Thursday, December 29, 2011

“What do you need for Christmas?”

I know Christmas is over, but I wanted to ask, “What do you need for Christmas?”

All the kids, retailers, etc. will hate me for this, but what if Christmas was really about giving?   REAL giving.

I mean, Christ came and died and paid the price for sin, and purchased our salvation because we needed it.  It wasn’t a frivolous materialistic purchase for our pleasure.  He didn’t come to throw flowers and spread love.  He came to buy, pay and purchase us.  It was a deadly need.  Our lives depended on it.

What if we asked people what do you NEED for Christmas?  What if it was truly others-focused and based on their needs? It’s a socialist idea, really, but so much different when it comes from the heart of each man for another, rather than an unchosen government imposition. There are Christian organizations that provide for needs around the world. Christmas is really a big time of year for them, because people are in a giving mood.  But what if we were like that with everyone?  

Here in America, we don’t really need much, but what if the kids got new pajamas, new boots, or new eyeglasses for Christmas instead of Xboxes and cell phones?  What if we went around asking friends and relatives, “hey, what do you need for Christmas?”  In a real community, word would get around that old Mrs. Smith just needs $50 to pay for her prescriptions this month, teacher needs a new muffler on her car, mommy needs a new pair of slippers, and daddy could use a new snow shovel. 

As it is, the question is always, “what do you WANT for Christmas?”  Maybe I am just too practical, but I think if we spent all the $ we shell out for frivolities at Christmas for things that folks really need, there would be a lot of needs met and some very happy people....not just materially, but knowing that someone has your back, someone is looking for how they can bless you and meet your needs. 

We have a warped view of wants vs. needs here in America anyway, and I think that is a huge part of our problem as individuals and as a nation.  When we think that computers and cellphones are needs, there is a problem (they are, though, for me. I know, I have a problem.)  But really what do we NEED?   Even if we make some allowances in the definition for us as Americans, we could certainly reduce the materialism in our lives if we looked, really looked to meet people’s needs.

I got my daughter some things she NEEDED for Christmas this year.  She is living in cold, cold Rochester, NY, and so she needed a warmer coat, warmer shoes, warmer clothes, and a hat.  Yet, I still felt like I should get her something fun.  I feel like there is this cultural pressure to get “fluffy” things for people for Christmas.  It’s not really appropriate to get practical things for people for Christmas, but wouldn’t that be better?  Wouldn’t it be best to put aside the fluff, ask people what they need, and have a nice dinner for Christmas?

My youngest and I have been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, and they were deliriously happy over the Christmas candy in their stockings and perhaps a new pair of mittens, even for just the Christmas dinner itself, and any people that joined them.

Think of the reduced pressure, the return of true Christmas Spirit, in asking people,
“What do you need for Christmas?”

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Castle card for Aidan
As I consider my parenting article,  I thought about tying strings of fellowship with regards to Christmas.   I read an article about different Christmas traditions people had and thought a few would be worth implementing, but we are all so busy in the Christmas season.  Do we really want to start something else?  I was thinking that really, choosing one or two meaningful or significant traditions is really what will stick in the memories of our families.  Sometimes it is better to just allow traditions to form rather than forcing them.  In my mind, a tradition should take the focus off of self and put it on the true meaning of Christmas......or at least, on a greater meaning than materialism. 

For a few years, we did an Advent Wreath, which I really like the idea of. It just didn’t work for our family.  Honestly, we just couldn’t get consistent about it.  Sometimes my husband was home for dinner, sometimes not, and dragging people back to the table each night for doing the readings and wreath was like pulling teeth.  I don’t think the kids really appreciated the full-picture of the prophecies and the Christmas story, because they were too disjointed.  Each reading is short, which one would think would be good for time management, but it just ended up feeling unfinished each night.  The kids didn’t identify with the colors of the candles either. It seemed like most times we would do the reading, light the candle, and blow it out - done!  We had somewhere to be.

Another on and off tradition in our home is the  Advent Calendar.  On the Advent calendar we own, each day is a little book that is part of the Christmas Story that is then hung on the tree.  Really cute.  I loved it when the kids were little. We were also reading the Christmas account from the Bible, and we noticed that there were some inconsistent aspects of the Advent book stories.  Nothing heretical, just made up parts of the stories and some things that didn’t line up with Scripture - like the Wise Men being at the manger simultaneously with the Shepherds, Mary and Joseph stopping at an oasis, etc.  I know, no big deal.  Anyway, my youngest resurrected the calendar this year and consistently asked to read the book each at least for this year, that is a tradition again.  It became a game, asking her whether what was in the booklet really happened that way in the Bible.

That brings me to another tradition, which is reading the Christmas account from the Bible during the kids devotion time in the weeks before Christmas.  This is a keeper tradition.  There are so many aspects of the Christmas story that I thought I knew and rediscovered reading with my kids.  I love teaching my children some of the more obscure, yet still truly miraculous stories, of Jesus’ birth.   My favorite is Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:25-38.  So interesting that they knew who He was.  Like those fairytales, but it really happened and what they predicted, really did “come true”.

We always go to Christmas Eve Service at our church. 

We have movie and book traditions too, if we have time for them.  For about the last 4 years, we have read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud to our kids. I thought perhaps they had grown out of it, but this year the 18 year old home from college brought the book with her for Steve to read to the family.  We sat around in the kitchen while he read it and no teenager got up with statements of better things to do.  Granted it is a funny story, but also insightful and touching.   Another tradition was to watch It’s a Wonderful Life but we did not get to that one this year.  This year we watched Elf

As I was thinking through these things, I didn’t even think of our biggest and most significant tradition until I was faced with the late-nighters we pull to accomplish the task.   As we worked on them Steve said, “this is really a great tradition, thanks for thinking of this.”  Glad he said that, because he does most of the work! 

The Tardis Christmas Card for our Dr. Who fan.  I think all the older kids would have liked to get this one.

Holiday Dinosaur for Tyler.  Steve was just being goofy.
We make hand-drawn and written cards for our kids each year.  The idea came from a Focus on the Family article about a mother whose teenage daughter and her were at odds.  Amidst the conflict a statement of, “You don’t love me. You never loved me”  came from the teenager.  The mom later came to the daughter with a box of letters.  Letters she wrote when the girl was a baby and later maybe, I can’t remember.  At any rate, the letters were the “evidence” of the mother’s love for the daughter.  It made me think, “do my kids know I love them?  Do they have some evidence?”   I tell them often, but I thought it would be really cool to give them letters each year.  I think we were looking for something significant to give them, beyond just the material toy-thing that they wanted.

The first few years we just wrote them letters in a store-bought card, but at some point, we decided, “hey, we’re artists, we should make cards.”  Steve definitely has the better style for this and the kids have so much as said so.  The one year I drew the cards they said they liked Dad’s better.  That’s okay, I do too and I don’t mind writing the letter part.  The letter is usually an applicable scripture and then an encouragement looking back over the year, it takes quite a bit of thought and time.   
The cards are really focused on the kids, but I think that they help them to see that there is a larger life-picture they should be considering, a spiritual perspective on things that have happened, and also, relationships to cherish beyond presents to open.
We just saw this polar bear baby and thought we HAD to do this one for Elise.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Robot Parents

I know my last blog post was about asking for parenting advice.  And I still stand by that encouragement.  Just watch out for legalism, primarily your own.  Let me explain.

I read a lot of parenting books when my kids were babies on up through the years.  Some might consider some of the books and materials I followed as controversial, but I don’t think they really were.  I think what made them controversial was legalistic robot-Christians.  Following advice legalistically without using your own Biblical research, discernment, and common sense is foolish. 

I will give myself as an example.  When we were new parents we listened to tapes from popular Christian-parenting literature of the time, Growing Kids God’s Way and Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo.   The information was good.  I think many of the principles would be wisely taken by many parents today (things like respect for people and property, gradually allowing independence in your child, etc.) The controversy came in their advice regarding scheduled feedings (and their own legalistic views regarding their own advice, “God’s Way”, and eventually apparently their own pride.  Their material was particularly “cold” as well. )   Their advice for babies was to feed your child every 3 hours on a schedule.  It made sense and it actually worked.  Our first child slept through the night and ate on a schedule by 2 months old.  The problem?  She did not gain an ounce for a month (or was it two?).  Now, I don’t blame the Ezzos or necessarily their materials. Even my pediatrician said, “well, she’s not hungry if she’s sleeping through the night.”  I do think, though, that if I were more in tune with my child and less concerned about a schedule, her weight may have been normal for that time period.  She’s 18 now, with no known eating disorders ; ).   Around that time, accusations started coming towards the Ezzos regarding parents with failure to thrive infants using their materials. 

Really!? If your child is wasting away, you still follow a schedule?  I’d like to think that I was at least smarter than that....maybe I wasn't.  The advice wasn’t bad.  In fact, the advice was PRINCIPLE. 

At any rate, my mistake caused me to come to the conclusion that most advice is just that, advice.  With my subsequent children I did still follow Preparation for Parenting principles, but I was a little wiser.  I made my own modifications (if you're interested in the details, I think I have them documented somewhere).  This did work to gradually shift the “eat now” body clock to the day and the “sleep now” body clock to the night.   It took a little longer with them, but they were still sleeping through the night by 12 weeks or so.....and happy and well-fed babies. 

Another controversial book To Train Up a Child, was given to me when Aidan was about 3 years old (He’s now 16).  Again, the Pearls book became controversial  fairly recently when the book was found in the home of parents who abused and beat their child TO DEATH. 

Really!?  You beat your child supposedly based on someone’s advice so far as to kill him or her?   This is not even robot behavior.....they were most certainly NOT following the Pearls’ advice.  I'm not sure if this is the parent's testimony or if it was just the media grasping for the “why” in the minds of abusive parents and finding the book in their home as a clue. 

I saw the Pearls’ materials as a major milestone in my relationship with my children.  People isolate and criticize their teaching on spanking, but what I really noticed in their newsletters and other materials was the relationship they had with their children.  And the extremely convicting articles that they wrote to parents challenging them, not to beat their children, but to repent and change themselves and their own thinking.  That “tying strings of fellowship” with your children was by far, the most important thing.  I was really struck by the encouragement to invest in my children.   They didn’t say, “make your children do chores”.  They said, “do chores with your children.”  Their methodology advice is loaded with principles of relationship.  I realized that my relationship with my children was not what it should be.  I was selfishly just trying to manage them instead of investing in them, training them, enjoying them.  I had my own behavior issues, specifically anger.  The Pearls told me I was the problem (well, not personally).  I never concluded that I had to discipline my children more, I concluded that I needed to realize that I had the power to change me and I should do so.

Their books also helped me to see practically and creatively, how I could train and discipline my children.  After implementing their ideas AND changing myself, I realized that I hardly ever spanked my kids anymore. I didn’t see much change in my kids until I wasn’t such a pissy-parent any more!  Now, my teens are a little resentful that their little sister is hardly ever spanked.  Sorry, it took me a while to change sorry.  Thankfully, they are laughing at me now, instead of hating me.

Those are only two of the many, many books that I read over the last 18 years, but definitely the ones I learned from the most.....for bad and for good.  Here are a few others (and there were many more.)
Shepherding a Child’s Heart  by Tedd Tripp. A great principle book, as I said in my other blog post.  He hits the nail on the head in that parenting is about the heart....but such a difficult thing to know how to implement, because it IS about the heart!  

Say Goodbye to Whining Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in you and your kids! - by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.  A book about teaching respect in the home, also focusing on family relationships.  No corporal punishment mentioned (that I can remember.)

Making Children Mind without Losing Yours by Kevin Leman.  A natural consequences book. 

Age of Opportunity by Paul Tripp.  Don’t remember much about this book.

Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson.  What it says.

Changing Your Child’s Heart by Steve Sherbondy.  Using tools (chores and tasks, mainly) to change a child’s attitude.

For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldhan.  A poll of the insights and opinions of teenagers of all backgrounds.  Very enlightening.

After all of this reading, I found (in some cases it was NOT included in the book!) the most essential element of parenting is relationship, relationship, relationship.  Building relationships is difficult to teach.  You can give specific ideas for the robot-parent to follow, but it comes down to a parent’s heart for their child and what they DO with that.  Tedd Tripp’s book does teach about this and yet I could not apply it at the time I read it.  I think my kids were too young; I could not see practically how to implement it.  Maybe I need to re-read it.  It was the stories of love and investment in the Pearl’s materials that made me see what I was missing, that convicted me, but I did read that when my kids were a little older.

I also found the biggest deterrent to a good relationship, parental hypocrisy.  Find it and repent.  I saw this in many articles and letters that the Pearls answered in their newsletters and also in the book Already Gone by Ken Ham.  Interestingly, Ham’s conclusion as to why the church is losing children to the world was lack of teaching about origins, but the raw data in the back of the book, I thought,  told a different story as to why kids leave the church - parental hypocrisy. 

The early years were filled with training experiences and quite a few spankings (especially for the boys), but they were also (eventually) filled with an investment of time.....lots of time.  Time spent in our own little stories that built our friendship. Yes, friendship.   Now, three of them are teens and our fellowship is sweet (okay, mostly we laugh....still sweet.)

One friend when praised for her older daughters’ faithfulness to the Lord, righteous living, good choices, etc always says, “Oh, they still struggle and face temptation.  I pray for them every day.”   Another investment, perhaps more essential than all others.   

My story is far from over.  I cannot rest, but must continue to repent, invest, and pray.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Parenting: The Best Advice You Can Never Give

You can’t really give parenting advice anymore.  People get really offended.  You can give broad principle-oriented advice, but you can’t say, “hey, you really should do this.”  or  “you know, he wouldn’t do that if you did this.”   There are a few people you can give parenting advice to, but you really need an invitation to do so.  I have maybe 2 friends I can give parenting advice to freely.

I remember as a young parent asking “yes, but HOW?” to the Shepherding Your Child’s Heart principle stuff.  (My apologies to Tedd Tripp, great book, but I’m a practical gal.)  That lead me to To Train Up Your Child.  Fortunately, I didn’t read any reviews beforehand!  I didn’t know HOW to be consistent.  I didn’t know HOW to address a lot of issues. 

Truly there is a balance between principle-parenting and practical-parenting. (And I do think that the Pearls focus more on correcting PARENTS and addressing their relationship with their children than they do on spanking in their materials as a whole. I will take some time to review some parenting books in later blogposts.)  

People believe that parenting is a very subjective thing but really some aspects are very objective.  They must be, because we all sit in judgment of other people’s parenting, don’t we?  Or we sit in judgment of other people’s kids.    

Proverbs 20:11 "Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right."

Truly, a kid’s character is easily discerned after spending some time with them.

You can deny that you judge other people’s parenting and kids....but you know you do.  At least in your own thoughts:  “That kid is such a brat!”, “Doesn’t she see that he has taken 10 things off the dessert tray!”, “Hey!  I almost ran that kid over.  Where are his parents?”  You know, those thoughts.

To what extent is a child the product of his upbringing and to what extent is he/she who she is because of his/her innate soul, personality and character? 

I am thinking about 50/50.  That’s my guess: 50/50.

Even if I’m wrong on my ratio (which I probably am), why not take someone’s advice for addressing the 50 or whatever % that you are responsible for?  It will increase your chances of being a better parent. Ask someone that you trust to be honest with you about your parenting.    We all see each other’s faults and are often blind to our own.  It’s time to ask for advice and not become defensive, but be willing to look at ourselves and say, “hey, they’re right and I’m going to do something about it.”

There are many kinds of parents:

The Clueless Parent:  The parent who is oblivious to their child’s behavior.  Even if they are made aware of it, they still manage to miss most misbehavior issues. 

The Hypocritical Parent:  The parent who sees the issues and talks like a disciplinarian, but they never actually do anything to address their child’s behavior. 

The Uptight Parent:  The parent who sees a problem and blows it way out of proportion, making a good display for others and trashing their kid publicly in the process. 

The Excuses Parent:  He /she is __________.    This parent always has a crutch or label to blame for not parenting their child properly. 
The Helpless Parent:  The Parent who has no control and is distressed by the little tyrant they have allowed to rule over them.

The All-Around Parent:  The parent who is light-hearted when appropriate and strict when necessary.  The parent who knows their child and their child has a secure relationship with them.

I am assuming that all parents love their children! Even the worst parent will at least say they love their child.  Discerning one’s own selfishness in loving a child, is another question altogether.  What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to truly love and parent your child properly?

What kind of parent are you?  There is no real science to my labels....I’m just thinking out loud, but I am sure you can identify other parents that fall into those categories, but can you identify yourself? 

There is a wealth of parenting advice out there, but not all of it good, not all of it is right, and not all of it works. Whose children do you admire?   Whose parenting do you aspire to?  What All-Around Parents do you know?  Ask them to mentor you, advise you.  Give them permission to point out your weaknesses. 

There are parents whose parenting I did not respect and everyone could see the writing on the wall.  Most of the time no one talked about it (that would be gossip), and no one said anything to them (that would be nosey), but we all knew.  Sadly, what we saw coming, came to fruition.  They were very proud.  We could not say anything, anyone who did was rejected.  These parents are humbled now, but at a great cost.  They lost their child.  They lost 100%.  They lost their relationship with their child.  You knew it was their fault.  And I’m not just talking about permitting disobedience, I’m talking about parental hypocrisy and lack of love in child-rearing. 

I will make a caveat here that some people may feel like they have lost their children, as Christians (I don’t mean that as a salvation label, but an outward-living label), because of some sinful decisions or lifestyle choices their children have made. But they still have their child 100%.  How can that be?  Because they truly have taken care of their 50% and so the relationship stands firm regardless of the difference of opinion or beliefs between parent and child.  The child still trusts the parent, even if the child has been diverted in their 50%.  (And there is still hope that they will be 100% for Christ at some point in their lives!)

Some people might read the above and say, “yes, that’s what happened to me!” Still, examine yourself closely, ask others if you are at fault....repent of your mistakes.  Especially to your child.

As a young mother, I had three women I respected and trusted to give me parenting advice.  They discipled me and often gave unsolicited advice. I trusted them because I watched them parent and I saw their kids grow up with character I admired.  I saw them (parents and children) make mistakes and humbly accept advice from others that had gone ahead of them. 

I’m not there yet, but I want to be that kind of parent.  How about you?  What kind of parent do you want to be?


Friday, December 9, 2011

What are you whining about?

I've been reading through the Psalms, backwards, for my daily Bible my paper Bible at the table because God doesn't trust me to read on the computer.  He knows I'll get distracted by some email or Facebook or something.  I am reading through them backwards because I always start at Psalm 1 and then peter out in the 50s or something.  So I decided to start at the end instead.

I am also reading to my 9 year old from Numbers, and now Deuteronomy because she, "wanted to start from the beginning." (We skipped most of Leviticus, I don't think you need to ask why.) I noticed the Israelites are complaining A LOT and God gets really mad.  Made me think of how much I complain.  

Numbers 14:1-12 (NIV)-
 " 1 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”
 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6 Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
 10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them. Then the glory of the LORD appeared at the Tent of Meeting to all the Israelites. 11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 12 I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

In my personal reading I am in Psalm 88. (All quotes of "the Psalmist" are from Psalm 88.)

3 For my soul is full of trouble
   and my life draws near the grave.[c]

4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
   I am like a man without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
   like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
   who are cut off from your care.  6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
   in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily upon me;
   you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. 

It occurred to me that they are in similar situations, the Israelites and the Psalmist.  Both feel like they are facing death. How come God doesn't get mad at the Psalmists, David or Korah, like He does with the Israelites for grumbling?    

The Israelites question God's plan.
“If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4

The Psalmist recognizes that even if God himself is responsible for his circumstances, He is still the one to appeal to for a remedy.  2 May my prayer come before you;
   turn your ear to my cry....

....."You have put me in the lowest pit".....
....."Your wrath lies heavily upon me"...."
 .... I call to you, O LORD, every day;
   I spread out my hands to you. 

...But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
   in the morning my prayer comes before you.

The Israelites don't believe God.
“How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? 

The Psalmist believes that God is loving,  he remembers His wondrous works, His faithfulness and righteous deeds.
1 O LORD, the God who saves me,
   day and night I cry out before you.

Is your love declared in the grave,
   your faithfulness in Destruction[d]

10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?  
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
   or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

The Israelites complain and lay blame to men. 
2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron

The Psalmist complains to God.
1 O LORD, the God who saves me,
   day and night I cry out before you.
2 May my prayer come before you;
   turn your ear to my cry. 

9  I call to you, O LORD, every day;
   I spread out my hands to you.

13 But I cry to you for help, O LORD;
   in the morning my prayer comes before you.

The Israelites seek their own solutions.
3 Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” 
10 But the whole assembly talked about stoning them.

The Psalmist reasons with God. 
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
   Do those who are dead rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
   your faithfulness in Destruction[d]?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
   or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

Can a dead man praise you, God?  Now that's a logical argument.
(Interestingly, Moses reasons with God on behalf of the Israelites later in this same chapter of Numbers - 14:13-23.)

Honestly, how many of us are facing death?  Even so, He is the God who saves.
O LORD, the God who saves me

How often do I question God's plan?

How often do I reveal unbelief?

How often do I complain to (or about) someone who has no power or remedy?

How often do I seek my own solutions?

I can complain to the One who is in control.

I can believe.

I can ask God for solutions.

I can reason with God.




Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Out of High School to Homeschool

Okay, this blog post will be of almost no interest to most of you!  Don't feel obligated to read it, it is purely for those for whom it was written!

I have recently received about 10 inquiries from parents wanting to pull their kids out of high school to homeschool them here in RI.  After answering those emails, messages and phone calls, I started to feel like I was repeating myself. I am going to attempt to compile my advice here, to save myself some time.....not that I am not willing to give one-on-one advice, but there are some steps that will fit all situations.  Be advised that I am not a lawyer and this does not constitute legal advice.

Some preliminary advice from other parents who have pulled their children out of school mid-year: Don’t discuss homeschooling with your child’s teacher or the administrators at your child’s school.  This often changes the dynamic between teacher and student, or teacher and parent.  It can also lead to misinformation.   It is very common for a secretary or principal to tell a parent that they cannot homeschool or that they must wait for approval, which simply is not true.  Bring or mail your Letter of Intent (LOI) to the school department on your child’s last day of "school" and pick your child/teen up for the last time  OR file your LOI with the school district beforehand, then carry the letter of approval and your child’s withdrawal form to school the same day. 

Step 1.  Check out the RIGHT website: and Facebook pages. Consider joining a support group, surrounding yourself with like-minded homeschoolers and the resources and support that those organizations provide.  I, of course, recommend RIGHT

Step 2. Choose your curriculum. The curriculum choices can be overwhelming.  It is worth the time to research and find out what you think might fit for you and your children. 

At this point, you are more interested in meeting college admission requirements or preparing for future goals, than meeting State requirements (and most likely by meeting one, you will be meeting the other.)  Homeschoolers are not required to meet state requirements for graduation, only to teach the required subjects “thoroughly and efficiently.”
If you are unsure of what your child needs to cover to have an adequate High School transcript and prepare him for acceptance into colleges, you might want to check out the website and their “4 Year Plans” for high school.  This chart tells you the expected course load if your child is, a) graduating, b) hoping to attend a mid-level college or c) hoping to attend an Ivy League college.  If you go under “Navigation Menu” (top right) a list comes down with many choices, under “Get Answers” is “High School” where you will find those plans and many other resources that I will probably refer to later in this post.

Another thing to keep in mind when choosing curriculum for high school: find out what colleges expect of applying students.  If your child knows the college(s) he intends to apply to, look online.  Most colleges state what their expectations are of applying students.  Do they need 3 sciences or just 2?  Lab sciences?  SAT II tests?  Foreign language?  How many years?  You can find this information on most college websites.  If you have no idea where you child might go to college, at least research your state college’s application expectations.

Some curriculum options:

Some curriculum can be costly!  But consider these factors, your child’s education is worth an investment in quality curriculum, and most quality curriculums have a good re-sale value.

•You can buy a whole program from one company or buy an eclectic mix of different subject resources from different companies. I personally find that one size does not fit all, but some people love their boxed curriculum.

•Is your child a Junior or Senior?

You might want to consider dual-enrollment at CCRI or a combination of Community College courses and homeschooling.   

RIC is more expensive, but has welcomed homeschoolers as young as 11 as non-degree seeking students, without a superintendent's letter.  After completing 20 hours of coursework, the student can switch to degree-seeking without submitting high school transcripts......contingent on SAT scores, though.

There are also online dual-enrollment college courses available through,, and many other colleges.

If your child can handle college-level work, it might be worth it to have them take some classes and get both High School and College Credit.  Please note, there is no guarantee that courses will transfer as credits to your future college!  You should check with that college. Even if you have no assurance they will be transferred, taking college-level courses in high school still looks good on a transcript even if your credits don’t transfer.  (CCRI course credits and I believe, RIC credits, are transferable to URI.)

•Consider local co-ops or private classes.  These may already be established if you are pulling your child out of school mid-year, but it is a consideration for the future.  RIGHT has a few member-run co-ops in North Kingstown and Northeast CT.  Also, there is a large tutorial "school" in Attleboro called Good Company Tutorials.  If you become involved in a local group of homeschoolers, you could start your own co-op, sharing teaching duties with other committed parents.

•You are legally allowed to use the school’s textbooks. 
These are usually available through the Curriculum Office at your local district administration office.  You many choose any books that are available in the DOE textbook inventory listed here: 
However, I am not sure if parents are allowed to borrow the Teachers’ Editions of the texts.  Asking for the school’s texts is a good way to transition into homeschooling; using what your child has already been using until you find something better....which you most likely will.

Some curriculum is FREE!  You can find a lot (all?) of your resources online!

• has teaching videos for every subject imaginable and even has online practice and teacher monitoring features for much of the math levels there (and adding more every day.) 

All in One High School is a relatively new, free online program.  If you have younger children, there is also All in One Homeschool.

•The local library!  RIGHT has placed many resources in our local library to assist homeschoolers. Also the Exeter Library went beyond our small collection and started the “Learning Zone”, placing about $25,000 worth of educational books, games, and resources, in their library accessible throughout the state through library loan.  The libraries also have online resources for foreign languages and SAT prep, among other things - all accessible free to library members.

Many people have stated their inability or lack of time for teaching certain subjects.  I want to confess here, that I do not teach my high school-aged children; they teach themselves.  I find the appropriate curriculum for their grade-level, interests, goals, etc.  They follow the instructions and schedule I give them.  I correct their work and tests.  Some classes are outsourced. I have had friends/other parents/professors teach my children SAT prep, AP US History, Spanish, Writing, American Literature, and World Literature.  Our math program is a DVD program (Teaching Textbooks and DIVE DVDs are popular choices among homeschoolers).  I can teach math, but I discovered when our first child started Algebra, that teaching math was a lot of work and took me away from my other students that were at points in their education that required my presence.  My oldest child could easily comprehend the math processes through the DVD teacher while I taught the younger children. 

Step 3. Send a Letter of Intent (LOI) informing your school district that you will be homeschooling your children.  Most School Committees have designated the Superintendent as the liaison between homeschoolers and the SC so, you should send your LOI registered mail to the Superintendent’s office of your school district.   Keep your registered-mail receipt because sometimes schools lose letters of intent. It’s good to have proof that they received it.  

Many schools ask for a list of curriculum, check with RIGHT as to whether your town expects this.  

Be advised that working papers for underage workers, and registration forms for CCRI classes must be signed by the Superintendent.  You may have to talk to those secretaries again.  

Step 4. If your paperwork is complete, you should receive your letter of “approval” from the School Committee.  I always put approval in quotes.....they must approve your course of instruction, but they are not approving your right to homeschool!  This could take a few weeks or even months depending on what other issues the School Committee is working on at the time.   You should begin homeschooling anyway.

Step 5.  Keep good records.  You are the guidance counselor for your high school student.  Keep track of what classes they are taking, a general description of the class, textbooks used, and grade received.  Also, keep track of volunteer work, extracurricular activities, etc.   Some of these can count as courses, but some might be more impressive as extras on your child’s transcript.   At the end of 4 years, you will compile your child’s transcript (including the records from any years and course work at the public high school) and issue them a diploma. has some great transcript forms, as does  You can simply enter your child’s information into the form or format you like. and have some beautiful custom diplomas for purchase.  Does that sound funny?  You educated your child; you graduate your child.   I say the proof is in the pudding.  Transcripts, test grades, SAT scores, and outside class grades should all verify your child’s transcript and diploma.

Step 6.  When your child applies to colleges, you will be submitting the official transcript.   Most colleges now accept the Common Application.  The Common Application has a homeschool supplement that asks questions about your student, why you homeschooled, how the student was graded, etc. 

Some other things to keep in mind for college prep students. Your child should take the PSAT in the fall of his 10th grade and again in the fall of 11th grade.  Your child should take the SAT (or ACT) in the Spring of his 11th grade and the fall of his 12th grade.  You can register for the SAT and PSAT on the website.  FAFSA (Financial Aid Forms) should be filled out in January of your child’s 12th grade (if they are going on to college).  The deadline is later, but funds are dispersed quickly so, the sooner you file the better.  Even if you need to estimate your taxes and adjust the FAFSA later.  You can apply for financial aid online at

Step 7.  What if your child doesn’t want to go to college or doesn’t have what it takes to get into college?  Pray.  Pray anyway, because whether your child goes on to college or learns a trade or lives in your basement, God’s the one who will give you and your child direction for his future.  I’m counting on Him!  

Maybe when I find out what my next two high school students have in their future, I will be  able to advise people on #7!

UPDATE:  As of October 2017, I edited out links to the RIGHT website as the site was updated under new leadership and the links no longer work and some of the info is missing or under construction.  I still recommend that homeschoolers join RIGHT as their local support group.  The RIGHT Facebook pages, one public and one private for paid members only, are the best way to find support, information, curriculum suggestions, etc.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Time Talk

These past two weeks I have been reading Lysa Terkeurst's book "What Happens When Women Say 'Yes' to God".   One day God told me to "stay off the computer all day.  Read the Word first and I will give you the time to do things I value and you value." 

I have been trying to spend the first time of my day (well, early time, at least) reading the Bible. 

Amidst all of this, I also felt like He was telling me to blog and paint more. I know that sounds self-serving, but I think He was telling me that my time could be better spent.  Painting could potentially add to our family income.  Blogging could also be of financial benefit, although I see that as a far off benefit.  In the meantime, I would hope that it would be a blessing to people; that they might gain from the insights, experience, and.....mistakes of an average stay-at-home mother.

After the "time talk", I read the next chapter of Lisa's book, which was about "I can't".  She shares a woman's struggle with confidence to be a speaker and she recognized her own "I can'ts", one being running.  God told her to run.  It made me think of the things that I really, really want to do - paint and blog, that I have been saying "I can't" to.  Why can't I?  I am not prioritizing my time. I am wasting my time.  

This morning I read Psalm 90 - the first verses are all about the people being consumed by God's anger, their lowly estate, and the brevity of life.   How depressing. Then these encouraging words:

Psalm 90 (NKJV)
 12 So teach us to number our days,
         That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O LORD!
         How long?
         And have compassion on Your servants.
 14 Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy,
         That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
 15 Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us,
         The years in which we have seen evil.
 16 Let Your work appear to Your servants,
         And Your glory to their children.
 17 And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
         And establish the work of our hands for us;
         Yes, establish the work of our hands.

vs. 12 - Prioritize your time, AMY!

vs. 14 Be merciful now...that we might rejoice ALL of our days.

vs. 15 or that we would be glad, at least the same number of days that we have been afflicted or seen evil.

vs. 16 That we would see His work and our children would see His Glory.

vs. 17 That His beauty would be upon us now.

And that He would establish the work or our hands. 

Blogging and painting?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Budgets and Trusting God

About once a year, I get it in my head that we need a budget.  I painstakingly figure everything out on paper.  I get excited about how nicely it all works out there on the paper.  I listen to the budgeting gurus and am inspired to make ends meet this year, to live within my means.

After a few months, things break down. Car repairs cost $500 and I have only $200 saved in that category.  The septic needs pumping and the boiler needs cleaning. $400 when only $200 have been saved in the home maintenance category.  We need to put more in that category.....from where?  Every penny is budgeted. 

Every year, I become more and more anxious about our finances and try to make it work, robbing from Peter’s category to pay Paul’s.  In my flesh, I struggle and strive to make it work, but it never does.  I just become more and more worried and anxious. 

My conclusion, is this:  we cannot trust in a budget, or even our own ability to provide. We need to trust God, regardless of our current income.  Whether it exceeds our needs or falls short.  When I struggle over a budget, am I showing lack of faith in God to provide for all my needs?

Now, I am not opposed to budgets per se.  I think they are a tool of good stewardship.  We have made a lot of changes in life because we have examined our spending in the course of making a budget.  Switching to pay-as-you-go cell phones has probably saved us about $600 a year.  Dropping cable: $900 a year.  I am thankful that we discovered that, because now we can make one payment on our daughter’s college tuition (what we have pledged to contribute.)  Perhaps there are more areas where we can cut.....certainly, cellphones aren’t a need at all, but an expectation in this day and age.  Internet? Insurance?  One must evaluate whether it is more or less cost effective to NOT have these things.

I think many Americans are profligate in their spending and what they decide is a necessity, really isn’t.  Many people are foolish with their $ out of ignorance and end up in debt.   People need some instruction in wise spending practices and priorities; needs vs. wants. 

As for me, I have finally learned that God doesn’t want me to trust a budget, or become anxious over finances that are insufficient. He wants me to trust Him.  I should be a good steward, but know that He always provides, even when the budget doesn’t.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cookie off to College

I wrote this article for the September 2011 issue of the RIGHT newsletter. 
Cookie off to College

As you read this, I am probably taking my oldest child off to college.  The first one out of the gate, homeschooled all the way through successfully, as far as I can tell. 

This child fit the cookie-cutter for academic success.  College prep courses all the way through high school, a few AP and CCRI courses thrown in to demonstrate that her intelligence went beyond her mother’s evaluation, did well on SATs, and received some decent scholarship money.  With a little push from Dad, she finally decided what she wanted to do and off she goes into the world, well-prepared with worldview training and self-determined values. 

Well, if you are new to this whole homeschooling thing and are thinking, “oh, great!  What a relief! I have that cookie-cutter. I know that recipe.  No problem, I can make these cookies too.”    Think again. 
Different children, different ingredients.  You MIGHT have the same recipe and similar  ingredients, but no matter what recipe you follow, your cookies will not turn out the same. 

My other children have different ingredients.  Do I follow a different recipe?

As my cookie-cutter child entered her high school years and even before, I realized that she had her own ideas about what she wanted to do and in other ways she had no idea what she wanted to do.  It was a fine balance between steering and supporting her activities and studies.  Even now, as I look back at the recipe, I realize that the cookie isn’t exactly what I expected.  This girl is going to school to become a photographer - academic recipe : artistic cookie.  Who knew?  

Now I am looking very carefully at my “leftover” ingredients!  What will they make with what they have?  Christian + gifted artist + pianist = ?,  Christian + guitar-playing leader -type = ?,  Christian + helpful + faithful = ?  

In the end, we can only follow the recipe and as a true cook, allow the ingredients to add their own flavors that shine through. 

Practically, I will encourage my sons and younger daughter to follow a similar recipe, but I am learning that children are not cookie-cutters and I may need to adjust my recipe based on the gifts and talents they have.  I am learning from other homeschool parents a myriad of other recipes for still - successful cookies. 

I am also learning that, in the end, I can’t take much credit for the cookies.

School Year’s Resolution

I am posting two articles I wrote for the RIGHT newsletter, The Home Spun News.  This was published in the August 2011 newsletter.

School Year’s Resolution
by Amy Brock

As I look ahead to starting a new school year, I can’t help but look back.  This past year was both a success and a struggle.  

I can’t help but look at how little was accomplished academically (in my opinion) by my two sons and youngest daughter this year.  I know that it is partly (mostly?) my fault.  I have this need to do things immediately, so the immediate becomes the urgent and the important is neglected.  Ironically, this all has to do with time management which I am supposedly good at.   My gifts are great for coordinating a non-profit organization or running our church’s VBS, but unfortunately only one of my children, apparently, inherited my administration skills and so, 3/4 of them did not self-administrate this year. 

I learned a lot about the importance of time management skills - for others.   I did set up a daily calendar and assignments and totally expected everyone to follow them.  They did, in the beginning, but then as I went on to other tasks - errands, laundry, cooking ... Facebook (guilty), etc. their faithfulness waned.  I realize now that time-management is 1) a learned skill and 2) a necessary habit.  In order for my children to attain that skill and habit (except for the one who is naturally that way) I realize I have to sit with them and do nothing to make sure they are doing something! 

This is my “School Year’s Resolution” to manage my children’s time and to teach them to manage their own time.  As an artist with a real desire for my children to follow their interests, that seems counterintuitive, but looking back at the year, I feel I did them a disservice in not ingraining some time-management skills in them.

In more encouraging news, my oldest graduated from homeschool and is attending Rochester Institute of Technology this fall and my two sons each taught themselves to play piano and guitar.   I guess more was accomplished in the wreck of a year than I thought.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Garden Map

Well, every year before I plant my garden, I make a map. It is not to scale or anything. It's just to show me roughly where I am going to plant everything. A friend asked me to post my map and so I am, but I think it needs some explanation....

I listed the veggies that I plan to plant. The spinach and lettuce are already in and growing, albeit slowly.

The area behind the shed (marked pumpkins and cukes, squash and zucchini) is almost all new. We took down a fence and extended it just this spring.

As you can see, I have two compost piles. I just combined about 10 of them scattered all over the garden. The one in the back is HUGE...almost all goat manure and hay waste. Instead of rotating compost, I let it pile up in one or several areas of the garden, and by the next season it is perfect soil and I spread it out. I had one pile in the back left corner and one at the edge of the current onion patch from last year, that I spread out for this spring.

The little "x"s are places where there are plants coming up volunteer. I think they are almost all pumpkins, although last year, some were cantelopes and they did really well. I will leave them where they are if they don't interfere too much (like the ones in the compost pile), others I will transplant probably to the pumpkin that is usually what they are.

The "tomato garden" is actually a newer plot that I started last year. It's actual position is to the left of the larger garden, with a grass walkway about 8 feet wide, between the two gardens. I started that garden because there is a tomato wilt that is permanently in the soil of my shed garden (larger lower rectangle), although a few tomatoes that I stuck in there last year did fine. I was very meticulous about tending my tomatoes in both plots last year - I mulched around them (with goat hay) and bottom watered them, and that really helped to keep any wilty-type activity at bay. I did plant WAY too many plants though, and I couldn't even walk in there. The plants got way to big. So this year I will only plant around the edges and leave the middle completely clear. (Although, my gardening is generally crowded. All walkways are basically gone mid-July.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Quilted Bag

Okay, so I started making these quilted bags and now a few people have asked me to make one for them. I just finished one for a friend and took pictures of the steps, to hopefully, teach you how to make one too.

First, find / purchase 5 fabrics that you like - you will need about 1/2 yard each for this size bag. The size can be adjusted, as it is just a fabric box.

You will also need: 1/2 yard of another fabric for lining, nice thread in the color that you would like to show in the quilting, and regular batting for quilting.

BEFORE you start cutting, find something that is square, meaning, a perfect right angle. Ask your husband if you can borrow his square, he might know what you mean.....but make sure it's not all dirty or something. I just used a piece of card stock to make sure the starting corner was a right angle. Trim either side to make it straight - the finished edge is generally straight, so line up your square there and make the cut edge at a right angle to that.

Cut the fabric in to 3" squares (this will allow for 2" squares on your bag with 1/2" seam allowance everywhere. What is this 5/8" standard? That is like a math nightmare.)

Measure perfectly...or almost perfectly. If you are off, everything will be off in the end and the bag won't fit together right. Make a 3" grid on each piece and then cut the squares. I made about 20 - 24 squares of each at first, but then I needed more for the strap, so maybe 30 squares of each is good.

Your bag is like a cloth box 10" wide by 10" high by 4" deep. Once it is sewn together, each square will be 2" so your box will be 5 squares wide, 5 squares high, and 4 squares deep. Take your squares and lay out each "side" side of your "box" to make sure the patterns don't match at any point.

The front, back, and flap of the box will be 5 squares by 5 squares.

The sides and bottom of your box will be 5 squares by 2 squares.

Lay them all out and figure out where they will be attached:

I laid out the pattern and then had it continue across the sides as well. That way I knew the same colors wouldn't overlap. For the flap, I extended the pattern from the back upward in a mirror image.

You can see it here on the far left. That is the back and the flap. Then one side, the front and another side. At this point, I had totally forgotten about the bottom....oops.

Once you figure out your pattern, begin sewing your blocks together RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER with a 1/2" seam allowance. Keep the patterns set up and walk back and forth to get the pieces. Continually match up your pattern to make sure you are keeping it. You probably will mess up at least once. I have for each of the 4 bags I have made so far. Using the seam ripper is such a bummer. I should also say, back-stitch every time you end....all the time, with each quilted piece and on every seam you sew, you don't want the stitching to come undone, because once the bag is all together, it will be very tough to go back and sure-up any stitching.

You will end up with rows of blocks like the one I am holding above.

Press open all of your seams......always.

Now you will sew each of your 10" - 5 square rows together with a 1/2" seam allowance. RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER. Try to line up the blocks with each other and again, continue to check that you are lining up the pattern correctly. Remember to back-stitch at each end and iron open all seams as you are sewing.

So, here it is again. Once you have sewn together the back, flap, front and sides, you should have a bunch of panels kind of like the above, but you, of course, remembered the bottom. So you have one more horizontal block that is 5 blocks by 2 blocks.

Like this:

Sew together all of your panels, RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER, where they meet as in the drawn pattern above. Again, remember to back-stitch at each end.

Lay out your pieced together bag (but, you of course, have included the bottom, not pictured above) on top of the batting. Cut the batting flush with the fabric like below. If your batting is in pieces, that is fine, it doesn't need to be all in one piece. Just pin it in place so it stays in place while you are doing the quilting (shown further below).

Now, you are going to quilt your bag by top-stitching diagonally across the boxes.

My friend wanted an outside pocket, so I made another panel that matched the pattern where it would be sewn on. I cut a piece of lining, sewed the panel and the lining RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER with a little opening at the top to turn it right side out. I turned it right side out, top-stitched it (like a neat little empty pillow) and then sewed it directly in place about 1/8" from the edge on three sides, leaving the top open. Like this:

You can see the top-stitched quilting pretty well in that picture too.

Next cut your lining like you did the batting. If your piece of fabric isn't big enough to lay out the whole thing, you may have to piece it.

Do NOT sew the lining to the quilted piece! It's not time for that yet.

My friend wanted an inside pocket, so I made a little pillow out of lining, turned it right side out and sewed it to the lining in place. This lining was kind of unraveling, so I edge stitched all the edges. You know how you sometimes get a hole in your coat pocket or purse? It's because the fabric has come unraveled, more often than not. Hopefully this one won't.

Next you are going to sew your lining together with RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER, like a little lining box. Again, remember to back-stitch at each end.

It is easier to see how to do it with the quilted piece. Which you will also sew into a little inside-out box (with the flap hanging out of the top).

The lining and the quilted pieces are sewn separately. Back with flap, side, front, and side wrapped around the bottom piece and sewn with a 1/2" seam allowance.

Next, you are going to turn your lining right side out and slip it into your inside-out quilted bag. So they will be right sides together.

You will now sew them together with 1/2" seam allowance, around the edges of the flap and ALMOST all around the top edge of the bag, leave about a 4 - 5 " opening to turn your bag right-side out. I left just one side top open. Again, remember to back-stitch at each end.

Pull everything carefully out through the hole.

So, now you should have a lining bag inside a bag, with a lined flap too and a small opening on the side. Iron the flap and the edges flat. You can stick scissors or something pointy (not too) up into the corners of the flap to make the corners neat. You can also cut a piece of foam or other firm (preferably water resistant) flat piece to put on the bottom. Slip it through the hole and push it to the bottom between the lining and the bag. Now you can top-stitch the hole closed. Just fold over the edges (1/2") and top stitch about 1/8" from the edge.

Now for the strap. Measure how long you would want it. Remember each square will be about 2" so for a 40" strap, you will need it to be 20 squares long. You will want it to be 2 squares wide so that is a total of 40 squares. (I think made 42 here.) Two sections of squares will be attached to the bag at each side.

Sew the squares together as you did for the bag sections.

Once they are all sewn together, lay down batting along one side and stitch across it to hold it in place. (This will make 1/2 of the diagonal quilting pattern.) Next fold the whole strip in half RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER and sew them together with 1/2" seam allowance along one side. It's easiest to sew on the side with no batting. Now you have to turn this thing right side out. It's not easy, just persevere with it! Sometimes a plastic ruler is helpful to work it over. Some times kids with small fingers enjoy the job. ............... .............. .......... ................... .............................. .................. .................. .................. .................. ..................

What took you so long? Now iron your strap flat and neat. Top stitch the quilting in the opposite direction now. If you want full quilting on both sides, you can restitch on top of the other stitching. Tuck the edges under 1/2" and top-stitch them closed.

Now, put one end on the middle of each side of the bag, lining it up with the middle of the two squares that meet. Top-stitch it neatly in place. I did a box shape about 1/8" inside the edge of the square and then an x across it.

Now your bag is complete!