Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Best Part

The sun glimmered off the lake outside the window while we listened to a dynamic pastor pack a lot of information into amusing stories and thought-provoking examples. Beautiful surroundings, great food, and wonderful people provided for an amazing weekend. The sixty-some-odd of us ate, learned, and worshipped together during our time there...becoming more community than a hodge-podge of lay ministry retreat attendees. 

Beyond the inspiring learning experience, I treasured waking up before the sun and curling up in a chair on the beach to watch the sunrise, wrapped in a blanket, a cup of coffee in hand. And sitting with different people each meal, sharing our lives and our faith with each other as well as stories shared around the campfire. And enjoying the peace and freedom of kayaking on Lake Ossipee with a friend. 

But the best part of my entire weekend happened because someone needed a ride. 

A phone call from my friend and retreat roommate at 8PM the night before the retreat prompted me to make a call, offering a ride to a first year student. We seemed to hit it off from the moment their suitcase landed in the back of my van. We learned a bit about each other as we drove to camp, and my study group adopted our new friend into our group for the weekend, as the only other person geographically close enough to them to form a study group couldn't make it to the retreat.  

During evening prayer on the first night, the leader instructed women to say one part, and men another during a particular part of worship. My new friend leaned over to me and whispered, "What if you identify as both?" I smiled and replied, "Then you say both." My soul did magnify the Lord and my spirit rejoiced as I said those words with all the women in my group...as my new friend read both parts without hesitation.

The splendor and peace in the sunrises and surroundings, the community of faith, the wisdom imparted, the meals and the Meal shared with all knit themselves together into a beautiful tapestry that I hold very dear. But the best part was meeting this person of deep faith and deep love, who embraces who God made them to be - and getting to call them friend. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Most Holey One

I always have three nightgowns. I have a newish one that I don't mind throwing a pair of shorts under and answering the door on days that call for such a thing. I have a middle-aged one that has been through some stuff, but is still fairly attractive....still good enough to wear when my in-laws are visiting, but not in front of strangers. And then I have the most holey one, which I'm sure is going to disintegrate at any moment. Guess which one's my favorite?

The most holey one has been through a lot. I wore it while in labor with Coren, and he just turned twelve. I found it at a thrift store the Summer I was pregnant with him, a welcome replacement for the nightgown I'd laid to rest not long before. That one had been through Zachary and Haley's pregnancies and labors and lots and lots of days and nights of parenting two, then three very small children. 

I nursed three children in this nightgown, the last of whom weaned four years ago. This holey one soaked up my tears through and after my twin miscarriage, when I practically lived in it when I didn't have to be dressed and pretending to be managing life as normal. It got me through many sleepless nights nursing a pile of sick children, and hot, sticky nights our first time camping at Camp Calumet. It has been my go-to on too many days in bed due to joint pain and/or migraines. 

It's amazing how many memories are wrapped up in one piece of clothing. Perhaps that's why I still wear it, and will probably continue wearing it until it disintegrates. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

He Does This To Me Every Year

He does this to me every year.

Every. single. year.

He refuses when I tell him we can just skip it this year and doesn't like my suggestion that since he insists on it every year, I should get at least one year when I get my way. But alas, he says it's not a choice whether or not he has a birthday, it just happens.

The problem is, Coren is not turning 8 or 9 or even 10. He's going to be twelve, which is almost thirteen, which is giving me a bit of a panic attack. How did this adorable round toddler turn into such a thoughtful, cuddly, kind, intelligent almost-teenager?

My little Moondragon isn't so little anymore. That he is old enough to be starting Confirmation class soon amazes me. He is delving deeper into the theater world, writing his part and acting in a one-act play at Epoch Arts this Autumn and is expanding his computer knowledge through Video Editing class at homeschool co-op. The latter class choice is most likely inspired by the creation of the video he helped put together of the Fox at Calumet's further adventures:

Coren had matured immensely this year. He has been working hard to overcome some of his anxieties, has become more responsible, and surprises me every day with the thoughtful and unique answers he has for his homeschool writing assignments. 

Happy 12th Birthday, my Moondragon! I can barely wait to see where this year takes you!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Learning to Read

I did not teach my children how to read.

I read to my children from the time they were born until they sighed and rolled their eyes at me when I sat down to read with them...or until they insisted on reading to me. Often, as young children, they would sit in my lap, looking at the pictures and following my finger underlining the words as we read. For books without pictures, they would close their eyes, envisioning the story in their minds, and complain when I'd stop reading, thinking they had fallen asleep. They were just deep into the story's world, captivated by the scenes that unfolded as they listened. 

My children also followed along with me in the book of worship on Sunday mornings. As we sang hymns, they would again follow my finger as I underlined the words. Hymnals are wonderful for learning to read, as most words are broken up, syllable by syllable. 

Often, I'd hear, "what does that say" from the backseat of the car, from the child riding on my back as we took a walk, or while we were perusing a menu. Most times, I wouldn't ask the child to sound it out, I'd simply ask what letters were in the word to make sure I read the correct word to the child.

I spoke to my children as human beings, not as immature creatures who spoke a language called baby talk. I used big words and a normal tone of voice. 

My husband and I would spell things when we didn't want our kids to know what we were talking about, as parents tend to do. Our children quickly caught on to the fact that i - c - e - c - r - e - a - m at F - r - i - e - n - d - l - y - 's was something very desirable, so other things we spelled must be as well. Once our oldest became a whiz at deciphering quickly spelled words, we started to have to use bigger words, rather than spelling words. For example, I once asked my husband if he wanted to venture forth with our progeny to the amicable eatery for frozen dairy delights. 

Our oldest child started reading at age two and was reading fifth grade level books by age five. Our second child was an early (but not quite that early) reader as well. I admit to a bit of panic when our third child reached the ripe old age of six without an iota of desire to learn to read. However, by six and a half, she had her sights set on reading Little House on the Prairie by herself, and in six weeks went from "See Spot. See Spot run," to "Once upon a time, a little girl named Laura traveled in a covered wagon across the giant prairie." Our fourth child learned to read in order to play the Pokemon card game with his siblings when he was seven. Our fifth child swore she couldn't read, and then got caught by her grandparents telling them about what she had read on science center animal habitat description sign after previously making them read many of the signs to her. She was five.

As they grew older, they would grab a book and curl up on my bed with me, joining in the luxury of getting lost in a book.

My children were never forced to learn to read. They came about it quite organically, in their own time, and learned in their own way. We gave them a good foundation and were there for them when they needed assistance along the way. They all love to read, making a beeline to the book section of the thrift store upon entering, no matter their mother's plans for the shopping trip. To them, books are beloved friends, things to be treasured. And I love it that, when given the choice, they would rather hold a physical book in their hands than read it on a device...so they can have what they consider the full reading experience. 

I didn't teach my children to read. I modeled for them and encouraged in them a love of reading.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Fantastic Teens and Where to Find Them

This past weekend, my 15 year old and 17 year old celebrated their birthdays with a couple friends. Their birthdays were in June and July, and it's now the end of August, but summer happened and this is when we could manage to pull it off. 

Zachary (17), hosted his half of the party at the local bowling /laser tag / game room place. Haley (15), set up a magical Harry Potter party at home. That my teens are willing to share a party, and just have a couple friends over so they can catch up before the new school year begins, warms my heart. 

My husband took care of the bowling/laser tag part of the party, and then took Alia and Coren out for a couple hours so the teens could have uninterrupted fun. I am incredibly thankful that I got less active end of the stick. 

I retreated upstairs to my youngest children's room, caught up on emails, homeschool co-op stuff, and, when I couldn't stand it any longer, sorted through the pile of clothes awaiting their place in Alia's already overstuffed dresser. The teens watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them, enjoyed homemade butterbeer, and ate pizza, snacks, and Harry Potter themed candy. Laughter and animated conversation wafted up the stairs, and I did my best to let these fantastic young adults do their own thing. 

I'm impressed with the two birthday children. Zachary realized his portion of the party was out of range of our budget, so opted to pay for it himself. Haley made up potions and jars of potion ingredients, gathered decorations and suitable candy, and put together quite the display to help get everyone in the Harry Potter mood. She also got glass bottles in Hogwarts house colors as party favors and baked pumpkin muffins instead of cake. 

If you're looking for some fantastic teens, I know where to find them!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Unschooling Is Not

Unschooling is not unparenting. While we strive to give our children autonomy, we do so within a framework of safety, cleanliness, boundaries, and moral standards. We work together to keep our house cleanish. We take responsibility for our actions. When we commit to doing something, we follow through to the best of our ability. We are kind. We treat each other as we would wish to be treated. We forgive. We ask for what we need. We offer each other what we can. We respect each other, our house, and our possessions and do our best to take care of all of them. 

Unschooling is not non-learning. It is learning through conversing, experiencing, reading, creating, dreaming, asking, doing, listening, and sharing. It's taking a class or attending a workshop when we so desire. It is following our passions and interests where they lead us. It is encouraging our children to make their own decisions and giving them the tools and the desire to learn whatever they want to learn. It's modeling a love of learning to our children and taking interest in hearing about what they've learned. 

Unschooling isn't limited to any required curriculum, to what a textbook dictates as the end of learning about a topic, or by grade level. Unschooling allows for children to learn at their own pace, in their own way, following their own interests. When someone is interested in learning something, they retain the majority of what they learn. When someone is taught something in which they have little to no interest, they retain very little. 

Unschooling isn't socially isolating or sheltering. It is being out in the real world for many more hours a day than our schooled counterparts. It is interacting with a wide range of people of all ages, religions, cultures, and economic statuses. 

For my family, unschooling is participating in church activities, homeschool co-op, theater, puppetry, choir, MTG tournaments, a refugee resettlement ministry, Camp Calumet, and volunteering with various non-profit organizations. It's participating in programs and events dealing with issues like homelessness, addiction, violence, religious diversity, gender diversity ... and not only learning about these issues, but meeting the people affected by them, hearing their stories, and finding out how we can advocate, educate, and make the world a better place. It is getting a three year old a dissection kit and teaching her how to use a scalpel, because that's what she's yearning to do (and because I wouldn't and couldn't get her a cadaver). It's teaching a child to bake because she wants cupcakes. It's buying more Pokemon cards because it's the method one child has chosen as a path to learning to read. It's getting used to a teenager emerging from her room with bloody gashes and bruises because she's into special effects makeup. It's asking a teenager what could possibly be gained from playing an online game and having him come back to you with studies on hand-eye coordination, critical thinking, and other related material in support of his choice of entertainment and, apparently, educational material. And some days, it's being at home, playing on the computer, reading books, playing games, and doing housework, because that's life.

Unschooling is not laziness or bad parenting ... it is discovering over and over how much life has to teach us. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What You Don't See

When you look at this picture, you see two people standing on the top of a mountain overlooking with a beautiful view of lakes down below. You may notice that I am wearing gloves. If you look even closer, you might notice crutches between my husband and I, resting on the rock.

What you don't see is the amount of pain and exhaustion I'm feeling while standing there, even after rest, water, and a healthy snack. You don't see the extreme struggle I went through to get to the top of the mountain, nor the number of times I wanted to give up, sure I'd never make it to the top. You don't see the pain in my knees, which I was told to get replaced twenty years ago; the agonizing spasming of my back due to damage already done by psoriatic arthritis and spondylitis; the suffocating ache in my chest from costochondritis; or the  deep, deep emotions of this accomplishment. You don't see the amount of medication coursing through my veins that made this possible, nor the days of recuperation required afterward.

There are many people living with "invisible illnesses." I am one of them. Most people who see me walking without assistance or see photos of me standing at the top of mountains assume I'm able bodied. Not even those closest to me can really fathom the amount of pain I experience and exhaustion I face on a good day, nevermind a bad day. I have become expert at acting as if I'm not in pain. I can put a smile on my face and keep on moving through it most days. 

What you don't see is the gratitude my illnesses that brought into my life, and how much my life has improved in many ways, even as I've become increasingly ill. I am thankful for each step I take; for my crutches and wheelchair that allow me more freedom than my own two legs do; for slowing down; for finding things I can do that feed my soul and energize me; and for the ability to let go of things that don't serve me and my family well; for pain and exhaustion that point my life in the right direction.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What To Say

Why do people hate? Why do people do and say horrible, violent things? 

And how do we not hate them in return?

When I look at photos from that night in Charlottesville, VA, it sends chills down my spine. It is evident that these people believe in what they are doing, the vitriol they are spewing. It's difficult not to feel rage when reading about what happened that night. 

What I see is a mass of broken people - people who choose hate over love. People who think that they are superior because of skin color and belief system. People reduced to hate, because they think it's the only choice. 

What do I tell my children about these people? What do I say? They can see everything I see. I need to show them what they don't see... people who, more than likely, feel hated or vulnerable more than loved or secure. People who have been fed righteous indignation in the form of racism and false beliefs until they believe it to their cores. People who are blind to God's love for all all ALL people. People loved deeply by the God they misunderstand so profoundly. People who need prayers ... and love ... and forgiveness.

Yes, more than anything these people at whom we want to scream, whom we want to hate, need love and forgiveness. We need to forgive to move forward, not condoning hate or hurtful actions, but praying for God to touch their hearts and show them love. We need to forgive to promote peace and show that we can love those with whom we don't agree, love them through their brokenness because we, too, are broken people. We need to forgive and to love so that we don't get to the point of allowing hate to rule our thoughts and our hearts. Hate isn't productive, it holds us back. Love compels us forward. We need to forgive because that's what God calls us to do. We need to let go of hate and let God be the judge. 

And I tell my children to see the good. To see the college students holding their ground in the midst of it all. The people who come to others' aid. Those who can't physically be there, but lend their words, their talents, their spirits, and their support to those who can. 

And then I ask what we can do to love against racism. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Fox at Calumet and Other Places

We spent 16 full days at Camp Calumet - from breakfast July 1 until breakfast July 17. Four children came with us - Alex stayed home. Zack went to a week of Resident Camp and then took the bus home. Haley and Alia stayed for two weeks of Resident Camp. Coren went to a week of Resident Camp, and then joined Jim and I at Family Camp. Jim and I had a week to ourselves at Family Camp during the first week.

Trying to sum up even one week at Camp Calumet in a blog post is nearly impossible -or would be impossibly long. So I'll let our friend give you an idea of how we spent our first week at Camp Calumet, Freedom, NH. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

No Place I Would Rather Be

Trees rustled in the gentle breeze as notes wafted through the outdoor chapel. My heart burst to overflowing as I watched the sun dancing on the cross and sang, "no place I would rather be...than here in Your love, here in Your love..." It was difficult to believe that an entire two weeks before we sang the same song during our first worship of the Summer at Camp Calumet. Our time there was almost over. It was nearly time to leave the place for which my soul yearns every day I'm not there.

Our time there was full, well-spent. The bible studies in which I participated seemed tailor made for me - one on prayer, the other on hymns. We sang each day of each bible study. We shared personal experiences, growing in knowledge and faith as we explored God's Word in different ways. The hikes (on crutches), both the weekly hike and hiking on our own up Jackman's Ridge, the length of the Outer Limits trail and through the Pine Barrens, were physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging for me, but also uplifting and totally worth the pain. Great conversations with many people, ice cream socials, pontoon boat rides, relaxing and reading, swimming, tie dying, and Drama Camp's performance of Oliver Twist were among the highlights of our sixteen days at Camp.

What I miss most about our time there are the people ... Thomas, who took such good care of us at Family Camp; John, who always has a smile, a good story, and lots of patience; Patty, whose kindness, hospitality, and giving spirit brightened each day; and all the staff, family campers, and visitors with whom I interacted. And the atmosphere ... peace, friendly greetings, trees, lake, mountains, the nightly call of the whippoorwill, laughter, love, time set apart to live in community with faithful people.

There's no place on Earth that I'd rather be.