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.


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?

Robot Mom

The only photo of me taken on our vacation – taken on our first night in the condo by daddy with his tablet. (Because I’m usually taking all the photos.)

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 21, 2014.

In the late 90s, I worked for US Airways at the Athens Ben Epps Airport. Truly, it was the best job I ever had for two reasons – the varied work suited me, and most importantly, I worked with some awesome people. It’s the only time I witnessed true teamwork despite working in offices where employers touted the term “teamwork” frequently.

Now that I look back, I realize that the work suited me because I’m not cut out for sitting in an office in front of a computer for eight hours. At the airport I got to work with people, work inside and outside, do physical work, and work on the computer. There were slow times between flights, and there were intense times while checking people in for the flight, loading their bags on the plane, running the security check point, and marshaling the plane in and out of its parking spot. Many times there were only two of us working, and since it was a small airport most of the passengers thought they could arrive five minutes before takeoff. (That wasn’t helpful.)

Once a passenger asked me, “Do you fly the airplane too?”

“Only in emergencies.” I joked.

My co-workers and I worked well together because everyone did exactly what was needed of them in any given moment. None of us favored one task over another, so we jumped in wherever we were needed. The only exception to this was our manager, and though that may sound like a criticism, I actually liked her. She was a nice woman, but when she was there she disrupted the flow of our work for various reasons. Later I learned the only reason she took the job as manager was because there was no else to do it, and she gladly gave it up when someone else wanted it.

The reason I’m telling this story is because I have a vivid memory of one day when a flight was cancelled, and twenty passengers stood before us in a panic because they were going to miss their connection in Charlotte, NC. One of my co-workers and I worked so smoothly and quickly helping each passenger in line that we deflated any quick-tempered passengers.

What I remember about that moment is my manager standing near us and exclaiming, “Look at them! They’re like robots!” It was always hard for her to understand how we could remain so unflustered during those stressful moments.

Now all these years later that memory keeps resurfacing because once again, I find myself in a situation that requires varied tasks. I get to work with awesome people, get outside, do physical work, and part of the day, I’m on my computer. But it’s even better because I get to do creative work and continually learn new things too.

The bad part is that I never get a day off, and I’m so busy going from task to another that I rarely get a chance to rest. I never get to cross everything off my to do list either. Indeed, this is the life of a mother, especially a homeschooling mom, and a freelance writer, and it’s not lost on me that sometimes I must look like a robot. That is, focused, hurried and unsmiling.

I’m trying to remember to smile more. I want my outward appearance to match how I’m feeling inside. I want my kids to know that I love my job, and I love them. Even when I’m tired, there’s nowhere I’d rather be but right here.

I have so many good memories from my time working at the small airport. I could write a book about all the characters I met there, and all the laughter and smiles. Did I appreciate it while I worked there? I think so, but I know there were days that it was just a job.

My current job is anything but “just a job,” so I hope I can remember that each moment is a memory in the making.

An Interview on Days With The Grays

If you’d like to learn more about me and my creative work, you can head over to Days With The Grays where I participated in a Creative Mothers interview. All the interviews in that series are inspiring to read! I hope you’ll read them and then find the creative spark within yourself. You can do it!!

Thank you, Megan, for letting me participate. Click here to read the interview.


Sound Bites

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2014.

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

In the mornings I’m lucky if I wake up to a quiet house. Usually it’s the galloping of the dogs’ paws on the floors as the canines leap up at the slightest sound of movement from my husband. They follow him into the kitchen, eagerly waiting their breakfast.

Other mornings I may wake up hearing one of my boys calling me from their bed or the seven-year-old’s footsteps as he runs down the hall and jumps into bed with me. Sometimes I hear a bird singing outside my window. Every once in a while, I wake up and hear nothing, and I savor the quiet.

Today at the park I heard snatches of my children’s conversations with their friends. One boy was explaining to my four-year-old that they would pretend they were dinosaurs and chase each other. They were trying to decide which dinosaur they would be, and my four-year-old wanted to be an Argentinosaurus. “Okay,” said the other boy, “you chase me then.”

“Actually,” my son said in his four-year-old and still sometimes hard to understand speech, “the Argentinosaurus wasn’t very fast.” I smiled at his good attempt at trying to pronounce Argentinosaurus, and I told the other boy’s mother how the word “actually” has become very popular in our house lately. She said it was gaining momentum in her house too.

It’s fun to hear how children will learn a new word and then play with it often as if they are trying to get to know it better.

While we were at the park we walked down to the shoals, and the kids played near the water. Running water in a creek or river is my favorite sound in the world. I could sit beside a river all day and just listen, but kids don’t let me sit for long. We were walking down the trail, and I was too busy keeping an eye on the boys who were running far ahead of us to listen to the wildlife.

I was happy to hear them talking, chattering and laughing as they asserted their independence and tried to get away from their mamas. I did catch the loud sound of a frog croaking from somewhere in the marsh.

On the way home from the park, I wanted to listen to the news on the radio, but my boys kept interrupting the broadcast. Some days I make a point of turning off the radio and just listening to my son chatter about his observations or ask his complicated and often-times unanswerable questions.

“If we walked just one atom at a time, would it take a year for us to walk a foot?” He laughs at himself and I shake my head. I hope he’ll grow up and learn the answer for himself and then tell it to me.

Sometimes in the evenings while my boys are watching T.V. my husband will call me to his office to watch his latest find on YouTube. He listens to music to relax, and he’ll listen to anything from classical to folk to pop music.  One of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos of auditions from the British X Factor talent show.

It’s not something you would ever find me doing on my own, but I’ll sit with him and soon be sucked into the inspiring stories of these talented young people who are finally being discovered. We’ll listen to their best songs and then watch whatever other talented musicians he may have found.

If it weren’t for my husband, I would be completely cut off from pop culture and sometimes even the latest news. That’s what happens when you keep turning off the radio to hear your kids chatter. But their young voices are only here for a brief period of time, and as much as I would like to listen to the news or even my own thoughts, I know I won’t regret spending a little time listening to them.

What have you heard lately?