Doing the Next Thing and the futility of five-year plans. Yes, again.

…Because I still need some practice at this, I guess.

The long, slow slide into summer stability was slower than anticipated this year. I’m just now feeling like I’ve got my “sea legs” so to speak with having the kids home, and June is nearly over. The grey fog that I now recognize as the cyclical depression I get from time to time set in around the time school was over, for me. I’ve felt very much like I’ve been wandering around aimlessly, without a purpose, when it started looking like my one semester of continued higher education was all that was wise to attempt at this point, mainly for financial reasons. I refuse to go into debt to fund an education for myself. Yes, that makes me weird, but it also makes me less broke and with more options than I would if I were carrying a B.A. degree and 5,000 dollars of debt two or three years from now.

So, now what? I’ve learned from experience that three things are my tools at hand when I start to feel that grey fog rolling in. First, daily, intentional prayer and focused devotional time (something that I think most Christ-followers occasionally struggle with. It’s like going to a party where you don’t know many people –you don’t want to go at first, but once you get there, it’s always worth going). Number two is a detailed to-do list. When I feel that fog rolling in, it’s usually about the time I lose interest in doing anything productive, and my home and responsibilities suffer in short order if I don’t just do what I know I need to do, whether I want to or not. The little thrill of being able to cross something off a to-do list is just the upper I need some days. Just do the next thing. Number three? Coffee. Don’t laugh –it’s scientifically proven (and a lot cheaper and probably easier on the system than SSRI’s*).

So, that’s how I’m coping these days, until I sort out what might be the Next Thing I’m supposed to be doing, speaking in kingdom terms. Not that the little things don’t matter, but I sometimes get a little lost-feeling when I hit a turn on the map that I wasn’t expecting. For now, I suppose I should be using more of my “free time” to blog. Excuse me while I cross that off my list for today, will you?

Where I got the “do the next thing” concept:  –credit where credit is due and all that… :). If you’re a mom of littles, or once were, this might resonate some.

*I’m not a doctor, and have some first-hand experience with depression meds. Listen to your doctor on that one, before you listen to little old me. For me, a little caffeine provides the jump-start I need. Your needs may vary, of course.

WE’RE (gonna be) DEBT FREEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

There. A slightly premature debt-free scream :). Just did the taxes, and not only will we be DEBT FREEEEE!!!!! but we’ll have enough for 1) an emergency fund (since our old one got drained this summer in the transition to two cars), and 2) a new computer! Did I say I hate today? Never mind. When I do get it all paid off for real (we have to wait a few days for the refund to appear in our account), I’ll let you (and Dave Ramsey) know :D.

I know tithing is kind of a hot button subject in my fam :), but I’ll broaden the concept to “following God’s directions on what He wants done with His money”. I say this not to brag on ourselves, but to brag on God. This year, we’ve been led to start tithing (faithfully -we’ve done it irregularly in the past) –not as an obligation, not because someone told us to, but because it is a good concrete reminder to us that 100 percent of what we have is God’s, and that 10 percent that we give back off the top causes us (especially so with our limited income lately) to live more by faith. I can wholeheartedly claim the following verse to be true, and it would be just as true if we weren’t about to make the final payment of five years of focused struggle against debt. God is good all the time.

“give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38, ESV

Thoughts on Christmas Trees –a dilemma

After about 15 minutes of philosophical discussion on whether to get a real tree again this year or finally break down and get an artificial one, the latter choice became the one. We now have a genuine Made In China plastic and metal “tree” in our living room.

The irony? We’d also talked a couple years ago about doing a “natural” theme for the tree, and this year, our metal and plastic “tree” will be decked with birds, pinecones, and a really cool pinecone and cinnamon stick garland we found at Target. I know, a few years ago I would have refused to buy it, arguing that it’s something I could easily make myself, but reality has set in (I have no time), and we bought it (see, one compromise begets another…). Besides, have you ever tried to find small pinecones in early December in Wisconsin, with two inches of ice-crusted snow on the ground? Not very possible. Oh, and, needing new lights (we haven’t had a “big” tree in years –we’ve used our tabletop tree), I splurged and bought energy-efficient LED lights, continuing the “green” theme. On our artificial tree. …Well, at least we didn’t go all out and buy pine scented spray to make up for the glorious aroma this “tree” lacks. Now, THAT would be going too far. So, somewhere out in a lonely snow-covered meadow, a tree is still growing that we saved from a certain death by decoration. Now that I think of it, why should some poor tree give its oxygen-providing life to give our family a month of pine-scented gaudiness? Perhaps we made the right decision after all.

Moth Update…

Well, it’s your average run-of-the mill moth (shrug). Last Sunday night I glanced into the jar, thinking that we really should poke some holes in the lid, when I discovered an empty brown translucent cocoon (much smaller than I’d figured –about 1 inch long and 1/3″ around), and a little newly-hatched average-type light brown moth barely fluttering on the bottom of the jar. Since we didn’t know how long it had been since he’d hatched, we took him outside right away so he could find food and water and whatever else moths need. It was about 50 degrees outside when he was freed, so I’m not sure where he is now. Elanor said he kind of woke up once she let him out of the jar. He’d been pretty lifeless when I discovered him, and I was afraid he’d gone without food too long, but apparently he was somewhat all right. So, he did survive his pupation on the kitchen counter, and we were privileged to be witnesses to his transformation. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Ramblings and Thoughts on Christian Education

We are truly blessed to be living where we are with an excellent Christian school just 1.5 miles down the road. As a matter of fact, the kids’ schooling was a major factor in our moving back to Wisconsin. Had we remained in Arizona, we would not have been able to afford to keep Elanor (not to mention Amaryah, who is in preschool already) in the school she attended for preschool.

Homeschooling has always been in the back of our minds as the only acceptable alternative to a good local Christian school, and if our plans to serve with a mission agency come to fruition (may the day come soon!), it is a likely thing that we will need to do it, or at the least, be willing to. I think, however, that for us, the ideal is kind of what we are already doing –what I did as a kid, and Sam did even moreso: that is, learning at home on purpose, and learning at school on purpose. Having gotten to know other homes and families as I grew up, it surprised me that our home was different, in that mom and dad were encouraging us to learn in a more hands-on way than I observed in other families. Discussions were lively, and disagreements between mom and dad (however impassioned, never belittling or disrespectful that I can recall) were carried out on a daily basis with my sister and I right there at the dinner table. We learned from that one very important life lesson, that being that it is possible to disagree with someone’s ideas without discounting their value as an Imagebearer, or without disrespect. That life lesson carried me through my first years of college. I watched other students flounder and suffer, and later realized that they took the assault on their ideology and theology personally. I was able to hear out my decidedly anti-Baptist theology prof, and realize that he’d been where I was, and that he didn’t disrespect me because I was Baptist. That light came on when I witnessed another non-reformed student walk out of class in frustration during a lecture on dispensational eschatology, and wondered why I wasn’t offended myself. Somehow, I didn’t feel threatened by someone who didn’t agree with my way of seeing life. Instead, it intrigued me enough to do what I was taught growing up, that being 1) work to figure it out yourself (otherwise known as “look it up”), and 2) ask lots of well-thought-out questions. Because I did this, I realized that I actually was more in agreement with my prof who regularly dissed my denominational background than I was in disagreement. Once I took the time to make an appointment and ask the things I couldn’t sort out myself, I realized that prof spoke in the way he did (directly, argumentatively, and with passion) because he felt he had a right to, having come from that place himself, and having understood it in a different way than most other profs at our college did. So, where was I… Well, I did warn you that this was a ramble…

Anyway, having come through seven years of formal Christian school, I can unequivocally say that really, only two of my high school teachers even touched the area of “how to think” and “how to learn,” and that parents who send their kids to Christian school to eliminate negative peer influences are seriously delusional. I learned how to be a civilized human being and how to think and learn far better at home than I did at school. I learned later as I went along, though, that I was more privileged than most to have parents who read and encouraged us to read and didn’t greet our questions and obsessions with sighs and eye-rolling. Somewhere in the advent of television and daycare, I think we’ve done children a real disservice by relegating “learning” to the formal classroom. In my thinking, our current situation is pretty close to ideal –I’d almost call it “hybrid homeschooling.” The kids do go to school outside the home, but we are closely involved with their teacher and their school, and the learning continues on purpose at home. We do things by design to shape our children’s worldview. We read with them, and spend time with them reading devotional books together. We take them to the zoo, the library, read to them, listen to their interests, and encourage them to learn more. We don’t always get it right, and there are plenty of missed opportunities, but in all, I think we are doing pretty well at this.

At this moment, on our kitchen counter is a small container with a caterpillar that Elanor captured last Sunday. She and Sam spent some time that night looking up things on the internet on how to care for caterpillars –what do they need, what do they eat, and such. On Wednesday, I noticed that the caterpillar hadn’t eaten much (up till that day, we’d have to replace his supply of leaves twice daily), and I assumed he was dead. I dreaded breaking the news to Elanor, so I waited and left the stiffened caterpillar in his jar. The next day, however, we discovered the caterpillar had formed a cocoon, and now we’re waiting to see if it really is a hawk moth caterpillar as we had guessed, or whether it’s something different entirely. To some today, that would be considered a homeschool project. To me, that’s just everyday life. Take an interest, study about it, and watch to see what happens. Find out what we can learn about God from His creation. Did people in previous generations do this more? How did we get to the point where it is such a weird thing to teach our own kids at home on purpose without labeling ourselves “homeschoolers”? Why is there such a dichotomy between homeschooling and formal Christian schooling among Christian families? I don’t see it as such a cut-and-dried thing. We, as Christian parents, are called to teach our kids at home whether we send them somewhere else to learn the finer points or teach them full-time at home.

Fortunately, we are living in a community where by and large, most of the parents are engaged in their kids’ education. Most of the families are intact, and make a point of being a family. This is a contrast from Sam’s first years teaching in California, where over 75 percent of the families were two-income families that spent most of their waking hours in a car or at work/school. Sam actually had students that saw their parents less than three waking hours of the weekday. This was considered normal. I consider it craziness. God didn’t give the responsibility of teaching our children to someone else. He gave to to parents. There is room for delegating some of things out, but how are we to fulfill the things in Deuteronomy 6 when we don’t even rise up or walk along the way together at all? I found it interesting that in California, most of the homeschooling families did so for two reasons: concern over public schools, and wanting to keep mom home. In most of our friends’ cases, the only way to give their kids a Christian education was to either send them to private Christian school and put Mom to work to afford the tuition, or to homeschool and keep Mom at home. I don’t blame them at all for choosing the second option. That is the position we would have been in had we stayed in Arizona, and although we didn’t discuss it formally, I think it’s safe to say that homeschooling would have been the preferable option to sending me to work to pay tuition.

So, I’m just kind of musing on all this. I love the idea of learning at home. I love being able to get excited at the kids learning such important stuff even before they start going off to school. It intrigues me that both Amaryah and Elanor learned to write their names without me having to sit down and teach them on purpose. One day, they just recognized the letters and did it. All I did was write their name for them a bunch of times and point out that that’s what their name looked like written out. We watch a lot more PBS than I’d like to admit, but still, I’m floored at how many learning opportunities present themselves in the course of a day if you’re just half paying attention. So, we’ll see what happens in the future. For now, we feel very blessed to have somewhere we can trust to partner with us in teaching our kids, but should we ever have to fly solo, I think we could handle that, too. Each option has its pros and cons as I see it. Regardless of whether they are in school or at home my hope is to instill a passion for learning that can’t be extinguished by a classroom environment sometimes hostile to learning outside the box, and will be such a part of them that they find themselves going beyond the prescribed assignments and “what’s on the test” to the bigger picture of learning how to walk with God and learning how to serve Him in creation.

I’ve gotta admit, though… the thing that really gets me excited about learning at home is that it’s the greatest excuse I can come up with to buy ridiculous amounts of books.  Ah, well. I can be grateful that we have a good public library. Sam read a biography of Louis L’Amour a few years back, and in the book, L’Amour claims to have received most of his “formal” education by reading books from the public library. Sounds good to me!

as you are going…

Hopefully the week to come will be a busy one around here. I’ve been faced with an avalanche of conviction that that verse somewhere in Deuteronomy about teaching your kids as you are going about daily things is really not getting enough attention by me. We waste so much time. A typical day is usually spent with me alternating time between the computer or a book and rushing around the house in spurts getting household tasks accomplished and the kids playing or watching their daily allotment of video time. By the end of the day, a lot of what I’ve done is already trashed or simply needs doing again, and the kids are bored or fighting. I’ve decided I’m tired of negative parenting. Somewhere along the line I read (if I find the source, I’ll let you know) that the best time to teach kids how to behave wasn’t after they just messed up. The idea is to show them where their heart should be, and let that guide their actions before they get to the point of sinfulness. Of course, mistakes will still be made, but by starting from the inside out, the changes are more lasting, and the lessons remembered less painfully. Unfortunately, I discovered, the point of needing correction is when we seem to do the most active parenting around here. Since that revelation, we have improved things somewhat, and we’re more on the lookout for “teachable moments,” but I haven’t gone so far as to create them on purpose during the day. That’s going to change.

The apartment is constantly a cluttered mess, complicated by five people in a space meant for two or three to live, and too many things in it. In a fit of frustration, I declared to Sam on Friday that my job is simply impossible to do by myself. Don’t get me wrong, Sam is a wonderful help and I can’t illustrate enough here how grateful I am to have such a willing and helpful husband. What I mean is that I am overwhelmed with keeping five people fed, clean, and in an organized living space, and that’s basically a minimum of what I expect from myself as a wife and a mom. So, I’m recruiting some help.

Elanor is seven now and Amaryah is four, both are of the age where they could be learning more than their current jobs of clearing and washing the table and picking up their toys when instructed. I’m ashamed to admit that they really haven’t demonstrated self-induced responsibility too much yet, and I fault myself mainly for that. So, we’re going to work together this week, and if it takes all my patience and three times as long to get things done, so be it. Elanor has been longing for some time together with me, and I’ve been too busy doing things for her that we could be doing together to see that that (doing things together) is the answer. So, consider this not only a confession and a call for accountability, but a request for prayer as well. It’s not easy to a) admit defeat, or to b) open my daily tasks to being delegated to those who might not do them as fast or as well as I can, but when I look at the long-term benefits (having kids who know how to do their own laundry and make their bed –and feel a compulsion to do those things without being reminded), I think I can live with it.

Yes, I’m still here!

Guess I’d better write something. Spring has seemingly finally wrested the icy grip of a much too long winter in Wisconsin. Seriously. Nothing like a year in Arizona to really make you appreciate how mind-numbingly LONG winter gets around here. One thing, though. When the snow finally melted about a month (?) ago, the grass was green. I seem to remember it being brown post-snow… Maybe it was just a weird thing, I don’t know.

My bike finally is sort of operable again, after being neglected in Arizona and subject to my nemesis, the automatic sprinkler system (…note to self: rant sometime on another entry about lawns in the desert being an irresponsible and ridiculous idea. Possible title: If You Really Want A Lawn, Live Somewhere With RAIN!). The chain was seriously rusted and upon trying to ride it last fall, made a grating “clunk chunk kachunk” sound caused by the rusted-stiff links trying not to bend around the cog. I know. If you really know bikes, you’re probably cringing that I even TRIED to ride it in that condition. What can I say? I was desperate.

After an hour of playing follow-the-google on “fixing rusty bike chains,” I got out the can of WD-40, a toothbrush, and a rag, and finally wrested the last few stiff links apart last night. Now I just need to find out if the rest of my bike is suffering from its being doused for too long and ridden in less than optimal condition. I have a feeling it needs a tune-up, and maybe a new chain (nothing like two hours of fruitless labor…). Hopefully it’ll be good enough to get by until I can get it in to the shop or to someone who knows more than I do.

Our dreams (well, maybe just my dream, since I’m the only one who thought it was remotely possible) of getting a second car have been erased by the sign down the road at Ryan’s proclaiming that gas is now over $3 a gallon again. Suddenly, a bike trailer seems to be a much better option, even if it won’t probably work in the winter. It’s relatively flat around here, so I don’t think lugging a 25 lb. 2 year old and a 35 lb. 4 year old will be that bad. I hope. Strange how sometimes being financially limited has environmental benefits… I suppose my overwhelming thought on not doing the 2-car thing is relief that we didn’t go ahead and do it only to find we couldn’t afford to gas up two vehicles. And global warming aside, this’ll be better for my personal health anyway. Anyone want to buy a moderately-used double stroller?

One more thing that needs to go into the Parenting Manual that no one ever gives you when you have kids. How on earth do you teach a kid to ride a bike without training wheels when you’re terrified to let them fall. Now, I know that I need to let go of the fear of Elanor crashing, but the mommy thing makes that nigh unto impossible. So, for now, my six-year-old daughter rides to kindergarten on (gasp) training wheels (…as I follow at break-neck pace with the double stroller. Yeah, a bike trailer would be nice…). But at least she’s riding, and hopefully by mid-summer, she’ll be on two wheels. …Just as soon as her daddy can donate a few Saturday and Sunday afternoons to help her learn to crash, because it’s looking like it won’t be me.