Thursday, February 23, 2012


2: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past

J's grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary is today.  This evening we'll start the drive up to Green Bay, Wisconsin to be a part of four generations celebrating this couple. 

Stop and think about what it means to have been married for sixty years. Six decades. More than half a century. That sort of thing doesn't happen by accident. So how do you make a marriage last for sixty years? Grandma and Grandpa aren’t much for speeches. They haven’t written any books. They didn’t create a documentary showing us the ins and outs of married life. Thankfully, we need only look at their marriage to see their keys to success:

Do Things Together: Whether it’s watching TV, cheering on the Packers or having guests over for dinner, make time to do things as a couple. It will knit you closer to each other.

Do Things Apart: Leave space and time to be an individual. Don’t stop scrapbooking just because he gets a paper cut. Don’t quit woodworking because she gets a splinter. Marriage doesn’t mean spending every moment together. Work hard to maintain your individuality while being committed to your spouse.

Open Your Home: Mom Truss is a fabulous entertainer and if we’ve learned anything from her over the years it’s that everything is better with a party. No matter whether they've lived in a ranch home or a smaller condo, their home has been a place where the doors are thrown open in welcome. Try this. You may just find it makes your home feel more like home than ever to fill it up with those you love.

Do Community: You might think that after sixty years together, this couple is more focused on themselves than others. Not true. They are still active in their community - reaching out through the Knights of Columbus and other organizations. Taking the time to invest in others makes your marriage about more than just each other.

Do Family: Whether this means hosting the annual Thanksgiving meal, attending the baseball game or sending a card, let your family know you're thinking about them. Get to know your kids, your grandkids, your nieces, your nephews. See them as the individuals they are – and let them see you for who you are.

Do Faith: After all these years, they still attend church together every weekend. Faith anchors us for life’s storms, increases our joy during the good times and reminds us that our days are fleeting, so we’d be best served to live them fully.

Do Life: 2Mama and 2Papa haven't been afraid to live. They've traveled, gardened, entertained and enjoyed life all of these years together. What a gift and blessing it is to have witnessed some of their sixty years of marriage. Let’s hope we’ve all been paying attention to the lessons along the way.

A marriage of sixty years doesn't happen by accident.  It takes lots of intentionality, a willingness to weather storms together and an ability to forgive (over and over).  I am so thankful for the legacy this marriage is for my children and I look forward to celebrating it in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


: the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting

A 2011 Lenten Journey Remembrance

It may sound strange, but I've decided Lent may be my favorite season - even more so than Advent, which I dearly love.  Here's what I like about Lent: the hope it brings. 

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but Lenten vows are another thing.  The big difference?  Resolutions feel like they're about my own strength.  To do a resolution the right way, I feel like I need to assess my life, see what's lacking and then make the necessary changes.  All of which is easier said than done and all of which comes from me.

Lent, on the other hand, is not about me.  Lent is about asking God what my life needs more or less of and being willing to trust that He is right.  Lent is about saying "I will try," not "I will do this."  Lent is about listening, not talking.  Waiting, not pushing ahead.  It feels more transformative than New Year's resolutions.  I have lived long enough to know that I can't truly change myself.  I may be able to change my behavior for a period of time, but I can't ever truly change who I am.  Not only can I not change myself, it's painful to try.  It feels like a rejection of my own heart.

I awoke this morning hopeful and anticipatory.  Hopeful that I can do what I've committed to doing.  Anticipating that God will show up whether I succeed or fail in running or walking every morning for 40 days.  Lent is not about quid pro quo.  God is not saying, "Shannon, if you will walk or run every morning for Lent, I will bless you."  It's more like, "Shannon, I have something I'd like to give you.  Will you get up a little early to receive it?"

I think it's beautiful and meaningful that the Lenten season immediately precedes Ordinary Time in the church calendar.  A Lenten discipline is not about me powering and pushing through 40 days, only to return to exactly the way I was living my life before Lent.  Instead it's about a slow and gradual transformation that leaves me unable and unwilling to go back to the way I was because I will find the very idea undesirable.

In a few moments, A, B and I will head out the door for our Ash Wednesday service.  While there, ashes made from the palms waved on Palm Sunday last year will be smeared on our foreheads in the shape of a cross.  Even our praises are sacrifice, but Lent is about Jesus telling us that the sacrifice was, and will always be, worth it. 

May the myriad blessing of Lent rain upon you, watering your soul and growing good things in your heart.

2012 Lenten Journal

Pages waiting to be filled

Monday, February 20, 2012


1 a : a statement offered in explanation or justification

This is not a homeschool blog.  I don't often write here about the work I do with my daughters Monday through Friday.  I don't share lesson plans or teaching tips.  That's because this blog is not about what I do, but why I do it.  This blog is about my heart.  If you're a friend or a stranger, you may have wondered at one time or another about why we are homeschooling.  I offer this post not as justification, but as explanation of how our journey has led us here.

I have been a homeschooler for 18 months now.   A little over two years ago, my daughter A was finishing up 4th grade at our local elementary school.  (In Nashville's public school system, elementary schools are K-4, middle schools 5-8 and high schools 9-12.)  As many local families do, we put A's name in the lottery for several area magnet schools.  I did so with some trepidation.  I had heard about heavy work loads for the nearby academic magnet school and wondered how A would balance 9 hours of dance weekly with hours of homework nightly.  It turns out I needn't have worried because our lottery results made it abundantly clear that God was closing that door for us.  A was 400something on one waiting list, 60something on another.  Sounded like we better give that homeschooling option a bit more thought.

Over the months leading up to those lottery results, I had begun to ponder homeschooling.  I'd always thought of it as an all or nothing proposition - you either did it for 13 years or not at all.  Yet several years prior a friend had planted a seed by saying her plan was to send her children to public elementary school, homeschool for middle school and let her children decide for high school.  This sounded far more appealing to me.  I didn't have to sign on for the rest of my children's schooling?  I could take it year by year?  That was a path I might be able to walk.

I was nervous.  I have known for years that I am introvert and as J and I talked this through, his biggest question was, "Can you do this and be nice to the rest of us?"  It was a question worth asking.  As we contemplated A's middle school destination, K was mid-way through kindergarten.  It was the first year I'd had all three daughters in full time school.  Was I really willing to give up all of that time alone to homeschool?

More to the point, could I make it work?  Could I choose the right curriculum for A?  Did I know enough to teach?  Would her sisters be jealous of her freedom?  Would A be jealous of their school celebrations and socializing?  After much praying and talking and more praying, it seemed like the only way to know was to try it.

That first semester didn't go as I expected.  I tried to be self-aware and prevent myself from becoming a hard-driving type A mom who was overly demanding.  I did not want to damage my relationship with A for the sake of her education.  So I erred on the side of planning as we went.  I didn't write down our lesson plans - I just told her what was next.  By Thanksgiving, we needed a break from our regular routine, so we tried a Thanksgiving unit study.  A enjoyed it, so I looked for another one for Advent.  I couldn't find anything that was at her level - everything was either too easy or too hard - so I combined two studies and created a written plan for her. 

We've never gone back to my original way of doing school.  A likes having a written plan.  She enjoys seeing what's coming and likes marking off what she's done.  And I inadvertently stumbled upon one of my greatest strengths as a teacher: I know my students.  Instead of insisting we revert to doing school the way I had envisioned, I listened to A and did it her way.  That has continued to be a mainstay of my approach.  Whether it's adding Latin, choosing a science topic or scheduling frequent field trips, I try to think about what my daughters need (as people AND as students) while planning their schooling.

God has continued to keep the doors to public school options closed for us and my own love of homeschooling has grown:

I love the pace of life it offers us.  A can dance, B can do art and basketball and no one is juggling a homework load.  They have time to read more books than you can imagine.  They get to play together.  They are not rushing from one thing to another.  They simply learn at their own pace and have grown to see learning as just one part - not the entirety - of their lives.

I love customizing their education.  Both A and B are doing 6th grade math this year, even though B is only in 5th grade.  It has pushed her, but in a good way.  A's math skills were one of my concerns when we started homeschooling and I've seen both her skills and her confidence steadily improve.  That feels good - to me and to her.

I love spending time with my daughters.  You hear all the time that they grow up so quickly - and they do.  When A turned 9, I realized she was halfway through her time in our home.  Whether it's visiting an art museum or learning a math lesson, I enjoy my daughters' company.

There are also a few things I don't like so much:

I don't like the confrontation required to get my middle daughter to do her work.  The same daughter who loves the freedom of homeschooling doesn't like that I impinge on that freedom.  It's tiring.

I don't like that I'm constantly wondering whether I am teaching too much - or too little.  Yet I'm convinced this is the way any good parent feels with many aspects of parenting.  It's nearly impossible to tell whether we're getting it right or wrong.  And it's completely impossible to always get it right.  I simply have to keep doing my best.

I don't like feeling the judgment of others about my decision.  I don't judge people for sending their children to public, private or parochial schools, so why do they judge me?  I believe there is more than one right path for each family's education and that we should each be deciding for our children based on their needs and our family's needs, not based on what others have chosen.

I am not someone who believes that homeschooling is the only answer for education.  I don't think it's for everyone.  I do think it's been eye-opening for me to see that we don't have to teach our children one way just because that's how it's done.  Much of the structure of our existing school system has more to do with cost efficiency than learning efficacy.  So I don't think it's wrong to say that homeschooling is a better way for my daughters to learn right now. 

Homeschooling was not an impulsive decision for us.  Nor has its continuation been.  I'm sure there are as many reasons to homeschool as their are families who do it.  For now, I'm just going to do my best to keep walking down the path I feel God has set our family on.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


1 a (1) : free of wound or injury : unhurt (2) : recovered from a wound or injury : restored (3) : being healed

The theme for Lent this year at our church is a Journey to Wholeness.  For the past few years, I've prayed about what I should give up or take on during Lent.  Last year, I gave up caffeine and took up the practice of collaging every day.  I haven't continued to collage daily, but I found after last year's Lenten experience that I am highly sensitive to caffeine.  I had feared my headaches would worsen when I stopped having a cup of coffee each day.  Instead, I found caffeine intake was a trigger for my headaches, not a cure for them.   This observation was cemented for me during the Christmas season when I inadvertently slipped back into semi-regular caffeine consumption.  I realized one morning that I'd had a low grade headache for three or four days.  The culprit?  A cup of black tea in the mornings.  I quickly cut that out and found I felt much better.

Now, I want to be honest and say that I did not want to give up caffeine.  I liked having a cup or two of coffee each morning.  I liked the ritual of making the coffee, the lingering over a mug of it while I read.  When I first had the idea of giving up caffeine, my response was, "No way.  Not that.  I'll do something else for Lent."  Yet the idea would not go away.  I felt like I was arm wrestling with God.  I would pray about Lent and the answer would be "give up caffeine."  I would walk away shaking my head.  No, thank you.  I would pray again.  The answer would be the same.  I didn't budge and neither did God.  Finally, one Sunday the idea came to me that I could taper off of caffeine.  It wasn't necessary that I give it up cold turkey.  I could start the week before Lent, so that by Ash Wednesday I would have already started the Lenten journey without caffeine.  I capitulated, but it felt like I was jumping off a cliff.

This year I was at a loss as to where I should start thinking about a Lenten practice.  I prayed about it for several days and heard nothing.  Lent crept closer.  I kept praying.  Finally, I heard something last week and I was surprised at the suggestion: run - or walk - for 40 days.  Um, really?  I do like getting up to run.  I've found it is a peaceful way to start my day and it's definitely my favorite form of exercise.  But every day for 40 days?  I wasn't sure I could do this.  And it sounded so much more like a New Year's resolution than a Lenten commitment - it sounded suspiciously like a pious route to weight loss more than a journey to spiritual wholeness.  So I kept praying about it.  I tentatively shared the idea with J, then a few friends.  No one seemed to think it was crazy.  And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like this was the direction I was being pointed.  The tipping point was when I realized this had to be God's suggestion because I would never think of this on my own.  And it felt eerily familiar to be faced with a Lenten practice that I wasn't sure I could do on my own.

As I've pondered committing to this, I've thought through the hard things: getting up at 6 am six days a week will be hard.  I anticipate Friday mornings will be the worst.  I'm spent by Friday.  I wake up that morning wishing that school started at 8:30 instead of 8:00 and counting down the hours until J gets home and our weekend officially starts.  It won't be easy to climb out of bed and get outside.  I'll also be in Green Bay, Wisconsin the first weekend of Lent.  Talk about baptism by fire.  I guess if I can make myself walk or run in that weather, Nashville will feel balmy upon return.

I've also thought through what might be the reason(s) for this particular Lenten exercise.  When I used to run, I did so with headphones, running in time to the music, singing along in my head.  But when I started back up this fall, I left the headphones at home.  I often pray - for myself or others - or I just think about things.  It's quieter, more peaceful.  I actually listen to myself for these thirty minutes better than I do at any other time during the day.  Maybe I need to hone not only my ability to listen to myself, but my willingness to do so.  Maybe I need this type of concentrated time with God for a season.  Maybe He just wants to stretch me.

These are the things I think now.  But I may find out the lessons I needed to learn were things I never anticipated.  I may find this is a Lenten vow I'm incapable of keeping.  I may fail spectacularly.  I may succeed, yet never understand what this was all about.

But as I read the definition of wholeness, I know it is something I want.  I want to be unhurt, restored, healed.  And if it takes a few days in the rain or cold, if it means early mornings and a tired body, I will try it.  Because I want to understand this body of mine.  I want to learn to treat it with respect - to treat it as a gift, instead of something I merely lug through life with me.  I want to know - and value - not only its strengths, but its limitations. 

I'm hoping my Lenten Journey is, indeed, one of wholeness.

Monday, February 13, 2012


2 a : a gift or greeting sent or given especially to a sweetheart on Valentine's Day

February 14 is not going as planned this year.  The plan:  for J to take the day off so that we could have a date day.  We've been planning this for months.  Tuesdays are the only day that A & B attend tutorial, so they are the only option for a free date day.

The kinks in the plan:
1) A & B's tutorial is canceled for tomorrow.  The building where they meet had some flooding and won't be ready in time for students tomorrow morning. 
2) K has a sore throat, headache, stomachache and fever of 103.

Tomorrow will not be a date day after all.

I am not the only one disappointed by this turn of events.  Sweet little extroverted K is missing her Valentine's Day party.  Her gifts are ready to give. 

Glitter Putty Eggs for K's "eggscellent" friends

Handmade Cards

Her box is ready to receive cards. 

Her heart is in it. 

Sweet, sick K

Her body just won't let her participate.  A worked this afternoon to complete a poster on Clara Barton because it was due tomorrow at her tutorial.  She's a bit disappointed to actually have completed her school work an entire week early.  (Takes after her father, that one.)  B is sad to miss a day with friends.  J is disappointed.  He doesn't often reserve vacation days purely for the two of us and we were both looking forward to having the option of lunch alone together, quiet time here at home and maybe even an afternoon movie.  Instead, he'll take the morning off and spend time with 4 girls instead of just 1, then work during the afternoon.

I'm doing my best to make it up to the girls.  We'll have pink pancakes for breakfast. 

I'll give them the small gifts I have for them.

We'll do a math lesson to not completely waste the day.  But then we'll just make the most of having an unexpected day off.  We might even (gasp!) watch a movie on a weekday.

It may not be the day I planned, but at least I'll be with those I love.

Friday, February 10, 2012


: a funny little creature that seems to be a cross between two characters from the books Frankenstein and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

While A and K were at ballet Thursday, B and I headed to Starbucks.  With three daughters who are active in things like ballet, basketball and art and the full time job of homeschooling two of them, it's difficult to get time alone with any one daughter.  Thursdays offer one such small window.  From 4:30 to 6:00, both A and K are at ballet.  I can't make it happen every week, but I like to squeeze in something a little special with B on these days.  She's a fan of antique shops and art studios, so sometimes we stop by a neighborhood shop to browse.  Today had been a busy day filled with cleaning (one of my least favorite things to do), school and appointments, so I thought it would be nice to allow myself a break from the house and all that needed doing.  Hence the trip to Starbucks - each with a book in our hands.

I ordered a decaf latte.  B opted for hot chocolate and a cake pop.  We sat companionably at our table, sipping and reading.  B can be a prickly child.  As the middle daughter, she sees the advantages of being the oldest or the youngest - and she's acutely aware that she occupies neither position.  Yet she is also the daughter who is the most like me in looks and temperament.  In some ways, she has a difficult time making friends her own age - she can be too blunt, too single minded, too unwilling to play the games most girls play.  But there's a reason it was pleasant to take her to a coffee shop this afternoon - B is going to make a great adult.

B and I chatted a bit as we sipped our drinks and read our books, but we mostly sat there together quietly.  That is, until B finished her book, looked up and said, "I'm ready to go now."  (I told you she can be blunt.)  I asked her to clear our table while I read to the end of a chapter. 

On our ride home, she told me about her book.  It was called Wonkenstein, and was about a boy whose parents constantly gave him books to read.  Instead of reading them, the boy threw them into his closet.  Turns out, his closet was doing something with all of those books: taking characters and merging them together into new characters.  Wonkenstein is a coupling of Willy Wonka and Frankenstein.  Eventually there's a Potterwookie as well (Harry Potter + Chewbacca).

For most of the ride home, we constructed our own imaginary creatures.  I said I might merge Katniss from The Hunger Games with Anne of Green Gables.  Katniss could have used a good splash of Anne's willingness to be a good friend to temper her strength and cunning.  We then wondered what it might be like if Peter Pan combined with Jack from Breadcrumbs - we thought Jack might have held on to hope a bit longer with some of Peter in him.

I love these kinds of conversations with my daughters.  Not just because we're talking about books, but because we're dreaming together.  That's more magical than Wonkenstein himself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


2 b : to mark (as an anniversary) by festivities or other deviation from routine

Yesterday, the Ish Girls (my bible study group) celebrated the birthday of one of our own.  It was a surprise to her and she was a bit taken aback, but pleased, I think.  It was especially fitting that we celebrate her because she opens her home to us each week and does such a sweet job of celebrating our birthdays.

One thing I love about this group of women is that we regularly celebrate each other for who we are and for our differences.  We're a motley group.  Together we have twenty children, attend five different churches and are four different Enneagram numbers.

We've talked about ourselves with great vulnerability and authenticity.  I was a bit slow to warm to this group of women.  I knew only one of them going in and joined in part because I longed to soak up her wisdom and experience and in part because we were transitioning from one church to another and I thought a group that wasn't based on the church you attend would be a good place for me.  It has, indeed, been a good and safe place for me.

I just finished reading Quiet, a book about introverts and the author does a great job of explaining that introverts don't dislike people.  It's being overly stimulating that we dislike.  Most introverts enjoy other people very much, but prefer relationships that run deep rather than shallow.  That is what this group has provided for me - depth of relationship.  These aren't the women I call to join me for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine because they all live across town from me.  But they are the women that I e-mail with a prayer request, whom I intercede for, who I trust with my greatest fears and frustrations.

Last summer I reconnected with my high school girlfriends for a weekend.  It was a time of fun, laughter and healing.  One big thing I realized was that those women aren't friends with me because of anything I offer them.  They are my friends because they always have been.  I haven't known the Ish Girls for nearly as long as my childhood friends.  But I feel some of the same safety with them.  I don't feel like I have to put my best foot forward.  I don't have to hide my hurts.  I don't have to act like I have it all together because I clearly don't.

Yet these women not only know me, they celebrate the little things that make me who I am.  I think our differences are the very things that make up enjoy each other and grow.  Before we studied the Enneagram as a group, one of our members who had already studied it said something in exasperation about how lazy 9's are and that she didn't have much interest in exploring that wing (she is a 1).  We found out this fall that three of our members are 9's.  I'd like to think that knowing us gave her a different take on how she might grow in a 9 direction.  I know that studying, praying with and sharing life with some 1s, a 7 and a 3 have made me understand these numbers in ways I never could have alone.  Even more, it has enabled me to celebrate the ways we are different.  For me, that's a lot of what friendship is about.

Monday, February 6, 2012


:the number of published blog posts on WordGirl

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a post commemorating blog post 100.  I guess that means I'm averaging a little over 100 posts annually.  When I first started blogging, I set specific goals for myself regarding how many posts I would write weekly.  That was largely motivated by self-discipline.  I worried that without setting goals, I would get discouraged and just stop writing.

I haven't always been a writer.  Or maybe I've always been a writer, I just didn't know it.  I enjoyed writing back in high school, especially angst-y adolescent poems, letters to far away friends and notes to nearby ones.  I learned how to write well in college.  I had one professor who circled every passive verb in every paper I ever wrote.  To say that she wanted us to learn to write in a more active voice is an understatement.  I once wrote an entire paper where I only used "is" one time.  Try it.  It's not easy.

After college, I mainly saw writing as a tool.  I found I could write in a way the business world liked.  I learned to simplify my style and get right to the point.  This came fairly easily after the training I'd had in college.  I combined my business writing skills with presenting.  I have never (and will never) consider myself a salesperson, but I certainly have the ability to explain a service to you in a way you can understand.  The years rolled by.  I had one, then two, then three daughters.  I worked full-time.  I stayed at home full-time.  I worked part-time.  I started homeschooling. 

I wrote the occasional item when asked - for a newsletter, as an introduction to a church cookbook, things like that.  A friend encouraged me to write more.  I can remember her telling me that she always liked anything I wrote.  She knew I was a writer before I did.

I still don't know whether I'd consider myself a Writer.  I don't get paid to put words down.  The words I write aren't read by a lot of people.  I don't write every day.  I don't write fiction - or poetry - or consistently.  But I'm a writer anyway.  It helps me think.  It helps me remember.  Writing for me is a little like when Jacob set up the stones at Bethel after wrestling with God.  When I write it down, I am saying, "I was here.  God was here.  This is what happened."  That way, I can look back at those stones with my writing on them and remember where I have been.  And see how far I have come.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


:an occasion of drunken revelry
The word bacchanal may call to mind not-so-family-friendly images.  Understandably so.  Fear not.  I want to tell you about the Truss family post-library bacchanal.
I took A with me for a short trip to the library last Wednesday.  It was, by necessity, a quick visit.  We had less than an hour there because we had to leave in time to pick K up from school.  While I picked up our books on hold (my primary reason for this particular visit), A went straight up to the children's floor and pulled some books.  She's a girl after my own heart in this way.  She may dither over which t-shirt to buy (especially when spending her own money), but the girl can decide which books she wants to read.  We were at at the library after all - when in doubt, just pick both.

Our quick visit found us exiting the building with a little less than two dozen books.  A read for the entire ride to Lockeland.  K sat down in the van, told me a sentence or two about her day and resumed reading the book she'd left in the van that morning.
I was tired Wednesday.  I'd had a headache for much of the day and was low on energy.  I opted for something easy for dinner, so all four of us spent the afternoon gorging on the books yielded by our library trip.  I read one book that afternoon and evening.  B read 4 or 5 (graphic novels read quickly).  A and K each read 1 or 2.  It was a lovely afternoon.
As J and I were discussing dinner plans, he asked how the afternoon had gone.  I told him we were in post-library mode and he sighed a bit with envy.  While he worked away, we were reading away.  By the time lights were out in our home that evening, we were all drunk on books, having visited another world, run for hours, solved a mystery and entered a fairy tale.
Last night, B had a friend spend the night.  As we sat down at the table to eat pizza, B said to her friend M, "Do you want to grab a book to read or something?  It's kind of a tradition in our family.  We like to read while we eat." I realize this is not great table manners.  We don't do it every meal, but we do indulge in this habit once or twice weekly for dinner and nearly every day for lunch.  (One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that lunches find A, B and I sitting around the table at mid-day reading for a half hour or so.)


Here's hoping your weekend gives you ample opportunity to curl up with a book of your choosing.