn for signs that a customer had had a pint too many. While she watched like a hawk, her eyes bright and alert, her heart was not bitter, but gentle. She cared for the inn, certainly, but also for those who lodged there, those who supped there, those who drank there.

Our traveler trudged up the stairs to his bed that night puzzling over what he’d seen. Could an inn in a village of little note to anyone be a place worth staying? Did the innkeeper stay here because he had to – or because he wanted to? This puzzle thwarted our traveler. He pondered it for days, as rain sprinkled down, poured in torrents and puddle in the lanes. He pondered it as he drank his morning coffee – hot and strong, just as he liked it – as he lunched, as he supped. And yet, for all this pondering, the traveler could not decide on the correct answer.

At last, on a day when the sun threatened to emerge, then retreated, defeated behind yet more steel grey clouds, the traveler asked the innkeeper for his tale. Was it one of woe? One of duty? One of joy? Over a pint of ale, the innkeeper told his told to the traveler. Like most tales, it contained pieces of each. The innkeeper had indeed inherited the inn. Not from his father, but from his father-in-law. And while the inn kept him in this village, it was his wife who kept him grounded. Had he had dreams of walking through fields alone and unencumbered as our traveler did? Surely, but it was now unlikely they would be fulfilled. Had he longed for city life – or at least to see what life was like outside the village where he’d lived since birth? Ahhh, yes. So why did he stay? The wife with the bright eyes and gentle heart, the girl with the braid down her back, the boy with the smile that crept from his mouth all the way to his eyes. These were his reasons why.

Satisfied, the traveler thanked the innkeeper for his tale and his hospitality. And when the sun finally shone forth the next morning, he walked the lanes once again. Still looking, but never seeing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


2 a : no longer possessed

Me: "A, where's your library card?"
A: "Ummmm. I'm not sure."
Me, thinking: "Again?! We just bought a replacement for the first one you lost!"
Instead I say: "Can you find it please?  I need it."

Thirty minutes of searching ensues.  The upside: she finds the soprano recorder purchased for last year's music class that her sister needs this year.  The downsides: no library card yet, a room that is a mess because of the way she has searched, a day off to a late start (it's after 9 AM and our first subject has not yet begun).  The ingredient I require most as a mother?  Patience.

A has never been good at keeping up with her things.  I would say that generally this doesn't bother me.  I do not hold "things" in high regard.  If she loses a toy, she can't play with it anymore.  If she loses a book, she can't read it anymore.  Natural enough consequences, it seems to me.  And I believe she deserves a certain amount of say in how her room looks - if a messy bed is OK with her, I'll simply shut the door (at least it's no longer visible from the kitchen, thanks to the renovation).  This weekend, when we allocated chores to the girls to help lighten my load a bit, we agreed that their beds do not have to be made everyday - weekly will do.  But we also discussed how difficult it can be to locate things in a room that is in disarray.  I guess that lesson is sinking in today.

It's difficult to be the one who watches the lesson being learned.  I want her to just get it.  I want her to see for herself the value of keeping track of her most valuable possessions (surely her library card is one of her most valued possessions - this is my daughter we're talking about!).  I don't want her to face a consequence - natural or parent-imposed.

Yet this is how we all learn, isn't it?  Without a touch of pain, the reminders to make better choices fade into the background of our consciousness.  So we stumble along, learning the same lesson again and again.  Having our eyes opened not just once, but over and over.  The hardest part is that sometimes we learn the lesson and sometimes we just never get it.  This is hard because I must accept as A's parent that there are lessons I will do my best to teach her that she will simply never learn.

We've temporarily given up on the search for the library card.  A set the timer and spent fifteen minutes cleaning her room.  Now she's settling down to study the Beatitudes before we move on to math.  The first verse she's studying today?  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  I had to smile as she read that aloud to me.  Maybe I can keep track of my library card, but I lose things too - my patience, my focus on the things that matter, the ability to forgive myself when I fail.  So I'll start this day (albeit late) with a heavy splash of mercy for both myself and my daughter.  And I'm sure we'll eventually find the lost library card.

Monday, September 6, 2010


2 b : the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance

So much of life is about the proper perspective.  Last Thursday was a rough day. Friday's solution of playing games, analyzing Canterbury Tales and having Chick-fil-A for lunch helped.  So did a long weekend with not much planned.  And chatting tonight with another mom new to the journey of home schooling gave me the perspective shift I need heading into a short week starting tomorrow.

We both agreed that when we're in the midst of connecting a key point from history to our lives with our daughters or laughing over something together, this journey we're on is a great one.  It's when we fail to meet expectations - especially our own expectations - that we lose perspective.  The main reason I lose perspective?  I turn my focus inward instead of seeing things in their relative importance.

When my perspective is off, I'm zeroed in on all that I did wrong, all that I should have done, all that I want to do better.  Notice a key word here?  I.  It's all about me when my perspective is off.  And this journey?  It's not really all about me.  Not at all.

The main reason I lose perspective is that one emotion overtakes me: shame.  And shame pulls my focus so inward that I can't see anything else.  I've been trying to better understand shame and its presence in my life.  I have a long way to go in keeping shame in its proper place, but I think part of the key is in what I focus on.  I spent some time recently reading about what God says about shame.  One verse stood out to me: Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

Of course their faces aren't covered with shame - they are looking up.  Just like I should be if I want to maintain a proper perspective.  Just like you should be if your focus isn't making you radiant.  Because that's how we're all meant to be - radiantly beautiful, reflecting our maker with joy.  Let's all try to keep that in perspective.

Radiant Girls

Saturday, September 4, 2010


: the seventh day of the week 

There's a lot to love about Saturday...

Waking up to the sound of tiny feet climbing up the stairs and into my bed
Drinking a cup of coffee while reading the Daily Office

Fried Eggs
Maple Sausage
Prepared in a lovely, complete new kitchen
With the windows thrown open to let in the fall air
Eaten together
In no rush
With nowhere to go (not soccer, not ballet, not school)

Anticipating all of the good things still to come on this seventh day

A long bath
A good book
A game or two together
A slow morning
Lunch with friends
The season's first football game

A day together.  The blessing that is Saturday.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


1a : to deal out in portions 

Sometimes I'm unsure what I need most.  In this case, I'm not sure whether it would be best to look back on today and dispense some grace, justice or discipline to myself.  Here's a snapshot of what my day looked like:
  • Snooze the alarm at 6 AM instead of getting up to run (despite having a great run on Tuesday that left me longing to run outside again)
  • Pack two school lunches, while simultaneously
  • Making coffee
  • Overseeing breakfast preparations for three daughters
  • Drive B & K to school
  • Come home to find that A has completed one page (of four) of her morning warm-up
  • Fold clothes while A finishes her warm-up
  • Skip math after A's "warm-up" takes nearly an hour to complete
  • Discuss the Beatitudes with A
  • Start grammar
  • Stop grammar
  • Play Bananagrams with A
  • Finish grammar
  • Eat lunch
  • Play Scrambled States of America with A
  • Spray paint a bookcase (unsuccessfully)
  • Take a 20 minute nap
  • Read Canterbury Tales aloud with A
  • Pick up B & K from school
  • Wait all day (still waiting) for a refrigerator to be delivered - they weren't kidding about the 8 AM to 9 PM window

You will, perhaps, notice not a lot of school work took place today.  There are a few reasons for that:  1) I'm exhausted, 2) A was cranky - she greeted me at the door when I returned from school drop off with complaints about the content of her morning work, 3) I'm exhausted, 4) we were both a tad unmotivated.  So do I extend grace to myself? Create a plan to be better prepared for days like this?  Or berate myself that we're not even a month into home schooling and I'm an utter failure who can't make it through a Thursday?

Clearly, I've chosen the latter for the vast majority of the day.  I keep hearing the "I Told You So's" echoing through my mind:
You're not a certified teacher, are you?
Is A really self-motivated enough to home school?
Won't you miss having time to yourself?
What makes you think you're qualified to teach her anything?
Won't she learn all of your weaknesses if you're her only teacher?
Will she fall behind her peers?
Will she turn out weird? Will she lose all social skills?
Can you do this without going crazy?
I've heard all of this - and many variations on it - since we made the decision to home school.  And I feel like there's a big fat I Told You So hanging over my head right now.  If I'm this tired, this depleted, this mentally and physically exhausted a mere three weeks into home schooling, how am I going to make it through an entire year?

The worst part?  I'm really enjoying teaching A.  We're both learning a lot and this week discovered an audio book that's been fun and educational for the entire family.  When I found myself listening to the details of the signing of the Magna Carta without any children in the car with me, I knew I was hooked.  B listened to a portion and asked to bring the discs in to her room to keep listening.

A is enjoying herself, too.  She complains a bit about being pushed - I think she's coasted quite a bit in school - but she is having the opportunity to read biographies of famous dancers, famous queens, famous artists.  And she's loving that.  She's willingly helping more around the house.  She's talking to me and sharing detailsof her life far more than she has in the past.  If she remains a bit unmoved in her distaste for math, I have hope that I'll find something in even that area to spark her interest.  But only if I'm not laid out with exhaustion and/or a headache.

I've been doing what I can to combat the tiredness - trying to work out (even if it didn't happen this morning), allowing caffeine in limited amounts (two cups of half-caf coffee), going to bed early (I was asleep by 9:30 last night).  So do I dispense more self discipline?  Alter my diet, run four mornings each week, eliminate caffeine altogether.  Or do I give myself a portion of grace and hope that tomorrow morning the run rises on a rested, rejuvenated mom and a daughter ready and willing to learn?  For now, I'll aim for the latter, knowing that the former may be necessary.  But reminding myself that the cold-hearted justice I've dispensed to myself today has really done no one any good at all.