Monday, September 26, 2016

Going to The School

I'm still trying to process everything.

Upon arrival, we delved right into it all. Sixty-eight people getting to know each other a bit while doing their best to absorb an incredible amount of information and trying not to be distracted by the beauty of the lake on the other side of the windows. Evening prayer ended our time together until the next day.

That first night, we went to bed after just a taste of what was to come. Falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping the shores of Lake Ossipee, I was excited for the day ahead.

Waking at 4:30AM and unable to get back to sleep, I lay awake praying about the day ahead and many other things. As the sun hinted its appearance, I made my way outside to take in the glory of a Lake Ossipee sunrise. The magnificence of the unfolding dawn anticipated the richness of the day to come.

Briefly retreating from the chilly morning air to slip on some socks and wrap myself in a blanket, I returned to my Adirondack chair perch and some wonderful conversation with fellow early risers.

Walking to breakfast, a bit of anxiety grew about the tasks ahead. Would I find this all too challenging considering my health issues and memory problems? Would I be able to find a study group to join that would work with my schedule? Was I taking on too much?

Sitting down at a big round table for breakfast, my friend Suzanne and I introduced ourselves to the others dining with us. The usual where-are-you-froms and what-church-do-you-attends led us to find that we were all from the same basic geographical area, close enough to perhaps form a study group. We shared a meal and great conversation and planned to talk more that evening.

Weeks later, I'm still trying to process the rest of the day, which consisted of morning prayer, learning sessions, bathroom breaks, lunch, more learning, some getting to know the people at our tables, more learning, and a break before dinner. During that break, we signed up as a group with our friends from breakfast. No more worries about that aspect of being a student in the New England Synod School of Lay Ministry!

Sitting aboard the pontoon boat, my mind reeled with the beauty of the people with whom I had spent the last twenty-four hours, of the water and surroundings, and of the shared faith which brought us all together to expand our understanding.

Dinner was followed by yet another opportunity to learn and share with each other. Evening Prayer closed the day for some, while others made our way to a campfire by the Conference Center, where stories and laughter abounded. I sank into bed that night thoroughly exhausted in the best possible way. 

Rain greeted us on our final morning at Camp Calumet. Just one more conversation-filled breakfast, a final wrap-up session, and we were on our way to worship and then home. As I drove, I found it difficult to converse, so many reflections on the past forty-eight hours sparking in my head. I gave thanks for the weekend, the place, the people, and for this opportunity to grow in knowledge and in faith. 

My heart is on fire for the year of Biblical study that awaits during my first year of the School!

Saturday, September 17, 2016


I say it every time. 

Even after preparing myself for months ahead of time to lessen the shock. 

Somehow there is nothing that prepares me for any of my children turning yet another year older. 

Coren turns eleven today. I'm not quite sure how it happened. I don't know where the time went. I can barely wrap my mind around that number associated with the Moondragon himself. Six, maybe, but eleven???

That said, he is most definitely eleven.

Do you know how I can tell? Some of the adorableness is being replaced by maturity and handsomeness. Coren has grown up a lot in the past year, presenting himself in a more tween than childlike manner. I have to admit it freaks me out a bit. He still loves to cuddle, though, so I'll take what I can get! 

Coren made great strides this year. Perhaps the biggest is surviving a week at Camp Calumet Resident Camp this past Summer. He made it through without showering ... well, except for the infamous Camp Calumet "Car-wash" which involved shampoo and a hose or two. He sent the most wonderful notes, keeping us updated on the ups and downs of camp life. And he decided he wants to do it all again next year. 

To my still adorable, but not quite as much Moondragon on your birthday...

Camp is great so far. I may have gotten hit in the face a few times, but I'm ok. I may also have been joking about the getting hit in the face thing, but thought I'd include it since that was in your first note to me and Daddy this Summer! Everything has been fun so far. The food is awesome as always (but I'm not here for grilled cheese Monday!). I hope you have a very happy birthday and don't stay up too late partying! I love you!


Monday, September 12, 2016

How Will They Learn?

'Tis the season for questions and concerns, mostly from well-meaning strangers.

What amazes me is that, of all the concerns people express about unschooling (life-learning), the top four perceived problems have nothing to do with learning school subject matter.

Concern #1: Socialization
How will my children ever learn how to socialize if they don't spend 6-8 hours a day or more for 12+ years with children within six months to a year of their age?
I could ask how children who spend most of their time on weekdays in school and in after-school programs, sports, and other activities with others their age and with all adults as authority figures manage to learn to function in a world where you spend most of your time with people who are not your age and where your boss, a police officer, or other authority figure could potentially be younger than you.

Concern #2: Fitting In to Society
How can unschooled children learn societal rules and how to fit into society if they are not in a traditional school environment like the majority of students...who make up the majority of society?
I could ask how a school society, with its cliques, bullying, dress codes, need to wear certain clothes or shoes or have the latest electronics, etc. prepares children to fit into adult society. And if we want those things carried over into adult society.
I could argue that unschooled children, being out and about in the real world, learn to navigate the ever-changing society well because they're experiencing it, immersed in it, daily. I love that my children are able to make their own decisions about whether they want to conform to societal pressures, or perhaps do something different, and perhaps better for our society. Some of the most successful people in the world started out as societal misfits...or are still societal misfits. Fitting in is overrated. 

Concern #3: Relating to the Real World
This one usually isn't in the form of a question, but rather a statement. Unschooled children can't possibly learn to relate to others or function in the real world in the same way traditionally schooled children can.
I won't argue with that. They don't relate to the world in the same way that schooled children do because they're not indoctrinated into school culture.
Our children interact with a vast array of people on a daily basis: parents, grandparents, friends, pastors, atheists, EMTs, cashiers, curators, volunteers, babies, elderly people, Christians, Jews, Muslims, UPS drivers, neighbors, school kids, homeschooled kids, homeless people, rich people..and many complete strangers who ask them why they're not in school, just to name a few. They have freedoms of time, choice, and travel that schooled children don't. They don't have many of the pressures that schooled children do. They have some pressures schooled children don't.  And they're encouraged to ask why and to not blindly follow what others are doing, wearing, listening to, or how they're acting. 
I do admit, there are things to which they can't relate. They can't relate to sitting in a classroom for six hours a day; to not being able to make the majority of their own choices for a good portion of their young lives; to asking permission to go to the bathroom; or to not being able to discover something about which they want to learn more and then heading to a library, museum, science center, or their own back yard to learn more at a moment's notice. 
I would think learning to live in the real world has more to do with interacting with it than studying it in a classroom.

Concern #4: What About Prom?
There is Homeschool Prom. Really.

After these concerns come the concerns about what my children are learning.
I've had many people ask each of the following:
- How will they learn to stand in line? I didn't know this was a huge deal, or something learned in school. We've been to Disney World, amusement parks, and the grocery store. I think we have that one covered.
- How will they learn to take tests? My children love testing their knowledge! They take tests for fun - to see what they have learned. To them, it's a game, not an anxiety-riddled task as it is to many.
- How do you know they're learning enough? I admit, I have a yearly freak-out over whether my children are learning enough. Then a friend, family member, museum curator, or member of our community has a conversation with one or more of my children and tells me how impressed they are by not just the information my children have stored in their brains, but the knowledge they've gained through combining said information with experiences they've had. They get to learn at their own pace and study what captures their interest, which has the huge benefit of retaining much of what they've learned. Many students who have to learn about something because that's what the textbook chapter is about don't retain that information and, without real world experience to reinforce what they've learned, don't filter the information through experience in order to transform it into knowledge.
And my children know how to cook, clean, shop for groceries and find the best price per pound, assist with home repairs and improvements, care for babies and toddlers (yes, they change diapers!), and so much more as a result of living and learning through unschooling.

- What about college? If they want to attend college, they can attend college. We, however, don't expect them to attend college at any specific age, if at all. I know too many people who went to college fresh out of high school because they felt like that was what was expected of them and now have a lot of debt and aren't using their degree at all. I'd rather my children put their money to good use and know what they want to do with their degree before they get it.

Unschooling, to me, is giving my children the resources and the ability to learn whatever it is they want to learn, taking advantage of teachable moments (and hours, and weeks, and months) and nurturing in them the self-confidence to follow their passions. My hope is that they are able to discover for themselves what path they want to take in life and are able to make a living doing what they love. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Like Home

Some places just feel like home. 

After a little over two months away from one of our most favorite places on Earth, it felt as if we arrived home as we pulled into the parking lot. Greeted with smiles and hugs from beautiful people added to that cozy, exhilarating homey vibe that is Epoch Arts. 

Today and for the next couple days, we're helping with Epoch Arts' Annual Tag Sale. The amount of stuff they have to offer, both indoors and out, is nearly unfathomable. As we sorted, bagged, folded, and set out items for sale, it was clear the colossal amount of work that had already been accomplished. This is no small undertaking.

I'm blessed to also be heading "home" to Camp Calumet, another most beauteous place next weekend as I embark on my journey through the School of Lay Ministry. It will be quite a different Calumet experience from those in my past, as I will be child-free and amongst over sixty other School students, having faith discussions with other adults. I'm greatly looking forward to it!

It is my hope that wherever we end up in life, that we always be a part of communities as welcoming, loving, and comforting as Epoch Arts and Camp Calumet are to us now - and that we can be that community to others. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

If You ...

It doesn't happen often, thankfully, but some days I'm just completely overwhelmed by it an If You Give a Mouse a Cookie kind of way. 

My husband's car, that has been fixed twice ...or was it three times ... in the past three weeks, is having issues again. Different issues than before.. This leaves me without my van all day, as my husband had to drive it to work. This means the donations in the van won't make it to their destination today and I won't be able to load the van for tomorrow.

If tomorrow's plans even happen. We're supposed to go to Six Flags (for an amazing $14 a person thanks to a reading program and online discounts). At the moment two of my children are coughing and generally not feeling well. It seems they're on the mend, but I'm not sure if they'll be well enough by tomorrow.

Or if I'll be well enough by tomorrow. I had my Cimzia injection yesterday and could very well get this bad cold from my children. I also cut my finger, and in the process banged my hand thereby causing issues with my thumb. Not being able to grasp things and in bad pain when moving my thumb, crutches will most likely be out of the question tomorrow, which means I'll need my wheelchair due to my current knee and Achilles tendon issues.

And to fit the wheelchair in the van, I'll need to take the donations out, which I can't do with a bad hand and knee and tendon because they're heavy boxes of books.

If I can't get the donations out, I also can't put the bin of towels we'll need in the van with my wheelchair. Not that I have the van, anyway.

Without the van, I also can't go to the store to get last-minute food items for our day out tomorrow, 

If our day out even happens.

Up at 4 with a child with a nightmare and 5:20 with a child with a nosebleed on top of it all, I just want to go to back to bed, curl up under a comfy blanket, and take a nap. But alas, I have coughing children to tend to and should really get dinner going in the crockpot before I forget about it.

And besides, I have plenty for which to be thankful - the medicine that will hopefully greatly improve my health, that we have a second vehicle and my husband has a job, that my children are rarely sick, that we have food in the house, and that we have the opportunity to go to Six Flags. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

You Must Be Excited

For the past two weeks, wherever I've gone with children, people have commented to me, "You must be so excited for back to school!"

Yes. Yes I am.

When I mention we homeschool, I often get a look of pity. I think this look especially comes from people whose point is that I'll get to get rid of  a break from my children for a good portion of the day once school begins. I usually comment that I love spending time with my children. One man just could not believe that I was sincere...or that I could possibly enjoy spending all day with my children. A woman's response was, "really...even the teenagers?" Yes. Really. My teenagers rock.

Am I excited for back to school?

But perhaps not why you'd think.

As a homeschooling family, back to school means something a bit different. Back to school means kicking off the school year with a Beach Party! Why not? There are considerably less people at the beach at 10AM on a Friday while school's in session. We also look forward to less crowded museums, science centers, libraries, aquariums, movie theaters, and other places that we love to frequent during school hours. Homeschool co-op will soon be back in full swing, which is fun for our entire family. This session is looking amazing, with class offerings such as Painless Algebra, Robotics, Introduction to Improv, Project Management,  Knowing Your World, and Music & Mayhem.

The school year also brings opportunities to participate in lots of things that happen during the school year such as Tuesday Night Sunday School, Epoch Arts Haunted House, Epoch Arts Mini-Production, homeschool days at museums and science centers, St. Paul Puppet Academy, and so much more.

And it means my children will be missing their friends who attend school because they often don't get home until late afternoon or early evening...and then have homework.This is sometimes difficult for my always-homeschooled children to grasp, as they eagerly await their friends' arrivals home each day to either play with them in our neighborhood, or online for those who live to far away for after school get-togethers. 

Homeschooling has opened the world up to me and my children. I have learned more as a homeschool mom than I retained from all my years in school. I love learning along with my children, and nurturing their love of exploring the world around them, following their passions, and discovering things about themselves.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Not That Kind of Date

All I wanted was to surprise my husband with a quick movie date on a Sunday evening. 

What I wasn't expecting was to feel like I'd been run over by a house, and therefore find myself calling him to come home from work early as I figured out whether or not I needed to go to the Emergency Department.

Now, one would think that feeling like you've been run over by a house would automatically and immediately qualify you for a trip to the ER, but apparently my brain doesn't work that way. My brain decided that if I just laid down and rested for a while things would improve. Then laying down became excruciating. Sitting was worse. Standing was near impossible, and by the time my amazing husband was whisking me away to the hospital, I could barely walk.

Nurses and doctors ask a lot of questions. After going through my thought process ... most likely a UTI, but may also be kidney stones, and please check my liver as well, and a psoriatic arthritis flare to top it all off and make the pain a 5,436,723,027 on a scale of 1-10...they did a ton of bloodwork and other tests (no, I'm not pregnant) and hooked me up to IV fluids. Then they asked me if I'd ever had morphine. After the morphine and anti nausea drugs (did I mention I hadn't kept anything down all day?) were on board, I was still not feeling better. Morphine barely took the razor sharp edge off of the pain. They diagnosed me with a complex UTI, gave me three prescriptions, and sent me on my way.

I learned soon after arriving home that I don't get along well with oxycodone. It makes me super paranoid about ridiculous things and keeps me up most of the night obsessing and having near panic attacks over said things. Making things worse, not even the morphine oxycodone combo made the pain bearable enough to sleep. Finally exhaustion took over and I slept a bit.

The next day, I learned the the anti-nausea drug had the exact opposite effect than it was supposed to.

A little over a week later, the UTI is under control, my psoriatic arthritis is most definitely not. But that will come in time.

I've realized that this sort of thing happens around once a year. Somehow, some way, my pain gets out of control and I land in the ER. I'm thankful it's not more often than that. The thing is, with autoimmune liver disease, taking pain meds can be dangerous. My doctors cannot prescribe enough pain meds to adequately treat my pain, because if they did, it would put my liver at risk. Finding a balance is difficult, but essential. 

So, after a week spent mostly in bed, I'm getting back on my feet again, slowly, but surely. 

Eventually I may even get to go on that movie date with my husband...

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

True Life

Pain threatens to swallow me whole.

I'm so excited - so many things to look forward to!

It's a struggle to open my eyes each morning, sleep pulling me back into it's pain-dulling clutches. Gone are mornings of waking refreshed for the day ahead. Instead torturous sleep gives way to a fuzzy eyed shroud of pain that clings to me throughout the day.

Upon waking each morning, my mind is filled with the exciting things we have coming up! Epoch Arts Homeschool Co-op class proposals are pouring in for Autumn Semester. In a little over a month, I'll be heading to Camp Calumet for my first School of Lay Ministry retreat and after that, a homeschooler's beach day. I'm looking forward to Finn's baptism, a day at Old Sturbridge Village, and a quietish month before homeschool and other activities are back in full swing.

There is so much I want and need to do, but my energy is lacking and my pain levels are almost unbearable. Some days I can barely leave the relative comfort of my bed. I can see how people quickly become addicted to narcotics, as the one pill I'm able to take just takes the edge off, and it's so tempting to take two or three to get some real relief. I base what I do each day by the amount of pain I think I can cope with each night and still get some sort of sleep.

Our Autumn is looking amazing. Three children will be participating in Epoch Arts Haunted House "Creatures of the Night" and two in their Mini Production "Collide." I look forward to seeing what Beth has in store for the teens - and for me! - this time. Tuesday Night Sunday School and St. Paul Puppet Academy are both looking like they're going to provide wonderful faith-filled fun. And all activities that feed my soul and don't require vast amounts of energy on my part. 

Living with chronic illnesses and chronic pain consumes every moment of every day.

Thriving with chronic illness and chronic pain consumes every moment of my day.

Truly living life while coping with chronic pain and illness has more to do with perspective and balance than it has to do with how well I feel at any particular moment. I'm in pain every moment of every day, but, for the most part, it's my choice what impact that has on my life. For me, I'd rather be in pain and doing something I love than be in pain and wallowing in self pity. I do have my moments, and an occasional day spent in my pjs in bed, but that's not my life. 

My life is looking forward to doing amazing things,no matter how small. It is taking on things that feed my spirit and energize me. It is praying that this treatment, or the next, will rid me of some of this pain and exhaustion so that I can have a reprieve from the intense work of living in this body. It is living in hope, in service to others, and in gratitude for the wonderful things life has to offer. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

My body isn't reliable. For that matter, neither is my brain at times. And yet I've found myself saying yes to huge commitments twice in the matter of a couple months. My logical brain reprimands me for taking on such things, causing doubt to reign supreme. What have I gotten myself into?

First, I said yes to taking on the position of Team Leader for Social Security/DSS for New Start Ministry, which is sponsoring a refugee family and helping them resettle locally. Well, we are as soon as our paperwork is approved by Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) and we're assigned a family. 

I felt called to do this - to do something new...something amazing, life-changing and extraordinary for someone else. It is good to research and discuss things other than medical issues, homeschool stuff, and parenting or breastfeeding issues.

And then today I filled out an application for the School of Lay Ministry - a two year commitment to learn and grow spiritually. I've been wanting to do this for a few years, but have doubted my ability to find the resources within myself to complete the work required. With greatly-appreciated financial help (thanks Mom!) and a lot of prayer, I am brushing doubt aside and taking a leap of faith. 

I feel called to grow in my faith; to learn more about the Word and Lutheran Theology; and to discover new ways to use my spiritual gifts in my church and my community. 

Due to a bit of anxiety surrounding taking on these projects, I need to remind myself often that both of these commitments work within the reality of my life - much of what I need to do for both, I can do in my own time. The meetings will be good-for-me outings where I get to work with others to improve my life through faith conversations and the lives of others through the work of refugee resettlement.

Doubt may continue to creep into my thoughts as I move forward with both of these wonderful experiences, but I know that God will get me through. And deep breaths. And prayer. And coffee. 

Throughout the next few months and years, I might again question what I have gotten myself into, but I have a feeling my answer will be one of joy and excitement and peace. 

(The photo at the top? That's me on the left, before a gymnastics recital thingy. Nothing to do with the post...just a photo that came to mind in relation to the post title.)

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Moondragon at Camp

For months, this child had been in tears almost daily with anxiety over going to Resident Camp at Camp Calumet. Even though he knows Camp Calumet well, knows much of the staff, and is comfortable there. He wanted to be dropped off last and picked up first. 

There are things at Camp that aren't compatible with this high functioning autistic child's sensory issues... like sand and showers. And then there's the fact that a week away from Mama and Daddy seems incredibly daunting.

And then drop off time arrived. He chose to be dropped off first. After a brief chat with and a "shoe five" from his counselor, Ben, who happened to have the exact same footwear, he let me know it was time for me to go. No tears. No hanging on.

Mama, of course, spent the first few days of camp trying not to worry about this child. Not that I didn't have full confidence in him or in the Camp Calumet staff ... it's just that it's difficult for this Mama to not be completely sure that her adorable child is having the time of his life. Then the first letter arrived.

So all was going relatively well... whether or not this child was hit in the face several times. Apparently even that is all good at Camp Calumet.

As the week wore on, I figured no news was good news. And then on Thursday...

Having received the note on Thursday, I realized he'd written it during rest hour on Wednesday - the day of Camp when time seems to stand still for the even-sightly homesick. Somehow, though, I knew that he was going to do fine for the rest of the week.

And he did. 

Having the opportunity to give us a hug and chat for a couple minutes after his performance in Androcles and the Lion, he opted for quick hugs, a "Camp is good" update, and then ran off to Snack Bar. No tears. No hanging on. 

He was excited to see us when we picked him up, and did do a bit of hanging on to his Mama for a while. I didn't mind at all. 

Over the next few days, stories from his Camp Calumet experience were shared. Four square balls don't hurt too much when they hit you in the face. Showering had been avoided until the "Car Wash" which was the only reason his hair was clean. Drama Camp was awesome. Camp Food was great (thanks, Adrien!!!). He sat next to Lily every day when doing gimp. And after that Wednesday rest hour weariness, he found himself too busy and having too much fun and it was time to go home before he knew it. 

The biggest news of all - he's looking forward to returning to Resident Camp next year!

Thank you, Camp Calumet Counselors, CITs, L&S, and Staff for providing such a wonderful environment for a child who navigates the world a bit differently.