Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Christians Should Never Hate, and Why We Do Anyway


This is mostly a post based on Paul's famous statement of "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Romans 7:15. I've mentioned this verse before, but I do have a slightly different take on it this time. Basically, I want to use this verse and a brief explanation to try to explain why Christians are often perceived as "hypocrites".

My premise is this: If there is one thing a Christian should never do, it's hate or dislike or talk baldy another person. Yet, most of us fail every day of our lives.

I think the premise is pretty easy to understand, God is love, yet Christians and "the church" fail at showing this. Every day people are turned away from churches or their Christian families, or their Christian acquaintances, friends, or co-workers. Even Christians who are in the same church, life group, or Bible study may dislike or talk badly about each other. In fact, that may be the most prevalent spot for this type of malcontent.

Why do we act this way? Shouldn't we know better by Jesus's example? Jesus found the people who most needed him, the "sick" and said that he was the only doctor. Why hasn't our Healer already healed us completely?

The short answer, He has healed us completely. The long answer, we are on a journey. If we are Christians, we have eternity ahead of us. Part of our life here on earth is discovering, learning and growing. If we stop learning and growing completely, then something is very wrong in our lives. Yet, however hard we try, we are still so broken that even 100 years on Earth will not "fix" us, but only the grace of God. Because of Jesus, we are already healed in the eyes of God. Whatever the sin or the condition of our hearts, Jesus's blood has covered it in the eyes of God.

So what do we need to do about the sin that is still in our lives? Ignore it because it's covered by grace? As Paul would say, "By no means!" Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us, so take a few minutes to think of some changes you can make in your life. Don't feel guilty for your failings, use them as an opportunity to continue doing what we were made to do: learning and growing through grace and knowledge. If the Spirit is working in your life to show you a sin you struggle with, work with Him, not against Him!

I think of the incredible growth that I've experienced in the past 10 years or so, and I marvel at how far I still have to go.

As one example of how far I've come, I used to deal strongly with feelings of worthlessness and shame. I have gradually realized over time, that many of those feelings were bound up in my own inner dialogue about other people. When I judged them internally, I was also judging myself. If they "should never wear that outfit" then what about my outfit, was it "good enough"? While I'm not perfect, I have come to realize that my inner judgments of others were causing me to see myself in a more negative light. So now I try to catch those judgments before they form and accept people for the beautiful and unique creations God has made.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What is a Zoranian?

I hope that no one is offended by the name of the website for my blog. I'm not actually calling anyone a moron, it just rhymed. So what is Zoron or what is a zoranian (my web-moniker of many years). Well, it all started in the 7th grade (or maybe a year or two earlier). I don't remember the exact year, but I can tell you that I was in the foyer at the church I grew up in. It may have been our regular Sunday night meal/fellowship time. Or maybe it was during a youth group event or even our "All Saints Eve" celebration. I do know there were Tootsie Rolls that day for some reason, so maybe it was "All Saints Eve" (or Halloween to any non-liturgical denominations).

Either way, I was talking with one of my friends and asked whether or not they could hear the Tootsie Rolls singing. I am not schizophrenic, and was not actually hearing voices or sound, I was just bored and thought it would be a good conversation starter. Well, that discussion somehow led to me saying that I could only hear them because I was from another planet, the planet Zoron. Well, by the end of my 7th grade school year, the planet Zoron had grown in my imagination to be the planet just beyond Pluto, with 2 suns, and only women lived there because we exiled all the men to the planet's moon and visited and used them whenever we wanted something or wanted to have kids. Also, your eye color was different on the planet Zoron because of the two suns. So anyone who had green eyes on Earth had purple eyes on Zoron, etcetera.

So, that is why I've titled my blog, Zoron for Morons. It's a brief glimpse into the craziness that is in my brain for the people who don't live in my head and are interested. I think that we all have creativity and fun inside of us, but sometimes we end up squashing it because it's "not cool" or we don't "fit in". I would encourage everyone, regardless of their age, to pick one part of their life they are "ashamed of" and share it freely, openly, and proudly with a friend, acquaintance, relative, or neighbor. You might be surprised that your awkward conversation starter could open up a whole new world, literally!

Friday, December 05, 2014

It's Not Always About Race

Let me be clear here. I'm not saying there is no longer racial tension in this country. I'm not saying racial profiling doesn't exist or white privilege doesn't exist. However, there are actually two issues that are getting mixed up together in most people's minds: 1) ongoing police brutality and 2) black communities tend to have higher crime rates and lower income.

Let's take the first issue. We need to get a better system of checks and balances in place (which is what our country is built on). For example, in the Eric Garner situation, the internal police department has not fired or suspended this man despite clearly violating protocol. I'm not arguing that police officers shouldn't have the right to use force when arresting someone or that any specific laws were broken. But there is clear, visual evidence that an internal police protocol was broken, which contributed to a man's death. Arguably, the two other officers involved should have also stepped in to stop what was going on and they should face some type of fine, training, or administrative assignments.

However, I would like to present a few other cases to show that excessive force has been used across color lines. For instance, there's the case in Missouri of Jason and Laura Hagan, a homeschooling family who were being followed up with by CPS based on a previous complaint of a "messy house". When the Hagan's exercised their Fourth Amendment rights to refuse to let CPS in, the local Sheriff's office was called in. Without a warrant or justifiable cause, the parents and dog were pepper sprayed, tasered, and attacked in their own home (despite being on the phone with a lawyer at the time, so that was pretty dumb). A lawsuit has been filed, and the Sheriff has been fired.

Also, at least two Justice Department investigations have found systemic police brutality and use of excessive force (Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Cleveland, Ohio) without a specific finding of racial profiling or racism. In Albuquerque, for example, a homeless white man was shot (allegedly armed with a small pocketknife, but complying with police). I think the #blacklivesmatter should really be #livesmatter. If the local police are being excessive, it should not matter what color you are, they should be reprimanded and action should be taken internally. If that's not happening, then we need an external group to step in (whether that's the Justice Department, or some other entity). Cameras aren't going to help, and making it all about race is only going to cause more black lives to be lost.

Now, to fix the problem of inequality, you have to go a bit further. Why are most of the police brutality cases against black victims/suspects? Going back to a previous blog post, even the black President of the United States indicated a direct correlation between "some communities of color" and "high crime, low income neighborhoods". So, if you want to fix the underlying racial tension, that is the problem that needs to be fixed. I don't think that anyone is going to call our President racist, but isn't he indicating the same type of bias as the local police departments? If even the President assumes that some "communities of color" can be synonymous with high crime, low income areas, why would we be upset that police make the same assumptions?

So let's fix the high crime, low income areas. Obviously, the answer to that isn't easy. However, I think it's about fixing the education system, getting people off government assistance and into jobs, and providing support and resources for new parents in low income areas. The way the system works right now, we are encouraging young, low-income parents to have children (because they can't get most benefits otherwise) and then not giving them the support and education they need to raise their children. Then, we are encouraging them to work (because you can't get most government benefits without working) without giving them quality childcare, leaving tweens and teens wandering the streets without purpose. Our education system is failing, because it's expected to act as a substitute parent and child-care provider as well as educating our young people.

Here's one radical solution: Provide optional at-home preschool/parenting services for all low income families (with children ages 0-5) so parents can learn how to parent their own children. Increase the length of the public school day, while decreasing the number of "educational hours". The school day for elementary students should be 5 hours (required) with up to 4 hours of optional "childcare" provided at no cost after school. Class sizes should be 15:1 during "educational hours" with additional support for Kindergarten classrooms (10:1). "Childcare" coverage should include tutoring services, physical activity, and just letting kids play outside. School should also be "year-round" to prevent the "learning slide" and higher crime during summer.

In addition, we need to fix the Welfare system (again). Right now the system is set up to encourage single parents and renters and discourage homeowner's and stay-at-home parents. We should provide temporary, emergency support only, and instead of paying to rent low-income housing, we should provide low-interest loans to help get more families into stable housing and fix up areas of our cities with low-property values. Also, any man who wants should be able to get a job (similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps).

We should have a system in place to provide job related experience and training to anyone who is unemployed. If they've been incarcerated they need to be given a second chance through supervised training and experience. No more two years of unemployment for people who just don't want to work. Limit "unemployment" to 3 months, and if you haven't found a job by then, you'll be given one, which you have to work at to get paid. Also, stop paying for childcare. It makes no sense to me to employ the women of this country for $8 an hour and pay someone $10 an hour to provide childcare for them, And yes, I'm being gender specific, but that's because one of the main reasons for the high crime rate among black men, is that they aren't given any other roles. We've assigned them the roles of "dead-beat dad" or "at risk youth" and we've never given them a better place in society. Expect them to step up, and they will.

Let's look to our culture to make the changes and not the government. Support programs to educate low-income youth. Support Big Brother/Big Sister or Habitat For Humanity, or whatever local programs in your area help with education and job placement. Ask your Senator to make changes that help this country, but don't rely solely on their progress, start making your own. All lives matter, so let's fix the two separate issues: police brutality, and the "low income/high crime communities of color".

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Who, When, and How to Stay Home

I saw an article today that claimed the average cost of childcare for a baby or toddler was over $11,000 per year for one child! I also saw an article talking about how dangerous it is to stay home with your children for your long-term career plans. Then, of course, there is Obama's now infamous comment of "That's not a choice we want Americans to make" regarding at-home parents. I think the most difficult thing to do is make a clearly rational and financial decision on this topic without making it all about dollars or desires. Here are my steps, when we found out we were pregnant with our first child.

  1. Crunch the numbers, how much will each parent bring home "net" after taxes, daycare, work-related expenses.
  2. Decide whether additional income can be made to bridge that "gap"
  3. Decide how much it is worth to you to know that you are the one raising your children.
  4. Look at long-term career path goals for both income earners prior to making a final decision.
Of course, the best option, would be if our country actually had a program for paid maternity leave. I think the ideal time period would be some type of multi-payer system (it could be adopted on a state-by-state basis, but I don't think any state would opt out). So employers and employees would pay in some type of "tax" and this would result in paid maternity leave. It probably should be rolled into OASDI, but nobody will be on board with that. My suggestion, for all the high-powered political pundits reading my blog would be up to 12 months at 50% of the previous 12 months wages per child. This could be maternity or paternity or some combination. It's pretty similar to what Canada offers, and I think it would be a huge benefit for working parents.

Since our country doesn't have paid maternity leave, here are some tips for crunching the numbers. First, if there is a two-income household and you already have a child (or more than one) - run the numbers to see how much net income each person would really "lose" in order to stay at home. Here's a step-by-step method so you don't leave anything out. I'll add in a "sample family calculation" too. Know your gross income - for my example person A makes $40,000 and person B makes $50,000. Figure out your tax "savings" - if you use an online tax preparer, you can usually do this anytime in their "planning section". If not, you can estimate based on your marginal tax rates. For instance, based on person A or B's income alone the marginal tax rate on each dollar of income would be 15%.

Don't forget to factor in state taxes, local taxes, and any additional costs of "working". So for instance, the net salary for person B would be $50,000 gross minus $13,600 taxes (15% marginal + 6% state + OASDI) minus $1200 per year commuting/parking minus $1,000 per year work entertainment (higher clothes, lunches out with co-workers, playing the lottery, etc.) So overall, person B makes $34,200 "net income". Now, if both parents are working, you have to factor in childcare costs as well. Let's say there is only one child at $180 per week. Now the "net" is closer to $25,000, and this is for the higher wage earner staying at home. If one or both parents do not have good benefits as far as insurance, this will need to be taken into account as well. However, most employer sponsored plans are not significantly more for spouse plus kids compared to self plus kids only.

Let's look at person B. We'll say that they have slightly lower commute and entertainment costs, since it's a lower paying job. $40,000 - $10,880 taxes - $1100 total commuting/parking/entertainment - $9,360 childcare comes out to $18,660 per year. Or just over $1,500 per month. With two kids in daycare at $150 a week each, it would end up at about $1,000 per month.

 Can you give up two brand new car payments and drive used for awhile? Can you downsize your house if you over-bought? What sacrifices are you willing to make? Another option is to consider what income can be earned by the "at home" parent. Is there one parent in a position to work from home at a reasonable wage? If you can earn $20 an hour for 20 hours a week, you've already overcome the majority of the "gap" caused by staying home. Is one parent in an industry where shift work is acceptable? Working three 12-hour shifts overnight or on weekends can easily more than make up the difference. Is the sole-income earner eligible for overtime or a second job? Is there part-time job the "stay at home" parent can go to with free childcare? Is the "at home" parent willing to put in the time and effort for other extra income (or savings) opportunities such as couponing, tutoring, babysitting, or direct selling?

Now, you have to compare whether that "net" salary is worth the cost of someone else raising your children 40-50 hours a week. If it's not, or if you aren't sure, it's time to look at which options will work best for you family and for how long. Maybe you say that the higher wage earner can work overtime but only for 6 months, then the lower wage earner will be able to find part-time employment at a preschool. Maybe you decide that you can lose the income for 5 years but then need to go back to work.

Maybe the numbers are roughly even for each parent, but one parent has a true desire to stay home and the other parent says "daycare is fine by me". Maybe one parent is stuck in a dead end job, or really want to change careers in the next few years. Maybe both parents are "upwardly mobile" and decide they want to work while they are a hot commodity and stay home with the kids later. These are all non-financial parts of a very difficult decision. It's important to be as realistic as possible. It's also important to keep in mind that the time period you are looking at will depend on how many children you have and how long you want to stay home with them. Staying home with one child for two years is a big commitment, but staying home until your youngest child starts Kindergarten may be a 10 year commitment if you have 3 or 4 children.

Make a financially-wise decision, and make a family-wise decision. These are your children we're talking about...

Monday, December 01, 2014

Christmas Resolutions

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we are starting to count down the days to the next big holiday: Christmas. Most of us have already experienced some form of holiday anxiety such as what to buy for those people who don't need or want anything or where to go shopping or when or whether or not to involve the children in tradition X, Y or Z. I am not here to tell you what you should or should not do this Christmas to ease your anxiety. I will, however, share my strategy for doing so.

My first plan of action is to set a clear focus or a few clear goals for the holiday season. My main goal is to keep Christmas from being just about receiving gifts and make sure my attitude reflects the true "reason for the season". A secondary goal is to keep in mind that I want my kids to end up with an overall picture and goal and not every step (or day, week or year) along the way will work out exactly as I planned.

For instance, we want giving to be a primary focus for our children, so we have already participated in several giving events. Our oldest is 4 years old, and he and his younger brother "helped" us shop for Operation Christmas Child and "helped" us pack the boxes. Honestly, I almost gave up on Christmas at that point. We were tired and stressed out while shopping. The boys were making more of a mess than helping with the packing, and I wondered if they would ever get the point of what we were doing.

Then, as we drove to drop off the boxes, we talked about where they were going and explained that the boxes would go on trailers to a warehouse and then be shipped to another country where little boys and girls didn't have any presents for Christmas. I think D got the point, because he asked about it again a few days later and asked if we could go to the country to see them open it. Maybe that's when I started to realize that I was missing out on the point a little bit myself. Rather than making him see my side of giving to others, I should just be giving him the opportunity to see my faith in action and let him see my faith rather than hear it.

We also took the Christmas season as an opportunity to de-clutter (we needed to at least make room for the Christmas tree) and give back to those in our community. So our 4 year old got to ride along with his Dad to donate some of our extra toys to Goodwill, hopefully in time for them to be turned around for another family's Christmas. We also purchased a few "Angel tree" items.

The second step I would suggest is to have honest communication about family traditions. For instance, if your family goal is to make giving more important than receiving, but you have four different wish lists for each of your kids, you probably aren't going to make it to that goal. On the other hand, if being at home with your family and feeling less stressed is on your list, maybe you need to re-evaluate the annual Christmas "trifecta" of visits to Gran and Granpa's, then the aunt and uncles who don't come to Gran's, then the step-parents from your husband's side of the family.

It's important to keep in mind that our extended family members probably will not care as much about us missing out on the third annual Christmas potluck/snowball fight as much as they will notice our bad attitude during said event. It's completely appropriate to decide beforehand that you can't attend every event and send a heartfelt Christmas card and gift (if appropriate). I know it's easy to get sucked into making it "fair" for every family member. In reality, we should be making it "fair" for our immediate family members. If we are dragging a toddler and preschooler to 3 different family events in a four-day "Blitzkreig" then we're teaching some very unhealthy habits. On the other hand, if seeing every single family member in person and giving them a hug is at the top of your wishlist, then by all means, Blitz away.

Also, do keep in mind your extended family may have a different priority this holiday season and respect their desires without caving in completely. I would love to skip gift giving all together, but my two boys are the  only grandchildren on both sides of the extended family. I shouldn't limit the joy that the grandparents receive by giving fun gifts just because I'm anti-clutter and millions of toys. I've tried to give hints and suggestions for one or two higher priced items or items that can be consumed or experienced, because we live in an 1100 square foot house with limited storage. However, limiting their gift giving too much would be rude, since it's their primary method of celebrating the holidays.

Above all else, keep in mind the reason for the season. If you're a Christian, you should be excited and celebrating the Savior's birth, not stressed and grumpy. Try to spread a little Christmas cheer during your last minute shopping rather than dreading the holidays. For those of you who have lost a loved one or child and are struggling this holiday season, keep in mind that even God experienced your pain while Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and because of that, we have hope. For those who are not Christians, may your days be merry and bright, and may you find peace on Earth.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What to Actually Learn from Ferguson

Once again Ferguson is blowing up my Facebook news feed, so I feel the need to mention the drama, because I agree that we can’t just sweep aside decades of inequality. However, I’m not sure people are focusing on the actual issues of this case, but instead are focused on what they perceive or “assume” happened. Yes, there are more shootings of black suspects than white, but the reason is not necessarily racism. The reason for these shootings is simply the fact that there are more black suspects.

About 40% of the prison population is black, compared to about 14% of the total population. Obama himself notably interchanged two phrases in his speech. In two subsequent sentences he mentioned “some communities of color” and “low-income, high crime neighborhoods”. I’m not sure anyone else has noticed yet, but he used those phrases as synonyms. If even our “black” president believes that some areas of a city, country, or state are dangerous because of the mentality of some of the residents, why should we expect our police force to act any differently?

Now, we have a problem that we can focus on and make progress towards. Why are the “black” low-income neighborhoods perceived as the violent and dangerous threat? Is this an economic problem, or an educational problem, or a cultural problem? What can be done about this problem? If we can keep or get our black fathers and uncles and brothers out of jail, if we give young mother’s the advice and training needed to raise their children, if we can fix the problems in our low-income schools by getting people to actually volunteer in them one-on-one to change our world, if we can stop the cycle of poverty in even a few families, maybe we can truly start to fix the problem.

Secondarily, police officers are given more license to harm because they are often in the way of danger. I was told, if I was ever pulled over, to keep my hands on the steering wheel unless the officer asked for my license and registration. I am probably the least likely suspect (white and female) but an officer doesn’t know based on the color of your skin or the glint of your eye whether you are reaching for a gun or your license and registration. According to a grand jury, it was not about the color of anyone’s skin in this particular case. The problem is that a suspect was advancing towards a police officer. There are white suspects who have been killed in exactly the same manner. Maybe we can use this to advise our children of all colors to respect the police officers authority and follow instructions, including laying face down on the ground or turned away from an officer to be handcuffed.

There’s a reason that “police assisted suicide” is a phrase. Police officers are trained, as they should be, to protect themselves from an imminent threat. If you want to teach your kids the same thing that I was taught about respecting and obeying police officers right away, I think that’s a great idea. Just don’t tell them it’s because of the color of their skin. When you tell a young child that a police officer will target them just because they are black, you are creating a new problem. Now that child has a hatred for and will antagonize white police officers, creating just the problem you were trying to avoid.

Now, I’m also not going to ignore the fact that a few police officers are actually racist and need to be taken off the streets. I’m not saying that’s the case in this situation, but I would assume, based on the reactions that at least a few police officers in Ferguson are harassing or targeting the black community in some way. The main problem we face, is how to identify the small percentage of police officers who are creating a problem. My suggestion would be a two part system. One part would be an independent national database to track complaints. You should be able to call a 1-800 number and report if you were targeted unfairly by a police officer or other law enforcement official due to your race, gender, or age. A third-party would then need to investigate to substantiate the claims, but that should be fairly easy (was the police officer in the stated area at that time, was there a conflicting report, was the person making the report charged with a crime).

The second part includes taking action on the database. Now, if a number of reports show up on a particular police officer, we can make changes, such as fining the officer, assigning administrative leave, switching the officer to desk work or kindly suggesting they find other employment. We also now have evidence, if this officer is then charged in a shooting, with whether they were acting on their documented racist tendencies, or if this is the first time something has happened and they were acting solely out of fear and self-preservation.


Let’s not make Ferguson into another hate-filled racial problem. Let’s use the media coverage given to solve a problem, not start more problems. I completely agree with the prosecutor’s comments on the 24-hour news cycle and social media. Somehow, with the advances of social media, each individual has become a judge, jury, and lawmaker of their own. We are not a law unto ourselves.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Kindergarten Homeschool Plan

The following is my basic homeschool plan for Kindergarten. We plan on starting Kindergarten in January, even though my son won't quite be 4.5 because he is already doing most of this. We will start 1st grade whenever I feel he's "ready" (which might be 1-2 years, if necessary). 1st grade will look different because there will be slightly more "required".

My basic philosophy is that kids will learn what/when they want to learn, and they do tend to learn somewhat naturally. On the other hand, they also have to be shown/taught certain subjects to enable them to learn more efficiently and reach their full potential. Therefore, I have certain "required" subjects in "Kindergarten" and everything else I am either classifying as "optional" (in other words it does not have to be done on a certain day, but I would like to get to it at least a few times a month) or "fun" (not required at all, but still educational). For Kindergarten, I have very little required, quite a bit more optional, and even more fun. Because isn't that what Kindergarten should be about?

Required

  • Learning to read - I will allow my child to choose based on his preference between the book "Learn to Read in 100 Easy Lessons" (we are currently on lesson 40 in this book, but he doesn't ask for it as frequently) and what he calls his "words and such" which is Easy Peasy (allinonehomeschool.com). As he gets a bit more proficient in reading, I will also allow him to pick a book to read independently to someone.
  • Math - I have chosen Singapore Math Essentials for our basic curriculum. However, if he chooses to pick another option, I also have "The Complete Book of Numbers and Counting" Pre K - 1st Grade. I also have some math dry erase fact sheets for addition and subtraction that he can choose as he gets a little more practice/proficiency to help him learn his facts.
  • Handwriting practice (this may include Handwriting Without Tears, practicing writing his name, practice with different utensils/materials, etc.) This is a big struggle for him right now because he is so young and he has some sensory issues which means his fine motor skills need some work as well.
  • Bible - I haven't picked the exact method yet for teaching this. I want it to be fun and applicable, but I also want to teach him some of the main Bible stories. We may go back to reading stories from his children's Bible which he loved, but we haven't done in awhile, or we may start a new family devotion time, or some of both.

Optional

  • Science experiments (1-3 per week) - we have purchased the "Clifford" science experiments from the Young Explorer's Club and may move on to the "Magic School Bus" from the same company if we like it, or just come up with our own.
  • Read living books together - science, history, unit studies
  • Spanish - I don't think I will use any curriculum for this, because I took so much Spanish in middle and high school. I will just try to teach the basics as we are going along randomly. He can already count to 10 in Spanish so I will just mention other topics/words/phrases as he shows an interest.
  • Sign language - we love to watch sign language videos on YouTube, so I will continue to do this every so often.
  • Arts and crafts - I will plan some type of art/craft at least once a week, but it's not his (or my) favorite type of learning, so we will probably keep it simple and minimal.
  • Culture - I would love to introduce him to poetry, famous artists, classical music. This will probably happen through unit studies, maybe one per week.
  • Music/songs - he loves to sing, but will generally not participate until he knows a song completely. We will continue to watch YouTube video songs and rhymes until he gets more comfortable singing on his own.
  • Exercise - we love to take walks, swim/play in the pool, and he has a new kids yoga video. He also has taken soccer and swimming lessons, and I'm considering karate and gymnastics lessons. I plan to put him in no more than 1 structured activity at a time.
  • Math/science/history/Bible games, activities, or unit studies - randomly whenever we feel like it.

Fun

  • Playdoh
  • Free art or craft
  • Lego's, Lincoln Logs, blocks
  • Drawing, painting, or coloring
  • Puzzles
  • Cuisenaire rods
  • Unifix cubes
  • Pattern blocks
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Nature walks or visiting the park/playground
  • Pretend/dress up/act like an animal
  • Reading together (his choice of books)
  • Stringing/beading/lacing
  • Scissors and cutting practice
  • Sensory activities and/or therapy
  • Kinetic sand
  • TV shows and computer games (PBS Kids)
  • Free play (for him this is usually anything with wheels - trains, cars, etc)
I haven't yet purchased all of the "fun" toys and games, but that's what Christmas is for this year! 

I did want to mention, when I say "required" I don't plan on forcing him to sit down screaming while he works on his handwriting. I've found it works best to say what I want him to do and he can decide (somewhat) when to do it. For instance, if I've said it's time to work on his reading and he doesn't want to, that's fine, but he won't get privileges (TV time, computer games) until he finishes his required school work. This is what is known in various circles as "Grandma's Rule" and it does work!

What's your curriculum like for Kindergarten? Are you homeschooling or looking for educational activities for your child after school or during the summer? Feel free to post a comment about it!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hardest Best Decision

Confession: I'm a stay at home mom who doesn't stay home. I'm a part-time working mom with 3 jobs (1 at home, 1 outside the home, and 1 a mix of both). I tend to work about 10-20 hours a week at all 3 jobs. I also drive my son to preschool two days a week, and attend a Mom's group or social event at least once a week on average. I'm also a wife. There is no way to "get it all done".

However, I feel that staying at home or partly staying at home is the absolute best thing I can do for my kids at this point in their development. I've recently made the decision to homeschool, though, so now I'm even more terrified that I will be "staying home" forever.

I work at my jobs because I love them, not because of the money. The majority of my hours, I earn about $8 an hour on average. However, I get the benefits of feeling significant, getting out of the house, and helping people (more than just my kids). At home, I face the isolation, stigma, and depression often associated in today's society with "at home" mom's. Why is this only prevalent in today's society?

Well, about 50 years ago when "everyone's mom" stayed home, women had neighbors. They had friends their age in the same situation, they had no "stigma" to fight against to prove their worth. Now, we have to join "groups" to meet other people in the same situation. We have to search online and across town, and hear about friends of friends.

So, I am a little terrified that if I homeschool because it's the best situation for my children at this point in their lives, I may never end up being able to convince myself that a "regular" school is the best situation for them. So then I can "never" fulfill my own dream of going back to school to become a marriage and family therapist and help thousands of people (I know I'm being a bit naive that I can truly help people - people have to first want to help themselves).

In reality, I'm probably postponing my dream by about 6 years or so. But isn't it interesting how our minds can make us feel trapped? I'm not truly trapped. In reality, I'm making the best decision I can for my family at this point in time. Is it self-sacrificing? Yes, to some extent. Is it also freeing, because I do have the decision-making power? Absolutely.

Why am I making this difficult decision? Why don't I just put my kids in school and/or childcare full-time, like everybody else?

For one thing, I was a homeschooler from Kindergarten through 4th or 5th grade (I was doing 5th grade level work, but when I went to "real school" I chose to go with my age group rather than my school level). I've also been to private school, public school, college, and I spent almost a full semester as a teacher at a public school. While I had a great experience with academically gifted/advanced placement high school courses, I also had some pretty terrible experiences in "regular" classes. I also, as a teacher, saw how ineffective the "system" was for reaching students.

In today's world, the "system" wants to make everyone the same by "including" all students in the same class. So one teacher is being asked to teach 20% who don't speak English, 20% with moderate learning or behavior problems, 20% who can't read, and 20% advanced kids. Oh, and there might be a remaining few children who are "normal" whatever that means. How can one teacher teach all these students (20-30 of them) without a TON of wasted time and effort? Even in the "best" schools (which just means fewer percentage of students in the "lower" categories) there will be kids who are bored and kids who are left behind.

To make a long story short, I'm comfortable being my child's teacher, I feel like elementary age kids need more time to play and less time in a boring school setting, and I want my child to be taught at his level and not taught towards the "average".

Why have I resisted for so long? It's really hard being home all day. The hardest thing I've ever done is become a (mostly) stay at home parent. There are no accolades. There is hard work, there is financial sacrifice, there is loneliness and boredom. There is the stress of constant discipline and oversight, trying to keep two young boys alive and in reasonably socialized behavior. Also, the longer you homeschool, the harder it is to go back to "the real world".

When you're child is in 4th grade and you explain to them that instead of having school for 3 hours a day and playing the rest of the time they will now be gone from 7am until almost 3 pm, not counting any additional transportation time if they have to ride the school bus or travel across town for school. Then they will have homework when they get home. It's also hard as a parent to let your child be gone for that long, when you can't oversee their behavior or learning. I don't know how long I will homeschool, but I think it will likely be through or until middle school for my oldest child.

My "dream school" for them would actually not be homeschool or public school, but a type of cooperative learning with about 15-20 kids in a relatively close age range and 3-4 teachers with a basic curriculum or plan and some fun group activities for 3 hours a day or so. At least for the elementary school years, they really shouldn't need much more than that.

Want to know our curriculum for next year? Look for a new post on Monday! Post your comments regarding homeschool below!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Second Child Birth Story

Youngest children may be spoiled, but in some ways they do get the short end of the stick. For example, my youngest child (known as J for this story) will be 2 years old this March, and I'm just now getting around to putting his birth story on "paper". The interesting thing is, it's the most amazing and miraculous birth story so far (of my two children).

The first part of the "miracle" is actually difficult to explain. I consider it a part of J's birth story, despite the fact that it was prior to his conception. We actually found out in January 2012 that we were expecting and started seeing a nurse-midwife since I was unhappy with my treatment at the multi-doctor practice I saw for our first child. Our first appointment at this new practice was supposed to be for our 12-week appointment and took place in March of 2012. Unfortunately, there was no heartbeat. An ultrasound eventually showed that a missed miscarriage happened. Sometime around the 5th or 6th week of pregnancy I had miscarried, but my body hadn't realized it. I did complete the miscarriage at home that week and only had to see an empty amniotic sac rather than a partially formed baby. I avoided the dreaded D & C, but did have to return several times to a very unsympathetic nurse for blood draws to make sure my hormone levels dropped appropriately.

You may think this is the opposite of a miracle, but I'll explain my reasoning at the end of the story.

Fast forward two full cycles after my hormones were regulated (the minimum amount the midwife told us to wait before getting pregnant again) and we were able to get pregnant again right away. Now, instead of our first and second children being two years apart, they would be almost exactly two and half years apart, with an expected due date of February 20th. Now, with the bad experience at the nurse-midwife and the person in charge of blood draw (I do not do well with needles and she would not allow my husband to come back with me during blood draws), I decided to choose yet another practitioner. This doctor attends the births for all her own patients, despite having an "On call" doctor and a multi-doctor practice, and delivers at the hospital with the best/highest level NICU in our area.

Based on an early ultrasound (due to the previous missed miscarriage), my due date was adjusted from February 20th to 26th. It was a relatively normal pregnancy. I didn't have the smell/taste aversions quite as bad as I did with D (firstborn). I also gained a lot of weight (about 60 pounds or so) which was about the same amount I gained in my first pregnancy. This time around, however, I carried all the weight in my belly. I never measured "large for dates" although I was asked in December if I was having a "Christmas baby" even though I was only 6.5 months pregnant, as well as if I was having twins.

Well, February 20th came and went with nothing more than a few bouts of Braxton Hicks contractions. I was disappointed, but thought that I would certainly give birth by my adjusted due date of February 26th. On February 25th my doctor said that she would "talk about inducing" at the next appointment, but not to worry about it yet. Finally, on February 28th, I went into labor. I knew it was the real thing, because I had experienced the real thing before. It was very similar to my early labor with my first born, except for one major difference, I had unfortunately caught the stomach bug the same day I went into labor.

Very similar to my first labor, I was originally told by the hospital to go home and rest. I tried, but this time around "resting" was laying on my side on our bed and then getting up every hour to sit on the toilet with a trash can in front of me. I could not hold down any liquid or even ice chips, so I finally checked myself back into the hospital and told them they had better keep me this time and that I needed an IV (again I hate needles, so this was desperation). I knew I needed something to help me get through labor. I will say that a sugar IV was the best thing that ever happened to me at this point, I desperately needed some energy and hydration.

Fortunately, the third time they gave me anti-nausea medicine, it seemed to work, and I was able to rest for a little while as my labor progressed. I still refused an epidural, and my angel of a doctor had no problem with that. However, as I got into the transition stage, it was really hard to get over the mental hurdle from being sick all day. The pain was just overwhelming and I was not able to handle it as well as with my first born. I did eventually ask for and receive some pain medicine through the IV, which allowed me to rest between contractions.

Finally, just after midnight on March 1st, I started to push. After about a half hour of pushing, the doctor started to act a little worried. There was a lot of meconium in the fluid. After a few more pushes she was able to see the baby's head. She asked for a nurse to bring in her "instrument bag". It sounded like she thought he was breech, but I wasn't concerned about that because I could tell that he was head down. After a little over an hour of pushing, and after alerting the NICU unit because of the meconium, she said that we would need to use vacuum suction to help him out a little more quickly. At that point, I was up for anything that would get him out more quickly.

After one or two successful attempts with the vacuum assistance, his head finally came out, followed quickly by his shoulders and body. The NICU team quickly took over and had the baby intubated, cleaned, and diapered before the doctor finished delivering the placenta. We were able to hold him for a few minutes before the NICU team whisked him off to be treated for meconium aspiration. He had a very low 1-minute Apgar score (I believe it was either 3 or 5) but since he was being treated right away, no one seemed terribly concerned. After being intubated he perked up quite nicely, and seemed like a perfectly normal healthy baby, despite being a bit big. He weighed 11 pounds 1 ounce after being intubated and having a newborn diaper on. He was 22 inches long.

My husband went with the baby to the NICU and I was transferred to a recovery room. After my husband came back down from the NICU, he ran home to change out babysitters for our older son and grab some food. While he was still gone, one of the NICU doctors and the "on-call" doctor from my doctor's practice came to my hospital room. It's never encouraging when there are two doctors coming to talk to you. They said that J was having seizures due to hypoxic ischemia and needed to be treated right away. They had actually already started the treatment by giving him anti-seizure medicine (it took 3 medicines to find one that worked), but they wanted to let me know what was happening. The other treatment they wanted to try was brand-new. Sometime in January of that year, this hospital had received their first "cooling blanket" to treat infants with hypoxia. They would cool down his body to create a hypothermic state and he would stay in that state for 3 days. It was the only treatment available that had a chance of working, so I agreed to start that treatment and called my husband right away to let him know. Essentially, the anti-seizure medicines could stop the seizures, but there was still what they called "suppression activity" on the EEG which meant that the brain damage was worsening.

The first time I saw my son in the NICU his toes were already blue and he was sedated so he wouldn't pull off the many wires and tubes. However, I was also told that only a short time after being put on the cooling blanket, the EEG showed that the suppression activity stopped and the brain waves were completely normal. After 8 total days in the NICU the top pediatric neurologist in the state said that he was cautiously optimistic that J would make a full and complete recovery with no brain damage.

I know it was a miracle that this was the only hospital in the area with that specialized equipment. The equipment had only arrived a few months before my son was born and needed it. He was already in the NICU for meconium so the doctors and nurses recognized the seizure signs right away and got him treatment right away. If I hadn't had a miscarriage and the same scenario happened, he would not have had access to this treatment. When I first heard the diagnosis, I wondered how much brain damage there would be, now I only wonder how I will keep up with my smarty-pants 20 month old who has a 200+ word vocabulary and chases/climbs/jumps to keep up with his big brother. He is above average on all the developmental tests, and his neurologist has completely cleared him.

Every time I visit the pediatrician, she marvels at this "perfect" child and tells everyone what his original diagnosis was. I think I never realized exactly how bad the situation could have been until we were required to speak with a social worker prior to J's discharge because of his diagnosis. She was so serious discussing all of the treatments available and I was just so excited that the neurologist thought he would be fine. I know many parents are dealing with treatment plans and therapies and we did have a few extra follow up appointments in the beginning. I pray every time I see one of my friends who are dealing with speech therapy or epilepsy or babies who have died at 3 or 10 months old from various conditions. I know that bad things do happen to good people and we don't always understand why. Maybe we won't understand until we get to heaven, or maybe the answer is that evil and death and suffering exist in this world. I also know, that in this case, one bad thing did happen, but a miracle happened too, and I'm so excited to see the plans God has for my spoiled rotten almost-two year old.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

House Hunting

I'm torn between two houses. There's the "imaginary" house in my head - move in condition, plenty of room for a possibly growing family, low maintenance, convenient to shopping, work and school, in a good school district. Then there's the house I currently live in. All of the above except the move-in condition and extra room.

We used to call our apartment our 800 square feet of heaven. Now we've upgraded to 1100, but added two little boys to the family. We actually moved into this house when I was 8.5 months pregnant. It's 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. It has adequate closet space, a huge backyard, and is in a good school district. The problem is the size, and the clutter. I know I could get rid of the clutter and it would feel so much bigger, but that takes time. I know we could put the two boys in one room if we needed to, but my husband did not enjoy sharing a room with his brother, so he would rather have another bedroom if we add to the family.

My problem is that our housing right now is so affordable, I can't justify increasing our property taxes, insurance and utilities, not to mention the much higher principle and interest payments. I also look at the places we would need to cut our budget. We would have to give up something for a higher housing payment. We live on a pretty tight budget in any case, because we tithe based on our gross income in addition to participating with other charitable giving (Feeding America, World Vision - 4 sponsored children, Operation Christmas Child). When I think about what those charities mean versus my "wants and desires" I feel pretty selfish.

We don't live in a mud or stick house. We don't worry about what to eat or whether we have enough food for our children and ourselves. If we need new clothes, we drive 10 minutes to any store we could want. If we need healthcare, we have access to among the best doctors in the country within 30 minutes or less.

I'm trying to learn contentment, but it can be so difficult at times.
We do have some of the best trees on our block.
Feel free to comment on what you are least content about and why.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Discipline Years


I don’t claim to be a parenting expert. My children are still in the middle of their “discipline years” and I think sometimes the wisdom we find while we’re still going through the struggle can be more effective than the “experts” advice 10 years after they’ve moved on to the next stage. I’m not looking to replace expert advice; I just want to record my thoughts for this time period of raising my children.

First, what are the Discipline Years? Most experts agree that children ages 18 months-5 years old are in the “discipline years”. I’m not focusing on the “baby years” where you simply need to meet your child’s basic human needs for love, attention, food, warmth, comfort. You can go to all the parenting websites you want to determine whether you should co-sleep or cry-it-out, and I’m not jumping on either bandwagon. Most parents don’t struggle too much mentally with those years – that time period seems to be more of a physical battle. After the night-time feedings, and millions of diaper changes, and tiny laundry by the thousands, we seem to think that the “hard part” is going to be over and we’ll move on to something easier.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but the discipline years are definitely not easy. Parents of preschoolers are mentally exhausted. I’ve heard several parents (usually mothers) say that they feel like all they do all day is say “No!” or “Stop that!” or “Go to timeout”. If they are parents of preschoolers, the easy answer to give them is, “That’s completely normal.” Does discipline need to be so mentally exhausting? Do we need to repeat ourselves a hundred times a day? The longer answer is, “Yes, and no”. It is mentally draining; one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do is properly discipline your children. However, if done correctly, you should not have to discipline the same behavior a hundred times a day.

How do you discipline? Proper discipline requires a few basic things: a few simple, clear rules, positive reinforcement of good behavior and positive attention in general, and consistency.
Simple Rules: We may have in our adult minds several dozen things that we “never” want our children to do, but we have to understand that a two-year old is simply not developmentally ready to learn that much at one time. We need to add on gradually and focus on one or two of our top rules so that we don’t overwhelm ourselves or our children. At age four, my son has four rules that are written down. There are other things that are not currently written down because he already understands them. 

For instance, one of the first rules we had was “thou shalt not run into the parking lot or street without holding hands” this was never a written rule but we focused on it starting at 18 months old and never let him “slide”. It probably took about a year of consistent practice, but now we don’t have to repeat ourselves a hundred times a day. General guideline(s): focus on one “active” rule for each year of age. Once they’ve “Mastered” the rule, you can move on, but don’t forget to still enforce the previous rule. I consider them to have “mastered” the rule when they can follow it 90% of the time without reminders or when they remind you. You will still need to enforce the previous rules, but it shouldn’t be “a hundred times a day” unless something has gone wrong with the next two items on the list.

Positive reinforcement/attention: I’m probably the poster-child for this, and maybe I’ve over-done it a little bit. When my oldest child was about 3 years old he would always remind me if I forgot to “catch him being good”. Because he was used to me saying it all the time, he would say, “Were you so proud of how nicely I played with my toys?” Yes, I was. I’ve dialed things back a little bit since then, but he still likes to check in with me if he’s done something good and I haven’t noticed. It is important to provide our kids with positive attention. Sometimes, when we find ourselves repeating the same rules and disciplining all day, we may need to ask ourselves whether or not our child has had positive, focused attention from us. 

Attention is a basic human need. If your child’s day consists of rushing to get out the door to do some errands, then popping him in front of the TV or smart phone so you can finish the dishes and laundry, then you don’t need to look any further to understand why he keeps breaking the rules that he should already know. He or she is looking for some positive interaction with the person he loves the most, and if he can’t get positive interaction, then he’s looking for any interaction he can get. Try to spend some time cuddling and reading a book first thing in the morning. If mornings are too busy, then try to at least give your child a big hug and positive remark on your way out the door, and some focused attention time as soon as you possibly can.

Consistency: This is the part you don’t want to hear. You do have to enforce the same rule a hundred times a day in the beginning. When you think about training to mastery, in any situation, you know that practice makes perfect. Repetition is the most basic method of teaching because it works, so keep enforcing those rules and repeating yourself until they can repeat it back to you. In addition, how can we expect our children to be trained if they don’t really know what the rules are? If our rule is no walking in the parking lot without holding hands, but sometimes when we’re running late or it doesn’t look like bad traffic, and we don’t really enforce it because we’re too busy, we’re setting ourselves up for later failure.

Keep in mind that children are not born knowing right from wrong. We have to teach every instance. Your toddler who hits or bites, is not trying to hurt another child (or adult) they are learning that they can get a reaction and then determining if they want to get that reaction again. If they don’t get a consistent response, then they will just have to keep trying it out.

Along with consistency, you have to mean what you say and say what you mean. I once watched a mother of a 3 year old whose son was running into a parking lot (less than 10 feet in front of a moving SUV, fortunately the driver saw him and stopped in time). The mother was calling quietly after him, with a sigh at the end of her voice “John, come back….. please.” She was exhausted and he could tell. Let me tell you, if it’s an urgent situation, your child had better know that they need to listen and it is NOT a request.

Even though you need to be consistent, you also need to know “when to hold them and when to fold them”. If you’ve been consistent for a long time and are still having trouble with a particular behavior, it is okay to change the consequence. For instance, if you’ve been working on getting your child not to hit other children by giving them a “time out” and it’s not working, consider moving to a different set of consequences (removal of the toy that caused the child to hit for example) and vice-versa. Not every technique will work for every child. You have to keep in mind the “why” of your child’s behavior and not just the behavior itself. It’s easy sometimes as parents to get frustrated and say “The experts said to do this to get rid of this behavior” but we also have to keep in mind that we know our children’s “why” better than they do. We need to enforce consistently, but if we think we’ve been going about the enforcing the wrong way and we’re making the problem worse, it’s okay to say to our children, from now on, if you do this, the consequence is going to be different, but you will get a consequence. Just make sure that you’ve decided in advance what the consequences are and you enforce them clearly by saying it with authority.


Comment below to share your favorite discipline strategy or argue with me about one of mine!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Too Busy?

So, I have come to realize that I'm doing too much. I'm one of those people that's motivated very easily externally, and not as easily internally. What does that mean? It means that I don't do what I tell myself I will, but I am absolutely responsible if I make a commitment to someone. Hence, why I have not posted since January despite my best intentions.

Part of the problem, I have recently realized, is due to my crazy job schedule. I am a "stay at home mom" who works three different part time jobs. I have a part-time job teaching swim lessons at the Y (currently 4 days a week for 1-3 hours at a time). I have a part-time job at my church helping with their childcare ministry for Bible studies and currently a summer "day camp" for preschoolers (this can vary between 3-15 hours a week) and I have a part-time work at home job tutoring online. This doesn't even take into consideration all of my volunteer commitments (once per month in the nursery and counting the church offering, leadership position I just accepted at my "Mom's group" at another church). It also doesn't count the fact that when I go to work at the Y, I also have to drag along the kids and shower and change afterwards. Oh, and the whole being a full-time mother thing too.

I get so many "rewards" from work, that I don't realize how packed my schedule is until I try to schedule a doctor's appointment or therapy for my oldest son's sensory issues. I get the "rewards" of a paycheck every two weeks or so, and the feeling of helping others and a job well done. I get the rewards of some time without my kids (at least in the case of the Y job) and love the fact that I don't have to put my kids in childcare with strangers.

However, I do wonder sometimes if I'm stretching myself too thinly. Am I too busy for the most important things in life? Women are told that we need to be "super moms". We need to contribute to the budget, and teach our kids, and love our kids, and discipline our kids, and keep a clean, tidy house, and cook and play with our kids, and be a good wife, and take care of ourselves (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). I heard somewhere that it's only possible to do 2-3 things well, and everything else will be done halfway. You can be a good wife and mom at the expense of yourself. You can be a good provider and mom at the expense of your marriage and yourself. You can take care of yourself and your spouse, but neglect your kids or not contribute to the household finances.

So, I think it's time to take another look at my priorities. Which two or three things are really the most important to me? Is it the $500 net a month I can bring home if I work in every possible spare moment of the day? Or is it taking care of my sanity, so I can take care of my kids and my spouse? I will say I know my priority is not taking care of the house/cooking, but we get by with the basics in those categories.

I'm also thinking that I need to find an "accountability" partner who is also focused on the same goals I have. I definitely need the external motivation. I often find myself comparing my schedule to other moms with older kids or more life experience than I have. I need to compare myself to my ideal life and not other people's lives. We can't all do everything, so let's do what's most important.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Writing Examples - First Person Past Tense

So far, I've learned a few things about myself and my writing style. First, it is really hard for me to free-write without editing. I always knew that, but now it's obvious. I'm used to writing a first draft for school projects or college essays and just turning them in without re-writing or editing much at all. Generally, this is because I edit as I go. So, I will say that what I'm including as my examples of writing below are as "free write" as I can make myself be right now. The second thing I've learned is it's really hard to stick with writing in the first person past tense - I tend to want to throw in some present tense, and it gets really awkward. I'm hoping I was able to keep it all in the past tense, but feel free to comment if I'm incorrect!

I'm about halfway through my goals for this week. I still need a 30 minute block of free-writing practice for third-person past tense point of view focusing on character development.

Here is my work so far this week:

One paragraph free writes for both points of view:
  1. 1st person past tense:
    When I woke up that morning, it was dark out. I glanced over at the clock and saw that it was nearly 9am. Why was it still so dark? I pulled aside the lightweight curtains near my bedside window and looked out. The sky was deep gray, nearly black, and large snowflakes drifted slowly to the ground. Snowflakes? In May? I looked again, more closely, and eventually recognized that large pieces of ash were drifting down, even some burning embers, and a deep red glow lit the horizon.
  2.  Third person limited omniscience past tense:
    Jason watched the large pieces of ash drifting in the wind, and wondered what was happening. Could it be a volcano or a forest fire? He lived in the Midwest for crying out loud! What could be causing such a strange phenomenon? He saw that the wind was blowing the ash towards his house from the direction of the glow. Whatever was out there, was headed closer to him and everything he loved.
30 minutes of character development for Jason in first person past tense:

I stayed in bed for as many hours as I could stand, watching the hands of my watch tick past 1am, 2am, then 3am. The glow of the flames reflecting from the lake and the thick smell of smoke in the air kept me from nodding off. I glanced at my reflection, stopping to run my fingers over the dark circles under my eyes. Everything I ever cared about was in danger. How could I sleep at a time like this?

I knew in my head that the flames shouldn’t be able to cross the lake towards the house, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my animals. Could they breathe with all this smoke in the air? Did I do enough to try to get them out?

The fire had been burning for almost a week. At first, it was just a few hints of smoke, and didn’t even make the morning news. Then, my neighbors evacuated. A day later, the power lines burned. I was struggling through each day without any updates from the local news, relying on my own brainpower and limited brawn. The simplest of tasks took twice as long. Instead of a quick shower every day, I was now braving the nearest section of lake with a fragment of bar soap left over from a hotel trip as often as I could stand it. My clothes now smelled permanently of smoke, so I didn’t both trying to wash them, but the drifting ashes formed a grit on my skin that I tried to wash off whenever I could.

I had spent two days making sure my animals were as safe as possible. The lake formed a natural firebreak before my house and personal yard, but some of the goats were fenced in on the other side of the lake. Rather than risk stranding myself if a rogue fire started near the road, I took the small rowboat back and forth across the lake rescuing them a few at a time. The ones that didn’t come near enough to the lake, I had to assume would either fend for themselves or may have already succumbed to smoke inhalation.

The backyard was completely fenced, so I brought the goats in and locked the gate. The vegetable and flowers gardens were the first casualties, but at least I didn’t have to worry about keep the grass trimmed. I took a few buckets of water at a time from the lake and wet down anything flammable within sight – the wooden storage shed, the woodpile, even last fall’s leaves that were still composting. I spent another day chopping down any trees that were nearby, and tossing the wood into the lake. Every so often, a burning ember would drift into my backyard, so I kept my eyes open as much as possible.

I tried not to think about where the fire would go once it passed my property. I knew it had to pass my property, otherwise everything I ever cared about would be gone. This wasn’t what I signed up for when I bought my small farm. I thought it would be a utopia – no people around to distract me from what I wanted to do, working in the dirt, with the animals, raising a better breed of goats for the sheer difficulty of it. I had increased their milk production by 5% with the second generation. Now I wasn’t even milking everyday, much less tracking any information. Even when I did milk them, there was nowhere to store or process the milk since the power was out.


Before my cell ran out of battery, I received a call from one of my local distributors. He was concerned about being able to promise his local store a certain amount of organic milk and cheese and wanted to make sure I would fulfill my contract. I told him to stick his organic cheese in his ears if he didn’t want to hear me curse him out. I hung up on him, just in case he really wanted to hear me curse, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

2014 Goals

I think that I've finally decided to pursue writing as more than a "someday" goal and make it a "now" goal. I haven't written in my blog in years, but I do want to start using this blog as a way to track my goal progress and publish short stories on my path to my main goal: self-publishing a novel.

So here are my goals for this week:

  • Decide on two main writing points of view that I would like to develop
  • Practice developing a believable character
  • Commit to 30 minutes of a free-write in each point of view developing the same character
As I make progress, I plan on publishing more posts which include examples of my work from the week. My overall goal for this year is to finally finish one of the myriad of novel ideas I have floating around in my random brain. The random brain is that portion of the brain that operates mainly while sleep deprived. Because I have a 10 month old baby that still wakes up in the middle of the night, that portion of my brain has been running rampant for the past few months.

I need to get those ideas out of random and put them into a format that other people can understand. Why do I feel this need? One of the reasons I've never been committed to finishing a novel (other than my general lack of commitment) is that I don't really feel the need for other people to see my work. However, after reading approximately 500 free e-books, I've realized that maybe other people need to read my novels. I've read too many novels where the main voice is agnostic or atheistic because of some "Christian" theme which is incorrect (for example that God doesn't love gays, which is completely untrue). I've also read too many "Christian-themed" novels that don't develop any type of Christian theme, but just say that the characters are Christian. If you claim to be a Christian, your character should develop over time in some way (and also have some type of moral imperative such as not sleeping together before marriage). Yes, we are not perfect, but we should at least be striving for something.

I plan on focusing mainly on writing fiction books with Christian themes, not Christian books. I feel like many of the "contemporary Christian" novels are sappy and cheesy and don't really have much story. I want the story to take precedence, and use that story to convince readers of the inherent worth in the Christian point of view without browbeating anyone... I know that's an insanely high standard to hold myself to, and I will likely fail to some degree. But I have determined that the benefits outweigh the risks and can't wait to get started! Look for more to come as I make progress on my weekly goals.