"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'm Overdue!

My eldest was born promptly on his due date, which, due to my proclivities toward punctuality and tidiness, caused no end of merriment among my friends and co-workers.  My youngest, thankfully, arrived a few days early rather than on his predicted date of Christmas Eve.  Better early than late, I always say.  If I ever felt smug over my punctual and early babies, I send abject apologies out into the universe to anyone who has ever been overdue.  All this to say, I don't know what being overdue actually feels like.  But today, I have Pretty Good Idea.

Today is our Closing On the House Day.  Except that we aren't.  We've done all that's required.  The seller has already moved out and has rented a place in Nevada.  This whole process has gone so quickly and smoothly that I'm a bit surprised at this last minute hiccup.  No one really knows what is holding up the process.  The appraisal went to some mystical underwriting department over a week ago but no one knows why it hasn't come back yet.  No one has any idea when it will come back either.  Emails have been sent with no responses.  This falls into the category of Things That Make You Go, Hmmmmm.

So here I sit, in my 250 ft of space.  It's been raining pretty much nonstop for several weeks now.  Every time there is a 45 second break in the weather I herd my children and dogs outside because fresh is good for them.  Having them out of my space is good for me.  I send them outside so often their shoes are probably going to mildew because they never get a chance to dry out!  Today has mostly been dry.  Correspondingly, the boys have mostly been outside!

This must be a little like being overdue.  I'm both excited and grumpy.  I've been patient but now I'm Done.  The long awaited date has arrived and is nearly over with no sign of activity.  Will it be tomorrow?  Will it be Friday?  Next week?  Please, Please not another month.  I've been awake since 3 and I'm definitely tired because I haven't slept well in days.  Yet, like the advent of a newborn, I know I won't sleep after the closing because I'll be too busy painting, tearing out carpet and unpacking.  Oh, let's not forget about the upcoming birthday as well as Christmas.  I plan on sleeping sometime in January.

Keep an eye out for the final announcement.  Just like pregnancy, it has to end sometime.  Right?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why I'm Thankful for Harry Potter

I consider myself an Accidental Homeschooler.  Teaching my children at home, abandoning any hope of personal free time, wearing the mother hat at the same time as the teacher hat.  None of these ever factored into my vision as I contemplated the educational future of my boys.  In fact, I distinctly recall having a fairly heated discussion with a parishioner in small town, conservative Nebraska when #1 was the ripe old age of about six months.  Still fairly new to the church, I guess not everyone had figured me out yet.  So the parishioner, a homeschooling parent, asks me if I intend to homeschool.

My first thought was:  "Good Lord, I'd just like to get him out of diapers!"  However, instead of a smart aleck remark, I sensibly responded, "Oh, gosh No!  I have a teaching degree and I'm a firm believer in public school."

What I thought was a conversation between me and one other person turned out to involve half the room as heads swung in my direction like I'd just announced that I intended to drop my kid out a window.  There was a fair amount of gasping, as I recall.  Well, the conversation was pretty much over from my end as the gaspers tried to convince me I was wrong.  Having an infant is a really good excuse to get out of a lot of things and I'm pretty sure I decided that #1 needed an immediate diaper change.  Or feeding.  Or a kindergarten enrollment form.

Being blessed with stick-to-it-iveness, I happily sent my kids off to kindergarten when the time came.  By the time #1 was in third grade, it was his third school, in two different countries, two different states.  Six weeks into the school year he was miserable because of a bullying situation.  Crying every night, "Please, Mama, don't make me go back tomorrow."  I was enjoying my first year of having both kids out of the house full time.  I had a dissertation to write, half marathons to run and I planned on making full use of all my child free hours.  Meanwhile, #2 was in first grade and he was coming home every night with quite a shocking vocabulary and many in depth questions about sex.  Not to mention getting kicked off the bus because an older boy punched him and he punched him back.  And getting pink slips for jumping in the rain puddle.  And pink slips for not sitting quietly with his hands folded during music.

I was re-reading Dobson's Bringing Up Boys at the time.  It's hugely informative regarding male mental and physical development and firmly establishes, the feminist movement notwithstanding, the differences between boys and girls.  Dobson addresses school in a particularly useful chapter and the basic idea is that school is not designed for boys.  At all.  Dobson also addresses bullying.  He doesn't denigrate public school but simply thinks that if you can educate your kids at home, it's probably best.  As I read the chapter I began thinking, "Well, we are only stationed here for a year.  Maybe I could give it a try.  After all, I do have a degree in this stuff and I'm not using it."

I mulled it over for three weeks until I mentioned it to Donald, whose jaw, very predictably, dropped.  Later that afternoon he agreed it might be worth a try.  With that, we were off.  Three years later we are still attending the School of the Kitchen Table, even though that table is presently in an RV.

Most of the time school goes really well.  The boys get everything done in a few hours and usually by lunch time they are free to play, which, in my opinion, is a huge advantage.  My kids get to still be kids.  They have extracurricular activities but it doesn't all have to be squeezed in between 4 and 7 every night.    They also get to study what interests them.  They don't always want to do their arithmetic but they are both a year ahead of their actual grade so it can't be all bad.  They insisted on learning German so we worked that into the curriculum.  I'm slowly teaching them Latin because I think it has huge value on their grammar skills.  We are doing a pretty in depth anatomy course this year.  Being an English teacher to my soul, I throw in poetry memorization but give them some choice in the poems.  We go through history chronologically, linking events from all over the world in the same time period.  We are up to the mid 1600's and are studying the Plague and the Great Fire of London.  I'll probably show them the Monty Python clip:  "Bring out Yer Dead!"  We also do about an hour and a half a day of required reading.  I decide what is read during this time as it usually pertains to our history.  They spend a lot of time reading on their own too.

Both boys have read their way through the seven book Harry Potter series.  #2 is on his second time through.  #1 did not learn to read easily but when he did, he took off and flew through reading levels like crazy.  His reading level is early college but his love of comic books does not often reflect this.  #2 learned to read easily (I'll never forget his excitement about sounding out B-O-O-K from a Cheerio's box one morning) but has, until Harry Potter, been a reluctant reader because reading requires that you sit still.  Reading through the Harry Potter series has given him the confidence he needs to sit through the required reading that I hand him.  He knows from experience that even if he wouldn't have checked it out from the library, it will probably be interesting and he really does have the ability to sit still long enough to digest it.

Because of the whole sitting still requirement, #2 is also a reluctant writer.  Last week he had to write, Oh Horrors, two informative paragraphs for language arts.  Best handwriting, capital letters, punctuation, no run-ons or fragments, subject/predicate in every sentence.  You'll remember that type of thing.  The text book offered four topic sentences.  He discarded every one with much complaining.  "It's boring, it will take too long, I don't know how to do it."  Blah, Blah, Blah.  Suddenly his eyes perked up.  "Can I write about Harry Potter?"  My first inclination, which I quickly reigned in, was to say, "No, just do what the book says."  It's the curse of being an inveterate rule follower.  Instead of squashing his inspiration (which I do enough as it is) I calmly asked him to walk me through what he wanted to write.  That child beautifully, eloquently, intently wrote two descriptive paragraphs about how to play Quidditch.  It took him a good thirty minutes.  If I had previously told him he would be writing for thirty minutes he would have called Child Protective Services.  Giving him the chance to write about something "interesting" has shown us both that not only is he merely capable of writing, he can do a excellent job.

I'm not always thankful for homeschooling.  Lots of days have me searching the internet to see what schooling options are available.  Moments like the Quidditch essay help me recall why I am thankful for homeschooling.  I don't always, but I can, bend and flex to make school more palatable for the boys.  I am thankful for Harry Potter not only being such a creative and entertaining series for me and my children but because it is has proved such a beneficial vehicle for bringing out the best in a reluctant reader/writer.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Chance to Dream

Do you know anyone who has made a dream come true?  Or perhaps someone in the process of making a dream come true?  I'm talking about the kind of soul changing dream that no one but the dreamer could possibly imagine.  It's fairly well established that personally speaking, I'm not much of a dreamer.  I get too wrapped up in the practicalities.  My longest term dream is to have a publisher pay me obscene amounts of money to live in a quiet village in England, not too far from the local pub, and write best sellers.  I won't even start on the practicalities of that scenario.

I know someone who dreams big.  Not only does she dream bigger than anyone I know, she has moved the hearts of many, many people to jump in her dream, actually making it happen.  Let me tell you about my friend Tana and her dream. 

Within five minutes of meeting Tana, back in 2006, I figured out that we are polar opposites but that she is someone I really wanted to be friends with.  Tana is an incredibly artsy, free spirited, fun loving woman who has the most amazing head of long, naturally curly hair.  When the opportunity came for a bunch of us to run a 15K race, her idea of a training plan was a few deep knee bends, a wad of chew and a can of Rock Star about 30 minutes before the starting gun.  She ran the whole dang thing!  She also makes a mean margarita.  Oh, wait, I make the mean margarita and she drinks them, while free spiritedly lounging in my hammock!  But let's get back on track.  A former policewoman, Tana fronts a combination tough cop/surfer girl exterior but she is a quiet giver at heart.  When a good friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, Tana put her jewelry making skills in action and designed necklaces for us all to wear in support.  Tana doesn't just smile, she has these amazing crinkly lines around her eyes that make her sparkle.  

As further evidence of her giving spirit, Tana has three gorgeous children, all adopted from Guatemala before that country so sadly shut down its adoptions.  She has worked with several organizations over the years, previously assisting with international adoptions, translation and now, flying to Guatemala twice a year to take medical and school supplies and teach English.  In the last couple of years Tana's heart has become overwhelmed with all the kids she meets whose own dream is to simply attend school.

Think about that for a minute.  When was the last time you met a kid who just wanted to go to school?  Shoot, my kids are home schooled and all they can talk about is the weekend!  I don't know about you but I have never met a kid who just wanted to go to school.  Even harder to contemplate is a country where school isn't compulsory.  Guatemala provides school only through the sixth grade.  Middle school is often too cost prohibitive because most families can barely afford to eat.  If there is more than one child in the family, forget it.

Being a giver and dreamer is dangerous; things get done.  Tana started a non profit organization a year or so ago called The Chance to Dream which provides exactly that:  a chance for Guatemalan kids to dream of going to school.  However, the ability to make those dreams happen cannot come from Tana alone.  I have no doubt that she would eat PB&J every day if it would help each Guatemalan kid get to school but that's neither wise nor practical (much like her 15K training program).  There I go again!  

Giving Guatemalan kids a chance comes from those of us who have jumped into Tana's dream.  The cost of sending a kid to school in Guatemala is ridiculously low compared to what it costs an American kid.  Recall what you may have spent the last time you outfitted an American kid for a year of school with clothes, supplies and lunch money.  Even though I don't buy back-to-school clothes or provide lunch money, home schooling is still expensive.  The grand total of $210 is all it takes to give a Guatemalan kid The Chance to Dream.  Tana knows nearly everyone of the kids in the program and she did a bang up job this year of personally taking their photos and writing up a bio to send to each sponsor.  This is not a non profit with dozens of staff.  It's mostly Tana, her computer, her telephone and couple of other volunteers.  The overhead is not that great (translation:  Tana doesn't get paid) so all the money goes directly to support the students and the only teacher, Pedro.  Pedro not only teaches full time but also is the sole administrator for the "kind of hammered together" wooden school.  Pedro's administrative duties include trekking through the mountains and fields to locate students who should be in school and to meet with parents.  He also has successfully coordinated the parents and the students with regular meetings so that everyone feels like they are on the same team, sharing the same goal.  Not an easy task when the parents are terribly intimidated by the idea of education.

One of the best stories Tana shared with me last summer is about Sebastian.  Tana's uncle supported Sebastian all through high school, long before The Chance to Dream was a reality.  Sebastian is now a university student and next year he will pay it forward by working for The Chance to Dream as a part time teacher in Pedro's school, thereby utilizing his education while at the same time allowing Pedro to focus more on administratively running the school and trekking the hills.

This is the heart of The Chance To Dream.  Sense Tana's passion:  "If these kids don't get an education it is highly likely they will never get past just making enough money to eat.  Giving them an education gives them the choice to do something other than use a machete or have a baby.  Everyone deserves to be able to pick up a book and enrich their lives.  If you can't read, you can't do that."

My family proudly believes in Tana's dream by supporting two boys, one of whom is graduating middle school this week and moving on to high school.  The other, at age 18, is technically too old for middle school but so desperately wanted to attend.  This shy, 18 year old man is sitting in a classroom with far younger kids because he sees it as a chance to change his stars. There are many other Guatemalan kids wanting an education.  If you need further inspiration, check out The Chance to Dream at the link provided below.  There are many stories on the site as well as opportunities for giving.  Perhaps you can give a kid The Chance to Dream.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Today, I have a free Saturday yawning ahead of me.  I haven't had one since the first week of September.  Because of the rain my boss at the orchard told me, and I quote, "stay home and party."  I sensibly went for a run instead.  Lest you think me either truly dedicated or just plain crazy, I managed to squeeze the run in during a mist, rather than a downpour.

Since living in Washington, Saturday mornings have always been my inviolable running time.  Saturdays have always been the one day in the week I can count on for whatever mileage I need.  Working in the orchard has put a crimp in my running schedule but as apples are thinning out on the trees and the rain is coming like clockwork, I sense my working days are shortly numbered, indeed.  Which is great for my brain.

No, I didn't lose the thread of this blog.  Running is as good for my brain as it is for the rest of me.  Probably better, actually.  I don't run because I love to sweat and breathe hard.  There are other, er, more pleasant activities for that.  Ahem.  I don't run because I need to lose 20 pounds.  I don't run because I need to say that I'm a runner.  I run because it is the one thing I can do to really empty my brain, my heart, my soul.  There is a huge freedom in letting my legs go on autopilot as my lungs fill and empty with clean air and my brain is left to take a mental bubble bath.

I can't think of one crisis in my life that wasn't made a little easier by going for a run.  Generally speaking, the bigger the crisis the longer the run.  I'm completely aware that my taking up half marathons has a direct correlation to Donald's PTSD.  I am comfortable in my own skin and with my own silence.  I don't need to come back from a run with all my problems solved; that rarely happens to me.  I just need to come home with my brain unfogged, ready to face the problem that remains.  My family is fully aware and supportive of my need.  One day last summer, during what I've affectionately come to think of as the Summer from Hell, on a particularly awful morning, my husband held me as I sobbed and his only words were, "You need to go running."  With various bodily fluids dripping from the holes in my face, I took his advice.  I came home with all the moisture evaporated.   Several nights ago my youngest came in the bedroom where I was tucked in bed, reading, and said, "Mama, I encourage you to get up early tomorrow and go for a run."  Must have been a worse day than even I thought!

Sometimes when I run I do get flashes of brilliance that I often turn into a blog.  The mental bubble bath becomes more like mental speech bubbles.  Little blips and fragments of semi-schizo conversation.  Take this morning, for instance.  There I was, three miles in, and feeling blissfully relaxed and empty.  Suddenly a little bubble floated up and popped.

"Six months."  Okay, I give up.  Six months what?

Another floaty bubble.  "Your typical six month time frame."

Ahhhh, yes.  My six months.  Now I knew what I was talking about.  (See what I mean by semi-schizo?)  Years ago I noticed a pattern in my life.  I now call it the Six Month Time Frame.  Six months is typically how long it takes me to settle in to a new location and really begin to make it my own.  Six months is about how long it takes me to decide where I want to invest my friendship, where I want to be involved in at church, where I want my kids to hang out, where my runs will take me on a regular basis, where I prefer to shop and when.  Six months is about how long it takes me to assume something like a normal life after the upheaval of another move, which, if you total all the moves in my life they nearly equal my age; at 38 that number seems utterly ridiculous.  This pattern reestablishes itself time and time again, so I feel confident that it's just my own personality design.  I do know plenty of people who jump straight in, eyes shut, and arms open.  A shaker and mover in this area, I am not.

We've been in Salem 7 months.  It's just been since September that I sense we are building what passes for a normal American life.  We moved to Salem with two sets of friends in place and between them they have succeeded in introducing us to people who are becoming not only our small group but also our community.  The house we are buying is located just blocks away from most of them.  Our church is the first thing we established here and the people there have been so welcoming.  There is even one older lady who has "adopted" our boys because she only has granddaughters and she doesn't get to see them very often.  Having jobs has further established our sense of belonging and having a house of our own, one that doesn't rock with the wind, will be the icing on the settling-in cake.

I'm often surprised by where my running will mentally take me.  An innocent speech bubble catalyzed a tremendous sense of calm and well being, a sense of "I belong."  I also find that well being is accompanied simultaneously with gratitude.  Now, armed with those dual pistols, I must figure out what to do with the rest of the day!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Man's Best Friend - HA!!

When a dog is properly loved, fed, walked and allowed to sleep in my bed, why does it repay me by disappearing into the 28 degree fog and then eating and rolling around in the nastiest thing it can find?

Both our dogs disappeared this morning while the person who was supposed to be watching them got sidetracked with getting ready to bike to work.  He shall, of course, remain unnamed.  When he sauntered into the house, casually asking where the dogs were, everyone sprang into action because we know how quickly they can move.  My spring was slower than everyone else because my children had taken both my pairs of suitable dog-finding shoes (the curse of the three of us wearing the same shoe size!) leaving me to clomp through the RV park in my wood soled Swedish clogs.  After fifteen minutes of trying to jog across a frozen field in the clogs I heard the blessed tinkle of a dog tag against a collar.  Shakespeare was happily on the other side of the 6 foot privacy fence.  Realizing that he could escape before I ever made it back inside the park I took the only course of action that instantly sprang to mind.  I scaled the fence in the Swedish clogs and then dropped like a ninja to the other side.

Okay, I did scale the fence.  I did drop to the other side but I was madly trying not to twist an ankle in the process.  I'm sure I looked nothing like a ninja and the jolt through my calcaneus was anything but stealthy.  And there was my dog, happily covered in what I thought was poo but merely turned out to be someone's vomit.

#1 came running toward us, open armed with joy at finding the dog, until I found myself screaming across the park (at 8 am, I might add), "Don't touch him.  He's disgusting!"  Between the two of us, we managed to herd him toward the RV where I did my best to leash him without touching him and haul his repulsive body to the shower.  #2 was thrilled to announce that he found Holly patiently waiting for us on top of the picnic table and that he had put her inside.  Where I discovered that she, too, had cavorted in vomit and had so thoughtfully expressed her joy at being found by rolling through my bed.

Why?  Why?  WHY???

Before 9 o'clock I had both dogs showered, couch scrubbed, floor scrubbed and sheets stripped and in the wash.  Oh, yes, and I squeezed in a shower of my own.  I haven't stopped glaring at the dogs and I keep thinking I can smell vomit somewhere in the RV.  It may just be their breath.  I guess my next task is brushing their teeth.