Friday, 2 October 2015

Getting grace

You know, I don't understand grace. This idea of giving generously without reservation to someone who not only doesn't deserve to be given anything, but instead deserves justice and retribution is absolutely foreign to me. I am boggled by grace.

Performance I understand. It was what my childhood was based on. I put in so much effort into the work I was assigned and I would get a certain grade, and that in turn got me attention, praise, even affection. My worth was based on my performance. How "perfect" could I be? If I did everything I was supposed to, acted the way I was expected to, stayed quiet and in the background, and didn't cause a disturbance, then I was accepted and allowed to pretty much do whatever I wanted, as long as I didn't bother anyone else. Publicly I was exactly as everyone wanted me to be. Privately, I was a complete rebel.

Performance makes sense. You show up and do your job and get paid. Do it well and you get promoted. Do it very well and you get paid well, get recognition and maybe even start your own business.  It works in most relationships too. Treat people kindly and most people will be your friend. Be mean and no one likes you. Scare people and they will do what you want, out of fear. It's not that hard to understand. Performance works.

It's this law of sowing and reaping; karma, to borrow a term, that you get what you give. Even as a Christian, it works to some degree. After all, the promise is to give generously and it will be given back to you. Treat others the way you want to be treated. The only difference is that we're encouraged to go first more, to give more, to hold fewer expectations and forgive quickly.

Except when it comes to God.

God doesn't follow any of these "life rules". He doesn't work the way the rest of the world works. And while church doctrine teaches give to get, God.. doesn't get much out of His giving. At least, He doesn't get back near anything what He gave. And He doesn't wait for performance to deserve His gifts.

This is grace.

Grace is the unmerited, undeserved, generous-beyond-belief, giving-without-getting attitude that God has towards us. A lyric from my new favorite song, MercyMe's Flawless says that He could "take a filthy wretch like me, and wrap him up in righteousness.. but that's exactly what He did." This blows my mind. That I, in my shame, in my poor choices and just plain rebellion, would become.. flawless.. perfect.. utterly whole.. because of what He did, is incomprehensible.

I understand performance very well. Performance is how I lived my life, and still, to a large degree, live my life now. But this thing called grace, while incredible and unbelievable, is exactly what my grateful heart needed. I don't understand it at all. I just live, trustingly accepting that it's true, and that it's mine.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The rhythm of routine

It is now our third week into school and fall activities. It's even officially fall! The leaves are changing color, and the weather is cooler, reminding me that shortly my time to get out the door will double, even triple, as we scramble to grab boots and winter outdoor clothes. Oh the joys of Canadian living. There are lots of perks, but the weather isn't necessarily one of them.

I have been reminded, this month, of why I so much love living in a large city. I am very very much NOT a country girl. The sounds of traffic from the not-so-distant expressway are the white noise I need to sleep. The nosy next door neighbours are a great source of entertainment, and a recent discussion with one showed me how thankful I am to have someone to help in case of a last minute appointment, opportunity or emergency.

My exhusband and I have seemed to come to a detente of sorts. We've even been able to collaborate on events for the kids, and he was respectful and polite. I have no desire to explore a .. more intimate relationship with him, but I'm thankful that our divorce seems to have made him change some attitudes and behaviours. Of course, I'm not foolish. This could always be a short term change, in some greater game he's playing. It's only been 6 months or so. I will be watching, but if this is for real.. maybe we can someday be actual friends and coparents.

This year I am educating all five of my children. My 11 year old (almost 12!!) is in 7th grade, my 7 year old is in a modified early elementary program, my 5 year old is 1st grade, my 4 year old is doing kindergarten, and my 2.5 yr old is beginning preschool. I am, as always, amazed and incredibly proud of how well my girls do, and sometimes I even keep it all straight!

Our days and weeks are falling into a rhythm. I love this part. When we're out of crisis mode, when we have survived a transition, when we are settled and at peace, we naturally fall into a rhythm, a routine.  I am even waking before the kids now! (To anyone who knows me, this is a sort of miracle, lol!) We wake, we have breakfast and cuddles and get dressed, not in any particular order. Then we clean up and do chores - even the preschooler. I have a card system that is working beautifully to coordinate everyone and make the chores simple and fun. After we're done cleaning up, we start school. I try to make it so that only one child needs my attention at a time, but sometimes someone ends up waiti
ng. It's good character training time.

For my little ones, school is only until noon. After lunch, my littles will often nap, and the ones that aren't will be downstairs in their playroom, so that I can work, or work with my older daughter. Or sometimes, maybe even nap myself.

On Mondays, we are a bit different. My littles don't do as many chores, but instead work on their language arts and math early. At noon, we head out the door to my oldest's horseback riding lesson. I was so excited to be able to find.. and afford.. a short 1 hour weekly lesson for her. She's thrilled. In the evening, my 3 middle girls have beginning judo at our local community centre. Then we rush off across the city so my special needs girl can have a class just for her, to help her work on her social skills and her gross motor skills.

Wednesdays is our busiest day. Currently my littles and I do a playgroup in the morning, giving my oldest some much needed time and space to work on projects at home. Then we come home for a quick lunch and we're off again, this time to a class on butterflies for my 4 and 5 yr old, while my 7 yr old and I hang out, and my 2 yr old is at home napping, with my oldest supervising. We're home and we finish up any school stuff or chores before supper. When this class on butterflies ends in 3 weeks, we'll be starting swimming lessons at pretty much the same time, for everyone.

We've also managed to find a church, one that I think will become our church home. Not only has everyone been extremely accepting of us as a family, despite the stigma of single parenthood, divorce and family violence, but there are other homeschoolers as well! The teaching is not just the feel-good-look-good kind, but the kind that makes you want to go home and learn more for yourself. And the music is a great mix of old and new, tho slightly too loud for my special needs kid.. Oh well, headphones work!

As busy as we are as a family, there's also a sense of calmness, of security around it all. The rhythms we're developing, the routines that are falling into place, the very busy-ness of it all is the business of a happy, healthy, active family, that is connecting and growing and thriving. I'm very pleased and grateful at the peace of it all. My children are happy. I'm happier than I have been in years. It's awesome.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Birth Story: Promise of strength

Rattikankeawpun @
I was all of 19 years old when I discovered I was going to become a mother. 19 years old, just finished my first year of university, at home with my parents for the summer, and the relationship from which child resulted had ended. I'd been sick for about 6 weeks before it dawned on me that I could be pregnant.

I made my best friend buy me the test, and with shaking hands I did it in her bathroom. It came up with two pink lines immediately, and I had to sit on the floor in shock. I remember nearly floating down the stairs to show her, in equal amounts excitement (I was estatic!) and fear (terrified of my parents' reaction, among other things).

I remember sitting on her couch, just trembling. I couldn't speak. I couldn't think beyond the thought that I was pregnant. It didn't even register that it meant an actual baby.

My parents' reaction wasn't pleasant, and the father of my child was as supportive as he could be for the shock of finding out his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. I stayed with him for about 6 weeks, growing increasingly sick, depressed and struggled physically and emotionally. There were days I couldn't get out of bed without immediately throwing up.

Hyperemesis is nothing to be ignored, and my obstetrician ordered several ultrasounds over the next few weeks, along with blood tests and a battery of examinations. I was on medication to try to control the vomiting, but I was still losing weight. There were concerns about my baby's kidneys and heart formation, and my stress levels grew higher, and depression grew worse.. a self-defeating cycle.

I moved into a shelter for young pregnant women, where I stayed till the end of my pregnancy. It was the 8th ultrasound, approximately 3 weeks before my due date, that decided things for my OB. She informed me that not only was I in "prodromal" labour, and already 3 cm dialated, that my baby was head down and in position, and that my little girl! was undersized and not growing in utero. She told me to prepare for a baby, because if I didn't have this child over the weekend, I would be by Tuesday of the next week.

I went back to the shelter with mixed feelings. I was 9 months pregnant, more than ready to meet this child, and yet.. the possibility of a less-than-healthy baby was scary. I spent the weekend on pins and needles, awake for hours with contractions that didn't stay regular, that ebbed and flowed. Tuesday morning, bright and early, I called the hospital to find out when I was scheduled to go in.

It wasn't until 1 pm that I was finally admitted to hospital. My mother arranged for her sister to accompany me, and the shelter had hired a doula for me, and they came into my room shortly after the nurses had me in hospital gown and hooked up to the monitors. The doula and my aunt had a grand time talking in the corner, while I was given an iv, and a scalp monitor was placed on my daughter, and the pitocin started. I watched tv, while they talked, and occasionally asked for a drink.

The contractions started at approximately 3 pm, and boy did they hit with a vengeance. The doula and my aunt occasionally looked over at me and asked how I was doing, but for the most part, I was left to myself. The nurse was with me all the time now, monitoring contractions and my daughter's heart beat, and encouraging me to bear with it. I asked and received a shot of novocain about 4 pm, and by 5 I was ready for stronger pain relief. My aunt talked me out of it, and I waited. At 6 I was more insistent, but the nurse checked and I was told it was too late!

It was go time, and they paged my OB, and began preparing to wheel me into the delivery room. Things were moving very quickly though, and faster than they were ready for, I was ready to push. They rushed me into the delivery room, and the nurse told me not to push. But my body had already taken over. My OB jogged into the room, just in time to catch my baby girl. As she was coming out, I felt a horrible burning, which I now know was called a "ring of fire", as I tore with her passage.

My newborn, Dec 16, 2003
My daughter was born at 6:33 pm, at 5 lbs 8 oz, and 19" long. She was a beautiful pink baby, so tiny the nurses called her my little peanut. I stared at her in adoration, as the doctor delivered the placenta, and then they whisked her away to do all their tests and baths and myriad other things. I was given another shot of oxytocin, as I was bleeding quite heavily, and my OB struggled to stitch up where I tore.

I think I was bleeding almost too much, because I believe I passed out. Anyway I ended up in a ward room, and I'm not sure how I got there. I wasn't allowed to get up for 24 hours, and the nurse brought me my baby. I tried to nurse, but I was so tired and so foggy, that I struggled. My baby was so small she struggled too.

The next day, the nurses helped me up and I showered, fighting nausea and dizziness. I was still bleeding very heavily, but they let me sit up and try nursing again. The day after, they sent me back to the shelter, with this tiny little girl.

The shelter staff was very alarmed. Here I was, pale as a ghost, anemic, sick, still fighting depression and exhausted, with this premie-sized newborn. The first night, I was up all night attempting to nurse my baby, crying with her, and the shelter staff grew more nervous. The next night was the same. By Friday, I took my now listless baby back to the hospital, where she was admitted for jaundice and put on formula.

Friday night, I slept beside her crib, feeding her every hour. Saturday, the hospital was ready to release her, and I waited for the paperwork, anxious to take my baby home again.

It was 9 pm at night when a man came into my room. He asked me to step outside into the hallway, and informed me he was so sorry, but I wasn't going to be able to take my baby home. The shelter had said they weren't comfortable with me being anemic and sick and my daughter being so tiny, to allow me to keep my baby there. So I sobbed as the social worker took my daughter, bundled up in her little car seat away to foster care.

I sat in the hospital lobby room, unsure of what to do, stunned. I was a new mom, foggy with blood loss, illness, depression and grief. I called the aunt that had attended my delivery, and she came and got me. I crawled into a mattress on the floor they gave me, and slept. I don't remember much of that weekend.

Monday morning, a new social worker met with me, to tell me my options. I desperately wanted my daughter back, and begged my aunt and uncle to let me stay with them. They refused, and I turned to the social worker. She told me of another shelter I could stay at, and helped me apply. I returned to the first, and gathered up my things, and moved into the new shelter.

Within a week, my daughter was returned to my care. I was ecstatic all over again. For about 3 days, I only put her down so I could sleep some. I lived in terror that someone would take her again. But as the days went by, I grew more secure, and settled into this new role as mom.

There were more challenges to face in the coming months and years, but motherhood changed me forever. I discovered I was stronger than I had ever thought, and that my daughter somehow gave me the promise that I would always have the strength I needed to face anything.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: Deschooling

Deschooling is a process of retraining and refocusing kids and their parents out of a public school mentality and attitude towards learning. The idea is to figure out that learning does not require a text book, a test, a worksheet or a teacher. Learning can happen anywhere. It is actually more important for the parents to "deschool" than the children, especially if you are pulling your children out in older grades. 

So what does it look like?

Specifically, you'll avoid worksheets and workbooks, you won't do tests, or sit down with one person lecturing and another listening. You will read lots and lots, but they won't be textbooks, just books on topics you enjoy. You will do projects perhaps, but these will be messy and fun and fascinating. You will go places - the store, the library, a museum, the zoo, the symphony, the movies, etc. You won't be sitting at a desk or the kitchen table answering questions out of a textbook. You might sit at the kitchen table eating a snack and talking about questions. You won't be lecturing your kids on the specifics of algebra, but you might watch a YouTube video on math in nature. You won't be cutting and pasting worksheets, but you might cut out magazine letters to create poetry art, or write a letter to the editor of your newspaper, or volunteer at a local homeless shelter. 

As a parent, you'll be observing your child(ren). You will reconnect with them as parents and kids, enjoying life together. You will figure out that Junior likes to build and learns best by doing, and Miss learns by reading and more reading, and Little One learns best by asking questions and talking about it. You might also figure out that your family thrives when you "go with the flow" or that you all much prefer set times to do certain things, and like predictability and routine. You might discover that you really like reading as a family, so a literature based curriculum is best, or that you really really hate the mess of science experiments, so maybe online options are better, or that your day just works better when you're at home so you'll keep field trips to a minimum -- or just the opposite. 

The rule of thumb is that you should take approximately 1 month for every year your child was in school. The focus isn't so much on learning anything or meeting goals or "keeping up with their class", but on reconnecting as a family and discovering the joy of learning. It may take less time for you -- it may take more. But don't skimp out because of a panic that "they aren't learning anything". They will learn. They will surprise you with what they learn. 

So often new homeschoolers short-change themselves and their children in this process. A sense of panic can set in, because it doesn't look like your children are learning anything, because it doesn't look like school. You may feel a sense of looming disaster, of "falling behind", that you are somehow neglecting them and their education by not churning out workpages, reports, and struggling with school work, like you are so used to. For some reason, we, as a society, have separated "education" and "learning" from life and fun. Education is over here, and it's supposed to be hard, and even a little boring, and you don't learn anything if it's not written down. Life is over there, completely separate, and you don't learn anything in "real life". But it's that mentality that this process of deschooling is designed to break down. Like in childbirth, if you can push through the panic, you'll have a brand new life and a lot of fun! 

It depends I think on what your purpose is in homeschooling. If you are approaching it from the idea that your child needs to know "xyz" information and skills by "x" age in order to be "educated" then yes, you'll always be thinking "grade level" and "ahead" or "behind". But if you think in terms of parenting, not just academics, and think about the information and skills of education as part of your parenting (that reading and arithmetic are just like walking and talking in your child's development), then there is only a "grade level" like there is "typical development". It's a range. Most children learn to walk somewhere between 10 and 16 months. If they aren't walking by 18 months, you take them to a doctor. Most children learn to read somewhere between age 4 and age 10. If they aren't reading by age 12, you might want to get extra help. It isn't about an arbitrary "grade level" (which by the way is very specific to region -- children are expected to be reading by age 6 in most states, but in other countries, not until age 8 or 9). It's about where your child fits on the typical development range.

Formal academics are not a goal. They are the means to a goal. Being a successful adult requires that they read and write fluently in at least one language, that they can add and subtract and manage money and think logically and critically, that they have some familiarity with the whys and hows of our society, economy and technology. *When* our children learn this is not all that important. It only takes 30 days to teach the average-intelligence adult to read. And with the internet and smart phones today, most information is easily accessible. College may not be everyone's best career plan, and there are other choices. Educate accordingly.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Refugee Crisis

The world is abuzz with the news and pictures from the refugee crisis in Europe. Phrases like "worst crisis since WWII" and pictures of dead children have shocked and horrified us, and the catch phrases and calls to action are churning out, particularly in the church. The bandwagon is out and picking up all comers.

I'm sympathetic. I'm compassionate towards the millions of displaced families, the fathers hoping to build a better life, the women and children fleeing the violence, the young adults running for their lives.. I get it. I hold no resentment, and I fully support those who are able to help to do so. 

My problem is this: why does it always take a horrific photo op and tragic stories to make people stand up and do something? This crisis has been around for more than a few years. The Syrian civil war was news in 2013. Libya and Sudan have had civil wars for decades, and there are millions more refugees crossing the Mediterranean. 

However, the refugee crisis overseas and our lack of response to it is not my complaint. It is shameful and appalling and yes, we, as privileged members of developed nations, called by Christ to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless, with more than enough to go around, should be doing whatever we can to alleviate the suffering. But the refugees overseas, with their heartbreaking pictures plastered on our newspapers, television screens and Facebook newsfeeds, are not the only refugees in our midst. 

Look around you. Look around your communities. Do you see the refugees? The mothers and children fleeing violence in their homes, the young men fleeing the violence in their neighbourhoods, the fathers fleeing the poverty and hopelessness in their communities.. do you see them? Do you see the homeless lying in the streets, trapped by an illness that clouds their minds, fogged by addictions and barred by our society to anything resembling a normal life...  do you see the young women lining the street corners, held hostage by others, forced to sell their bodies and their very souls for profit.. do you see the small child who's father is unknown, and who's mother works 2 or 3 jobs just to hold body and soul together, who's world is held by a series of babysitters and teachers who come and go..  do you see the special needs of the child who through no fault of their own is hidden behind a genetic disorder that makes them unable to comprehend the world around them... do you see the family down the street or next door, who's skin is a different color than yours, who's mother tongue sounds like gibberish to you..  Do you see the refugees in our midst? 

Why is it that as a church we are so quick to help the "other" over "there"... but we can't see past our noses at the "other" that is right here, needing our help, crying for our support, desperate for the hope only we can give? 

Why is it that the "other" over "there", in the camp, in the boat, in the train station or airplane terminal, is worthy of our respect and treated like human beings in need of a hand up.. but the ones on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our schools and shopping malls and churches, those ones get a shake of the head, a blind eye, a turning away..

Did you know that there may be families sitting one pew over from you who are refugees? A man who's barely holding it together long enough to smile and shake a few hands, dressed in his suit and tie, putting hundreds in the offering plate, but as soon as he can escape, he's headed home to get another drink. A woman who hides her pained expression behind platitudes and excuses, who quietly stands in the background so as not to attract notice, who hurries out, home to the man who will berate her again for saying hello to the pastor on her way out, accusing her of flirting and carrying on, who's praying that she can appease him so he won't hit her, or worse, hit the children. A child who's shy demeanor and soft smile hides the fact that she barely understands the words spoken to her, because her parents are immigrants and don't speak the language themselves. A sullen teen sitting in the corner, hair dyed bright colors, who's long sleeves hide the cuts he makes every night to dull the pain of rejection by his own parents..who's face says "no" but secretly hopes that someone will see that he just needs someone to tell him he matters. And so many more... 

What about them? 

Do we need pictures of broken bodies in our inner cities before we create eye-catching phrases to rais awareness? Do we have to hear of millions of broken families before we issue call to action emails and blogs? How do we come face-to-face with the refugee crisis we have right here at home? How do we open our eyes to see? 

Yes, there's a crisis overseas. It's urgent and devastating and tugs at your heartstrings. And I'm not saying no, don't look, don't listen, don't help. Do. See it, hear it, help! But not *only* there. Help here too. See here also. Listen to the cries around you. 

We have our own refugee crisis. And as much as we need to open our hearts and homes to those fleeing warfare overseas.. we need to recognize the warfare that is in our own backyards. And we need to help. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Homeschooling 101: FAQs

There's been a lot of interest lately in homeschooling, and I've been asked frequently about what it's like, the specifics and legalities, and how to start. While I can't speak to every jurisdiction, and the regulations will vary from place to place, here are some FAQs to get you started. 

Is it legal? 
There are only a few places in the world where it is, in fact, illegal to homeschool your children, and again, only a few where it is impractical to homeschool. But generally, homeschooling, in one form or another, is legal just about everywhere. I'm fortunate to live in an area where homeschooling is not only completely legal but also completely without regulation. Please check with your local laws before starting. The best place to get truthful information is from a local homeschooling support group. Be careful about talking to the public school or school board: because it is not in their interest for you to pull your children out of the school system, they may not give you accurate information about the legalities and regulations of homeschooling in your area.

How do I teach them?
That is really a broad question. The specifics of your curriculum, teaching style and structure of your homeschool will depend on a lot of factors, and I will go over some of those (and how to best pick for your family) in later posts. But generally, since you, as their parent, taught your child how to walk, talk, feed and dress themselves, use the bathroom, and the basic rules of interacting with others, you can totally teach your child to read, write, add, subtract, or whatever academic skill or information they need to learn. You know your child best, and you were your child's first teacher. You are their best teacher!

What about testing?
For many people, homeschooling is actually about avoiding the myriad standardized tests that seem to plague the school system. And depending on your jurisdiction, that may be entirely possible. For others, standardized testing is a useful tool. Standardized testing is available for purchase privately, through the various publishers, and also may be available through your public school system. Please check with your local school board or homeschool support group for more information on that. 

What about socialization? 
Homeschoolers get asked this a lot. We even make jokes about it. Again the answer is "it depends". It really depends on what you mean by "socialization". 

If socialization means the ability to interact with others politely and respectfully, to handle difficult people and different opinions without emotional outbursts, to conduct oneself in public as civilized and well-mannered; in short, if it means the basics of social interaction, then homeschooling is your best choice to achieve that. Homeschoolers get the benefit of great modeling (through their parents), direct and indirect immediate teaching, correction and feedback (because parents are generally insistent on manners), and the opportunities to interact with people of all ages and lifestyle choices, because they aren't restricted to an age-segregated environment, with drastically different rules than real life and immense pressure to conform. Homeschooled children live in the real world, not the artificial one created by the institutional school classroom. 

If socialization means the opportunity to interact with age-similar peers, then again the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, homeschoolers, because of the flexibility inherent in keeping your children out of an institution, have much more opportunity to interact with others, similarly aged, or not. Whether its being out and about with their parents while they run errands, interacting at libraries, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds, or participating in the numerous activities available for children to take part in, homeschooled children get all the interaction that the parents choose to arrange. Because we are not spending hours after school on homework, our evenings are much freer for those sports, dance, gymnastics, lego, 4H, boy/girl scout, church youth and children's ministry, music, art, chess, and drama classes and clubs that the community offers, and because we are not restricted to school hours, we can also utilize special opportunities during the day. Also, many places have active homeschool coops and support groups, offering their own classes, playdates, and interaction opportunities.  It would be easy to end up out every night of the week with a class or activity, and sometimes we homeschoolers can wind up forgetting that we actually need to be home for the homeschool to happen. 

How do you stand your kids all day?
Some people claim that I must have some kind of superhuman patience to deal with my children all day, every day. Trust me, I'm not a supermom. My kids squabble and fight just like every other child. But I will say this: they don't fight near as much as some families. And it's not because of something I did or didn't do as their parent.  Consider this: a school-aged child spends roughly 5 hours a day being told to sit down and shush, to concentrate on academics, to stop fidgeting, to stop talking with their classmate, even to ask permission to use the bathroom! Is it any wonder that by the time they get home, they are exhausted, stir crazy, emotionally pent up, hungry and over stimulated? My homeschooled children, by contrast, can change positions as needed (and do frequently), get up and move as they want, use the bathroom whenever its necessary without having to ask, take frequent breaks, eat snacks as they get hungry, ask all the questions they desire, and don't have to wait (or at least not often). So they don't lash out, they are relaxed and calmer, and the little fights and fits that come up are the typical childhood issues, worked out quickly and well.. part of the education process. See the socialization question for how. 

How will I know what to teach them?
A typical course of study for children in every grade can be found at .  Actual curriculum can be purchased online, from a local store if available, or at a homeschooling convention or vendor's fair. There are tons of options, and you can even create your own, if you desire. You can use an all-in-one preplanned curriculum, or mix and match subjects to suit your child's learning style, academic level and interest. You can even choose to forgo curriculum entirely and learn through other methods. Specifics on educational philosophies and homeschool methods, along with curriculum options will be explored in later posts. Just know that there are lots and lots of options here.

How do I start?
This depends on your jurisdiction and the legalities. If you are a parent of preschool children, you probably don't have to do anything in particular, really, except plan out what and how you want to teach your children. If you are a parent of children over the compulsary school age (somewhere between age 6-8) or have children already in school, you will need to withdraw them from school. The specifics will vary from place to place, but generally you'll want to send a letter of withdrawal or intent to homeschool to your local school as well as your school board, and get a copy of all school records to date, including test scores and any special notifications (IEP, special education plans, behavioural notices/plans, etc). 

If you are pulling your children out of school, you *must* take time to "deschool". This is a term veteran homeschoolers use to describe the process of adjusting from an institutional school mentality to the attitude and flexibility of homeschooling. I will talk more about what that process looks like in a later post. 

No matter how old your children are, there are certain steps you should take before beginning the process of homeschooling. You need the what and how to teach, and you'll want to set up and gather the supplies you need before hand. This preparation time is crucial to your chances of a successful year, but at the same time, don't get so tied to your plans that you forget about being flexible.  Steps to beginning include: 

1. Observation 
2. Decide on an approach
3. Choose priorities
4. Figure out a method
5. Shop/create curriculum
6. Plan out your day/week/term/year.
7. Gather supplies
8. Happy Homeschooling!

I'll talk about the specific steps in more detail in later posts. 

From a veteran homeschooler to the curious beginner: homeschooling is more of a lifestyle choice than an education. It's not necessarily easier than institutional schooling, though I would suggest it is less frustrating. It is, however, incredibly worthwhile! The connection to your children, the protection and security you can give them, the tailored education plan - being able to challenge their strengths and support their weaknesses, the flexibility for special occasions and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (no more having to pay peak-time prices for those family vacations!): these are just some of the many many benefits to homeschooling. 

You already have your reasons for not wanting to put your children in school. No matter what they are, homeschooling will achieve beyond those reasons, if you are committed to the long-view. I wish you well in deciding what is the best fit for your family!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Drastic Decisions

I am ready to do something drastic. I've spent two years recovering, making stupid choices, coasting, surviving and pulling my head and heart back together after a 10 year roller coaster life. I've spent years reacting and responding, and while a lot of that is my own fault, a lot is not. But now, it's different. I'm in a different place.

Yes, I still have young children at home, but not babies. My youngest seems to be potty-training herself, actually, with very little encouragement or guidance from me.  So diaper changing and nursing every few hours is a thing of the past for me. My oldest is now at the point where she can be trusted to watch a sibling or two for more than a few minutes (though not for an entire afternoon, really) and can be independent herself. I have downsized significantly, so my home care is also at a minimum. I also don't have the outdoor space to care for - no gardens to weed or lawns to cut. While I miss the gardening, I am appreciating the extra time I now have.  

All this to say that, well, I have more time than I used to. And I have more space in my head to think. I don't have some areas to put on my to-do list, like I did once. In addition, I now have a form of child care. Funny how some things become more important to people once they are no longer immediately and continually available. My ex now takes any and all opportunities to be with our kids, where before, for me to ask for child care help was a huge imposition. But this does mean that I can take time just for me away from my kids.

Given all this, I'm not sure what to do. My life has changed, and is changing. But I feel restless at the same time. I don't know what to do with the extra time, and I feel like I need to do something just for me. People seem amazed at what I accomplish with and for my kids, and to be honest, most of the time I don't think about it, but if I do, I frankly am amazed myself.  But at the same time, I feel the need to do something.. just for me.

Perhaps I will look into school or training for myself, and actually start the career I gave up when I became a mother. Maybe a hobby or perhaps I can finally lose the weight years of poor habits, babies and lack of time has heaped on me. Or just maybe.. maybe I will take the time to breathe. To relax into this space. There is no need to rush into any rash choices -- after all, it was thoughtless hurrying that kind of got me into a lot of this.

Time to breath. That sounds really really good. Maybe I don't need to be drastic after all.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Christian Cliche

I am so freakin tired of the Christian cliche.

Let go and let God

God's got this

And we know all things work together for good...

He's in control.

His ways are higher..


Can I just say bull and be done with it? The couple of phrases I listed that are legitimately based on scripture are so taken out of context they are almost worse than the other cliches. But all of them stem from this idea that God is somehow directly controlling everything in the universe. Every little tree falling, storm cloud raining, and scraped knee -- or hurricane, tornado and cancer -- is somehow directly caused or arranged by God, according to this theory.

Which makes God out to be a sociopathic crazed killer, honestly.

This may sound heretical, but I do not believe God is in control. I don't.

Don't get me wrong, God knows everything. He knows what will happen before we do, because He is outside of time and space, and to Him, He can be everywhere, every-when, so nothing is a surprise. But that has nothing to do with why bad things happen, why certain things happen at all, or who causes things to happen.

One of the pillars of my faith is that God is a good God. God is good. I can trust God because I am confident of His goodness. I may not understand everything, but this one thing I cling to. God is good.  So when someone tries to say "We don't understand why God let this happen.. " it makes me nuts, because they are, indirectly, subtly, saying, at best, that God could have stopped whatever bad thing it was, and chose not to, or, at worst, God caused said bad thing to happen.

Stupid Christian cliche!! God didn't "let" anything happen, and He definitely didn't cause a bad thing to happen.

There's a few things people forget when they say these trite phrases. One, God created the world, in the beginning, and after 6 days of work, on the 7th, He rested. No where does it say He started working again on the 8th day. So when He created the world, He made it as a self-regulating, perpetual motion machine, designed to continue on its own forever, without His direct intervention ever again. Two, God then delegated all authority over this earth to His subordinates, us human beings. This means that for God to intervene in this world, it's either going to be at the direct invitation of a human being and a suspension of the laws this world operates under (a miracle, to use the Christian term), or indirectly through other human beings, as they follow His leading and nudges. He will NOT directly do anything in this world on His own. For Him to do that would be to break His word to us human beings -- and then the universe would cease to exist, because it is His unbroken word that holds all things together (John 1). Three, and this is kind of the most important thing to remember, human beings brought *sin* into this world. We broke the perpetual motion machine. This world is now fallen, and falling, and slowly winding down. It is the perfection of God's creation and His love for us that allowed the breaking of the universe to be a gradual thing, not an immediate disaster. Sin should have destroyed everything immediately, but God commuted and suspended that sentence.

But because of sin, our world is no longer perfect, and now things happen that were never supposed to happen. It isn't God's fault bad things happen. It's ours. Either indirectly (because of original sin and a fallen world -- a hurricane destroying someone's house, for example) or directly (getting cancer because you smoked cigarettes every day since you were a teen), bad things happen because of sin. God doesn't let it happen either; at least, not in the sense of approval and permission. God does sort of "let" things happen, but only because He allows us our free will, and He will never go back on that, even when we choose to do stupid, sinful, hurtful things. He will, however, send people who obey his nudgings and leadings to try to stop us, but ultimately, He'll protect our ability to choose to the grave.

Not all things work together for good. His ways may be higher, but that has nothing to do with why something happened. If you let go, God isn't going to do it for you. The cliches are nothing more than  lies designed to keep us passive and from realizing our own power. They can be comforting for a moment, but it's like taking aspirin for a toothache. It may make you feel good for a moment, but it doesn't solve the root issue.

The reality is God gave all authority to us here on earth. We're the ones who gave it away to the devil. Thank God He sent Jesus to wrest it back for us, and through Jesus, we now have that authority back. All authority in heaven and earth was given to Jesus, and because we are joint-heirs, because we are in Him, we also share in that authority. This is why Jesus said we can cast mountains down with our words -- because we literally do have that creation-force, the raising-from-the-dead power at our tongue's tip to use.

Bad things happen for a reason. That reason isn't God. It's sin. It's a lack of recognition of what we have. It's us letting it happen.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

By request..

This may surprise some people, and others may just smirk, but I am not a naturally organized person. My mother despaired of me ever learning time management skills, or even basic housekeeping as a child, and whenever chores were to be done, well.. lets just say I disappeared. 

But I'm a single parent of 5 children. I had 4 children in 5 years. Organization was forced on me, simply as a matter of survival. I never claim to have it down pat, but I'm better than I used to be. And because I'm desperate to catch up on something that I missed out on somehow, I collect and avidly read old organization books, blogs, magazines.. anything that might help!

I found this old book in a yard sale about 5 years ago. The last copyright was before I was born, and cover showed it had been well used. It was a light-blue paperback, with a cartoon comparison on the front cover. One side showed a woman in curlers and housecoat, with a stack of dirty dishes behind her, the curtain askew, a mess on the floor and a squawling toddler beside a broken plate at her feet, with a defeated look on her face, and a coffee cup in her hand reading "Take a Break". The other side showed a neatly dressed woman, hair and makeup done, coordinated outfit, purse in hand, with happy, neatly dressed child at her side, headed out the front door, with a spotless, well-decorated home in the background. The message was obvious. 

Entitled "Sidetracked Home Executives" I bought the book, and put it aside with the rest of the organizing books and magazines I had collected, to be read later. I was in the middle of toddlers, preschoolers and pregnant with number 3.. or was it number 4? My marriage was either in shambles or rebuilding, or somewhere in between, and we had probably moved again, for the umpteenth time. I didn't have time to even try to get help organizing! I was too busy trying to just survive. 

6 months ago, my world changed. Newly divorced, moved into a brand new place, 5 small children to raise, feed, clothe, and educate -- I knew I needed something more. I picked up my organizing books, and this one caught my eye again. I curiously skimmed the first chapter, and laughed out loud! It described me and my tendencies to a 'T'. 

   "We wanted to call this chapter 'The Way We Were,' but since that's a famous song, we 
    figured we'd have to get permission from the writer, and we didn't know his address or 
    even his name. The only way to find out would have been to load all six kids into the 
    station wagon and drive downtown to Leo's Taco & Record Pavilion. (Leo lets you dine
    to music, and if you buy an album you get two tacos for the price of one.) But we didn't 
    think we should risk it. Knowing how we are, we would have ended up listening to all 
    our favorite records, stuffing ourselves with tacos, and coming home exhausted, with 
    a bagful of albums, indigestion, and no songwriter's name and address. There we'd be --
    sidetracked again, doing the very thing that had caused our problem in the first place."

I sat down immediately, (sidetracked!) and began to read. The story of two mothers, with 6 kids between them, overwhelmed by the idea of actually having a meal cooked, a clean home, children with clean clothes, washed faces and being able to invite friends over without embarrassment captivated me. 

The system they proposed seemed simple enough. Use index cards to keep track of what all needs to be done, and when it needs to be done, and put it in a kind of calendar that can be reused over and over again. I have tried digital and paper checklists, reminders of all kinds, but the ease of use Ms Young and Ms Jones' system promised was definitely appealing. 

I gathered the necessary supplies: index card dividers (actually I didn't have those, so I improvised using post-it notes and index cards, a box to hold them in, some paper, and several packages of index cards, both white and colored. 

The first step was to make a list of every single task you wanted to accomplish. Everything. They thoughtfully provided a worksheet in the book, but given that this book was rather old, I ended up writing out my list on a notepad of paper. It took me a couple of days to actually write out everything -- from sweeping the floor in the kitchen, to washing curtains, to sweeping down cobwebs or cleaning the toilet, everything went on my list. My only exceptions were taking out the trash and doing the dishes, because I seemed to have a handle on those. My sink was full of dirty dishes simply because I disliked the chore (hate it!!) and avoided it, not because I didn't remember to do it.

Then I was to determine 3 things for each item: frequency, time it took to actually do it, and whether or not I was the one who had to do it, or could a child do this? Given the time period of the book, they rarely mentioned having a husband do anything. 

The frequency of each task determined what color card it went on. Daily tasks were supposed to be on yellow cards, weekly or every other week were blue, and seasonal, monthly and yearly were on white cards. Each card was supposed to have the task to be done, the approximate time it should take to do it, and the instructions for doing each task on the card. The last was so that you could delegate: hand the card to someone else, and they could follow the instructions and complete the chore. I also was supposed to note whether a card was "mini", that is, whether or not it could be done in 5 minutes or less. 

To set up the box was easy. The dividers were labeled with each month of the year, and then others with a number, from 1-31. The months went at the back of the box, in order, and the days in front of them, again in order. Then you put the current month in the very front of the box. So if it was January the 3rd, your month card would be January, and the first number card behind it would be number 3, with 1 and 2 being behind the number 31 card. Every day you checked your cards, and at the end of the day, moved that number to the last of the number cards. It became a kind of rotating, perpetual calendar. 

Once all the cards were written up (and this was a rather laborious task! I'm not kidding!), I sorted them into the box. My daily cards were in the first day, my weekly cards distributed among the first week, and then the monthly cards over the course of the month. Then I began to try it. 

The first day, I looked at my daily cards. I looked at my kids. I gave each one a cloth, and a different area to wipe up after breakfast, and amazingly, the first 6 tasks were done in 5 minutes! My kitchen, normally a disaster area that took me half the morning to clean after the kids were done eating, was presentable in mere minutes. I was gratified. All that work.. and this actually worked!! 

Then my oldest and I split up the few weekly chores I had scheduled for that day, and within about an hour, all my household tasks were completed. I had to sit down, not because I was tired, but for shock. I now could actually do school with my kids with hours to spare before lunch, and before, I had always felt like it was a mad scramble, that usually ended up with junk food quickly thrown together, cranky kids and a frustrated mom. That first day was calm, productive, and dare I say.. relaxing. 

Obviously things did not always go so smoothly. But I found it extremely easy to "bump" chores over from one day to the next. Impromptu park day? No problem.. redistribute the weekly cards over the next week. Appointment I forgot? (I was getting better at that too!) No worries -- move those monthly cards to next week, or even next month. After all, it had waited this long, it could wait a few more weeks. 

The beauty of the system was the assurance that I wouldn't just forget something even if I did put it off. It was on a card. It would rotate back through, and eventually it would get done! It was a huge load off my mind. 

We tried it for a few months, and gradually, my house actually became cleaner. The baseboards, once never touched, were washed on a regular, if infrequent, basis. The windows got a spray and wipe occasionally. My toilet gleamed, my shower shined, and my bookshelves no longer had an inch of dust on them. The kids no longer wrote messages in the dust on top of the tv, and we could actually lay our hands on the tv remote most of the time (sometimes my 2 yr old still got away with it lol).  

Our school life improved too. Given that we had a non-sticky table, I felt more comfortable doing crafts with them. I knew where the pencils were, and I now had a place for erasers and pencil sharpeners, which meant less time searching and more time doing work. Best of all, the surprise visit by my ex in laws didn't throw me into a complete tizzy, even if my floors were still in desperate need of washing (the card came up the next day!). 

So, given the success in our housekeeping, I decided to adapt the system to our homeschool planning. Obviously, since tasks weren't really repeating -- each day had a different assignment in each subject -- I had to do a few things differently. But the idea of each task to an index card, and a rotating, perpetual calendar, and the ease of handing a card with instructions to a child to do independently, really really was appealing. 

I started by color-coding my kids. Parents with larger families tend to do this anyway, and I was no exception. We all knew that if it was pink, chances are it was my 2nd daughter's possession, and if it was yellow it was the youngest. Every child had "their" color, and I simply adapted them to my index cards. 

I figured out pretty quickly that I was going to need a different kind of storage for my index cards though. I didn't have repeating tasks, and I did need to sort by subject as well as by child, so I found some long organizer plastic boxes, that held a few hundred index cards, to hold the assignments organized by subject, divided by dividers. My idea was that I would, every month, sort into my perpetual calendar, that month's assignments from my "master storage". So each child would have their school days' worth of cards in each day, on their color of cards. Cards that weren't completed for whatever reason could simply be shuffled into the next day's assignments, and if we got seriously behind in something, the next month would make it easy to reset. 

I started my planning process. I began the same way I had with the chores -- writing out in a list every assignment for each child in each subject area. I made notes on my notepad of special things like craft supplies needed, or extra time, or which book was needed when. After all, I was writing each individual assignment on an index card! Lots of space to write here, unlike those little boxes in the planners I had tried before. 

Then came the super laborious process of transferring my lists to my cards. I labeled each card with its subject and I numbered each card, so that if they ever got knocked around, I could quickly put them back in order. It also made it easy to keep track of how many "days" each subject would take to complete, and will give me some feedback on how quickly or slowly we were completing something. If we get out of sync majorly on one subject, it means that I need to re-evaluate what we're prioritizing for a bit. 

I don't do grading -- I homeschool on a mastery basis (my children either get it, or we work at it until they get it), but it would be really easy to keep track of grades and time spent by noting it on a card after it was completed.  I don't know if I will keep my cards after we're completed, but I can see it being a very good way to keep track of what was done after the fact, as well as being an excellent "to-do" list. If I keep my cards, I may also note for future reference what worked and what didn't, so when I'm planning next year, using the same material for the next child, I can make those adjustments without relying on my memory as much. 

There you have it. I may post in future how well it works, but at this point, I'm still in the "writing out the assignments on the cards" stage. I'm on child 2! 3 more to go.. lol. I have every expectation that it will work out very nicely, though I'm sure there'll be a trial and error stage yet, as no school year goes to plan exactly, ever.  If you ever think that something will go to plan exactly as you envisioned it.. well let me introduce you to a fellow named Murphy, and his danged law.. 

One last comment: the unexpected blessings I got when I first implemented this system: the approximate time it takes to do things, and thinking about how I do things. I found I seriously overestimate how long it actually takes to accomplish anything. Because I was forced to write down a time estimate for each task in the housekeeping system, I started paying attention to how long it actually took me to do something.  I have since rewritten some of those time estimates! A lot of my problem in my lack of organization was thinking of everything as this huge enormous monster of a job, and not even starting because I didn't think I had the time for it. Now, I realize that its not "cleaning the bathroom" its "wiping the counter" and "sweep the floor". It's individual tasks, that can be done separately (This may be heresy, but there is no law saying you have to scrub your shower and your toilet on the same day, did you know that??), and may take only a few seconds to actually do. Now instead of ignoring the shoes spilled all over the floor, I pick up the worst ones, and casually kick in that direction the rest, and I know that in a day or so, the chore will come up on my calendar, and my 5 yr old or my 6 year old will be directed to put them all away neatly. I pick up those few pieces of torn paper off the stairs, knowing that in a day or so, the card saying "sweep the stairs" will come up, and I'll do the rest then. I don't start one job and get sidetracked into another anymore... because my jobs aren't as big, and they don't take as long as I once thought. 

I've even been known to have clean sinks occasionally -- because I can do a load of dishes in steps, and each step takes only about 5 minutes! Even the most hated task can be tolerated for 5 minutes... 

No more mom-guilt, and my procrastination habits are harnessed. This sidetracked home executive is no longer (as) sidetracked. 

** PS: I've since learned that this book, and these authors, are somehow related to the FLYlady system, either as the indirect precursor, or the direct developers. FLY has always seemed too advanced for me (how can you have a shiny sink when I can't even get to the bottom of the dishes!?) but this was simple for me. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Finished and final

My divorce was final December 27, 2014.

I moved out of the marital home December 31, 2014.

My marriage is finished. Over. I'm no longer a "Mrs." but a "Ms.". I am a single woman, a single mother of 5, legally and relationally free and clear.

Honestly.. I noted the date, but I never felt any different. It was anticlimatic. I had already felt divorced, known that my marriage was over, and been acting as a single woman for over a year at that point. It was just marking on paper what was already a reality.

But the words are necessary. The words are what made the reality official, legally. It was getting that piece of paper, signed by the judge, that declared me a single woman, that turned my temporary separation into a permanent one.

Legal documents change lots of things. Anyone can write anything on a piece of paper, but have it stamped and sealed by the judge, and suddenly that piece of paper has official, legal status, carries weight, and changes things. With a piece of paper, two individuals become one unit in marriage. With a piece of paper, more money (or less!) is taken off a paycheck, or added to a tax credit. With a piece of paper, someone can be arrested. With a piece of paper, a person is given a license to operate a vehicle. These little pieces of paper only mean something because they are signed by an official, who in turn has a piece of paper making him official.

Who knew words on paper had such power?

Yet, for all the power these words have, the Word has more. "God means what He says. .. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it -- no matter what." (Hebrews 4:12-13, Msg)

The most powerful words in the Bible in my opinion? "It is finished." With these words, Jesus ended millenia of war between God and man, ended centuries of pain and suffering, ended years of disease and disorder, ended the reign of death in this world. When Jesus said this, He completed the task necessary to set us free.

We forget that, sometimes. We forget that we're on the winning side, that God isn't angry anymore, that our debts have been paid for, that the offenses have been wiped out. We forget that death is defeated, that sickness and disease are no more, that all the disorder of this world is done, and we now have the power to make things right. We forget what Jesus meant when He said, "It is finished."

One of the most healing pieces of paper this world can offer is that of adoption. With a piece of paper, a family is created and a child, who suffered from trauma no child should ever suffer - separation from their parents, no matter the reason, is united with parents who promise to love and care for them. It is a beautiful thing, and when it works, when the bonds created by that piece of paper are cemented, everyone around is changed for the better.

The words Jesus spoke are our adoption papers. The separation is over. The new family is created. The children of the devil, traumatized, are united with a Father who has promised to love and care for them, and unlike earthly parents, this Father never fails to keep His promise.

It is finished. We're home. We're free.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

He sees me..

A man I dated didn't see me like I saw me. The first time we met, the first thing he said to me was.. "You are breathtaking."


That's not a word I would have ever thought used in conjunction with me. Mountaintop scenery is breathtaking, swimsuit models are breathtaking, but.. me?

He looked at my arms and saw strength and capability. He looked at my feet and saw elegance and beauty. He looked at my tummy and saw the body that nurtured and birthed five children. He looked in my eyes and called me .. breathtaking.

Over the last 9 months, with his consistent praise of my beauty, my vision of myself has changed. The voices of the past have faded, with this one constant voice in my ear. I now look in the mirror and wonder what happened to the woman that I see looking back at me. I still see the flaws, the unsightly bulges and dark spots and yes.. even that very faint beginning of a line.. I still see the scars. It used to be that these marks were the only thing I saw. They obscured everything else.  But now I see more than that. I see how pretty my eyes are, how they shine with every emotion. I see my curves for what they are, generous and overflowing... as reminders of the overflowing blessings in my children. I see how I am put together in a package that is wonderful and beautiful and .. breathtaking.

Not everyone will see me as beautiful. But the thing is.. those who used to pick me apart now actually seem to admire me. I've seen the looks in their faces when they think I'm not looking. They say I've changed, but nothing has really changed physically. It's all in how you see, not how you look.

I am more confident now. I dress with more care, I take care of myself, I do things that make me feel good.

Because he saw me. Not as I saw myself, not as I had been told over and over and over..

He saw me as breathtaking.