April 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
Today is the beginning of the last eight weeks for our 2014-2015 homeschooling year. That means it is time to start planning for next year. Over the next eight weeks we will assess where we are, plan our goals for next year, think about the methods we are using and if they are still working for each child, decide what subjects and activities are important for next year, plan the budget and select books and resources, setup next year’s calendar, lay out the scope and sequence and then start creating lesson plans. That really is a pretty full 8 weeks.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should start out by saying I am a pirate. I have no problem boarding a random homeschooling methodology on the high seas and pillaging whatever I like from it and leaving the rest behind. I am also pretty ruthless when it comes to raiding book lists, curricula and pretty much anything I find without feeling obligated to take it all or “buy in” to anyone’s vision. Our homeschooling ship is a jolly mix of what appeals to me from a variety of programs and methods.
If I had to be pegged on our preferred route I would say it looks something like Montessori until the end of first grade, a lot like Charlotte Mason until fourth grade and more or less Classical after fifth. My basic goals are to transition my children to independence as early and smoothly as possible, to give them the basic tools of education and to instill a love of their faith. The theory is a gentle continuing acquisition of skills that entails as little stress for me and them as possible. We want our children to able to learn and think independently while still having a deep sense of honor, faith, family and community. I don’t claim to be expert in teaching or planning and I don’t think my particular methods are the best for anyone but myself and family. We all end up working through a good bit of trial and error before we find what works and then often enough the seasons change and what worked before no longer does. Flexibility is critical. Since I know people are often wanting to peek inside what is working for other families I am documenting our process here over the next several weeks. Please feel free to check in again – or like me on Facebook or follow the nascent Twitter feed (both on the sidebar). I hope what I post will be useful to you.
April 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Hecato, says: “I can show you a philtre, compounded without drugs, herbs, or any witch’s incantation: ‘If you would be loved, love.'”
Seneca ~ Moral Letters to Lucilius IX.6
My dad has cancer. This is one of those numbingly painful things that has been pulling my heart and peace to shreds. So I have been going to back to essentials: prayer and Mindfulness, a heart turned toward simplicity and Stoicism resting in the peace of Christ. It has also led to some conversations with family. Most particularly a very insightful moment with my mom.
We were talking about life – that whole messy business and something clicked. She was expressing how her whole life she had never really felt loved. My dad and I were assuring her that she was loved but there was the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff. I came up with some wholly inarticulate version of “I have been trying to tell you I love you my whole life but you never believe it.” Which led to her realizing the kind of odd cruelty her own lack of self worth inflicts on everyone who loves her. No one can ever love you enough that you feel loved unless you have the faith that you are loved. The only way you feel love is love someone else and have faith that they love you.
With a new appreciation of this truth I see it all around me. In Seneca’s quote from Hecato. in random articles I read online and in thr Prayer of St Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It seems that it is always in pain that we learn more about love. I hope that my mother can see that the truest path to being loved is to love with no regard for any return but to love wholly and Holy and true.
April 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
Next year will be our 10th year homeschooling. Amazing how one moment you are the total newbie to this homeschooling thing and the next minute you are at a homeschooling workshop and you are the one with the most experience. How did that happen?
So in the interest of being helpful here are a few thoughts I have gleaned over the years:
- Homeschool is not school at home; it is a life style.
This was the biggest surprise about homeschooling. I don’t remember what I expected homeschooling to be, but I know I was thinking it would be more along the lines of everyone sitting down and doing school work for several hours a day and that would be it. Lo and behold this is not what happened. We do school work for several hours a day, but it might be done at the dinning room table or the living room floor or even outside. Sure, we have time where we do school work, but we also take the opportunity to learn when learning presents itself. Yes, we are that family counting apples in the grocery store.The other aspect of homeschooling that is vastly unlike school is how and why we handle learn metrics. We do not do grades. We work to mastery. If you get something wrong you fix it. We don’t really have “Grade” levels either. If you are spelling at level three and doing math at level seven all is well. You are never ahead or behind you are where you are supposed to be.
- If something isn’t working don’t be afraid to switch mid stream.
There is no shame in stopping something that doesn’t work. I have seen people struggle for next to forever with something that isn’t working for them or their child. (that could be me) No matter how much you paid for the program, how wonderful the illustrations are, how much your best friend loves it, how well it worked for your older child – if it isn’t working don’t keep slaving away at it. Beware of sunk cost fallacies playing on your decision making process and find something that works better. This is every bit as important to keep in mind if you are talking about one book, a program, a teaching philosophy or even the decision to homeschool.
- Focus the most energy on the things most important.
You only have so many hours in a day and you only have so much energy to spend. Pick your battles. There will be times – maybe even whole years where life impacts schooling. New babies, family crisis, moving, illness all can impact the day to day schooling. During those times pare back to what is essential to your family and let the rest go for a time.
- Each child is unique – their education should be too.
Work with your child’s strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. Let them explore the things they love but also make sure they have the skills to follow where their passions lead. Don’t allow your educational philosophy to conflict with your child’s learning style. This is really hard to keep in mind when you very attached to an abstract idea of what the “best” education. The best education is the one where your child is learning and excited to learn.
- Do not expect what you do not inspect
My kids have a tendency to not do something if they think I won’t look at it. Anything you have asked them to take the time to do should be something that you are will to take the time to go over with them.
- Don’t let your expectations drown your child’s enthusiasm
It surprises me sometimes how things I think are exciting aren’t to my kids and how sometimes they delve into something that I wouldn’t have expected. Sometimes I have also found that if I am overly excited about something it builds it up too much and my children’s natural excitement isn’t allowed to grow. There have been times where my expectation for good or bad has irrevocably colored my children’s experience. I am very mindful at this point to hold my tongue as much as possible and not try to set them up too much ahead of time.
- Chores and life skills are as important as school work
We are raising humans. They need to know a wide variety of life skills not just facts and figures. Take the time to teach budgeting, menu planning, auto-repair, sewing and all those things that a responsible human needs to know.
- Down time, self directed studies and play are critical
Model a life of constant learning and expect your children to be learning things that interest them too. Children need time to learn on their own, to process what they have learned and to just play.
- Less really is more
There are so many good opportunities, so many things we want our children to see and learn and do it is easy to take on too much. It is much more difficult to pull away from something than it is to have never taken it on. The advantage of not taking on too much is to more fully and deeply discover what is left. You have to leave time for peace and quite, there has to be down time or nothing works well. It is very much possible to overflow our small cup of hours with the deluge of good things that surround us.
- There is nothing more important than the relationship.
There is no subject, no devotion, no class, no activity that is worth more than the relationship the parent and child have. No matter how important something is, if it is constantly causing your child distress or causing you to be embattled with your child it is just not worth it.
March 25, 2015 § Leave a comment
Proverbs 28:1 The wicked flee though none pursue; but the just, like a lion, are confident.
One of my favorite stories from the Gospels is in Mark. Jairus, a synagogue official, whose 12 year old daughter is near death comes to Jesus in hopes that he will heal her. Christ agrees to help but before they can leave there comes the dreaded news. “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” I can feel Jairus’ hear break at the news, his trip was in vain, it would have been better to have stayed at his wife’s side. This child was precious to him, thus his last minute, desperate trip to see this crazy faith healer that most of the religious establishment were already ridiculing and worse. He had risked his position on the outside hope that this person could do something to save his child. And now his child was gone – why trouble the teacher any longer. Just as he is about to leave Jesus puts his hand on Jarius’ shoulder, smiles warmly at him and says almost joyfully – “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” And there was nothing to fear; the child who was dead lived and there was nothing to fear for Christ had entered their lives and their home and all was well – for it could be nothing else with Jesus there.
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.” There is so much contained in that simply statement of Jesus. I can think of nothing more dreadful than the news your child has died and in response to this Jesus simply says “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” What ever evil surrounds us we need not be afraid God wills all things to his end. Even if we suffer, even if we die, even if something precious to us is taken away God is with us and in the end, as long as we have faith, we have nothing to fear. We have every right to walk with confidence in the light of our loving God. We are lions and need fear nothing.
This thought was pressed into my heart in response to prayer for peace with a terrible level of agitation that seemed to be swelling around me. There just seemed to be so much fear. Fear that our children will be lead astray by the world, fear that forces working against the church would be successful, fear of strangers, fear of vaccinations, fear of food additives, fear of pollution, fear of gays, fear of the internet, fear of war, fear of seemingly every thing. I was tired of the fear and it did not feel right, good or even useful.
It felt like we were deer, hiding ourselves in the bushes, watching the wild dogs walk in the meadow. It occurred to me that my children would not want to be the deer, the prey, waiting for the enemy to attack. They would see the enemy with their strong teeth and sharp claws and feel at best weak – at worse they would despise being always afraid and would want to leave. Would they envy the freedom of walking in the sun while I tried to keep them safe in the shadows? And that sweet response from Jesus whispered in. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” We are lions.
We have as children of the King of all Creation the blessed right to roar. We have in our souls the love and joy born of Grace and we walk in the sun. Our children can watch the wild dogs scatter as they know that nothing in the world can touch them for they are not truly of the world. There is nothing in the purveyors of sin and sorrow to admire – a child of God would debase themselves to join them. My older children have begun to wrap themselves in this idea as they walk out into the world. They do not need to worry about those things that would tell them their faith is worthless or a fantasy. Sin with all its temptations is beneath them and when they do stumble it is only a stumble for they belong to Christ – He will recover His own. They need only set aside their sin and return to their place in the sun for they will always be welcomed back. They are lions; they roar.
Yes, there is pain, sorrow, hardship, grief and loss. It is true that sometime there is more comfort in being the lamb than the lion and we are blessed in those moments to be both. But just as Christ is the Lamb of God He is also the Lion of Judah. We are called to be imitators of Christ, we walk in the light of God, we scatter the enemies of Christ to the shadows – we do not dwell in the shadows ourselves. Our natural space is in the sunlight of God’s love. We need not fear anything for our Lord and savior has conquered all that would trouble us. God’s strength makes us lions when the world would have us be frightened and when we are sure that our struggles have overcome us Jesus smiles at us and encourages us – “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
“Why would you want to start blogging again?”, an earnest question asked by my 13 year old. Each of my children give me a gift, Hannah gives me thoughtfulness. The question forced me to think. Why write? Why write and “put it out there”? The answer really comes down to this: when I write I am a better me.
The reason I chose Simply Catholic as the name of my blog is that those two words encapsulate not just who I am but also so much of what I intend for myself and what I strive to become more of. They are more or less the essence of my best self. The more I can align myself with those two words the more content I am and the more fulfilled I am. Writing and the act of putting it out on the internet helps me keep the perspective I need on my own life. If someone else enjoys it or finds it useful — all to the good.
My life is a Catholic life. I will honestly confess that I am “bad-Catholic” but with the grace of God I am a Lioness; the love of Christ infuses me as warm as the sun, as gentle as the moon and as merry as a stat lit sky. God has placed on me certain burdens and difficulties – I have no delusion that I am in any way unique in the weight or number of those burdens although sometimes I do forget that and feel sorry for myself. As much as I despise the platitude “ God never gives you anything more than you can bear” I do find that when place those burdens on the yoke that Christ gave me I am able to bear them with ease – Christ’s yoke makes all burdens light. When take things into my hands and take too much to heart, when I attempt to carry the burdens too close it all overwhelms me. Practicing my faith makes dealing with the rest of my life possible. When I am writing about my faith I think about it more deeply, center myself in it more firmly and find more about it to love.
The other theme of my life is simplicity. When you have seven children simplicity is just a matter of practical survival. Simplicity as a lifestyle and as a movement is something I am drawn to because I have a tendency to over-think everything and allow stuff to take over too much of my space and commitments to take up to much of my time. It is very easy for me to let perfect become the enemy of good and to get so wound up in non-essentials that the essentials don’t get done. There is a vicious cycle where my mind is cluttered which makes me less attentive to my external world which leads to my space and time being cluttered which makes my mind more cluttered. Mindfulness and prayer clear my mind of the thoughts and worries that chase around inside my head. Simplicity is the outward manifestation of mindfulness and the external support that buttresses inner peace. Writing about it helps keep me accountable to myself and It helps me stay organized and at peace. It helps balance and calm the spiritual, material, emotional, cognitive and temporal aspects of my existence.
When I was younger I really failed to appreciate how quickly life flies by and how easy it is to forget even things we know in the moment we will always remember. “I am way to busy living my life to document it” I said at one point scoffing at my mother-in-law, Dana, when she complained that I didn’t take enough pictures. But now, of course, I wish I had documented those things better and journaled more. Journals and pictures are repositories of memory and after watching both my grandmother and my mother-in-law, Irene, deal with memory loss I find myself very much aware that memories of are the gold of life. So I will journal more so that I can capture memories in text and keep them for that time when my mind fails to hold fast to those most precious things and I will take more pictures even though I am no longer able to share them with Dana.
That is why I am starting to blog again. As silly as even saying the word “blog” might be I live in a modern world and this is the tool that I have. Bless you if you have read this; I know it is just so much navel gazing – but sometimes that is ok.
March 5, 2015 § Leave a comment
The 40 Trash Bag Challenge
2012 – updates – 40 bags in 40 days
Back in 2008 I took a box of trash bags and a bit of inspiration and got rid of 40 bags of stuff from my home. In 2009 Fr. Kyle Schnippel asked if he could grab that idea as a Lenten sacrifice and then over the last two years the idea has been picked up by various mail lists and people who are looking for a way to “Let Go” as part of Lent – or a way to declutter their homes. I love that so many people have found this useful. To help those who find their way here make the most of their “Trash Bag Challenge” I am republishing and reworking some of those ideas that have been the best and most useful.The two ways I have approached the 40 Trash bag challenge are as a decluttering exercise and as a part of a Lenten sacrifice. Both serve a purpose but they are radically different in the approach I use.
40 Trash Bags – Decluttering
The first way is just focusing on getting rid of stuff. Basically the 40 trash bag challenge is a very simple idea. Take a bag, one each day, and fill it with things you don’t need. You do this for five days a week for eight weeks. The stuff is throw away, given away or donated. A large item (sofa, computer, TV, chair) can count as a bag. A box of books can count as a bag. The only thing that doesn’t count is your typical everyday trash. If you have a small apartment or less stuff use a smaller bag. If you have a lot to lose use a bigger bag. Don’t let the bags sit around your house. At the very least take them to the car so you can drop them off at your local charity the next time you drive by. The most important thing in this exercise is to let go of the extra stuff. Though we try to make sure that we do the best we can by giving away what we can and recycling what we can and not mindlessly adding to the landfill this is not the primary objective.
40 Trash Bags – For Lent
The goal when doing a 40 trash bags for Lent is a little different. The goal here is to let go but in a more mindful way. Sure, you are decluttering, but you are also praying your way through it. In my home clutter comes in different types and each is rather symbolic for some of the spiritual sicknesses so many people suffer from. Fear, vanity, covetousness, pride, sloth and envy all help us become fearsome consumers. We have too many possessions, too many aspirations, too little time. We have so many good intentions and so many fears and we are all drowning in excess of everything, we freeze in the face of so much to do then we do not do those things we should. We become victims, buried in our stuff and slaves to our desires.
A good priest once told me that he believed most sin was born of a desire for something good that ended up twisted, disordered and gone awry. While I am certainly not equating have too much stuff or being hopelessly cluttered with mortal sin, there is a parallel and a peril. If our possessions consume the time and talents that we should be spending on relationships with our God, our loved ones and our community then they are a problem. If we devote so much of our efforts to acquiring, managing, storing, cleaning and ultimately disposing of our stuff then we miss out on chances to love. Stuff will never replace what is missing in our hearts, it will never keep us safe from uncertainty, it will not make us more beautiful, healthy, faithful or immune to aging. Clutter will not protect us from the outside world. When we couple the 40 Trash Bag Challenge with Lent sometimes it hurts. Sometimes the letting go hurts. Sometimes it is frightening, sometimes is brings up painful memories, sometimes it forces us to confront fears – and that is a good thing. This isn’t just stuff we are de-junking from our home – this is a load we are setting down. Depending on how attached you are to your stuff, how much emotion you put into it those things can be hard. Even if you don’t attach a lot of emotion to stuff the letting go can be hard. That is what makes it a Lenten Sacrifice.
The second year I did this I heard one very solid complaint. Lenten Sacrifices shouldn’t be just about giving up something, especially if it is something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place, they should be about giving up something we enjoy to draw closer to God and it certainly shouldn’t be about cleaning your house. After a good deal of thought I have to respectfully disagree. Lenten sacrifices shouldn’t be about giving up sins – we should be trying to give sin always. But having an excess of worldly goods isn’t quite a sin it is more like being overweight. Letting go of stuff is very akin to fasting which resembles dieting. We might statistically be an obese nation and individually might be overweight and out-of-shape, but that doesn’t mean that fasting during Lent isn’t a good idea because limiting our caloric intake is something we should do anyway. If we are just dejunking and getting rid of the excess then no, it won’t be a good Lenten Sacrifice, but if we make it something that helps us see what we don’t need is stuff and what we do need is Christ then it is worthwhile, especially if we bless others along the way.
Getting Started an Keeping Going
The first year it seemed a rather crazy thing. I ditched 40 kitchen trash bags (or the equivalent) of stuff out of our house. Yes, really. It is amazing how much stuff was lurking in the backs of cupboards and closets and how many “extra” things I had. Too many towels, sheets, coats, shoes, books, small kitchen appliances… the list goes on and on.
This was started as a housekeeping exercise. Something I did because my home needed a good dejunking. It had been years since I had really decluttered and letting go was so liberating.
40 bags. One thing I know caused some people pause was the picture of the big overstuffed black bag. “No way could I fill forty of those bags.” There was a little attitude in some of the comments. “No, WAY I could fill forty bags… You would have to be like one of those horder folks to do that, no way my house has that much stuff.” At this point I don’t know that I could fill 40 lawn and yard bags. My home is under 3000 sq feet and even with 6 kids in the house there is only so much stuff that can fit.
But then again I could. When I look at what others have, what my ancestors considered wealth. I consider the homeless woman with all her worldly possessions in a grocery cart. Then I compare it to my modest house and yes, I could fill up 40 huge bags. But if I was single and living in a dorm, no – I couldn’t. But the size of “bag” is really immaterial. It is the consistency of everyday shedding off some of our material goods. A grocery bag would be a better measure for some – I suppose if I was very wealthy and had multiple homes maybe something more on the lines of a truck bed full a day would work better. The point is not the size of the bag, box or bundle, it is the act of letting go of the “stuff” a bit each day.
It should hurt a little – not a lot, but a bit. There should be some small sense of having to sacrifice or maybe some small bit of contrition at how much we hold onto things when we could give that time and energy to God. If you struggle as I do with organization then I am sure you have read about the theories of hording and attachment to the “stuff”. Our environments began to posses us instead of serving us. If you don’t deal with that particular mental vice then there is still the beauty of the words of Christ ”
24 “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?
27 Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
28 Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.
29 But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
30 If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
31 So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
32 All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33 But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.
34 Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
These words were said to people, many of whom could probably put everything they personally owned in one of my closets.
How it works:
- Grab a bag – Pick what size of trash bag you want to use. I used tall kitchen bags (use what works for you, paper sack, grocery bag – whatever).
- Fill the bag – Each week day for eight weeks fill one bag (or equivalent). It can be a bag of toys, clothes, papers, collected junk mail, 1992 tax forms — whatever you have too much of. Equivalents count: anything about the size of a trash bag counts: a box of books, an old TV, a computer system. Anything that you can count as clutter or excess is fair game.
- Make it go away – Donate as much as you can, sell something if it has real value (but don’t count it until it is gone) don’t be afraid to trash things.
- Toot your own horn – You deserve this. Post a update on your blog, Twitter #40TBC, @, leave a comment here, or join the Facebook Group. Let someone know how it goes – it is motivating to you and to others.
- Have fun. This means feel free to rewrite the rules to fit your life. Letting go of stuff is liberating — yes, it is a chore, but it is a good thing.
If you find you are having trouble
If find you have trouble starting or the first few days things seem to be going well but then you start to flounder there might be a couple things that you can tweak.
- If you found the first few days you were pulling stuff out of your house like gang-busters but now you have basically stopped because you can’t figure out what to get rid of – you are using too big a bag. Scale back to something smaller.
- Your house is cluttered and you fill a bag a day but no one (not even you) can tell. If you have the energy use a bigger bag (or do two a day). If you find filling a bag saps your energy keep with your one bag a day – just keep going. Fill your bags from one room day after day until you notice a difference.
- You can’t seem to fill a bag even though you have a ton of stuff. If you find you are sitting with say boxes of baby clothes and can’t let anything go even though your youngest is taller than you are you are probably dealing with attachment issues. If you pick up something and it brings back a flood of memories and you are worried that tossing the item is somehow going to diminish the memory you definitely have attachment issues. This is hard and tricky and can be emotionally raw. Try to find a good place for those things you feel attached to but know intellectually you don’t need. Give them to a crisis pregnancy center, a women’s shelter, the Goodwill. Let someone else be blessed by your abundance. If it helps take a picture of the item and post it to flicker or a blog and write the memory down. Then you have a visual memory and the story, you can even share it with others if you are so inclined. But let the thing go.
- If you can’t put anything in your bags because you might need it later. You are living in a fear mindset. Ask yourself what the absolute worst thing that will happen if you toss the item in question and then you will almost always find it will be ok.
- If you can’t put anything in your bag because you are planning to use it latter stop yourself. You HAVEN’T used this yet. I have this problem with craft supplies and books. I am just sure that I will use it later or my children will want it. Sometimes this is valid most the time it isn’t. I found it helpful to put these items aside and do a Use it or lose it exercise.
- Your children or husband are complaining because stuff is vanishing. You need to sit down and talk with them – it is possible you are being too enthusiastic it is also possible that they have “stuff” issues or “change” issues.
- Your children or husband are complaining because they are tripping over bags in the garage or foyer. You need to review rule #3 Make the bags Go Away. At least weekly drop them off at your favorite charity. Volunteers of America and other organizations will often pick up stuff if you call them.
- You can’t figure out where to start. Your closet. No, don’t argue – if you have a better idea you wouldn’t have asked. Yes, there has to be at least a few things you can give away. Now go get your bag and start. If you just did your closet and your bag isn’t full do your linen closet – anything that hasn’t been used in a year goes in the bag – if your bag isn’t full after that switch to an smaller size bag. Have fun.
March 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
I suppose some people are just a tad more melancholy than others. My Hannah has a tendency toward the frustration and discontent created by that deep-set desire for perfection and that whole being 13 thing. To help combat this we have created a new rule. For each one thing she wants to complain about she must first list off three related things that are good.
It is so much more difficult to find fault with something when something when you have just taken the time and energy to think of what is worthwhile about it. This is a new rule so I will update the results later but so far the results have been good.