Monday, April 30, 2012


Last week a dear friend of mine left a comment on a Very Popular Blog.  I don't normally read the combox there because I generally disagree with the people commenting (and I prefer low blood pressure over high blood pressure), but of course I had to head over when my friend emailed saying she'd participated in the discussion.  The original post itself was an interview with a Catholic nun, and it was excellent, but most of the people in the combox didn't think so.

Enter my friend.  Who did think so.

Naturally she got some negative comments in return for the wisdom she shared (which was in line with what the interviewee had said), which eventually led me to weigh in myself.

Then we joked about how maybe we'd just leave our comments and run, because we don't like being in the fray, which begs the question: why did we comment in the first place?

And of course all of this has gotten me thinking: when is it beneficial or even appropriate to engage in the combox wars?  Not sure if you know this, but there is a land far, far away, filled with blogs that generate a lot of discussion--and not all of it is unicorns and glitter.  People disagree with each other and argue and debate.  These aren't your typical mom-blogs where women post pictures of purses they've sewn or of their kid eating made-from-scratch birthday cake.  They're usually faith-related and often thought-provoking, and fans and critics alike hang around, each for their own reasons.

While I mostly read blogs written by real-life friends or by people who inspire or speak truth to me in some way, I also read a few blogs that reflect a perspective completely opposite of mine.  Why?  I think it's because it helps me see the other side and better understand the culture at large.  Part of me is simply curious.  They most always make me think.  And sometimes they help me to better understand and explore my own position.

But rarely, if ever, do I actually leave a comment

However, my husband and I have both occasionally participated in discussions on the aforementioned Very Popular Blog, and we have a theologian friend who regularly engages there, and now one of my real life friends has joined in as well.  It's not a regular thing for us, just every so often.

The truth is that I used to write off those discussions as a Big Fat Waste of Time, but my opinion is slowly shifting on that.  IF it is a blogpost that is generating discussion and people are talking back and forth about an issue, I believe that all sides have the right to be heard.  In the case of this recent post, hundreds of people were sharing some pretty negative opinions about the interviewee (whose views run counter to most of that blog's readership), and about her traditional beliefs.  And it's possible that some of these people don't realize that there are many of us out there who actually, truly, whole-heartedly believe in the tenets of historical Christianity and, more specifically, the views the Catholic Church holds regarding womanhood.  It's also possible that some people have never even heard of these ideas before. 

So while I never, ever, ever leave a comment expecting to change anyone's mind, if I can humbly articulate how I believe God's design is liberating and dignifying to women (and, shoot, defend a dear nun in the process!), well, at least I've gone on record as yet another crazy who still believes that stuff.

If I can share how living out my faith has impacted my life, perhaps someone else who lives that way will be encouraged and know they're not alone.

And if I can express an idea that someone hasn't thought much about before, well, now they have something else to think about.

All of this to say that I'm coming to see, more or less, that there is a place for thoughtful engagement in areas where you are in the minority.  God's story is worth telling, and sometimes an opportunity arises where we can share a piece of that story with people who oppose us.  Not for the sake of argument or debate (though there is a time for that too, in my opinion), but for the sake of fruitful dialogue and being able to give a reason for the beautiful hope that we have.  It's not always easy in our current culture, but anytime we engage for the sake of Jesus, it's well worth it.

And maybe tomorrow I'll post about purses and birthday cake.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What I like to do

My parents recently dropped off a huge bin at my house, busting at the seams with pretty much every single valentine, poem, class assignment, note, and trophy I accumulated from my birth until the day I moved out of our family home.  Spelling Bee award?  Check.  Outstanding Vice President at the Sectional FFA Parliamentary Procedure contest plaque?  Check.  Research paper on teen pregnancy, quoting both Kirk Cameron and Amy Grant?  Also check.  And the Taco Bell employee handbook?  Yep, that's in there too.

I've been feeling rather nostalgic sifting through my old letters and cards and certificates and ribbons--artifacts from a past that feels much farther away than it actually is.  (Funny how seven kids will do that to you!)

One thing I'm surprised to be discovering is that I'm more or less the same person that I was in second grade...eighth grade...high school!  Not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but people?  I've always been a bit of a nerd.  I've never been an athlete.  I even tried out for the cheerleading squad freshman year, and didn't make it.  The truth is that I did a lot of public speaking and debate and writing in high school.  And aside from awards I earned showing dairy cattle, pigs and sheep through 4-H and FFA (don't judge, it was awesome!), all my trophies and certificates come from the public speaking, assorted academic achievements, and my writing.

It's interesting because once I started college, I took a little detour from the things I loved.  Life was far too busy to read or write for pleasure.  I did wind up getting a job for a legislator where I did some public speaking, but other than that, I was simply immersed in the daily grind of school and work and church activities.  Looking back I kind of wish I'd taken the time to pursue a creative outlet, but what would that have even been?

What a gift it was to get married (at the ripe old age of 20) and have some good old-fashioned time on my hands.  I believe this is when I began the slow, messy process of rediscovering what I like to do and what my gifts truly are.  Of course some of that time has been spent on the rabbit trail of attempting to squeeze myself into a mold where I really don't fit. 

Like, you know, the day I bought a sewing machine.  On which I've sewn a grand total of five things in seven years


Those were some expensive baby blankets and pillows. 

But you know what has really stood the test of time for me?  The one creative outlet that has not only emerged but also proved itself sustainable?

Writing.  Blogging.  And ironically it's not the thing I would have chosen, not in a million years--I don't even usually tell people I have a blog.  See I always kind of wished I was good at the sewing thing, or at decorating, or at quilting or painting or playing an instrument or styling hair.  But alas, those things just aren't me.  I don't even like to do them.  So I'll leave those hobbies to the people who actually do them well.

And instead, maybe I'll start embracing my inner-nerd and, you know, actually accept the fact that the things that energize me and bring me joy are, simply, reading and writing.  (And thrifting.  But more on that another time.)  It's not fancy and certainly not very exciting.  But, it's me.  And it kind of always has been.  Because while I wasn't all cool and hip in junior high and high school, oh my goodness, I had a ton of fun.  I got to travel and compete and I loved me a good spelling bee or discussion meet contest.  And I had a lot of friends who enjoyed the same stuff and, quite frankly, we had us a blast.  

Now of course I'm a wife and a mama and no, I don't really think there's any viable way to leverage my spelling prowess into a hobby.  (Not that I'd want to.  Oh okay, maybe I want to a little bit.)  BUT, I've somehow fallen back in love with the written word, and I'm deciding here and now to just roll with it. 

Which means I'm happy to admit to you that I spent my Tuesday evening engrossed in John Henry Newman's Apologia Pro Vita SuaAnd that I loved every minute of it.

I'm happy to admit that I spend a lot of time on this here blog, and on other peoples' blogs. 

I'm happy to admit some of my bestest in-real-life friends are people I met through this here blog, and on other peoples' blogs.

See, reading and writing are fun for me!  I loved them as a child, and as a teenager, and yet somehow I showed up to adulthood believing I didn't have a hobby or creative outlet.

Even though I did--it's just that it qualifies me for some sort of Nerdy Introversion award.

But that's totally okay.

Remember my Kirk Cameron and Amy Grant abstinence quotes, and my Taco Bell employee handbook?

I've always been a nerd.

(And I feel the need to address the amusing irony of quoting Amy Grant about "abstinence" in the first place--what with her switching husbands and the like.  But I don't think Vince Gill had happened yet, so I won't take responsibility for my paper being a scandal.)

All of this to say...

Embrace who you are.

Do what you love.

Don't buy an expensive sewing machine.

Now I do think everyone has the potential to be a lifelong learner, and it's fun to experiment with fresh things and discover new talents and hobbies.  But, sometimes it's also important to consider what you've always naturally gravitated towards, and pursue that.

Because God has gifted each and every one of us with some type of unique talent or ability and each of them is useful in some way.  And He wants us to hone what He's given us to build others up and to proclaim beauty and truth in the now.  I don't know about  you, but I don't want to waste any more time trying to snag someone else's gift, in the name of greener grass or of being cool and fitting in, when I have a perfectly wonderful gift of my own.

I'm so over that.

So allow me to introduce myself. 

My name is Brianna, and I like to read, and I like to blog.  (And I worked at Taco Bell for three months in high school to earn money to attend the National Future Farmers of America Convention.)

What do you like to do?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Best laid plans

I've never been a fan of missing out on things.

Whether it's a concert of a favorite musician, half-price day at my local thrift store, or lunch with a friend, I don't like cancelling or skipping activities.  It's part of my personality, I suppose. 

And just this past weekend, I had plans to attend Empower to Connect's conference in Littleton.  I really admire Karyn Purvis' work, and which of us adoptive parents can't use a little refresher now and again of what our precious little ones have lost and experienced?  Friends from out of state were coming in and I had big plans to be a third wheel for the weekend.

The morning of the conference however, I awoke at 4 am with a burning stomach, and shortly thereafter, discovered that I had a nasty stomach virus.  (Don't you absolutely HATE that?  I can think of no worse way to wake up.)  Attending the conference was obviously out of the question at that point--I can only imagine the humiliation and horror of having to excuse myself to the bathroom throughout the day.

But oh, was I disappointed.  I'd only recently made the decision to attend and yet I'd become pretty excited about it.  I don't participate in adoption-related events very often, and sometimes it's really nice to connect with parents who are on the same journey as me.

And so instead of hearing keynote addresses from a renowned child psychologist and having lunch with two fabulous couples, I spent my day at home, with my laptop, on the couch--surrounded by my many-small-children.  Certainly not the day I'd planned or hoped for. 

Because truth be told, I'd also been a little bit excited about having two full days to myself, kid-free.  My pants weren't going to have jelly on them from sticky little hands, there wouldn't be any diapers to change, and I wouldn't be in my house with all manner of projects and work looming before me.  Maybe I'd even swing through a Starbucks drive-through on my way there, for a treat I don't have very often.  Two whole days for ME! 

Of course that didn't happen. 

But what did happen was:

--My five oldest kids filed into the living room upon waking up and one-by-one, told me they were sorry I was sick.

--My husband made the kids breakfast, got the babies up, and emptied and reloaded the dishwasher all before he left for work.

--One of my daughters and one of my sons initiated getting the littlest ones dressed, and had such glad hearts while doing it.

--I got to watch my two oldest daughters get excited about the new quilts I'd bought them the day before, and race downstairs to put them on their beds.

--My oldest got me toast and gatorade for a late lunch, the plate served on a cutting board she used as a tray.

--Then I got to see my oldest off for her dance rehearsal, dressed in her leggings and ballet flats and tshirt with a horse on it, dance bag slung over her shoulder.  I think she's growing up.

--My little Mary Lu came and cuddled with me, chubby toes and all, reminding me that sometimes there's nothing sweeter than wispy blonde hair, big blue eyes, and rosy red cheeks.

--One of my daughters colored five pages out of her coloring book for me to put on the couch and look at throughout the afternoon.

So yeah.  Not the day I'd hoped for or expected, not by a longshot.  Instead of wearing one of my cute and newly-thrifted tops with my jelly-free skinny jeans, I wore pajamas.  And my straightened-the-night-before hair was thrown back into a hasty ponytail that morning as I raced for the bathroom.  I didn't get to catch up with old friends over a good meal, or get the giggles at an inopportune time with a BFF during a workshop. 

But, I found myself thinking as I munched on my toast.  Had I trotted off to my conference this weekend, I would have missed out on an awful lot at home.  Not big huge milestone-type things, but the stuff of everyday.  Like seeing my kids clamor to help out, or sitting with little Lu Lu, or watching my beautiful 8-year-old flit around the house in her dance clothes.  None of these events are particularly significant in and of themselves, but each amounted to a snapshot in time, of my life.

My messy, crazy, opposite-of-glamorous, beautiful life.

If I could have chosen, I obviously would have gone to the conference.  For sure.  In fact, I'm still pretty bummed that I had to miss it.  But there is a surprising consolation in realizing that there is such a high opportunity cost when I walk out my front door. 

Because I live with some of the dearest souls on the planet.  And so even when my plans go awry, even when I spend my day sick on the couch at home, I kind of end up loving my day.

Plans, schmans.  My life is not all about me.  And honestly, I'm kind of glad.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I had a conversation with a friend recently (on the way to IKEA, because that's when all good conversations happen) that I've been mulling over, off and on, ever since.  She said something about how God has each of us here, at this particular time and place in history, for a purpose.  We weren't born in the 1800s, nor were we around for the Trojan War.  We're here now.  Now

The more I think about it, the more I think that this is actually really profound--I'd honestly never considered my existence in this light before. 

And I've also been thinking lately about how we now live in an era of moral relativism, where womanhood has become a bit of a lightning rod and where religious views are shifting.  Big-time.  Did you read the cover story of Newsweek this Easter?  Or if you live in Denver, how about the spread in 5280?  Sigh.  Then just last night, there was a meeting in my city to discuss whether a middle school would be allowed to distribute contraception to students (without parental permission, of course).

It begs the question, how does one express his or her faith lovingly and articulately in this day and age?  Because it's no coincidence that you're here.  Or that I'm here.  And it's no secret that our culture is becoming increasingly post-Christian, and increasingly less tolerant of traditional Judeo-Christian views.  (HHS Mandate, anyone?)  So we really shouldn't expect anything else--nor should we be surprised--when Christians are labeled intolerant and unenlightened for holding an opinion.

Now most of us are not particularly active in the political sphere, nor are we setting out every day to make our voices heard.  (Those things are at odds with my introversion, people.)  But we do go to work, attend playgroups, shop for groceries, and dine with friends.  And these are all prime opportunities for convictions to surface, whether we want them to or not. 

So as I've been thinking, I've come up with five practical ways we can lovingly--and authentically--practice our faith within the context of our culture.  It's not always easy engaging with a world that doesn't understand you, but what a blessed opportunity to take advantage of the now.

1.)  Live out our calling.  I shared here about projecting the image of a woman happy with her vocation.  Because I truly believe that if there's one thing the world needs, it's women joyfully embracing womanhood itself.  What am I communicating to the world when I'm yelling at my kids, angry and miserable in the Target checkout line?  Probably something very different from what I communicate when I'm laughing with my children or simply remaining calm.  God's plan for women and motherhood is a beautiful, liberating thing--even amidst the mess and diapers and tears and grass stains--and our world so desperately needs to see that.  This is why I try to wear makeup and actual non-pajama clothing when I go places with my seven children.  We can thrive as we live out our vocation.

2.)  Show up.  Hmmm, where have I seen that before?  (See cheesy blog title.)  It seems obvious to say this, but sometimes simply being who we are is a pretty huge thing.  It can be challenging, but I try not to make apologies for having a slew of children, for being Catholic, for rejecting the culture's contraceptive mentality, for thinking adoption is the bee's knees, or for having old-fashioned, outdated, traditional values (oh, the horror!).  I am regularly involved in real-life conversations where I'm in the minority on any number of these issues, and while I don't usually (think: ever) spew my opinions, I also try to be me.

3.)  Embrace life.  Jesus came to bring us life to the full, and if that isn't all-out inspiring, I don't know what is.  No matter who we are, or where we're at in life, we can allow ourselves to be open to life in all its forms.  How to do that?  We can see children as a natural--and beneficial--end of a generous marriage.  We can volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, or become licensed to provide foster care, we can adopt a waiting child (or four), or be genuinely thrilled for a woman with a baby on the way.  And, we can simply love those around us--probably the most difficult of all.  The culture may do everything in its power to suppress authentic life, but we certainly don't have to.

4.)   Love truth.  I know I'm stepping on a landmine here when I even suggest that there is such a thing as objective truth.  We live in a society that says what's true for you is true, and what's true for me is true--even if they are mutually exclusive claims.  I am of the belief, however, that God has made Himself known to us, and that for some things to be true, others must be false.  (My Critical Thinking 101 professor would be proud.)  Now yes, there is nuance.  Yes, there are shades of gray.  And oh yes, there is inestimable space for God's mercy amidst our brokenness and despair.  But how much more beautiful might our lives be if we truly clung to truth, if we followed after Jesus with a radical obedience, and immersed ourselves in books and words and prayers and relationships that fostered the virtue of faith, on account of the simple fact that they were true?

5.)  Be not afraid.  These timeless words (belonging to Blessed Pope John Paul II) kind of sum it all up, don't they?  It can be intimidating to hold beliefs that don't square with popular public opinion.  And more often than not, simply by living our lives, we become a walking endorsement of values that don't always make for polite conversation.  People want to know why you did this or believe that.  But we can be confident that if we are being charitable and kind, honest and gracious, we can humbly but truthfully give an answer for the hope we have found.  It will take some courage, yes, but maybe this is precisely why God has you here, now

Monday, April 16, 2012

Growing up

Sleeping bag: check.

Backpack: check.

Pillowpet: check.

8-year-old-girl-excited-about-her-very-first-sleepover: check.

Proud-but-also-kind-of-sad-mama: also check.

Somehow I'm still in denial that my firstborn is 8.

When the birthday girl's mom (a close friend of mine) invited me to stick around and hang out for the evening, I was super excited--girls' night, anyone? BUT I wasn't sure if Anna would be cool with that, and I had every intention of respecting her wishes. (I would have died if my mom tried to pull that at one of my friends' parties. Just sayin'.) But she cheerfully announced to me in the car on the way over that she hoped I'd stay, so she could spend time with me.

I've found that one of parenting's greatest joys is simply enjoying the sweet souls that are my children. Yet I also feel a huge weight of responsibility, as I know I'll play a major role in shaping my daughter into the woman she'll become. Gulp. How I treat my husband, what I value, the way I spend my time (and money) and what topics make it into my conversations, she is watching. Taking cues, from her front row seat to motherhood-and-marriage, Brianna-style.

It is overwhelming, to say the least. I need to teach and instruct, but I also need to model.

How do I handle life when it doesn't go my way? Am I joyful, happy, loving, chaste, and faithful by default? Do I extoll the proper characteristics of beauty, while rejecting the shallow?

My kids are all pretty "young" for their respective ages, blissfully naive about a good many things. (But one of the many perks of homeschooling.) Innocence is a precious gift from God, and as it slowly, gently gives way to experience and worldly-wise-ness, I want to be a nurturing source of truth and light for my children. Even though I'm far from perfect--any of my kids can attest to that--I want to at least be somewhat of an example of what a virtuous, Godly wife and mother looks like.

In other words, it seems important--no, critical--to impart and reflect what life is actually about--so that my daughter isn't looking to Cosmo for the answers, or to serial dead-end relationships for her value and self-worth. Those things are all counterfeit, but she won't recognize them as such unless she's learned and seen what the real truth is.

Obviously, I share this with a humble, cautious heart because my daughter is a mere 8 years old. I don't have in-the-trenches experience with raising girls to adulthood and I can't say, "This is what worked for me." (Or, conversely, "This is what didn't.") I have hopes and dreams for my girl but I'm learning as I go. And, my daughter will have choices to make as she grows, choices that I cannot make for her. She will need to listen to her own conscience, and forge her own path, and heed the still, small voice in her heart that is God's. So I know that I am not ultimately in control of her future. I do.

But, I also think God will hold me accountable for what I've done to properly form her conscience in the early years, and for the ways I've modeled holiness and motherhood and vocation in general. One of life's tallest orders, but also one of life's most amazing and miraculous joys.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The resources we love

To get caught up, you can read about why we've chosen to school our children at home here

A year or two before my oldest started Kindergarten, I read a book that got me thinking about homeschooling again. 

We'd toyed with the idea of teaching our children at home when Anna was very young, but once I had four kids (aged 3 and under) running around my house, I assumed that homeschooling would be a recipe for disaster.  Or at the very least, insanity.

But then I grabbed a copy of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home from the library, and was completely inspired and challenged by what I found inside.  I loved the vision the authors set forth for Classical Education.  I liked the systematic approach to learning and the idea that children be taught according to the Trivium.  I loved the emphasis on History and the concept of studying things chronologically.

While I don't follow the book's instructions to the letter, I decided to embrace the authors' general approach. 

Below are the components and curriculums of homeschooling we have found helpful, and thus used to structure our program.  It takes awhile for your personal style and core to take shape, and I feel like these have emerged as our must-haves.

1.)  Classic Literature.  If you peruse the bookshelves in our modest schoolroom, you will find titles like Pollyanna, The Little PrincessHeidi, CS Lewis' Narnia series, books by the likes of Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, and George MacDonald, and every single book by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I want my children reading things that are worth reading, and to gain an appreciation for truly good writing.  While I believe there is a place for light fiction, I am also a big believer in cultivating an appetite for the beautiful and inspired.

2.)  The Story of the World.  This particular History curriculum is written by one of the women who wrote A Well Trained Mind.  We love, love, love this four-volume set, which is essentially a narrative view of history as opposed to a dry textbook.  And the activity books are excellent too!  I'm not much for the fun art projects (sorry kids), but I do make sure to check out the corresponding books from the library, and have bins filled with them in our home.  This way my children always have access to fairy tales and stories related to whatever time period or culture we're reading about.

3.)  Writing with Ease.  Copywork and narration comprise the core of this simple and easy-to-use system for teaching writing.  I'm working through the first volume with my second-grader this semester.  I love the simplicity and repetition of it, and each passage you read to the child is a selection from--surprise, surprise--a piece of classic children's literature.

4.)  First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind.  Grammar, memory work, all set up in a script format to guide the parent.  I use this in conjunction with our writing curriculum and I love the simplicity and ease of  use.

5.)  St. Joseph's First Communion Catechism.  I like to think of a learned catechism as a systematic approach to faith.  Memory work is a large part of a classic education, and right now my daughter is memorizing this in preparation for her First Communion in May.  You can read more about my convictions in regards to a child knowing their faith, and about this catechism, here.

6.)  Saxon math.  It covers the basics, promotes mastery of concepts,  and oh my goodness, the simple black-and-white pages don't give me a headache.  One of my children is easily distracted, and so this page layout works well for him.

7.)  Latin.  Now this is an area where I am completely intimidated.  And I'll be honest: I'm kind of cheating by listing it here because I haven't even attempted to teach it yet.  But, I have big plans to introduce my daughter to my friend Rosetta Stone next year.  They say that knowing Latin helps with grammar, writing, and spelling, and promotes a better understanding and mastery of the English language.  Plus, there are parts of the Mass that are in Latin.  So, we'll see.

8.)  Music.  None of my children appear to be the next Mozart or Beethoven, but I DO want them to learn a musical instrument (or two.)  Presently, they attend a one-day-a-week program for homeschooled children, where (among other things) my daughter is learning to play the recorder and the piano.  She doesn't practice as often as she should--and I confess to not making this as much of a priority as I'd like--but it's at least something.  She's learning to read music and gaining exposure to the arts, which is wonderful.  And eventually, I hope for my husband to teach each of our children how to play the guitar.

9.)  No TV.  Yes, it's true: we Heldts live in the stone age without cable or satellite.  And my children pretty much only watch cartoons-via-antennae, or movies, when I'm on death's doorstep and needing a cheap babysitter.  There are various reasons for this, one of them being: I want my children reading and imagining and playing--not camped out on the couch with Dora and Barney.  I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with kids watching cartoons, but I like to pretend that I'm stimulating their brain cells by restricting their access to such things. 

Finally, I'll close with another book recommendation (in case you didn't notice, I like me some books.)  If you are a Christian homeschooling parent (or a Christian parent, period), then this is simply a must-have.  Catholic Education: Homeward Bound is inspirational, practical, has lots of lists of resources and ideas, and I promise you don't have to be Catholic to enjoy it.  (If you are Catholic, well, what are you waiting for?  Go buy the book!)  I find myself referencing it regularly and it's probably about time to do a re-read.  If I could only own two books on homeschooling, this and The Well Trained Mind would be the ones.  I positively love the vision of family life casted by these two authors.

So there you have it: a few of my favorite homeschooling things. 

Have you found a particular approach that works for your family? 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A philosophy of education

Few subjects get parents passionately talking--and frantically deliberating--quite like that of the education of their children.  I confess that I am no different.

It's been three years now since we made the decision to teach our children at home.  Yes, friends, we are homeschoolers.

And I find that we have so much exposure to other homeschooling families that it feels mainstream and normal, even though it is technically not.  So I'm sharing today about why we homeschool, hopefully providing some insight for those who've never thought about it before, and encouragement to those of you on a similar journey.  Then Friday I'll let you in on some of the things that have worked for us so far.  I'm no homeschool veteran--my oldest is only in second grade!--but this is a decision that I have truly not regretted once.

I must start by saying I do NOT believe homeschooling is always the best option for families.  Homeschooling is not intrinsically superior to public or private schooling, it is not a holier choice, and it does not magically guarantee a better childhood in any shape, form, or fashion.  In fact, both my husband and I are products of the California public school system and, let's face it, we're pretty awesome.  (KIDDING!)  In all seriousness though, for all the problems one can point to with the US public education system, we are fortunate to have it, and blessed to have so many teachers and administrators working on behalf of our children.  Okay, PSA over.  Now back to homeschooling.

It's funny because people are often surprised to discover that a family with so many children would choose to school at home--"how do you do that?", they ask incredulously--but the truth is that for us and our lifestyle, it is actually more convenient and, well, natural to center our world around our home.

Of course ease of schedule isn't the primary reason we've made this choice.  Because the main impetus for forgoing public school in lieu of a home-oriented education is philosophical in nature: it is all about what we believe family and education ought to be.  

Which could be more or less summed up by the statement that we want our children's education to involve learning in an organic, ongoing environment, where growing in knowledge and wisdom is never squelched or confined to an eight-hour stint in a classroom.  We want our children to develop a love and passion for reading and for them to achieve mastery of their subjects--when they are developmentally ready to do so.  And our main hope is for them to become life-long learners.

We also believe an education goes far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic (though those are certainly important components).  In addition to the basics, we want our children to know their faith, to learn to think critically, to have a grasp of history and of their place in the world.  We want them studying the lives of the saints and learning the Bible and Catechism.  And there would simply not be as much time for this were my children away for eight hours each day--and truth be told, these are the things we care about most. 

Many people are of course concerned about socialization.  (Funny, since I can remember countless socially awkward kids at school--homeschoolers don't have the corner on socially struggling children!)  I'll be honest and say that I want my children to avoid, if at all possible, becoming completely peer-oriented.  (Read this book for an excellent and compelling, research-based explanation of this concept.)  My kids have tons of friends and we always seem to have something social going on, but life and relationships are navigated within the context of family and with the guidance of parents.

Not to mention, one of my favorite parts about homeschooling is that sibling relationships are nurtured and our children are good friends.  When a child joins our family through birth or adoption, there is plenty of time for bonding and simply being together.  The day affords countless opportunities for play, interaction, and yes occasional conflict--which means lots of practice apologizing and forgiving.  Lifeskills worth honing, yes?

And, I know most people have a really negative association with the word "sheltered", but you know what?  I really don'tChildren are exposed to society's harmful messages at increasingly younger and younger ages --and so I am more than okay with the fact that my kids don't have a clue when it comes to pop culture.  Heck, I couldn't care less about most of that stuff myself.  I think many parents fear that their children won't be able to relate to other kids, but I assure you that my crazy-social but relatively sheltered homeschooled children make friends everywhere they go.  Even if they don't watch Hannah Montana or know what the coolest brand of shoes is.   

But if we could only give one defense of our decision to homeschool, it is this: our belief that the family is an institution designed by God Himself, thus making it the ideal place for children to grow.  And, as such, it has profound potential as the foundation for a rich education.  Consider Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education, no 3:

As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family.  They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.  The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute.  It is therefore the duty of parents to create a family atmosphere inspired by love and devotion to God and their fellow-men which will promote an integrated, personal, and social education of their children.

Beautiful, right?  And the thing is, every.single.word. applies no matter what path you choose for educating your child.  We personally believe that the best way for our family to fulfill this important mandate is to do life together each and every day, educating our children at home.  Not every family will come to this conclusion, but for us it has worked splendidly. 

Now, I certainly can't predict the future.  I don't know if we will manage to homeschool all throughout each child's school years.  We'd like to, but we also have no desire to die on the proverbial homeschooling hill.  If at some point we discern that it would be best for our kids and family to enter the public education system, so be it.  I am in no way morally opposed to public schooling--on the contrary, I am quite grateful that we live in a country that provides it free of charge.  Not to mention, two of my children are eligible for services through the public schools, so that may eventually be a factor too.  (I haven't really discussed private school here, because financially-speaking it is just really not an option for us.)

But, for now, our vision of family life includes learning at home, and I really kind of love it.

Come back Friday to see some of the resources we've utilized in our homeschool.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Happy Easter!

Saturday night was Easter Vigil.  The first one we've ever attended!  Being that we were received into the Catholic Church in October, it was also our first Easter in the Church.

And it was quite probably the most beautiful (and long!) service I've been a part of.  At 3+ hours (!), it began at 8 pm outdoors in front of a huge fire, which was blessed by the priest and used to light the Paschal Candle.  We then all processed into the Church where there was liturgy and readings and bells and baptisms and people being received into the Church--and of course the blessed Eucharist.

Afterwards, there was a huge celebration with wine and dinner and lots of desserts.  We Catholics do a lot of feasting and celebrating, I have discovered.  Hence the not getting home until 1:30 am.

The vigil was meaningful for many reasons, but one of the biggest was seeing a (formerly Protestant, like me!) dear friend enter the Catholic Church.  I had the incredible honor of being her confirmation sponsor and so got to stand up with her.  How blessed am I?  God took each of us on a randomly similar journey, and what a profound joy to see it all culminate in this way.  When I take a step back and think about it, I'm kind of blown away by God's faithfulness and by the fact that He brought both of us to this place.

Then yesterday we hosted my parents for Easter dinner and just enjoyed some good quality family time--trampoline, Wii, laughing, and eating way too many sweets.  And of course reflecting on the fact that Jesus conquered death!

I am really hoping to embrace and be present in this Easter season.  During the vigil (which includes lots of  readings from Scripture), we sing the Gloria as we transition from Old Testament to New Testament readings.  Bells were ringing like crazy, and person after person came quickly up the aisle preparing the formerly-bare altar: placing flowers around it, lighting was so beautiful and exciting and such an incredible picture of what Jesus' life, death, and resurrection mean.  I had tears in my eyes as I took it all in. 

My 8-year-old daughter summed it up well when she told me yesterday that she cannot WAIT for next year's vigil, that it was her favorite service so far.  The girl loved it, and I did too--so absolutely worth the effort of keeping my seven kids in line and somewhat quiet for over three hours.  :)  In all seriousness, try to go next year, and find a parish that does the vigil in full (as opposed to a truncated version.)  Protestant or agnostic or Catholic, you won't be sorry. 

He is risen, and we are glad!  Happy Easter, friends!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Not forgotten

It's Holy Week.

Yesterday was Holy Thursday, and today is Good Friday.

We went to Mass last night, participated in a pilgrimage of sorts called "Visit to the Seven Churches", and will head back to Church this afternoon for the 3 pm Celebration of the Passion of the Lord. More Good Friday events will follow, this evening.

Last year we were in Ethiopia for Holy Week--Kevin, Mary Lu and I. (And Tigist and Mekdes of course--we were there for their court date though, so they were still living in the orphanage.) It was an amazing time to visit, to see the multitudes crowding into the Orthodox churches, the many beggars stationed outside them in hopes of receiving alms, and the vast number of live chickens and goats for sale everywhere, to be used for Easter feasts.

We lay in bed on Saturday night listening to the deafening chants at Easter Vigil, which started out serious and somber, but as midnight approached became frenzied and happy. I'd never heard anything like it, and I felt as if we'd gotten an intimate glimpse into the highest holy day of their entire year. I lay in bed picturing all of the men and women in traditional dress, heading home to prepare their feasts, celebrating long into the night. It was mysterious. And beautiful.

Then we got up on Easter morning and boarded the first of two flights to Rome. Yes, we arrived in Rome on Easter Sunday--kind of perfect if you ask me. Of course thanks to a ridiculously long layover in Frankfurt, Germany, we didn't actually get in until late that night. (So I guess technically we spent most of Easter Sunday in Germany.)

But Rome was still abuzz with Holy Week pilgrims and it was roughly a week before Blessed John Paul II's beatification, so there were people in town for that too. My heart was touched by the sight of so many consecrated religious from all over the world, come to Rome for Holy Week and/or the beatification. And I was floored by the fact that mere tourists from every corner of the globe were vacationing to see the Sistine Chapel and basilicas like St. John Lateran. Kind of amazing.

To be in the very core of the center of the Christian faith, the place where believers huddled together in the catacombs amidst widespread martyrdom and where St. Peter and St. Paul's remains and relics are entombed, the place from which our very faith spread to the world, was astounding. Especially at such an important time of year. You simply can't see those things and places without it occurring to you that oh my goodness, those stories are real. Jesus entered into history as a man, even though He is God, and lived on this earth and died for the salvation of souls.

Now this year, we're not spending Holy Week amongst the Ethiopian Orthodox in Africa. Nor are we in Rome paying our respects at the tomb of a beloved pope. We're here at home, in Denver, observing the high Holy Days at our local Catholic parish. And so I find myself pondering our travels at this time last year, and thinking that this is a global, communal, open-to-everyone faith that transcends culture, station in life, and race. See I know that Christians the world over will be gathered together at 3 pm today (or at 3 pm on their Friday) to soberly remember the Passion of Jesus. I know that faithful followers of Christ in every nation will celebrate Jesus' rising from the dead at Easter Vigil, culminating in late-night feasting and celebration (and in some places, the slaughtering of chickens and goats).

This whole Easter thing is kind of a big deal. Our world was forever, unalterably changed all those centuries ago, and we will not let people forget. We must not let ourselves forget, because we need Jesus. We need His birth and life and most especially His death and resurrection. Don't believe the lie that the past is irrelevant. History ought not be erased or confined to the dusty corners of a seminary library. No, it bears upon today and upon our very lives, and entering into the Holy Week Triduum year after year will surely ingrain this fact in our hearts, minds and souls.

Whether you're in Addis Ababa, Rome, or Denver.

Wishing you all a blessed, contemplative Good Friday, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Lenten reflections 2012

This has been our first Lent as Catholics.  It started with Ash Wednesday and will conclude at Easter Vigil.  And it's been...interesting.  A season all about penance and sacrifice and uniting with Jesus in His sufferings, Lent is intended to prepare the Christian's heart for Easter--the biggest and most celebratory feast day of the year.

I say it's been "interesting" because:

1.)  I gave up what I consider to be pretty paltry things, but have actually really missed them, and struggled with the temptation to do them anyway.

2.)  The past 40 days have included a nasty flu, dealing with difficult kid stuff (everything from behavior issues to emotions running high over repeatedly hurt feelings), and a car accident.  In other words, life's circumstances have most definitely been harder than usual around here.

3.)  There have been a couple of instances over the past several weeks where I've felt the tension of being Catholic.  Because unlike my former life as a Protestant, when I identify as a Roman Catholic, I essentially wear my beliefs on my sleeve.  There is great potential to be misunderstood (at best), and accused of intolerance and arrogance (at worst).  Not easy for my people-pleasing, caring-way-too-much-about-what-people-think-of-me self.

Of course, methinks that even though this has all been decently hard, it is probably all very GOOD for my spiritual life.  Because while Lent has been more difficult than I'd anticipated, it has been so in a redemptive sort of way--as it builds virtue in my life by underscoring my desperate need for a Savior.  Not to mention, these are all things I can offer up to God. 

And I obviously haven't been observing Lent all by myself--we participate as a family.  Meaning that we've spent some of our Friday evenings at our parish doing Stations of the Cross (which I've LOVED), and I've been taking my kids through this book.  Which is wonderful, and I highly recommend it--each day of Lent has a reflection, a positive action to do, and a fast from something.  Not to mention, at $1.99, it is super inexpensive! 

And now it is Holy Week. 

On Palm Sunday we processed with our palm branches that the priest had blessed, the crucifix and statues were shrouded in purple linen, and there was a special Gospel reading during Mass.  It occurred to me that every single year, the Church tirelessly and humbly proclaims this crazy, 2,000-year-old story--foolishness to much of the world, but life-changing and of utmost importance to us.  The average person may not care what happened in Jerusalem on that week all those years ago, but the Church does. 

Something I am learning as a Catholic is that Jesus is real.  And the faith I proclaim is real.  Yes, I know that sounds weird and semi-ridiculous, because of course I believed He was real before.  But now that I am practicing a faith that is Sacramental and Liturgical, it is so much more tangible and experiential for me--and I think that's by design.  The Eucharist is, after all, as intimate a union man can have with our Lord, this side of eternity.  And of course if Jesus is real, my sin is too.  The battle between good and evil, also real.  Thus my need to engage in a penitential season to prepare my heart for Easter.

So, those are my current and partially-processed thoughts on Lent.  May we all experience Christ fully, deeply, and abundantly this Holy Week, as we attempt to walk with Him in His Passion.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Why Friday was a no-good-very-bad-day

Friday morning.

Me and the kids.

Heading out to homeschool-coop.

As I was approaching an onramp and passing through the busy intersection, a truck with an incredibly long, insanely low steel trailer stopped suddenly, on the onramp, to accomodate a streetsweeper that was stopped in the middle of the aforementioned onramp.  (Still not sure why.)

None of this was visible from where I was in the intersection.  At all.  (The onramp is hidden by cement walls and is around a curve.)

Until it was too late.

And, in spite of (carefully) slamming on my brakes, I couldn't stop in time.  I couldn't swerve either (refer back to aforementioned cement walls.)


Is there any sound worse than metal-on-metal?

Needless to say, our big van is currently at the body shop for repairs.  Boo.

Also needless to say, the guy's steel trailer didn't have a scratch on it.  Yay.

Thankfully, we were all okay.  Nothing major.  Nothing minor.  Just (expensive) car stuff. 

And some slight emotional trauma.

Because after pulling forward and onto the shoulder, I called the police to make an accident report, figuring you're supposed to do that.  But I kinda came to regret that decision because it took them over TWO HOURS to get an officer there.  Yep, two-plus hours.  So for 120 minutes, my seven kids and I hung out next to a stinky fence by the highway (a safe distance from traffic of course).

It was sunny, and hot, and I just could not BELIEVE how long it was taking.

So I took pictures.

Lots of pictures. Because really, what else was I going to do?  See, there I am.  With all my precious kiddies.  By the side of the road.  Photographed by the boss of the man whose trailer I hit.  Both men were so, so nice.  (Apparently I still smile for the camera after I've been in an accident.  'Cause that's how I roll.)

But, two hours.

When the policeman was finished with his "report" (which included a ticket he gives to everyone who rear-ends someone else, regardless of the circumstances--lovely) and the AAA man finally showed up, I about bawled.

When I (finally) got to the (correct) body shop (after AAA took us to the WRONG one) and saw a blessed crucifix on the wall, and the employees and insurance rep were so over-the-top kind to me, I about bawled.

And when the man from the body shop dropped me off at my house where Kevin and the kids were waiting outside to greet me and wave me in, I DID bawl.

People, I HATE stuff like this.  It's humiliating (not sure why, but it is), expensive, and I have to go in person, downtown, to traffic court to pay my ticket.  Plus, I felt downright yucky the rest of the day (and weekend for that matter).  It's just awful. 

The really ironic thing was, that morning at our group we were supposed to put together bags to hand out to the homeless--filled with water, soap, and other useful items.

Yet it was us who wound up stranded and vulnerable on the side of the road.  And, two separate strangers fully stopped to hand us a bunch of bottles of cold water.  Angels from Heaven, I tell you.  Talk about an object lesson.  By the time Kevin showed up and got all the carseats switched over to our 8-seater minivan, my kids were pretty much covered in dirt, my shoes were ruined, Mekdes was sobbing, and Mary and Tigist and Kaitlyn had had.e.nough.  We all had, really.

So, that was our Friday.  I always used to wonder what would happen if my car broke down or we got stranded somewhere, me and my seven small kids.  "What would we do?", I'd muse.

Well, now I know.

A whole lotta this.

And this.

Praising God that even though a slow-moving fender-bender is a big deal when you have seven kids in tow, life goes on and we are well.  Even if we now have to caravan places for awhile. 

A minor accident, yes, but it still shook me up enough to make me so extra grateful for the sweet little souls who are my children.  And for a husband who leaves work and shows up by the side of the road to save the day, who gives me hugs and tells me not to worry about it, because "it's just money".

Sometimes life is hard, but God is always good, and I am blessed.


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