Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Rhythm of Life

I'm stealing this title from the book, "Plain  Wisdom", by Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaud.  Miriam is an old order Amish woman, and Cindy is from the modern world, but they share a lot in common just by virtue of being women..It's a good book. You should all read it some time. I know I've been enjoying it the past few days.

Two rhythms strike me as important this morning...the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of the days.  It's a good time to be thinking of this, just as July shows up. July, by nature, is meant to be a slow time of year.  It's a time for lying around in a hammock, taking a nice siesta during the hot hours of the day, spending the 4th of July with family and friends, and maybe taking a trip to the beach, or just splashing around with the family in the back yard pool.

The problem is, so many people have allowed themselves to get out of rhythm with the natural world.  It is so easy to hide inside climate controlled houses and let July pass unnoticed.  When I was a kid, the neighborhoods would be filled with children playing outside all month long.  Think of Calvin and Hobbes and how much Calvin loved the summer, when "the days were just filled" with lots of nothing to do... In my job as an appraiser, I drive neighborhoods almost every day during the week.  The kids are usually nowhere to be seen.  A few might be found in the subdivision's pool, but rarely do you see children just fooling around out in their yards... I guess it is just too easy to sit inside in the airconditioning and play computer games, and I find that desperately sad.

It is also very important (at least for me) to move in the natural rhythm of the day...and that also changes for me from season to season.  In the summertime, down south, I get up early every morning and before the sun gets too high, I do a little praying/inspirational reading, do my flexibilty exercises, feed the animals, feed myself, go running at the state park,  water the outside plants and my gardens, and then water the inside plants and fill my bird feeders.  Only after those "morning things" are done do I turn on my computer.  I never allow appointments to infringe on these early morning hours...my work day starts at 10:00.  Period. 

Except yesterday.  Yesterday, my boss really needed to talk to me at 6:00 a.m.  That talk just kind of continued until about noon...and none of my "morning things" happened.  That threw me off for the entire rest of the day.  Of course, one of the important things to learn in life is you have to be flexible, and he really did need me yesterday morning. I understand that.  I also promise that if he started to "need" me very often at that hour, I would soon be looking for another job.  I've talked a lot about establishing boundaries lately.  This is one boundary I simply have to have in place!

When my kids were little, we had a lot of flexibility and freedom in our homeschooling and our household, but every morning we had a bit of a routine, what we used to call our "morning things". We always started out with a few chores, a little personal private time, and a sit down breakfast together at approximately the same time every day.  I've written many times that if we ever looked a little bit like a school when the kids were young, it was when we were at the breakfast table. I figured I had them all gathered together, so we might as well use the time together.  We always started with a little Bible study, mostly using Pearl Buck's "The Story Bible", and then did one other thing...often a unit study, sometimes some foreign language study.

The important thing, to me, was that we had a routine established...Again, we could sometimes alter it for a day or two if life got in the way,  but established routines and rhythms are very important to maintaining sanity, and the more they can mimic the natural rhythms of life,  the happier and calmer everybody is typically going to be.

For the record, it has been in the 90s for days down south, and right now, at just after noon, the air conditioner is still off.  I have a routine for that, too, (which, I'll admit,  is sometimes a bone of contention in the family)..First thing in the morning, windows open, attic fan on.....Later, attic fan off, windows closed....At some point in the later afternoon, if it gets just too bad, a couple of hours of AC...then it is off again and the windows are opened and the attic fan is on....Not only does it save gobs of money, it helps me to live my life like my cat...going in and out of the house all day long at will....not getting so used to a nice cool house that I don't want to go out and do things in the garden.

Of course, I know not everybody is the "nature girl" that I am....But whatever, you need to establish your routines and your rhythms...it is part of the entire process of learning how to be relaxed without having things deteriorate into chaos.  Then remember to set your own goals for your homeschooling and just stop obsessing over all the things that don't matter much in the long run.   Live an interesting life, read a lot together, and make sure to enjoy some of these long, hot, summer days with your kids out in God's beautiful world!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Moms and Working

I've been thinking a lot this week about the issue of moms who need to earn extra income.  This is the first time in a long while that I've been working for a "boss", although I'm still technically an independent contractor in my real estate work, which  gives me a certain amount of leeway.  Working for someone else makes everything so much more difficult when you have a household that needs somebody's full-time attention.

I read a good book a long time ago, (the title of which escapes me), which talked about women going through various stages in their lives.  For the majority of women, this looks something like:  young, unmarried, just out of college; young and married without children; 7 years (or so) of being married with small children,  then married with children in school, and eventually married with kids all grown up.  Of course, there are also single women at all phases,whose issues are somewhat different than the majority of homeschooling moms.

The problem with homeschooling moms is that phase three, married with children, doesn't last just seven years for us....it lasts about a third of our lifetimes!  That makes it more important than ever for homeschooling moms to consider carefully whenever we are trying to earn an income.  I still believe that it is much, much better for moms to either not work at all when their kids are still needing them a lot, or to figure out some way to do it being their own boss....An outside employer throws a real wrench into your priorities when you still have kids at home that need you at odd hours.

Even now, with just two "kids" at home (aged 20 and 33), I find there are still moments when I'm needed.  As they get older, these moments are rarer, but they seem to be all the more critical at the exact moment of need. Even though I have deadlines now, I still have a little flexibility since much of my work as a real estate appraiser is done at home at my computer (and often in my jammies at midnight!)  Still, I could never have done this job when my children were younger, because the stress would have made me crazy.

For those of you whose kids are still young, I strongly encourage you to explore any options you can find to make money on your own schedule. Nowadays, that probably would be easiest to do using the internet.  My daughter Laura is thinking about making a variety of handcrafted items and selling them on an internet site.  I had so many botched attempts to make money when my kids were little.  The worst one was distributing phone books. I had pictured walking down the street with a little red wagon while Sam and Ginny took turns running up to place a phone book on a porch...Instead I wound up with 400 phone books I had to haul up to the 15th floor of an office building while they sat at home being babysat!  The best job I ever had as a young homeschooling mom was teaching piano lessons to school kids after school at my house.  By then my little guys were ready for some quiet time in their rooms, and as long as I kept it down to 2 students a day, it worked fine.  Then later, as I began working with homeschoolers, things also worked fairly well because it was all homeschool related, so the kids could usually be around and moderately helpful.

I don't regret the last four years, working and studying in the field of real estate. It has definitely helped me learn more about computers, marketing, and lots of technological areas that I'd been avoiding to that point. However, I could never have done this when my kids were all still at home.  I miss the more leisurely days of homeschooling and working with other families and I''m looking forward to putting this real estate work aside again someday and returning to the field of education....But for now, gotta go...I have a deadline to meet!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Building (and Appreciating!) Community

This past weekend, for the first time since my New Year's Resolution to blog every weekend, I didn't do it....hence the mid-week post.  The reason I didn't is that, for once, I was actually part of a community for a few days again. I went up to Virginia to see my daughter, who was visiting a friend in grad school. The friend lives in a house with five other young women, and it was so great to feel like a part of a group again for a change.  I think the thing I like the best is that, when you want to go to a farmer's market, or a movie, or a swimming pool, there is almost always someone there who wants to go with you.

I've been a part of a community many times over the years, like during school, or when working at Goodwill when I was in my twenties, or when creating the resource center in Kennesaw where we worked with homeschoolers for nine years...but I've also experienced a lot of alone-ness...Note this is somewhat different than loneliness...the more you know yourself, and the more connected you are to God, the more alone-ness you can tolerate without giving way to loneliness.  Still, connections are important, and I crave more of them.

When my kids were little, in a lot of ways, they were my community.  I remember, back then, though, that I often craved a little adult companionship to balance it out.  Every once in awhile, I'd experience true fellowship with other homeschoolers, or sometimes other adults that weren't homeschoolers. Once Steve was on a baseball team that travelled a lot, so I got to really know the other moms and dads in a deeper way, but this was the exception, rather than the rule.

I also remember how envious I was once when I met a homeschooling group of moms down in Florida who really had developed the kind of community I was craving. They met every week at somebody's house, and talked and laughed until the wee hours of the morning. Although plenty of groups try to do this, it seems hard to get everybody to commit and stick around long enough to develop deep friendships...For those of you who do already have this, treasure it! 

One of our goals with ARCHERS is to stimulate this kind of community among homeschooling moms.  We don't want to step in and take over if you already have this kind of experience.  However, I am finding that it is difficult to help, because people either already have it and don't need our help, or are completely clueless as to how to start.  I probably get at least one email a week asking if we have an ARCHERS support group in (fill in the blank).  When I respond I always say, "Not that I know of, but we'd be happy to help you start one"...Typically, there is no response.  Starting something sounds like a lot of work, but back in the early days of the movement, when there were no existing groups, we all started by doing things like tacking up notes at the library or seeking out a couple of people at places like LaLeche League meetings, or food coops. Once we had a small core of people, the groups often grew, sometimes to the point that they became too large and had to either split or change character. 

My dream continues to be to create a special retreat/conference center to help people build such communities....In the meantime, I treasure the occasional times when I get to be a part of a group of special women, like I did last week. If any of you are reading this, thanks for the memories!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Getting Unstuck, Finding Real Faith

Lately, in one of my jobs in life, being the person everybody calls when they don't know what else to do,(which I don't mind, by the way), I have noticed a definite trend.  So many people are getting scared about a large variety of things, some real and close to home, some halfway imaginary and far away, that they are becoming absolutely stuck, and can't figure out what to do next (about almost everything).

Obviously, I have  alot of solid Christian friends and relatives, but I also have a lot of non-Christian friends and relatives, and, quite frankly, the only difference I'm seeing between the two groups is a difference in rhetoric.  One group gives me various degrees of  "Life Sucks and then You Die."...The other is all about "God is good, God has a purpose in all this, God will see us through", etc.  But neither group seems capable of figuring out the next move.

You know it is one thing to say the Christian words, and quite another to truly believe, deep down, that everything is going to be okay.  The thing is, as much as I do believe, I have never personally experienced a situation where God just threw down money or handed me a job without my going out to look for one.  (Not saying he wouldn't be capable of that, just saying it isn't the way he usually works on my behalf.)

So the question is, how does one get unstuck?  How does one get over the fear of the unknown and figure out how to take the next step?  How does one make that decision, especially if that next step is something scary, like letting your house go back to the bank so you can move on to the next stage of your life?

Since my son Sam never minds me talking about him (unlike a couple of his siblings), I'm going to use our recent interaction as an example.  Sam has been stuck, stuck, stuck lately.  He had a series of difficult situations to get through, battling cancer and then winding up bankrupt due to medical expenses, and he wound up broke and living at home, unemployed.  He came very close to getting his dream job a few months ago, and when it didn't come through, he got into this rut that I'm seeing a lot of other folks in right now....a rut where it is much easier to just sit there and whine about the economy than it is to keep on trying.

The other day we had a talk about how to get out of a rut...in his case, I'm encouraging him to go back and start taking some college credits again, one class at a time..(He was close to his degree when everything started to hit the fan, and now would like to finally finish it...)  In addition, he needs to just start handing out the resumes again...no matter how discouraging it may seem. The bottom line is, he has to do something, even if he isn't sure what that is!  He will not find a job, or finish his degree, or find more friends, or ultimately create a family of his own, as long as he sits in this house having philosophical discussions with his mother!

In my work as an appraiser, I'm seeing many situations these days where people's lives have gone up in smoke, losing their homes to foreclosure. In many of these houses, you can just feel the anger...people who said to themselves (and I'm guessing to many other people!) ....Ok, you can take my house, but first I"m taking the stove and the dishwasher and all the ceiling fans, and I think I'll just make a few holes in the walls while I'm at it, and maybe I'll take all the copper piping and rip out the tile in the bathrooms....Then the other day I went into a foreclosed home and you could still feel the love in that home.  The wallpaper on the children's rooms were still intact, the house had been carefully cleaned up when the family left, and the stove and the dishwasher were still in place.  I don't know where that family is today, but I know that the attitude they had in the face of economic troubles will serve them well as they figure out the next step. And I'm willing to bet that God really will be with that family, and will not let them starve.

If you're having troubles, or feel like you're in a rut, just make up your mind to move beyond the "God is good" rhetoric and start really trusting him!!!  Then wake up tomorrow and figure out one good thing to do to start moving in a better direction.  As usual, I'm partly speaking to myself here.  This morning, I had two good things to do...one was to write this blog, and the other was to clean up the patio area...a disgusting job for early on a Sunday morning, but one that had to be done, and now it makes me feel good. Instead of looking out on a winter's worth of debris, I'm looking out on a nice clean patio.

One of my favorite quotes is from an old Amish lady..."Do ye now next thing."....And then the next, and the next, and the next, and one day you will wake up and you will have gotten out of your rut and your difficult situation.  Of course, life is a series of difficult situations, so part of the exercise is understanding that this is LIFE...and part of it is learning to have a good time in the midst of the difficulties.  So, once again, RELAX...and don't just SAY you're trusting God, really trust God to show you what to do, one step at a time.