“Great emergencies awaken generous traits…”

Going into this week of intense election coverage, and not impressed with either candidates’ projected faults and baggage, I’ve found myself deep in thought.  What if Clinton wins?  What directions do we go?  What if Trump wins?  What does our country look like?  Then a new thought, higher in scope than the “on the ground” speculation, came to mind.  What if, regardless of who wins, the job changes the candidate?  What if, though the personalities are larger than life with these two, the job, the office, is still bigger then they?  I think I had forgotten that.  Yes, perhaps, once the winner has assumed office, we might see character improvement.  Could the position of President help this candidate rise to make more than 50% of us proud?  Is that even possible?

Then I read about President Arthur who became our president in 1881.  His baggage?  For starters, the presidency welcomed him by default.  After the 2nd presidential assassination (James Garfield) in 16 years, Mr. Chester Arthur, VP, followed Constitutional protocol and took his place as President.  And furthering the decline of his popularity, previous to his VP position, Beim-Esche states in his book, he “had been removed from a high administrative position under the suspicion of dishonest management” (Calling on the Presidents: Tales Their Houses Tell, page 209).  To say Arthur enjoyed any of the country’s confidence would be an over-statement.

But what is unmistakable is the change Arthur underwent as he transitioned into this new position.  He defied public assumptions.  He disregarded low expectations presupposed.  How?  Beim-Esche states, in his wife’s words, “…I think he simply allowed himself to become what he had actually always been.”  (Calling on the Presidents: Tales their Houses Tell, page 212) Then, through the words of a mysterious epistolarian, Julia Sand, who had written Arthur during his time in the Presidency, gave me hope: “Great emergencies awaken generous traits which have lain dormant half a life.”  (Calling on the Presidents: Tales their Houses Tell, page 214)

After drinking in the profoundness of Sand’s prose, I found more peace.  Though I have differing levels of mistrust with both candidates, I found myself thinking: If Hillary wins, I must trust that “generous traits” will rise up in her that have not yet been seen by half the country that will bless us as a country.  And if Trump wins, I need to trust that “generous traits” in him will ascent to benefit our country.  If this office of the President is bigger than any one person, which I believe it is, this birth of “generous traits” has to reveal itself, like it did in Arthur!

A new faith began to sprout within me.  This great experiment we call the United States, the principles on which it solidly lays, secures us all in its great net of prosperity…if we let it.

If your stomach is turning, if you’re considering leaving the country, or if you’re crying tears of joy and shouting praise from the mountain tops, I again offer these words from Julia Sand.  These words are not just for our President, but for us all:  “Great emergencies” (define how you’d like) seen on both sides, shall and should awaken “generous traits” within us ALL – you and me – towards one another.  Like the Office of the President is greater than any one person, so this country is greater than any one political party.  Regardless of who wins, may those “generous traits” so defined in Americans, be revealed in all of us, together, as it has numerous times in our history.  That is a true fact regardless of who is the President.

Quotes taken from new book, “Calling on the Presidents: Tales Their Homes Tell” by Clark Beim-Esche.

The American Fallen Soldiers Project: A day we’ll never forget

 

Air Force Capt Derek ArgelIMG_5263.JPG
Army SP4 Leslie H. Sabo, Jr.
Army CPT Daniel W. Eggers
Navy CPO (SEAL) Christopher S. Kyle
Army CW3 Wesley Charles Fortenberry
Marine LCpl Nazario Serrano
Air Force Capt James M. Steel

These 7 fallen US soldiers, along with 213 more, have been commemorated by artist, Phil Taylor, through The American Fallen Soldiers Project.  With 70+ hours into each painting, Phil creates a beautiful portrait of an American solider, a solider that has served our country and unfortunately paid the highest price. This foundation, created by Phil and his wife Lisa, “was formed to help provide comfort and healing to the grieving families of our fallen military. [The] 501c3 non-profit organization makes available, at no cost to the family, an original portrait of their fallen loved one that fully captures their appearance and personality.”

Flash back 6 months:
It was December 2015, and our daughter had just been notified that she was awarded 1st place in the Constituting America art contest in which she had submitted a piece of art work highlighting the importance of the Constitution.  Little did we know, Phil Taylor, co-founder of The American Fallen Soldiers Project, was one of thFullSizeRender.jpge judges for this contest.

When Marin received her award, she was given a DVD explaining further the work and contribution Phil has made to our fallen soldiers and their families through his art work.  It then occurred to me that because of our family’s love for our service men and women, our love for America and our love of art, we should pay a visit to Mr. Taylor.  By April, we had scheduled our visit to Dallas, TX.

On June 3rd, days after Memorial Day, we pulled into Phil’s new gallery in Dallas.  After four hours in the car, we pealed ourselves from the pleather seats and quickly straight-IMG_5261.JPGened our hair.  I reminded the kids of their manners and the kind of gallery we were visiting.  We opened the door into a beautiful gallery where we immediately saw an American flag.  However, the red stripes you’d normally see on our flag were actually comprised of photographs of fallen soldiers that Phil has commemorated through his work.  What a fitting way to immediately honor those respectable men and women no longer with us.

We were greeted by Lisa, Phil’s wife, and Amy, a dedicated worker of the foundation.  Stepping in further to the gallery, we saw numerous large portraits, each hung in their own space, alone.  Each a fallen soldier, having paid the ultimate price for freedom.  Each being granted their space to be remembered and honored.

matt_leathers.jpegI had that same feeling when I saw the Vietnam Memorial for the first time, or when we strolled through the Arlington Cemetery, or when we sat by the shore of the Delaware River and remembered Washington’s fateful crossing on that bitterly cold Christmas Eve night.  A moment of sadness, of grief, longing to express your gratitude for their ultimate sacrifice.

We turned and saw Phil walk out of his studio office wearing shorts, shirt untucked, flip-flops and an array of tattoos on his forearms.  I’m sure not the picture my kids were expecting.  Though they were a bit shy at the beginning, because of Phil’s authentic, open-heart, the kids each felt a kinship towards him and this incredible foundation, bringing healing and peace to so many families.  Phil, Lisa, and their amazing team, honor – every day of the year – these true American heroes.

For over ten years, Phil has painted over 200 portraits.  Once a portrait is complete, the Foundation then holds a ceremony for the family and presents the inspired portrait Phil has painstakingly created.  The ceremony is brewing with honor, dignity and praise for this soldier’s gift of service.  The families find great healing and peace with Phil’s inspired rendition of their loved one.

In one particular case, a mother, who had lost her son in war, became suicidal.  Once Phil had completed this son’s portrait, he and his team flew into town to hold the ceremony.  As the ceremony was to start, Phil asked where the mother of the son was so they could begin.  He was told she was in the bathroom, drunk.  Knowing they were going to honor her son properly that day, he emphatically walked into the women’s bathroom, brought out the mother and had her sit right in front of the painting.  When the painting was unveiled, Phil was right next to this mother’s side, honoring, grieving, and finding peace with this precious mother.  Now, with that portrait in her home, this mother has felt a sense of peace which has helped her face each new day.  And to this day, she credits Phil and this painting with saving her life.

As Phil walked us through the gallery, he invited us into his studio which is graced with the largest American flag I’ve ever seen!  He sat with our kids and looked at their art.  He listened to theirIMG_5237.JPG thoughts and how they created their works.  He gave them suggestions to improve their art, and exemplified, through his work and sharing, how an inspired artist fulfills his life’s mission.  His office was adorned with uniforms, metals, badges, empty magazines, awards, and more…all from the families of the fallen soldiers he has honored through his talents.  He’d begin telling us a story of how he came to have a certain badge or soldier’s uniform, but would have to stop numerous times as he could not continue.  He lives Memorial Day every day of the year.

Phil made an impression on our family that day.  Not only is Phil the most talented artist we’ve ever had the opportunity to meet, but he is also a true patriot that lives to provide healing for those who’ve been left behind by their fallen loved ones.  He gave us more time than we should have taken from him and he gave Marin and Colton invaluable inspiration and suggestions on their art.  It was a day we will cherish for a long time.

His ministry is through his artwork, and it continues to gain momentum through the inspiring non-profit, The American Fallen Soldiers Project.  We were honored and humbled to have had this opportunity and highly encourage you to visit the gallery in Dallas.

To learn more, visit the gallery or donate, please go to: http://americanfallensoldiers.com/

For a video of Phil’s work, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cig_kGRFJ2Y

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Common Core: What other options do we have?

Have you seen this?  Parent, Robert Small, is bullied and arrested while trying to ask a question about Common Core to his School Board.

Gets my heart pounding a bit at seeing our pseudo democracy in action!  Not only is it embarrassing to think such pathetic authority is alive and well, but it makes me question even more: What is going on in our public schools?  On our public School Boards?  And what’s this incessant push of Common Core down our throats??

If you have a child(ren) in a public school – if you care about the future direction of our country – you need to know more about the Common Core.  Regardless of our politics, we’re all Americans.  And our greatest asset – our children – are being experimented on like guinea pigs with this Common Core curriculum.  As Michelle Malkin accurately says, “We are our children’s primary educational providers. Control over our children begins and ends with us.”  See more

End of story!

So, if you are going to take control and not conform to the Common Core, what options do you have?  You have a few options: Charter School, Home Schooling, or online schooling.  For the last two years, we’ve made the choice to home-school, and it’s been a journey I never would have wanted to miss.

Pulling your child out of public school can be very intimidating.  Society teaches us, as parents, that we’re not qualified.  That we really should have a degree especially if you’re going to home-school.  Bull!  I’m so tired of this false authority from teachers that THEY are the experts and we are just “the parents.”  (Mind you, I know not all teachers think this – but there is a large majority out there…)  For the record, YOU are the expert on your child.  YOU know him better than anyone.  YOU are responsible and will be the one who cares most for their well being.

Never before have parents been so well educated and had more choices at the ready.  Frankly, there is no better time than NOW to take the stand you desire and make a change.  Why?  The amount of resources (and power) you have at your fingertips is unlimited.  Resources are EVERYWHERE!  So what do you do if you want to home school?

Here’s my action plan:

1) Research “Homeschooling Co-ops” in your area.  Homeschooling your child, as a viable option, is growing rapidly.  Co-ops are great ways to share information, organize sports leagues and art and talent competitions, and create field-trip co-ops.  In fact, our home-school co-op has a field trip component, and it’s been the biggest gem!  We’ve learned SO much, added such a richness to our curriculum, and made sweet friends in the process.

2) Find out the standards for your district.  Google your local district’s school standards to learn what the expectation is for your child on any given school year.  Additionally, I really like this Scope and Sequence from Abeka.  It’s a K-12 at-a-glance so you know what your child would need to complete each year academically.

3) Find a Homeschooling Convention to attend.  Our area has an annual convention.  It was there, after months of deliberation, that my husband and I decided to take the plunge and home-school.  Once we saw all the resources available, it was a no-brainer.  I reasoned, “With all this at hand, there’s no reason not to do it.”  At the convention, you will see the numerous resources, multiple curricula offered, attend workshops on different teaching strategies and best practices, and attend inspiring talks given by professionals in their fields.  A very inspiring way to spend two days!

4) Decide on Curriculum.  To options: A-la-carte or an All-In-One?  You can pick and choose a different curriculum vehicle for each discipline OR you can go with one company and just buy a package deal.  I chose the a-la-carte option and have been very satisfied with that choice.  Here’s what I chose for our curriculum:

Language Arts:  Before Five in a Row (ages 2-4) Five in a Row (ages 4-7) or Beyond Five in a Row (8-12) – Fantastic – Use it for part of my Soc Studies and read alouds with the kids.  This has been one of my favorite components to our home-schooling curriculum.  

Math: Math U See (K-12) Outstanding program – love it 100%

Science: We’ve made up our own for this one – studied birds and took cooking lessons for our science.  Used Notebooking for our bird study.

Social Studies (SS): Used the Abeka Curriculum in SS – read, assembled lap books (one of my favorite parts) and then went to SEE a lot of what and who we studied.   It’s been one of my favorite ways to organize and show what they’ve learned! Loved it! Here’s examples of lap books for a Thomas Edison Study – but you can do a lap book for ANYTHING!!  

I’ve also used Abeka for some phonics and spelling study – but they are pretty traditional and “worksheet” like – so I use it sparingly.  Also – I’ve used Time Travelers American History Studies for our Revolutionary Unit Study and found it to be outstanding!!  Another gem…So comprehensive!  I learned so much, too!  After all, that’s what I’m after – cultivating life long learners (and that includes me)!

What if you’re not sure you can afford homeschooling?  Here’s a great article of how one family is making it work and how they chose their curriculum with very little money.

Bottom line:  If you want to take a stand for what’s best for your child, you are capable, you are smart enough and you have a plethora of resources at your fingertips.  Do your research, figure out the best fit for your family and then go for it.  In the end, your child will see you fought for them, figured out what’s best for them and they’ll thank you for it!

 

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If interested…More info about Common Core and of “We will not conform” can be found hereI attended this and learned so much more!

 

Cherishing the Fatherhood of Childhood

With it being Father’s Day, this blog is dedicated to my husband and my sons…

Because we limit the amount of TV in this here household, I love the “mental space for creative spontaneity” it provides.  Just yesterday, my 5 yr old son pulled out the mim-stroller (kid sized) and filled it full with his two dolls, brothers Michael and Joey.  Yes, my son has dolls.  🙂  In fact, I think all boys should have dolls.  I credit my husband with this beautiful expression I see in my son.  Before you judge and think I married a mansy-pansy of a husband, let me give you some background.

My husband is about the most manly man I know.  He loves to play golf, cut his own grass on his zero-turn mower (well, ok, he doesn’t LOVE mowing our grass but under the current economic demands of our finances – he bucks up and just does it), he fixes things himself, hunts and harvests a IMG_0127portion of our own food with his awesome compound bow, defends our property from raccoons with his 22 and works out religiously so he’s ready for anything – like the tough-mudder this October.

Likewise, my son loves the outdoors, hunting with his Dad, and searching for bugs and reptiles of any kind!

So back to the dolls…as my son buckled his “boys” in the stroller and began pushing them around the house, there was a dear sense of pride as he took on this fatherly roll.  He then asked if I could take his picture and send it to Dad at the office which I immediately did.

As the morning wore on, he began to ask me for bibs, baby bottles, and blankets.  He’s seen me tend to his baby brother (4 yrs younger) and all of a sudden I saw him emulating this same “motherly, fatherly” behavior.  Observing from afar, I purposefully nurtured this activity.  I asked him if he’d like to read them a book before their nap time.

“Sure,” came his confident response in a lower, more manly voice.  “Mom,” he said, “Get my book, about ‘The Run Away Horse’.”  This is his home-made book that was his very own creation.  (Another blog post…)  He immediately read it with Michael and Joey in his lap.  Then he proceeded to tuck them in.  As this this scene unfolded before me, I realized he was doing everything he had seen me do with his littlest brother (the most recent baby in the family).  He even went as far as writing down on a piece of paper the feeding schedule for Michael and Joey and kept his eye on the clock so he knew when to wake them to feed them.  His expression of father love was so inspiring to me.

 

IMG_0130This activity went on for about 2 hours.  He just nurtured them, loved them, fed them, read to them, kissed them, tucked them in – and asking the rest of the family to “be quiet” so his boys could sleep.  This was an opportunity to cherish my son’s expression of fatherhood.  I’ve not seen a little boy do this before so intently – so, I was a little taken a back that he was so into this…shame on me.  Just as we encourage and nurture little girls with everything they need to be little Mommies – why don’t we do more cherishing of fatherhood – REAL Fatherhood in our little boys?!

 

My plea in this blog today is that we look for opportunities to nourish the fatherhood in our little boys as much as we naturally cherish it in our little girls.  We NEED strong, loving, gentle Dads who know how to protect and love their families – not just in brute strength but with that natural balanceIMG_0137 of love with the backbone of principle.  Today while we celebrated Fatherhood for our Dad, we also celebrated it for my son as he’s been a father to “Michael and Joey.”  I wish you could have seen the smile and pride my son expressed as we called him a “father” too.  I feel privileged to have a husband who shares his wonderful expression of fatherhood with me and our children daily and even more grateful to have a son (hopefully two) who know that a real father can express his strength and his gentle love…all at the same time!

Family Values: The wind that guides our ship

It’s April now, and we are finishing up our second year as a home-schooling family.  The short version, “It’s been a deeply satisfying, productive and successful year…for each of us.”  We’ve loved so many things about this experience.  We live in a community that has an outstanding network of homeschooling resources.  We’ve integrated ourselves into this network and found a variety of support.  From the “MMM” (Monday, Meals, Motion) Homeschooling Group to the field trips (we participated in 15 different field trips this year) to homeschooling gymnastic classes and more – we’ve learned so much and it has been so much fun!

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But as we wind down, (although I love that homeschooling never really comes to a close – there is always something new to learn) I find myself in a state of evaluation: evaluating my curriculum, my children’s progress, myself as a teacher and home-manager, and our family values.  And that last one – evaluating our family values – is what drives all the others.  Our family’s values are the wind in our sails – giving us the force that guides all of our decisions and gives us our direction.

At present, our family values are:

1) Work daily to raise grateful kids in an entitlement world

2) Work to raise good Christians (serving God and man)

3) Instill in our children the “love of doing right”

4) Striving for excellence in a world that’s content with “good enough”

5) Being a blessing to our community – not a burden

Each day my husband and I are thinking about these values in one way or another.  It’s in my thought as we home-school, when we clean the chicken coops, when the house is a mess and things are a little crazy, when my kids are playing outside, when we have our family dinners, when we play “tickle monster” and run through the house, or when we slow down our day and read books and say prayers before bed.  These values are our compass when we talk about current events.

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So as I continue to think through my home-schooling curriculum, my children’s progress, my work as a teacher and home-manager, I keep these values in mind.  They aid my husband and me in making the best possible decisions for our family.

What are some of your values that you hold dear and that guide you in calm or stormy times?

Cutting the Cord on TV

One year ago, I grounded my kids for bad behavior.  We were at my cousin’s home and they began running around the house like wild hooligans!  First, I was embarrassed.  Then I found it disrespectful considering my cousins were doing me a favor by babysitting my 4 month old.  Usually my kids are obedient and responsive when it comes to discipline, but this time, they threw care to the wind.

When we got in the car (but before we headed home) I calmly and quietly turned around.  Looking them in the eye, I explained to them that I expected more.  “When we’re in someone else’s home, I expect you to be respectful, polite, obedient – just like we behave in our own home.”  (In our family, we often speak about how good behavior has “benefits” while bad behavior has “consequences”.)  So, I told them there would be a consequence for their actions.

Like most kids, my kids LOVE TV.  So while still in the car and thinking quickly on my feet (although admittingly coming up with a punishment QUICKLY is never a good idea), I said, “As your consequence, I’m going to take away TV time for a whole week.”  As that came out of my mouth, I heard from the hooligans, “What?  No, Mom!” and in my own head, the words came, “Woman, are you crazy?  That will teach you to speak before you think.  A week without TV?  So now you’re on duty to entertain them.  Yea…smart move, Mom!”  Gulping, I stuck to my guns and said a little prayer.

Long story short, we fared that first week much better than I anticipated.  With no TV, there was actually less arguing about what to watch and whose turn it was to pick the show.  That in and of itself was a huge blessing.  Less for me to manage.  I was also impressed that they actually LIKED playing together…A LOT!  They began to use their imagination (from books we’d read) to create characters and plots, even the brown box in the living room became their “hide-out” and endless hours of play.

After that glorious week of no TV – I gave them a reward: ANOTHER week of no TV!  (Snicker, snicker).  I was actually having fun watching them take leadership roles in their imagination play, learn to be flexible with each other and growing their relationship.  And truth be told, I think they were some what excited to have an excuse not to turn on the tube: Mom’s new rule.  Yup – the gift of parenthood: you get to make your own rules!

So it’s been 15 months since that heavenly “grounding episode” and we’ve adopted this new rule: No TV during the week.  Only on the weekends and with that – only 2 hours on Saturday and Sunday.  This gives them time to watch a movie or two from the library.  But on sunny days – sometimes that TV never gets switched on during the weekends.  As my oldest recently said, “Mom, TV is really boring compared to what you can do with your imagination.”

Moral of the story:  “Groundings” and “quick thinking” do have a long term advantage…for the whole family!

Our Simple Christmas

About two weeks before Christmas, my husband and I were sitting watching TV.  Up came a new commercial we’d not seen before.  By the end of that commercial, I was fighting back the tears.  Actually, I think we both were.  Trying not too seem too “weepy” we tuned back to our TV show and went about our evening.

Little did I know that a seed had been planted in my husband’s thought…

The majority of my extended family flew off to a warm destination for Christmas.  But with our young and busy family of five, we elected to stay in our cold, mid-western home-town for the Christmas holiday.  We were eager to begin some new family traditions.

We had nothing extravagant planned.  No exciting events or big-ticket shows. But over those next two weeks, we made some great family memories.  We took the kids on their first ferry ride across the Mississippi.  As the ferry slowly made its way across the icy river, large flat sheets of ice splintered and cracked.  The kids jumped out of the car, braved the bitter cold, and on tip-toe, leaned on the railing to listen to the boat pushing its way through the ice.  And with the chilly winter air, came bald eagles by the dozens!  We had fun counting 1, 2, 3…up to 25 eagles that day!

We ate at a family style restaurant.  You would have thought we took them to Disney World.  They had such fun passing all the dishes and feeling mature enough to “pass the dishes” all by themselves.  We witnessed our son learning to skip for the first time.  Not an earth-moving accomplishment – but to him it was, and we were there to celebrate with him!  We played “chess” on a life-sized board.  We took a drive through a wintry, wonderland.  It was breath-taking.

We, as a family (with no agenda or time-frame), were just together, experiencing the simple and yet profound joy and happiness that comes from just being.  Together.  It was, in the most innocent and sweet way, perfect.

Christmas came and went.  That evening, the kids summed up the day perfectly: “This was the best day in my whole life!”  So yes, we had a wonderful day!  A few days after Christmas, my husband was sitting in bed working on his computer.  In a causal voice he asked, “Oh – do you have a min so I can show you what I’ve been working on?”  “Sure thing, sweets,” I responded.  He turned his computer to face me and began to play this video…

Little did I know, for the last two weeks he had been video taping our family memories so as to create this iMovie.  After seeing that, my “Great Christmas” turned into the “Best Christmas of my whole life!”  He captured perfectly the essence of love, of giving, of unselfish thought which permeated our holiday.  It was the best present I could have asked for.  And for that, I thank him!