Saturday, January 4, 2020

Talking to myself in the shower (again)

I can’t be the only person who has conversations (or let’s be honest, arguments-that-I-win) with imaginary people while taking a shower, right?

For this morning’s installment, I was a high school teacher again - talking to parents at Back-to-School night (an event that was universally dreaded by all us teachers in the math department - introverts and extroverts alike. (Though, I think we fit the stereotypical mold of being introverts.) All we had was 10 minutes with each of our classes' parents to share what we do. But honestly, when you teach math most parents know what you do, and they just want to corner you into talking about their student. So imagine a bunch of introverts doing their level best to fill 10 minutes of time with meaningful information to avoid one-on-one talk with a bunch of strangers, and you’ll understand why we were always stressed out about this event.)

In any case, my talk went something like this:

“Hi, good evening everybody. Thanks for coming out tonight. It’s been great meeting your students and I think we’ve gotten off to a good start. I’ve even heard from a couple students that they feel like they are "getting" math for the first time ever! Which is all very good and if it’s because of me then *patting myself on the back* Go Me!

[we all chuckle here, because honestly, that's kinda ridiculous]

"But really, I don’t put much stock in these kind of comments anymore, for two reasons: First, I’ve noticed that many of these same students are floundering at the end of the year, and I’m still doing what I’m doing. Which could mean that I’m being ineffective, but I really think that something else is going on. Which brings me to my second point: neuroplasticity.

"See, at the beginning of the year, we’re mostly reviewing math from the previous year. The kids who already understood this material see this time for what it is: review. But the kids who struggled with these concepts before are now finally “getting it”. They may understand that we’re doing review but back when these concepts were first introduced they were like square pegs trying to fit in all the circular holes in their brains. And if you ever believed that your kid’s brain was full of holes, you will see that this makes sense.

[insert parental chuckling here]

"But here is where the theory of neuroplasticity comes in. Neuroplasticity says that our brains *actually*, physically change in response to new stimuli. There is research that shows that the brain physically rearranges itself in order to learn how to read.** At first, these square concepts hit the round holes in the brain. But over time, the brain reshapes itself into square holes! For some kids, it can happen right away. But for other kids, it can take weeks or months (like a summer holiday, anyone?). But the point is, the brain CAN change! And it DOES. It just takes some time.

"What I really find fascinating about this though, is that when we hand a kid a “square” concept - like a new math algorithm, or whatnot - a neurotypical kid can look at that, discover that it’s “square” and then reshape their brain into square holes. We hand them squares and they say, “Ooops. I need square holes to fit this in.” So what then happens with a kid who is neuro-atypical? Do we hand them squares and they think they’re getting carrots? Or do we hand them square pegs and that is what they receive but it’s all kinda overshadowed by the fact that the square is covered in purple and screaming like a banshee?

[and here I start to sing]

"It was a one-eyed, one-horned screaming purple algorithm…

"I mean, that would be a lot to process!”

And (blessedly) that’s as far as I got before my two-year-old came knocking on the door, looking for “Mommy!!” *sigh* Shower time over. But just as well, I was running out of material. And, as we all know, you don’t want dead time when you’re talking to parents on Back-to-School night.

**I learned this from the book “Proust and the Squid” by Maryanne Wolf

Friday, August 9, 2019

Plan Your Year vs. Put Your Year on Autopilot: my thoughts and a review

I was given an advance copy of Pam Barnhill's Plan Your Year in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review or compensated in any other way, and all opinions expressed are my own.

So the other day an Instagrammer asked, “If you were a teacher before homeschooling, why did you decide to homeschool your children?” There were lots of answers that I held in common with the other respondents, but I had to be honest and say that, well, God kinda made up my mind for me.

So once the decision was made, my next question became “How do I plan for this?” One might think that my background in education would more than prepare me for the task at hand, but really, it did not. I never had to pick my curriculum, I never had to teach more than one subject! Plus, I had always joked that there was a reason that I taught high school and not elementary - after 56 minutes I could say, “Bye bye!” and start with a new, fresh batch of students. (In retrospect, this is probably not a good reason to state out loud.)

Thankfully, a benefit of being slow to make a decision was that I was able to learn about many different resources for new homeschoolers - chief of which was Pam Barnhill’s book: Plan Your Year. I used her first edition of the book to plan our year when we were still “playing” at homeschooling (because our oldest was still just in preschool) and it was a wealth of information. Then over a year ago, Pam released her “Put Your Homeschool On Autopilot” course and I decided to give that a shot, since this would be the year that we would no longer be “playing” but doing this homeschool-thang for real.  And that was a good decision. Using her e-course was instrumental for me having the confidence to tackle this past school year with a baby, a preschooler and as a “first-year teacher”. Because if there’s one thing that has helped me by being a former public school teacher, it’s this: I *know* what being a first-year teacher is like. (Spoiler alert: It’s not easy.)

In my opinion, the “Autopilot” course was mostly her e-book read aloud, but I think that was its strength. I liked having each chapter broken down into “module” form, with corresponding worksheets. I liked listening to Pam’s southern accent. And I knew that if I worked each module from beginning to end, I would have my year all planned out.

Then I received an email that Pam was releasing Plan Your Year, 2nd edition - with more material, more contributors and new snazzy forms! So how did it stack up against the old book/online course?

Well, Pam herself says, “PYY includes more options and spreads a wider feast of ideas about homeschool planning so you can pick and choose. Autopilot is video-based and hyper-focused on one method of planning that will help you plan an entire year in a few sittings. All of the material in Autopilot is included in Plan Your Year -- you just have to hunt for it.” This is 100% accurate. I appreciated reading the guest contributors’ ideas in each chapter (my favorites were Amy Milcic’s “How to use a Homeschool Vision Board for Inspiration” and Mystie Winkler’s “Break Week and Why It’s Vital to Your Sanity”) but in some ways the “wider feast of ideas” actually made it harder to digest.

Maybe Pam noticed this as well because each chapter closes with Action Items that are clear and concise, along with the corresponding forms. I found that when I got to these Action Items, if there was any lingering confusion/overwhelm from reading the "wealth of ideas," then the list brought things back into focus. Ah... peace and purpose restored.

And that’s really the point right? I’m planning the year so I can have peace that what I’ve chosen will accomplish the purposes I’ve set out for it. To that end, Plan Your Year is an excellent resource for the new homeschooler, or the “I’m-wondering-if-I’ve-really-got-this” homeschooler - and I’ve been both.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A Few of My Favo(u)rite Things...

This afternoon as I was sipping my drink, I thought it might be fun to share some of the things that I really look forward to having whenever we come to the UK. They are mostly all food, because well, I like food. And drink. (It explains why I'm nearly always heavier when I come home than when I leave... though the last time we came it was a lot more pleasing to my ego to say that I was heavier when I left because I was pregnant. Yeah... all those pounds I put on last time were *totally* normal pregnancy weight gain pounds. Totally.)

1. All the elderflower things

Elderflower! So exotic, so beautiful, and in the summer, in so many things. My perennial favorite is BottleGreen Sparkling Presse (water), but this summer saw the addition of Gooseberry and Elderflower yoghurt. These are dessert to me, and probably the main reason for my weight gain since I tend to sneak one every night after the kids are in bed. (ha!)

2. All the rhubarb things

Speaking of yogurt... every summer I've come here I've always been able to find rhubarb yogurt. This summer it's been a bit more difficult (guess it's going out of style) but Waitrose pulled through with their rhubarb and custard flavor. Readers from the midwest might be puzzled by this rhubarb-obsession, but I'll clarify that when I visit my parents (in the midwest) I like my rhubarb there just as much. For some reason rhubarb is just not to be found in California - or when it is, it's like, $6/pound. So more often than not, it's a delicacy to be enjoyed when I travel. And here in the UK, you can find it in yogurt, juice, popsicles (they're called "lollies" over here), crumbles, jams, gins and ciders.
And sweeties!
3. Tea and scones
I would say that tea is a actually still a new-to-me thing. Coffee was my go-to drink in the morning, but when I got pregnant with E my taste buds changed and tea was put in the rotation. Now I'll enjoy both, but tea is what I drink regularly. The nice thing about that is there is no shortage of tea around here! Plus, since there's less caffeine in tea, it feels perfectly natural to come in from a blustery day outside and fix myself a cuppa. Pair it with a fruit scone and watch me do my happy dance.
I do. 1 sugar and a splash of milk. Ta.
4. British strawberries
Fresh from the farm, plump and sooo juicy. The first time I had these was when my high school choir and I toured the British isles. Our director made the tour bus pull over when he saw a roadside stand selling the little rubies, and then a bus full of (always) hungry teenagers descended upon the fruit. Mmm... so good. We're lucky that when we come back to visit, it's almost always in the summer and therefore always during strawberry season.  I think there is a reason my kids are "fruit bats"... just look at this face.

5. The scenery
The one non-edible on the list - but how could you not love these views?

I wish I was a better photographer! But I hope some of these suffice.

Have you been to the UK? What are some of your favourite things? What did I miss? I'm still here for a bit, so let me know so I can check it out myself... :D

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Doin' That One Thing...

The internet seems to think that Eleanor Roosevelt said the following:
"Do one thing every day that scares you."
Despite the fact that this sounds very much like advice someone would give at a modern-day graduation ceremony, and not something that someone from late 30's/early 40's would say, it's still a sentiment that I get. We gotta stretch, we gotta grow - otherwise life looks a little bleak, floating down the stream with all the other dead quitty fish.

Well, I'm proud to say that last week I took this advice to heart and I *did* do something every day that scared me: I drove a tank van in England. I drove it on the motorways.
On the left.

I drove it on the A-roads.
On the left.

I drove it in town.
The "L" is for "learner", not left. But still!

And I drove it on crazy small country lanes, that inexplicably, are still considered two-way roads.
Photo credit: this guy. Read his post. 100% true. 100% funny.
And now my heart is prone to palpitations. BUT. I. DID. IT. With only a minor loss of paint and t-shirts due to excessive sweating.  And (unfortunately?) I will have get to do it again next week, and the week after.
But you guys, I/we are having a good time so far! We're staying at a lovely cottage (complete with No shower!)

We found a super awesome playground.

We took the train to London and saw Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace

But, alas, no Big Ben

And the weather has been 100% totally British!
Clouds for days... :)

I hope to post more soon, but I will at least drop this post here now to say, "We're here! And we're doing well!"

Except for my heart. That poor thing needs a vacation.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

When Survival Mode Meets Lent

I've been plagued by feelings of inefficiency this week. (Of course, by "this week" I mean "since Fire Baby was born" but you know,  let's not exaggerate here). More and more I'm becoming aware of the Things-I-Should-Be-Doing but for whatever reason am not, and it's got me down. Things like: meal planning, reading actual books, getting steps, drinking water, praying, smiling at my kids/spouse, planning ahead... I feel like I could go on, but even as I create this list my brain is seizing up.

And that's my problem, I have a thought, "Add this to my shopping list/calendar/to do list" and before I can write it down, I forget. Both to write it down and to actually do it. Oftentimes, the reason is a kid's need. But if I'm being honest, many times it's also just me being distracted. So I'm making my way through my days getting the stuff done that needs to be done (eat/wash/school/buy food/sleep (ha!)/repeat) but never making any headway on those "things that need to be done" (see above). The treading water metaphor comes to mind.

This is why I'm so grateful for the time my husband gives me on Sunday afternoon. I can do my  "Scholé Every Sunday" or just catch up on that nagging stuff. Unfortunately, more and more my Sunday afternoons are spent doing business, and less and less being spent on scholé.

I've already cleared some commitments off my plate - ones that clearly needed to be passed off for my health and family's happiness - but once you've done that, what else do you do? Just wait for the baby to start sleeping through the night? For the oldest child to turn 10 years old (the year when it supposedly "gets easier" according to this story) Ever since my 40th birthday this past February it's become a more and more urgent thought that I need to "get on with this" and not wait for some mythical day where everything's perfect, and the meaningful things in life happen consistently and with a cute mug of tea in hand.

(Though if the meaningful things do happen you can still have the cute mug o'tea)

I guess what I'm trying to say here is:
1. I feel old.
2. I feel tired.
3. I feel bogged down with the demands of life.
BUT I'm going to try very hard to not let these thoughts get me down.

It's also why I was so very grateful to find Ginny from Not So Formulaic and her Lenten study.  Her insight that "our Lenten obligation is in many ways met by the vocation of wife and mom," was the grace-filled word that I needed to hear. Lent this year arrived in the thick of all the feelings that I already had about not doing enough. I was (am) living in survival mode, and now, somehow, I have to do more? Pray *more*? Give *more*? Fast *more*? Well, yes... but No. I'm already fulfilling many of the obligations of Lent simply by being a mom of littles who are still quite dependent on me for everything. Instead, I needed a mind-shift: Lent is about "remembering ourselves back into the love of God" (a line from Laura at Mothering Spirit - who also spoke grace-filled words that I needed to hear). And remembering sounds like a spiritual practice that I can do.

So this Lent I've tried to remember the things that matter and move forward no matter how imperfectly I ended up doing it. Some weeks I woke up early and prayed a rosary (half-asleep with a recording - but a bad rosary is better than no rosary, right?) Some weeks I served my family by actually filling out the meal plan in advance. Some days I was able to fast from complaining (and some days not so much). Every Sunday of Lent I've done my "Every Sacred Sunday" journal and a little reading before doing the fiddly business of errands and such. Upon reflection, I see how God has used this time to lift my head from staring at my feet on the treadmill/waters that surround (choose whichever metaphor you prefer). It feels like coming up for air and finding myself inside the glorious lightness of grace.

God is good.

So good that as Lent comes to a close I'm finding myself thinking that the things I've "given up and taken up" I will continue to take up and give up. I'm not looking forward to Easter so that things can go back to normal. (Or as my son asked earlier this week, "When Easter comes can we give up Lent?") I'm looking forward to celebrating the Life Abundant that Jesus Is. You've read it here first: this year may go down in the books as the year I learned that Lent need not be dreaded. Which is good, because dreading something takes a lot of energy and now that I'm on the other side of the hill the words of Kimberly "Sweet Brown" Wilkins come to mind...

"Ain't nobody got time for that." 😎

Sunday, November 11, 2018

7QT - October - The Month That Would Not Stop

Well hello there, Internet Friend! Is it already mid-November? Not yet? That's good. Come in and sit down (you don't want to be outside right now anyway) and have a cuppa. Let's catch up!

I'm actually really glad to say that I survived October - there was just Soooo much going on. And most of it was really good! I picked out some of the highlights to share, and included a zillion few pictures as well because that's what we're really here for, right? But of course, since this is a 7QT, precedence says that I will not be able to fill all 7 takes with things from October. Thus, a few things from November fall in here too.

1. I got remarried! the same man. :)
Ain't he good looking?
We celebrated 10 years together this October and decided to have our marriage blessed by the Church to observe the occasion. In Church terms this is called a "convalidation ceremony" since the legal marriage already took place, and this was to make it a sacramental marriage.

I didn't expect to be quite so emotional this time around... but as I was in the back waiting for the ceremony to start, our lovely musician started to sing Ave Maria and I was overcome. 10 years has brought a lot of meaning to the words, "in sickness and in health, in good times and bad" - but time and again, God has proven faithful, and we in turn strive to emulate that faithfulness.

And yes, my guys wore kilts... how could they not? My husband and the Fire baby wore a McKenzie and the Little Dude wore Royal Purple because there was absolutely no other way that he would have worn a kilt unless it was his favorite color. We do what we gotta do (to get the pictures that we want)!

2. Fire Baby turned 1!
His birth last year rather eclipsed *our* anniversary (the nerve of that kid!), so this year our anniversary kinda overshadowed his birthday. But only a little! Cause this little man is cute, and we hadn't had quite enough cake yet.

3. On a related note, you may have heard that Northern California is on fire again... it is just awful. The fires this year are actually quite far away from us, but the smoke these past few days has been as bad as it was when the fires were actually *here* (which must speak to how bad the fires are up north!) All of this smoke and ash is getting lots of folks worried about what it is we're breathing in, and how it will affect us - so when I heard about the B-SAFE study out of UC Davis, I had to sign up. I am 99% sure that last year's fires had a direct impact on why the cute guy above arrived when he did, so I definitely wanted to make my contribution to science. It was kinda fun! I filled out pages and pages of questionnaires on the pregnancy, the birth and post-birth; and a nurse came to our home to get bio-samples from me and the little guy. Since our wee girl says she wants to be a "scientific researcher" when she grows up, I thought she would be interested in watching the nurse at work. And she was... until the needles came out. But even then, she was quite fascinated with how many vials I had to fill, and why the blood was flowing into them, etc, etc... I'm pretty sure after that visit I got to check the "science" box for our homeschool day. (Plus, they tell me I'll get a Target gift card as compensation for my time, so win-win!)

4. October was also the month-of-many-visitors! My parents and father-in-law came for Wedding 2.0, as did some dear friends.

This lovely friend was also pregnant at our first wedding!

And I also got to meet an internet friend, IRL - though our visit was so short it almost didn't get documented! (Consider this the documentation, because the pictures are on her phone 😂 ) Megan, I hope we'll get to see each other again - long enough to let the kids out of the car and play a bit! ;)

5. And of course, October is the month of pumpkins and trick-or-treating! This was the first year that I can confidently say that the kids had a full understanding of the holiday -- they were sooo excited to go trick-or-treating! The girl because she wanted the Switch Witch to bring her an amazing Lego set (keep dreaming hon) and the boy because, well, "I don't want toys. I want candy." He's a straight shooter, that one.
He's Elsa and she's a "Kittywings Mail Carrier". I'm their mother!
6. Ok, well, she didn't have to dream for too long - since she turned 6 less than a week later and got the Lego set of her dreams (mostly).

She also got a cake with Daring Do on it. (And Daddy says making that happen was was the best $30 he's ever spent. 😏 )  I'd love to wax philosophical about how my baby girl is 6, but truth be told, that may have to wait for another day when I have a bit more energy. These 7 Quick Takes are hardly ever quick!

7. And they hardly ever stay on theme! So for my parting take, I offer you a suggestion for this Friday's feast of St Margaret of Scotland. Typically I've made a steak pie for the day, but since this year her feast day is on a Friday (and we abstain from meat on Fridays) we're going with a classic Scottish dish: the Macaroni Cheese pie. I know what you're thinking: noodles in a pie crust? With cheese? But like other Scottish delicacies (i.e, the deep fried Mars bar, haggis, and chip butties) you can't knock it till you try it. And don't forget to say your grace after the meal when you're done! (h/t Kendra Tierney) That's what St Margaret would have wanted.

Head over to Kelly's for more 7QTs (and possibly some better recipes and/or laughs) 😄

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wait. Why am I Catholic again?

“Oh! You have a blog? What’s it called?”

I think I had trouble answering this question even before last week. You know... you start a blog and come up with what you think is a really clever name, and then the longer it’s around the more you wonder, “Why in the world did I think *that* was a good name??”

Then the news breaks from Pennsylvania of the truly horrific crimes perpetrated by members, nay LEADERS, of your very church and it gets me thinking again: Wait. Why am I “Catholic Again”?

Is it because of a priest? Is it because of the Church? The Pope?

Well, yes… and No.

My experience and encounters with God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - can’t easily be separated from the people who were “there when it happened.” I was baptized by a priest, received first Holy Communion from a priest, was sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit by a bishop. A priest hears my confession. These are all big things!


No one else was there when I heard God ask me: “Will you give this up for love of Me?”

No one else felt the joy in my soul when I realized, and accepted for myself, the Jesus died to save me - a sinner - and that He loves me!

No one (or maybe very few people) look at a hot air balloon and see an answer to prayer. But I will always be reminded of how God answered a special (but by no means, unique) prayer of mine.

The Catholic Church may have been a mediator in the big events of my faith life - but it has not ever been the determinator of my faith life. Which is to say, I am not Catholic because of the church. I am a Catholic because I love Jesus and I do my best to follow Him.

But some would say, “How can you stomach even being a part of an organization that harbored such predators?” And to be honest, I can’t. I’ve been feeling nauseous, losing sleep… and trying to live a normal life taking care of my family and myself. (This is *nothing* compared to what the victims have endured). But something a fellow blogger wrote really resonated with me: she said (and I’m paraphrasing), “When someone breaks into your home, you don’t just abandon your home forever. You get the police and you clean out the burglars. You fix the damage. You make it a safe place again.” That’s the only response that makes sense to me. Yes, I’m angry and want nothing better than to flip some tables or call down some Holy-Spirit-purifying-fire -- but if I do it only out of anger, I’m in danger of falling into sin myself. (A brilliant little Twitter thread about this is here: Secondary battles)

It’s funny. When the scandal broke last week, quite a few bloggers talked about how relieved/comforted they were to hear their priest address the issue publicly. So thinking I might be similarly relieved/comforted, I anxiously awaited going to mass today to hear what Father would say. But, not only was Fire baby completely out of sorts, the little dude and the wee girl were having a hard time keeping it together as well. For the first time in a long time, I actually spent near all of Mass outside with the baby. I missed the homily completely and most all the announcements as well. Figures, right? I *did* just say that I’m not a Catholic because of a priest, but because of Jesus. So, who do I really want comfort and encouragement from anyway?


A while ago, Sarah Bessey wrote about how she became disillusioned - gratefully disillusioned - with the leadership of her church. In it there were some lines that have stuck with me over the years:
I no longer look to you as my shepherd. What a relief to you, I imagine!
No, I look to Jesus as my Shepherd. You can be my pastor, you can be my teacher, you can be my friend.
And this is freedom.
For both of us, do you see?
We need that kind of freedom in our Church - the kind where consecrated Religious aren’t held up on a pedestal or held to impossible standards, the kind where lay people are free in their relationship with God, not feeling like they should have an intermediary or some sort. This is a bit of a digression, I admit. But when you recognize that these scandals were born out of the sin of clericalism, predatory lust, power, and addiction to money… then I have to ask, “If this kind of freedom lived in the Church, would this scandal have ever been possible?”

I don't have an answer to that question... nor much of an ending to this post. I'm still trying to figure out my actual response to the events that have happened (beyond these words, cause as we all know, words without action mean little). All I can offer right now is my prayer:

O Lord, Send out your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth!

Lord, hear! Lord, pardon! Lord, be attentive and act without delay, for your own sake, my God, because your name is invoked upon your city and your people! (Daniel 9:19)

Jesus, please bring justice and healing to those hurt; and protect the innocent.

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us.