Thoughtful Thursday Week 51 – Recitals and Jitters

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Why am I more nervous when my children have recitals than when I used to have my own? Why don’t I feel my feet when they have their annual testing? Thankfully, testing is only once a year. Recitals come around every six months.

And now that our church family is aware that our children can play instruments, they ask for a special music now and then. It has already happened three times this year, so I think we could probably plan on a quarterly special music performance by either one of them for next year.

Thoughtful Thursday

My children, being as young as they are, view music and practice as a chore. Maybe it’s my fault. I do not know how to make it fun. And, perhaps, I do not believe that practice or learning of any sorts should be all cutesy and fun. I believe in hard work and learning or practicing a musical instrument is hard work.

Realizing our need for an attitude change, I recently spent some time with them telling them about the power of music to soothe and comfort the heart in a way that a sermon or a Bible verse or a book or a movie cannot. I reminded them that people come to church (or to kids’ recitals) with their problems, with their worries, with their issues. Music helps lift their burdens.

The kids’ music is, in a sense, an act of service: they have worked hard and they will get nothing material out of it. More skills, yes, but no money or a trip or an award and not even a sticker. Only the satisfaction that they have touched somebody, somehow. Even that may be wishful thinking. We don’t get a real confirmation other than a polite comment here and there from those who care enough to say a kind word.

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This is what art is all about: service. We reach out through art to impart joy, comfort, peace, and perhaps clarity in someone’s heart. I remember so many times in my own experience when I was very confused but music brought clarity to my heart. I gave them a pep talk right before they practiced Twinkle as a duet. Before the pep talk, they could not hold the same tempo, the older got impatient with the younger, and it was just a mess. There was no harmony to speak of, literally or symbolically.

After the pep talk, I could actually see it on their faces. They changed the focus from themselves to the “audience.” We were still in the living room, but I told them they were going to perform for real people who need comfort and soothing and a beautiful song to speak to their hearts. Especially the little one straightened up and did amazingly better.

In epic movies, there’s always the speech before the battle. The troops rally and the victory is won. Oh, wow, I thought, it actually works in real life, with little people who play their squeaky violins!

And on we march, toward another performance, a little wiser for the journey, both mom and little ones.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 50 – Looking Ahead to 2016

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Do you have plans already for 2016? Have you started looking ahead? I have not, but I came across a wonderful planning workbook and thought I would share it with you. I saved it for myself and plan on filling it out in the next few weeks, before 2016 rushes in upon us.

Thoughtful Thursday - Looking Ahead

Some of you may be familiar with Live Your Legend, Scott Dinsmore’s community of people who want to do work they love. We homeschooling parents are doing work we love. So I think we fit right in. Even though this workbook is not specific to homeschoolers (or any other profession), it will help you define your educational (and otherwise) plans for the following calendar year.  Continue reading »

You may also remember Scott lost his life in a tragic accident in Africa. His widow is continuing his legacy and here’s something I learned from her: we are so much stronger than we think. She had to peel herself off Kilimanjaro knowing her husband just died. She had to get on a plane and deal with things we never want to think about – the process of memorializing a husband, a friend, a lover, a business partner. But she said, we are so much stronger than we think.

So I want to encourage you now, as you may be tired and harried and you may not exactly feel like setting goals for the new year. Save this workbook on your computer and let it sit there for a few days. Pray about it, and pull it out when your energy is back up.

Then you will be ready to tackle it.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 49 – The Sugar Plum Fairy Is Flexible

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Today we attended The Nutcracker Ballet in Knoxville, at the Civic Auditorium. It’s quickly becoming an annual tradition for us. This is our third year in a row. The children enjoy it very much. I love it. Ballet, like any art, is therapeutic. It healed some of the brokenness I was feeling after the terror attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and the loss of our friends’ daughter last week.

Nutcracker ballerinas

The Appalachian Ballet Company has been performing The Nutcracker for 44 years.

On a funny note, my son told my husband, “Daddy, I don’t want to dance.” Poor guy. Mommy took him to several concerts by the Knoxville Youth Symphony Orchestra several years ago and, next thing he knew, he got a violin for his fifth birthday and started violin lessons. Now that he sees mommy keeps taking him to this ballet, he wonders if the next extra-curricular activity is dance.  Continue reading »

Daddy smiled and said, “That’s where I would put my foot down, son. No dance lessons for you, even if mommy wanted you to start.” I smiled, especially because I never thought I should put my son in ballet or dance. I told my son to relax, that I would never ask him to take dance lessons. It had never crossed my mind.

Scene from The Nutcracker

Another scene from The Nutcracker Ballet

My daughter, on the other hand, made the best comment of 2015: “The Sugar Plum Fairy is flexible. Very flexible.” I laughed my heart out when I heard her. It was during the Grand Pas De Deux and, of course, the Nutcracker was twisting and turning the Sugar Plum Fairy in all directions.

I must say, after what happened recently in San Bernardino and Paris, I thought we might be a soft target – an auditorium full of school children, watching a Christmas ballet. But we have to continue to live our lives. Otherwise, they win.

Daddy came with us this year, for a change. I had to drag him a little bit on this one, but it worked out. I felt more secure with him there. After the ballet, we had lunch at Cracker Barrel and made a day of it. We got home around 3:30pm, just as the school buses were taking public school children home.

What remains after a day at the ballet is the desire for elegance and smooth transitions. The ballerinas are elegant and smooth, that’s for sure.

Oh, and one more thing. We were surrounded by school children. When one of them was out of control and the chaperone was not saying anything to her, I leaned over and I said, “Stop, please.” She was stunned and behaved well afterwards. The chaperone was stunned and did not say a word.

I was stunned that I had the courage to do this. Apparently, I have no problem disciplining somebody else’s child in public. Watch out!

Thoughtful Thursday Week 48 – Give Thanks

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To celebrate Thanksgiving, we went to Asheville, NC. The Omni Grove Park Inn serves a Thanksgiving Grand Buffet, plus one can take a look at the Top 10 National Gingerbread House Competition creations for 2015. Here are some pictures for you…

National Gingerbread House Competition


National Gingerbread House Competition


National Gingerbread House Competition Continue reading »

National Gingerbread House Competition


Omni Grove Park Inn, Thanksgiving Buffet

The four of us in front of the Omni Grove Park Inn, Thanksgiving 2015


National Gingerbread House Competition


National Gingerbread House Competition

National Gingerbread House Competition


Thoughtful Thursday Week 47 – Burning Books

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They are burning books in Don Quixote’s yard but it strikes me that they have been burning books throughout history. Different groups have been so scared of certain books, they burned them. It’s called biblioclasm or book burning. Look it up. It has been going on since the dawn of civilization.

You know what that tells me? Books have power.

Thoughtful Thursday - Burning Books

People burn books because they are scared of them, of what they can do to the reader.  Continue reading »

What do we fear? We fear what we don’t know. So many times, people fear books they have not read. They fear not the books themselves, but what somebody else told them about those particular books.

I grew up under Communism for the first 15 years of my life and there was a lot of censorship going on. They did not like the Bible much, those Communists. But they allowed us the classics. So we read or heard about the most famous works of literature in Western civilization.

Once I became a Christian, I found out that some über-conservative Christians spoke against classic works of Western literature. These people may not have literally burned a single classical volume in their lives, but they practice biblioclasm with their words. You know how you can murder with a look or a word? You know how you can slander somebody’s character, aka character assassination, with a simple sentence? Christians have burned books by condemning books indiscriminately, by telling other Christians they should not read fiction or a certain author.

Back then, at 16, I was so thirsty for God’s Word, I did not have time to think about the controversy too much. I spent the next 25 years of my life studying the Bible and reading nonfiction books only. I have now come to a new fork in the road, in my quest to give my children a well-rounded education with a Christian worldview. To read or not to read fiction, that is the question.

Here’s my conclusion, after much prayer and supplication and studying the arguments on both sides: I encourage my children to read the classical works of literature produced by Western authors. Well, I do more than encourage. I lead by example.

I have started reading the books listed in The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer. At the same time, I am requiring my children to read the classics as listed in The Well-Trained Mind.

I am not scared of the classics. On the contrary, I think they teach the children reading comprehension, vocabulary, cultural notions which escape non-reading Christians, good habits of mind, good story-telling, good writing, and that sticking to God’s principles is always best. Even in stories where the bad guy gets rewarded, there is so much misery, you are reminded God’s way is superior.

Some of these blanket statements could be qualified and further explained. My boundaries with books could also be listed here. But that’s another Thoughtful Thursday topic.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 46 – Because I Can

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I am reading a lot these days because I can. I cannot do many things as a homeschooling mom, but reading I can do. Learning about one’s limitations is a fundamental lesson in life. Understanding your boundaries and communicating them to others is an extension of knowing your own limits. So many lives would be changed for the better if we only understood our own limits.

Homeschooling moms are busy creatures. A career is pretty much out of the question unless you are a force of nature like Susan Wise Bauer or Ann Voskamp. Going back to school cannot really happen unless your children are older and more independent in their study habits. Traveling solo (or with the family) is limited by time and space equations which have everything to do with hubby’s career.

What’s a homeschooling mom to do?

I read. While the kids play or take lessons outside the home, I read.

Thoughtful Thursday - Because I Can

The library saves me thousands of dollars every year, but I also like to invest in my own titles. Books help me lose myself in order to find myself. I travel and discover new destinations without having to pack a suitcase. Then I return Continue reading »

and prepare another meal for my children or teach them another class or drive them to another class outside the home. Because I can.

After reading one more page, I am different. I have renewed myself. I have heard of people who read one book a day (Seth Godin, Tai Lopez). University professors and researchers read two or three books a week. They probably don’t homeschool or prepare three meals a day for their children. I know they don’t. Homeschooling and homemaking remain my main vocation or calling. But God gave me an active brain and it needs stimulation.

So I read books. Because I can. I have discovered I can read a book a month. Then, it turns out, I can read a book a week. The latest discovery is that I can finish a 530-page book in 2 1/2 days if it is as good as Anthony Doerr’s “All The Light We Cannot See.” That’s when the kids were on a mini-break from homeschool. But, on average, it takes me a week. That’s 52 books a year. If I give myself a two-week break, and to make math easier, that’s 50 books a year.

Mortimer Adler wrote that the best books of Western Civilization can be put on a list that numbers about 100 titles. In two years of reading one of these “best books of the Western Civilization” per week, I can read them all. You can, too.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 45 – Ten More Years

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As we were sharing cupcakes with my son’s friends in Adventurers, the program director said, “Mom, he is eight now. You have 10 more years with him…” I sighed and agreed with her. Ten more years. That’s it. I have taken care of him for eight years. I am staring down a not-so-long corridor of 10 more years. It really does not seem that long anymore, getting him to 18.

Thoughtful Thursday

And here’s the kicker: next year, it will be nine and nine. Nine years of past memories, nine more years to go. After that, the past will gain on the future. Ten years of memories, and eight more years of future memories. Now, if I can just maintain this perspective as things happen and I am tempted to lose my patience…

Life is short. It really is. Homeschooling can make it seem long because the days are long and the years are short. However, public school moms tell me they are exhausted too. They get tired and if they also have a job they feel like they are not doing either motherhood or their career 100%. When they are at work, they think about the children. When they are with the children, they think about all the things they still have to complete at work. As a homeschool mom, I have the luxury of only focusing on the children.  Continue reading »

My librarian asked me how we like homeschooling and if we would like to continue. I answered, “Yes, we like it and we want to continue. It’s tiring, but I talk to public school moms and they are tired, too.” To which the librarian answered, “There are no easy ways to raise children.” I could not agree more.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world. And homeschooling cannot happen without good parenting. Most of the objections I hear against homeschooling boil down to parenting. What does that tell you? We don’t have an academic crisis in the world. We have a parenting crisis.

“I could not homeschool. My daughter and I would kill each other.” Really? Do you realize what you just said to me? That you cannot communicate with your daughter, that there are frustration levels so high between you two that have nothing to do with academics and textbooks, and that she has no respect for you. You need family counseling.

“As much as I love my children, I could not be with them all day long.” As much as I love my children, I could not separate from them for seven hours a day in the name of education. I happen to also like my children, beside loving them. There is a difference, you know, between liking and loving somebody.

“I still don’t understand how a parent could do a better job than an army of professionals with a teaching license.” This one may sound like it’s about academics, but it still boils down to parenting. A loving parent knows how their child learns best and tailors education to the child’s learning style. Besides, the efficiency of a private initiative like homeschooling wins over government education every time. Last but not least, have you looked at test scores lately? The proof is in the pudding. Children in public schools do not perform as well as homeschoolers on standardized tests.

To conclude: statistically, in a school setting, children receive about 15 minutes of individual instruction. Period. What they do the rest of the time is baby-sitting. Even if I give them one hour of individual instruction of home, I will have done four times better than a licensed teacher. And then, I can set them free to play all day while I take care of my writing and house and meals. A lot of their activities which seem like play are actually educational and I can easily come up with four hours a day of learning, which is the requirement where I live.

We are under the same roof and I hear their conversations, but I don’t have to interact with them constantly all day long. I get mini-breaks from them throughout the day. I think I can handle the next ten years. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 44 – Government

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Here in the USA presidential campaigning is in full swing. One of the Republican candidates is a member of our denomination and has visited our church in Knoxville before. Of course, we would like to see him win the Republican nomination, but we are still 100 days away from the primary and anything can happen at this point.

Teaching the kids about politics, government and civics is an interesting challenge. Last summer, at a used curriculum sale in Maryville, I invested the impressive amount of $1 in a second grade Abeka textbook for history and geography. We read a few pages per week during our bedtime reading. As usual, we read books for my oldest’s level.

Thoughtful Thursday - Government

Our youngest complains at times that certain books are boring, so we alternate between books she proposes and the older books we read for our oldest. That way, she has no room to complain we do not take her wishes into consideration, while challenging her and serving the needs of our oldest.  Continue reading »

Just as I told you we would, we went to Brookdale Assisted Living in Sevierville to put a smile on the faces of the elderly who sat outside their rooms with buckets of candy. It was an event organized two days before Halloween, and I thought it would be a great idea for service. It was. Both my children enjoyed it and said they wanted to come back and play violin and piano for the residents.

Of course, the elderly were thrilled to see the kids. They asked for their names, told them they were good-looking, and interacted a bit with them. Some forgot they had just doled out candy to them, so they gave them candy twice. The elderly are so touching, I was in tears several times. Visiting hospitals and nursing homes takes a certain kind of courage and I must confess I don’t have it, but I try.

Daddy told the children he would take some of their candy. He called it “daddy tax.” They protested. He explained to them the government takes some of the money he makes at the hotel. You should have seen the kids’ faces as they struggled to take in this new concept.

Their candy was “their” candy because they “worked” for it. But daddy explained we drove them there, which takes gas and money. We bought them costumes. All this boils down to money. The kids needed to pay their “daddy tax” in candy and, thus, cover some of the expenses daddy incurred by allowing them to “conduct business.”

And thus we had a lesson in government, citizenship, and civics. Paying taxes to the government is part of life. In fact, it is such a sure part of life, we have an English expression about it: when something is inevitable, we say it is “as sure as death and taxes.” Children have no concept of money unless somebody teaches them. And paying taxes is a big part of financial concepts.

I am thankful for a husband who comes up with creative ideas as we teach our children in our homeschool.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 43 – Service

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Of all the things we do in our homeschool, nothing is harder to schedule than service. We visited a nursing home once. We attended a fundraiser for Sevier County Food Ministries. We sorted through toys and clothes and donated them to a Thrift Store nearby, for kids who could use them. Other than that, I am clueless.


After a column I wrote for The Mountain Press about my Halloween dilemma, i.e. about not knowing how to avoid observing this obviously occultish holiday, one of my readers emailed me about an event at Brookdale Assisted Living in Sevierville, on October 29th. Children can come dressed up in different costumes, they get candy, and the residents get visitors. It’s a win-win. There will be snacks, too.  Continue reading »

So after several weeks of praying and looking around for alternatives to trick-or-treating, I think I may have stumbled upon something here: an opportunity for service. Children put a smile on the faces of most assisted living residents. We will put our violins in the car to take along, as well as our sheet music. Surely, there’s a piano in that place. And we will make some music for the residents, besides showing up to cheer them up.

I have called them up and they were thrilled we offered to come just to trick-or-treat. The music may or may not happen this time, as it depends on the number of people they will have coming through. But they are totally open to our coming over there to visit any other time, and share our music, smiles, and presence with the residents.

It just so happened that I watched an emotional video on Facebook too, about this preschool which was planted inside a nursing home. The elderly were in tears as they interacted with the kids. They held hands. An elderly lady straightened the hair on a preschooler. The kids loved interacting with people the age of their grandparents. Again, a win-win situation.

We look forward to being more involved in an assisted living facility in the future, visiting with the elderly.

It is rather hard to involve small children in service opportunities. They can’t really clean a house or a yard without supervision. They hinder more than they help. It’s one thing having them trotting around the house with a duster. It’s another thing having them dust in the house of an elderly lady with lots of ceramic items on shelves. But they can smile, shake hands, and play their instruments in a nursing home.

If you have any ideas for service projects, I would appreciate them. I would like to spend more time in service with my kids.

Thoughtful Thursday Week 42 – Mr. Lincoln

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Today we went to the Pigeon Forge Library for a program called “Meet Mr. Lincoln.” For about 40 minutes, Dennis Boggs told us the story of Abraham Lincoln from birth until his assassination. The costume, hair and makeup were perfect. The delivery was superb. It’s easy to overdo impersonations, but I am happy to tell you that this one is just right. One can tell Mr. Boggs has extensive theater experience.

Meet Mr. Lincoln with little girl

My daughter with Mr. Lincoln at the Pigeon Forge Library.

The whole point of this presentation is to encourage children to read and “stay in school.”

Mr. Lincoln

Mr. Lincoln comes to schools, libraries, conventions, homeschool groups and any other gathering interested in history and literacy. You can find all the information and rates on his website.  Continue reading »

Boy with an actor impersonating Abraham Lincoln

My son with an actor impersonating Abraham Lincoln

As for me, I learned a lot through this presentation. My seven-year-old was spellbound for 40 minutes. My five-year-old paid attention for at least 30 minutes. I had to get creative to keep her quiet and in her seat.

After the presentation, they picked up some books and then we took pictures with Mr. Lincoln. This actor does a great job using humor with children and adults alike.

What impressed me the most was the fact that Lincoln went to school for less than a year, combining all the years he had time to go to school. How did he build his eloquence? He read. It’s that simple. He read. Would you like to know how to put your child through college with a scholarship? Read to him for 20 minutes a day or more. Teach him to read. Turn off the screens in your life (TV, tablet, telephone) and read to your child.

Lift up the book and the book will draw your child to it. That’s a biblical principle, by the way. The Word Himself said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” Keep the reading program up. Get most of your books from the library, but do build a home library of classics and nonfiction titles on various topics. This will build your child’s vocabulary and you know that vocabulary is the single one predictor of future success in a child. The more words your child hears and learns, the better he will fare as an adult. Happy reading!