Friday, December 25, 2009

In My South

Yesterday, Christmas Eve, I ran across a book titled My South. It is a series of essays on "My South" and originated by an essay written by Robert St. John. I was touched by this book, and the various understandings of My South articulated throughout it.

A few nights ago, my husband came home laughing. He had stopped by a neighbor's house. Big B has stopped, almost daily, to visit our elderly neighbor for the past 4 years. He says our neighbor was giving him a package of home-baked goodies as they were discussing the weather. He mentioned how much he hated snow. She questioned where he had spent much time with snow and he explained that he had grown up in Illinois. Big B said she looked so stunned, saying, "I didn't know you were a Yankee!". She quickly recovered and continued visiting.

This reminded me of a facebook interaction I recently had. I found myself making a quick commentary about a decision I made to some W. Coast friends. I stated simply, "in our Tx. Hill Country community" and explained some issues we had with religious intolerance. I quickly had many people I did and did not know jump on the band-wagon about the hate-groups that congregate in this area, etc. I found myself feeling defensive, although I knew what they said was true. And while reactionary hate are real and true problems of the South, hate is not limited to the South. Nor is it a part of daily life in the South I know.

(Pictured here, the an
nual MLK Peace March in San Antonio, Texas has repeatedly held the largest march in the nation for over a decade.We have attended since the boys were toddlers)

I am a Southerner. I was born in South Texas. My mother's family is from North Carolina. I have like a zillion cousins in North Carolina.

I spent a total of 9 years of my life in other parts of the world. But when push came to shove, I chose to raise my family in the rural South. Sometimes I question this decision. But as I read through this book, I was reminded of the charm of the South. The charm we often take for granted. So I want to share my own version of "My South" . It is the version that I have grown to love.

My South

In my South.. children wear shorts and t-shirts year-round. Flip-flops and boots are optional.

"Dress nice" means dress pants, dress shoes, shirt with a collar (at a minimum) for men. Nice pants outfit or dress/skirt with hose and dress-shoes for women.

In my South.. no-one is better than you, and you are better than no-one.

"Yes ma'am, yes sir, please and thankyou" are the basics of every Southerners vocabulary.. Sir and Ma'am are not a reflection of age but of respect for humans of all ages.

In my South.. (and this is stolen from the book) when your mother says "Don't be ugly" she is not talking about your appearance.

In my South..things are never what they appear.

It is the mainstream churches encouraging equality for people of all sexual orientations.

Generally speaking, Republicans and Democrats agree to disagree...The political divisions here are more about the importance of populists and/or true statesmen.

Most agree that the Border Wall is an abuse of time, money and property of individual matter what your political stance.

In my South, the common thread for everyone is individualism.

In my South, unexpected guests are always welcome. An extra seat and serving (or two) for breakfast, lunch and supper are expected to be prepared. Meals are a social occasion.

Tea, lemonade and some form of booze are always offered.

In my South recreation consists of rivers, pot-lucks ,guitars, late-night barbecues, ghost-stories, 4-wheelers and Gulf-Coast vacations.

In my South, spring is a time for play. Fiesta, Baseball, and Mardi Gras, prevail during this season. Easter and Passover squeeze in.

Soccer games, flashlight tag, quinceaneras (all to the sound of crickets in the distance) are the occasions of summer.

In my South, you must sit still to catch up.

In my South, we are barefoot as we eat tamales and play board-games with family and friends on Christmas Day.

And in my South we say..

Feliz Navidad :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Transitions and the Meme Dare

This is the first year that Brian will not be home for Christmas. We are sad. We will miss him.
Big B and I also realize that this is just part of his growing up. We are pleased to see him spend
time with Angee and her family. We also realize that he is the first of our motley crew to start breaking away to create his own traditions.
We decide to set aside the Sunday before Christmas as a time to celebrate together. So we start our first "early-Christmas" get-together. We decide to keep it fairly simple. Serving soup and sandwiches. We visit. We play games. We exchange gifts because we all agree it is fun to watch each other open. We become v-e-r-y sleepy. It is nice to have this time to enjoy each other's company. While there will still be gifts exchanged between the remaining family members, our focus now shifts. We enjoy the rest of the holiday season with a focus on the gift of Christ in our lives. We keep it simple.

Okay. Now onto the dare. sardinemama over at has created a dare to complete a Christmas meme. Nine (+) Texans has completed the dare. So now (sigh) I feel compelled to play.

The Tree
1. When Do You Put Up the Tree?
First week of December.

2. Real or Fake?
Fake. Kids always got sick when we had real. Seemed to trigger asthma.

3. Lights - What Color?
It's a sparkly tree (fiber optic) the lights change when you plug it in...colors.

4. Garland?

5. Theme or No Theme?
Theme? What's that?

6. What Kind of Topper?
A paper star that Cody made when he was also has a little water-stain from the flood of 2002.

7. What's Your Favorite Ornament?
Cody's star.

8. What does your tree skirt look like?
Red with white trim.

9. Where Do You Put Your Tree?
In front of the living room window, next to the fireplace.

10. Who Decorates the Tree?

11. What's Under the Tree?
We start with gifts for other people, and as we give, personal gifts seem to arrive. Also..the dog. She likes to jingle the ornaments.

12. Do You Put Candy Canes On Your Tree?
Nope. The kids would leave them..but the dog has a sweet tooth.

About the Food:
1. What's Your Favorite Christmas Cookie?
Cracker Jack Cookies.

2. Do You Bake Cookies and Give Them Away?

3. Any Special Foods You Have Only at Christmas?
Nope. We eat anything, anytime.

4. What Do You Eat Christmas Eve?
We go to my parents every year after the evening service. Eggnog, crackers, cheese, oysters, and cookies. The kids always leave a bottle of wine for Santa (along with more crackers and cheese). Now that they are older. They still humor santa.

5. What Do You Eat Christmas Day?
Brian usually fixes a big breakfast. The rest of the day we graze on tamales, chips and cheese and shrimp shishkabob.

6. Do You Like Eggnog?

7. Do You Like Candy Canes?

About The Decorations:
1. Where Do You Hang Your Stockings?
Oops. I keep forgetting the stockings! On the fireplace.

2. Do You Put Lights on Your House?

3. Got Any Outside Lawn Decorations?

4. Do You Put Up a Nativity?
Nativity and Advent candles come out the first Sunday of Advent. Everything else comes later.

5. Do You Hang Mistletoe Over Your Door?

6. Got a Wreath on Your Front Door?

7. How Long Does it Take You to Decorate?
One day to clean(it's an excuse to deep clean) and make room for the advent candles and nativity. Candles on the coffee table and nativity on an end table or mantle. One day to rearrange furniture and set up tree. One evening to decorate the tree. The rest we sort-of piecemeal.

About the Movies/Shows:

1. Favorite Christmas TV Show?
Charlie Brown's Christmas and A Wonderful Life.

2. A Wonderful Life / Miracle on 34th Street / A Christmas Carol
Brian and I always watch A Wonderful Life together after kids are in bed. We used to watch while waiting for Santa. Now we watch out of tradition...and maybe Santa will share his wine.

3. Favorite Christmas Movie?
The Christmas Clause (only the first one)

4. Have you ever seen the Nutcracker Suite Ballet live?
Yup, with the whole family. Beautiful.

5. Ever Been to the Radio City Music Hall Show? No.

6. Ever Gone to the Movies on Christmas Day?
No. We don't leave home Christmas Day.

Other Christmas Things:

1. Favorite Christmas Books?
The Gospel of Luke
The Autobiography of Santa Claus.

2. Do You Stuff Your Stockings With Any Types of Food?
Yes..candy it is.

3. Do You Go to Church on Christmas or Christmas Eve?
Christmas's a family thing. Christmas Day if we are serving.

4. Have You Ever Gone Caroling?
Yes but not for a long, long time.

5. Favorite Christmas Carol?
Winter Wonderland. (Probably because I have been snow deprived most of my life)

6. Do You Believe in Santa? St. Nicholas or Santa Claus?

7. Do You Leave Santa Cookies?
wine, crackers and cheese.

8. What About Rudolph? Occasionally a cookie.

9. What Was Your Best Christmas Gift?
A ring the boys bought for me when they were younger.

10. Worst Gift?
I honestly can't think of one.

11. Do You Go To a "Work" Christmas Party? Yes..sort-of. The Boys and Girls Club throws a party every year..but it is for the kids..not for us.

12. Do You Hate Going?
No. It's crazy and chaotic, but I am always glad we do it.

13. Do You Send Christmas Cards?
I used to? Every year I think, "this is the year" and then the year is gone.

14. Do You Make a List?
No. I tried a few times. I always lost the list.

15. Do You Check it Twice and Thrice?

16. When do You Start Shopping?
I try to start in October.

17. Do You Shop on Black Friday?
I have, but prefer not to.

18. Are You Ready for Christmas?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Baking, Movies, Study and Holiday Magic

In years past, we have used this holiday season as a time to be "keepers of the magic".

We use this time to focus on the people whose lives touch us. Meals are cooked, cookies and breads are baked, gifts are often made and wrapped. Miraculously, secret elves manage to leave treasures to be found in and around the community.

In years past we have taken a break from academics during this time. We see this as a season of service.

This year seems to be a little different. Co-op took a month long break just before Thanksgiving. the kids are continuing to study through the holidays.

Austen is busy (in general) with math, reading, an odyssey of the mind costume and numerous art projects.

Cody has been offered a merit scholarship from Full Sail and is now motivated to bring his writing to another addition to continuing his study of Business, Trig and Chemistry. He also needs to update his knowledge of U.S. History just a tad before the year ends.

Cody hopes to start taking classes in Internet Marketing in the Fall. He will start these classes online so we will call it his senior/freshman year. He is choosing to study online so he can continue playing soccer in S.Texas, try to build his transmission repair business and still be a minor at home:) In order to start classes next Fall, he really does have a lot of studying to do between now August.

So today, we listen to a George Straight C.D. I personally am finishing a couple papers for this pastoral ministry training program and doing some reading from Homer today. Need to plan some spontaneous problems for my Odyssey(no..not Homer's Odyssey) teams this evening.

This morning, Austen and I are reviewing statistics. Cody and I are both reading and responding (writing) to Why War? by Freud. Cody is then leaving to SA for a couple days for soccer games and co-op. He will stay with my parents. He likes being with is quieter.

We planned a movie/baking marathon (lots of those lately) for late morning/early afternoon with the Van Bibber family. We are watching Angels and Demons, Julie and Julia (again) and the second Night at the Museum. Today is breads..lots of breads!

Austen continues on an art project and it's his turn to cook tonight. We switched him to Thursdays because he says he has "more time to cook properly" on Thursdays.

Tonight's menu? Sweet and sour chicken and rice. He is thinking of experimenting with sweet and sour tofu as well.

Guess it's time to get off the computer and enjoy the day.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Plot Thickens

I have spent the afternoon reading or re-reading the first 3 books. The Great Conversation and The Great Ideas. (I've never been good at reading one thing at a time). Sardine Mama at sardinesinacan offers to join me. Austen and I discuss theories on what a liberal education is.
I get all excitable and start trying to include the boys..and then catch myself.

I realize when Sardine Mama asks which specific books to read, that I need this thing called a plan.


I plan to read books 1-5 by mid January...focusing most of my time and attention on Book 5 Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. This is simply because I have read 1-4 before. So it's sort-of a cheat..I know. Basically, the first 3 books are an explanation of the "conversation" per se..and then summaries of the ideas. (I know..did not do the books much justice). Book 4 is Homer..the Illiad and the Odyssey..which I know that Sardine Mama and her crew are fairly familiar with. So..I propose to host one "Socratic Saturday" a month. Anyone that has read all or some of these readings are welcome to join. It will be very informal. We will serve tea (hot or cold depending on weather), lemonade and alcohol. We will enjoy some snacks and maybe take a walk, fish, swim or get warm by a fire. (once depending) as we discuss.

February books 6-8: Herodotus/Thucydides, Plato and Aristotle
March books 9-11: more Aristotle, Hippocrates/Galen, and Euclid/Archimedes/Apollonius of Perga/Niomachus
April: books 12-14: Lucretius/Epictetus/M.Aurelius, Virgil and Plutarch

sentially, 3 volumes a month (after the initial cram 5 books in a couple of weeks). This would put us completing the set in June of 2011..which gives us a little "wiggle room" for life..since I am determined to do this by Sept. of 2011.

nd no. The World will not end if this does not happen. I just gotta see if I can do it:)

If someone has to miss a is okay. If someone just wants to listen to the discussion but has not read..that is okay too. Essentially, all are welcome just know we will be discussing these thinkers for the day.

This is a crazy amount of reading..and I know by condensing things I really don't give any of the authors justice.

But that is how it's gonna be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Great Conversation Challenge

It started after watching Julie and Julia on d.v.d. I watched with the boys..and thought. "hey..I want to do that. I want to set a goal for myself, and see if I can meet it." I thought of cooking..but knew that would never happen. How about..well..what do I want to do?" I have spent way too much time on facebook and blogging, lately. I do realize this.

I remember fondly how I used to binge read. I would set a goal to read all the books in certain sections of various libraries..and usually succeed over a summer. I started this nonsense when I was 9. In high school I made a bet with David Cortez that I could read every book in the library before him. We both got half-way through and then realized that the other half we had read before high school. (Except the scary books..I wouldn't read scary books because I was a wimp) I enjoyed the books. I enjoyed the challenge of a self-imposed deadline.

When I graduated from college the first thing I thought was Great. Now no-one can ever tell me what I have to read again...and I meant it. But it wasn't long before I felt the need to work through a list of some-sort.

When I started the pastoral ministry program (which I started for spiritual..not academic reasons) I was surprised when I realized I was really looking forward to reading for a class again. I thought I would be more challenged (academically speaking) in this ministry program..and I have been some semesters. .I have learned much about spirituality in general, church history, visitations, homiletics, etc. and I am grateful for the sense of community and friendships developed. But, I still find a part of me craving the thoughts/ideas running around my brain from others far more intelligent than myself. The thoughts of thinkers both secular and from various faith backgrounds that span the centuries.I miss the pleasure of those "aha" moments. Those moments when you get a glimmer of another understanding of human nature you would never think of on your own.

So I look at my shelves and see The Great Conversation and all the other 53 volumes of the Great Books collection. The entire collection, still sitting. I started this series a couple summers ago. I asked my parents for their set. When my father retired from Trinity, my parents gave me the set that was in his study at home. They needed the shelf-space in order to make room for other books. They gave me the set with the understanding I would share the books with my mom whenever she wanted. I was so excited. I read book 1. I read 1/2 through the designated Year 1 readings in a summer..and then I just stopped.

I become excited at the prospect of reading the entire set..but UGH in 10 years? If I don't do it in less than 2 years..I will probably never do it. My attention span is just not that long. I mention my latest desire and predicament over dinner. Michael says he just started reading them straight through..he ignored the reading list. Now there's a thought!

The boys become curious (very temporarily) as to what we are talking about. We discuss the leaders of Western Thought. We discuss the critiques of limiting this "discussion" to Western Thought by primarily white men.. but remind them that it is still important to know these thinkers...simply not limit oneself to them. There is a lot to be learned from Shakespeare, Dante, Locke, Plato, Socrates, etc...

The boys eyes begin to glaze and they quickly become much more interested in how Big B kept sausage casings warm in a friends garage. (It involved a self-rigged candle-warmer thingy). Michael says he has read books 1-5, so if I will "catch up" with him..we can read and discuss together. Then with a big grin he says, "yes..we can discuss the books over dinner." The boys look panicked for a second and quickly change the subject. They claim they are non-readers and by the way how do you make a chicken coop? Brian and Michael point out the different styles of reading everyone in the house prefer...and then we let it rest. The boys are familiar with more of these thinkers than many of their peers. We don't want to turn my challenge to myself into something they learn to fear. Besides, they have been really cooperative in our new dinner-cooking arrangement.

After dinner I look at the shelves. I have read some of these of most. I decided to take Michael up on his offer. I hope to have the first 5 books read by March(2 of them are pretty much lists of other works)..and all 52 by Sept. 2011.

Anyone want to join me?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Return of the Dinner Table - Again

We are trying again to re-establish a nightly dinner routine.

We have done much better this year with ongoing community dining..but we still manage to scrounge and eat in front of the t.v. on other nights. The boys have begun looking at dinner as a time to either engage in conversation (yeah) ..or grumble and mumble about what others have cooked and state there's nothing to eat around here as they stare at a t.v. and eat. (boo)

We (Big B and I) knew we had to do something..but were too lazy and busy to address this sense of apathy. Our boys used to cook. A lot. Except for Brian who always chose "leftover night" or reheating frozen pizza. Then it happened. It was the straw that broke the camels back, so to speak. In their defense, I must state that Angee, Brian and Uncle Dave had no idea that we were dealing with a hit-or-miss grumbling dinner crew at home.

We talked to Brian-Scott and Angee over Thanksgiving break.

I think the conversation went something like this..

Uncle Dave :So Brian, tell me, do you cook much while your in Austin?.

Brian: (big cheesy grin) Hmmm Angee heats up those frozen things.

Angee: Oh yeah (motioning a frying pan on a skillet) I heat stuff up on that thing. (still motioning). You know..that thing that goes on the stove.

Uncle Dave:..and you? (looking at Brian)

Brian: Well, I can put things in the microwave..but it's better when Angee does it.

Angee:Yeah..with that thing (motioning again)

Me: You mean..the skillet?

Brian and Angee simultaneously: Yeah..that's what it is.

rian: Oh..and I make breakfast tacos almost every morning..I cook for Angee when I'm up before she is gone.

Angee: Which is almost never...

Brian: (still grinning)..and I still make shrimp tacos.

The conversation turned to other things..and then a few nights later Big B calls me at work:

Things need to change. I've been thinking about it. There is no reason that our boys should not still be cooking. Brian cooked when he was younger..and now he knows how to make three types of tacos??..and that's after living on his own for 2 years. We can't have that with the other boys. They'll all be on their own in a few years. They need to know how to cook! There is no reason why everyone can't be responsible for dinner one night a week..and that includes Mason and Michael..they need to learn too.

I was tempted to remind Big B that when the boys took turns cooking before Brian always claimed "leftover night" and simply reheated (in the microwave) the dinner that Austen and Cody had previously cooked...but I refrained:)

..and so we start. The boys protest..Austen reminds us he already cooks a lot. This is true. We tell him then he should be able to cut back, but that he can still help whoever is in the kitchen if he wants. Mason insists he's too busy. Brian reminds him that we all are. Mason grumbles about making toast..but then says he'd rather take a weekend, and asks if he can make steaks. Cody is gone too we give him Sunday.

They(the kiddoes) all grumble that sometimes they are too tired to cook. We remind them that is true for everyone. Our friends who help with community dining agree to grab whichever child has a night to help cook if they happen to be cooking in our kitchen. We cook for a family of 7. There are 6 of us..and three are teenage boys. Meaning..there is probably a friend. Community dining involves planning for anywhere from 10-20 on any given day.

So for the most part our week is like this. This is this week, it is understood that if you know you can't be home on your night, you swap with someone ahead of time.

Mondays-Michael (Pam is going to help him in the kitchen sometimes..but I am pleased to say that Michael is insisting on learning and not handing the task over.)
This week? Chicken pot pie. and boca burgers.
Tuesdays-Big B and sometimes Sandy (sometimes community dining) This week: father like son?
Wed- Austen and Sandy/Devin (community dining) Salmon patties, green beans, potatoes with mushroom and onions, choc. chip cookies
Thursdays-(community dining)..whoever is available. Zuchinni meatloaf, peas..this week Ricci and Devin cooked for us:)
Fridays-me (sometimes community dining..sometimes not) Venison roast, hawaiian rolls, salad, sliced fruit.
Saturday-Mason and Brian or Michael - steak, fries and corn
Sunday-Cody and mom (more community dining) Not sure yet..thinking cheese ravioli's with
french bread and some sort of vegetable dish.

It is true that most of our dinners are carnivorous heavy..except Sundays..but I do make sure that we have veggie breakfasts and it all balances out in the end.

It is also true that no family member is home every evening. We are (ahem..eyes rolling) busy people. Still, there is something comforting in knowing that home or not..there is a family dinner (like at a table with good moods, bad moods, essay panic, fatigue and lots of laughter) every night. What has been unexpected is the extension of this time spontaneous board games while meals are finishing, or in planning to watch a movie together after dinner, etc.

This is starting to happen more often than not.

It is nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Canaries in A Coal Mine?

There was a time when canaries were used in coal mines to let the miners know that they were in unsafe (I.E. toxic) caves. I often wonder if my boys are the canaries of modern society. Fact is, my family seems to have been poisoned. My children have been touched by epilepsy, autism and kerataconous...and all three have asthma. What do these illnesses all have in common?

It appears that while no one knows the specific causes of epilepsy, autism, keratoaconous or asthma what they all have in common is a mix of genetics and environmental toxins. It is often speculated that it is unknown toxins that can trigger these genetic dispositions. canaries are still singing. They are singing despite the fact that we seem to be moving them from one toxic environment to another. They realize, these canaries of mine, that they have been blessed in relation to other, not so fortunate, canaries.

I wonder. Is it the house we lived in and refinished? Did it have lead paint?How about the playground? Was it filled with unknown metals? Did we worsen things with the manufactured home we bought years later? Was it packed with formaldehyde? Did we allow too many immunizations too close together?Were my children reacting to mercury in our tuna? Was it the massive amounts of power lines by the neighborhood pool? Too much chlorine? This list is endless. We try to keep things fairly safe and sound..but we've never been over vigilant. We obviously have missed on several counts.

But I want to know. I need to know. I'm tired of speculating.I need to know for my children. I need to know for my future grandchildren..(imaginary or not). I need to know for all future generations.

What are my canaries telling us?

Monday, November 30, 2009

In response to disadvantages of homeschooling

I wonder why we always find the need to find divisions. This is a picture taken last year at a Ropes Course in San Antonio. A group of kids both homeschooled and public schooled. Can you tell which is which? I'm betting not (unless you know the kids). The kids themselves, don't care. They recognize there are pros and cons to all choices and that it is simply a matter of differing choices. I think we should learn from them.

Okay. I stumbled across this blog last week, while trying to teach myself how to create links.(don't involved hitting lots of buttons and not-so-nice words on my part) Anyway, I found an article listing perceived advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling. It was a blog created by a college student as she reflects on her various class projects. Overall she is not too harsh and she has some interesting insight. Feel free to see at this link. BEGINNINGS ON EDUCATION: Home Schooling (okay..fingers crossed..seeing if I learned or not).

Yay..I'm learning! I thought I would take a few moments here to respond.

First off, I would like to say, that I agree with the author of this blog. There are disadvantages to homeschooling. Like any educational choice a family makes, it is a give and take of sorts. I'm just not sure this would be my own particular list.

1.Time Restraints-parents lives are turned completely upside down when they choose to homeschool their children?

Strongly disagree. When our children were in school, our lives were constrained by a school schedule. Once they returned home, each individual family member discovered (parents included)that we could take control of our own time.

2.Financial Restraints- for married couples, many times one parent will take on the full time financial responsiblity while the other stays home to homeschool. This can be a big hit to financial situations.

I would have to say there is some truth in this. Although, many homeschooling parents do both work and there are quite a few single-parent homeschooling families as well. What we see are parents restructuring their lifestyle (including career choices) and putting things on hold to spend time with their families. There are, however, many non-homeschooling families who do this as well.

3. Being with your children "24/7". Making the decision to homeschool your children means they are around all day long. There is no time off.

It's true when children are younger especially, that you are with them a lot as homeschooling parents. Is this a disadvantage? Most homeschoolers would say, no..they LIKE being with their children. We personally found, that when our children were at home full-time, they were less needy in general. For example..when my children were in school and I answered a telephone, they were constantly demanding my attention. Once they were with me all the time and the phone rang, they vanished. I was free to have an uninterrupted phone conversation. They did not feel the need to compete for my time and attention.
I have also found that when homeschooled teens are older, they tend to be around less than many of their schooled peers. Reality is these teens are flexible to work hours their schooled peers are not. Many start college courses in their teens. These teens spend hours a day on specific interests (dance, music, soccer, airplanes...). Homeschooled teens hang out with their friends late on school nights because they can sleep late in the mornings. I have found that once my children can drive, I see them less and less all the time.
Brian moved out of the house and into a dorm at the ripe old age of 16.
Cody often says things like "I'm staying at Grandma's after my game, working at the tire shop on Friday and then going to Galen's for the weekend. I'll see you Sunday." And then returns for dinner with la familia on Sunday.
Austen? He's still letting me drive him places.

Limited activities-If a child does not attend school it has limitations.Your child will not be able to join a school sports team or club. Also school related activities such as dances and events will not be in the cards for them. This can cause friendship restraints.

This is just crazy talk. It is true that they can't usually play school in a school. However there are other non-school teams around. Cody has played soccer with a homeschool team for two years..after 9 years in local leagues, where they compete against (gasp) real brick and mortar schools. Like in the same league and everything. Kids are not limited to school sports teams.
As for dances, etc. Once again..a big misnomer. Co-ops often offer these opportunities, and many homeschooled teens go to dances with their schooled friends.

Soccer tournament last year..can you tell which is the public schooled team and which is the homeschooled?

Cody with the Boys and Girls Club team (private school, public school and homeschooled kids working together) receiving the Renatra Fusca (big deal) to move on to World Finals in Ohio. Two years in a row for Cody. (Maryland with a homeschool team the year before)

Brian and Angee get ready for prom. Once was public schooled, one was homeschooled. In the end? They are going to the same prom!

Now academic competition? Interestingly, that is never mentioned in the blog. That's another story. While many homeschoolers compete in Odyssey of the Mind, DI, robotics, Spelling Bee, Geography Bee, History, debate, theater...etc. At this time homeschoolers are still not allowed to compete in Academic Decathalon. This, I feel, is a true disadvantage as I know several homeschooled teens that would enjoy this particular venue..but that is a whole 'nother blog.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brilliant, Good-Looking and Goofy!

About a month ago, I was taking a walk on the UTAustin Campus with Big B, Brian-Scott, and Angee. Brian was teaching us the "etiquette" of properly shooting tapioca balls out of a straw. I was walking with his girlfriend Angee ..and asking her.."why?" Angee is a very talented young woman. I love my son..but come on..he is teaching us how to spit!
Being the typically supportive family that we are, my uncle and I had been wondering why young, intelligent kids are drawn to these boys of ours..because..well..they are weird.
Angee perked up. "oh..she said...W and I were just talking about that... The Bates Boys ..all of them.. are brilliant, good-looking and goofy! "

So apparently, my husband and I have raised brilliant,
good-looking and goofy boys.

Here Brian and Cody are checking out Austen's new laptop...and then the goofiness begins!

I write this because recently, I have been asked how we homeschool. What do we do? What is our philosophy? What do our days look like..and I never feel I have an honest answer because things change so often.
So to give these questions an honest answer..I need to start from the beginning and assure you that "brilliant and goofy" were not our life goals...but we'll take them!

In the husband and I intended to send our children to Catholic schools. Our oldest son did attend a Catholic School for two years...and then we pulled him out. The school was not a good fit for him..and he had been wait-listed on another school's list. So we decided to homeschool for "just a year". We chose a pre-packaged catholic curriculum..and Brian and I would sit around an old army trunk in our living room, listen to Traci Chapman and "do 2nd grade" for a couple hours a day..while his brothers played...and then he would skate or skate-board until his schooled friends came home...after a few months we "did third grade"...and then we decided we liked homeschooling and would continue.

We moved...we put curriculum aside and just made a daily routine of reading, cooking and fishing together.

Then I panicked and sent the boys to the local public school. (no private options in our new location)

So..Brian went to 4th grade..we did not want him skipped ahead, Cody started 1st grade and Austen started Kindergarden. To make a long story short..Austen came home at Christmas. At the end of the year Cody had refused to participate in anything and Brian had started running a numbers game at the elementary school.

Big B and I knew we were going to return to learning at home...this time, for good.
So we began questioning what was really important. We decided that we wanted our children to have 3 traits as adults...compassion, responsibility and humor.

The question to do this?

Since we had three very differing ages and personalities, I knew that our catholic pre-packaged by grade level days were I discovered SonLight. It was a great literature based program for multi-levels. Perfect! I ordered a curriculum...I organized our morning room into a make-shift study area..and we were ready to go.

The boys played along for exactly 3 weeks..and then they were done. Their books would "disappear", they wandered off...and could not be found...they would say things like "oh..I forgot" and I found myself interrupting their own self-found "projects" to say they had to "do school".
I had been reading about unschooling..and missed the freedom we had when we had been at home before. "That's it!" I proclaimed. This is your education. You can learn what you want. I'll support you in whatever you want to do. ..and Brian built skateboard ramps for almost a year. We went to the library often, the boys played, and played and played. We read together daily(I still had all those great Sonlight books) and played lots of boardgames.

Then? Panic set in..again. I had stumbled upon some Waldorf Homeschoolers. We went to some conferences, met many in the Waldorf world..and it caught our imagination. I realized we really needed more rhythm to our days...I was drawn to many of the ideals of Waldorf...but I knew we would not be "purists" ever. We ate junk-food (think Hot Pockets), my children occasionally watched t.v., I liked the freedom of unschooling.
So we established a co-op...and when asked I would tell people we were "Waldorf Inspired Unschoolers with occasional Sonlight panic".

For the next couple of years, our children met 3 days a week with other families, we started these days with yoga, hired a Spanish tutor, introduced the Waldorf lesson blocks (Creation Stories, Norse Myths, Greek Myths, Geometry, etc.) and participated in Odyssey of the Mind.
The boys also became involved in gymnastics and karate at this time.

As Brian out-grew these Waldorf years, my uncle began to tutor him in math and computer-programming and Brian began taking science and more formal Spanish classes at Friday School (a co-op in San Antonio)
When I began working at the Boys and Girls Club, things changed again. Brian was in highschool. He knew he wanted to go to the Texas Academy of Math and Science his junior year. I decided this would be a good time to return to SonLight. Brian would study several hours a day. He knew what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go, and what he needed to do to get there..and so he did.

Cody and Austen, however, have never been so consistently spurts maybe..but not all the time. Unlike Brian, Cody and Austen like to slow down and just soak up atmosphere sometimes. They returned to complete unschooling my first year at the Club. They read, practiced instruments and worked on math when and how they wanted, before the Club kids arrived. They were pretty much free to study/explore whatever they wanted. Then they played and hung out at the Club.

Cody was the first to ask for more structure. He knew his older brother had at one time used a Catholic curriculum, and was curious. We ordered this for him. I told him if I ordered this stuff..he needed to actually study it. He did. Cody began to study with a vengance for a couple of years...and then he decided he was "done". He decided he was "done" about the time that Austen decided he needed more structure. At this time the younger boys were late junior high and early high-school.

We (Cody, Austen and I) talked, a lot. Brian was now at TAMS. We encouraged Cody and Austen to think about their futures. What were some of the things they are interested in? Cody wanted to travel. He spent a year saving money for a trip to Europe..during which time he began learning to rebuild transmissions. Cody did spend most of a summer traveling in England, France and Italy. When he returned, Cody was interested in a few small liberal arts colleges..we made sure he knew what he needed to meet their requirements..and provided him with the resources to meet those requirements. (tutors, Sonlight (again) and Friday School) Cody has since decided he may not go to college and has started his own transmission repair business. He is currently studying auto-mechanics from both an on-line program and with Big B(who is a mechanic). He informed me today, that he is considering getting an internet marketing degree through an online program...possibly from Full Sail.

Austen? He wants to run his own cafe' or join the air force. He would like to get a pilot's license..but wants to make sure he stays seizure free for another year before attempting this. He doesn't want to go to Friday School...and like his brother, after spending a lot of time studying for a year..decided he needed a year to "just be" (not as dramatic as "I'm done"..I admit) So we remind him to study 4 hours a day..something..anything...lately he has been studying/exploring wine-cellars, book binding, art and reading lots of fiction. He stays busy just hanging out with the neighborhood, at the Club..wherever we happen to be.

We have a very democratic style co-op that runs out of our home. These kids only meet two days a week, so Austen studies for co-op...when we remind him. Math, drafting, architecture and a very liberal-arts approach to chemistry/physics.

I occasionally panic, but I know that I have no idea what the future of these boys hold. So I try to support them as they study/explore whatever interests them.

We were striving for compassionate, responsible and humorous. According to their peers, we have brilliant, goofy boys.

What we have, are boys who are fully engaged in living..and for that I am grateful.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Accepting the Refrigerator Challenge

My friend Carol at has created a mini-challenge of sorts. She points out the healthier habits of some of the other blogging families, and then asks, what is in our fridge. Oh geez I think. I'm frightened to look.
So before we begin..let me set the stage of my refrigerators surroundings. First of is hard to find. There is a bag with nebulizer resting on the floor next to it. Leaning over the nebulizer would be a level. I don't know why this level resides in this spot, but it does. The top of our refrigerator doubles as medicine cabinet and empty egg-carton holder. It is a bit intimidating...and yet no refrigerator to be seen?
Why? Because it is covered in magnets and pictures. We haverandom words "they" "other" "ocean" literally littering our fridge. I once had the delusion my children would use these words to create some sort of great literature on our fridge. (You see..homeschoolers sometimes try to educate their children by placing stuff on their fridge. I tried this tactic years ago. Obviously, my children would not play and then we soon forgot that all these words were there) I do see one placement of words that says "gone to dream".
Who knew?
Most of these letters, however, cannot be seen because our refrigerator is covered in pictures. We have pictures of our children, neices, nephews and friends. I don't know who puts these pictures up..but they are all over! We do have written (in huge magnetic letters) "The Beast." I'm assuming that is Cody or Mason who like to say the "beast" in soccer...oh...and we have a small magnetic "Bill of Rights" that Michael seemed to think we needed to complete our incomplete education. My favorite, however, would be the home-made magnetic guitar pics that seem to complete the decor.
Somehow, we open these doors daily without things falling off. We must have "magnetic personalities" or something. for the frightening part. Let us see...
Top shelf: 1 half drank bottle of Hot Damn, several containers of yogurt, pre-made pie crusts (because we are still doing a lot of bulk cooking), chocolate from Oaxaca..for home-made hot chocolate and jalepenos.
Shelf 2: A bit scarier..left-over steamed carrots, pinto beans and random condiments
Shelf 3: eggs, eggs and more eggs..and leftover quiche, leftover ravioli's. Note to self: Please clean out this fridge!
Shelf 4: Milk, juice, pancake mix and a box of wine
Drawers? Hey..I think we might be getting healthier here. We have..watermellon, pineapple, eggplant, chives, cabbage and lettuce.
Next drawer...ugh..more left-overs. Steak. Ick!..and cream cheese? Good grief.
Door pockets? Very random..sauces (picante, soy, worstershire, etc.) dressings, wine and more pancake mix. Well..that was weird.
Okay. How about others? Do you dare? What is in your fridge. Feel assured, that it will not be more unorganized or unhealthy than ours.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nicole and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good ......

You get the drift.

Yesterday I woke up. I wanted to sleep late but my body was too stiff. I'm getting older. I thought.'s just all this humidity. I bet there's no humidity in San Francisco.

I straggled to the kitchen, but the coffee was almost gone. I tried to make some more...but the grounds had hit the floor. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Austen is sick. So we will not be going out. Big B wants to wake him up to work. No! I tell him. Just let him be.

He might want to work. Big B insists. I'll just wake him up and ask. (sigh) B is not listening..
I bet they would listen to me in San Francisco.

I'm going to cook..a lot. I pronounce. What for? the family asks
Because we like to eat?! I respond.
Mm..they look at each-other conspiratorily.
I thought you hated to cook. Says Big B.
I't you just burn the fish sticks?

They are not very nice, this family of mine. Do they want to cook? No they do not...they have chickens to clip, wicker to paint and holes to dig (later). I need some money for groceries.I say.
I know my family would not be busy with chickens and holes in San Francisco.

Brian and I go to the bank to cash a check. We cannot cash this. They say. Your license is expired and the new one has not come in.

I know. Says Big B. That's why I also have the paper copy. DPS is backed's on the news and everything.

Nope. Says the banker with a smirk on his face. So you mean to say that the current paper version from the state of Texas with the old license will not suffice? I ask, to clarify. The banker roles his eyes. Maybe some places..but not here.

It takes a few hours, but the check is finally cashed. Finally. I think. I am off to get my groceries with no further delay.

Where are you going..interrupts Big you have amnesia? This wicker is yours and you need to help us spray.

But I want to cook all day..not start at 5 tonight I groan. I get the stare. The one that says.."it's your wicker room"...and I cave.

What? I ask Do I need to do? Well..see here, Big B explains. The wicker is falling apart. That is what is making everyone itch. The wicker is splintering and your friends are covered in splinters. We have to spray..and spray..and spray. I have at least 10 cans of spray yourself.

I bet my friends wouldn't get covered in wicker splinters in San Francisco.

I leave around much for getting an early start. I get a ticket in Helotes. 57 in a 45.

This is exciting. I tell the officer. His eyebrows raise. I family will be amused..they think I drive too slow. He smirks..and I wonder what he sees. I quickly assess the situation. I am dressed in football jersey and jeans, my bifocals are broken on one side, I have spray paint on my fingers..and I am rambling about the joy of getting a ticket. I have become a caricature of myself.

Thankyou sir. I say...and drive away.

I do not like to drive. It makes me uncomfortable. There is no decent public transit in Texas.

I would not have to drive in San Francisco.

The grocery store is crowded...they only have some of what I need. I unload my groceries and get stung by a bee!

This. I think. Is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day...and I begin to cry.

I visit my parents. A nice reprieve.

..and I return home for my cooking marathon at 5:30. You're right..laughs my family.
You will not start cooking at 5...but rather must be too much speeding.
They think they are funny..

I think my family in San Francisco will be nicer.

La Familia has dug a hole under my house. Even Austen..who is wearing a mask to protect others (the dirt?) from his germs. It's a wine cellar! they say...and they all pile in the hole..Mason peers over the top with a grin.

I can't help but we all pile under our porch.. I play make-believe in a hole with my family.

This , I think...Would not happen in San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesdays- Sleep, Study and Service

It has been awhile.

I just came back from another grace-filled Via De Cristo Weekend, where I had the opportunity to serve on the music team. I try to serve on one weekend a year...and this Spring I will finally get to serve on a Kairos team as well. (Logistics have made this impossible the past few years) This past weekend gave me a much needed recharge in a glimmer of what life in Christ can be.

Now it is Tuesday. We are back to day-to-day reality.

Last night was community dining. So..a few dishes still await. is almost 11a.m. already. Tuesdays are the day Austen, Cody and I sleep late. At 11, I will wake them and we will clean for about 30 minutes. Then? We hit the books.

Cody will start his chemistry study- marathon. He does this almost every Tuesday. He takes his books, my lap-top, and his I-pod and spreads out all over the living room floor. Cody is essentially going to cram a week's worth of Chem. homework from Friday school into one long seesion. He will still be in the same spot when I return from work this evening. Cody will take one break in the early evening to help with the Teen Paper Recycling Program at the Club and hang out for 20 min. at Dairy Queen with the others on the recycling team. Early afternoon Cody will take a few small breaks to feed/water the chickens and collect eggs. Mostly? He will study chemistry until about 1 or 2 in the morning. How do I know this? Because Cody is a creature of habit...Wed. and Thurs. are math and Financial Peace study- days, Fridays are Friday school and fun. Sat. are soccer, fun, work on cars and work with dad around the yard. on cars and work with dad around the house. auto-mechanics, work on cars and do whatever the rest of us are doing. Tuesdays are his chemistry/recycling days. (Chickens are simply part of the daily routine)

Austen will help clean the dishes this a.m..then he will spend 20 minutes looking for all his c0-0p stuff that he has lost since last Friday. Then? He will play music on his lap-top in his room and start working on a week's worth of math. Around 1, he will bring his math with him to the Club and work on math while preparing snack for at least 55 kids. I think he is making spaghetti today. My co-workers and I will help him whenever he gets stuck on a math problem.
Austen will start serving snack and then leave for recycling with Cody and the other teens. He will return in time to go to the Club's Money Matters program. This is a program run by one of our local banks on money management, investments, etc. After Money Matters, Austen places himself out in the middle of the Club's pavillion and returns to math. His friends help him whenever he gets stuck. Once Civil Air Patrol arrives, Austen sort-of just hangs out with them.
He dropped Civil Air Patrol this year, but the group still likes for him to be there. He sees his friends and helps them whenever they get stuck during a drill. Sometimes they will ask them to try and distract him while they are drilling. Other times they ask him to pretend he is a wall that they must march around. More often than not, he will help the newer element leaders and drill seargents (is that what they are called?) in the order of certain drills, or on choreographing their own. He also helps the color-guard as they prepare for events. I am amazed they let him participate at this level..but they do and seem to welcome his participation.

Me? I study and prepare for the weekend. This morning I read Where God Meets Man by Gerhard O. Forde to prepare for the adult Sunday School. I prepare a homily for nursing home chapel on Sunday afternoon..and practice guitar for a home-gathering Sunday evening. For later today I need to figure out what to blow up for "Back yard Ballistics" Thinking it will be lemon launchers today. I look through Teens Can Do It for discussion ideas for today's Be Great program. I will go to the Club at 1. We have a staff meeting, Power Hour (homework help), snack, and then the Be Great and Backyard Ballistics programs. The Club closes late on Tuesdays because we host a basketball planning meeting, Girl Scouts and Civil Air Patrol. Hopefully someone will start dinner..or we will be fixing scrambled eggs and pancakes at 9o'clock tonight.

Rambled long enough. The boys are hovering and I'm still playing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

True Empowerment

Lately, I have found myself dwelling on power in it's many contexts. What is power? What are varying people's perceptions of power and how does this influence their world views..or vice a versa.

I was recently reading the book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb in which author
Eric Law states, true empowerment is empowering others.

My first reaction was "well..duh"..But then it stuck with me. I have been brought up in an environment where this idea was a given. I attended colleges, where this was a given. Yet I am often very reactionary when I hear statements such as "you are a so-called (you choose..religious group/ethnicity/athlete/political party/social status) if you do not agree with blah, blah, blah.

Or of course.."'re one of those." and dead silence. One of what? I wonder.

It never occurred to me that the people who say these things are looking at true power in a totally different light. I usually quit reading or listening at this point. I assume if someone feels they can bully or name-call me into believing something..than they are idiots. I know...I get stuck in defensiveness..and don't always hear what they are trying to say.

I'm working on that.

So it was when I read the above statement true empowerment is empowering others when it hit me. "Oh...not everyone has that understanding. I see where these other ideas come" It is a piece of a puzzle into a world-view I have much difficulty understanding.

I have been thinking about how our understanding of power effects our co-op. As the kids have spent the last several weeks debating education/learning styles and figuring out exactly how our high-school co-op years are going to seems to have taken on a life of it's own.

The kids talk. They talk some more...and they talk some more. It does not matter what they are (or are not) doing. Math..they talk. Drafting..they talk. As I type, Mandy is explaining to their art instructor how to make a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich. Austen is explaining that he has to wear his pj's outside today. Devin is telling me the part I can't remember from The Apostle's Creed. As a matter of fact these children (3 of whom in years past have been known to be ghost children) will not shut-up.

I absolutely love it.

I heard a quote once from a girl in a democratic school who said simply, "some days the entire day passes and I realize that I have been talking with friends all day. It is important. Talking/listening. Conversing. To really talk. I think it's just like we know now that babies need to be held often to develop. One day we are going to discover that teens need to be social to fully develop."

What do they talk about? Anything. Books, games, music, politics, religion, prime numbers, infinity, sports, art..the list goes on. There are no topics off limits...not even grilled cheese, pajamas and the Apostles Creed simultaneously.

I believe these teens are discovering who they are, what they believe and how to articulate what they are thinking. More importantly they are genuinely curious about the differing views of each other. They bounce ideas off of each other. They try to understand where each persons differing view is coming from. They understand that they will not change each-others opinions. They are simply trying to understand.

In a nutshell, these kids have mutual respect.

It is actually quite refreshing, especially after some of the one-way sound bites I seem to see in many of the adults I encounter. You know, the "if you don't agree with me, we will not discuss anything" ..or you are a "so-called (fill in blank)".

Okay. Disclaimer. I know lots of adults who will dig deep into conversation as well....just am amazed at the numbers of adults who really don't know how to listen (as in with no agenda listen) to what others are saying.

I believe that understanding the art of conversation is a tool to empowerment.

True empowerment.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I love Mondays!

Mondays are our day of rest, so to speak.

We hang at the dollar theater, hang out at home or hang at the Pavliska's (for Odyssey). All locations that encourage just being who you are and enjoying others. Okay..maybe we don't enjoy others at the movies...just eating each others popcorn!

Today Odyssey is postponed. Cody, Austen and I decide to stick around the house.

I enjoy coffee on the deck with neighbors. I practice guitar with a friend for nursing home chapel visitation. I practice more for upcoming Via De Cristo weekend. I rest and visit with the boys.

Austen alternates between watching the History channel and researching info from the American Parkour Association (?) most of the day. We locate an upcoming parkour training center in San Antonio..and history channel has served as a spring-board for other conversation. Conversation, curiosity, googling and more commentary on the role of the natural cave systems under Budapest in WWII, the underground railroad during the American Civil War, free-masons, Eastern European architecture, the role of hospitals in war-zones and most important of all..the Bermuda triangle.

Cody is not feeling well. He joins in on some of the discussion on free-masons and civil war. We discuss various illnesses...swine flu, mono, viral meningitis, the common cold.He studies for one of his ASE certification tests. Cody goes back to sleep. I hope he feels better soon.

Brian calls from work, occasionally, to make sure we realize that we are spoiled brats.

Michael and Mason come home from work and school. They watch the History Channel with Austen.

Tonight is community dining. We begin preparing for guests. Clean tablecloths are in the dryer as I type.

Tonight's menu? Meatloaf, salad, sweet-potato fries and corn. Served with your choice of tea, lemonade, water or wine.

All are welcome.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesdays in a Nutshell.

We call ourselves the Riverside Home School Initiative. The name is simply left-over from our Waldorf Inspired Unschooling Co-op of elementary years.

Last year a handful of parents (like 3 families) regrouped for "just a year", before
sending our young teens to the bigger "Friday School" (of several hundred families and w-a-y more structure in San Antonio) .

A week before Friday School orientation Cody asks if I really want to send Austen and crew to Friday school? Austen chirps in that he would be happy to stay at home a little longer. I hear from the other parents that all of these guys are thinking the same thing.

So we move into uncharted territories and start high-school co-op at home.

You know what? It's not much different than before.

We meet two days a week instead of one. We are still pretty relaxed.

This is Wednesday.

The kids start with food (muffins), the musical talents of our friends Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Tracy Chapman, Poncho
Sanchez and Paco De Lucia..and play. Apples to Apples has been
the game of choice almost every morning. Lots of debate as to who is the director. George Lucas or Steven Speilberg (?sp). Seems to be a toss up

We regroup for math. We review difficult concepts, the kids work
problems together and individually. Today Devin explains how to solve for unknown variables in perimeter to Mandy. Austen reviews decimals. Angela works on division memory tricks. They all review rays, lines, line-segments.

Next we jump into chemistry. The kids discuss their essays on alchemy and the church's influence on it's spread. This somehow leads to jokes on how much the kids LOVE BACON (as in Roger Bacon)... then experiment on metal and nonmetal chemical elements. Tested copper, iron, aluminum, sodium and..oh, I don't remember. It's in their labs. We spend more time than expected
on the we decide to put off
architecture for Friday.

Cody wanders in to watch them for a few minutes before spreading out in the living room for
the afternoon. Angela decides to join him after Chem..while the others return to the tree...and eat lunch. (left-over spaghetti..yum)

Veronica arrives for Art. of the 7 laws of perspective...discussion on "trigger
words" in art appreciation. Some discussion on Van Gough. (again
with the spelling).

That is it. Girls head to Flying L to work with mom. Devin and
Austen return to tree for a few hours. Devin heads home and Austen joins me at the Club. Cody..continues studying until Mason gets home. They watch Pokemon and Mason falls asleep. We
eat dinner..Cody works on cars with Brian. Austen investigates
local free-running groups. We find one that meets in S.A.!

Wednesday in a nutshell.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Day-to-day differences.

An old college friend of mine stated it best when she recently posted on facebook "I am completely appalled at the state of discourse on this topic. When a U. S. Representative heckles the U.S President we have reached a new Rubicon...."

I couldn't have stated it better myself. I have been watching over the past year in pure shock and horror at the amount of hate talk I have seen/heard. I listen to remarks from the children I serve..children..(as in still like everyone they meet, children) who are learning from adults in their lives to have nothing but disgust for anyone who is not Christian, hetero-sexual, a U.S. citizen of several generations, and of the right political party. Everyone else is deemed (in the eloquent post of my friend Carol ) "they". This is truly frightening.

I wonder do you counter such hate? Such reactionary, fearful, uninformed hate? For our nation is not exempt from the laws of history. And if you follow the steps to genocide throughout history, as a nation,we are climbing this ladder swiftly. We simply haven't seemed to have agreed on who the ultimate evil is yet. I wonder how others can not put this together.

I become overwhelmed.

Then? I keep seeing the needs of people around me. I decide to start here. In small day-to-day differences.

I continue building relationships, one person at a time..relationships that say..."Hey. It doesn't have to be this way." We can work together..and trust eachother. We can have mutual respect for one another and help eachother grow into the people we were meant to be.

I do this in small ways.

I continue letting my children have as much freedom in their own learning as possible. This is a very conscious choice. I want them to be able to draw their own conclusions in times when many are easily manipulated. I want them to develop into leaders who have an attitude of servant leadership. This only comes through service, listening and example.

I continue working at the Club where I work with kids who still enjoy being children..who are still learning to think for themselves..and I encourage them to do so in a community that often says, "It's dangerous to let them think for themselves." (really? I wonder what the alternative would look like..)

We start community dining..a few nights a week.

We host a homeschool co-op 2 days a week.

We open our doors to families/individuals needing temporary boosts before moving on in their lives. We call it community housing...and in exchange?

We receive numerous gifts of friendship, shared experiences, humility and (currently) a bi-lingual household.

Most of all we learn to share.

I think that is the bottom line here..there are those in society willing to listen and share..and those who feel the need to protect what is. I encourage matter what your political stance is on social or economic please..remember the differences we can make by keeping things real. By truly sharing our lives with others...and remembering to enjoy (not fear) ideas that differ from ours.

Let's face it..Resorting to heckling, name-calling, etc. is ineffective for everyone.

Teaching children to be intolerant of differences..not good for any society.


So please share with me..what are you guys doing in daily life to counter this type of growing hatred?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Easing into a New Year

It is done.

Our summer jobs have stopped and I am back to only working 3 evenings a week. As of 3 weeks ago, all the boys were finished working.The local schooled kids returned to their schools 1 week ago. right with them. He leaves the house at 7:30am..we see him again sometime between 4 and 8pm depending on soccer schedules. We visit with him briefly each morning..and catch him at dinner a few times. He is busy. He is happy. He is worn out already...and the heavy homework load has not hit yet. own spoiled boys are still easing their way into this year. As I type they are both snoozing away in their rooms while I play on the computer, rotate laundry and listen to an Ultra Lounge c.d. The boys stayed up late watching movies in Cody's room. I am starting to see Cody and Austen choose to spend more time together again this year. It is nice to see.

The past few years have held lots of activity and really a fair amount of study (despite appearances otherwise). So we are making a conscious effort to cut back and just enjoy living for awhile. Both boys have asked to just be..and I think this is a great time to do that.

Still..we do seem to be developing some rhythm to our week. It's just more unschooled than in the past few years...this is the weekly pattern I have seen emerging in the past 3 weeks.

Sundays: church, Cody works on cars with Brian. Austen cooks with Aunt Barbara. Mason hangs out and works on small projects around the house.

Mondays: Movies! Dollar theater is nice..also a good day for errands. Yesterday we visited several bike-shops as Austen was on a scavenger hunt for a particular bicycle tire... Cody had ortho. appointment...we messed around in the dollar store. We visit my parents, return home to take our turn to cook for community dining.

Tuesdays: go to library (morning) and volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club(afternoon). The boys are riding their bikes to the Club. Austen is providing the snack for all the kids on Tuesdays..then he and Cody are still recycling in the city-wide paper recycling program. We have started spontaneous problem practice for the Club Odyssey teams. So Cody rides his bike home after recycling (and occasionally stops at coffee house) while Austen joins us in spontaneous problem practice. Austen likes to stop and play in the river with friends (when it's got water) on his bike-ride home.

Wednesdays: Austen and friends co-op at our house.This is a very Waldorf-Inspired co-op that includes Alg.1/2 or 1 (depends on kid), Chemistry and Physics, Drafting, Cooking and Art...along with lots of board games and play. Steak Nights occasionally.

Thursdays: community dining.

Fridays: Austen and friends co-op at our house. Cody starts Friday School. This year he is taking AP Chemistry, Advanced Math (pre-cal/trig) and Financial Peace. Community dining.

Saturdays: Cody works on cars with Brian. Mason plays soccer.

Once Odyssey gets going (we are still not sure which organization Austen will compete with) and soccer starts (Cody has cut back on the competitive stuff and is waiting for FEAST soccer to start) we will readjust again...a little.We are trying to keep the empty times..empty.

The boys have been using this time to clean/reorganize their rooms, play instruments, hang-out with the chickens, read books, mess around on computers and just be. Cody is still trying to establish his shop..and rumor has it he and Brian will be building a 3 bay garage with lift soon. As for Austen, I've seen lots of bike-repairs, bike-riding, hanging out with friends and pondering going on.

We are enjoying this time of "easing into a routine". I hope it lasts for awhile.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Traditions and the Heart (Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23)

Grace to you, and peace from God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Traditions are everywhere. This week we honor the Grace Lutheran tradition of Rally Day. Rally Day being the day we celebrate the beginning of a new Sunday School year. We will immediately follow today's worship by gathering all children and adults to play games and sing songs together before sharing in a pot-luck in Grace Hall. It is a tradition we have all come to know and expect.

Many families with school-aged children are making the transition from summer traditions (family vacations, more time with extended family) to school year traditions. (new shoes, earlier bed-times). Some of these traditions we are flexible with. Others we are not. Take grade-level for example.

This past Friday, my son Austen (whom many of you know) informed me that he was a sophomore. Just like that.

You would think that as his mother, I would know what grade he was in. Austen informed me I have been misinformed.

It is true, that as a homeschooling family, we have a little flexibility in what grades our children are in..but we usually know what the order of sequence is and follow it somewhat.

Austen had been held back when he was in traditional kinder-garden. He has spent the past 8 years creating a lifestyle that embraces a handful of both medical and educational difficulties. Through Austen, any idea of traditional learning I ever had, was tossed aside in order to let him be...Austen. And miraculously, in the past few years, Austen has been able to do both physically and academically things that we had once been told would be impossible.

That said, as Austen's mom, I was excited that he would be starting high-school. More appropriately stated, he would be joining the other homeschooled high-schoolers this year on his learning ventures. He would finally be a freshman. I have enjoyed envisioning what these next 4 years might hold for him.

Austen was gentle when he crushed my ideas on what the beginning of this venture would look like. It started innocently enough. We were sitting in a small cafe', drinking soda and eating pie.

Austen casually asks, "So what grade am I in...really?"

"You're a freshman. 9th grade", I respond.

"Hmm." He replies. "I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I'm a sophomore."

He has got to be kidding, I think. That would mean only 3 more years at home..and he can't. He just finished 8th grade!

"You can't be a sophomore. You just finished 8th grade." I break it to him gently. "It doesn't work that way."

Austen looks at me with a patient grin. "Well, what do school kids study in 9th grade? I've studied Ancient World Lit..I've read all the epics from Gilgamesh to Homer's Odyssey. I've studied Ancient World History from the beginning of Egyptian civilization to the Fall of Rome. I've studied Biology and Chemistry. And I've written the entire scripts for my Odyssey teams for the past several years."

It is true. He has done these things. "Yes," I respond."But you are just beginning Algebra."

Austen grins again. "Okay. Than I'm a sophomore who is bad at math. Settled."

And it is. Austen has challenged my pre-conceived notions of tradition yet again. But who am I to hold him back?

In today's gospel, Mark begins with what will soon be Jesus' ongoing conflict with the Pharisees. Jesus speaks of the tradition that fails the test. He points out that there is a kind of tradition that is wrong, that gets in the way of spiritual realities rather than pointing to them. In this particular instance a tradition of hand-washing. Jesus is more concerned with the condition of their(the Pharisees and disciples) hearts than of their hands.

Someone once said, "the heart of Christianity is the heart.

But what does that look like, exactly? This heart?

As many of you know on Friday August 21st the ELCA held our National Assembly. I would like to read for you a quote from Pastor Nadia in Colorado from her Sarcastic Lutheran website...

Among the business at hand was deciding on a full communion agreement with the United Methodists, which passed. And several historic decisions to be made around what this church's stance as on issues of human sexuality. In the end, we approved a social statement as well as policy changes which now allow congregations to bless and hold publicly accountable same sex life long monogamous relationships as well as to call pastors in such relationships to serve as clergy.

The debate on the floor between those at the green microphones who support these steps and those on the red microphones who reject these steps was sometimes inspired, sometimes insipid. Those in support urged the church to be open and loving as Jesus had been. Those opposed urged the church to heed the Bible. Both sides were passionate and faithful and I'm proud to say that throughout the debate the assembly paused every 20 minutes to pray together...

I watched the proceedings with my heart in my throat. I watched people say prayerful things, hurtful things, thoughtful things and idiotic things on both sides of the aisle...

And then a young pastor got up to speak at the green microphone and the first thing he said in a quivering voice was "anyone else frightened to speak? I'm shaking. Please pray for me" and the man standing right next to him at the red microphone reached over and laid his had on him and prayed while his brother of the opposing view, spoke. Then I knew that Jesus was really in-between the red and green microphones.....Not in some sort-of 'Jesus as Switzerland' sort of way, but in the you must lose your life to gain it sort-of way.

So where do we find a pure heart?

We find this pure heart through relationship with Christ...and sometimes that is really hard because we let ourselves get in the way.

...So let us not go to ourselves because as deeply as we hold our beliefs about social inclusion, or social justice, or as deeply as we hold our beliefs about social conservatism or personal morality..we do not have the words of eternal life. We have our beliefs, our convictions, our understandings of scripture..these are not to be taken lightly or walked away from. But they are not the words of eternal life. Jesus, the true Word of God, points us to life..and life abundant.

Let's again look to Christ. To whom else shall we go? He has the words of eternal life and offers all the inexplicable gift of his own self: body, blood and word.

Let us pray that the Lord make us one and have mercy on us all. Let us recognize that he is already doing so. Amen.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steak Night and Community Dining

It is not secret that Brian and I have very little in common. Dinner with the family, however, was a shared common value that has probably done more for our sense of togetherness as both a couple and a family than anything else. It was a value and dream that we seemed to have lost as our children became older and busier.

Not only are schedules all over the board for every member of the household, but we are sucked in by the t.v. A few nights quickly become months as we hear ourselves saying "dinner is on the stove, fix yourself a plate." We are tired, we rationalize. We are still watching Letterman together..doesn't that count?

This summer we have been able to reconnect in a very strange way. It started with Steak Night at 11th Street Bar. Yes, my family has rediscovered family dinners at the local bar. Very sad statement, I know. Every Wednesday is Family Night. Bands play music, kids and adults dance, people in the community visit with each other.

We share meals and stories together. We become unplugged and reconnect with breathing life.

This weekly bar outing led to conversations with family friends on the benefits of communal dining.

At a time when many of our friends and family are overwhelmed with job concerns, etc. We have found that communal dining gives all of us a sense of control and support that we had taken for granted before.

We start with 3 families over for dinner 3-4 days a week for community dining in our living room. We quickly out-grow the living room and move to living-room and morning room. (It is still too darn hot for the back deck!)

We are sometimes tired and grouchy. We (the families) fix food for 10-15 people, knowing that there will always be someone (usually one of the teens) missing for soccer or band or a night at the movies, etc.

It is simple, really. This small way of building community. I fix a pitcher (or two) of tea. We plan ahead what nights various families are cooking what, we set tables and everyone else brings sides. We turn off the t.v. We sometimes put on a c.d..sometimes not. Everyone swaps the ups and downs of work.Michael loves to sing Louis Armstrong at the table very loudly.We try not to encourage him. The boys steal each others food. Cody says his Aunt Sandy is assaulting her every time she hugs him. He grins saying hurts. These hugs hurt!

Yes, it's true. We still have a few nights a week where we scrounge for dinner and sit in front of the t.v. But they are becoming fewer and farther between.

I am grateful to have this time to share our lives with each other.