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Archive for July, 2015

wpid-0710151654a.jpgI have wondered at the infatuation with Zombie novels and movies. As a believer of living life to its fullest, the idea of being intrigued by the walking dead has left me puzzled. Wanting to be slightly informed, but cautiously aware that I’m the type that would probably really enjoy a good zombie movie, I watched World War Z last week. Based on the expressions of various friends and acquaintances who have equally various opinions on zombies, I’ve either gone over the edge or I’ve wasted my time with a glorified-yet-disappointing movie.

Either way, I have a feeling that I haven’t truly experienced a true zombie. To be honest, that is okay with me. From my limited knowledge of a zombie apocalypse, it’s a plague that drives zombies to bite healthy individuals. In the movie, the plague killed first, then within 11 or 12 seconds, the bitten rose to spread the disease. The faces of the zombies were distorted with bulging eyes, snarling lips and a hunger to devour others. When left without noise or stimulation, they became listless, wandering from room to room with no purpose.

Zombies sound like an antagonist of fantasy literature.

Actually, they are real.

I saw a young mother at the grocery store who leaned heavily on her shopping cart, moseying up and down the aisles, staring blankly at the items on the shelf. When her child whined for snacks, her lips curled into a sneer and she launched cruel words toward the toddler.

During a visit to the mall, a swarm of zombies lurched around the shoppers, biting into the souls of others with snide remarks about that one being too old, that one being too fat. Within seconds, those within ear-shot withered into piles of nothing.

The walk of a person who had come to the mall with a purpose was instantly replaced with the wounded crawl of defeat. Employees can be zombies. They thirst of money and power and success. Their eyes bulge with desires for these things, their calendars are riddled with meetings and appointments that direct them away from their real hopes and toward the desires of a society without a purpose.

The expression of a child watching a video is reminiscent of a zombie expression. Childhood – and all of life – is not to be wasted living someone else’s adventures.

Parents can be zombies. The disease of striving for success while not having a meaningful purpose is a plague. Are we working at something we love? Or are we working to keep a roof over our children’s heads? A recent study revealed that the average father gazes into the eyes of his children for less than 38 seconds a day? But how many hours does that same man watch TV or play video games? Talk about a zombie! This mind-set is a disease. It’s a bleak landscape that offers no life-giving fruit. It’s a life without hope, a life without purpose. Is there a cure? Yes.

Fight the disease of purposelessnessitis. (I know that’s not a word, but it should be. Our society is plagued with it!)

 

Find a mission.

 

Seek a purpose.

 

Align your mission and purpose in a career.

 

Each day find something that is living and gaze at it. A child’s eyes. A blooming flower. A radiant sunset (okay, that’s not living, but there is atomic energy in that sun).

sunset-morrisionlake I am not immune to the plague of zombies in this world, but I will also actively seek a cure. I believe the cure is found outside, by talking with other living souls, or inside a book. I’m no longer puzzled by the idea of zombies. For some, it’s a fad genre that is entertaining. For others, perhaps death feels more appealing than living. That’s backwards. It really is. LIVE backwards is evil. Live life. We have it only once and for a short time. Why waste it on walking around like the dead?

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The lessons for children of how to act in public, how to treat friends, which manners are appropriate for the bathroom but not the dining room table are endless. It would be lovely to say that there will come a day when my children will know all the rules, but that day won’t ever arrive. Why? Because as an adult, I still don’t know all the rules.

 If faced with a formal dining set of multiple forks and spoons, I would need instruction as to which to pick up first. I’m still reading books about writing, public speaking, personal relationships, cookbooks, and homeschooling. I’ve been living as a married woman for seventeen years, so it would seem that my personal relations and communication skills would be top notch. Not so. I’ve homeschooled my children for ten years, and taught school for 6 years before that, so I should know everything about education, right? Nope. I’ve only recently enlisted in a self-education challenge; learning everything I really need to know about life but wasn’t taught in school.

The truth about education is that it has very little to do with how well a child reads or how quickly they can answer one hundred multiplication problems. Education is more about the teacher helping the student learn who they are, how they learn and how to learn.

It was in this educational atmosphere of trying to learn with my children about our faith that I stumbled across a line from Matthew Kelly that I truly believe will save lives.

 

Just do the next right thing.

 

That’s it. Just do the next right thing. It’s so simple, it’s easy to remember. Is it easy to put into practice? Not usually.

 

For example, a parent is struggling to bring her children to church. With claims of being bored during the service and being denied sleep just to go, she’s at a loss. Should she threaten to not feed them until they have attended Mass? Should she sign them up for a volunteering group at the church so they have more fun and meet more people? Should she just go on her own and hope that while she’s worshiping the Lord and her children are sleeping, she’s somehow inspiring them to attend?

 

If this sounds like you, I don’t have a solution. But just do the next right thing. The circumstances always change, but the principles of what is right never do.

 

In the last 24 hours, I’ve paid closer attention to difficult moments by keeping the “Just do the next right thing” idea on my mind. I wrote it on my hand to help me remember. When my son challenged my authority by speaking to me disrespectfully about having to help with the dishes, I wanted to yell at him. But I know that yelling isn’t right, as it makes me lose my posture as a parent. Instead, I told him that if he didn’t help wash the dishes, that was fine. He would eat off the same dirty plate until he did.

He helped.

Laundry is another sore spot for this momma. It’s everywhere. It’s never completely finished. It’s not a good idea to go around naked, so I don’t see an end to this problem any time soon. When I walked into my children’s bedroom, there were five full baskets of clothes. No one could tell me which baskets were filled with clean laundry and which ones needed to be washed. One daughter suggested that her sister should smell the clothes to determine which was which. Needless to say, the sister didn’t go for it. Another sibling suggested that they just wash all the clothes again. I wondered aloud how that was going to solve the problem as it isn’t the washing part that they struggle with, but the putting away. I also reminded that that it was movie night and the room must be clean before 7:00 PM if they wanted to watch all of the movie.

What was the next right thing I did? I talked them through the problem (laundry) and listened to their solutions, guiding them to a resolution that helped them meet the goal of being able to watch the movie that night. I suppose you are wondering what their solution was. The answer is, I don’t know. The next right thing for me to do was to walk away and let them figure it out together.

This line is becoming the tag line to difficult situations. We are repeating it often, applying it as a family with the hope that when we are faced with really difficult situations, the right thing will be more obvious.

To those who like to spark new discussions: I could get into an entire discussion about what is right and what is wrong. There is an argument that will likely never be resolved and objective vs. subjective truth lies in the middle. Despite any potential disagreements concerning what is right or wrong, the main focus with the “Just do the next right thing” idea is that you choose the right thing based on your information at the moment.  

I think this would be a very interesting discussion to have. But for now, I’m going to do the next right thing and make dinner for the children who are staring at me with hungry faces 🙂

 

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Yesterday, the idea of expectations was brought to my attention several times. In reading Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass, he stated:

“Start with each scene, chapter, or other unit you use to break up your manuscript. Rate the following: external actions, expectations vs. what happens, discovery, and change. Making a scene “better,” “tighter,” or “punchier” is an okay intention, but it’s imprecise. A more reliable path to high impact is to focus on the effect you seek. You’ll get it by directing expectations, building an emotional roadbed, working out what your characters will discover about themselves, and making sure that at the end something is distinctly different.” (page 57)

Because I had read this and managed to go through just a few scenes of my current manuscript, the idea of expectations was on my mind. Several moments throughout the day surprised me.

At Lowe’s, my youngest daughter said, “I want my new room to look like a princess room, a castle!” A slight pause, “Or like the Avengers headquarters.”

We rented the movie Into the Woods. By the cover, it looked like the typical broken fairy tale. Just the kind of movie I love. With several well-known actors cast, I actually drove a little further to rent it from a Redbox because for two weeks, the Redbox nearest us hadn’t carried it. Turns out, it’s a musical. You probably knew that. I hadn’t a clue. It wasn’t a goofy Mary Poppins style, but a little dark, fast-paced musical. Twists in the plot, unexpected deaths, and a Prince Charming who was “more charming than sincere,” I was surprised by the vast emotions it stirred. I laughed so hard I missed several lines, I cried at the lyrics in the songs sung by the mothers in the story, and I wondered if this was a waste of time or if watching the movie would improve my life. It was so unexpected, so gritty and yet so musical, I was entranced. Finding something entrancing is rarely a waste.

That is the trick to being effective – delivering the unexpected. I’m not advocating springing something unexpected just for the sake of shock or surprise (I picture reality TV, and I picture it in a mostly negative nature), but to strive to be effectively unexpected.

As a mother, I can create a unexpected and memorable memory for my children by setting aside the school work and household chores and spending the day on a city-wide exploration for the best playground. As a friend, I can surprise loved ones with a fully prepared dinner. As a writer, I can turn a character’s behavior on its head with a simple unexpected line, gesture, or decision.

As a blogger? I don’t know. This is a new concept for me. Give me time 🙂

A word of caution. Throwing the unexpected out – in writing or any other art form – can be a very distasteful flare if not done well and will class. The world is full of entertainment that casts out bits of surprises for shock value. Shock value never has moral value. Moral values are what the world is thirsty for. Let’s give the world what it needs instead of what sells. How’s that for a twist?

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When I first started thinking about homeschooling my oldest daughter, she was four, the middle child was two, and my youngest was not quite one. My days were filled with three little girls dressed in pink fluff, dancing to music, messing up my clean floors, and taking naps all over the place when they reached the end of their energy. We entertained the idea of homeschooling not because the school district we live in was struggling, but because I really love being a stay-at-home mom and I wasn’t ready to send my daughter to full-day kindergarten.

reading

That’s it. Plain and simple, we homeschool because I was selfish. I didn’t (and still don’t) want someone else to have the privilege of enjoying educating my children. (Note: this does not mean that I look down on parents who utilize the public or private school systems! I know that every parent does what is best for their family.)

Our first year of homeschooling was a trial run. I used desks at first because that’s what I knew from my career as a school teacher. I slowly realized that learning at home rarely happens at a desk. Real education — the character development, faith formation, and samplings of all that is truly important — happened in giant piles of children on my lap as I read stories, as I read from recipes and followed directions (or not), and as I kept my cool (or not) in stressful moments that are natural when your children are with you ALL DAY. My children have seen my best days and my worst days. I’ve seen theirs. And there is still much love between us.

But we have a new challenge. He is adorable and energetic and infatuated with all things tractor and truck related. He’s the only boy and the youngest by seven years.

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He doesn’t have to share my lap with any other siblings. I have to purposefully set aside time for him. It’s too easy for me to be swept up in the busy-ness of having three high school and junior high students. The clutter of a preschooler, the hands-on learning that I know he’ll need in kindergarten have been put away for years. As I’m unpacking them, I’m realizing that he learns very differently from my daughters. I’m in for the challenge of a lifetime!

For the past few months, I’ve felt pulled in two different directions: Studying Homer with the girls vs. teaching the boy how to read; moving the girls to advanced music classes vs. taking away wooden spoons from my son who drummed on the wooden furniture; trying to further my own education with classical literature and leadership development books vs. reading about giving pigs pancakes and Green Eggs and Ham.

It’s time to re-think my homeschooling.

Not that I’m going to give it up or send him to school. This is my chance to learn more about him, to discover new things about me. I wouldn’t let that opportunity pass me by for anything! (I’m going to repeat that again and again to myself on difficult days!)

Here’s my plan to bridge the gap between my children’s academic levels:

First, feel assured in the fact that I haven’t neglected my children’s education. Going back to my mission statement for homeschooling, I know that ‘education’ is pretty low on the list. The order of importance looks like this: faith formation, character development, family (household and farm chores, annual traditions and practicing effective communication), learning to love reading, music, and then the more formal aspect of education.

Second, I need to be more prepared to help my son learn according to his strengths. He’s all boy – meaning that he’s busy, loves all things with wheels and motors, enjoys cuddles, and thinks more clearly when he’s making noise. As such, I will need to teach him while he moves. Small motor skills are a little lacking and he isn’t reading yet, but the interest is there. My job is to not destroy that interest.

Several years ago I went to a seminar given by Andrew Pudua of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He listed the different ways boys and girls learn and suggested that schools with gender separate classrooms were showing amazing academic results. At the time, my son was only an infant, but as he nears kindergarten, I am beginning to experience those differences. I still have a bit of learning to do on the subject, but here’s my plan so far. I will post updates and changes to the plan as I learn 🙂

Things he can do while I’m working with the girls:

Sensory Bins

We are putting together more sensory bins which are available for him to purposefully play with during the times I’m working with older children.

Rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

Rice and beans

Shaving cream on a tray

Pattern Blocks

Salt tray and Letters

Threading beads on yarn – randomly first to master the small motor skills, then adding patterns to follow

Play-dough – Making it together and working on small motor skills. I love this the best. It’s time in the kitchen, working on a recipe together, seeing the ingredients that are mixed together to make something new. Then, we practice those small motor skills that are so often late in developing in boys, and make shapes and letters and action figures.

We also have tried all the easy recipes on Pinterest for different types of texture dough. Our favorite is mixing equal parts of shaving cream and corn starch. It’s slick and easy to clean up. I would recommend buying a non-scented shaving cream if possible. Our house smelled like a cologne store for hours.

Legos – That’s right. Legos. Who doesn’t want to play with them? Great for small motor development, creative 3-D building and can be used to make mazes (with a marble), to sort colors and sizes, and will eventually be used to teach fractions.

 

Things he can do with one of the girls while the other two are working:

Cutting and Pasting

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The girls help the boy with a craft each day. We each take a turn prepping and helping him follow the directions. This has turned out better than I expected. His fine motor skills are improving, he is sitting (or sometimes standing at the table) for longer periods of time as his attention is stretching longer. The girls are also finding opportunities to practice patience. It’s a win-win!

Obstacle course:

For the active days, I set up our rebounder and put tape on the floor to create an obstacle course. He builds it with me and then runs, jumps and rolls all over the place. This doesn’t create a very quiet atmosphere for us, but these are his favorite days!

We’ve also made the masking tape obstacle courses in the shape of his name. He drives his smaller tractors all over it as we work at the table on Bible readings, Science or Writing. I don’t know why I was surprised, but after he played with that tape for a day, he no longer wrote the letters of his name backwards.

Things we can do just because:

Park Trips

When the girls were younger, we spent one summer exploring our state’s playgrounds and state parks. Each week we packed a picnic lunch, traveled to a different park and explored. If there was a geo-cache nearby, we did that. We took pictures (what child doesn’t love to take pictures?) and rated the playground on a scale of 1 – 10 based on the quality of the playground, the proximity and cleanliness of the bathrooms, and the dirt. Remember, I have girls. If a playground was too dirty, it didn’t score well. They preferred woodchips, shredded rubber, and pea stones.

Summer Reading Program:

As always, I have a goal for the summer for all my children. We usually make these goals together, but my son seems to balk at the idea of planning something out. They only thing he plans on doing everyday is riding the lawn mower with me. The rainy days are almost unbearable for us all!

The girls will make a list of books to read:

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They are too old to participate in the libraries summer reading program, so we make up our own.

To motivate my son to participate in the Summer Reading Program with us, I’ll make a chart of books to read with different siblings and my husband and I.

The teeter-totter of homeschooling such vast ages doesn’t have to be a wrist-breaking, butt-dropping experience. There are rules for playing nicely on the teeter-totter just like there are rules to follow to meet the goals of a successful year of homeschooling.

In all of this, there is also time for me to read and write. That’s really the beauty of it – mom is happy, too!

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