Why Work?

Becky Castle Miller initiated a good conversation at her blog the other day.

small melody I asked my three kids (a set older than Becky’s– her oldest is six-months behind my youngest) and they gave the same answers her kids gave: work is for money/food/good things (Daddy) or to make our lives better/healthier/more-comfortable (Mama).

 {I was delighted that they’ve internalized that I work here at home was both work and a benefit to them.}

Actually, that was the string of answers after Melody spouted the first answer to my question: Why do Mama and Daddy work so hard?

Because we don’t!

I hooted, laughed and banged the wall with my hand. I think that’s my griping lately coming back out her mouth. And it’s true.

But after several minutes and variations on the trios of meaning above, I said there was one more very. important. reason their parents work:

We both choose work that we love.Small grinding

I told them, because this is something I want planted deep and firm in their soft hearts, that what they enjoy doing can be a real path to God’s will for them. I asked them what they love, what makes them excited and energetic and ready to jump into a project.

My throat tightened at the explosion of delight in their bubbling descriptions.

“Keep watching those things,” I said. “Ask questions when you meet someone with that job. Try out play that matches what you enjoy.”

The moment passed and everyone returned to eating (or ignoring) their lunch, but the conversation has begun here.

Delight is an acceptable measure of direction.small Natasha


Courage– Revisted

Image courtesy of Colin Brough via stock.xchng

It takes one kind of courage to look straight at  your life, compare where you are to where you want to be, and then dive into making your life the one you want to live.

It is another kind of courage (more in line with General Sherman’s definition) that has us look straight at the cost of something, and choose it anyway.

Both have been coming into play in this “year of courage” (as I labeled 2013).

I have had a string of successes and delights this spring.

  1. I adopted a dog that was just what I wanted (still learning how to train him ;])
  2. We had a family vacation in Hawaii that was almost completely stress-free and got me far enough into my novel that the momentum meant something.
  3. I finished my first 10 speeches to achieve my “competent communicator” award in Toastmasters
  4. I finished my novel last week, and am now letting my story-brain rest, working on non-fiction writing instead (blog, WynMag).
  5. I’m wrapping up a last few editing of WynMag projects and the first issue will go live soon. (And I’m ahead on my submissions for the next issue).
  6. I’ve got the children signed up in a homeschooling program for next year (that we will actually start this summer), so that we have more financial flexibility to explore and experiment with curricula to find what will work best for our family.
  7. We’ve sold the rabbits (most of them, anyway), bringing us down to pet-levels.
  8. Our second round of baby goats is due this week (and we know better what to DO this time, so the enjoyment level will be even higher).
  9. The children will complete their first year of “away school” next week, and I won’t have to be the bad-guy, sending them on with empty hopes that people might change, and the slightly less-empty hope that there’s not many days left.

These are all tied, in my mind, to the first type of courage.

Now comes the second kind.

Image courtesy of Sarah Peller via stock.xchng

In the process of getting healthy on a mental/emotional level, I’ve come to recognize a series of needs that I must not just balance or juggle, but meet.

  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Right eating
  • Sleep

These are the non-negotiable for internal stability.

But having those covered allows me to see there’s a second tier that really enhances the first tier.

  • Clean Space
  • Calm companions
  • Achievable, completable goals
  • Spiritual pursuit (singular)

I suppose having spiritual pursuit in the second category is going to look bad to some people, but it’s true. Until I am stable physically and mentally, asking the hard questions and pushing in any realm that has Deep Meaning is simply asking too much.

One of my biggest problems, all through my mothering journey (I can’t remember much thinking about it before then), was an image of a robot changing its own batteries. That’s how I saw “self-care”.

Continue reading »

Different Kinds of Waiting

The interesting thing about trying to wrap my head around 6-hours of alone time (be still my introvert heart), is the growing realization that “someday” could actually have more time/focus/brain cells than I have now.

You see, I’ve subscribed for a while to the ‘if not now, when?’ and ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person,’ ideas. I’m home with three kids, have been for six years, and expect to be for at least ten or so years more. If something is going to happen (like spinning, or writing a novel, or learning how to cook) it’s going to have to fit in now, because there’s no saying it will fit in better in a year or two.

And I think this can actually create anxiety.

Maybe depression?

Because I am so acutely aware of my limitations. They are so disappointing.

Add to that the growing awareness of needs around me, and I am left not only with a conviction I shouldn’t add anything more (like a dog or milk animal)– no matter how much I want it– but also face the question of how much I can/should keep doing what is already ‘on my plate.’

Image courtesy of Sanja Gjenero via stock.xchng

All those motivational types encourage diving in and doing now.

And just now, just for me, I’m finding that maturity looks a bit more like waiting. Not ten years, but maybe three months.

Three months is not so painful.

It’s like waiting till the end of your engagement, instead of waiting (and wondering) if you’ll ever get married at all.

Because that long sort of waiting has always seemed like a no to me. And when I’m already living with the conviction that the right answer– the answer that includes my obedience– is yes, I’m left with trying to figure out the how.

And, yeah, I think the how is different for everyone. But I’m starting to get excited about what my how could be in a few months– even if it’s just for one semester.

Storytelling Resources for Kids

Today I’m participating in the Ultimate Blog Swap. You’ll find me posting over at Oak Bay Drive about Living my Dream.

Dream-life is not what I expected, but then, I didn’t know what to expect.

At the same time, I’m pleased to welcome focused mama-of-three, Erin, from Royal Baloo to Untangling Tales. I’m excited about her visit because Erin is one of those moms who thinks about specific means to reach her parenting and teaching goals. She’s sharing some of those ideas today, specifically related to my heart-mission of storytelling.

Reading aloud to our children is a very important task – something we are told over and over again!  But did you know that storytelling is also a very important skill to learn?  It teaches kids to be creative and spontaneous.  Stories made up on-the-fly can teach kids about the world around them.  And it’s so much fun!

I have 3 boys (5, 3, and 1) and I’ve found that they love being told stories, but they don’t enjoy the process of making up stories nearly as much.  So I try to tell them stories often.  I tell them about my childhood, my dreams, stories from history that I can remember, and their personal favorite, very silly and completely made-up stories.

However, I really want them to participate in the creative part!  I’ve started trying out a few new methods to encourage them.

1.  Story Dice.
I’ve found a nice set on Amazon, but there are plenty of free printable options as well.  Roll the dice and turn the pictures into a story!  I find these kinds of activities particularly fun because I can’t rely on my standard set of characters or locations.  Many of my stories start off with “Once upon a time a little boy ran into the forest” but with the story cubes I am forced to be a bit more creative.

2. Story starters.
Who doesn’t love a good story starter to help them out of a slump, or just any old time?  I always liked the idea of having a story idea worked out and just filling in all the details.

3.  Create new endings to your favorite stories.
I think the is the most fun because it’s kind of like breaking the rules.  Try to get your kids to think of a different ending for one of their favorite books.  What if the main character didn’t apologize, or what if they didn’t get caught?

4.  Silly sentences.
Being as young as they are, my boys love silly things.  Elephants with mice on their heads and people who walk upside down are just hilarious!  So I love to indulge them with silly sentences.  Sometimes we fill in mad-libs, sometimes they shout out words, and sometimes we just deliberately make silly sentences.  Either way, a silly sentence can turn into quite a fun (and silly) made-up story!

Erin is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mother to her three crazy and energetic sons.  In her spare time she loves to create and be crafty, whether it be sewing, knitting, or photography.  She shares her homeschooling adventures and ideas at Royal Baloo.

Visit Life Your Way to see all of the Ultimate Blog Swap participants!

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 13): Life is working. Even though it’s Work.

So, to follow-up after that peaceful, grateful post about Rest, I realized it’s been a long time since I made a list of the stuff I’m engaged in. When it turned out to be seven distinct items, and I realized it was Friday, I knew I needed to jump back to Jen’s 7 Quick Takes Friday this week.

Here’s my “life activity list” the list in roughly the order of time consumed:

~ 1 ~

Managing the food.

It still feels weird to say this takes the most time.

I think this is because– judging by our stories: novels, movies, anecdotes among friends– food is invisible.  It just happens. I wish I lived in that sort of house/body. But I don’t.)

~ 2 ~

Managing the household and extras

Technically this ties back into the food, since food makes dishes.

Basically anything I have to wash clean or put away, along with the animals and outdoor work.

Now that the snow’s melted I am discovering all sorts of new work…

And honestly, it’s a toss-up about whether #1 or #2 takes more time.

~ 3 ~

Teaching the kids.

Reading, writing and arithmetic are the emphasis, but we also read novels along with books of science, history and whatever else strikes our fancy.

As I have more energy I also hope to do more management-training (items from the previous categories).  Currently I do most of that stuff because the *extra* required to get someone else into doing certain jobs is the extra I don’t have.

~ 4 ~

On-line Stuff.

Reading and writing and listening to music on-line (YouTube). Keeping up with some TV shows on Hulu (Castle, Bones, and Body of Proof).

~ 5 ~

Off-Line Stuff

Reading and writing and listening to music not-on-line.

My current goal is to swap these last two categories in terms of time.

I’ve had a surge of progress on my 2010 NaNo novel, and taken on a reading challenge that has forced me to look hard at what and why I read. I hope it will inform what I write.

~ 6 ~

Fiber work

On the edges of my life (and usually away from home).

I have the knitting I do a couple hours every Sunday morning (during the sermon and Sunday school), and the hand-spinning I do when I’m going to be semi-on-display. Continue reading »

Getting Personally Practical

Sometimes I think the reason I continually return to the idea of Storytelling is because I am looking for ways to  tie my story-compulsive brain back to my real life as the dedicated mother of three brilliant, sensitive children who need me to be connected to them.

So, with this in mind, yesterday I engaged my imagination as if my real life were a novel.

That is, I threw back to my earliest memories (sorry-in-advance to the loving adults in my world; this is not a reflection on you) and looked for concrete things that made me feel less, to feel insecure.

This was genuinely not a pity party. I was looking for specific ways I might be missing to affirm and encourage my kids. I think it could be a useful tool for any parent, I just applied it first in my writing, because that’s where it came naturally.

We had just had a tragedy that resulted in Melody *certain* she needed a band-aid, and as I did not share her certainty, I delayed my verdict to finish my task.

As I wrapped up, I had this memory of feeling completely useless.  Unnecessary.

All my life– including now– I have been surrounded by amazingly competent people.  And all my life– including now– I’ve had a painfully accurate awareness of how small my contribution is in ratio to the needs around me.

*Unnecessary* is a terrible thing for any child to feel.

I was on to the next project before I remembered I’d gone soft and decided to get a band-aid.  So, stopping when Melody walked by (and secretly hoping she’d noticed the interruption so I’d get Attentiveness points) I invited her back to the First-Aid basket where we bandaged her wound.

Continue reading »

Speaking of Homeschooling

Here’s a reprint from about two-and-a-half years ago.  Because the idea of ambassador is one I want to keep in front of me. For many reasons.

I mentioned  that life will be getting even busier soon since school will be starting, then added the clarification that we are homeschooling.

“Oh,” says Person-A, “Will Jay be teaching them math?”

“He could,” I said, surprised at the question and not wanting to make Jay look bad by saying he’s not currently planning on doing any of the teaching.

“I was just thinking he ought to be able to,” Person-A finished.

Then (this was my moment of lucidity) I realized Person-A had just insinuated it took an engineer to teach 1st-grade math.

“Are you implying,” I asked, genuinely hoping to embarrass him, “That I can’t teach 6-year-old math?”

Yes, that’s what he was implying.  He didn’t even try to defend himself.

I was surprised, but shrugged it off.  It wasn’t important to me what he thought.

It wasn’t until later that night, thinking again of the leggy Darwin fish on the car in his driveway, and remembering the sign during voting season for the local fellow I wasn’t voting for, that I began to feel something about our interaction wasn’t right.

And then this morning I realized that I had gone into the conversation utterly unprepared.

I had gone to admire a delicious new baby and prattle family small-talk and keep up positive neighborhood relations.

It was not in my mind that I was entering as an ambassador of Christ, and Homeschooling, and Conservative Thought, and Purposeful Parenting.

Lord-willing, that will never happen again.

I acted as though I was a friend among familiars, being sloppy in my explanations and imprecise in my reasons.  In short, I did more to reinforce any (diminished) view they may have of those things than to correct it.

And maybe it wasn’t that bad, but the problem is that I didn’t enter as an ambassador, aware of what I represented.  If I’d had the right mentality going in, I know I would have done better (If I’d only know this was a job interview…).

I might have recognized the “playing” of me and my ideas before the next day, and maybe refused to play.  I want to think I’d still not be offended (it never serves a diplomat’s goals or purpose to be offended), but I could have been more “professional” and less of an airhead.

Again, not that I’m sure I was the opposite extreme, it’s just that I muffed a fine opportunity to muck up their stereotypes.

And I find that disappointing.

All the same, I haven’t yet learned how to respond politely to subtle insults, and it occurs to me that had I fully known what was going on I might have been a poorer representative of Christ than I otherwise was.

Teaching Writing to Children

So I’ve had two moms in the last month ask me (as a homeschooling mom and a writer), how is it I teach my children to write.

I’ll get back to you on that in 15 years or so.  When I actually know how it is they learned.

In the meantime, I’ll share the philosophy and materials I work from.

Now, I am fairly fluent in writing.  But I never liked to write as a kid. (I hope that encourages anyone who is in despair over her child’s abhorrence.) My understanding of teaching writing was first influenced by Donald Davis’s book, Writing as a Second Language

I never finished it, but the title and what I did read set my mind in a direction it had never been before: to see writing as a completely different animal than speaking or reading. Which I believe it is.

This sense of something different was solidified and put into a usable/applicable for when I read the introduction to Susan Bauer’s Writing With Ease.  In that book she points out that when we teach writing we are expecting the student to learn, not one but, four separate skills.

  1. Generating ideas. Content that will be conveyed.
  2. Translating those ideas into words
  3. Holding those words in mind while they are transferred to print
  4. The physical act of writing them down.

When you have a child resistant to “writing,” a good first step is looking for where in this chain the process is breaking down.

The first book (Writing as a Second Language) encourages “rehearsing” stories in one’s “first” language (speech) before ever taking them to the paper.  In Classical learning this is referred to as narration.  In its simplest (and most accessible) form, narration is simply answering questions in complete sentences.

The words children create in response to questions (for example, about something they just heard read aloud) may not seem particularly original, but certainly at the beginning originality is not the teacher’s goal.  You are working specifically on the second part of the process: creating words that make sense.

This is why the “complete sentences” part is important.  The child is learning sentence structure by example.

Where did God place the man he created?

In the garden.

Can you say that in a complete sentence?  You can use the same words I did.

God placed the man he created in the garden.

In fact, by getting in the habit of using the words he hears to re-frame the answer, the student is practicing #3 along with #2.

With my girls I use the workbooks Bauer developed to accompany the text I read at first.

The workbooks are not essential, but they replace the planning that I would otherwise have to do myself, and so I find them *absolutely* worth the $20-30 they set me back. (Not forgetting that I can use them for each of my kids if I continue in this method.  Copyright permission clears each book for an entire (single) family’s use.)

The other resource I’ve found useful is the English worktext put out by the same publisher we buy our math curriculum from– BJU Press.  Natasha isn’t using it this year, but did last year, and I was impressed with how systematically it worked through the basics in her 2nd-grade text.

She wrote her first personal essay last year, following the step-by-step instructions as guided by the curriculum.  She couldn’t hardly get through a sentence without a giggly-happy squeal of “I’m writing!” Because it’s a big deal to her to be like Mama.

And there’s the motivating bit about enjoying writing, or words, or Story, yourself.

Kids learn what’s “normal” through observation.  If they regularly see you writing (or reading, or singing or dancing) and enjoying it, finding value in it, that will increase its value in their eyes.

My children may not see it (writing) as important as I do, but between reading and writing, I have what I want most for my kids at this stage in their learning: they are not afraid of language.

Yes, Natasha learned to read without really trying, but, as we guessed in that blog post, the “different minds working differently” means we weren’t surprised when our other two were (are) different in their learning to read.

The wonderful thing is that the younger two– for whom reading is a harder slog– are enough in love with Story that they are not driven away from all print by their hard road.  I’ve known kids (it made me sad) who had no interest in stories because they were too much of a reminder of their struggle.

Elisha and Melody are both so wired for story they’ve got steps #1 & #2 just *nailed.*  Even #3 isn’t that far away.  So, as a rule, I encourage storytelling, and have them practice their letters, either with tracers or copywork.  They get to advance (grow in strength) in all the steps, even if they aren’t doing them all self directed yet.

We have plenty of time.  And especially with their prolific storytelling and spontaneous narration, I expect a time will come when they’ll want to record their visions to hang on to.

At least, that’s what happened to me.

Girl Stories

I am a female novelizing fairy tales, with the goal of publication.

I have two daughters, ages 7 and 8, who love stories and princesses and “glamor” and dressing up.  They talk about  the man they’ll eventually marry (though they acknowledge they might not know him yet), and the sort of choices they’ll make when they’re mommies (some like mine, some different).

So discussions about “gender inequity” in stories and challenges like the Bechdel test intrigue me, as a woman, a mother of girls, and a storyteller.

But I sometimes wonder how much I actually care, since some of this is choosing where to look, and some of this is having enough hope to look in the first (or second, or third) place.

Now, to start with, I’ll be the last person to argue that there aren’t more male-centered stories.  That’s not my point.  What I think when I look at the list of movies that “don’t pass the test,” (that is, they don’t have two or more named female characters talking with one another about something other than a male), I don’t think, The slimeball writers left out the women!

I ask, Was it a good movie/story anyway?

Maybe I’m a storylover first and a woman second.

Maybe more than seeing surrogates for myself or my daughters in interesting/tragic/life-threatening situations I want to have an emotional journey.

I want to experience things I’ve never felt before, find words or images for something previously ineffable, or relive something that is over but an exciting memory.

So I watch Lord of the Rings, Stranger than Fiction, or a romantic comedy for an echo of that unexpected spark that surprised me when I first realized I loved the man I ended up marrying.

As an adult, I’m not particularly looking for “role models” or ideas for relationships or interaction.  Ms. Bechdel’s test is an interesting piece of trivia, but not relevant to my storylife.

As for my girls I’ve never had the illusion that they will find adequate role models from movies. When poor choices are in front of our eyes we pick them apart, discussing motivations, connecting cause and effect.

Yeah, being the children of a storyteller can be hard sometimes. For the record we actually don’t pick stories apart that much, but when anything seems settle really deep we try to make sure it settles in a healthy context.

So I suppose that has never been a pressure in my mind.

I don’t feel bothered by their attraction to beauty or babies or the ideal of marriage.  It is the life I hope for them: one where they are happily married and raising a family.

Statistically that’s what’s going to happen anyway, so why not prepare and make it something to look forward to?

We are surrounded by hard-working, kind-hearted women who know how to listen and how to speak.  These are the role models I want all three of my children to key off of.

But what about the stories?!

Yeah, I have a collection of those, too. Mostly picture books, because that’s what I’ve spent to most time with in recent years,

They tend to be traditional so they conform to some *tsk*tsk*able norms (daughters suffering for a father’s “sin”?) but I roll with because every story needs an inciting event.  And girls will always be surrounded by people and circumstances stronger than themselves.  I feel it’s more important what they do next.

And, yes, in a significant number of these stories the girl has help.

I’m glad for that: I never want any of my children to assume they have to do enormous tasks in isolation.  I pray they will always be surrounded by healthy, loving people who with share their burdens.

Most of those next time.

My list begins (and some commentary):

Continue reading »

Staying Happy

I started writing a different post, about what I would change if I didn’t “owe” anyone, if I were free to be self-centered and do whatever I want to do.

Then I realized, I kinda am.

That is, unlike the people I genuinely pity, I really am living the life I want to. And it’s not easy.

So I didn’t pick an easy life.
Moving on.

This brilliant (unpublished) post enumerated the three directions I feel pulled in, and I said–

What? My world’s falling apart over three things?

Now, granted, my world was not falling apart (just my focus), and there are a LOT more than three things on my mind right now (each category has numerous subsections), but to see clear sections has settled me down, and I’m back to believing I have a reasonable number of things to manage.