Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Got Organization?

If you looked up the word “organization” in the dictionary, you would definitely not find my picture next to it. Would your picture be there?

I don’t think any of us ever achieve our ideal amount of organization in our households. Even if one is organized by nature I am willing to bet there are still areas of struggle. The expression that “a women’s work is never done,” is doubly true for a homeschooling mother.

Enter The 2009 Schoolhouse Planner to save—yea, even organize-- the day (and the week, the month, and the year!). From creative clutter-bugs like me, to the ultra Type-A personality, this planner offers something for everyone!

There is so much helpful information and forms in this planner, I can’t even fathom being able to use it all. With 375 pages, this baby is brimming with helpful ideas, forms, charts, information and even recipes. The people at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (obviously homeschoolers themselves) thought of everything. Sort of like the perfect pairing of chocolate with coffee, both creative and organized minds of various contributors have come deliciously together to offer us a really well rounded planner.

When you order the planner from the online store of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, you will receive it in a downloadable file to save on your computer. If you actually received a hardcopy of the planner, you would need to pay a lot more than the $39 price that the planner sells for.

My first thought, when I realized it was downloadable, was that I was going to have to spend another $40 on ink just to print it out! Not so. First of all, you can actually keep the entire thing, and use it, on your computer, if you choose. The calendars and various forms (from chore charts, to menu planning and bible reading) can all be typed on right there on your computer. If you like to have a hard copy of any of these things, you can also print them out and keep them in a binder or whatnot. It is very easy to customize to your personal preference.

So, just how organized am I going to become by using this planner? Well, that remains to be seen, but the potential to become the ultra-organized-super-homeschooling-mom is enormous! Let’s take a look at all the goodies stuffed into these pages!

First of all, there is a section of At-a-Glance calendars, clear through the year 2012, after which there is a large monthly calendar for the 2009-2010 school year that you can write/type in whatever events and plans you have. With each month, comes random but helpful topics that will aid you in teaching, or give a bit of helpful info such as: The Thirteen Colonies, Decimal tips, Emergency plans (in case of fire, tornado etc.), Getting into College and more. Each of these helpful sections are followed by links (at the click of your mouse) to more resources should you want to buy more materials or learn more information. For instance, the section on weather and clouds (September’s topic), has links to pictures of the various cloud formations that you can access right there. Furthermore, each month comes with a couple of really good recipes!

But the calendar is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to talk about and this review is rather long already. Let me just inventory some of the things you’ll find to help with your homeschooling adventure. (By the way, the Table of Contents is nicely set up to allow you to choose the section you want by clicking your mouse on a topic, saving scrolling through pages you aren’t necessarily looking for at the moment).

There are many miscellaneous helpful charts on things such as metric conversions, U.S. Presidents and their wives, a history timeline, famous artists and composers, and more. These also come with links to websites that can tell you more about the subjects. I like the one on important U.S. documents with links to look at them right then and there.

Next the planner offers more homeschooling forms than you can shake a pencil at. Pages for goals, curriculum, report cards, test scores, high school transcripts and more. There are daily and weekly schedules to fill out for working with one child on up to five children. (I suppose if you have more than that you can print out the form for five kiddos and add the other form with the number of kids you are lacking). There are forms for field trip planning, pages to print off for nature journals, handwriting practice and more. I had to laugh that there was even a page for “Unschooling” plans, which kind of seems like an oxymoron in a huge planner like this! There’s not enough space to tell you all the forms available; I don’t think anything was left out.

The last section contains a myriad of household forms that would basically condense anything you already have in this realm into one convenient place. From emergency contact numbers to an address book, from menu planning and chore charts to garden plans and pet health forms, these sheets round out anything you could ever want to get all of your “ducks in a row”.

I think the only negative side of this enormously helpful planner would be feeling obliged to use it all. That thought overwhelms me! However, I know that the point is not that it all must be used; rather it is available if I need it!

So, let me wrap this up with a bit of homeschooling wisdom that I must remind myself of from time to time (now would be one of those times). Don’t be a slave to your curriculum (or in this case, your planner), let the curriculum/planner work for you and serve the needs of your family. I think that all personality types, across the spectrum can get as much or as little as they need from this well thought out 2009 Schoolhouse Planner! If you want to check it out, here’s the link: http://www.theoldschoolhousestore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=191_193&products_id=10450

Friday, June 26, 2009

We're Not in Eden Anymore, Toto!

In my heart, I am convinced that I have a special calling. I hold this false yet powerful belief that I am called to a life of leisure. After all, I am an American. I can easily justify procrastination and spending money on things I don’t need (they are on clearance, after all). I am also, currently, a Texan. This means I can do both in the comfort of air conditioning. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Oh, wait. What am I thinking? I have four kids, two of which I currently homeschool. I have one child that has some disabilities as well. Furthermore, we are not rich and cannot afford maid service nor a cook or chauffer. So, why do I feel I have some sort of right to pursue a life of ease?

Well, if I listen to the world of advertising: I am worth it! I deserve it! I have earned it! If I listen to my flesh: I’m too tired…I don’t feel like it…I’ll do it after (…I finish this other thing that is a distraction and requires a lot less energy on my part). My other lame justification is: I am a product of the 80’s. That was the “me” generation, after all.

Ok, excuses aside, life still must go on. There is laundry to wash and dinner to cook. The kids need to be taught their multiplication tables and U.S, history. So what’s a lazy girl like me to do? I think Nike summed it up quite succinctly: “Just do it.”

As much as I like to try to spiritualize my motivation for doing something, it all comes down to a series of choices each day. I must submit my will to the Holy Spirit and then choose not to “grow weary in well doing.” (Galatians 6:9).

It is amazing to me how much of a battle there is in my mind, daily, for the ability to choose. Choosing to get up early and have a quiet time, choosing to exercise, and choosing to eat right are my big, daily battles. Then there are the smaller skirmishes: time on the computer vs. mopping the kitchen…time reading a good book vs. vacuuming and dusting. Every day the choices are- basically- the same and every day they still seem tough! I am such a wimp!

There are so many that have it much harder. I know that. I know that I am SO blessed to live in America and not a third world country. I am truly grateful for the freedom to worship the Lord as my family feels convicted. The freedom to homeschool is also such a privilege. I know that I am blessed to live in this century, where I have every modern convenience I could want. I can get impatient waiting in the fast food line, whereas my ancestors had to watch their food grow. Things could be a lot worse.

Don’t misunderstand, in no way do I feel sorry for myself! I am not whining or thinking “why me?” I KNOW I have it better than most in the world and many in America. I am very conscious of my blessings and am grateful for each of them. So, why the battle? Why the constant foot dragging? I should be eager to take advantage of all of my—well—advantages, right?

I spend a lot of time contemplating this inner turmoil. (Probably contemplating it is another way I put off actually doing something about it!). I feel like a broken record with prayer requests of the “help me…” variety. One conclusion I have reached is that the struggle keeps me humble. Keeps me coming back to square one: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, my sin nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) and, “…apart from Me, you can do nothing.” As much as I want to “just do it”, I really cannot. Yet, to some degree, there is still a responsibility on my part that, “Whatever (I) do, (I must) work at it with all (my) heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…” That comes back to making the right choices. The Holy Spirit will not force me to do what I should, but He will provide the strength to choose to use my time wisely. I just all too easily shut out that still, small voice. Ok, sometimes I drown it out. Brings to mind another verse: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17). Ouch.

Secondly, though my problems are paltry compared to someone in, say, the underground church of China, they are still the set of problems I have to face. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, I need to “put my big girl panties on” and actually face them each day (my problems, not the panties). As much as I like to write fantasy, I cannot live in a fantasy world. However, this is a fallen world; it is cursed, and will always have its share of trouble and effort involved with any endeavor. Therefore, any delusions I may have concerning living a life of ease needs to be rectified right away. Guess I can thank Adam and Eve for that.

I’m certain everyone, this side of eternity, would like to have a few choice words with those two. Can you imagine how startling it was for them-- having tasted perfection and beauty and intimate fellowship with the living God-- to suddenly be banished and met with pain and death and thorns and sweat and hang nails? What were they thinking? Yeah, like I could do any better.

In conclusion, I must come to grips with the fact that today I must face a certain amount of “stuff.” I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you may have some similar issues. Our stuff may not look just the same but it likely seems a self-perpetuating machine in your life as well. Sorry that it seems there just isn’t a nice way to wrap up this dilemma. It will always remain a dilemma as long as we inhabit flesh and blood on the earth. It is a dilemma that we have an opportunity to take hold of, and make good choices with, each day.

For now, it is a matter of Paradise Lost. But, I know the times that I set my mind to do joyfully what I am called to as a mother, wife, teacher and friend, a bit of paradise is found once again. Happiness is not just a choice, but rather, a series of choices every day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"A Bride in the Bargain" Book Review

Much like a mug of Seattle-based Starbuck's Coffee, I found Deanne Gist’s novel, “A Bride in the Bargain” rather addicting. Also based in Seattle, in the time period of the Washington Territory, Mrs. Gist uses lively and believable characters, rich and scenic descriptions, and a great combination of turmoil and romance as a perfect blend...rich as a good cup of java.

July 8th, 1866 Miss Anna Ivey arrives in port at Seattle’s Puget Sound. (On a personal note, 103 years plus 7 days later, I also arrived in Seattle, all 8 pounds of me, but that’s another story…). She is greeted by men that look like hungry vultures; all having waited for months for their mail order brides, most of which did not arrive. She is looking for her new employer, a lumberjack named Joseph Denton, whom she believes hired her as a cook for his logging crew. What she finds is a tall, handsome tough guy with a soft side, who thinks she has come to be his bride. It seems their “contracts” with the middle man don’t exactly match up. Neither do their personalities, most of the time!

If Joseph doesn’t get married soon, his land is in jeopardy. However, Miss Ivey is certain everyone she loves ends up getting hurt so she has vowed never to marry. They are both stubborn and head strong and find themselves in quite a quandary. But, he does need a cook and she owes him the money for her passage to Seattle…so there is an agreement worked out for the time being.

Though you can likely see where this story is headed, there are many detours along the way that keep you turning the pages, captivated by the relationship between the characters and intrigued by their complex personalities. The dialogue is witty and engaging, and there is much to love about all the main characters in this book.

Placed in the rugged Pacific Northwest, the land and the lumber are some of the characters brought to life as well. In some ways, the taming of the wilderness, and the settlement of the land, parallel Anna’s and Joseph’s relationship. The people and the terrain play off of one another and both are important to the story. Both draw you in and make it hard to leave.

If you enjoy historical romance, you will certainly find “A Bride in the Bargain” a solid read. Though it is a Christian romance novel, I would like to note that the story has no deep theological issues that are wrestled with. Christianity is more of the tone of this time in history and is part of the foundation and underpinnings of the character’s lives. This is the kind of story you read solely for the enjoyment of getting swept away!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Christian Fiction Review: "How Sweet It Is."

"How Sweet it is," by Alice J. Wisler is a Christian fiction novel that did not satisfy my sweet tooth. Though the book is targeting those that want to have a fairly light-hearted read, I felt the book lacked anything inventive in the story line and was extremely predictable.

Deena Livingston is a young woman that recently survived a serious car wreck that left her body, as well as her heart, severely scarred. Leaving a promising career behind as a chef, she tentatively looks for a fresh start in a small mountain cabin that her grandfather willed to her when he passed away. She moves from the big city to a small, close-knit community, hoping to begin a cake-decorating business of her own while ditching her past.

Much to her surprise, there is a stipulation in her grandfather's will. He would like for her teach cooking to troubled kids at an after school program for six months in order to enjoy ownership of his cozy cabin. This is something way out of her comfort zone (especially now that her heart is so relationally raw; all she wants to do is insulate herself from any emotional pain). But day by day, she finds the strength to move ahead, even though it feels like baby steps... and often like she is moving backwards instead.

There are many poignant moments: Ms. Wisler writes in the first person, present tense, and she keeps you inside Deena's thoughts as she tries to move on and forget her past. Using flashbacks, it is evident that rather than moving ahead, she is nursing her wounds with the balm of unforgiveness. It takes learning of her grandfather's faith (faith that she once had but presently lies dormant), stretching herself to reach out to the troubled kids she must teach, and allowing herself to trust some new relationships for her inner turmoil to begin to heal.

If you are looking for a lighthearted read, this book would certainly meet that need. Personally, I felt much of the thought life too neatly packaged and the story line blatantly obvious. I like a little twist or some sort of surprise along the way. This story, though charming in parts, generally falls flat and tastes bland. During the process of reading the book, I began to have my own nickname for it: "How Predictable It Is."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Good Kind of Tired

I must confess I am totally wiped out! It has been a long two months in the Pier 211 household (my nickname for home...insider's lingo). All four kiddos finished up with school, one of the four finishing for the last time--unless she goes on to college! We have had rehearsals and recitals and award banquets and graduation festivities galore, with an extra helping of company in town to help celebrate!

It has been a very satisfying close to our school year but I am just plain, worn out. I haven't had much time to check email, let alone write something semi-interesting to post on this blog. Just not enough brain cells to spare. Thanks to those of you that have come back and checked in on me.

I am happy to say that I have been accepted as a The Old Schoolhouse Magazine product reviewer and so things should be getting busy this summer as I test and review homeschooling products. I really hope you find the reviews helpful and that you will give me your feedback on articles that you find helpful or have a question concerning. There may even be some give aways, so keep tuning in!

For the moment, I just needed to check in and say hello. I am still here, at Pier 211, plodding along, hoping for a good nights sleep...enjoying being the "good kind of tired". It is a happy weariness of having many reasons to celebrate God's faithfulness in our family, and the joy of celebrating this through fellowship with friends and family!

Here's to summer!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Healthy Ramen Salad

Well, it is crunch time at my house. My oldest is graduating Sunday! I had breakfast with her this morning before school and my husband met her at the school door with flowers. After 10 years of homeschooling and 2 at a small Christian school, her childhood journey officially ended today!

I won't get all philosophical at the moment. This is supposed to be a recipe, right? Just letting you know WHY I am kind of quiet over here...too busy getting all the last minute stuff together to have any sort of deep pondering or wandering of any sort!

So, here is a FABULOUS salad that always gets requests. I have tweaked the more fattening original recipe through the years to make it fairly healthy. Can't tell the difference, personally!

There is a lot of room for customizing as you will see...

One package of either shredded slaw or broccoli slaw
Toast about 3 Tbl sesame seeds.
Toast 6-8 Tbl slivered or sliced almonds, Pepita's, peanuts, cashews or any combination thereof! (I toast in a heated pan, no butter, stirring frequently. You can use a tsp. of butter if you want!)

1/3 C salad oil (safflower, canola etc. Expeller pressed is healthiest!)
1/3 C beef or chicken stock/broth (beef adds more flavor)
3-4 Tbl sugar (to preference)
4-5 Tbl. white or rice vinegar (may substitute 1 or 2 T with raw apple vinegar for extra healthy oomph) to preference.
2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp pepper
1- 1 1/2 tsp soy sauce

Optional:1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil (If you have it. Totally optional).
Optional: Grilled chicken, bite sized. Great if you have leftover chicken.
Optional: one package (MINUS THE SEASONING PACKET of Ramen Noodle soup *the cheap stuff, doesn't matter the flavor since you aren't using the packet!) Break up the noodles in the package. These are fattening and unhealthy so I don't usually use them. BUT they are tasty!!!

Do not dress salad until ready to eat! Whisk the dressing in its container immediately before pouring over slaw. Add nuts and/or noodles, stir really well and serve.

A girlfriend and I once ate a whole bowl between the two of us, it is so yummy! If you find you have more dressing then you care for, add another half to one whole package of slaw to the bowl! Enjoy!

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.