Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Perks of homeschooling

"We are probably the luckiest people in the world."

My 11-year-old was speaking to the fact that we got to spend the first real, play in the snow, snow day outside. There are days he fully understands the benefits of homeschooling and snowy days rank right up there. (On the other hand, we are reading a book that talked about kids sometimes wishing they had different parents. Isaac admitted that he sometimes wishes he had different parents when he doesn't want the food we're having for lunch and we tell him he'll have to have it for snack if he doesn't eat it now. I'm okay with that and feel pretty good if that's my worst offense.)

Audrey walked downstairs this morning, saw the snow, grabbed a ruler to measure it, and ran to the school room to get a head start on the day, knowing that means extra time to frolic.
Up early to measure the snowfall

Snow angels. Sledding. Shoveling. Building a snow horse (instead of man). Eating snow. Rolling in snow. You get the point. It was the perfect snowy day to break out the shovels and sleds and enjoy the beautiful weather.

They played for a few hours. We ate, read, finished school, and now Audrey and Elliot are back out, taking advantage of the iced over sled track.

For the record, Bear loves the snow like he's a caribou or something and Asher is slowly warming to it, which means before he came in he worked up the nerve to stick his booted foot into the corner of the shoveled snow. Living on the edge!

 Now lasagna is in the oven for an early dinner before volunteering at church and confirmation class for Isaac.

It was a lovely little snow day. Sometimes those kinds of days come just when you need them.
Sending a little bit of snowy happiness your way! Or we can subtract the snow if you're not into that sort of thing. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

On sinking. On resurfacing.

We've been in Evergreen for almost a year. We moved away from Minnesota about 13 months ago. I can't quite recount all of the changes our family has gone through in the last 13 months. Some of that is due to my bad memory and some is self-preservation. Our lives have been insane. We asked for and willingly signed up for a lot of the insanity, but other things have been thrown at us, as life tends to do.

I am more okay with uncertainty than most, which is why we signed up for a lot of the insanity. Plenty of people have told me they could never move halfway across the country with no actual idea of where they would end up. They could if they had to, I suppose, but they would never willingly do so. We did.

This summer was really great and really hard. We finally landed and got more settled than we'd been in a long time when we bought our house and closed on it in May. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief and the kids settled in with sports and homeschooling. Jim traveled a ton and we adopted a really sick puppy and I got a new position as director of our homeschooling group and I trained for a marathon and I felt myself starting to sink.

I've spent a lot of time in my head lately. That's a scary place to be because I have quite the talent of using the few undergrad psych classes I took and psychoanalyzing the heck out of myself. It can also be a necessary place to be because of a family and personal history of depression. When I feel myself sinking, I try to keep tabs on myself to make sure the quicksand of depression doesn't pull me under.

It's not foolproof. In fact, trying to keep tabs on one's own depression is nearly impossible. I've needed meds a few times before because, in spite of my best efforts, I just kept sinking. Because where depression is involved, best efforts just don't mean a darn thing. The thing about depression, at least my depression, is you're ok and you're ok and you're ok, holding on, only waist-deep in the quicksand right up until the moment that you're not ok, but by the time you're not ok, you don't care anymore. In fact, you think you don't deserve to be any more or better or fuller than you are right that second.

But, lately, the few times I've felt myself sinking, I haven't gotten in over my head. I actually think this has nothing to do with me. I think I've just been lucky.

I'm to the point now where I think I am resurfacing.

I drove home from a work meeting on Friday. I drove along a stretch of road that parallels the start of the foothills of Colorado. The city lay on one side and the mountains on the other. Rain clouds surrounded me, but the sun shone through in a few places and that light, that brilliance, jumped out at me. The light and the dark. The sky and the earth. The mountains and the city. Death and life. Both and everything and all of it. I was alone in the car so I turned on my favorite songs as loud as possible and sang even louder. I saw a train and started to say, "Asher, do you see the long train?" before I remembered it was just me, good music, and my thoughts.

I saw possibility and beauty. I felt them in the deep part of me that I miss when I'm sinking, my soul. They came to me freely, without a deep search on my part.

I went for a run on Sunday, my first since the marathon on October 4. I went for another run on Tuesday. Today I did a bit of strength training. These are ways I know I'm resurfacing and I know that by doing them I will rise higher.

Life is ebb and flow, up and down, beauty and pain. Sometimes we get stuck in the flow, the down, the pain. Sometimes it is a time of necessary grieving. Other times it is depression. Sometimes maybe it is a smattering of both.

If you're reading this and you're sinking or resurfacing or as low as you think you can go, please know you're not alone. And no one, not a single one of us, is strong enough to get out of the lowest point alone. And you deserve to not be at the lowest point. Even if you don't believe that right now. Please reach out. Say help. Call me. Email me.

And if you know someone who looks like they're hurting, who isn't him or herself, reach out. Call. Email. Text. Show up with popcorn and a movie. Or a puppy and walking shoes.

We're all in charge of each other. We all belong to each other.

It's really our only hope.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Classical Conversations, Picasso, and haiku

Three seemingly unrelated topics that do, in fact, relate for us.

This year we joined Classical Conversations, an international homeschooling community with groups that meet up all over the country and the world. We didn't just join; we started a new community and I am directing it this year so it's safe to say that we jumped in with both feet. Or twelve feet, I guess. Is this another "go big or go home" situation? Perhaps it is.

At any rate, I appreciated the philosophy behind Classical Conversations (CC) and the long-term scope and sequence that could successfully see the kids through high school, but had no idea what it would actually look like at home on a day to day basis. Along with a new curriculum, a new friend mentioned and highly recommended the book, Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie. For my very technical and in-depth book review, I will say, "Hallelujah and pass the guac!" Short, sweet, and to the point, the book was refreshing in its inspiration and practical in its execution.

I have long said that my long-term goal is raising productive humans who care about the world around them, the people next door, down the street, in the big cities, in the far-flung corners, where disaster strikes, when life brings celebration. I want them to be a part of this big, beautiful, tragic world, not arm's length away, but in it, living and loving and learning. Part of that is being able to succeed at the schooling they need to meet their goals, whether the goals are relief worker, pastor, accountant, park ranger, nurses' aide, or parent. So, yes to math and grammar, but also yes to loads and loads of good books, volunteering, nature walks, hot cocoa and poetry breaks when the storms howl, and baseball in the front yard. I don't want them to think that learning stops when they get a diploma. I want them to see the world and all its people, experiences, and books as their curriculum. These aren't just my hopes, dreams, and goals for my children; I'd love to embrace them for myself, as well.

That is what I have said. Then, throwing my best intentions to the wind, I have had the tendency to pick my curriculum, make my checklists, and freak out if things aren't done when I think they should be done. Charming, yes? I had to let a lot of that go with the birth of our Mr. Cuatro and our subsequent move, move, move, move, but I have held on to remnants of that checklist mentality.

Enter CC and Teaching From Rest. Our school day is streamlined, allowing for even more time playing in the front yard and time each morning during our morning symposium to explore artists, poetry, bible verses, inventors, and more. I worry less about the checklist and more about our relationships together and our relationships with God and the world.

Last week we read book after book about Picasso and experimented with some of his techniques, culminating in unrecognizable self-portraits.

This week we've been reading books filled to the brim with haikus and have tried our hand at them. It is a simple introduction to poetry and to the powerful imagery we can evoke with just a few words.

working together on haikus

Isaac chose baseball

Audrey's Thanksgiving haiku

Elliot's haiku on volcanoes
Education is not a checklist of things to get through, memorize, recite, and dump. Life is not a checklists of things to see, do, accomplish, and move on. Many of my best moments in life, parenting, and relationships involve uninterrupted time to simply exist. Be there in the quiet with my favorite book. Be there in the laughter with my best friends. Be there in the moment as my kid learns to bike or read, as we spit watermelon seeds, as we read just one more page before bed, as one of them tells me about the big hit or the big catch or the big error or the big jump on the slopes or hilarious joke or the funniest part of the funniest book or the hurt feelings or the feelings of not being quite good enough. 

Not one of those favorite moments happen if life is a checklist. And that is a tragedy of Shakespearean magnitude.  

Asher, 2 years old and full of snuggles, snot bubbles, and get up and go, is standing at the front door, watching cars and the occasional elk wander past, repeating, "Pax Romana. Pax Romana. Pax Romana." He'll look over every now and again, jump up with arms waving in excitement and anticipation, and shout, "Hooray! Let's go outside!"

I tell him we'll go outside after Elliot reads his haiku and after we find all of our geography spots on the map. He runs over to sit in my lap and repeats the locations after me while the bigger kids show me where they are on the map.

Then school is done for the morning and noisy shoe finding ensues and the kids crash out the door to find bike helmets, bikes, and balls. The sun shines on them. I type on the blog a bit.

Life isn't a checklist. It also isn't perfect. But our schooling this year suits us very well. We have room to grow and learn, room to explore and gallivant, and, most importantly, room to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A nice little Sunday morning

The alarm woke me up at 6:06 this morning so I could pull on some running tights and a shirt and lace up my trail shoes. And by alarm, I mean a literal alarm from the early 90s that is plugged into my wall, not a phone like the rest of the tech-loving universe, and, unlike every other day, not my 2 year old. 

My mom took the four kiddos overnight for much dancing and fancy partying at a wedding party because she is a rockstar and a brave, wonderful nana. Her reward for giving them a night of partying was a sleep deprived toddler who woke her up at 3 am, 5 am, and was up for the day at 6:30. 

I got all dressed, found my mom's keys, and went to take the dog out. SCREEEEEECCCCHHHHH. The low growl from Bear and the silhouette of a 14 point elk let me know Bear was going to have to wait to do his morning business and that I was going to have to remain calm getting to the car. I put Bear back in the kitchen, (side note: Bear doesn't need to go in his kennel overnight. He can sleep in the kitchen and we trust him not to jump and claw and try to terrorize the room overnight. What a big boy!) and headed back outside. The elk watched me. I didn't whimper. He was big and close, but I had my first post-marathon run to attend and the setting was divine, so Mr. Elk was not going to stop me. Unless he really wanted to stop me, in which case I would have busted butt back to the house. It's the elk's world; I'm just living in it. OK, enough about the elk. Time to get back to that divine setting. I was meeting a friend and a few new friends, because that's how runners roll, at a beautiful trail and the sun would rise as we ran the trails. 

The run was hard. Five miles of tough, hilly, and kind of technical trails will do that to a person who hasn't really run in three months, aside from the little thing of a marathon! (Two phrases come to mind: 1-Go big or go home. 2-Do as I say and not as I do.)

We're running. It is glorious. Hard, but glorious. The three faster people are up ahead and there are three of us bringing up the rear. Renee, who I just met this morning, went to college and grad school in Wisconsin, so we were talking about the upper midwest and Jennifer, who I've met before, asked about my marathon, particularly about the breathing aspect of my marathon. 

I told her everything was dandy until about mile 22. Seriously, it was almost all fun. The atmosphere was so supportive and loud and happy, I had the best cheerleaders in the world waiting for me at perfectly placed intervals, and I was running with my two best running friends. Sounds pretty fabulous, and it was, right up until the moment that my throat seized. I couldn't even speak. I tapped Kristen on the shoulder and did the universal sign for can't breathe, which involves wheezing and holding both hands around my neck. We stopped running, obviously, and I made a kind of paper bag shape out of my hands and breathed in as slowly as possible. I was fine after about a minute so we ran again, but then about a mile later it started. Finally it got to the point that as soon as I started running again I could not breathe. We walked for about 1.25 or 1.5 miles. Then at mile 25 we tried again and I finished the end of the race running. I have a pretty sweet, MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) recognized photo to prove we rocked the heck out of that finish line!
I like to point out that when my feet crossed the finish line, I was DONE running. Shaun and Kristen kept in stride. I stopped. I know what a finish line means and I was definitely finished! 

My new friend, Renee, who will someday know how much her words mean to me, said, "Wow. Talk about overcoming. What a huge challenge."

Simple words, really. But I heard her. More importantly, as I ran in the quiet of the trails after she spoke those words, I think I believed her. 

Maybe your spouse and best friend and mom have told you what a good job you did at something, but you're not sure if they say it because they have to and they think you do well at everything because it's their job as someone who loves you or if you really, truly did well. This stranger/new friend doesn't know me, has no vested interest in this situation, yet said what others have been telling me all along, but I've ignored with fingers-in-my-ears denial.

Everyone's finish line is different and often doesn't even involve running. For me, life parallels running and running parallels life. Everyone's journey to get to their finish line is marred with difficulties and wipe outs, splendid sunrises and moments of clarity. My marathon and the training that led up to it looked nothing like I expected. NOTHING! 

But you know what? I finished. I overcame. 

Sometimes that has to be enough for that day. For me, it won't be enough for forever, but it has to be enough for that day. Less than 10 minutes after crossing the finish line, I'd already said I'd be running more marathons. I don't know what that will look like. I can plan and hope, but at the end of the day, we can only do the best we can with what we have. And after exactly three weeks of what probably sounded like annoying whining, but for me was much sadness and a lot of soul searching, I can look myself in the mirror and say that on October 4, 2015 I ran the best race I could run with what I had. 

And that has to be enough. 

And it is.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Life. When it isn't all shiny and sparkly.

I have this package waiting to be opened. It came about a week and a half before my marathon. I know what's inside of it: a medal and a t-shirt that says, "#foundmystrong.

I meant to pack it to open after I finished my marathon in Minnesota. It felt wrong to open it beforehand because I wanted to really earn it. In the hoopla of packing for the family and the pup, I forgot about it and it sat on the bottom step leading upstairs.

Now it's been two weeks since the marathon and I can't finish my marathon write up and I can't open the package.

Here's the thing. You just have to be enough for yourself. I just have to be enough for myself.**

Maybe you're waiting for a marathon finish or a job offer, a number on the scale or a certain person to look your way, a new car or the right dining room table to make you believe that you're enough. It'll never work. It might fool you for a few moments, but it won't last.

I'm working on quieting the murmurs and shouts of self-doubt in my mind. This is not a cry for help or an annoying fish for compliments. I know what many people think of me. I know my friends and family love me. Kristen and Shaun, my best running friends, reminded me that I am awesome about 14 times along the race course. Plus a few times since then because they're just good like that. And my mom's profile picture on facebook is me running my marathon. And my son told his confirmation teacher that I did an awesome job on my marathon. And on and on it goes.

Sometimes all the words in the world don't sink in. So I'm working on it. I just wanted to share it here in case you're working on it, too. Sometimes life seems so shiny and pretty for everyone else. It isn't.

So let's keep working and loving, striving and caring. For ourselves and for others.

**Here's the other thing. My tummy is full, my shelter is warm, my family is healthy. Those things alone make me one of the most fortunate people in the world. Without my cushy life, I wouldn't have the time or energy to worry about silly things like this. But, again, sometimes all the words in the world don't sink in. So I work on it.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My first marathon-part 1

Running has been my oasis for a bit over five years. When life is harried and my well is dry, I lace up my shoes and run. Maybe that sounds dramatic and overreaching, but I sincerely hope that everyone reading this has something equivalent. Whether it's knitting or genealogy, gardening or reading, I hope you have your thing, your sweet spot, your oasis.  As my feet pounded, my mind cleared, my heart soared, my well filled. Now, of course, not all runs are great and some are absolutely miserable, but my overall relationship with running was freeing and affirming. I have run through injury and stress, from anger and depression, toward friendship and wellness.

This summer has challenged me in many ways. I won't get into all of the details because waaah, waaaah, but suffice it to say, I have felt knocked down more than once. Usually, running would soothe me and pull me out of my head. Being stuck in my head is not a great place. I tend to rumble and ruminate and a nice, long, steady run can generally fix what ails me.
basking in the difficult awesomeness of my firs 16 mile run

As luck would have it, I couldn't run much this summer. By luck, I mean really bad luck because not only did I need running for its free therapy contribution, but I was also training for a marathon, my first attempt at 26.2 miles. My training plans were already cramped by Jim's intense travel schedule when I started having some breathing issues during my 20 mile run in August. I tried to will it to go away and visited doctors, asthma and allergy specialists, and chiropractors, but I just could not get a solid handle on breathing, which, as you may understand, is an integral part of living and, therefore, running.

So I stopped. I just stopped running. I felt like I was failing at so many pieces of life and the one thing that usually brought me joy and comfort was bringing additional stress, pain, and sadness. I could not handle feeling like I was horrible at one more stinking thing, so I stopped. Prior to running 26.2 miles on October 4, I had run about eight miles in the previous eight weeks. (For the non-runners in the group, this is a colossally horrendous idea. Don't do that.)

I thought about not running the race a few times when I thought about how much I would slow my two friends down. They were properly trained and healthy and I was limping along. At the same time, I knew I had to run because I was raising money for a cause that means so much to me, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, so I offered to run on my own so they could run their own race. Being the kind, gracious, and wonderful friends that they are, Shaun and Kristen ignored my many pleas and committed to running with me. I didn't tell them just how poorly training had gone until after the race, but they knew it was bad. They supported me from across the miles, tried to talk me out of my funk, and encouraged positive self talk. In short, they were the rockstar friends I have always known them to be.

On Thursday, Jim and I loaded up four kids, a 5 1/2 month old puppy, and all the necessary stuff to start the drive to MN. We arrived on Friday afternoon, just in time for the gang to drop me off at the expo. First off, expos are cool. They are filled with all kinds of things that make runners really happy and, if that's the case, then Shaun left that expo overjoyed because she "bought everything she touched." She may have been exaggerating a wee bit with that statement, but not by much.
Meeting up with my moms on the run friends

My insanely awesome friends
It was so wonderful to see so many people I know and who love and support me when life is rotten. There was squealing and hugging and smiles so big my cheeks ached. I walked through the expo having fun with my friends, but feeling like I didn't truly belong there. When things got really, really hard with training, I gave up. I had one really bad run that involved much dramatic crying and wailing and gnashing of the teeth and I could not get past that feeling of failure. That was the tape playing in my head. I support others and talk them through hard times and bad races and sadness, but when the going got tough for me, I quit. Sometimes I am intensely frustrated by that and other times I realize that self-preservation ruled and I needed to just stop for a while.

Either way, we stayed with friends, visited with family, and made the most of our Saturday. Jim worked from 5:30 pm on Saturday to 6 am on Sunday, so things got a little complicated with Asher, but we sorted it out and Isaac and Sarah took care of him from the time I had to leave for the race until Jim got back from work with enough time for a quick one-hour nap before bringing the kids to cheer at the marathon. (Did I mention his travel and work schedule has been wild?!) Kristen, Shaun, and I drove downtown and took the light rail to the start line. We hung around, stayed mostly warm, and appreciated the many rows of porta potties. Then, just like that, it was go time.
Staying warm as we wait for the race

A beautiful sunrise, porta potties, and light rail. What an interesting combination
We found our spots, cracked jokes with the people around us to use some of that nervous energy, and I tried to soak in this beautiful moment. We were in Corral 2, so the first corral got going and then we began walking toward the start line. This was really and truly about to happen. In truth, it wasn't what I'd hoped. When I signed up for the marathon, my goal was to run around a 4:15 marathon. I had to throw all goals out of the window and spin it from a race I wanted to do well at to a running party I would finish. That was a hard pill for me to swallow, but I didn't have much choice.
Ready to go at the start line. EEEKKK!
To recap, I was physically undertrained and mentally defeated. Twenty six point two miles is a long run in the best of circumstances, and these circumstances were far from ideal. *spoiler alert* The race is over for me. I finished. I will forever be a marathoner. I am trying to just be happy and proud and not place a personal * next to my  marathon. * for injured or undertrained or disappointed.

I got to run that race. I got to spend time with my friends. I got to raise over $2,200 for Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in memory of my friend, Jenna, and to honor the lives of many others who have died from pancreatic cancer. There are so many positives and quite frankly I annoy myself with all of my second guessing and waffling about this marathon. Because, at the end of the day, I AM a marathoner!

Now you know the lead-up to the race. Next time, you get the story of the race.

Friday, September 25, 2015


We ate our pumpkin french toast, warm and sweet and fresh from the crockpot. We packed up lunches and filled water bottles and went on our merry way to explore a new piece of Colorado. The aspen colors are peaking right now and the juxtaposition of bright yellow aspen to deep green evergreen tree gets me every darn time.

Tonight I read the chapter where Charlotte and Wilbur meet. Not the one where she says they'll be friends and ends on a total cliff hanger that drove my 7-year-year bonkers, but the one where Charlotte shouts her salutations and Wilbur wrestles with the idea of being friends with a kind and pretty predator. We are reading the book now because it took this long for my arachnophobic son to be okay reading a book about a spider. He hangs on every word. The silly goose stuttering her responses and the nervous Wilbur shouting for his friend and the gentle Charlotte making the first move toward friendship. Goodness, I love those quiet moments with Elliot. We prayed, working on memorizing The Lord's Prayer, and his hand grazed mine and he picked his cuticle and I just felt life and love so big in that one nothing moment. Somehow I get to be here with them doing this. All of this.

It is hard. It is obviously not walk five miles to carry putrid water home to a small hut hard. That is a hard I cannot fathom. It is obviously not flee my home country, risking my life with each passing step hard. That is a hard I don't remotely understand.

It is still hard. There is not enough of me to go around. I want to do right by them. I want to raise them to love and honor and cherish this world, to laugh gut busting laughs, to reach a hand out to a friend in need, to ask for help, to find the silly in everything, to dance when the need arises, as it is known to do, to love, to sit in their hurts and grow from them.

I guess I just want them to see all of the best and the worst this life has to offer because, good gracious, it sure is filled to the brim with both, and to celebrate the party and to hold someone's hand and wipe tears at the funeral.

And every day I hope I do more to help them down that road, than to steer them in another direction.

Today was described as "magical," "B.H.E." (translated to best hike ever for those of you that weren't in our car on the way home), and "I keep thinking I'll wake up and this will be a dream." Those are high praises and right on target.

I just feel so small here on this big earth. I stare at these trees and these mountains and these little sticky toddler hands and these growing so big kids and I try to understand my little space in all of this.

Today: hike, eat fudge, give baths, feed children and animal, correct math, take the dog out, sing all the highest notes along with the Phantom of the Opera CD, read books before bed. On paper, this is not important stuff. It means nothing.

It didn't feel like nothing. It felt like a piece of life that I want to relive over and over again.