Welcome to my journey in life: thoughts on God, homeschooling, and anything homemade. (I took this photo of my eldest in April, 2017.)

June 2, 2017

Flying Solo

It's been a while.  More than a while.  The thought that I am not a blogger flashes through my mind when I remind myself that I am a writer.  So while I've been busy being a mom and co-op leader, speech coach, debate coach, as well as chief cook and bottle washer...I lighten up and give myself a break.

So here I am with thoughts to share.  I hope they inspire you and bring you some thought-provoking moments of reflection.

One of my biggest flaws is that I tend to expect people to do and say things that fall in line with what I believe is the way people should act.  There are several huge problems with this; the first, and most obvious being that I do not do and say the right things myself most of the time.  The second is that I have no right to judge others and the third is, "Who says I actually know how people should act!"  So why am I writing this?

The answer is this:  I have recently made some changes in my personal life regarding how I live my faith and it has been a long time since I have felt so free and so full of wind beneath my wings.  I feel like I am suddenly flying solo among throngs of people who can't tie their shoe without posting it on Facebook or Instagram.  Don't get me wrong, I still use social media often (it has its uses), but I am trying to see more clearly and mainly to guard my heart and give my time to Jesus first.

I realized that I need to recognize when I am following "leaders" or even friends or colleagues I admire who aren't taking me where I need to go.  While no human can be perfect, those who seek God's will in their life and humbly pray and ask for His guidance, listening daily to His still small voice are those who make good leaders.  These are the people we want to seek out.  Jesus set the perfect example of servant leadership.  There are people out there reading His Word and making every effort to use it to light their path.  Many times, people find themselves blindly following people who are themselves too caught up in worldly adventures, or those whose habit has become weeks or months with no scripture study or prayer.

That's what happened to me.  I got busy.  I was tired.  I assumed I could get by on my once a week pulpit scripture reading.  So my soul got thirsty, then parched, and finally became the desert that was desperately in need of rain.

God is so good.  He will not leave us nor forsake us, and He found me simply by giving me sight.  Or insight.  Suddenly I began to see the things I was doing with new eyes.  A sense of wastefulness came over me.  I picked up the new Bible I got for Christmas which has lines for journaling on each side of every page.  I began to read from it and write in it.  It was like a fresh spring rain and my soul soaked up every drop.

Soon all the doubts that plagued me about thinking this instead of that ("this" being my thoughts and "that" being those I "followed") began to sort themselves into "this is best for me and my family" and "that may be best for them but I don't need that right now."  It came with a huge sense of relief; I don't have to do that, I can say no.  I can put that phone down; I don't have to answer every phone call or text right away.  My time is mine and I can put myself and my family first.

My goal these days is simple: keep God first.  First means before ANYTHING else.  It's not easy.  I don't always succeed.  All I can say is, when I do, the blessings are off the charts.  Peace, confidence in myself and my decisions, better relationships with EVERYONE, and joy - those are the fallout.

So if you're feeling overwhelmed or a little lost, let me encourage you to find some time alone with God.  Read and pray.  He's waiting on you.  He is such a loving Father.  Nothing compares to Him. And you may find the results exactly what you've been hoping for.

June 2, 2014

Capitalist Teaching in America

Footsteps echo down the empty hallway as the lone figure advances, his gaze steady, a few books tucked under one arm.  He turns and places his hand on the doorknob, turns it, and pulls open the squeaky wooden door.

Inside, the students, dressed in their creased slacks and starched cotton, rise quickly and stand with straight backs, eyes steadily focused forward.  The man approaches the podium, adjusts his glasses, and looks out over the class.  He is an impressive sight; his black robe flows with every movement, the billowing sleeves a reminder of the place he has earned and his right to command respect.  It is an honor to stand in his room, to be his pupil.

"Be seated," he says in a firm, commanding tone.  It is not rude or condescending, it is the voice of one who understands the way things work, or how they should.  The students comply, and quietly retrieve their pencils from their resting place, their notebooks open and ready.  No one speaks.  They wait in anticipation for the class to begin, anxious to learn from this well-respected teacher. 

Leap forward with me 75 years.  Compare the scene above to the one below:

The halls are full and noisy and chaotic.  Students are standing, walking, running.  Backpacks are loaded with books and binders.  The din is so loud one can hardly think.  Voices must be raised to even be heard.

A professor makes her way through the chaos and into her room, approaches the podium virtually unnoticed and begins unpacking and preparing for class.  She is dressed simply; khaki slacks and a pink blouse.  After a moment or two she encourages the students to find their seats and get settled.  She waits, watching them unload computers, look for pencils and paper and organize themselves.  Again, she encourages them to quiet down and prepare for class.

Stragglers continue to enter the room.  They do not enter quietly and slide up the side unnoticed but walk boldly in front of the podium, waving to a fellow student in the third row.  This one has bed- head hair and is wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and sweat pants.  His shoe is untied.

The professor makes an introduction, announces the class title and room number, and immediately one or two students begin packing frantically to exit the room.  She waits. Ten minutes has passed.  Another straggler enters and says to the professor in a loud voice, "Is this Sociology 101?"  She nods and the person climbs the stairs looking for an empty seat.

Outside the door the noise has lessened, but students continue their conversations, laughing in tones more suitable for the beach than the halls of higher learning.  The professor closes the door, walks back to the podium, and begins her lecture.  Students recline in their chairs, send text messages, and fiddle with pencils while they wait for sudden enlightenment to fall like manna from heaven.

I get so tired of hearing the politicians (known as pols these days because everything has to be abbreviated, you know, that's the sign of an enlightened culture) and lobbyists - oops - I'm sorry - constituents - blather on about how our educational system can be fixed by the new common core because it is sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates, of all people.  Are we that naive?  Apparently, yes.

Our culture has changed since World War II.  Of course it has; it is a living, breathing thing and it will ever seek out what is new and exciting.  I have always believed that this is because we want to continue to grow and learn.

My grandfather, a veteran of the Great War, used to tell me two things:  "Family is everything" and "Get an education."  These were his mantras.  He himself grew up during the depression.  As one of seven, college was not an option since there was no money.  He joined the Royal Air Force before the US entered the war.  After Pearl Harbor, his younger brother joined the Navy and his older the Army.  Amazingly enough, they all survived the war.

He put himself through business school, and retained his aeronautical skills he had learned from the Air Force.  He opened his Aeronautics business in Oklahoma City servicing and building parts and equipment for aircraft of all sizes.  He did well and was very successful.  His is the great American story.

But he knew he was lucky, in addition to all the effort and hard work.  He knew it easily could all go south in a heartbeat.

Last year I took my children to Arlington Cemetary on Memorial Day.  There were so many veterans there and we shook their hands and thanked them for their service.  Many were in wheelchairs, old and infirm.  Their generation will soon be gone and I worry the stories will no longer be told.

What does all this have to do with education?  Everything.

For example, today in America teachers get no respect.  No, listen.  Teaching is a capitalistic role; if you can get people to enroll in your class, workshop, forum, etc. you can teach!  Congratulations!  No degree required!  Hang your sign out on the internet and go for it! 

To be a teacher, one used to have to study for four years and obtain a bachelor's degree.  Then one had to at least get a master's degree, and many times a PhD.  Even today, most college professors are required to at least have a master's.  The difference is what was taught then versus now.  But even if we excuse the fact that languages are obsolete and humanities extinct, teachers get little respect from those they teach.

Why?  That's the question.  My theory is simple:  if everyone can do it then it is not special and it must be easy.  These assumptions are wrong, of course, but they are rampant and commonly held beliefs in society today.  Why else would ANYONE believe that because a person was a billionaire they must know how to choose curriculum for every child in every American school?  Why?  Because we are a capitalist nation and the almighty dollar defines how smart you are.  Didn't you know that?

It makes my gorge rise, or maybe that's last night's dinner.  No, I think not.

I went to college and grad school and paid for it myself.  I have immense debt because of it which causes me great angst and distress.  That's my problem.  I get that.  But there is something that I got that others don't and shouldn't have: license to teach.  I earned it.  And honestly, I am passionate about it.  I am a professor of the first degree above; I command respect because I am worthy of it and I earned it.  I know that a student who will give me the respect I deserve as their teacher will learn far more than their counterpart.  I give that respect back, however I retain all rights in the classroom: grades are earned, not given.  I will not bargain for awards when no work has been done.  I had a little run in with this at a college where I worked.  My bell curve was off.  Oh dear, I was not getting statistical results in my room!  No, my results reflected the student's work, period.

An amazing thing happened during those years, my students rose to my standards.  Many of them made the A's and B's they wanted, but they earned them.  I tried to prepare them for a world where they would have to work hard to achieve success.  Because that's what it used to take.

But now America has a different plan.  You all get A's.  You all are successful, even if you make minimum wage because we are going to keep raising it to give you self-fulfillment.  That's easier than motivating you to go make something better of yourself.  Oh, and we're also going to destroy all ideals and faiths, and devalue the person until we are all seen as nothing more than organisms.

Seriously, take my antiquated advice: If you are a student, be a student.  Don't try to be a teacher (I mean the kind of teacher who charges high prices and has specialized skills) until you have earned the right to teach.  Raise our standards in this country.  Respect those who have earned this position.  Learn to teach small things by observing and practicing through the family, apprenticing, seeking internships, etc.  Students have much to offer in this way and skills can begin to be developed.  But a little humility would do this country good.  You may be the best at doing something, but that doesn't make you a good teacher.

I love to teach.  It is my passion.  I get no greater joy than from seeing a student learn skills and succeed with them.  The money?  What money, I love to teach so much sometimes I do it for almost nothing.  What gets my hackles up is when I see people teach because they want to earn a buck and they haven't earned the right because they haven't bothered to learn to teach.  It's an art.  But then, no one reads Aristotle's Poetics anymore either, so who knows what art is?

Let the teacher's teach.  Let the students learn, intern, and become teachers through training and higher education.  Only in this way we will retain the art of teaching.  But we must hurry, because the skill is rapidly losing ground.

May 20, 2014

A REAL Vacation, Part 2

We left Conroe for home, tired and relieved that we had emerged unscathed by the sales pitch and the lure of world travel on the cheap.  Our minds were full of the wonders of a real family vacation.  What would it be like?  Would we have fun?  Beyond our wildest dreams?  Hmmmm.

The documents came with detailed instructions for booking said vacation.  Warning:  this exercise is not for the faint of heart (meaning anyone not well-organized).  The first task was to send an email to the site listed and fill in our names and vital information.  I did that.  Easy.  Then I was told to await another email which would contain the next instructions.  Um, okay.  That's kinda weird, but I'm game.

Several weeks later the long-awaited email arrived.  Choose your destination.  We, of course, selected the much touted Great Wolf Lodge, filled out the other survey questions and hit, send.  A box appeared, "Thank you.  Your vacation specialist will contact you soon.  Be ready with travel dates that will be selected at the next communication."

Whoa!  I have to pick travel dates nine months in advance?  That's asking a lot.  I don't know what we're doing next weekend much less nine months from now.  I panicked for a moment.  Well, no use worrying until the email actually arrived, so I went about my business.

Months go by.  No email.  The kids want to know when we are going on this grand illustrious stupendous vacation.  It seems the communiques are lost in the void, I begin to worry a little.

Then one day, boom, there it is in my inbox.  A message.  Choose your stay, one or two nights, pay up the taxes and fees (remember the part where I said "Nothing is EVER free?").  Done.  Choose your dates.  Now things are getting tricky.

We joined speech and debate this year.  All of the competitions are in the Spring and I have NO IDEA WHAT THE DATES ARE!  I was given three options and THEY got to choose which of the three dates we would go.  Nothing like surrendering your life to the monsters living in the void who dictate when your free vacation can be booked.  Oh well, here goes nothing.  I chose.  One in March, one in April, one in May.  Please let this work out.  Please!

You know, sometimes things just fall into place, and other times they don't.  God was watching over this vacation in many ways.  I see that now that I'm on the other end of it.

May.  We got May.  We couldn't have gone ANY of the other dates I chose.  Speech tournaments.  Wow.  Awesome.  Problem?  It's January.  Can my kids stand the wait?

I was hounded daily as to when the auspicious date would finally arrive.  We got through speech and debate season, went to regionals (woo hoo!), and finally landed back home ready for some relaxation and fun.  There it was, looming ahead.  Two weeks.  I had two weeks to get ready.  Ugh oh.  I have done no research on what else there is to do there.  I have not booked additional hotel stays elsewhere.  Crunch time.

The infamous day of departure finally arrives.  My daughter is taking an online class, so we pack up the Expedition with five suitcases plus laptop and hotspot and head out for Dallas.  It sure is quiet in the car when the kids have to be so that sis can listen to her class.  Insert smile.

The trip went smoothly.  The truth is, I still haven't had much time to research Great Wolf Lodge until this very moment, in the car, with nothing else to do.  What has all the fuss been about, anyway?  I was about to find out.

Tune in for part 3, coming soon!

May 19, 2014

Can I trust anyone else to teach my daughter anything?

Okay, the title of this post is sarcasm at its best.  Let's just admit from the outset that I am a control freak and that should pretty much cover it.  That said, this week we ventured into the world of online classes.

Yes, I enrolled my daughter in her first foray into the outside world of learning at the ripe old age of fourteen.  Now I know some of you are going to just bust a gasket over this but let me explain first.  Kitten is special.  She's not like most kids.  No, she's not autistic or OCD, and she is not handicapped in any obvious way.  But she does have a condition that makes her look at the world her own special way.  I don't need to elaborate on that except to say that she processes information differently than you and I and sometimes communication can be challenging if you are not aware that she isn't hearing what you think you are saying.

So to make a long story short, I have been her teacher for so long because I have learned how to communicate with her.  But life requires that we adapt and I have realized sooner is better than later at this point. 

We discovered Landry Academy thanks to suggestions from some friends.  Since we began Speech and Debate this year, I thought their class entitled Great Orators would be a super place to start.  I registered her for the class and awaited educational enlightenment to descend from the waves of the wifi. 

Enter Murphy, as in that playful fellow who's surname is "Law."  We go to the library to get the book and tahdah, they have two copies!  The librarian hands me one off the shelf and we proudly head to the check out.  To cover our bases, I also order a used copy from Amazon so that if need be I can read with her and we can discuss the speeches together.  It is four days before class and we are almost ready.

Landry Academy has a great IT department to help you get your computer ready for class.  It took me two hours to do this but I was using an older PC and it had some JAVA issues.  Their IT guys cleaned it up though and we were ready for class on Monday!

First day of class.  She logged on and all was well, until she tried to find the page in her book the teacher was reading from.  Page 1100?  Our book ends at 9 hundred something or other.  What?  Huh?  Hiccup number one: the copyright date the syllabus listed for the book was 2004.  Our books were dated 1997.  The syllabus did not state that we needed the third edition, nor did it state that the book was in its third printing in any way so naturally I assumed (don't say it, I know) that this book was in its first edition.  I sincerely hope the teacher corrects this oversight in future to prevent similar circumstances as we were not the only attendees with the problem.  I went back to the library and the other copy? 2004.  My lucky day.  Moving on.

I had this brilliant idea that Kitty could do her class while we were on vacation.  I mean, really, it's only an hour and a half of class, right?  Right.  Well, she did pretty well, considering she had to read four speeches a day plus take a quiz before class each day.  I was proud.

Then we hit quiz four.  I must interject a short explanation here for the reader, did I mention I am a control freak?  I am also a former college professor and a real stickler for accuracy.  The quiz contained two errors: one question did not list the correct answer among the choices and another question was worded ambiguously and was, therefore, misleading.  What to do.  I was really worried that if I emailed the teacher she might get angry and think I was criticizing unnecessarily.  But hey, wrong is wrong and I figured it needed to be corrected so I emailed.

Many times in the past I have been raked over the coals for questioning accuracy similar to this situation.  This teacher was gracious and receptive and contacted ALL the students asking them to retake the quiz and fill in the answers for those two questions so they would receive the points.  Wow.  Just wow.  I was so happy to see this.  And happy to see students seeing a teacher admit mistakes, correct them, and give students their due grade.  Kudos to you, Landry Academy teacher of Great Orators!

So the whole vacation thing was working fine until I got sick.  Bronchitis.  I was down and out.  It would have been fine except that we were planning to do the fifth quiz Monday morning and as it turned out I was in desperate need of a doctor at that moment.  The quiz had to be done before noon, when class started.  And Kitty had a dental appointment at nine.  So I called around and got an appointment for 10am.  I was really thinking I had pneumonia and was going to end up in the hospital but God is so good, it wasn't so.  The appointment took a whole fifteen minutes and we were out of there.  Prescription in hand I hustled home so she could take the quiz before heading out for some much needed antibiotic relief.

I am hoping the second week is less eventful, but did I mention we are traveling to Oklahoma this weekend?  More school in the car thanks to my hotspot.  Actually, I like school in the car.   I mean, where can they go?  No distractions and they are seat-belted in.  Perfect environment for learning how to stay focused for extended periods of time.

The first four days I sat and watched like a hawk.  I have since stepped aside and the wheels are turning on their own.  My daughter is embracing the goals of the class and the necessity of the daily work and schedule.  She is currently earning a high B, almost an A in the class.  There are two weeks to go, but our first goal has been achieved, she is learning from someone other than me and she is liking it. 

It's like watching a baby bird learning to fly, although you realize they catch on pretty quick and soon fly higher and farther than you ever dreamed they'd go.  But that is the goal, and this momma is proud.  Sniff, sniff.

A REAL Vacation! Part 1

Yep, the title says it all.  Our first REAL vacation.  Meaning, it was planned way in advance and we looked forward to it for a long time, planning and building the excitement so it peaked at just the right moment.

Funny how it all began.  We are not great planners.  We are even worse vacationers (is that a word?).  Every time we would go home to Oklahoma to visit relatives, my sweet husband would start in about our upcoming "vacation."  I would try to nicely explain to him that visiting relatives is visiting relatives.  It is not a vacation.  He adamantly disagrees, even to this very day.

So anyway, last year we went to the Houston home show.  We had a nice time and got lots of ideas for how to spend money we don't have.  Then we passed a booth that advertised a free vacation at Great Wolf Lodge.  Well, my son's friend had just been to this amazing unknown mecca of childhood fantasy and my son started jumping up and down that we had to try to win it.  My husband shrugged his shoulders and I nodded, "Sure.  Why not?  Free sounds good."

Nothing is ever free.  EVER.

So, we spun the wheel and filled out the form and, "Surprise! You've won two nights at..." then the slick salesman in sheep's clothing rattled off some place I've never heard of and we all did a double take.  "No, we want to go to Great Wolf Lodge?  I thought you said we could win that?"  After a short clarification that dear sweet man changed our prize to the much-desired kid-prized destination of, you guessed it, Great Wolf Lodge.  Cue boy jumping up and down and squealing with delight.

Cut to...

Now I knew this would involve a timeshare.  It always involves a timeshare.  But I figured I could sit through two hours of hard-core sales to make the boy's dreams come true.  After all, I know all the tricks of the trade from my own sales and marketing career and if I do say so myself, I was tops (thank you Zig Ziglar).

They've added a few little tweaks to this timeshare nonsense though.  Before you go, you have to pay a fee.  Well, it wasn't much and in light of the expense of the lodging we would get for free I said okay.  So, we scheduled our timeshare visit and let the kids start building castles in the air.

On location...

We drove to Conroe, TX on the day of doom.  It was a gorgeous day.  Seventy lovely degrees and just beautiful.  As we drove into the timeshare property, I sensed trouble.  The property was beautiful.  Gorgeous, actually.  My resolve was set and I was ready for the onset of sales tactics from any Zig Ziglar compendium, but as I looked over at my husband, I realized we were in for trouble.  He had this big grin on his face, the one that says, "I could live like this, yes, I could."  I wanted to scream, I thought, "No you can't and don't even let the idea enter your gullible little head."  I just smiled.

We were greeted by the nicest folks in the world.  I mean, really, every need or desire was instantly met complete with popcorn, Dr. Pepper, candy, and more.  The kids were loving this.  We sat and waited for the salesperson to walk through the door.  I watched as each family was whisked off to financial ruin by a smiling, commission-earning person of exceeding politeness.  I blew out an exhalation, I had been holding my breath.  Then he approached, eager and confident, reaching his hand out to me like he was my long lost buddy from early elementary school.

We got the grand tour.  All the bells and whistles.  Yay.  Okay, it was lovely.  Hardly the point.  I am here to make my son's dreams come true, no more, no less, and purchasing a timeshare is not in the cards, got it?  I just smiled as we walked into the room where numerous families were seated at tables in deep deliberation over monthly payments and maintenance fees.

This guy was good.  I know good and this guy knew all the tricks.  He was using the standard "you can't afford not to" tactic and the "emotional appeal" tactic very well.  He had actually intertwined them and my husband was a goner. 

You see, he had asked the question earlier of me (not my husband, mind you, me!), "Where is your dream vacation spot?"  Well, knowing I could resist this guy to the very end I played along, "Italy, and Greece, " I innocently replied.  Then I looked over at the Giant.  Oops, apparently I had just made a fatal error.  He looked like I had just smacked him.

Quick aside...the Giant has been EVERYWHERE.  His work has given him world travel to all places of wondrous delight.  His guilt was showing thanks to my honesty.

Anyway...Mr. I Can Sell You Anything latched on to my dream vacay and would not let up for one second.  "Wouldn't you love to take your beautiful wife to Italy and make her dreams come true?"  Jerk.  That was really low.  Okay, I don't mean he's really a bad person...he's just hitting below the belt here and that ticked me off.

After I wiped away a few stray tears because of my poor husband's inability to get the guy to lay off I pulled out my own big guns, I said, "No."  The guy stared at me blankly for a full second.  Then he launched into a counter attack (that's where they lower the monthly rate and reduce amenities to make it more affordable) and I said, "No."  He didn't seem to understand.  He had made me cry because I wanted to go to Italy and Greece so bad so this should be easy as pie, right?  "No."

They reduced the price until my husband was ready to pull out his wallet and start signing documents just to get the heck out of there.  They know this routine well, but they underestimated me.

Have you ever seen a salesman able to overcome the wife who says "No"?  No, you haven't.  It befuddles them.  "I thought you wanted to go to..."  "No."  "We can't spend the money on that right now.  No."  Their jaw drops, they fiddle with papers, they look around the room for their boss to rescue them.  The boss comes over and before he gets two words out I say, "No."  "No."

Remember the two hour sales pitch I planned to attend?  Can you say three and a half hours?  Yes, they kept us there for that long.  They just want you to give them money so they will let you leave.  "No."

This next part gets interesting.  Up til now they have been our best friends and our every need was catered to at every moment.  When my last and final "No" reverberated off the walls of the room, suddenly the mood changed.  Be advised, I was not leaving without said free vacation to Great Wolf Lodge, not after the toil and sweat of that nightmare.  So I kindly asked where we should go to finish up and receive our documents.  Well, the young man who had spent so much time with us practically ran out of the room...ran, he ran.  His boss pointed to an exit door and said something to the effect of, "Go that way."  Then he disappeared as well.  We gathered up our exhausted and confused children (so we're not buying the timeshare?) and followed our noses.  When we reached the building where those unseemly people who said "No" to the illustrious timeshare resort splendor go, we entered to find a woman behind a desk.  She did not greet us.  I said "hello" and what do we do next.  She curtly replied that someone would call us soon.

After about ten grueling minutes we were called back by a woman who looked very sorry to be in possession of her job.  We squeezed into a tiny room and were subjugated to explanations of why our free vacation was not free and how much it would cost.  If I hadn't been so worn out I think I would have just exploded.  Instead I smiled and nodded, it wasn't going to cost that much and in the long run it was way cheaper than paying the regular room rate.  "Just get the certificate." That's all I kept thinking.  I finally had it.  She handed the blessed item over the desk and into my hands.  There it was, two nights at Great Wolf Lodge for me and my family.  For about a hundred and some odd dollars mind you, but it was ours, nonetheless.

It was a victory.  We walked out of that room and out of the building towards our car.  I was grinning from ear to ear.  I couldn't help it.  I had done it.  I had kept my husband's wallet in his pocket and obtained the treasure of all treasures, the key to our first REAL family vacation.  I couldn't wait to start planning and to see what else we could do in the area.  It was like winning the Super Bowl.  Ring, please?

Part 2 will document the months and phone calls and emails it took to actually BOOK the vacation.  Anyone thinking of repeating our experience should be warned, I do NOT recommend it.  These people are really aliens and they have mind altering popcorn.  You have been duly warned.

March 10, 2012

The Way to Live

Recently my husband's father passed and we traveled to Oklahoma for the funeral.  My husband had already been there a week and watched his father decline and finally, go to meet his Maker.  I stayed at home with the kids running them to lessons and trying to keep the routine going.  We prayed for him and worried from afar.

Once he was gone we quickly threw together our suitcases and got on the road.  I was already tired and worried and a ten hour drive did not appeal to me in the least.  But God blessed us through the prayers of many and the help of movies and audio tapes on the road which made the trip go faster.

Upon arrival we went to the farm and visited with family.  Spirits were good and it was clear there was rejoicing at a life well lived.  I was asked to lead the rosary at the wake.  I nervously accepted, knowing this would be my first time to stand up in the church to lead anything.  I prayed for strength and wisdom and grace.  As I mounted the steps to the ambo, my heart boomed in my chest.  I'd been feeling over-tired for a while and kneeling to the Host was excruciating and I wondered if I could get up on my own (arthritis).

I turned to face the crowd and was stunned for a moment.  I didn't know what to expect but the church was almost full.  In every row sat friends, family, neighbors and folks who had come to pray for Ray.  I nervously began.  My mother-in-law told me to speak up from the front row.  As I continued the prayers a peace fell upon me and while my knees shook occasionally, my heart settled into the rhythm of the familiar words.

After the rosary I once again knelt before returning to my seat, hearing the cracking in my joints as I pulled myself up.  Then folks began to come up to talk about Ray's life.  The words still ring in my ears, how Ray spent his life focusing on people, not things; not money.  When the harvest was due Ray would stop the machines to go to Mass because he knew what was important in the long run.

Much was said and while I can't remember the exact words, the meaning is stamped on my heart.

The next day at the funeral the priest was speaking and he looked upon the ocean of people filling the church and said that this was the largest funeral he'd seen at the parish since his coming there.  It was standing room only.  And I'll bet Ray knew the names of everyone in that building, first and last.  They all knew him.

Later I began to think about his life and his death and I realized that he was truly a rare person, and I am blessed to be linked to his family.  He did his best to set the example of how to live a life and his children have tried to do the same.  But the world is changing and it tries to steal our children from us.  Sometimes we do not see how the evil sneaks in and lives among us, filtering out our words of faith and replacing them with words the world says are more practical and make more sense.

Even with a man like Ray standing in the gap for his family, the world is snatching at our children and convincing them that Ray's world is gone and that no-one can live like that anymore.

I watched at the funeral as several of his grandchildren abstained from the Eucharist.  The world they live in has told them that it's all nonsense; that there's more to life than accepting the words of a dusty old book and a boring weekly routine of rules and penalties.  I wanted to cry.  And I turned and looked at my own children and wondered what they would believe when they come of age.

The funeral was over and another day spent enjoying family, then we took to the highway once again.  All the while we drove I was thinking about those beloved sitting in the pew watching as the rest of us consumed the Host.

Once home I realized this trip had cost us so much and as it was our fifth funeral in a year I decided we needed to cut back some expenses.  I had been thinking of cutting these anyway but finally withdrawing the children from some of their lessons was hard; for me and for them.  But I knew it was the thing we had to do for now.  My mind also began to wonder if the doing of all these things was the thing allowing their minds to wander from the things of Heaven.

If you examine the lives of the saints, one thread seems common in all their stories.  That is that they decide that the world and everything in it is a distraction from the things that are important.  We say that we want our children to have every opportunity to do and achieve so we pay for ballet lessons and piano and so on.  Yet what in ballet lessons and piano lessons leads them to Heaven?  If I am honest, ballet has a number of things associated with it that I would never want my children exposed to.  Granted, it is when they are older that these things become an issue; but if they fall in love with the art and want to continue when they are older, I will be to blame if I try to withdraw them from it at that point.  How can I say it is okay for a while, then suddenly say it will lead to possible evils?

I think the thing with all arts is that they turn our focus from God to ourselves.  And not just the arts but also sports and skills of any kind.  Most saints had great skills, but they were the skills of Heaven: prayer, chastity, poverty, selflessness of all kinds.  Our world makes us into demigods if we succeed well in the world and it sets us up as idols for others to worship.  All one need do is look at Hollywood to see this, or Wall Street, or Washington D.C.

Saint Therese had her "little way" of living which led to Heaven.  Her way is despised in our country.  As I lie in bed feeling as though I am getting pneumonia once again (which I almost succumbed to several years ago), I feel afraid that I have not taught my children enough about the right way to live.  Do they understand that money, power, and fame mean nothing?  Do they understand that hard work, prayer, and service are the keys to Heaven?

As we find ourselves with more time on our hands I know that my daily goals must be to teach them this.  I know the questions will start about when we can return to this or that lesson or class and I hope I am prepared with the best answers.

Mostly I hope I will never have to stand to take Eucharist and watch as they sit idly by, wondering why I do such a thing. 

February 20, 2012

Pinewood Derby

Well, it was year two and we had so much fun last year we decided to pull out all the stops this year.  Quick review: last year we built the car in a week.  Well, we tried to and then ended up staying up till all hours when we realized we had done it wrong.  Mr. Happiness was involved in all of it and the car was an excellent first attempt.  It came in right in the middle of the pack.  We observed the other cars and decided the next year we would give ourselves more time.

So this year we started six weeks out.  We got our cars and one of the pack parents brought a band saw to meetings so we could cut.  This was very kind and generous of him so we were the first ones to cut because we were ready with our designs (which the kids all picked and helped with drawing on their cars.).  Now, obviously, an 8 year old cannot use a band saw.  Last year he used the coping saw.  This year he picked out a difficult design so we opted for the band saw to make it easier.

Once our cars were cut, we took them home and the kids sanded, I sanded, Dad sanded.  We all sanded.  They needed LOTS of sanding.  I explained that to get a nice paint finish they needed to be smooth as glass.  Lesson number one:  Use varying grades of sand paper on wood to achieve a paintable surface.

Then the cars were ready for weights.  We learned from our new Pinewood Derby book that tungsten weights are highly recommended and I remembered from last year that this part was hard.  So, having plenty of time with book in hand, we followed the directions for adding the weights.  Mr. Happiness drew the drill sights onto the car.  We used the drill press to drill the holes.  He learned how to help use it - he was not allowed to operate it alone.

We slipped the weights in and used putty to cover them.  More sanding.

Finally, (because we had to order more weights b/c the stores were out), the cars were ready for primer.  They were set aside while we prepared axles and wheels.  Again, tools were used in this process and the kids learned about safety and use with a drill press, sander, wet/dry sand paper blocks, etc.

They also learned that patience is required for this kind of work, and the results will not appear overnight.

Once the axles and wheels were ready they were set aside and we spray painted the cars.  This worked fine for the girls cars, but my boy's car got the last painting and the weather turned sour on us.  It rained, was foggy, and rained some more.  His paint kept peeling up and we had to re-sand to the base 4 times.  He was pretty frustrated as was I.  Finally, we got it to an acceptable condition by using a different kind of paint.  It still was not what we'd hoped for.

But we accept all as part of the process and move along.  My boy and I get his wheels on at the last minute and are ready to go.  We are all excited and proud of our work.

When we arrived at the derby we ran the cars down the track and they looked good, Big Girl's especially ran well.  We weighed, checked in, and waited for the races to start.  We visited with friends, laughed, chatted.  It was fun just to be there.  As the cars came in each had a special story behind it.

Finally the races began.  Our cars did well.  Better than most.  My boy's car won his first race.  Sweet.  Then they re-ran the race and he got second.  Then second again, and again.  He was clearly bummed.  I felt for him.  When you've spent six weeks on your car you have high hopes.  We promised to praise God if we won or lost, but for an 8 year old this is a challenge.  I was proud though - he pulled himself together in the shadow of Big Girl's clean sweep.

Comments were made about how some parents gave their child the box and said, "Go make your car."  When I heard this I thought to myself that that is unfair.  This is not an easy thing to build if you are 6, 7, 8 years old.  Several cars fell apart on the track and others didn't finish the race.

There is a fine line between "helping" the child and doing the work yourself.  The child must do as much as they can.  And in our house, we use every moment as a teachable moment.  My kids learned about power tools, the sanding process, and about potential energy and force and drag.  They can tell you why some cars won and others didn't.  They can tell you why some cars sped up on the flat part of the track while others slowed down.  Friction is a word we discussed.

This event is fun.  Even when parents make comments about how you must have just built all these cars yourself without letting the kids do much - it's fun because we just smile and know better.  This event offers much in the way of learning in science and physics.  Those things will not happen if you toss the box to your child and say, "Go put this together."  My heart went out to every child whose car broke on the track or couldn't get past the finish line.  Parents, I get that this is for the kids and that the focus is not all about winning, but is called a "race" for a reason.

"Set time aside to do it right, or don't do it at all." - My Mother.

What's that Scout motto again?  Oh yeah, "BE PREPARED!"