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wpid-0710151654a.jpgI have wondered at the infatuation with Zombie novels and movies. As a believer of living life to its fullest, the idea of being intrigued by the walking dead has left me puzzled. Wanting to be slightly informed, but cautiously aware that I’m the type that would probably really enjoy a good zombie movie, I watched World War Z last week. Based on the expressions of various friends and acquaintances who have equally various opinions on zombies, I’ve either gone over the edge or I’ve wasted my time with a glorified-yet-disappointing movie.

Either way, I have a feeling that I haven’t truly experienced a true zombie. To be honest, that is okay with me. From my limited knowledge of a zombie apocalypse, it’s a plague that drives zombies to bite healthy individuals. In the movie, the plague killed first, then within 11 or 12 seconds, the bitten rose to spread the disease. The faces of the zombies were distorted with bulging eyes, snarling lips and a hunger to devour others. When left without noise or stimulation, they became listless, wandering from room to room with no purpose.

Zombies sound like an antagonist of fantasy literature.

Actually, they are real.

I saw a young mother at the grocery store who leaned heavily on her shopping cart, moseying up and down the aisles, staring blankly at the items on the shelf. When her child whined for snacks, her lips curled into a sneer and she launched cruel words toward the toddler.

During a visit to the mall, a swarm of zombies lurched around the shoppers, biting into the souls of others with snide remarks about that one being too old, that one being too fat. Within seconds, those within ear-shot withered into piles of nothing.

The walk of a person who had come to the mall with a purpose was instantly replaced with the wounded crawl of defeat. Employees can be zombies. They thirst of money and power and success. Their eyes bulge with desires for these things, their calendars are riddled with meetings and appointments that direct them away from their real hopes and toward the desires of a society without a purpose.

The expression of a child watching a video is reminiscent of a zombie expression. Childhood – and all of life – is not to be wasted living someone else’s adventures.

Parents can be zombies. The disease of striving for success while not having a meaningful purpose is a plague. Are we working at something we love? Or are we working to keep a roof over our children’s heads? A recent study revealed that the average father gazes into the eyes of his children for less than 38 seconds a day? But how many hours does that same man watch TV or play video games? Talk about a zombie! This mind-set is a disease. It’s a bleak landscape that offers no life-giving fruit. It’s a life without hope, a life without purpose. Is there a cure? Yes.

Fight the disease of purposelessnessitis. (I know that’s not a word, but it should be. Our society is plagued with it!)

 

Find a mission.

 

Seek a purpose.

 

Align your mission and purpose in a career.

 

Each day find something that is living and gaze at it. A child’s eyes. A blooming flower. A radiant sunset (okay, that’s not living, but there is atomic energy in that sun).

sunset-morrisionlake I am not immune to the plague of zombies in this world, but I will also actively seek a cure. I believe the cure is found outside, by talking with other living souls, or inside a book. I’m no longer puzzled by the idea of zombies. For some, it’s a fad genre that is entertaining. For others, perhaps death feels more appealing than living. That’s backwards. It really is. LIVE backwards is evil. Live life. We have it only once and for a short time. Why waste it on walking around like the dead?

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When I first started thinking about homeschooling my oldest daughter, she was four, the middle child was two, and my youngest was not quite one. My days were filled with three little girls dressed in pink fluff, dancing to music, messing up my clean floors, and taking naps all over the place when they reached the end of their energy. We entertained the idea of homeschooling not because the school district we live in was struggling, but because I really love being a stay-at-home mom and I wasn’t ready to send my daughter to full-day kindergarten.

reading

That’s it. Plain and simple, we homeschool because I was selfish. I didn’t (and still don’t) want someone else to have the privilege of enjoying educating my children. (Note: this does not mean that I look down on parents who utilize the public or private school systems! I know that every parent does what is best for their family.)

Our first year of homeschooling was a trial run. I used desks at first because that’s what I knew from my career as a school teacher. I slowly realized that learning at home rarely happens at a desk. Real education — the character development, faith formation, and samplings of all that is truly important — happened in giant piles of children on my lap as I read stories, as I read from recipes and followed directions (or not), and as I kept my cool (or not) in stressful moments that are natural when your children are with you ALL DAY. My children have seen my best days and my worst days. I’ve seen theirs. And there is still much love between us.

But we have a new challenge. He is adorable and energetic and infatuated with all things tractor and truck related. He’s the only boy and the youngest by seven years.

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He doesn’t have to share my lap with any other siblings. I have to purposefully set aside time for him. It’s too easy for me to be swept up in the busy-ness of having three high school and junior high students. The clutter of a preschooler, the hands-on learning that I know he’ll need in kindergarten have been put away for years. As I’m unpacking them, I’m realizing that he learns very differently from my daughters. I’m in for the challenge of a lifetime!

For the past few months, I’ve felt pulled in two different directions: Studying Homer with the girls vs. teaching the boy how to read; moving the girls to advanced music classes vs. taking away wooden spoons from my son who drummed on the wooden furniture; trying to further my own education with classical literature and leadership development books vs. reading about giving pigs pancakes and Green Eggs and Ham.

It’s time to re-think my homeschooling.

Not that I’m going to give it up or send him to school. This is my chance to learn more about him, to discover new things about me. I wouldn’t let that opportunity pass me by for anything! (I’m going to repeat that again and again to myself on difficult days!)

Here’s my plan to bridge the gap between my children’s academic levels:

First, feel assured in the fact that I haven’t neglected my children’s education. Going back to my mission statement for homeschooling, I know that ‘education’ is pretty low on the list. The order of importance looks like this: faith formation, character development, family (household and farm chores, annual traditions and practicing effective communication), learning to love reading, music, and then the more formal aspect of education.

Second, I need to be more prepared to help my son learn according to his strengths. He’s all boy – meaning that he’s busy, loves all things with wheels and motors, enjoys cuddles, and thinks more clearly when he’s making noise. As such, I will need to teach him while he moves. Small motor skills are a little lacking and he isn’t reading yet, but the interest is there. My job is to not destroy that interest.

Several years ago I went to a seminar given by Andrew Pudua of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He listed the different ways boys and girls learn and suggested that schools with gender separate classrooms were showing amazing academic results. At the time, my son was only an infant, but as he nears kindergarten, I am beginning to experience those differences. I still have a bit of learning to do on the subject, but here’s my plan so far. I will post updates and changes to the plan as I learn :)

Things he can do while I’m working with the girls:

Sensory Bins

We are putting together more sensory bins which are available for him to purposefully play with during the times I’m working with older children.

Rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

rice, beans, tiny toys. Cheapest and most popular toys ever!

Rice and beans

Shaving cream on a tray

Pattern Blocks

Salt tray and Letters

Threading beads on yarn – randomly first to master the small motor skills, then adding patterns to follow

Play-dough – Making it together and working on small motor skills. I love this the best. It’s time in the kitchen, working on a recipe together, seeing the ingredients that are mixed together to make something new. Then, we practice those small motor skills that are so often late in developing in boys, and make shapes and letters and action figures.

We also have tried all the easy recipes on Pinterest for different types of texture dough. Our favorite is mixing equal parts of shaving cream and corn starch. It’s slick and easy to clean up. I would recommend buying a non-scented shaving cream if possible. Our house smelled like a cologne store for hours.

Legos – That’s right. Legos. Who doesn’t want to play with them? Great for small motor development, creative 3-D building and can be used to make mazes (with a marble), to sort colors and sizes, and will eventually be used to teach fractions.

 

Things he can do with one of the girls while the other two are working:

Cutting and Pasting

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The girls help the boy with a craft each day. We each take a turn prepping and helping him follow the directions. This has turned out better than I expected. His fine motor skills are improving, he is sitting (or sometimes standing at the table) for longer periods of time as his attention is stretching longer. The girls are also finding opportunities to practice patience. It’s a win-win!

Obstacle course:

For the active days, I set up our rebounder and put tape on the floor to create an obstacle course. He builds it with me and then runs, jumps and rolls all over the place. This doesn’t create a very quiet atmosphere for us, but these are his favorite days!

We’ve also made the masking tape obstacle courses in the shape of his name. He drives his smaller tractors all over it as we work at the table on Bible readings, Science or Writing. I don’t know why I was surprised, but after he played with that tape for a day, he no longer wrote the letters of his name backwards.

Things we can do just because:

Park Trips

When the girls were younger, we spent one summer exploring our state’s playgrounds and state parks. Each week we packed a picnic lunch, traveled to a different park and explored. If there was a geo-cache nearby, we did that. We took pictures (what child doesn’t love to take pictures?) and rated the playground on a scale of 1 – 10 based on the quality of the playground, the proximity and cleanliness of the bathrooms, and the dirt. Remember, I have girls. If a playground was too dirty, it didn’t score well. They preferred woodchips, shredded rubber, and pea stones.

Summer Reading Program:

As always, I have a goal for the summer for all my children. We usually make these goals together, but my son seems to balk at the idea of planning something out. They only thing he plans on doing everyday is riding the lawn mower with me. The rainy days are almost unbearable for us all!

The girls will make a list of books to read:

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They are too old to participate in the libraries summer reading program, so we make up our own.

To motivate my son to participate in the Summer Reading Program with us, I’ll make a chart of books to read with different siblings and my husband and I.

The teeter-totter of homeschooling such vast ages doesn’t have to be a wrist-breaking, butt-dropping experience. There are rules for playing nicely on the teeter-totter just like there are rules to follow to meet the goals of a successful year of homeschooling.

In all of this, there is also time for me to read and write. That’s really the beauty of it – mom is happy, too!

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The winter doldrums usually never visit the Schaub household. With four children participating in homeschooling events and a house lined with books, there is rarely a dull moment. But, alas! The doldrums came knocking this year. It wasn’t during the winter, but the early Spring just as Mother Nature teased me with two days of warmth and sun which she nestled into the bosom of a month of cold and rainy days.

In those two days, I gardened until I had to chip the dirt from under my fingernails. My arms were slightly red, my eyes were dry from the intensity of the sun, and my back ached from tilling the soil. Overall, I felt alive.

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When Michigan’s April spring temperatures returned, the weather forced me back inside. The tasks that a mother needs to attend to cluttered my day; meal planning, actually making those planned meals, laundry, homeschooling and the endless list of trivial to-do’s.

As that to-do list grew longer every day, I noticed that my drive to cross things off that list was waning. I had entered a slump. A swampy-low dump. Not a happy place to be.

“When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.

Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.”

-Dr. Suess, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

I needed a little inspiration, a bucket of motivation, and a reward at the end.

My inspiration? To model the behaviors of dedication to my children. To inspire others to read more, learn more, to find positive associations that will build their lives toward love of God.

My Motivation?

Wait…how is that different from inspiration?

Inspiration is the fuel that drives me.

Motivation is the destination to which I’m driving.

I needed to remember that my motivation is to live a life steeped in the riches of God’s love and passion. My husband and I are the two major players and driving forces in our family. While we aren’t perfect and our children certainly know that, we are expected to live well, learn as we go, and do our best to not repeat mistakes. If we can work our way toward establishing an ever-developing strength in our marriage, that will carry over to our children and their perception of live, love and faith.

My reward?

Before I can select a reward, I need to measure the rate of my success. Yes, I’m a Type A, Dominant Personality, a Choleric-Melancholy, for those of you familiar with personality types. My children tease me about the amount of notes, charts, and the depth of detail I go into in our family life, lesson planning, writing (plot organization) and budgeting. But, heck! It works :)

What is success for me? Well, I have a goal for this year that will lead me to my 5- and 10-year goals. To reach that annual goal, I have an ongoing list of books to read and write, articles to explore for this blog, people to learn from (including my children). There are places to visit, experiences to have, and communities to participate in.

With my 10- and 5-year goals charted, I wrote down what I could do this year to make that possible. Every month I revise my “This Year” list to bring me closer to my 2020 goals. I also reserve the right to change those goals for 2020 and 2025, but only in an upward direction. If I find that I’ve underestimated how many books I can sell each month, I will raise that goal, but I will not lower it.

Getting back to the reward…each month I set down a list of to-do items. The typical list includes:

  • listening to 2-3 inspirational and informational audio recordings each day, which can accomplish as I drive my children to their activities, while I cook, fold laundry, or walk.
  • Reading 3 books on personal development (see my current reading list here) and 1-2 novels in the genre I write.
  • Write a blog post each week
  • Make an actual dinner (pre-planned, prepared and enjoyed) at least 3 times a week. That might sound like a low goal. I do have four children who do eat dinner seven times a week. They also eat breakfast, lunch, and two snacks a day–all at home. Three of them are old enough to prepare meals on their own, so I have them do that. You can call it Home Economics. I call it ‘time to write’.
  • And because I need to stay healthy, I set an exercise goal for each month. In warmer months, I’ll set a walking/jogging mileage goal. In the winter, I set out a stack of 4-5 exercise DVDs on Sunday night and do them all by Saturday morning.

If I can put a check mark next to each of these goals, then I know I have earned my reward. Sometimes it’s a Saturday morning specialty coffee from an upscale coffee shop. Sometimes I will take an entire day or, if possible, an overnight mini-vacation to a local retreat center and just relax, read and write. This month, the reward is a trip to Barnes and Noble where I will spend all the gift cards I received for Christmas.

A friend of mine laughed when I told her what my reward was for this month. “You already have the gift cards, just go and spend them!”

But I didn’t earn those cards. If I gain something, I want it to be because I’ve done the work and have earned it. It means more.

I encourage you to do the same. My mentor inspired me to try this reward system, using the idea of delaying gratification from the simple, easy-to-buy things until I had completed the work toward a dream. By adding this reward process to my life, my dreams of becoming a writer, author, and public speaker aren’t just pie-in-the-sky wishes, but realities. If there was ever anything you want, make a plan and implement it. At all costs, make it happen. There will be hard work and set-backs, but there will be no regrets. If you work long enough and hard enough, every dream can be reached.

This post was inspired by the book: Ladder, Climbing out of a Slump published by Obstacles Press.

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Here’s an interesting video on How Curiosity is Crushed that was shared by Faraday’s Candle on a comment on Three Critical Errors I Made in Homeschooling

http://faradayscandle.com/2014/09/

What do you think? Does testing and memorization ruin the beauty of science?

Michio Kaku states that we are all born scientists, that we all wonder why? We wonder ‘how is that possible?’ He’s absolutely right! Every child is curious about the world. I remember tearing apart dandelions to examine the base of the flower petals. Every puddle still draws me to it, wondering if there are any tadpoles or worms slithering along the bottom.

I do believe this is just one problem that schools face today. To examine even two issues of public education would fill a book, so I’ll just focus on the one that I believe is at the core of them all: Too much emphasis is put on Testing and too little on Character Development. Someone will comment that their school has a character quality of the week and therefore the children are learning about character.

That’s a good start.

It’s my belief that true character is formed on the back of discipline and faith – or the lack thereof . Within the word ‘discipline’ is the word ‘disciple’. A disciple is a student, “one who receives instruction from another”. Therefore, discipline is a lesson that is taught. When a character trait is flawed, it must be corrected. Disciplining a child doesn’t instinctively mean punishment, but a corrective action must take place. That action needs to have meaning.

Just Don’t Kill

The pessimistic side of me fears that Character Development in our American Culture is nearly a lost cause. Political correctness, the span of opinions between the intensely liberal and the overly conservative, and the desire to fit in make it almost impossible for a basic character quality to be agreed upon. But my optimistic side declares that there is hope. Most cultures believe it is wrong to kill. Telling lies is generally viewed as bad. Being independent and intelligent are desired, but the means to gain these character qualities is being forgotten. But we have the ‘no kill’ agreement. That’s a start.

Mr. Kaku calls the years of junior and senior high school the ‘Danger Years’. In an education system that houses 200-500 students of any particular age level, what else can be expected? Going back to the beginning of time, people aren’t meant to be grouped in large numbers with people their own age. The results are disastrous! If you disagree, read Lord of the Flies or go visit your neighborhood school and watch what happens when the teacher’s back is turned. Based on the souls that are forever wounded during these years, that ‘no kill’ quality appears to be lacking.

The Death of a Soul

Speaking from my own experiences, high school was not an academic pursuit. It was a social endeavor. An obstacle course of clothing, economic status, country-club memberships, and brands. That, I believed, was the stuff people were made of. There were, of course, exceptions to those rules, but they were few. How much more has this worsened with the onslaught of technology? Cell phones with cameras and video capabilities that catch every person’s nightmare, sharing it on social media in an extended version of global bullying.

I remember a beautiful girl from my high school who came out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked into her panties. It was horrifying for her, but thankfully a good friend rushed up and corrected the problem, quickly tugging at her skirt to fix it before too many boys saw. Everyone’s face burned with embarrassment for her. No one would have ever thought of taking a picture and posting it anywhere. That idea never even occurred to us. But that is the norm now. And what do the adults do about it?

Bullying makes the headlines. Taunts and language do break bones, no matter what childhood poems say. Bullying kills the soul. It can also kill the person. Many bullied students can’t cope and end their life.

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.”  http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-and-suicide.html

From http://jasonfoundation.com/prp/facts/youth-suicide-statistics/

  • Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • Suicide is the THIRD leading cause of death for college-age youth and ages 12-18. (2010 CDC WISQARS)
  • More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.

Education, Basic Needs and Eric:

When I did my student teaching, I went downtown to a public school and worked in the kindergarten room. Many of the children were bright and eager to impress the teacher, to learn how to read, to do the crafts, to play with others. But there was one boy, Eric, who miraculously made it to school every day on his own accord. His mother, whom I met at parent-teacher conferences, had needle marks up both arms. With a toothless smile, she openly shared that her profession was the oldest profession.

Her son came to school dressed, but usually not dressed well enough to protect him from the winter winds, nor were his clothes always clean. He came to school for breakfast and lunch. Numbers and letters meant nothing to him. After breakfast, while the other children huddled around my chair for a story, Eric was usually asleep in the reading corner. With his belly full and his little fingers and toes warmed, his eyes finally rested in the only safe place he knew.

The basic needs of food, water and shelter must all be met before an education is possible. I don’t know what Eric learned that year. I do know that I will never forget him.

True education happens in small groups or in one-on-one mentoring situations, but mentorship is a dying entity. The “flowers of curiosity” that Mr. Kaku mentions in the video don’t just keep blooming from childhood into adulthood. They must be nourished and tended. Safe environments, encouraging mentors, availability to classical literature and quiet hours spent without music or distractions are what makes a student a scholar.

There are facts to learn and poetry and formulas worth memorizing. But not for the purpose of passing a test and not at the expense of failing in character to make the grade. What do our children truly need to learn except to learn how to learn? What more do they need than the desire to enhance their minds? My answer: First, they need to know it’s possible. Second, a mentor to show them what it looks like to learn. And third, the time and space to learn.

They need mentors. Not ‘Danger Years’.

Let this be your next experiment: What would happen if children read classical literature and studied any subject of interest to them? How would that impact their education and love of learning if they did that for three months? What would the ‘beauty of science’ look like in that environment?

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As a former classroom teacher, I approached the idea of homeschooling with a very strict, organized mindset. Students need desks and a schedule and textbooks. School should start at 9:00, lunch at noon, and we would wrap things up at 3:00. My children will be intelligent and polite and will compete well with traditionally schooled children.

The truth is, none of that matters. There are hundreds of misconceptions about homeschooling. All of mine were based on the fact that I have a Master’s degree in Education. It ended up being a setback for me as I had to reconstruct the philosophies behind classroom management and align them with the reality of a household.

Here are the three most valuable lessons I’ve learned about home-schooling in the past ten years:

  1. A school schedule is not a home-school schedule.

The first year I homeschooled, my oldest daughter was five. Outside of dealing with guilt for ‘denying’ her a kindergarten school year, I felt pressure to be the best homeschooling mom. Ever. I quickly realized that the full load of lessons that I used to teach a classroom of kindergarteners was quickly completely by my one five-year-old.

I will never forget the very first day of our official home-school. We began promptly at 9:00 with prayer and the pledge of allegiance. We read stories, practiced handwriting, and did a craft. We made play-dough from scratch and formed all the letters in her name. And then her sisters’ names. Then mine and my husband’s. We played outside and I was careful to provide time for her to run and jump. Those large motor skills are important, you know.

At 11:00 we called it a day. She consumed my plans as if she was a fish and all my carefully formulated lessons were nothing more than water over her gills.

What was different from teaching 25 students? Much of the time I spent as a kindergarten teacher (1 semester – my experience in this world is quite limited) was used in teaching songs and steps for the daily projects, managing transitions, discipline, academic testing, walking up and down halls for special classes, managing recess, and communicating with parents. With one five-year old (and younger siblings – a 3 year old and a one-year-old), my duties were drastically different. I was the teacher, custodian, lunch lady, and principal. Parent communications were constant (I do talk to myself). I didn’t need academic testing because it was clear to me what she grasped and what needed more work. Special classes – gym, computer, library – were all right there in the house, but we still fit playgrounds and libraries into our schedule as weekly stops.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

Note the map in the background. Every home needs a map. This mural map is from National Geographic.

That was ten years ago. Our typical day is very different and we’ve gone through several different schedules and plans. For now, we work for 4-6 hours a day on reading, math, science, and music. We are going to add a foreign language to that mix in May. When most schools are winding down for the summer, we are changing gears and keeping the learning fresh with different subjects. Our schedule evolution could fill a book. Hmmm…maybe one day it will. It would be a comedy.

  1. Too many subjects a day keeps the Scholar away.

Because we only focus on four subjects at a time, my children don’t (typically) feel stressed about the amount of work they have to do. This feels like freedom to them because a year ago it was a different story. I had enrolled them in a faith-focused, accredited home-school. I needed the direction, the pre-planned lessons, and the books they use are amazing! When the lesson plans arrived, I unpacked three, four-pound bricks of shrink-wrapped lessons. Each brick had nine subjects spread out over a 36-week school year. They had several different recommendations of how to organize these lesson plans. I’m sorry to say, that after using this curriculum for two years, no suggestion worked well.

It was in the throes of a bitter winter that I noticed four things about our home-school:

  1. My daughters spent so much time at their desks, I didn’t really see them during the day. They may as well have been in school.
  2. The volume of subjects was weary. Mathematics, Religion, English, Reading Comprehension, Reading Thinking Skills, Spelling, Vocabulary, History, Science, Physical Education, Music, and Life Skills. Not one of these subjects overlapped.
  3. We were always behind. The lesson plans were organized by week and day. The only day we were on target was Week 1, Day 1. By the end of the first week, every child was on a different day in every subject. Despite the fact that the school said that was fine, to go through the lessons at your own pace, mine is the personality that doesn’t jive with that. By December, we should have been on week 16, but no one was. We felt like failures.
  4. That feeling of failure lead to short tempers. Mine, mostly.

Our solution was to return to what we love. Reading. We read and write for at least two hours a day. While this is the cornerstone of our education, there is also Math, Music and Science.

The kid's bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

The kid’s bookshelf. They have read far more than I have.

  1. I am my own worst student.

Ten years ago as our home-schooling adventure began, I made a critical error. I believed that my degree in education gave me everything I needed to know about how to best teach. Only in retrospect and after many tears and prayers, was I able to admit that I had not studied enough.

My children’s education is only as good as the habits I exhibit. In other words, I can’t teach them anything. Every critical skill that my children learn, they learn from observation. If I want them to flip their lids when the dishes aren’t done, all I have to do is model that behavior once and they have it. They will take that lesson and apply it to moments when a sibling doesn’t return a borrowed jacket or absently leaves a glass on their desk. If I want to teach my children how to gently guide their youngest brother through the four-year-old stubborn streak, I have to model that day after day.

My bookshelf. I'm working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

My bookshelf. I’m working my way through these books. Some are classics, some are based on leadership development. All are changing the way I see the world. And that is the goal!

If I want my children to be avid, always-hungry readers, I must be an avid, hungry reader. If I want healthy children, I must follow healthy eating and exercise guidelines. The same is true for any circumstance: gentle nature, neatness, respect, gossip, etc.

To remedy my education in Education, I turned to un-schoolers, read about Montessori schools, dove into Classical Education and read up on Leadership Education. Taking the bits and pieces from each, I’ve applied what works for our family and am striving to create a household of learners who are eager to wake up each morning to join me at the table to read and learn. They have their own projects and books they are working on, but essentially, our family has taken a bold step to become Scholars.

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Brian Tracy, in his Book, Eat That Frog! titled after a statement by Mark Twain. Paraphrasing Mr. Twain, he essentially said: If, upon waking every day, you had to eat a live frog, it’s best to just do it and get it over with. Then, for the rest of the day, nothing can be as bad as that.

 

Essentially, don’t procrastinate the ugly job, because it’s only going to grow worse.

 

Stare that task right in the face!

Stare that task right in the face!

Mr. Tracy states that eating that frog indicates “Your ability to select your most important task, to begin it, and then to concentrate on is single-mindedly until it is complete is the key to high levels of performance and personal productivity.” (pg. 109) In essence, figure out what it is you need to do and work on that until it’s finished.

 

He goes on to suggest that “Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.” (page 111) Clearly, Mr. Tracy isn’t referring to parents who stay-at-home or work from home while there are children around. For anyone who has spent three or more hours caring for a child, they can attest that nothing happens as planned, nothing stays where you put it, and anything that is too quiet is either asleep or in the depths of making a ghastly mess.

 

“Starting a high-priority task and persisting with that task until it is 100 percent complete is the true test of your character, your willpower, and your resolve.”

 

I felt angry when I read that. The book is geared toward professionals in a professional setting. But I’m a professional mom. My setting involves very domestic chores, children, their schedules, needs, and all the lessons (both life and academic) they must learn. Even now, as I’m typing this, my willpower is being tested by the four-year-old who is claiming to be hungry after having a breakfast of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, sliced bananas, and two cups of milk. Honestly!

 

To achieve this standard of success seems impossible as caring for a child (or two, or four, or twelve) is not a single-minded task. It involves cuddling, caring, cleaning, feeding, reading to and listening to a child. There is the grocery shopping, the meal planning, gift buying, bribery purchases, laundry, toilet scrubbing. Chores at home are undone as quickly as they are crossed off the list. Then add to the list the task of raising three teenage daughters. They prefer to be called ‘young adults’. Most days they do act like young adults. On the days they don’t, they are frog princesses waiting for that kiss…

 

There are even tasks a parent must think of before they become necessary–what items will be needed during the shopping trip (i.e. a change of clothes, that special stuffed animal), how the schedule change is going to effect that child who is schedule-dependent, or any number of unexpected situations (usually vomit) that are the norm for those who spend their day with children.

 

What is the Frog of my day? Mothers have so many little things to manage. Which one is the Frog with its big bulging eyes and slimy skin that I just need to choke down and move beyond? What is the job that will only get uglier if I procrastinate?

 

I don’t have an answer other than to say that as a mother, frogs jump at me and I have to make split-decisions. I don’t always choose wisely.

 

Since reading Brian Tracy’s book, I’ve been dipping my not-so-edible frogs in a “Prayer” sauce. As I make my list of to-do’s and as I juggle the frogs that jump onto my plate, I am learning that the power of prayer and the gift of sacrifice make a savory meal of any frog.

 

And so I will pray for you. That whatever frog jumps onto your plate, it is one that brings a fullness to your life and brings joy to those whom you love (because watching someone eat a frog is what reality TV was born on!). Mostly, I will pray that when you do cross that frog off your list, you have taken another step toward satisfying your dreams.

 

Bon Appétit!

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One of the highlights of homeschooling are the discussions I have with my children in the mornings. Our mornings are not a rush and flurry of breakfast, dressing and scrambling out the door. (note: I’m not saying that every family does that…just that ours would!) Instead, we have breakfast, clean-up and get to the dining room table by 8:30 every morning to do table time–our term for what happens at the table during that time. I know. I’m impressing you with our skill in naming events and habits.

It was at table time this week that a question came up in our faith studies that lead to an interesting discussion about plans for life, goals on how to achieve them and what’s needed to make it all come together.

Despite all my teaching (more thoughts on the ineffectiveness of teaching coming soon) and previous discussions about the importance of having one’s priorities in line, my children didn’t have it figured out yet. When I asked them what was the most important thing in life, they said, “God!” Score one for them.

Next question: If all your goals and dreams, your life’s accomplishments and relationships were to look like a pyramid, where would God be?

Their answer: At the top!

Wrong.

They argued for a moment, but watched as I drew this:

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Question: What’s the problem with putting God at the top? If you put Him there, there is nothing to hold Him up. That’s not to suggest that God needs us to hold him up, but if we are placing Him first, how does He stay up there while we are building our pyramid?

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Instead, make God and your faith formation the foundation. Build that foundation large and thick and sturdy. Prepare that foundation for earthquakes, hail storms, torrential rains and tornados. Keep the seams of the bricks strong with mortar. Check those seams often for leaks and patch them quickly. Inspect that foundation often for cracked bricks and holes that let in the elements.

Working up from that foundation, we can seek and find a thousand different answers as to what should be second, third, and fourth on the levels. My mentors, the people I trust most have encouraged me to focus on the following: First: God. Second: my personal education toward a greater understanding of my purpose. Third: my vocation (Marriage or Holy Orders). Fourth: my family. Fifth: myself (the quiet time to read and write I crave).

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I’m sure there is something in this list you will disagree with. I certainly did when I first heard this and my children were not sure about it either. But when asked to place their priorities on a pyramid with the foundation being the most important, it’s interesting to note that every person has taken TIME to think about it.

That’s the key. Take the time to think about your priorities. Write them down. Then follow them!

My husband and I used this as the foundation for our family meeting last night. It was a powerful conversation that will ultimately direct the family’s activities over the next few months and was formulated on the idea of the pyramid. If, as a family, we are not working toward the same goal, then we are pulling apart at the seams. This doesn’t mean that we must all have the same interests or must all do the same things, but everything we do individually must work for the Schaub Mob (our nickname).

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We, as a family, have a need to work together on a common goal. Using the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, the word “Compassion” came up several times. We decided that as a family, we need to practice showing compassion to each other, participating in activities that promote compassion, and carefully considering which activities will help us respond with passion.

Going back to the pyramid again, we are each building our own structure, but have agreed to strive to set the capstone of ‘compassion’ on the top. We discussed how this looks in daily living and with friends and other family members – striving to be leaders who have a plan of where they are going and how to get there. Compassion as the mission for our family will also guide our decisions in which and how many extracurricular activities we do. We don’t have it all figured out yet, but our goal is clear.

I share this with you because it has become an American tradition to go through life without a goal, without a plan and with no mission. As a result, our society has become complacent, lifeless and even in some circumstances, backwards. This is the first generation in which the children are less education than their parents (resource). If you think that you or your family falls into this category, join us in digging our way out of that. Start by laying a strong foundation on faith in God. Look to your family to help you build the next few levels. Choose a mission, a goal for yourself and your family. Build something great together.

While the Pharaohs built their pyramids out of pride, ours are built in order to create a legacy of faith-filled learners, self-educators and leaders. Who knows, your legacy might be a structure that lasts thousands of years and guides stray wanderers over miles of barren desert.

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In preparing for a talk I’m gave to high school teachers this month, the image of a river came to my attention several times. From bible verses to inspirational quotes on Pinterest, the analogies I drew from the picture of a river were nearly endless.

I was going over my presentation one morning with my husband, discussing the different types of personalities and how that determines where we are in life. The more I thought about it, the more meaningful the analogy became.

This is not one of those ‘What kind of (fill-in-the-blank) are you?’ quizzes I’ve seen on Facebook, but more of a reflection that will hopefully help the reader identify how the flow of life, the stream of communication, the tributaries of distractions can determine how we are effectively functioning.

Are you the water in the river? Do you go with the flow, riding out every rush, every stagnant corner, following the crowd to whatever destination is at the end?

Or are you the river bank, watching the action from the (supposedly) safe sideline? Are you a muddy bank, steep in your convictions to not become a part of the rushing waters? Watch out for mudslides!

Are you that giant boulder planted firmly in the center of the river, stubbornly resisting change and forcing everything that comes near you to get out of the way?

Are you the tree on the edge of the river gripping the bank tightly as to not fall in, but gaining the nourishing waters from the current?

Are you the fallen tree that landed in the river and is now collecting debris?

Are you a slow, muddy river whose surface is difficult to see through? Are you a crystal-clear stream with light trickling noises as your water slides over a pebble-bed?

Are you a white-rapids river, daring rafters and kayaks to survive?

Are you a tributary river? A Delta? An Amazon?

Are you the Nile, flooding the surrounding area with life-sustaining nutrients?

I do not believe anyone can be stuck as one type of river. As we grow, we move from stagnant waters to rapids, from the watchful tree to the fallen debris-collecting corpse of wood.

Yesterday I was a dammed river who was stumped and couldn’t get past an obstacle. Today I feel like a surging river in the spring, filled with energy and charging forward. Tomorrow? Whatever river I will channel (pun intended) it will lead me toward greatness or ruin. I choose greatness.

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As I read this passage this morning, I was suddenly caught by the question that came to mind:

How would I know if I was a weed?

Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning’ but gather the wheat into my barn.” ‘ ”

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The parable implies that some people in the world are planted here by the evil one. I would prefer not to believe that Satan would create people for the sole purpose of evil, but my preferences have little to do with anything that goes on outside my own household. I do believe that God blesses every birth and fills us with the potential to be blessings to the world. Yes, that includes all children from every situation, background, race, and creed. But Satan does have power, can bend our perceptions, and warp our understanding of what is good, what is necessary, what God’s plan for us really is. In doing so, Satan plants seeds of doubt, which grow into weeds of discontent at the requests of God. If those seeds are given enough time and space to grow, we become weeds in the field. Weeds choke out the wheat.

But what is a weed? Weeds are any plant that grows among a crop, in this case, a field of wheat. A weed takes more energy from the soil than it needs, choking out the wheat. When I think of weeds, I think of all the hours I spend in my garden, pulling the unwanted plants up by the root, tossing them into the wheelbarrow and hauling them off to the weed pile–a ever growing mound of grass, dandelions and stray prairie plants that will destroy my strawberry patches and clutter up the rows of beets and tomatoes.

While the weeds in the parable are gathered and burned, the grain is ground into flour to make bread, the most basic meal, the most filling. But it’s ground into flour. How often do we feel ground between the milestones of faith vs. the world? How often do our choices to attempt to be Christians leave us feeling more like dusty flour than a whole grain?

What types of weeds are cluttering our world? The population can’t agree on what is a weed and what isn’t; even in a garden, some of the weeds do have beautiful flowers. How can we pull the sprouting menaces up by the root if we can’t even agree on what needs to be taken out and what needs to be given time to grow.

Abortion is a weed, choking out the newly planted seed of life.

Bullying is a weed that poisons the gentle hearts of children and adults.

Jealousy is a weed that alters our vision into seeing that what other people have is so much better than what we have.

Hatred is a weed that we plant in our own hearts. If it’s fed enough, it destroys our lives while leaving a trail of deadly seeds along the way.

What can counter these garden pests? Love. Abortion is stopped when a mother realizes that that clump of cells isn’t just a random growth formation, but an intentionally forming human being with a heartbeat and the potential to be a great person.

Bullying is the result of low self-esteem and is cured when self-love is nourished. Parents, teachers and other friends can help. The victims of bullying need more love than anyone. Words and physical abuse take years to heal, but if love is present in a never-ending supply, there is a cure.

Jealousy disappears when we learn to love the gifts and blessings we’ve been given. Sure, we might not have that car or those shoes, but we have what we have. Look around and see that you have things that others don’t. Jealousy is perspective. Love where you are.

Hatred is the opposite of love. Just as the darkness ends when the sun rises, so too does the blackness of hatred.

As a nation, we need to harvest a nourishing crop of LOVE. Then and only then can we identify the weeds.

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The idea of taking a pilgrimage came up twice today in our homeschooling readings. First, in Matthew Kelly’s Decision Point Program, he defined a pilgrimage as a “spiritual journey to a holy place” and list the top ten Catholic Pilgrimages.

 

The second mention was in the YouCat–the Youth’s Catechism of the Catholic Church–where a pilgrimage was defined a “a prayer with your feet”.

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Both definitions intrigued me, partly because it was odd that we read about it twice in one day and partly because the idea of taking a pilgrimage seems out of fashion. Both of these books are recent publications–within the last 10 years, but so rarely–okay, never–do I hear of people taking a pilgrimage. I’ve known professors and scientists who will go on sabbatical. I wonder if that’s similar. But no, a sabbatical, while sounding like a Sabbath, is really more of a vacation from the duties of work so one can explore and research a specific interest related to that work.

 

Images of the Canterbury Tales come to mind. Stories of the stories people told during their pilgrimage toward a holy place. The movie, The Way, detailing one man’s walk on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, is another. I could go to the Vatican, Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe, or Jerusalem. My question is this: in flying, taking a train or taxi to any of these places take away from the journey of praying with my feet?

 

Part of the beauty (because there can be beauty in conflict) of a foot-styled pilgrimage is the obstacles that one must overcome in order to reach that Holy destination. If it is sped up, simplified, and too easy, would that take away from the potential of my holy experience? Has going on a pilgrimage been traded down for tourism? I don’t want to be a Christian tourist–buying the knick-knacks of faith, photographing the cathedrals, and staying in my faith only long enough to be caught on film smiling and tanned. The pilgrimage of true faith seems like it would be gritty and difficult. Not like Jesus’ pilgrimage to Golgotha–nothing like that. But is a pilgrimage truly a pilgrimage if I don’t suffer a bit?

 

I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I can worry about taking a month to walk the Camino de Santiago or flying to Rome to visit the Vatican, I must first afford such luxuries. Because that’s where my abilities are limited–or at least my beliefs in the ability I have to take a month, or even just a week, away from my life as a mother. Sure, I could take the kids. That would likely increase the potential for holiness. How would Bill manage a month away? As a self-employed business owner, if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

 

All that brings me to this question: Until I can afford to steal Bill and the kids away from our life for a month, can I find a way to make a pilgrimage? How can I pray with my feet as I walk through the grocery store, behind the vacuum, or between the sink and the refrigerator? Where can I go to seek a holy place that will get me there and back on one tank of gas?

 

That is my new mission.

 

And the answer to that is found in scripture–of course. Pray always. Pray unceasingly. That means that in everything I do, in every step I take, I do everything with the intention of bringing my thoughts, words and actions to God as praise for his mercy. It means that every meal I cook, every dark hour I’m not sleeping, every book I set down to help someone else, I’m offering up my tiny sacrifices to God. It also means that when I accomplish my dreams, that the glory of that accomplishment goes to God. The more I learn about Him, the more I realize I can’t do a thing without Him.

 

Until I can set foot in Italy or Spain or Portugal, until I can take a vacation that has a purpose, I will make my daily tasks my pilgrimage.

 

 

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