Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ultimate Field Trip-- Washington DC Version, Part Two: How NOT to Get Through Airport Security

We begin our trip not at the airport as shown here, but the day before, wherein I frantically packed our gear and cleaned out our garage so we could stow the cars there while we were gone for two weeks.  I did the same thing I do every time we are about to embark on a long vacation; I pulled an all-nighter getting everything ready.  So I started our vacation feeling like a zombie and with a serious lack of patience.
Those who know us, know we travel light—carry-on only—but with five kids and two adults, this translated to 11 carry-ons, two car seats, a stroller, and a partridge in a pear tree.
This is a lot of stuff, but I was determined to make getting through security at the airport as easy and painless as possible. I made sure the kids left their box cutters, automatic weapons, and crayons at home. We looked up the “restricted items” list on the TSA website and I made sure the kids weren’t even wearing belts or carrying pocket change. We coached the kids to remove their coats and shoes and put them on the conveyor belt and how to walk through the security portal.  We advised them not to tell jokes or mention guns, knives, or bombs as we were going through.  Fortunately, when we got to the airport, it was so early in the morning the kids weren’t up to potentially damning wisecracks.  I figured we had this security thing down.
My plan was to have Julio go through security first so he could corral the kids as they went through and I’d bring up the rear. This was a very efficient plan.  Unfortunately, the security personnel do not define efficiency the same way I do.  First, after the kids had taken their shoes off and were waiting patiently for their turn to walk through the metal detector, they got yelled at for removing their shoes.  Yes, yelled at.  They were told to put their shoes back on and then my husband and I were yelled at for having had the kids remove their shoes in the first place.
The kids were flustered and stressed, scrambling to do what they were told.  The security dudes then barked at the kids to get moving through the metal detector.  Blythe, our four year old, was so confused by what they wanted him to do and where they wanted him to go, he had a complete meltdown. I couldn’t even get to him because they made the kids go through first before Julio (my husband) and me. (Why do they always do it that way?)  Blythe was scared and the other kids were bewildered and didn’t know what to do, so then the security guards barked at them to get out of the way and move over to somewhere else, but they weren’t shown WHERE.
Next, it was Julio’s turn to go through, and, as always, he set off the metal detector even after having removed his shoes, belt, and pocket change.  He was pulled aside to be wanded and possibly patted down.  I have no idea because at that point, it was my turn and I had a security guard snarling at ME.
I was told I had to take the (sleeping) baby out of her car seat and put it on the X ray conveyor.  I was also told I had to fold up the stroller and put it on as well.  I asked why I couldn’t just take the stroller through the metal detector, and was given a withering look and again commanded to fold the stroller and put it on the conveyor. 
The security people are either really stupid or really sadistic, because it was next to impossible for me to do this while holding the baby in my arms. I struggled with it, trying not to drop the baby, and trying to stay upright enough that Blythe could still see me from the other side of the metal detectors and machinery. The guards just stood there barking orders at me, and the people behind me in line were instructed to stay where they were, as if they’d be aiding and abetting a criminal if they helped me. I don’t understand why I couldn’t just take the stupid stroller through the metal detector!  I tried to warn them that it was too big to go through the machine and would get stuck, but did they listen?  It got stuck.  They tried to back the conveyor up to get it unstuck.  It took them probably five minutes to wrestle the stroller through the machine.
THEN, they wouldn’t let me carry the baby through the metal detector portal—I had to pass her through to Julio. I wonder, what would they have had me do with her if there was no one on the other side to pass her over to? Put her on the conveyor belt and have her go through the X-ray? I was so mad I was ready to scream. No wonder they won’t allow guns and knives in carry on luggage. I was ready to use both!
We finally got through, and it took us a good fifteen minutes to gather all our things and put our shoes and belts back on, re-pack our bags (toiletries, lap top, cell phones) and put the stroller and the baby carrier back together. Blythe was still crying and the baby joined him.  Ellen, our eleven year old, was freaking out about missing the plane (we had plenty of time, so that wasn’t an issue, but she was stressed out even so.) In an effort to grab all our bags off the conveyor after inspection, I stepped over some invisible barrier and was ordered by two or three guards to “back away from the restricted area.” One guard came at me like he was going to physically remove me.
I lost it. I had already gotten the bags, so I just yelled at them “Okay, okay! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” in a tone that made it abundantly clear I was NOT sorry. I will not repeat to you the words I uttered after that. You’d make me go soap my mouth. Honestly, I tried to keep in mind that the security guards are people just trying to do their job and it was early in the morning, but sheesh.
One guard at the far end of the security check area, a portly, aging black man, had been watching the whole thing and it was clear he was a decent man, but apparently couldn’t move more than five feet in any direction from the stool he was stationed on. As we were finally putting our stuff together and trying to soothe Blythe, the man called to him to catch his attention and then told him to look down at the floor. I saw the man flip a coin to the ground, just outside of his patrol range. He told Blythe there was some treasure for him. We walked over and Blythe picked up the shiny new nickel. He clutched that nickel for dear life. I thanked the man and he smiled a knowing smile. I could imagine him rolling his eyes at the mean guards and saying “Jackasses.” Blythe was a little happier after that, but not much.
On the plane, the boys sat on one side of the row and the girls on the other. I thought they all behaved beautifully, but the woman who sat in front of Blythe chewed Julio out when we landed.  Apparently, despite Julio’s best efforts to keep the boys from disturbing the other passengers, Blythe once pushed his feet into the back of the seat in front of him. When we landed in Chicago, the woman popped up, turned around and demanded “Are you going to Virginia?” Julio replied we were going to Washington DC. Then she said “If we’re on the next flight together I am NOT sitting in front of YOU. I refuse.” I hadn’t even noticed the woman talking until she raised her voice. She huffed out of her seat and off the plane. I’m glad Julio was the one sitting on that side, because with the mood I was in, I might have punched her in the face.
I really need to learn to go to sleep before traveling.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Ultimate Field Trip: Washington DC Version, Part One, or An Introduction to the Way We Travel

Fair warning, this series of posts will be part travelogue, part diary, and part rant—with a few pictures thrown in for dramatic effect.

We travel.  A lot. Comparatively speaking.  It’s my husband’s fault, he likes to see the world, and I succumb to peer pressure (gladly!) and tag along.  And what an example I’m setting for the kids---because they do, too!

When we travel by plane, we take only carry-on luggage.  No matter how long we intend to be gone. TSA will only allow one carry on bag and one personal item (like a purse or a back pack) per person—but we find this is sufficient for three full changes of clothes, extra undies and socks, and whatever books or games it takes to keep the troops happy on the flights.

We want our kids to know how to navigate through airports, so we coach them how to check in, get through security, read the arrivals/departures boards, and find gates.  Surprisingly, we do better in larger airports like Chicago O’Hare than in, say, Boise, Idaho---where on this trip, we met the Security Checkpoint from Hell.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Please return your seat backs and tray tables to their upright and locked positions—thank you for flying by the seat of your pants….

I’m writing this as I re-wash some laundry—a rogue red hand towel made it into a load of whites. I tried to convince my husband that he should adopt the motto of the cowboys at the Snake River Stampede, “Real men wear pink,” but he insists the slogan doesn’t apply to underwear. Okay, fine. So, here I sit, my socks and undies not the only things being agitated.
So far, it feels I’ve spent the school year hurried and harried. I realized today that I have horked down every meal since we started school, frantic to shovel fuel into my body so I can rush off to deal with whatever kid, crisis, or event is careening toward me. There is something seriously wrong with this system. Funny thing—at church in a couple of weeks, I’m supposed to teach a lesson on “avoiding crisis living.” Of course, the lesson plan focuses mainly on financial planning and staying out of debt. But I see parallels with time management. Wise use of time, like wise use of money, makes us better able to deal with unexpected events and issues.  Supposedly….
I have a bunch of kids involved in a bunch of things, and I’ve discovered it’s impossible to expect to get them all out the door and be somewhere on time five minutes before we’re supposed to be there. (Cue flickering lightbulb in a thought bubble over my head.) So I’ve been experimenting with how much time is needed to get everyone ready for any given event, their bodies and supplies safely buckled and stowed in the car, and to arrive at wherever early enough to look like we have our act together, but late enough that I don’t have to resort to hog tying the little ones to keep them under control. I’ve found that with five kids, it takes me approximately 50 minutes to gear up to take them anywhere. If I were to divide that out, that would run around 10 minutes per kid—but they EACH take the entire 50 minutes. (What branch of math explains that equation?)
Then, it seems that any place we go requires a thirty minute minimum in driving time—and I can only stand about 10 minutes of Raffi songs in the CD player. Obviously, our car time would be better spent listening to an audio book, that is, if we could hear it over the bickering or robust renditions of “Jingle Bells/Batman smells.”
I am flying by the seat of my pants—which has always worked for me--I’m still able to get everything done and even have it turn out well (with the possible exception of my socks and undies tonight.) but I am not enjoying the rush, the adrenaline, the borderline panic that used to get me really jazzed. I am not finding my high in this lifestyle anymore.
I must be getting old and responsible, because I find myself wanting to fill out my calendar several months in advance. I want to do things like stock my pantry and my arts and crafts cupboard so I feel “prepared.” I am feeling a desperate need to have a structured schedule, and as little “stuff” as possible. (Craft stuff doesn’t count as “stuff” so please don’t quibble with me on it.) It is as frightening an experience as it is liberating.
My kids, who have been used to my “Jack Sparrow” approach to things--because it’s the only thing they have ever known--are struggling with my newfound desire to be organized in home and spirit. I won’t say they are resisting me—they just don’t know what to make of me when I tell them to get their karate uniforms on a good hour before we even have to leave for class. They are boggled by the fact that I’m now planning meals—and disheartened at the elimination of “half price Happy meal Tuesdays.” (Okay, kind of miss that one, too.)
I am trying to be patient with them as they learn to adapt to my attempts at avoiding crisis living. I am trying to be patient with myself when, despite my best planning, things still go awry and we STILL fly by the seat of our pants. Even on our best days, things are slightly insane around here, especially in the evenings after school. But, as long as I can laugh about it all, I think we’ll be okay. Even if I have to schedule the laughing in. Now, where’d I put the pencil?

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I don't normally wear my religion on my sleeve, but I thought I'd touch on a few spiritual experiences I've had lately. For those of you who don't know, I am a Beehive advisor in my ward. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Mormon-ese, that means I teach the 12 and 13 year old girls in  the youth program in my local church congregation.  As part of this responsibility, we are asked to guide the girls through a program called Personal Progress, which is a highly structured yet very individualized series of activities and exercises designed to help a young woman develop her faith in Jesus Christ, develop her talents, and overcome weaknesses.  In order to guide and direct the girls through the program, the advisors are encouraged to participate in the program as well.

After much dragging of feet over having yet ANOTHER thing to commit to, I started on the first exercise; a bit of study in the scriptures concerning faith, a commitment to begin and end each day for three weeks with a prayer, and a few sentences written in my journal about my feelings about how my faith has increased with prayer.  I admit I have been sort of hit or miss with my personal prayers for awhile, though prayers with the family and grace over the food have been a long time habit.  I have also been known to utter "Lord help me!" when a kid is having a meltdown at the grocery store or I'm fishing another sock out of the toilet, but actual "on-the-knees" conversations with God have been few and far between before I started this Personal Progress thing.  But, now that I'm involved, I have to say, it's been pretty awesome.

So, I'm coming up on the three week mark of this prayer gig, and I realized a few things:

My days go better when I start them with prayer.  I feel more centered, more optimistic, more goal-oriented, and more enthusiastic about taking on a houseful of gangly, energetic kids.

I am more alert.  Even when I've only had three hours of sleep the night before.  Prayer (even if it's done eyes open, driving home from dropping the four year old at preschool) is better fuel for a tired me than caffeine (but I'm still hedging with a daily Coca Cola.  What can I say?  Bad habits die hard.)  I notice things I haven't before.  My eleven year old is more obedient and long-suffering than I give her credit for.  (Ah, the blessing/curse of being the oldest child.)  My nine year old is patient and hard working and is very in tune with my moods and eager to please me.  My six year old a deep thinker behind all the comic book reading.  The four year old is a natural leader.  And I'm finally able to keep pace with my baby's shifting schedule.

I feel more spiritually "plugged in."  I have been asking in my prayers for guidance concerning my kids' greatest needs from me, and I'm starting to get some answers.  My oldest girl wants more than anything to be validated.  My oldest boy wants to feel important.  My middle girl needs to move her body around to focus and learn.  My little boy needs consistency and clear-cut rules.  The baby needed a break from solid food (she'd been cranky and not sleeping well until I laid her off the baby rice cereal.)  These were all revelations that have come to me within the last three weeks and each one was so significant, I felt like running through the house, hollering, Eureeka!"

This prayer thing really works.  I always believed in God, but I figured He had bigger things to deal with than whatever I might want to whine about.  Now, it's clear to me that my little issues matter as much to him as anything else.  That's a huge faith builder right there.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Extreme Home Makeover, WHERE ARE YOU?

Aaaaaand...I'm back.  Hi.  Missed me?  Of course you did.  I've missed me.  It's been a crazy six months since the baby arrived.  It's still crazy, but I think it's getting easier to keep my head above water, so to speak.  We are officially a couple or three weeks into the new school year..and other than a crappy first day, spent sleep deprived and with sick children, I think we're doing okay.  The academics are going fine, but I find myself feeling frustrated and agitated by my surroundings.  It is a PIT here.  And this is AFTER I spent the summer de-junking and attempting to reorganize.

You are now forewarned that this is as much a wish list post as anything else.

Here's how it works right now.  The kids work on schoolwork all over the house.  We used to sit at the kitchen table for everything that didn't involve using the computer--but since the baby was born, I've had to have the kids come sit by me on the couch while I nurse.  Or the kids will sprawl out on the floor in whatever room hasn't been taken over by laundry or siblings.  There are stacks of books, papers, school supplies, scratch paper, half finished projects, and who knows what else on every available horizontal surface.  And it's making me crazy.

My first attempt to control it all was to buy more bookshelves.  Unfortunately, this just created more horizontal space to stack stuff on.  Then I tried more shelves with fabric BINS.  But now we can't see anything, so we forget we have eight pairs of scissors and sixty different kinds of glue.  Sigh.  I need a better system.  And while we're at it--

I need pretty.  Seriously.  I am so tired of cheap plastic bins and plywood furniture, white walls, piles of junk, and dilapidated vertical blinds.  Actually, aside from pretty, I need more space--we are pretty cramped in our little dollhouse. But, since gaining more space isn't going to happen anytime soon, I need functionality and I need PRETTY.

I don't exactly know how to accomplish these things, so I'm going to use this post to think, uh, aloud.

Curtains.  The family room faces east, so we get a lot of sun during the morning.  Vertical blinds suck--we've had them for years and they have become brittle and pretty useless.  I need sheer curtains for daytime--something to let in light without blinding us--but I need another layer of something heavy and not see through so we don't look like a lighted aquarium from the outside at night.

Wall color.  I love orange.  I am dying to paint something bright, eye-popping orange.  The whole room is probably overkill, so an accent wall--but which wall?  I also like blue--that Martha Stewart pale aqua color is pretty awesome--but it kind of doesn't go with orange.  I also like bright pink--somewhere between magenta and Pepto-Bismol....hmmm....

Mirrors--depth for the narrow rooms! (But it will reflect all the clutter--double the clutter?!!?!?! NOOOO!!!!)

Storage.  Pardon me while I collapse on the floor and weep, wail, and gnash my teeth.  We have zero storage in this house and I have no idea how to create any without making us feel like the house is coming down on us from all sides.

Elegance.  Okay, with Pepto-Bismol pink and bright orange, I don't know if this is possible--but I like clean lines and not a lot of doodads and gew-gaws to deal with.  But I hate the minimalist/modern look.  I like a place to look lived in and personal.

Light fixtures.  I hate my light fixtures--all of them.  They either collect tons of dust or they are shaped like boobs.  Ugh.  But what do I replace them with?  I don't have room for end tables and lamps.

I seriously want to call that Nate Berkus guy, or one of those other home makeover shows and say--"I have a challenge for you!" and then show them this place.  I can imagine the designers talking to me about what my passions and goals are, asking me about our lifestyle, and then having them pick out the fact that I like bright colors, I like cushy, kid friendly furniture, but I like elegance, too.  And then I picture them working their magic.  But when I picture the big UNVEIL--after I get past the scene of me uncovering my eyes and hopping up and down squealing in gleeful disbelief and gratitude and hugging and possibly smooching the designer, I see---nothing.

I guess I"ll have to figure out my own design stuff...hmmm.  Gonna go stare at the walls for a bit.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Math and a melodramatic post about how much I hate it.

Is it possible to start a post with a belly-ripping, headache-inducing scream? Because that’s what I want to do right now. I HATE math. And even more than hating math, I HATE TEACHING MATH.  (Excuse me while I breathe into a paper bag for a minute.)
Maybe it’s because I have a long and humiliating history with the subject. In the first grade, I was asked, in front of the whole class, to “count by ones.”  We had just gone over skip counting by 2s and 5s and 10s, so you’d think I’d have had this in the bag.  But, I was a shy, dreamy little kid, still trying to wrap my head around skip counting and had never heard of “counting by ones.”  Either you COUNTED “1,2,3,4…” or you SKIP COUNTED. I was not familiar with the term “counting by ones” and told the teacher I didn’t know how.  She gave me a “You are such a little sh@#.” look and then asked another student to “show Marissa how to count by ones…” The kid then proceeded to sneer at me, emphasizing how dumb she thought I was with each number, “One. (Moron!) Two. (Dork!) Three. (Stupid!) Four. (Dummy!) Five…” 
After that, I mentally checked out of math class and never returned.  My worst nightmares aren’t about losing a loved one or being chased by bogey men—it’s of having to go to a math class.
So how does this translate to homeschooling?  A lot of hyperventilating went into my lesson planning.  I finally turned math over to a computer program called ALEKS, which absolves me of most of the work involved in teaching.  But, sometimes my kids still struggle with a concept and don’t understand the explanations and examples the ALEKS program offers and I have to step in.  Did you know there is a huge difference between knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach it?
A typical teaching session goes something like this:
Me: (demonstrating a math problem) So that’s how you do it.
Kid: Why?
Me: Here, let me show you another example (demonstrating again).  See?
Kid: Um, no.  What?
Me: Okay, well, you carry the…wait, move this here..then carry the..oh, dammit.  Class dismissed.
Kid: Yay!
Have I mentioned I hate math?  I don’t want to hate it.  In fact, I kind of got a taste of the beauty of math when I stumbled across this scene from the crime drama Numb3rs:
“Math is nature’s language; its method of communicating directly with us. Everything is numbers…”
Wow.  That is SO cool!  I remind myself of this constantly, because I really don’t want to hate math.  I want to love it, and I want my kids to love it—for the very reasons brought up in the video clip.  Unfortunately, I have yet to work through my deep seated issues with math, so I’m turning over the teaching in this department to my husband (who was a math minor in college.)
More on my epic math phobias later.  It’s time to bust out some grammar!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sing Your Heart Out

Do you know of the grammy winning musical group from South Africa, Ladysmith Black Mambazo? I first heard them in junior high, when a substitute teacher in my choir class had us watch a film called “Spike Lee’s Do It A Capella.”  The movie showcased a number of a capella groups—all of them dynamic, all of them talented.  Among them, the most fascinating to me was Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  I loved their deep, tribal harmonies and exotic sound. I loved the story of their name. I followed their career through the years—loving their collaborations with everyone from Paul Simon to Disney.  I fancied myself a singer as a kid and I had this fantasy of going professional and performing with Ladysmith in something like this. I bought the Do It A capella soundtrack and memorized all the songs—trying to pick out various parts. “Someday,” I thought, “I am going to sing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo!”
As the years passed, my interests and focus changed.  I would not become a professional singer, and that was okay.  I got on with life, went to college, and studied the Humanities. I got married. I had a bunch of kids.  I took up scrapbooking and knitting. But every time I listened to the Do It A Capella soundtrack, I’d indulge in the childish fantasy of singing with Ladysmith. 
And then—I heard they were coming to perform in Nampa, Idaho.  I was thrilled (and surprised they’d be coming to such a podunk town in Idaho in the first place.)  There was NO WAY I was going to miss their performance. My hubby bought tickets and I jabbered to him the whole way over to the event about how much I had loved Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music as a kid, and how I had always wanted to sing with them and how excited I was to see them in person in what was practically my back yard.
We sat in the center of the fourth to last row in the small auditorium of the Nampa Civic Center.  I always like to look around at the audience when I go to concerts, and in this case, I was very curious to see who else would attend a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert.  It was full of stuffy older people, whispering back and forth what they thought they knew about Ladysmith and full of themselves for coming to a “cultural event.” I wondered if I was the only genuine fan in the audience.
When the music started, I was practically bouncing out of my seat.  The singers encouraged the audience to clap out rhythms with them and participate in the call and response songs.  Surely, this was heaven!  But to the singers’ frustration (and mine) the audience remained reserved in their participation.  I think I was the loudest clapper and responder in the bunch—much to the chagrin of the people around me.  I felt the pressure to sit quietly, and began to hold back.  I became agitated.  I really wanted to participate, but because of what I perceived as disapproval from the people surrounding me, I felt I had to stifle my enthusiasm.
Then, the singers began a song, inviting people from the audience to join them onstage.  A couple of the singers left the stage to hand pick people from the audience out of the front row.  I was desperately jealous of and excited for the people the singers were trying to engage. The singers weren’t having much luck convincing people to come up.  Soon, I was disappointed and embarrassed to see that most of the people opted to remain seated.  When the singers realized they weren’t going to get the adults to join them, they turned to recruiting kids—and finally got a couple of them up as they got into their song.  Throughout the song, the singers continued trying to get folks to join them, moving to the edges of the third, fourth, and even fifth rows!  I kept whispering fiercely to my husband that I wanted to go up.  Here was my chance—here was my fantasy realized—I could really go up there and SING with my favorite musical group!  He encouraged me to go, practically pushing me out of my seat.  But by then, the song was nearly over and I would have had to climb over fifteen people, run up ten rows or so, and climb onstage.  I would have looked really stupid and I would have annoyed the people I had to climb over. I would have caused a bit of a ruckus.  What would they have thought of me?
So I stayed put. It killed me, but I couldn’t find the nerve to go up there.  When the song ended, the singers helped the two kids and the one adult couple that eventually joined them back to their seats.  I kept thinking that if they asked for volunteers to go up on stage again, I’d do it and to hell with the people that might get annoyed as I barreled up to the stage.  But, the singers didn’t recruit any more people.  They finished out their concert, and the curtain closed.  I had missed my opportunity.  I left what had been an amazing performance not elated and uplifted by the singers, but dejected and disappointed in myself.  I had let fear of what others might think prevent me from fulfilling my dream.  It had been quite literally within my grasp, and I had not seized it.
On the way home, I tried to mollify myself.  There were a couple of call and response songs that the group had gotten the entire audience involved in.  I had sung with the crowd when directed to, so technically, I had sung with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.  But repeating a few choruses with a reluctant audience wasn’t the same as going up on stage, joining the beckoning singers, and singing my soul out.
I’ve thought a lot about that experience over the last couple of years.  How many times have I had an opportunity to do something great, to be a part of something phenomenal, to do a bit of good, but not taken part because of fear of what others would think, or fear of my own inadequacy? And what have I ever gained from hanging back, not plunging in to something I’m passionate about? I vowed I would never let fear best me again and prevent me from fulfilling my dreams, because living in fear is not living at all.
When dreams call, grasp the hand of opportunity, regardless of fear, and sing your heart out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Life Lesson, as brought to you by my husband

Back in April 2010, my husband went in for a routine physical and was told by his doctor that his blood pressure was high and he needed to lose weight because he was at risk for a heart attack (among other things.)  The doc wanted to see him back in three months.  If my husband hadn’t improved, he’d have to start taking blood pressure medication.
For about two weeks following his appointment, my husband tried to exercise—but then life got in the way; we went on vacation, he got a head cold, he got busy at work, the kids wanted his attention, his church callings took up too much time.  I worried about his health, but not wanting to nag my man about his eating habits and lack of exercise, I didn’t say anything. (If I had, it would have been the pot calling the kettle black!)  Soon, three months were past, and it was time for his follow up appointment.
This time, my husband’s blood pressure was worse.  The doctor actually told him he was a “ticking time bomb” and “going to have a heart attack.”  He wrote out a prescription for BP medicine.  My husband was horrified and declared he would try again to lose weight, if the doctor would just give him another three months. The doctor, highly skeptical, called my husband out on the carpet.  “You’ve had three months to get this under control and you haven’t,” he said.  “What makes you think you’re going to do it now?”  My husband asked how long he’d have to be on the medicine if he started taking it.  The doctor said, “Probably for the rest of your life.”  My husband looked the doc in the eye and said, “I don’t want to have to rely on that medicine to stay alive.  I WILL get healthy the right way.  Give me three more months and let me prove it to you.”
The doctor was still skeptical, but turned my husband loose, without the prescription.
Long story short, my husband has spent the last nine months proving he could get himself healthy.  He’s lost 60 pounds and is now within ten pounds of his target weight.  His blood pressure is now normal, his risk for a heart attack and stroke down to practically zero.  This man is a lean machine.
60 pound drop
Over the last few months, people have noticed him getting smaller and leaner. He’s been approached by men and women who tell him he looks like his weight has just “melted off.”  He’s been told, in tones of awe and envy, that he looks like he’s “wasting away.”  Some of our elderly friends have even expressed concern that he might be ill, because he’s so thin.  Some folks have insisted that he STOP losing weight because “You’re small enough now.”  He’s been asked what magic pill he’s taking, what diet he’s on, how he’s “magically” managed to lose so much weight.  People want to know:  “What’s his secret?”
No one believes him when he tells them. They actually laugh at him.  But, I know his secret, too.  It IS unbelievable.  Want me to tell you?  Are you ready?  Okay, here it is.  My husband’s secret for weight loss success is------DAMN. HARD. WORK.
He started by joining our local “corner” gym—it’s a small place, open 24/7, membership fee: 20 bucks a month.  Next, he hired a personal trainer for six sessions to help him come up with a game plan and some goals, and to keep him on track long enough to get into the habit of working out on his own.  The trainer weighed and measured my husband, wrote out an exercise plan for him, and introduced him to a health and fitness website: to help him track his progress.  Then the real work began.
My husband has, for nine months, consistently spent an hour to an hour and a half at the gym, or out cycling, five OR six days a week. He is still as busy as ever with work, family, and church responsibilities, but now he MAKES TIME for fitness.  More often than not, he gets up at 5 AM to go work out. Occasionally, he’ll skip the gym, and take in an evening kickboxing class, or play as a substitute in an indoor soccer league. The big realization here: You make time for the things that are truly important to you.
He has learned to count calories and for the first three months of his serious endeavor to get healthy, measured EVERY morsel of food that went into his mouth.  He was already eating fairly healthy foods, just MORE than was strictly necessary—so, he had to learn portion control.  And, admittedly, he did change some of his food choices.  He now eats high fiber cereal, and tosses in a bit of protein powder in with a fruit smoothie.  He eats a lot more salads and veggies.  At restaurants, he generally chooses lower calorie entrees.  But, he doesn’t shy away from the occasional donut or slice or two of pizza.
All this has been very hard.  He got tired.  He got sore.  He was often hungry, initially. He’d get sick and want to quit.  Three or four times, he’s had to take as much as two weeks off, to recover from injuries, or illness, or other life events.  But he keeps getting back up, and keeps going to the gym.  And he keeps watching what he eats and tracking his progress on the website.
To the untrained eye, my husband’s weight appears to have “melted off.”  But if it’s melted off, it’s melted off with gallons of sweat from hours and hours and HOURS of damn hard work, physically and mentally.  This brings me to the “life lesson” mentioned in the title of this post.
I hear a lot of parents telling their kids “You can be anything you want to be.  You can be successful at anything you put your mind to.”  I believe this.  But I also believe that when we say these kinds of things, we have a tendency to leave out the critical part---“if you’re willing to work your arse off to get it.” Consequently, our encouragement to our kids sounds vague and abstract, and the kids develop the belief that if they wish or dream something hard enough, it will come to pass. 
In my experience, hoping and wishing and even dedicated thought don’t usually work by themselves.  But—work will win when wishing won’t.  Whether you’re trying to lose weight or you want to learn to speak Russian or play the violin—it’s the WORK that gets you there.  And the harder you work, the better you’ll do.  We tend to want to look at people who have accomplished much and think they’re just lucky or unusually talented.  Luck and innate ability may lend themselves to success, but real, lasting success in any endeavor requires a whole lot of old fashioned, uncomfortable, gritty WORK.  Take it from one who knows. 
I’m proud of you, my man!
New Look

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Burnout: Part Deux

I was hoping to be able to post all the awesome stuff I gathered from the Mother’s Meeting that I had anticipated in my last post.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in the way of awesome advice about what to do about feeling burnt out.  Most of the moms who attended this time are mothers to older kids and teenagers---the big topic of the night ended up being about how to motivate their older kids to take their education into their own hands—so there’d be less nagging on mom’s part.
I suppose I should have paid better attention, so when my kids are pre-teens and teens, I’ll have some ideas, but I was just sort of disappointed that we weren’t going to talk about dealing with the homeschool blahs. 
At the end of the meeting, however, I threw my concerns out and asked for advice.  One mom of ten told me that my feelings of burn out and disinterest will pass—probably well after my baby is born, and that if my other kids didn’t get any formal academics for six months to a year, they’d still turn out okay.  It sounds kind of flippant to write it here, but I was actually comforted by that statement.  This mom of ten is a woman I consider my homeschooling and parenting mentor.  She’s given me a lot of practical advice since before I started homeschooling, so I trust her.  She’s also got a very wry sense of humor and isn’t one of those Pollyanna types that tries to gloss over the hard stuff.  She’s upbeat, don’t get me wrong, but she’s very REAL about her triumphs and failures.
So, I’ve been giving it some thought.  Six months with no school?  A year?  For real? We haven’t done any formal academics for about six weeks.  I have a baby coming sometime (God willing) in the next week, and I can’t imagine I’m going to feel up to hitting the books really hard for at least a few weeks after that.  I don’t want to whine or anything, but I’m feeling pretty miserable physically.  Standing hurts, walking hurts, bending over is nigh unto impossible—I’m exhausted after taking a shower and getting dressed.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of just sitting around.  I’m too tired to read, I just fall asleep—so yes—I have resorted to letting the kids entertain themselves with the TV and with the Wii.
But, I have discovered that the kids can only tolerate so much of that before they are restless and discontent.  They are brunt out on burnout.
  For the last few days, They’ve been asking me what we’re going to do today.  Something?  Anything? So I’ve given them chores.  I’ve let them cook (yikes!)  I’ve let them get out whatever messy craft project they want.  And, as I’ve watched them discover the satisfaction and order of a cleaned room, the joys of a successful cooking experience, or the lesson in perseverance when the project doesn’t turn out they they were hoping initially, I’ve begun to feel a glimmer of motivation and interest.
A spark of Phoenix fire.  But that’s the next post.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Oh yes, it has arrived. I admit, here and now, I have entered the Apathy Stage.  Revel in it with me for a moment.  The entire household has been down for the last couple of weeks with intermittent occurrences of head-colds, stomach bugs, and in my case, epic pregnancy-induced heartburn.  For the last little bit we’ve been foraging instead of having regular meals, living off saltine crackers and suspicious looking leftovers.  Dishes and laundry are piling up. Half my kids have been running around in pajamas, the other half, undies and T shirts that haven’t been changed in a few days.  I think I’m the only one who has bothered to shower in nearly a week.  I may not feel good, but I insist on smelling good.  As for the others, I’ve ordered them to stay downwind. 
We (but especially me) are officially suffering from burnout.  With everything.  School, chores, church, interpersonal communication, hygiene…(I warned you I was keeping things real here.) Even TV has lost it’s mind-numbing charm.  Consequently, the house is in chaos and the bickering between the kids has increased.  I’ve been tempted to put hazard tape up across the front door. It is NOT pretty here.
However, before I’ve completely depressed you, I will say that I know this is temporary.  I know as soon as I start feeling better, things will improve, by virtue of the fact that I’ll care about the state of the kitchen and general housekeeping again.  I’ll go back to insisting on daily bathing rituals.  I’ll get excited about using the copy machine to run off math lessons.  Right now, the kids are on the upswing, meaning they have tons more energy than I do—but they’re all young enough to still need a lot of hand holding to help with chores and still need considerable one-on-one time for schoolwork.  They are bored and I can only boss them around from my prone position on the couch for so long before they revolt and run screaming into the backyard half naked.
Sometimes, when you feel crummy and don’t want to face the day, I think it really is best to surrender to that and hide under the covers as long as the kids will allow.  I’ve heard crashes and clunks and screechings as I’ve been buried in blankets, and when no one comes in bleeding or on fire, I manage to quell the concern over what’s happening by reminding myself that everything in the house is cleanable or replaceable.  Wow, I’ve really sunk low.
Burnout is a part of life—and it often seems to hit me and my family when we’ve been under the weather or had some major change in the family or our environment.  I used to stress about those “blah-I’d-rather-be-doing-anything-but-this” times, thinking I was shortchanging my kids’ education.  I mean, what if they get “behind?”  What if I get SO burned out I can never get out of feeling this way?  But now, I know that this kind of thing is cyclical.  Sometimes, you can force yourself out of it by changing your routine, or taking a couple of days off.  Other times, you just have to ride out the ugliness. When things are good, they’re great.  When they aren’t, they aren’t—and it only makes things worse when you stress out.
I’ve found that having friends to talk to helps a lot.  I meet up once every month or so with a group of other homeschooling moms—we call our meetings “Mother’s Meeting.”  No kids are allowed (except nursing babies) and we meet at someone’s house for a couple of hours to talk about whatever’s going on in our lives.  Our meetings generally have themes or topics and each mom is asked to come prepared to talk about whatever the topic is.  Questions and concerns are encouraged and “what works for you” ideas are even more so.  I find these meetings inspiring—it’s nice to see I’m not the only one dealing with balancing housework with homework, and it’s fun to rejoice in each other’s triumphs.  It’s comforting to share each other’s burdens and concerns.  We laugh, we cry, we encourage each other. Oh, and we generally have treats.  Always an upper, in my opinion.
This month’s meeting is in a week or so, and fittingly, our topic is “Burnout—when does it hit and what do you do?”  I’m looking forward to this meeting because I SO need it.  I’ll post what I learn/gain here on this blog afterward.
Now, back to the couch and the ginger ale.

Monday, February 7, 2011

School in the Time of Upheaval

Just when I felt I had this homeschooling thing figured out and running smoothly—weekly schedule ironed out, lessons planned, supplies purchased or borrowed, chores assigned—our family and household has been thrown into some upheaval.
We’ve had the unexpected addition of some extra people to our household and it appears we will be accommodating said extras for an indeterminate amount of time. This has changed the dynamics of everything from meal times and preparation and timing of lessons to space in the house and the car.  Maybe that sounds like no big deal, but believe me—it is.  There are discipline issues and differing expectations that make for plenty of awkwardness and Motrin-worthy headaches. There have been no end of distractions from schooling (some minor and just annoying, some major and downright frightening.)  And this is not including a newfound anxiety of where to put and what to do with the baby I’m due with in a mere four weeks.
Consequently, we’ve had to fit school in wherever and whenever we can.  I never considered myself a “structure” person, and never put much stock in having a routine, but now that we don’t have any of that anymore, any sense of routine and normalcy is what I crave most.  There have been days where I’ve had to abandon formal school time and just grit my teeth and endure the goings-on around here.  There have been times when I’ve needed to put myself in “time out” so I don’t turn a hard situation into an awful one.  I long for things to go back to  normal…but it appears we’ll have to redefine normal.
I apologize for sounding both cryptic and grim.  What I’d like to get across in this post is that even though we’re in the midst of a less-than-ideal situation, we’re trying to make the best of it.  I’ve had to let go of my expectations that things will run smoothly in any given hour, and I’ve had to practice patience when I’d rather run screaming from the room (or send other people screaming from the room!)  I’m trying to find humor in all the craziness, and I think I’m succeeding (most days.) 
My point here is that even when times are hard, and things aren’t going as planned, we can still accomplish a lot.  We can still learn a lot.  It’s a matter of reassessing one’s priorities. In our case right now, we’re more in survival mode than anything else.  We’re spending less time learning math, grammar, and history, but more time learning adaptability, patience, and diplomacy.  I suppose I should include that we’re learning more about love and charity (by far, the hardest lessons for me.)  In the grand scheme of things, those are probably the most important lessons to learn.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Some Questions Answered

Recently, one of my favorite cousins emailed me with some questions about how I handle this school thing and requested I post about it.  They were good questions, so here goes:
Q: What did you do personally to prepare for homeschooling?
A: I did (and still do) A LOT of praying.  Seriously.  I mean, we’re talking about the lives and intellectual growth of my kids here!  I need all the divine guidance I can get!  Beyond that, I attended conferences and “mother’s meetings” sponsored by the Deseret Homeschool Association (a local LDS homeschool support group.) and took copious notes. I found and hounded other homeschool parents about their methods and curriculum. I wrote out my goals to use as a reference. I did not attend any official “teacher training” courses.  I surveyed curricula. I read books on educational theory and I researched the teaching methods and models other people used. These are some of the books and websites I used: (I’m including links so you can see them, too.)
The Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason
A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver Van Demille
The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise
CHOIS (Christian Homeschoolers of Idaho State)
Idaho State Department of Education (I found the state standards and each grade’s scope and sequence outlined here)
The Core Knowledge Foundation
I also checked out various homeschooling books and periodicals in my local library (most of which are out of print now, but still chock full of practical advice on every aspect of homeschooling you can imagine.)
After doing a lot of reading and asking a lot of questions, I started forming my own ideas about what an education should be and how to implement it.  Initially, I was very drawn to the philosophies and methods presented in the book A Thomas Jefferson Education. That book pretty much guided me through my first year as a homeschool teacher.  I returned to that book and the TJEd website and forums frequently for reassurance and guidance.
As I got more comfortable with my role as home educator, I turned to the book The Well Trained Mind, which offered a different philosophy and more rigorous practices than the Thomas Jefferson book.  It also offers curricula reviews and suggestions.  I’ve taken most of our curriculum from what was suggested in TWTM—namely our math, spelling, language arts, and history curricula.
Q: What has been the hardest part about teaching?
A: I’m tempted here to say, “Every part!” but the truth is, certain aspects of teaching have been harder at times than others. The hardest part initially was dealing with the crushing weight of responsibility for my kids’ entire education.  I was terrified of screwing up, so I modeled my teaching and “classroom management” after what I remembered from my own experiences in public school.  And it was a FLOP.  You cannot duplicate public school at home. It’s impossible.  But, impossible as it was, I couldn’t let go of my public school mindset and I was frustrated when things didn’t go according to plan (which was pretty much all the time.)  My kids were miserable, I was miserable.  It was only after the experiencing the WORST homeschool day ever, that I realized my expectations and my methods were WRONG. (I’ll post about it soon, I promise—it’s a great story, now that I can laugh about it.)
After that day, the hardest part about teaching became being consistent about having school at all.  (Okay, seriously, my next post will be about the WORST day ever, because it illustrates how drastically things changed.)
Right now, the hardest part about teaching is still being consistent and insisting all the work (mine and the kids’) be done in a timely and excellent manner.  I am not an organized or structured person by nature, so following lesson plans and staying on task are my biggest challenges.  I’m easily distracted, and there are a LOT of distractions in a homeschool.  There are screaming toddlers, laundry, phone calls, people coming to the door, chores, bickering kids, Facebook (yes, I am slightly addicted), and a slew of other things.  I have to work hard to keep to a schedule and eliminate (or ignore) the distractions.  Some days go better than others, but I’m proud to say the good days now consistently outnumber the bad.
Q: What have you learned along the way about your skills as a teacher?
A: I’ve learned:
  • I am really good at getting people excited about things.
  • I have a tendency to want to fizzle out after the initial enthusiasm wears off.
  • I’m the “wrong” kind of perfectionist and have had to learn to be the “right” kind. (We can debate whether perfectionism is okay in the first place, later.)
  • I vacillate from being rigid to flighty.
  • There’s a HUGE difference in knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach it. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post about math.)
  • Fear can be crippling if I let it be. 
  • To ask for help. (Again, look for the upcoming math post.)
  • Before I can teach anything, I have to have the students’ attention and respect.
  • Sounding upbeat and positive sets the tone for the day (so fake it ‘til you make it, baby!) 
  • I’m drawn to the rigors of drills and memorization but don’t always like to implement them. (The kids feel the same way.) 
  • My students are more interested in learning when I treat them like individuals rather than a herd.
  • How to correct the kids without getting upset ( overcoming the perfectionism thing, and a “these kids and their actions are a reflection of ME!” thing) 
  • The value and timing of using incentives and the importance of being clear, concise, and consistent.
  • I am surprisingly tenacious and resourceful.
  • Practice makes permanent.
  • I have a lot to learn! (Some days this is exciting, other’s it’s daunting!)
I hope this answers your questions, Cuz.  Thanks for suggesting I tackle these in a post. If you or any of my readers have more questions you’d like to see addressed, let me know and I’ll get going on them!

Monday, January 3, 2011

School Inservice Day—January 2011

On the first Monday of each month, the kids and I have a school inservice day—basically, we spend the morning going over the past month’s school goals and projects, and plan everything for the new month.  Then, we clean the house.  I LOVE inservice days.  I got the idea from another mother who homeschools her nine (NINE!) kids.
For one thing, inservice days are great for keeping me semi-organized.  When God was handing out the genes for organizational ability and interest, I was standing in the buffet line.  Inservice days help me make up for that.  For another thing, inservice days allow me  to chart our progress and evaluate the methods and programs I’m using.  I can also assess the kids’ success and interest in what we’re doing.
Inservice days are a great guard against burn-out.  These are when I switch up the chore assignments, the class schedule, implement new teaching tools/methods, and discard ones that aren’t going so well.  We plan field trips and I introduce new themes—giving the kids a heads up for what to expect for the next month.  I dole out the rewards (I’m not above bribery!) the kids have earned, like the Book It! program from Pizza Hut, or local library incentives, or awards/privileges of my own design.
Here’s how today’s inservice shaped up:
I started the official meeting at breakfast—when all the kids are at the table and their mouths are full, so they are more inclined to listen.  Today is our second anniversary of homeschooling, so we planned a party for tonight (basically just an excuse to have some cake and ice cream and reminisce about the last couple of years—complete with a foray into our photos and memories of all the crazy stuff we’ve done.)
Next, we talked about some “social issues.”  Calvin, my second oldest, has gotten rather fidgety (I’m blaming it on cold weather and being cooped up in the house too much) and has started rolling his head constantly, claiming he has a crick in his neck.  Now, doing this OCCASIONALLY is one thing—but doing this too frequently just looks weird and is incredibly annoying to witness. We talked about how to present ourselves in public (there’s no excuse for tic-like/nervous habit behavior without a medical reason!) and how to deal with real cricks in the neck, so there’s no need for persistent head rolling. 
After that, we moved onto the kids’ daily/weekly schedule.  A few months ago, I realized we all needed some more structure, and I was tired of nagging the kids to get every little thing done.  I discovered this daily checklist on and began posting a copy for each kid in the family room to fill out, or at least to refer to.
After going over the nitty gritties on the daily checklist (chronicled in my next post) we talked about field trips (Guatemala for a week!) and how to celebrate Daddy’s birthday!
Finally, it was time for lunch, a break, and then some housecleaning and errand running.  All in all, it was a good day, and we’re officially ready to take on January 2011!