I am not much of an activist

I am not much of an activist. You will not find me writing about politics and whom I think you should vote for or what I think you should believe in. I am not going to promote many causes on my blog except for treating your children respectfully and supporting their ideas, and I may also urge you to respect wildlife. This isn’t to say I’m not going to ever share any of my other beliefs and ideals, but at the same time, I usually remain neutral on the big issues. This is because I choose to let this blog focus on my family and our daily life. The simple things.

If you like it this way, then I invite you to stop reading this post. It’s probably going to be the closest I ever get to writing about current affairs that isn’t about education or nature. But I am thinking about what I keep reading in the news and how that affects my children. I wonder what I have to teach my children now to help them navigate such a complicated and sometimes tragic world.

On the morning that I started writing this post, I read headlines telling me about many people who died in bombings overseas, and this made me sad and fearful….I don’t take for granted that I live in a relatively safe place. Not long before that we had a tragic event happen in Orlando, and while I let this post brew inside a folder for a while, we had even more tragic events occur last week. You know what they are. And now there’s Nice, France….I need to post it before I have to add more to this awful list!

I have a hard time following the news when these things happen. I cannot wrap my mind around it, and I feel so horrible for the loved ones who are still living and dealing with these tragic events. While I don’t want to read the news, I make myself read and look at photographs. I’m not in a position right now where I can do much to help other people, but I can try to understand what is happening. I can send out a prayer and hope it touches someone.

There is part of me that cannot understand why it’s not easy for other people to see that we are all connected and that all humans have similar needs and desires. Why do any of us feel the need to kill any other person or group? No matter what you believe in, what ethnic group you belong to, what your sexuality is, or who you want to vote for, you have to get up every morning, use the bathroom, eat, drink, find shelter, and figure out how to make a living. No matter who you are, you need love and companionship. No matter who you are, you will experience happiness, love, disappointment, failure, and sadness. Why can’t we help each other instead of making things harder?

We all have the same needs, but, of course, there are people and groups who experience extreme hardship while others don’t. For example, I can’t begin to understand the racism that black people deal with. (Though I got a tiny dose while I lived as a foreigner in Japan. That was good for me.)

For some reason humans insist on separating themselves from each other. To feel different, better, other than them. Does it really make us feel all that better? None of us can control what circumstances we are born under.

I see the great divides of culture and beliefs, and I understand how deep those currents run and how emotionally connected we are to them. I see how we set ourselves apart. I see how disappointment, anger and fear can rule our judgments. I understand that it can be very hard to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. I cannot always do it either. I’m sure I say and do insensitive things without meaning to because I haven’t experienced another person’s pain. For all our similarities, we have vast differences too.

Sometimes I get angry. I cannot understand for the life of me why anyone would vote for a racist and misogynist or hold beliefs that uphold ignorance. Or, worse, supports selfish actions. People do not see or think clearly. They think with their emotions and imaginations. They believe what they want to believe. This burns me up.

But what tempers my anger and humbles me is that I know I’m human too. If any other person is capable of those things, I am too. Whatever another person is capable of doing, I am capable of doing that too. Sometimes it’s best to sit with that thought for a while.

As I navigate the headlines and realize that someday, somehow a tragic event may directly touch my family, I wonder what I want to teach my boys. I cannot control outside forces, but I hope, through my example, that my boys will never play a role in bigotry, terror, or wrong-doing. I hope that they will grow up to be kind, loving and gentle, yet I hope they can stand up to injustice, if they ever find themselves in a position where they can do something.

It may sound trite, but I will tell them that sometimes all you can do is the most loving action. Love needs to be their guide. What is the kindest thing you can do?

Understand that movements like Black Lives Matter does not mean anyone thinks any other life doesn’t matter. It just means that these people need to stand up for themselves, and we need to listen and try to understand why.

It means that if someone is different from you, or lives a different lifestyle, you can still be kind. You can still treat them like humans and understand that they want the right to form families and loving communities for themselves. Everyone deserves that.

It means if someone wants to vote for someone I can’t stand, then I need to understand that they have had life experiences that brought them to that decision. What do I not understand?

If another person is willing to live in peace, then live in peace with him. I truly believe that most people want to live in peace. Otherwise, the headlines hitting the news lately wouldn’t be so heart wrenching for us. It’s when people begin to hurt other people – physically or mentally – that we have to take action and stop them from hurting more people. How? I wish I knew the answer to that.

I am not much of an activist because right now my priority is raising my boys and creating a loving and safe home for them, and this takes all my time and energy. I want to give them opportunities in life so that they don’t have to struggle, and perhaps, by doing that, they will grow up to help others not have to struggle.

Perhaps, after all, that is my act.

Homeschooling Is My Compass

There are times I get super busy such as when family visits or all our play dates and appointments get clumped into one week. No matter how much I try to spread out our activities, I go through periods of non-stop excitement and then the welcome reprieve of being at home for a few days with nothing pressing to do.

But…there’s always something to do.

It’s easy to think that we have this flexible lifestyle with all this time on our hands, but that’s not really true. I have to get the boys out of the house to socialize (What?!! Do homeschoolers do that?!!), and we have errands and occasional doctor appointments or what-have-you too. (Not to mention 3~4 weekly appointments/classes during the school year!) Then when we’re at home, I have to take the time to do the laundry, get the house into a “livable state,” plan homeschool, and oh yeah! Homeschool! My kids don’t always get to do anything they want to do. We have work to do! Planning it and executing it is a lot more work than you might guess. Even though I consider myself a “relaxed homeschooler” who doesn’t follow any prescribed deadlines or course of study, it takes a long time to figure out what I need to accomplish with the boys in order to keep them on track to becoming well-rounded, educated adults. (Actually, I think it would be a lot less work to follow the instructions in a comprehensive boxed curriculum!)

The mornings we do homeschool lessons are not always flexible either. There is a certain amount of work I need to do with the boys, even though I don’t worry about meeting certain deadlines or “mile stones.” I would like to cover a variety of topics, and I also want the boys to have time to explore what is meaningful to them. But it’s impossible to do all that — with two different children — in one day. I have to pick and choose what we do each day, and some items never get checked off the “want to” list.

On top of this, I take time to write, which is sometimes how I relax and sometimes how I…oh. do. I. dread. having. to. write. Or sort photos. Or any other mundane task that someone needs to do or it’s just going to pile up into impossible, insurmountable mountains of tedious work. (But sometimes I stop everything and watch a show on Amazon Prime too, and I don’t feel guilty about this!)

There are things that never get done. There are people I rarely go visit. There are weeds that never get pulled, and there are recipes I never try out. I can beat myself up over this because on one hand we’re flexible homeschoolers, and I really want to do all the things, but on the other hand, there are more important things — priorities — that must get done. I try to remember this.

And my #1 priority is my kids and their education! Luckily, spending quality time with them, doing fun things + educating them overlaps most of time. (When it doesn’t overlap: handwriting lessons.)

When I finally have time to sit down at my computer and I 1) don’t have a pressing deadline, and 2) I’m not bone tired, homeschool planning is my compass to  get back to what is most important. I make lists of what the boys are doing and what I want to do with them. I ask them if they have a project or idea they want to pursue. I think about the ideas I want to pursue with them. I also make lists of writing ideas, tasks to get done around the house, reminders for this and that….Because I’m growing older and I can’t remember anything anymore unless I write it down! 

But the thing is: when I think about the boys, their ideas, our goals, and I line them up on a page, and then I step into the activity room to get it ready for whatever lesson or endeavor we plan to undertake, I feel like I’ve finally made it back to the destination that all these busy days were part of and leading me to: our home, our education, a life well-lived.

And when I say “our” education, I mean our education.

Why Do I Blog?

I sometimes ask myself this question. There is no reward in blogging except for the infrequent but kind remarks left in the comments. There is even less reward in writing a newspaper column. (I will comment no further on that.)

Sometimes I get tired of writing about myself because I wonder who really cares? There are millions of mommy blogs, and only a few people land on my site. I don’t expect them to stay or leave comments, though I would love for them to. I rarely have time to read the blogs I enjoy, so how can I expect others to keep up with mine? Unless it’s a relative of mine, I don’t expect people to care. I’m not being callous or negative…honest! I’m just stating a fact.

Sometimes I think it’s kind of silly that I blog or write anything publicly, but it also seems a natural transition from those days I used to fill notebooks with my thoughts and daily activities. If the technology was available back then, I probably would have blogged.

Blogging is like keeping a journal except that it’s more focused and more well-written than the scribbles in a diary. It is a practice. It is a meditation. It’s how I process my thoughts. It’s how I unwind. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Because I focus this blog on homeschooling (mostly), that shows that this is my main work. As I write out what my kids are doing, what resources they use, and how we structure our days, I’m able to see the big picture more clearly and understand if it makes sense or if we need to change something. How many times have I gotten an idea while I’m planning my blog posts? Many.

I have gone long spells without writing anything, and I’ve noticed that my mind starts to get a little muddled, and I feel less organized. Do other writers experience this?

I have noticed that when I blog like this — simple reflections on my life — I have more mental energy to put into my freelance writing.

I also think that writing helps me remember things. Sorting photographs, putting words to them, and recounting experiences helps solidify them in my memory. I have a pretty bad memory in general, so maybe this is why I feel the need to write everything down. (Or maybe I have a bad memory because I write everything down, and my mind doesn’t need to remember it.)

Writing in general is a very lonely process, and being a stay-at-home mom can be very lonely too. I suppose I blog for those infrequent but kind comments that occasionally connect me with another human being, someone who is going through a similar situation, someone I can reach out to and say, “Hello. Do you see/feel/do this too?”

Thank you to those who take the time to read my blog, and double thanks to those who leave comments as well. I really appreciate you.


Is Homeschooling Hard?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 11, 2015.

While I was running errands in Winder recently, someone asked me if homeschooling is hard. Since I was having a good day, I said, “Not really. Not if you like learning and don’t mind doing some research.” By that I meant that if you don’t mind engaging in the learning yourself, and if you’re willing to search for the right materials and activities, it’s not that hard to teach your kids. But that doesn’t mean that homeschooling isn’t hard sometimes

I’m sure different moms would have different answers to that question, but I don’t believe the challenges I face are any different than what is hard for any parent. Raising kids is difficult no matter how you decide to educate them, and everybody has different opinions on how to do it.

Knowing what is best for any child is always difficult because every child is different. What worked for one of my boys may not work for the other whether I’m teaching him how to read or teaching him how to behave at the dinner table. We have bad days just like everyone else, but they come and go. Children go through phases, present different challenges, and parents get frustrated and impatient all the while searching for the right solution, even if there isn’t one. Fortunately, most struggles are worked out over time.

Just like any parent, the most difficult thing for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. On three week days, one or both boys have outside classes and activities that I drive them to, so I do most of our “formal” lessons with them on three other days (including Saturday) from about 9-2pm. I usually prepare and go over my lesson plans the night before.

In the afternoons and evenings, I am “free,” but of course, there are several things I “should” be doing. 1) Cooking a nutritious meal for my family. (This usually turns into “what can I cook in 20 minutes or less?”) 2) Cleaning. (This gets partially done.) 3) Exercising. (Not just for pleasure anymore. During the past few years when I put off exercising, I developed bursitis in my right hip, and exercising helps to relieve the pain.)

4) Writing. (Again, not for pleasure. We need the extra money. I already wrote a column about the difficulties of a family trying to live on one income, and that remains high as one of our challenges.) 5) Take care of all the other things that come up in a family of four. (i.e. enduring endless interruptions in my work.) Clearly, I can’t do all of this in a short afternoon or evening, so a lot doesn’t get done, or I do a sloppy job of doing a little bit of everything.

A lot of people think that homeschoolers aren’t socialized properly, and I’ve learned that those people are quite ignorant of what homeschooling is about. My boys’ social life is not the problem – it’s mine! My boys enjoy long play dates with friends, classes and camps with kids of different ages, and visiting museums where interesting adults talk to them. All the while, I am busy driving them places and missing the time and energy I once had to join groups with common interests such as the photography guild and writing groups.

Don’t get me wrong – I have some wonderful friends who I have met through homeschooling. I enjoy talking to these other moms about homeschooling and motherhood. But I am not just a homeschooling mom, and I miss meeting people who share creative goals.

Equally difficult is meeting moms who don’t homeschool or working moms. They have different schedules, and sometimes they look at me strangely. Either they think I’m crazy or they wonder if I’m judging them for not homeschooling, which couldn’t be further from my mind. Once a couple rolled their eyes when I said I homeschooled. As a homeschooling mom, I am subjected to all kinds of stereotypes, and this can be frustrating, and at times, painful.

But as I said before, most of these are challenges that a lot of parents face, and every parent has endured the “opinions” of other well-meaning parents. So homeschooling usually is not “hard” for me. When I love what I do most of the time, it’s enjoyable, and I accept the sacrifices. I wouldn’t expect everyone to feel this way because just like children, adults are all different too.


Paying Attention to Mama

I have been holding out on you. I have many photos I want to share under my Nature Watch tag. Many of them I took last spring when we went to Cloudland Canyon State Park on vacation. I just haven’t had time to post them, but I’m going to remedy that.

The photos on this page were taken at the front fountain at the state botanical garden. These are pitcher plants, which as you know, we’re very fond of.

The reason I’m making a point to renew my commitment to do Nature Watch posts is that lately, I have been in a sort of funk. Not a Whole Life Funk. I have a good life, which I love, and I have no right to complain about. But I’m having a What-Do-I-Want-To-Do-Professionally-Funk. Though I’m still writing and editing, I’m having a writer’s block. That probably doesn’t make sense, so I’ll explain. I feel there’s something I really want to work on, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s something else I want to do besides writing the same ol’ columns, but I can’t quite figure it out. I am restricted by time, money, and well, I need to make money, so that’s a restriction too. I can’t just go back to journal-keeping and be happy with it. I also want something I can build upon once my children are grown.

So I’m wondering what I want to do. Write a book? Actually, I already started one, but I’m losing confidence in it. Does the world really need another book by a homeschooling mom telling about her experience which may or may not help the experience of other mothers with very different children? Sigh. Should I try writing a column for another venue? Should I try cracking into more freelance writer markets? I can’t decide what I want to spend my limited time doing. Because when I do decide, I put my 100% into it, so I want it to be worth it.

I am really stuck.

I was really feeling down about this, but today I realize that while I’ve been “stuck,” I’ve started taking the time to pay more attention to the things I really love. (I’m talking about things besides family-children-homeschooling.)

One of those things is nature. Even though I don’t have much time or the proper equipment, I can take some pretty nature photos, and I’m going to try to share my work when I find the time. On Twitter, I made a “nature” list, and I’m adding people there who do wildlife photography. Whenever my boys and I spot some wildlife, I’m going to tweet about it (I also keep a hand written journal) whether or not I have a photo. This is transforming how I use Twitter, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I am also promising to start posting my “Nature Watch” photos that I’ve been holding onto with good intentions these past few months. If you enjoy nature photography, you can also follow my photography blog. Doing these things also helps me when we don’t find the time to get out to the local parks and go hiking, especially during this unusually long rainy season we’re having.

I have never written about this before, but I’m also doing yoga regularly. I started about a year and a half ago, but it took awhile to commit to a regular practice. I love it. I want to keep learning about and doing yoga even though right now that means learning through books/online tutorials and doing a 15 minute (sometimes interrupted) practice 4-5 times a week.

I also want to learn how to use some software on my computer. This means taking the time to do some online tutorials. I have no idea when I’ll find the time for this, but it’s on my “list.”

I’m also paying attention to the fact that I have felt lonely for quite a while. It seems strange to say that when I have some great friends, and I have a husband and two boys I love being with and talking to. No, this kind of loneliness is for something else. I miss knowing people who are driven to create. Writers. Artists. Or even nature lovers who like to take long walks and muse about the mysteries of the universe. I used to facilitate writing groups. I used to having walking buddies, but they moved away. Others have very different life situations. It’s hard for me to make time for people when I can’t bring my children with me, and then find something to occupy them with. I don’t think I can remedy this problem until my kids are a little older, but it’s still there. At least recognizing it helps me with some goal setting.

I’m hoping nature, yoga and gaining some other skills will help unstick me and eventually lead me to new people I have other things in common with. What do you do when you feel stuck?

Not All Clutter Is Equal

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on March 25, 2015.

I hear a lot about clutter. It’s a buzzword for stay-at-home moms and probably any parent my age. Kids come with a lot of clutter, and shucks, if you’ve lived in the same place for long enough, you’ll accumulate plenty of clutter with or without kids.

Most of the time, clutter is spoken like a dirty word. “I hate this clutter.” “I can’t get rid of all this clutter.” “What I am going to do with this clutter?” “I’m drowning in clutter!”

I admit, I’ve said all that too. I whittle away at our clutter whenever I get the chance, which isn’t often, but now that the boys are older, it is not as insurmountable of a task as it used to be. I recently went through one of my son’s closets and my own closet. I have a bunch of boxes in the back of my van and ready to donate next time we go into town.

For the past two years before Christmas, I have convinced the boys to pick out whatever they are willing to part with to donate. I tell them that they have to make space for the new toys that are coming. The first year they put together one good-sized box. This year, we had several boxes, and I was proud of them. Despite this, however, we still have clutter everywhere.

But not all clutter is equal, and I have learned to live with a certain amount of clutter, mostly out of necessity. For example, there’s no way I’m going to convince my husband to clean up the clutter on his dresser or bathroom counter. (If I do it, I get fussed at for throwing out some important piece of information.) And since I keep my fare share of clutter, I don’t have a leg to stand on anyway. (But at least I clean mine up sometimes.)

As I said before, kids come with a lot of clutter, and I don’t mind the toys on the living room floor. We clear it out and sweep and mop when we have time, but I don’t try to do that everyday. What is the point when everything will be put right back on the floor the next day? Instead of making them clean everything everyday, I have the kids clean up their dishes and sweep the floor after meals. They also have to make sure the walkways are clear so that no one will trip during the night. In the event that they make an unreasonable mess, they are ordered to clean it right away.

Perhaps the biggest clutter control that I have to deal with is my kid’s projects. My sons are always making something. My five-year-old likes to draw, and stacks of artwork emerge out of nowhere. My eight-year-old likes to make things out of cardboard or paper or any of a number of craft supplies that are spilling out of an old dresser I use to keep this stuff.

Currently our activity room (the former dining room) has a box of paper dinosaurs (origami style) in one corner, and a desk filled with clay artwork, a cardboard ship, mechanical hands made from old cereal boxes and string, and my son’s unfinished Jabba the Hut puppet. There are homemade (and store bought) posters squished between the wall and bookshelf, and my son’s robotics kit sits up on that old dresser along with a globe. On the floor are newspapers spread out with Styrofoam balls and paint because my son is making models of the planets. (His idea.) Add to this all our books and other homeschooling supplies, and you have one cluttered room.

I’m sure this clutter would make most mothers feel insane, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me a bit loopy sometimes, but mostly, I don’t mind. When I look at it, I don’t see a mess. I see time well spent. I have chosen, in this era of my life, to make fostering my kid’s imaginations a priority over clutter. I spend a little less time cleaning the house so that I can do more projects with them. I let them decide what to keep and throw away (usually) because I want to show them I care about their work. I have always told them not to do any damage to anyone else’s work, and I abide by that rule too. When I do that, they feel respected, and they do more good work.

The thing is, these boys are going to outgrow these toys and projects quickly. There will come a day when I can clear most of it out, and later a day will come when the boys move out of the house and take more with them. At that time, I can declutter to my heart’s content. And I know I will sorely miss the days that projects were strewn all over the shelves and floors.

The Joy of Salamanders and Other Natural Things

I’m trying to remember when I first discovered that I’m a nature girl at heart. I’m lucky because my parents loved to travel and spend time in nature. We weren’t exactly roughing it because they owned a big RV, but we traveled through many national parks, and my dad loved boating, so I’ve spent time on different lakes and waterways.

I can remember taking long walks with my best friends during my late teens and early twenties. I loved being outside even if it meant walking along city streets. I always noticed the trees, flowers and birds. Whenever I traveled anywhere, I would seek out parks and other beautiful places. I’ve always loved hiking, and I have gravitated to friends who enjoy hiking too.

I met a friend in my late twenties who was a biologist, and she sparked a deep respect in me for the little critters of this earth. She loved frogs and snakes, and for a while she studied salamanders in the Smoky Mountains. I visited her once while she was doing some fieldwork. I thought she had an awesome job.

But I’m not sure I truly understood how much nature – and spending time in nature – meant to me until I became a mother of little boys. Seeing the world through their eyes makes me know on a deeper level how much all of this means to me.

Being in nature is something I crave, and I love learning more about it. Whether it’s learning how alligator moms carry their babies in their mouths or how to grow carnivorous plants, I find more joy in this – in making discoveries and feeling part of this mysterious and wondrous world – than anything else I’m part of. I am in awe of this planet and its place in the universe, and I believe that I’m very lucky to find joy in something so accessible to us all. I believe that finding joy in the simple process of observing and learning is what leads to lasting happiness.

On Mother’s Day, my family took me hiking in the North Georgia Mountains because they know that’s what I love most. First, we climbed the short trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. It’s a beautiful, paved path along Smith Creek, and on Mother’s Day, it was quite crowded, but we didn’t care. We were not there only to view the falls – we went to find the salamanders.

There’s a rocky, muddy wall along the path, and a natural spring drips down it constantly. Even in the coldest part of winter, the water there stays about fifty degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celcius). This is a perfect habitat for salamanders. They like to hide away in the rock crevices. We must have found a dozen of them.

While other tourists passed us by or lingered only for a few moments, we crowded around this wall for a long time (on the way up and on the way down). My seven-year-old said, “I could stay here forever!”

I was reminded of my old friend who studied salamanders, and I was reminded of all the times I’ve been hiking with family and friends, and the peaceful feeling that I get whenever I’m in the mountains, sitting by a gurgling stream. There’s no better place on earth, in my humble opinion.

I’m glad my son thought he could sit there by those salamanders forever. I hope that someday when he’s grown up and dealing with grown-up problems, he’ll remember the good times he had looking for salamanders by a mountain stream, and he’ll be able to go back there, seeking solace. A home for his heart.