What is a True Friend?

Playing a story starter game at our homeschool Valentine’s party.

Note: This column was reprinted in the Barrow Journal on February 10, 2016. It was first published in February 2013. But we had another Valentine’s party with our same friends this year as you can see in the photo above.

On Valentine’s Day I will take my boys to a small party where they will exchange valentines with their friends. Watching them form their very first friendships, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship these past forty years.

A wise person once told me that she would not know whom her best friend was until she became an old woman. Only at that time, she asserted, could she look back on her life and say, “You have been my best friend.”

Young people throw the terms “best friend,” “best friend forever,” “BFF,” or “bestie” around like balls, hoping the person they throw it to will toss it back at them.  I have no doubt that for some people, the friends they make in their youth stick with them for a lifetime.  But as we grow older, we realize that true friends are rare.

Some friends are here for only an era of our life – school days, college, married with children, a summer vacation – and then when the ties that bind them loosen, they slowly (or quickly) exit our lives. I don’t think this lessens the value of the relationship.  We need various people to learn from and lean on during the different seasons of our lives.

What can weaken a friendship? Two friends may mature at a different pace, or sometimes interests change.  Distance can have a huge impact, if someone moves, or perhaps there’s a complete change in lifestyle. Are there friendships that can withstand any or all of these conditions?

True friendships withstand the test of time and the changes that can put obstacles in the way of a stress-free relationship. That is, it’s easy to be friends with someone who is available, who you have much in common with, and who you agree with on most issues.

I’ve learned that true friendship does not have much to do with what you have in common, though, of course, commonalities are needed, especially since they bring you together. What holds your friendship together is a deep love and concern for the other person’s well being. You care, so you continue to be there for that person.

  • Friends show up in times of trouble. When I lived in Japan, I had a friend at home who died of cancer, and I’ll never forget the e-mails she wrote to me before she died. In one of them she said that once she was bound to a wheelchair, she learned who her true friends were. I wonder if I had been at home, would I have been one of them?
  • True friends give each other space to grow and change though maybe not in the way you would choose for them. As long as your friend is happy, healthy, and living in harmony with the people around them, you cheer them on.
  • True friends are honest with each other, and they accept the other person’s honesty. They don’t let petty arguments come between them. They forgive each other. They realize that they don’t always have to agree.
  • True friends give you the freedom to have other friends. They are secure enough to know that if you are a worthy friend, they don’t have to do anything to persuade you to spend time with them. They know you have enough love in your heart for all your friendships.
  • True friends aren’t difficult to meet up with, and they aren’t hard to keep in touch with, if they live far away. While we all get busy at times, true friends inform each other that their friendship is still important, and both of them make an effort.

In the past I had a friend who pulled out a calendar and listed a handful of dates over the next three months that she could schedule a time to see me. Hmm, I thought, I’m busy too, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to find time to spend together (this was before we were married with children, of course). In contrast, I have a friend in Australia who I have been e-mailing for sixteen years. Our correspondence has ebbed and flowed depending on the demands of our lives, but both of us keep it up and neither of us wait for the other to write first.

  • True friendships are those that bring out the best in you. Your friend should give you energy – not drain it.  How many times have we stayed in relationships simply because the person was present, but deep down we know they aren’t good for us? When possible we should clear our lives of people who drain us and leave space to foster relationships that fill our wells.

A friend of mine told me she believed the mark of a true friendship was intimacy – your friend knows and wants to know what is happening in your life. On some level, they stay involved in your life. Indeed, that’s the mark of a true friend.

It goes without saying that to have true friends, we must work at being a good friend.  Even after forty years, I’m still learning how to be a better friend. I hope that I can guide my boys at fostering meaningful relationships that can last or at least serve a good purpose in their lives.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

My Favorite Posts of 2015

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For the first time, we stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Of course, we had to take some silly selfies in the dark while we waited for the ball to drop.

I hope that 2016 is a wonderful year for you and your family! I want to thank all of you for reading my blog, “liking,” commenting and occasionally e-mailing me. Connecting with other people, especially about homeschooling and parenting is what brings joy to my life, and I hope you will continue to reach out. Thank you so much for taking the time to read whether it was one post or many. I hope what I offer helps you even a little bit!

I thought I would take a look back at some of my favorite posts from 2015. I tend to like the ones that are about my kids and their projects the best because, as you know, they’re my favorite people, and they inspire me to be the best I can be.

Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

Art Fridays: Homeschool Art Lessons — I’m looking forward to getting back to this in the new year!

Piano Lessons

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

I’m also pretty proud of How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall.

In addition to this, I have many great memories from our trip to Cloudland Canyon this year as well as our other day trips, which we take as often as we can.

Finally, this is the year that my husband launched his History for Homeschoolers — all his college history lectures online for free!

I also decided to offer Free Homeschool Coaching, and I hope you’ll take me up on it!

Happy New Year!

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Counting My Blessings at Christmastime

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Artwork I commissioned my six-year-old to do. “A T-Rex eating a Christmas tree.”

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 23, 2015.

As I write this, my nine-year-old is completing the last class of his homeschool chemical engineering class, and there are many blessings in that. 1) He enjoyed the class and learned a few things, which I’m glad about. 2) It’s the last day I have to drive him to this class, and I’m probably gladder about that. In fact, I’ll have a couple of weeks when I don’t have to drive my kids to four different appointments. It’s a small blessing, but I welcome it.

I feel extremely blessed that, for the most part, I am in charge of our schedule. We already took a break from spelling, handwriting, math etc. so that we can prepare for the holidays. Our tree is decorated with lights and ornaments, many of them hand-made, and lights are draped along the wall. Another small-lighted tree sits in the front window. The boys are bubbling with excitement as Christmas day approaches.

The Christmas books have been pulled from their storage place, and we’re reading about the true meaning of Christmas as well as the trouble Curious George causes this time of year. One day my six-year-old told me he had an idea for how to make some Christmas ornaments, so we got out the cardboard, scissors, glue and paints, and he’s been working on those. Both boys make a good supply of paper snowflakes each year too.

Despite the challenges and financial stress homeschooling comes with, I feel blessed to see the boys grow and have the time to pursue their interests. My nine-year-old was in his first piano recital this month – a Christmas recital – and my husband commented on the fact that if he were going to school, he wouldn’t have much time to practice. I doubt he’d be taking lessons at all considering homework and the downtime he would need.

We took advantage of one of the warmer days recently to visit Dauset Trails nature center near Jackson, Georgia, and we were delighted with the small zoo and trails they have there. We’ll go back again to explore. I feel blessed to live in a state with such a rich assortment of national, state and private parks and other sites to visit. We never run out of places to explore. On top of that, we never run out of things to learn about. Our whole world is fascinating and beautiful, if you know the right things to put your attention on.

I enjoy Christmas and the holidays, and this year is promising to be a good one, but I know many people have a hard time at the holidays, and I know I’ve had some sad ones too. If nothing else, this time of year always reminds me that I don’t have the close, extended family I would like to have. Divorce, lifestyle, beliefs, politics…you name it, and there are more reasons for why my family members each stay in their corner of the United States at this time of year.

But the blessing here is that as we grow older and become more independent, we have the power to begin anew with our own families, start our own traditions, and try to do better. We can put our attention on the people who do make our world a better place, and even though it can be very hard sometimes, we can work toward our own goals. And as we get even older, we’ll continue to meet and greet new people into our lives who make this world a better place. Cultivate love, and your life will bloom.

As I wrap up this column, I can see my son in his classroom, shaking some kind of chemical concoction in a plastic bag and laughing with his classmates. I know that on the way home, he’ll tell me what he was making in the class, and he’ll tell me the odd thing or two he learned today. That is always my favorite time of day. It’s a big blessing.

I hope that your holidays are a blessing to you. I hope you are warm, healthy and with the people you love. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Winter Solstice!

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My five-year-old and I made winter solstice trees today with branches, twigs and paper snowflakes. My eight-year-old decided to make a mossy swamp tree! There is moss on its bark and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs (the dried strings of glue were left there on purpose). It even has a dead branch underneath it with red mushrooms growing on it! I love how he gets these crazy ideas and just goes with it!

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Five-year-old’s tree is on the left. Mine on the right.

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Close up of eight-year-old’s “swamp solstice tree.” LOL

What are you doing to celebrate the winter solstice?

Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!
Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

Merry Christmas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 24, 2013.

This is a magical time of year for my boys, who are four and seven-years-old. That seems to be the perfect age for all this Christmas stuff, and I’m happy to be a witness to their pure joy. Luckily, their excitement is contagious, although I’ve been feeling the urge to hibernate.

It’s cold outside, and I’d like to huddle under the covers and read a good book. I avoid the malls by doing most of my shopping online. I’d like to turn off the computer, but it seems my life is too intertwined with it to shut it down completely. At least I can curl up in my bed with my laptop and avoid social media.

I get sad doing our annual Christmas cards. It reminds me of all my loved ones who live far away, and my failings in trying to keep in touch with them. Christmas is about connecting with people, yet we live so much these days through Facebook. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel real to me.

I am warmed by the thought that I can make connecting with those closest to me meaningful, and I can reach out to those who seem to like reaching back. I’m grateful for the distant friends who return e-mails and write letters. I’m grateful for the new friends I have found recently who are becoming so important to my boys and me.

My boys had their first Christmas surprise when my husband suggested we buy a real tree for the first time this year. At first my seven-year-old was upset because putting together the artificial tree with his mom had become a ritual he looked forward to! I wasn’t looking forward to it, though, so I agreed.

After my son realized a real tree was just as big as our artificial tree, he was happy, and both boys were thrilled to pick their own tree out of the hundreds available at the store. At home, after I put on the lights, they did a great job hanging most of the ornaments. I don’t mind the places where the ornaments are squished together. It adds character to the tree.

The boys made me pull out all of our Christmas decorations this year. They weren’t going to let me skimp, so now our mantel has nothing but Christmas cheer on it. Extra lights are strung around the door of our activity room, which used to be the dining room. Another little tree sits by the window in there.

Cooking has never been my forte, but I was determined to do some baking with the boys. We’ve been making apple pies, apple turnovers and homemade animal crackers, which my boys will actually eat!

We’re also reading books and talking about the meaning of Christmas, and we’ve discussed giving instead of receiving.  This year, my boys bought a gift for each other with their own money, wrapped it and put it under the tree. But I know they are most excited about receiving their own presents, and what’s a Mama to do? I’m excited for them, and I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see their wishes fulfilled.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm, healthy and safe. I hope you’re able to connect with those around you in a meaningful way, and I wish you a Merry Christmas.