Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More Homeschool Honesty

Prior to home educating my children, I was shocked that others would do this. I even said a few negative comments about home schoolers as a young teacher within the school system myself. When I felt gentle nudges to consider this journey, I researched it extensively for quite a few years. Then when I experienced a particular strong leading that I could not ignore, it had me up awake for an entire night wrestling with God over the situation. For one, I felt skittish about doing something, perhaps yet another thing that was a bit "different" than others and I desired to please people at that time. Possibly I was living more in order to not make waves, but at the very least I needed to learn the lesson of following the Light more than other’s expectations. It wasn’t an easy choice, but soon became a real joy and passion of mine. It was truly just a one year experiment.

So here I am eight years later, still home educating 2 of our 3 children and I realize that some of my happiest years have been when I was teaching all 3 children together. This year is different though and I’m feeling beyond tired and a little bit down. I’m trying to determine why some of my spark and joy is snuffed out and have taken a longer than normal winter break to do so and rest. I’m also doing a study written by a friend Marsha, entitled Sufficient Grace for Home-School Moms. It’s a 40 Day devotional/journal study and it is helping me think on things and recharge my battery a bit so I’ve included her book and link from this site as it may encourage others along the way.

I’ve never focussed so much on being a teacher to the children, but more of a guide for them in their studies and this has never felt like a chore. I was never one to wish our learning time was over for the day, but rather notoriously like a big kid that could not wait for a new day to begin again when it was. Some days now I am looking at the clock and that bothers me, as learning to us has been a life style rather than a clanging bell that rings when the day is done.

I think my answer is plain old chronic pain. The kind of pain that is uncontrolled and zapping my excitement of life as it limits my ability to talk and read and I’ve recently developed all sorts of facial and neck pain. Also, I am missing our Five in a Row days, Ambleside and the countless D’Aulaire and Holling C Holling books read under blankets regardless of how we’ve flexibly made this year work for us. I’m sad about loosing some of the spontaneity that comes along with being more physically able and trotting off for the day or diving into extremely messy art or science projects. I long to hear the laughter like when we made relief maps out of clay and built puppet stages. Now it is winter and I yearn for the days of roasting marshmallows and making s’mores while we do our studies. I miss pretending we are from other countries and eating ethnic foods and taking time out to bake cookies. Frankly I am mad I am too tired to clean all that mess up and that I can’t eat all those foods. So, basically in a nut shell, I am having a pitty party. I am being a selfish child who wants to teach a certain way and am not getting my way due to illness. As much as I try to do this chronic illness gracefully, it still really has the potential to cramp my style and challenge me to move toward acceptance. I clearly need a heart attitude adjustment.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to take a lesson from my former special needs students. I need to dwell on what I can do and not what I cannot do. I also need to set realistic goals according to my abilities and not think so grandiose all the time because I habitually do that and set myself up for failure. I think I need to be content with missing my son with us and just cherish the memories of his messing up our math time by throwing m&m candy at us and just accept our new direction. I also need to take a lesson from my own daughters who seem to be content and just wish to learn together still. So I will brace myself for continued change, watch the girls gain further independence and make the memories we can now. We will listen to more audio books and have the girls take turns reading a loud under quilts. February will bring The Great Backyard Bird Count, which is an annual production here that we all look forward to. Just maybe we will have a few surprise snow days with sledding where I can put my feet up and relax. I guess that’s the point of all this talking in circles. I just need to relax and go with the flow of time and reality a bit. Who knows, perhaps my immune-suppressants will kick in good enough that when spring comes and the peepers call I will be able to do the pond stomping once again.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Carry You

I’ve been looking at a lot of cute blogs out there all decorated with Christmas cheer and here I am posting a song instead and not a holiday one at that. For one, I’ve been listening to it lately, pondering a lot in my heart on God’s grace and mercy that has carried me this past year and another is that the lyrics speak of burdens. I’m burdened for what the season has become and for those around me that are less fortunate or simply hurting more at this time of year for so many reasons. I feel heavy that I can’t reach out overseas to the extent I’d like or even within my own family, our elderly that need help, a touch or even that voice on the other end of the phone that I can so rarely give due to my vocal pain. Though perhaps every little prayer or act can help for the greater good.

I’m also feel I’m carrying a heavy load for my extended family members, which at this point are quite graceful in recognizing my inability to go and do so much or entertain as I used to. At least some of them seem to understand. It effects them and I’m sorry for that. Maybe I’m so burdened as this is the third Christmas since becoming really ill and I now see the celebration through different eyes as well as my Quaker beliefs firming up more through the past 4 years or so, which makes me not want to celebrate in the manner we used to in the past, regardless. It grieves me to see the commercialism and greed when so many have lost their jobs or are going without and realize that I too have been a part of that in my past. I hope not as much now. Even so, this house has too many trees for me to admit in the public domain. Then when deaths occur due to shopping on Black Friday in America, my heart cries a river over what we are teaching this generation to come.

Most of all, I think I just want to break through all the heaviness and remember the real meaning of Christmas and I feel a bit frustrated as that has become so difficult to do in these surroundings with all the chaotic displays, distractions and “have to’s”. But I know what I take my joy in at this time is my belief that one day is not more sacred than another and that Christ’s birth and redemption can be remembered in my heart every day of the year. That takes the pressure off, fills me with hope and reminds me that God really does carry me and catch every tear I cry, as the lyrics convey. Then some how joy breaks through.

So if you are Quaker and viewing this, you may be thinking this song does not seem a bit Quaker nor do I. Likewise if you are Christian and reading some of my words, you may be scratching your head or possibly even shaking it. I’ll get around to addressing my thoughts on that one in the new year as I’m feeling a bit over due there in having my say. But for now as always, I’m receiving the gift of the baby Jesus and the awesome blessing of being his child which tends to beat the pants off anything here on this earth, uplifts me and reminds me there is hope. And one more thing–that is Vince Gill there next to Amy and she remains as good of an example to me today as the first time I saw her in the Lincoln Arena in Nebraska with her first husband so long ago. See there’s enough of God’s love and mercy to go around......more hope people, so won’t you join me in laying down any burdens you may have right now? We are called to do that in every season.

Carry You, Amy Grant

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lighting a Fire

Since I have always believed in what William Butler Yeats said that “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire” I have strived to find creative ways to go on lighting that fire in my children. Unless we find, develop and nurture our passions, we can easily get stuck filling our quota of chapters in a text, lessons per week and well, that leads to monotony here. Yes, school work is not always fun and there are requirements and some knowledge that simply must be memorized in rote-like fashion, but when it all becomes that way even this mama gets feeling a little too listless.

Some times I cure this easily by tossing our book lists aside and allowing the girls to pick their own books according to interest. Other times, they choose a creative art project or substitute a science experiment or topic that they prefer to learn about rather than my scheduled one. Once a year, I even agree to swapping roles for the day and they take turns being a guide and I become the student. That makes for some interesting memories! At the end of the year, it all seems to get completed regardless.

I had no idea the extent to which we lit a fire in our daughters by visiting one of Robert Frost’s homes in Vermont. I’m not sure I could name my favorite poet, but he is certainly amongst them and so we traveled way out of our way to walk his memorial trail, see this house as well as drive into town and visit his grave.

Upon returning home and starting our school for the year, my daughters continued to choose Frost’s poetry for their studies and memorization time. I was thrilled, but since then have been creatively sneaking in other poetry and it has been difficult, that is how enamored they have become since our visit. So, I rejoiced last month my youngest daughter gladly memorized Stevenson’s “Singing” and the older one loved learning Tennyson’s “The Eagle”. I thought I was on to some thing....

When December hit faster than I’d prepared for, they were already working independently on “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” before I even sat down for tea time. I just listened a while and realized they were a good way into memorizing it in full and it seemed to be due to the chatter going on previously about our visit and how one entire room of Frost’s Vermont home was devoted to this famous poem, which was in fact written there. I have to admit it was wonderful to be there and to take the memories home with me, so I let them have their say and it is a fitting choice for this time of year.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Favorite Fall Activity

This is an activity that I probably enjoy even more than my children. This simple box was made a few years back when my son still was schooling with us. It's just a simple thin wooden craft box and we got the idea to paint it various shades of green, more with a bristle stencil brush effect, but use real leaves for our stencil patterns. We continue to take it out each fall to use in our studies of leaf/tree classification. In effect over time, it has replaced our need for local area field guides. I still love the Fandex Field Guide, as it seems the most realistic and visual for children as well as adults that have this never ending love of trees.

Consequently, every fall my daughters collect leaves and we some times go on nature walks to find as many varieties as possible. We mount them on large index cards under a special contact paper and then classify them and give facts on the other side of the card. The girls use these for enjoyment as we just simply love to look at them, as well as quizzing one another on facts about them. To me, it has become a special memory and tradition for the season.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wordless Wedsnesday

Well, almost wordless....I have a hard time with that. This photo shows how fast time goes as it's from 3 Thanksgivings ago. The girls have learned much more since then about Native Americans and the respect they deserve.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Broke My Own 'Lil Home School Rule

I admit it. I was sooo into literature based home education with a mix of Charlotte Mason and Classical Education.......ohhhhh very against sitting a child in front of a computer or dvd program. Well, two weeks ago I went and sprung for Teaching Textbook Math for my grade 7 dear daughter as well as SOS State History for her via computer. I then immediately signed my grade 3 dear daughter up for Big IQ kids, which has four supplemental subjects which includes: spelling, math, vocabulary and geography. I consider the spelling to be her total program for that subject and just add her personalized words to it. The rest is considered for fun or drill work for bad days of mine. We carry on the best we can with other subjects within our philosophy of education.

I did it, and I’m glad about it and have finally tossed out the guilt. I also have a friend that visits periodically to play math/reasoning games with them. My voice hurts, my eyes hurt and I am weary so it is worth it all to keep things going. Fortunate for me, this all arrived in time for a 3 week period of colds creeping around the house and has saved my sanity quite a bit.

It’s an alternate year for us, so I have chosen to set aside our R&S English for a lighter course, but we usually follow than the The Well Trained Mind recommendations. As far as book lists, we pull recommendations from WTM, Real Learning and Ambleside depending on our subjects and interests at the time. For read aloud time, we use a lot of audio books and my husband reads their supplemental living history or science book in the evening.

Incidentally, I also have gone from formulating Individual Educational Plans with specific objectives to much simpler planning through a membership in Home Life Academy. All of this is unnecessary in our state, however I have always felt regardless of requirements of the state or country one is in, there should be accountability. I chose HLA as it is inexpensive and I used it for records, grade reporting and transcripts should I send a child on to school. What I do like about it is they allow for enormous flexibility in individual choice of curriculum and their transcripts were well accepted when transferred my son to high school.

So, here is a glimpse of how we simplified our year. This tweaking normally does not occur until winter hits full force. I think it may be quite a winter!

Math U See (can’t wait for Teaching Textbooks gr. 4 to come out)
Primary Language Lessons
Institute of Excellence in Writing
Copy work for Penmanship
The Harp and Laurel Wreath
Story of the World, vol 3, book basket/activities
Lyrical Life Science, vol 1-2, Nature Journal
Big IQ Kids
Mindbenders Logic A1

Teaching Textbook Math 7
Easy Grammar Red/Daily Grams
Natural Speller 7 and personalized list
Institute of Excellence in Writing
Literature Guides (various guides/own study)
English from the Roots Up
SOS State History
Story of the World, vol 3/Kingfisher History Encyclopedia
Lyrical Life Science, vol 1-2, Nature Journal, Labs-Biology for Every Kid
Mindbenders Logic A3

I currently have the girls together for most history, science, art and music subjects and adjust assignments to their individual levels for ease of teaching and down right putting out fires of jealousy in one another. So dd3 is piggy-backing on some subjects however takes a lot in without being pressured. She recently began our Greek/Latin root study during dd7's review period and now is up to speed with making her own deck of cards. The youngest is learning harp, while the oldest is promising to review her piano skills in order to prepare for guitar lessons. We study one composer per month and try to coordinate that into our history time period. We were doing the same with art appreciation, but it became cumbersome with our curriculum, so we just changed to Meeting the Masters and utilize the prints after study for a keepsake album of art. We continue to do poetry purely due to our enjoyment and utilize The Harp and Laurel Wreath as a spine. They each love to memorize poetry and I allow dd3 to choose from the Grammar stage section and dd7 from either the Grammar or Dialectic at this time. Other times they tell me exactly what they desire out of our collection and I let them follow their own path as I do in other subjects periodically. So basically I must confess our philosophy of education at this time is eclectic. We are in a survival mode as it is not the complete vision of what I strive for but learning is occurring daily and we are still in the game.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Slow in a Fast Paced World

Almost two decades ago now, a very special physical therapist imparted some words to me that I’ve not forgotten. In his strong, booming voice he’d repeat, "Listen to your body baby!" Those were wise words from a man with a kind heart and a great sense of humor. He had a way of invoking laughter in a room filled with all sorts of pain. Here I am today, still reading my body’s symptoms like a book and readjusting life, my pace, and my world as I go along. I’m reminded of Tony and also my daughter’s favorite Aesop fable "The Tortoise and the Hare," with it’s moral: "Slow and Steady wins the race."

I feel like that tortoise step by step as I try to plod along and I have found I don’t need to win the race so much as just get through it in a manner that would be pleasing to God. I’m not the same person in a lot of ways, as I can’t be the same wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt or friend. Frustration rears it’s ugly head as I long to be relationally consistent. I can’t go back to who I was; I am not there but I am here in the present with the Light to guide my way.

I no longer feel that I am missing out too much, but rather find I oddly cannot relate to those who report about long shopping trips, frequent vacations, menus at restaurants and all those "normal" activities in life. For instance, I’ve been in a restaurant only once in the past 3 years and it was a disaster. Now I’m finding the joy in just the ability to eat slowly, swallow simple foods at home and when I hit on some I do not react to with allergy or intolerance it is an absolute delight. Spinach, folks, is an absolute delight, okay? So is creamy buckwheat, quinoa and veggie burgers are a huge bonus on a really good day. So much is unfamiliar that in some ways I must seem a stranger to those who carry on. I have to admit that there are times it is really lonely in a room full of people who do not play water, food and medication games all day long to control pain. I miss my spontaneous ways that used to bubble up inside me, but life does not stop here; it moves forward and so must I. So I must adjust to hearing about normal life and I hope if you are reading this you will understand I will get there in time so don't stop sharing your world with me--perhaps just tone down the descriptions of chocolate and fine wine!

Being slow in a fast paced world can be limiting but also gives the availability to open wide other avenues of experience. Ones that those fast lane movers may miss. I’m finding more of my desires in areas I never explored or just haven’t had the time to in years. I suddenly realize life is short and to my surprise I have some opinions on the way I’d like to spend it. I’ve kicked off my high heels for boots, levis, mineral makeup and thrown out the hair dye and fragrance. Life is simpler and more authentic. I’m enjoying textures and tastes on a heightened level, I am noticing the smallest fingerprints of God in the most surprising places that I overlooked before. He’s in that breeze in my hair, that glance out my window at my children when they don’t know I’m watching, that sunset over Mr.Jonston’s field that I affectionately call my own. He is in the change of the seasons that swells my heart and causes me to praise him and am filled with adoration to see the reflections of trees and light dance across the pond. I see His faithfulness to my family in the old photos I just began to be able to look at again. He is in my bills paid, that night sky that beckons me to my window and in that hand I reach over lightly to hold each night as I drift off to sleep. His provision is more evident to me.

So, I’m no longer that Hare and I’m on a journey of learning to let go, to throw off the frantic pace and unrealistic momentum so that I might just finish my given race in a manner worthy of the calling, the measure of truth bestowed unto me. I can’t pretend anymore to be someone I am not and that part is very new to me. Many a day needs in a family are so abundant I forget to pace myself, I strive to hard and then suddenly within me I know that it’s coming–that familiar welling up inside of me and I brim, I spill over with tears. Even in them I have to feel the wetness on my face and be grateful for it as I don’t generally have a sufficient supply of them due to my disease and a good cry without real tears is simply not as satisfying. These depths of emotions that come and go are deeper and serve as a reminder that I am quite alive each day and there is life beyond each diagnosis.

It’s a balancing act and many days I am aware of my failures, my pain. Then a new day dawns. My bedroom is illumined in sunlight and as I open my eyes up after a night full of tears, I can laugh again that I am really given another day. One more day to just be me; to be transformed, to breathe, and quiet my body, mind and soul and just reach my arms out as a child to the One who reminds me of the real moral to the story in this life. I take hold of what’s given, release the rest and run at my own pace.

".....let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."
Hebrews 12:1

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

Yes, my area is completely over run with deer.

No, we don't shoot them........

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Hope floats
as a wispy seed pod
blown by a child into the air.
Do I blow it higher
or keep it in my pocket
for those dark times
when it slips
and I need a wish,
a hope
to cling onto.
You give and take away
echoes through the ages
though eternal hope remains.

-Jan Lyn Lewis with thanks to Friend Peter Lawless

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Autumn WIld Days, part 2

Indian Grass/Sorghastrum nutans and
New England Asters/Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
in one of my favorite fields

moss, the woods simple carpet....
(yes, I did touch it)
(touched that too but refrained from bringing it home)

White Wood Asters/Eurybia divaricata

Pennsylvania Smartweed or Knotweed/Polygonum pensylvanicum
These are just a few more of our pictures that we captured and added to our personalized nature journals throughout the week as we continued our drawing.
We use quite a few field guides and some online as well, but the books that inspire and guide us the most are listed below. When I became suddenly ill I sold several of them. I have since determined that I have missed them so much and and have been in the business of replacing them since the start of this school year, along with a new set of Prismacolor watercolor pencils. It's great distraction....
  1. Keeping a Nature Journal, Clare Walker Leslie, Charles E. Roth
  2. Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals, Karne Skidmore Rackliffe
  3. A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, Edith Holden
  4. Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Botsford Comstock
  5. Pets in a Jar, Seymour Simon
  6. Girl of Limberlost, Freckles, Gene Stratton-Porter

Autumn Wild Days, part 1

Artist fungi

full of wonder

Black Eyed Susans/Rudbeckia hirta

Cardinal Flower/Labelia Cardinalis

I consider Charlotte Mason, a British educator of the past, a woman of wisdom and way before her time. I try to incorporate some of her methods into our learning here, and while I cannot get outdoors every day I strive to do so as much as possible. Charlotte strongly urged that children must observe nature first hand and I can't agree more. Secretly, if anything drives me, nature does and I will make that attempt to a near by pond, field or woods when I can. I grew up playing in the fields and spending days outdoors and so am comforted by it, the freedom and fulfillment of curiosity that it brings me even now as an adult.

We keep a bag packed full of our journals, pencils, watercolors and field guides with a bit of non-perishable food ready to go out at a moments notice if I get the urge. My old thick quilt is folded neatly in the back of my van to use along the way. It is often there that we sit or lay down and enjoy nature, observe and draw and renew ourselves in the learning process, and like Karen Skidmore Rackliffe's book, I refer to our days of escape from routine as "Wild Days."

One of my favorite quotes on nature study comes from Charlotte's Vol. I, (p.61) :
"It would be well if all we persons in authority..could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they live in. Let them once get touch with Nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things."

When I cannot make it out, we spend time in our own yard or at least the girls do and plenty of it in the afternoons stretching into dusk many days. We do so often regardless of weather conditions and the girls play, take care of the animals and explore the back fields. So for both guide and students, we've found a form of sauntering that we yearn for and connect in together; it heightens our awareness and reverence for life, a wonderful gift.

As my children are growing older, I collect these memories and catalogue them in my mind. When my son still studied with us, we observed a creek at our previous home in every season of the year. It taught us so much about nature and creation, but also it taught us to be still, how to appreciate the simple things like how to get along and love and respect one another. To this day, my son says what he misses now by attending public school are days like this and the teaching of common sense which does not seem to exist amongst his academic world now.

So, I'm glad we have these memories and as we cycle through all areas of science now that the girls are getting older as well, we do not leave our nature study completely behind but cherish some simultaneously. I also must admit that although no one sees my own dated sketches with observations, classifications and occasional quotes and poetry added, they are a source of enjoyment, perhaps that "Motherese" that Charlotte believed would renew a mother. So, unlike other blogs, you will not see my drawings here. They are for very few eyes only. However, our adventures confirm to me that the power of observation is beyond the pages of our books.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Reflections on First Day

Sometimes I relish the simple best and I often like to hear ministry of the very young or from those older than myself particularly. Today in Meeting an elderly women shared her experience of a neighbor inquiring what it meant to "hold something in the Light." For her, she means that she will think about that person, their difficulty and keep them in prayer. She went on to say that she feels so often people have two types of prayers, the "please, please" prayer and the "thank you" prayer. Then she bluntly told us that there ought to be another more prevalent prayer in which one just asks for acceptance of a situation or problem that's been given and the ability to be faithful to the measure of strength given as necessary to endure it. After all my years of hearing sermons on formulas and methods of prayer, reading on many different forms I really thought to myself, that uncomplicated statement held a whole lot of common sense.

Another older man spoke in which I did not feel his main ministry was directly for me, however within it he touched me deeply on another level when speaking on the heavy burden on the country right now with the economy, the impending outcome of the election, various tragedies that may befall us and the looming panic some are experiencing currently. In the wisdom of his years, he briefly conveyed his feeling that tragedies can be opportunities and this is a great time in history to live. That part of his message was hopeful and I shed a tear as it humbled me that I could quietly disagree with part of his message, but feel so blessed to be imparted with the sweetness of the remainder of it. I delight in when the Spirit speaks to me through various means that I would not normally expect.

On the way out of Meeting, our daughters had bags full of leaves and acorns to show us from their nature walk. One of them excitedly reached for a leaf out of her bag and handed it to me as she believed it to be heart shaped. As usual, that heart shape spoke to me and brought me a smile, so did her enthusiasm and her heart decorated socks she purposely planned to wear this day. It really is the simple message sometimes that soothes amidst the start of a brand new week.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

God Bless the Broken Road


I’m sharing this as it is a beautiful depiction of language to me. Actually, I feel it not solely a language but a marvelous work of art. American Sign Language (ASL) is more a deaf persons true language; it is a real language in itself, while Signing Exact English (SEE) has proper English word order. This appears to be a graceful combination of both to me.

One of the reasons I was enamored with deaf studies was that in my free time during university I watched language burst forth time and time again in young children who were enrolled with our current student teachers. It seemed so effortless for them compared to me as a young adult attempting it. It was an alluring, and enticing way to avoid text books for awhile.

Consequently, I minored in deaf studies and learned very basic SEE. To this day, I am not fluent as with any language it takes daily interaction. I can understand it much better than present it. My partner in class was a young man with such proficient language skills and articulation that his deafness eluded me those early days of class. He enjoyed every minute of that secret. I soon found out he was not in my speech major, and attended to learn to sign as he wanted desperately to relate to the deaf community as he was in the speaking community his entire life. SEE was an obvious choice for him as he was fully immersed in proper English word order. This peer made for a wonderful partner because of his first hand experiences he shared. He was my first glance at the complications and controversy of choosing a particular mode of communication for the deaf or hearing impaired.

Branching out into those early days of actually graduating and teaching my own speech students, I had a quiet dream of using my minor some day. It never came to fruition and I had some disappointment and even personal loss within that. I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable with the way I released the dream, and so this song captures more than a romantic love story to me. It reminds me of the journey I’ve been on to find myself again and a connection with the Spirit that is settling my past and has written my future already and a loved ones days. I couldn’t envision a resolve let alone a happy ending, but it has been revealed to me that there is another dream and that I’m just a tiny part of a grander plan that is coming true as the lyrics say. There is beauty in the broken road and I can see that clearer now through God’s art work amongst my own human choices.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Mini Shannon

We certainly have a way of picking animals. It's taken five months now to get this miniature horse calm enough to accomplish this photo, but this past weekend was sweet success. I wouldn't say she is broken or bullet proofed by any means, but my two daughters and husband have worked awfully hard to take good care of her and begin simple ground training.

Shannon is 6 years old, give or take some as she was purchased through a breeder that got her from an amish family. We realize that could mean about anything, but one thing for sure is that she was in with about 25 other minis and a stud roaming around and not worked with at all. So, basically we paid a foolish price to rescue her!

Shannon is a size B pinto, and makes it by 1 inch to spare. No perfect lines or papers here, but a real treasure as a pet. She is strong as can be and we figure she can take the weight of our 40 lb. daughter. We have a small saddle as the girls ride a paint up at a neighbors farm, but Teacup was wanting to ride bare back and I thought that might just be alright as this lady is not used to the weight. Obviously we are novices and extremely naive ones at that as we are still trying to decide if we have a fat mini or a mini with foal. We are guessing a fat mini that needs more exercise and less sweet feed. After hearing the additional fee of a pregnancy test on top of our vet bill, we decided to shoot for the surprise method. So far, no surprise and so we are counting the months until she is out of her window of possibilities so that we feel the freedom to exercise her more.

Shannon's got a long ways to go as we still have the occasional attempt to nibble, butt my husband when working in the field and she is just plain a sassy mare. She definitely needs discipline not to get into our personal space! However, through the fence she is as tender as they come with eyes that can melt you. She is a good listener too and we are whispering her into seeing things our way a bit more. I think she's turning around some, enjoying our company and tolerating being petted and groomed much more than before. She's a keeper and the problem with these minis is they are so cute and such social animals that she really needs a friend. Someone once told me they are like potato chips and you just can't have one, but for now we've got one and that's good enough to practice contentedness with. We originally bought her with the intention of cart training but delayed that thought after getting to know Shannon, so we really never dreamed this would occur. Oh, and see the nice smile on my husband's face? What a guy.....he just had his foot stepped on prior to my photo taking. Perhaps new boots are in order for him.

Monday, October 6, 2008


For as far back as I can recall, I enjoyed the company of those with physical disabilities, chronic illness and learning disabilities. My mother was a positive influence on appreciating others with differences of this sort and often connected me and my siblings with those who suffered. In part, that may be the reason why I was the kid who volunteered to play ball with a bell in it with a blind girl rather than join in with others during my gym class. My hand would raise up rapidly at the opportunity of volunteering my notes and help during school with the learning disabled girl whom no one paid attention to and the ESL students in college who needed further interpretation of lectures and texts due to special challenges. I love how they were strategically placed in my life for my own learning and unforeseen preparation.

It was not for my glory, as time and time again, these individuals gave back to me a greater gift than what I ever had to offer them. Frankly they made some of the best friends and still do. One was thrilled to find she could teach me to roller skate and do it much better than me. Another shared the warmth of her small university apartment when I felt alone on campus and when the bay tunnel bridge closed leaving me no way back home. I found friends this way, shared joys and struggles and was always the one blessed. Little did I know then that I was just beginning to have my own struggles.

We do not have to share the same difficulty to share the kinship and unity offered as ones that deal with challenges whether physical, mental, or otherwise. So many of the emotions of accepting and coping can be similar if not the exact trial and so support and connection can come as a quick gift.

"Off the Beaten Path" reminds me of this different journey, the one that is so often thrust upon so many. It is a reminder to me that I am not alone as well as the alternate usage of the word "beaten" to not beat myself up about my chronic illnesses. They are not my own doing but part of being fully human and living authentically and in some minute way even experiencing a fraction of what Christ did. This is a reminder to me to not make myself my own victim, but to move further to a place where my illness is not all that I am. On the flip side of this, it is a reminder to not allow others to victimize me in this and in that I mean to subject me to blame or all sorts of formulas on how to be healed or worse yet state reasons that I am not healed. We have all had well intentioned, unknowledgeable people or doctors in our lives label us with mistaken diagnosis’ or thoughts as to what the causal factors just may be. Self esteem can take it’s toll with illness alone, without taking on further fallacies. Lingering looks or harsh words from those in parking lots when using a handicapped placard can sting. It’s easy to think of a quick remark when hurt and ones illness is invisible. However through the years I've figured out it is better yet to share a smile and pray that they are prepared for such a time as this if it occurs to them. That’s also when a long look back at some of my contacts through the years makes me feel blessed to know fellow sojourners.

They are loyal people with a certain gift of empathy and sensitivity that have been forced off the fast lane of life. I fall short in expressing my full emotions in this, so much so that it so reminds me of my study of linguistics and learning that words are symbols for things, feeling, and concepts. By attempting to put into words, I limit myself some what on how humbled and honored I feel to know others in this journey who understand without sharing all words. I don’t have to constantly struggle to explain myself and make the abstract concrete with them. It’s already understood. Many have been good reminders to me of the fact that I do not need to seek validation, but accept further and lay it down with The One whom knows me best.

God’s love toward us as humans despite our thorns in the flesh is so cleansing and healing in this battle. The Light constantly illuminates to me that all people have equal worth and all human life is sacred. That place of not always understanding or having all the answers can then become a place where faith accelerates as is that not where faith enters in, that place that involves what we cannot see and some mystery? Seems to me that’s a big part of what faith is all about.

Resting in the Light then can mean more of a gentle striving to listen within the stillness in nonlinear ways rather than expecting a constant exchange. Above all just knowing that the Light is within and a deep sense of Spirit and Truth can be discovered and experienced for us personally. This helps me as it gives me full permission to listen individually for insight rather than focus on the opinions others whom lovingly seem to be experiencing their own answers to my health struggles for me. I can lean on these struggles as part of my Inner Teacher rather than constantly and frantically seek the healing that so many feel should occur. It’s not that I do not believe in healing, but I often believe healing may occur in another area and what is meant to be is quite purposeful and permanent for reasons that remain unseen. I can’t pretend I know the answers, but this is not giving up.

It seems I have effortlessly been given the gift of some people as mentors and even healers. Along with the Light within, these individuals in the past two years displayed to me how to blend illness, faith and lack of answers into a walk that I can embrace more fully. I needed examples as the pain and tears at times clouded my way and still can on some days. I also began to take notice again of the musician Ginny Owens, who speaks with such clarity in her song "If You Want Me To." She strikes that chord in me literally as every day for me involves vocabulary such as "survival" and "relinquishment". Obviously in her state of blindness she came to a place where as she says in "Free" that she is "free to stop bearing gifts as burdens." She sings so gracefully about that and tends to remind me on my darker days that there are still gifts within. I can then accept a bit better and be free in the Spirit to stop my denial, control worry and just remember to go on to live, dance, love and forgive others who do not share the same understanding of the situation I am in. I can relate and even rejoice in the idea of releasing ones self of all those chains as her lyrics exclaim! Above all, I am free to trust that God loves us more that I could ever put into words. Here's Ginny.....she sings it better than I can say it.

If You Want Me To


Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Fricative" Sounds Like a Bad Word

Some words just sound funny. As I went through college as a speech and language major, us girls would get over-stressed and laugh at the term "fricative" at times when our professor used it during the most serious of lectures. In fact, several of the students began using it to replace or avoid a bad word. Memories......

The Miriam-Webster Dictionary gives the definition as follows:
Latin fricatus, past participle of fricare
: a consonant characterized by frictional passage of the expired breath through a narrowing at some point in the vocal tract
— fricative adjective

I love words and find them entertaining. Each language has variants, but in English and what we are concerned with in our own household here is the particular subset of fricatives called sibilants. Here, the narrowing is made by the tongue curled lengthwise to direct the air over the edge of the teeth. Plainly put, we are having major challenges here with the sounds: /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/ and /j/!

It's really no big deal as once one of these sounds are remediated, generally the rest follow along naturally. That's always been fascinating for me to observe in kids. However, our work here on these sounds keeps getting derailed the past few years due to my daughter loosing teeth. By that, I mean a lot of teeth and on the average of four years earlier than children for her chronological age. This is quite intriguing as she is quite small for her years, physically.

Honestly, this is such a common set of sounds to be misarticulated, but this stay at home speech teacher is finding it a more difficult case to clear than my students of the past. I'm confident, due to this little one's motivation this will some day be behind us though. She has breezed through her review of sounds in isolation, in initial-medial-final placement in words and is on to phrases and short sentences at this point.

Of course, none of that matters unless there is full carryover in conversational speech. Luckily, this is one child who never stops chatting all day long. Some day soon we will get there, but every once in a while I think to myself "fricative!" If we could just get beyond all this there would be more time for our nature journals, art and music on the days we do our special subjects.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Peace Fair

We attended a local community's Quaker Peace Fair this weekend and found it quite enjoyable. It was simply to promote harmony in the home, the community, the environment and the world...which is not so simple a task! I could easily see it took a huge amount of planning and coordinating to pull such a large fair together.

They did a fabulous job reaching out to the community with tours of the Meetinghouse, workshops, peace exhibits, an art show and live music amongst other various activities for children and items for sale. My children were thrilled to find that they could purchase an "armful" of used books for only one dollar and I must say that their armfuls were big ones, so I too was grateful!

As usual, even though not feeling well, I made it to where I intended to after hitting the major events and that was through the woods and down along the water. My reward was getting to see three captivating swans whom must have thought we had food for them, as they put on quite a show for us. I've shared this photo as we all decided that the swans were quite in keeping with the intent of peace, as their wings seemed to display what could be viewed as a heart shape and they were such serene beings.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poetry Please!

I very much longed to be an education or English Literature major in college, but for various reasons ended up deciding on speech pathology drawn to the diagnostic aspect of it and the job market. As I began to work with children in the speech context, I soon came to the realization that story telling and particularly poetry had much to offer the language delayed and those with articulation difficulties. The students were thrilled with poetry, with it’s rhythm and rhyme and I soon catalogued poems that had an excess of particularly troublesome sounds for youngsters, such as the /s/ and /z/. It was a wonderful diversion from some of the games and curriculum out there.

Much to my delight, early on in my home educating, I found that although my son did not esteem poetry, but my daughters were drawn to it and memorizing it without being asked. I first discovered this truth while watching them swing while reciting "The Swing," by Robert Louis Stevenson to the rhythm. Next came "At the Seaside" and "Autumn Fires," and our love of poetry here ignited and then broadened.

My observation led me to believe that children are so much more apt to memorize than we give them credit for. They are naturally good at imitation, which for which I try to keep in mind in all areas of development of intellect and otherwise. For this reason, I quickly determined that they needed to be exposed to some of the best examples of language that we are able to give them on a daily basis. It stretches their imagination and significantly enriches them. I adore what Laura Berquest has to say on the topic: "Like any power of the soul, repeated use of the power will improve it."

So, these days my daughters plead, "Poetry Please!" every Friday especially, as they know it is our common practice during snack time to have poetry tea parties. We use real antique china, as it is my belief that everyday is special and we don’t concern ourselves with breaking it! We spread a table cloth on the floor, dish out the goodies and tea, stock up the books and go at it.
During this time, it is for mere pleasure, but having an aversion to penmanship workbooks, we use poetry to practice print/cursive, use it for speech articulation practice and of course to teach literary elements and at times we do memorize it.

Here is our list of favorite sources currently:

1. A Child’s Garden of Verses
2. A Swinger of Birches, Poems of Robert Frost for Young People
3. Read Aloud Poems for Young People
4. Favorite Poems Old and New
5. The Harp and Laurel Wreath
6. Simply Poetry

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Name This Flower Please........

Today was science again and while I like doing experiments with my daughters, I get a bit tired of all of them accumulating around the house. For example, this week we were concentrating on learning the term "osmosis". The potato slices in water vs. salt water was one thing as it was nice and clean looking. However, the raisins soaking for 48 hours in water to convey this idea got gross. By day two when our math instructor arrived, they were huge and floating in dark, murky looking water. So, today we hastily dumped them, reviewed the scientific method, wrote up these experiments in our lab books and moved along.

Although I use a science curriculum and follow along the order of topics, I do not always go along swimmingly from lesson to lesson. I often think of the wisdom of Ruth Beechick's quote, "Bend the book, not the child," and so I like to change gears upon our interests or just spice things up. We all had enough osmosis. So later in the day, it was my quick "Name that Flower" routine I like to spring on the girls. These flowers are our last left overs of the summer, our late bloomers here. I like them as they provide such nice green foliage all summer long and then surprise me just when I think all the flowers are finished blooming each year. Well, samples were quickly cut and put in a vase, field guides flew and within minutes it was determined the flowers were physostegia virginiana or better known as obedience flowers. I like that....obedience flowers, but the girls looked at me as if I played some sort of trick on them and was going to slide into some character lesson! We just sat out in the grass a while and enjoyed them watching the sunlight and shadow dance through the last of the garden. I think we got the name right, but are always open to corrections here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Nature Center Day

When we are able to get out of the house, amongst our favorite places to go seem to be our local preserves. We are fortunate to have two preserves close to our home. One is known as The Watershed and the other is actually a NativePlant/Wildflower Nature Preserve. Both are doing a fabulous job of respecting and maintaining the environment for future generations and also educating so many children and families in the process.

The girls had a great time and returned home to enter some of their favorite findings in their nature journals for the year. I plan on joining them in this journaling as well this year as soon as I get myself a bit more organized and purchase a set of Prismacolors that I have been desiring. My current set of special pencils have become way too short. Here are some indoor photos to view.

Interesting nature items to touch and feel

It was a surprise to find this bee colony

The turtle...a true friend!

Lots of critters to admire and inspire

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chronically Yours

If you had the patience to read my entire profile, you can quickly deduct that I should be used to chronic illness when a few additional waves hit, since I have had fibromyalgia for 16 years. Well people, that’s really if one doesn’t get stuck in denial.....oh say for at least a decade and a half!

I find Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief seemingly apply to chronic illness, and I apparently got stuck. I rather view her proposed stages as emotional behaviors and while they were intended for grief and tragedy of terminal illness, Kubler-Ross applied them to any form of catastrophic personal loss. Chronic illness qualifies on many levels, but eventually one comes to terms of acceptance, and moves beyond. I’ve decided it can and must be lived, but on some level a continuous process this grieving is.

Like many of you, I was initially mis-diagnosed for a several years. So when the diagnosis of fibro was stamped on my forehead, I seriously had my doubts. Now, doubts are one thing, but how I joyfully over looked using a cane with a chair attached to shop while dragging along one very heavy, strong-willed toddler, I now recognize as a tad bit off. Leaning on furniture to walk and clean my home, whizzing through an airport in a wheelchair to greet friends on a lay over and receiving a permanent handicapped placard for my car should have been red flags. All red flags.

Never the less, I pressed on, much to prove to others that I could try to please and live up to expectations, including my own. I worked as a speech-language specialist with huge case loads of children and continued to pursue a family. When I was in too much pain the second time around to bear a child myself, my husband and I pursued the dream of adopting a baby. It was a dream I had quietly held in my heart since a child, but never thought it would come to fruition. Consequently, my illness also became one of my greatest of life’s gifts in that way. When I was better, we gave birth again. I was determined to have a family and wanted a large one at that. I now count my blessings for who I do have as I realize it did not have to turn out so favorably.

The years were unpredictable, but blessed. But hey, I think I’ve just careened through Kubler-Ross’s other stages at a really high velocity since some other stragglers came into being. I kept snowballing these diagnosis’s such as raynaud’s syndrome and picking up other complaints like labored breathing and increased generalized pain. I had lots of mystery symptoms such as disabling gerd, burning eyes, nose, mouth and ear pain. I never really responded to acid reducers and suffer constant gastritis and reflux, as well as spastic motility of the esophagus. I became what seems allergic/intolerant to almost all medication prescribed and over the counter, most foods and so much of life around me that I felt my body was engaged in a war with its self. It was a war no one else, including most doctors could see, which as you all know, tends to create it's own set of issues. I’m sure other sjogren’s sufferers out there can relate to the constant throat and vocal cord pain, burning and choking feelings present. If that does not make one seek God due to fear alone, I am not sure what will! Then came the peripheral neuropathy symptoms and so it goes on and on. Sorry, more than you needed to know. No longer in denial, I took up stock in the kleenex company for quite some time. That's stage is not a lot of fun and while I still dip in and out of it, I recall how much I loved life and now press on in this interrupted life that remains with as much happiness as I can muster.

I’m not making light of the other stages, as I definitely have walked through them and still do. It’s the severity of symptoms that cajoled me out of denial as they stopped me in my tracks. At least I now understand a bit better and I now know the mystery of me, that I have sjogren’s syndrome as well and probably have for 9 years now. It has a name now, but it’s not all that I am.

If any of you attended any of Rest Ministry’s seminars during National Chronic Illness Week online last week, you may know where our hope can come from. I believe in Lisa Copen’s slogan for the year that states: "Hope Can Grow From the Soil of Illness." It is hard, but with a foundation of faith, hope can and does return as one reorganizes and reclaims their own life. I’ve only been able to move on due to my faith and the courageous examples God has placed in my life and am humbled by their existence and help. All of you CI people out there, and you know who you are, have been a gift to me. You've helped me to find time for fun and laughter amongst the tears and to recall that God is good all the time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back At It

Teachers are odd birds in a certain sense, if I may say so myself as one of them without offending. We graduate highschool and are thrilled to go to a university. We celebrate graduation of university and what do we do but declare we cannot wait until September, a new semester to remain in school! And stay in school we do, or at least in some spirit or sense of the word for a life time. It’s never over, this love affair with learning.

My calendar has turned. My year begins and always has in September, rather than in January. I’ve always felt a certain rush, a thrill even after declaring to my husband that this year is not the same, due to anticipation of new medication trials. It’s really not and I have concerns. But on the way home from the doctor early this morning, blaring my radio loudly to block out any repetition of doctor conversation, I began to be infused once more with that excitement as I changed from one radio station to the next searching for that just perfect song to fit my mood. Bad habit. I’m once again, feeling the newness of the year beginning. It is creeping up on me. I’m feeling it simply because I realize that I am alive. I am not done yet with these forever living learning moments.

The school bus is not stopping at my driveway. Even so, it’s the ceremony of new school days here with two daughters who will be missing their brother as he is off to a school with well defined walls. We’ve got blank notebooks to fill, new pencils, traditional photos to take and the expected goodies to start the moment for both students and guide. It is a special day. And yet, isn’t every day important? Do not all of our acts warrant celebration?

So, yes, we’ve begun organization and a bit of book studies. We are busy diagraming grammar, memorizing poetry and yes, attempting to get back into math. This year we have a gracious retired math instructor to help us periodically and to play math reasoning games with the girls that I don’t feel the stamina to. There are harp lessons, piano to practice and animals to feed. There may be even be more animals to feed than are out back currently....time will tell. We are listening to a world history audiotape with our eyes shut pretending we are back in time and planning all the science experiments that we uproariously mess up together. It is the beginning of new memories and new opportunities; a beginning for change. I am humbled and wonder just how much I will learn in the coming year.

I like this little school room with it’s sky blue walls, maps and collections of rocks and shells and all sorts, but we are out of here for the remainder of the day. It’s only September and I cannot remain in the classroom when the classroom is beyond these doors. We are going to hop into the van to take off to a local preserve. I will pay for it physically later, but it will be worth it. We want to declare our goodbyes to the monarch butterflies at the butterfly house before they take flight again this year. I’m not sure how many more days or years we’ve got like this together. So in my mind as every year, I am down on my knees once again whispering the prayer from the Psalms or perhaps it is being whispered to me. It is so ingrained in my mind at this point, it is if I actually hear it aloud: “Teach us to number our days, so that we may present to thee a heart of wisdom.”