With Virginia’s homeschooling conventions coming up soon, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share my thoughts on homeschool curriculum. So here you go:

How to Select a Homeschool Curriculum

Day 1: Google homeschool curricula. Get distracted by trying to figure out the plural of curriculum. (Classical ed folk will know the Latin plural. Unschoolers will know the name for it in Swahili, or create a mathematical code that stands for each of the letters. People like me will look it up on merriam-webster.com, and then still misspell it.)

Start reading at result number 1 of 35, 000,000,000,000,000.  Begin seriously doubting not only your capability to homeschool, but also your worth as a carbon-based lifeform by result number 3.

Day 2: Take a deep breath and review the reasons you are considering homeschooling. Call a homeschooling friend. Discover that people who truly want to give their child the best education use Charlotte Mason.

Call another friend. Find out that people who truly want to give their child the best education use Classical Conversations.

Call another friend. Learn that your first two friends are destined to failure, because the only way to ensure success is through Montessori.

Day 3: Read about Waldorf. Mail order chickens. Call your husband at work and ask him to pick up some wire mesh for the coop on his way home.

Cancel chicken order.

Day 4: Narrow down your list. Discard method 6, which lists growing cannibis as a science experiment. Rule out number 34 because it would require becoming Amish.  Anything that made you seriously consider self-destructive behaviors (like watching Matlock or buying your children drums) should go too. You can look at those during year 2.

Day 5: Put all the curricula that you haven’t crossed out into a hat, sprinkle them with holy water, and pick.  Order the complete package, including highlighters, playdough, and an exact historical replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s day planner. (That last one might be a gimmick.)

Day…Somewhere down the road: Discover that you and your children can have a great experience and learn tons no matter which path you chose.


P.S. Sorry if you were expecting actual advice!

Photo by Enokson under CC License


Who Are You Really?

Who is that? I think frantically to myself. I’ve just come out of the store, and a woman completely covered in black has just called out my name. All I can see is her eyes. They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I’m not sure I know this woman’s soul well enough to tell who she is. Of course she recognizes me—I’m a blonde American wearing an abaaya. I stand out. We kiss and exchange greetings, and I finally figure it out—she’s the oldest daugher of my neighbors, here visiting from Qatar.

Rather than seeing people out and about, I much preferred sitting in women’s homes with them and drinking tea. Then I got to see them without all the coverings. I got to see them be funny and passionate, exuberant or sad. I got to glimpse who they really were.

Relating cross-culturally, it can be hard to get to that place. Because once you get off the literal veils, which don’t really matter that much, you still have a lot of unveiling to do. Invisible veils cover who we really are. There’s awkward communication and cultural disconnects, trying too hard to adapt, worry about unknowingly offending, feeling like you stick out like a sore thumb, wondering where your commonality lies, and if you have any at all.

But this is not just a cross-cultural phenomenon. It’s true for anyone, anywhere. There are veils of who I think I ought to be and trying to please people. Veils of being ashamed or insecure. Veils of reactiveness and triggers. Veils of how we get what we think we need and what it takes to feel safe. Veils of our paradigm for seeing the world and how we mistake that for who we really are.

I heard a beautiful illustration this week. A woman sits in the middle of the room. Each participant reads a sentence about painful experiences in her life, and then drapes a scarf over her head. One after another they read and drape, until it’s impossible to tell who is underneath the layers of cloth. Then, when we interact with her, we see all those coverings, not who she really is.

If we could see it, all the people we interact with, and we ourselves, are walking around hidden by layers of scarves, or swathed in black like my friend inBahrain. But we know and believe that underneath is something beautiful. Underneath is the image of God, the person we really are, the beauty we were created with. I want to see through the veils and recognize that reflection of God in each person I meet. And I want others to see that in me too.

Photo by Emerentian, CC License

What Makes You Come Alive?


“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman


What is your gut reaction when you read that quote? Mine is joy and then fear. First, I feel like someone handed me the world, and I glimpse joy, gratitude, and freedom. Then fear grabs me by the collar and yanks me back, saying, “You’re not allowed to take that gift!”

 But my “word” this year is permission. That’s what I’m saying back to those nasty little voices that say “you’re not allowed.”

There are many mixed messages about the meaning of life, being a good person, what it means to follow God, what our lives are “supposed” to be about, and I could cite an authority, along with a Bible verse, for every straightjacket that we wear. So who says what is allowed?

I’m giving myself permission to go with what I believe in my gut. And that is that God created each person unique, not so that they can fit into a mold or live within someone else’s idea of what God wants us to be like. Not so that we fit into a narrow vision of what the world needs. But so that we can experience what is a gift to ourselves and a gift to the world at the same time, the gift of unwrapping the uniqueness inside of us, and of living authentically, even if that doesn’t fit with who we thought we were supposed to be.

I want to be fully alive. What does being fully alive mean for you?

Photo by Dario Sanches, CC License


Too Many Options

I have a confession. I worry a LOT about getting things right. Sometimes I worry so much that I get stuck and don’t make any decision at all. For me, this happens most often with spirituality and with writing, but sometimes it’s when I have an hour free and I have so many things I want to accomplish that it takes me the whole hour to choose one.

Does that ever happen to you? Do you know what issues summon this paralysis for you?

I first hit on a solution in Quaker meeting. Our meeting is “unprogrammed,” which basically means that we sit together in silence for an hour. I love it, but as I mentioned, I worry a lot about getting things “right” spiritually. I was finding myself spending so much energy trying to decide what I was going to focus on, and then second-guessing myself once I had decided on something, that I never really focussed at all.  Near the end of one of those hours it hit me: I needed to start the hour with an intention and then stick to it.

So the next week I did exactly that. In journaling the night before, I noticed a theme that I needed to marinate in a bit more, so I summarized it in one question. I decided that I was going to keep asking myself that question throughout the meeting, and whenever my mind went off on a tangent, I would bring myself back to that question. No second-guessing allowed!

You know what? It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t the most amazing experience of my life. But it was powerful. I started where I was, I made progress, and I didn’t have to wait until I found the yellow-brick road before I started off for the emerald city.

Intention-setting has become my new favorite tool in overcoming fear and perfectionism. In order for it to work, I have to challenge the feeling that life will come to an end if I don’t make the right choice. I also have to remove the option of questioning myself after I’ve made a decision. Not surprisingly, I’m a lot more productive when I settle on something and stick with it, whether we’re talking about prayer or what to get done during the kids’ swimming lessons.  

So now, when I start noticing that anxiety creeping up and threatening to paralyze me, I take a reality check on how dire the consequences of imperfection really are, and I just choose something.

Photo by brO, CC License

A Life-Changing Sentence

There was once a very religious young woman. For as long as she could remember, she had had an almost desperate desire to please God, but it was a double-edged sword. It drew her to constant spiritual seeking, but it was like living in an emotional torture chamber. She was constantly being yanked between a passion for God, feelings of guilt and spiritual failure, and totally incongruent fits of wandering away from God.

One sentence changed her life. She was explaining her spiritual struggles to a monk who had just spent five years in solitude, and he answered her, “It is, Madame, because you seek outside what you have within. Accustom yourself to seek God in your heart, and you will find him there.”

That sentence was the beginning of a journey for Jeanne Guyon, 17th-century French mystic. And it changed my life too. I started reading her biography about nine years ago. I gobbled it up during our trips to the pool during theBahrain summer. I sat out with the other black-swathed ladies, sweating buckets under my abaaya, but honestly grateful for an hour all to myself while Steve played with 1-year-old Bethany in the water.

When I got to the section of the book where Madame Guyon has this epiphany, I was puzzled. I didn’t get what was so life-changing about that statement. But I really wanted to know, so I kept coming back to it, reading it over and over, thinking about it, chewing on it, until it finally whacked me over the head.

I tended to pray as if I was reaching, reaching toward God, and never quite catching him. Or sometimes I felt like God was there, and I was experiencing him, but I didn’t know how to hold onto it, or to get to that place every time I prayed. It was a very anxious way to relate to God, and I’m sorry to say that I totally relate to Mme. Guyon’s early neurotic experience of Christianity. To finally see that I was grasping at something that was already inside of me brought me a peace that I had not imagined possible.

It reminded me of my early married days. I would start feeling insecure, and would ask Steve far too often, “Do you love me?” The funny thing (aside from the fact that I already knew full well that he loved me) was that when he would assure me of his love, I never felt better. It finally hit me that reassurance from outside was never going to help me feel less insecure. I had to settle into believing on the inside that I was loved, and then I didn’t need to ask for reassurance. I could rest and enjoy our relationship.

This theme keeps coming back to me like the terminator. As I’m taking my writing more and more seriously, the desire for reassurance keeps poking its head up, and I have to remember to ground myself on the inside rather than hoping for approval. I’m finding the need in other areas as well to not seek outside what I have within.

Where have you seen this advice come to play in your life? Where do you struggle to rest in it?

 Photo by cbanck via Flickr

Memory and the Muses

Did you know that the Greek goddess of memory, Mnemosyne, is the mother of the Muses, the goddesses of art, music, and creativity? Apparently Zeus went looking for Mnemosyne, and…dot dot dot…the Muses were born.

For the moment, I’ll overlook the fact that they “hung out” for nine nights, resulting in (a year later), nine babies being born over the course of nine days. That’s a whole different set of birds and bees than I learned. I’m glad I’m not Greek.

The moral of this story is that Memory is very fertile. Puns aside, the stories hidden inside of us are rich soil just waiting to spawn creativity.

Thinking about this myth, I started reflecting on my two most intense times of remembering. One was the time period after my second miscarriage. The other was tied up with a period of deep depression and disillusionment several years ago. Both experiences were characterized by serious questions, allowing myself to look at and feel things from my past, and opening those processes up to a few close friends.

So that turned into prolific creativity, right? Umm, no. Actually, it turned into a really long dry spell where I could barely even write blog posts. I don’t even have much in my journal after that.

Mnemosyne tells me why. After the union of god and memory, there was a long, silent gestation before the muses were born. And I think that’s what happened to me. I opened up my memories to God, and then I had to wait. And now I’m getting to the part where the creativity is starting to come to fruition.

I’d love to hear your stories of how memory has given birth to creativity.

Image by rubber bullets with a CC license

On Thanksgiving morning I checked my facebook, as I often do. I clicked on a link a friend from the Middle East had posted, and all of a sudden I was face to face with pictures of a man whose head had been blown open during the Arab Spring protests. As I clicked the images closed, I felt almost as violently assaulted with the juxtaposition of this suffering and pain against cheery Thanksgiving messages.

All day I struggled. Physically, I was in the world of turkey and stuffing and apple pie, but mentally I was feeling guilty and ashamed to be celebrating in a safe place with my family when I have friends hurting in other places.

When I talk about this kind of survivor’s guilt, other people’s heads nod in solidarity. It’s a common experience, but not a road that ends well.

Here are some thoughts I have about survivor’s guilt and combating it:

Recognize dichotomistic thinking. When we see thousands of people dying, wounded, and homeless from an earthquake, our brains tend to go to a place where our lives are perfect and their lives are terrible—and why should we have it so good? We separate “our lives” from “their lives,” and we paint a sharp contrast between the two. Not only is the reality is less clear cut, but this automatic way of thinking separates us from those who are hurting rather than connecting us.

Focus on our connection rather than our separation. In truth, our lives are not all good, and their lives are not all bad. Though we may not have experienced the same disaster or magnitude of suffering, we do know pain. Whether we are faced with a large-scale tragedy or a friend who is hurting, opening our hearts to the common experience of loss and heartache allows us to replace guilt with empathy.

Accept our shared helplessness. I think feeling guilty is one way we cope with the terror of seeing the helplessness of the human condition. We cherish our sense of control and the related fantasy of fairness in life. When we are confronted by undeserved tragedy, it helps to allow ourselves to grieve over the powerlessness of both the sufferers and ourselves, rather than mentally fighting to maintain our illusion of control.

Choose actions carefully. Acting from guilt or from separation rather than from connection can do more harm than good. For large scale problems, we may desperately throw money at the tragedy without carefully considering the most helpful channels for those resources. For more personal problems, we may feel inclined to try to fix the problem or make it go away in order to deal with our discomfort. This often ends up coming across as “helping” from a position of superiority, rather than from a place of equality, and it belittles the sufferer. In either situation, slowing down, allowing ourselves to connect and be vulnerable enough to empathize, and waiting for wisdom can lead to more purposeful, calculated, and useful action.

Do you struggle with guilt when you see others in pain? What helps you overcome guilt and move to a more constructive place?