Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Busy Life

Climbing trees with new friends in Carpinteria

The last couple of weeks have been a blur of activity -- “home” schooling, field trips, running around town (both in the car and on foot), starting new classes and thinking a lot about what’s important and what it means to live with purpose.


There hasn’t been much home in homeschooling lately. We have been running around a lot – helping out with our church’s weekly food distribution, going to Community Bible Studies, park days, drama class, speaker’s club, soccer practice.

We also went to Disneyland for the Unofficial Not-Back-to-School Homeschool Day and participated in a wonderful science program at the Discovery Cube. And then I drove up to Carpinteria for a ridiculously spontaneous camping trip with the kids. If it sounds a little too much, it is, but somehow I think I have worked myself into even more activity. Next week we start Girl Scouts and a basketball skills class. I’m just glad that the piano teacher comes to our house.

Making water vapor clouds at the Discover Science Cube.

In a hurricane simulator ... also at the Science Cube.

All this activity has meant that the kids and I have to rework our schedule and expectations. I have found that the kids, particularly my 11-year-old, is much more motivated to work hard on “school” work when we have time. And I have found that I can squeeze in household chores like food preparation and laundry at times that I hadn’t before.

What is more difficult for me is letting go of the expectation that we will get to all the wonderful curriculum that I would like. I’m a big fan of Sonlight curriculum (a classical/Charlotte Mason type of homeschooling program). And I have dozens of great books that I would love to read to the kids and discuss. But we can’t do it all. I just have to believe that for now, the other things we do are valuable.

Hanging with friends at Disneyland.

Disneyland's Unofficial Not-Back-to-School


I’ve been getting more serious about our Malibu Marathon training. Born to Run turned out to be a very inspiring book. It made me think about running for the pleasure of a good run.

Kip and I ran 17 miles together last Sunday and it turned out to be a lot less pleasurable than I had hoped after finishing the book. I don’t know if it was the jump in mileage, from 11 to 17 miles or the fact that I didn’t eat anything before hand, or that I let myself talk myself into quitting early – but we only made it about 14 miles running and walked the last three back to the car. They were slow, painful miles and I decided it would have been easier to have continued running.

At any rate, Kip decided it was his last Malibu Marathon training run, which was a little sad for me. But I appreciate that he was motivated by wanting to spend more of the weekend with the kids. He realized that with going to work and band practice, he was already away from them enough without spending every Saturday morning running.

So today I made my first really long run alone. I went about 18 miles. (I don’t have an accurate way of measuring, but I ran three hours and 15 minutes.)

It was actually a great run. I discovered that my chepo MP3 player has a radio, so I tuned into NPR and listened to a wonderful program on the economy. It was so engaging that I actually forgot to stop running at the end of my route.

Living Life

As I wrote about recently, we lost our dear friend Brian just a couple weeks ago. His death was unexpected and tragic in many ways. And the whole experience left me grieving and wanting to live life more purposefully.

One regret I had during Brian’s memorial service last Sunday was that I wished we had gone camping together. About four years ago he planned an epic surfing/ camping trip in Mexico, and we told him we were going to go. We bought a tent, packed the car and then realized a major rainstorm was rolling up the coast of Mexico.

So we canceled.

And if I could do it all over, I would have gone. Not because that weekend would have changed anybody’s life, but Kip and I would have enjoyed spending that time with Brian and his family. And now that opportunity will never come again.

So Tuesday morning, as I was running and thinking, I decided the next time I got a chance to go camping at an inconvenient time with a dear friend, I’d go.

And then the phone rang and my friend Heather said, “I wish you were going on our camping trip.”

So I looked at the calendar and made some adjustments.

Wednesday Kip sailed Brian’s wife and his parents and siblings out to scatter Brian’s ashes over the ocean. I met them later at a restaurant for final memorial, good-bye.

And then I came home, loaded up the car and took the kids camping.

By the time we got to the campsite it was dark, so I had my first experience of putting up a tent alone with only the light of my flashlight. But I did it and we had a great little camping trip.

There were several homeschooling families there, so the kids enjoyed hours of beach play, biking around the campsite and good-old campfire fun. I was glad I went.

We will hit the books next week -- if nothing better comes along.

Camping with the kids. My friend Patty is keeping order here with all these guys hyped up on smores.

Oh yeah, we have been making alot of applesauce too!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Best Thing About Today

When my daughter was about two, and her bed was a little toddler bed and her room was less cluttered with toys and craft creations and a brother and a couple pet rats, when both of our lives were simpler, I started a tradition.

When I put her to bed, I always asked her “What do you want to remember about today?”

And we talked about the good stuff – little details of I can’t really remember anymore.

The last couple of days have been a little rough with my son, lots of asking him to do the same things over and over, lots of conversations about how you can’t punch someone (or pretend to hit them with your light saber), even when they say something that makes you mad.

I’ve been frustrated with him and he knows it.

So tonight I took a few extra minutes to lie down next to him on his bed and read The 10-Step Guide to Living with Your Monster and then we read it again, and talked about all the funny monster drawings.

And because I wanted to remember the good stuff today, I asked him our old question: “What was the best thing about today?”

I thought he might say making apple sauce with you mom or playing at the park with my friends, maybe even going to drama class.

But he said, “When dad talked to me about that stuff.”


"Soccer stuff"

Right after dinner, just before Kip had to leave to go to music practice, he sat our son down on the couch and talked to him about soccer.

He said something like, “I want you to know that I think you are a really good soccer player. You are one of the big kids, and if you want, I believe you can kick that ball all the way down the field.”

That is my translation because I was doing the dishes and not really paying that much attention, and I don’t speak soccer well. But I do know that Kip didn’t say “Why are you so timid? Why are you afraid of the ball?”

He just said something positive to effect of “I believe in you.”

Our son listened intently, nodding his head.

“I am a great soccer player,” he agreed.

And that was it, just a couple of minutes.

But words are powerful, especially daddy words. And that was our 7-year-old’s favorite moment today.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Nice Weekend

This weekend has been pleasant and peaceful – almost a reprieve from our typically over-scheduled weeks.

One of my friends went to a family wedding on the East Coast, so her 6 and 3 year olds spent the weekend with us. I met up with her at the LA County Fair on Thursday and then the kids came home with us for a "triple sleep over"

On Friday my 11-year-old daughter went with her Girl Scout troop to a weekend camp on Catalina Island, and although I think she enjoyed it, she seemed really happy to be home. When she went to bed just now she had that peaceful home-after-a-journey smile and said, “I’m glad I’m home.”

Me too.

So what else did we do this weekend?

The kids made pirate treasure out of everything in the recycling bin and transformed the bunk bed into a ship. Light sabers became pirate swords and there was even a showdown with a very large pirate who looked a little like Kip.

So we decided to take the kids on a real ship – our little sailboat. The little boy was elated. He called Kip, “Captain,” the whole time and took on the magnitude of a child making a lifelong memory.

Our son also had his first soccer game of the season and celebrated by showing us how he can now cross the whole monkey bars.

I ran 11 miles on Saturday. And Kip ran 11 on Sunday, which means we are still training for the Malibu Marathon.

I started reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and I’m cutting this blog entry short so I can go finish reading it before I have to return it to the library. It’s really interesting so far.

Ewe intimidate me! I have to point out that my son is being super brave here. Can you see that he is holding my hand? He really wanted to touch the sheep, but not alone.

Every year the kids beg to go into the petting zoo at the LA County Fair. We buy the food pellets and inevitably, at some point in the process, they freak out and we leave the pen laughing. Ok, so now we all laugh. The first few years one of us was screaming and the rest of us were laughing.

And we always have to go to the Dude Ranch area where the kids make a real rope on a 100-year-old rope twisting machine, and they ride these giant rocking horses. It's part of our Fair tradition, and it's a free activity in a land of $5 Slurpee drinks.

Urban cowgirl.

My friend Ann Marie and her sweet little girl who spent the weekend with us.

Roping a steer.
Everybody has their angle on history. My son likes the machines and vehicles. This was an old "fire engine."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today's Sorrow

After breakfast this morning, just before Kip left for work, the phone rang. I could tell by the way he covered his mouth and sat down that it wasn’t good.

I handed him the sandwich I had made him for lunch and waited.

He looked up at me and shook his head, “He’s dead …” he whispered.


I imagined the worst. I couldn’t imagine anything.

He hung up and told me a story that didn’t make sense and I felt the world spin.

Gone? Really?

Kip had an appointment on his calendar to meet with him this afternoon. He should be alive.

I called my friend's wife, and we cried together. It just didn’t make sense.

Kip decided not to go to work. He swept the porch instead. Then he cleaned out all the waxy candle holders. I started making cookies, dozens of them.

The kids wanted to know what had happened. But what do you say, “Your friends’ daddy is gone?”

By mid afternoon I decided to just get in the car and drive out to where my friend was. I brought the cookies and we sat in her parents’ kitchen and cried together.

She told me how, just last night, she had held her husband's face in her hands and told him she loved him. She believed in him.

She said over and over again, “He was the love of my life!”

I don’t know much about death. My parents are alive. My grandparents are alive. A couple weeks ago a cousin that I had only met once, died instantly in a car accident, but his funeral was in Bermuda, and I didn’t go. I don’t think I have ever been to a relative’s funeral, certainly never a close friend.

I know that when Christians die we often say cliché things about someone being in the presence of God, being at peace, being free from pain. Today it didn’t seem so cliché.

It was the only thing that made sense. He is with Jesus, free from pain and depression, probably laughing and dancing and telling great stories. He is more fully alive than he was here.

I believe in Heaven.

I believe in a place where everything finally makes sense – where justice triumphs over human oppression and God makes it all right. He heals broken bodies and sets prisoners free.

But in the pain of living this side of Heaven, I just wish He would have provided that healing here. Here is all I know. Here is where my friend's wife and three kids live.

But Jesus knows. He walked this earth. He knows our sorrows. That’s why he wept with Mary and Martha, even after he boldly proclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live!”

My friend introduced us to Lectio Divina, an ancient monastic practice of reading scripture and listening quietly for God’s voice. Several of us used to meet weekly in our home for dinner or just to hang out. And sometimes we practiced Lectio together.

The way it worked for us, someone read a paragraph of scripture while everyone else listened. We talked about it and then read the same short passage again and listened again and repeated the whole thing a couple more times, and then prayed for each other. It was rich. I can still see my friend sitting cross legged on our living room floor, eyes closed, drinking in God’s presence.

I loved to hear him talk about God. He was an artist/producer/set designer. So when he talked about God and what community was supposed to look like, he used beautiful images. When he spoke at church he rearranged the furniture first to create the right environment.

He loved people too. He believed that it was important to spend time with people, to invest in their lives. He talked about community alot and what it meant to "live life together." I think that is why I had to see my friend this afternoon.

I don't know .... I'm sure I'll understand it all someday. But for right now, it just seems right to weep because I'm really sad. And believe in Heaven.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How do you spell B-R-E-A-K-T-H-R-O-U-G-H?


I have been officially “not worrying” about my 7-year-old son’s inability to read since he was about four.

For the past couple of years, every few weeks, I have stubbornly pulled out the same phonetic readers and listened to him painfully decode the same three-letter words.

We saw almost no progress beyond letter recognition for nearly three years.

And the older he has gotten, the more difficult it has been for me not to “w-o-r-r-y” when he struggled again to sound out words like “h-a-t” and “a-n-d.”

There is some dyslexia in Kip's family, so I have been especially concerned that he seemed to not recognize the word “the” in print after seeing it thousands of times over the past two or three years.

I had decided to give him a little more space and time. Maybe it was my faith in delayed academics, maybe procrastination. Whatever it was, it was the luxury of homeschooling.

Then today, my 11-year-old daughter decided to earn tickets for the LA County Fair. We found a program that will award the kids with vouchers for free rides for book reports -- three rides for every two book reports with a maximum total of nine rides for six book reports.

“Mom! What books have I read this summer?”

Well, not too many, actually. She spent more time running around, playing at the beach, making crafts from the recycling bin than reading. And I was fine with that. I knew that she would find her way back to reading. But when she realized she only had a couple of books to report, she immediately got to work.

Like a school kid steeped in years of learning to milk the system, she found the easiest unread chapter book on her shelf. By mid afternoon she had finished a novella on Barbie and was looking for another easy read.

And then, like the resourceful girl she is, she realized that instead of sharing her tickets with her brother, she could maximize both of their earning potentials by helping him get his own tickets.

So she taught him to read.

At least it seemed that way.

After an hour of too much quiet, I found them lying on the floor of their bedroom, Green Eggs and Ham spread in front of them.

“I’m helping him read it,” she explained. “He is guessing most of the words, but I’m helping him.”

Ok. Carry on, good children.

Another hour passed and when I checked he was still trying.

Finally he brought me Green Eggs and Ham and said it was too hard. But he had found the old stack of phonics books and wanted me to listen to him read them.

He picked out a book with several different long vowel combinations, one that we had not tackled. And he read it to me. Slowly and patiently he worked through every word.

He even explained to me the "silent e" rule, saying that he realized that “like” as in “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam-I-Am,” is the same as “wide,” a word he had just sounded out for me in his phonics book.

He was still trying to read to me when I put him to bed.

I felt like I was watching him walk across the living room for the first time.

I know that finishing a kindergarten level phonics book is a long way from second-grade level reading proficiency, but I really don’t care. I have no doubt he is going to make it.

Still reading after I am almost asleep.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Our Birthdays

Happy Birthday, Babe!

I’m still backtracking through August to update my scrapbook of memories on this blog. Although there is a lot I could say about the second half of the month I’m going to throw in a few thoughts and pictures and move on.

Our last day in Mexico was my 34th birthday. It was about as idyllic as possible for a day of international travel. I went out for breakfast with Kip (always a favorite activity), kayaked to a distant shipwreck (still have remnants of blisters to prove it), floated in the pool, drank one last Banana Mama (heavy on the banana) and then flew home.

Rest time abruptly stopped the minute we arrived in LA. We started cleaning up the apartment and doing the laundry, getting ready for the kids to return and to celebrate our daughter’s 11th birthday.

Kip picked the kids up from the airport while I stayed back to welcome about 30 friends for the biggest surprise party our daughter has ever experienced. I’m not so sure having a surprise party for a tired kid coming home from a three-week trip is the kindest thing, but at least she felt celebrated. (She had expressed a concern to her Nana that her friends might forget her while she was gone for so long.)



On Wednesday, her actual birthday, we went to Disneyland’s California Adventure where she rode the Tower of Terror about five times. Because it was her birthday, we got a bunch of fast passes, and despite the end of summer crowds, rode all the best rides several times without waiting in line.

Ok, so why am I the only one here not pretending to pick my nose for the camera? Must be the Kip genetics at work.

Picking out lapel pins

Wanna know something funny? Our kids both think this ride is suppose to be a replica of the Hollywood Apartments where our pastor and several of our friends live. I suppose if someone from the 30s was transported from Hollywood to the current Hollywood, a run-down part of Thai Town with hotel-turned apartments; they might think they were in the Twilight Zone too.

After weeks of leading separate adventures, it was a really nice way to spend the day together.

One thing that has been particularly difficult for Kip and me lately is the rapid change in our daughter. Not only did she grow about 8 inches last year, but she transitioned from mostly little kid, to something a little closer to a young adult.

At least once on her birthday, I thought about my dad and how he handled the bitter sweetness of our growing up. He would give my mom that reassuring melancholy smile and say gently, "It's normal, Love."

It's normal for the transitioning kid to push against her parents' expectations. It's normal for her to be offended when we don't get the message that she is "NOT a little kid anymore."

And it's normal for us to grieve the loss of our little singing, dancing Pocahontas-wanna-be princess.

And yet ... I like the big kid too. She is sophisticated and funny. She still wants to please us and she has great ideas. And no matter what she says, she really is still a little kid --comparatively speaking. I look forward to the years ahead.

Growing up

About six years ago ... in a far away galaxy.