“What’s next?”

My youngest son dreams fire fighting. He belongs to the Fire Explorers. He is now serving on a volunteer department, gaining more certifications and moving towards his goal of becoming a fire fighter. He used to want to be a pilot (and belonged to CAP, the Civil Air Patrol), but somewhere along the way he discovered search and rescue, and that, in turn, led to fire fighting. He loves it. He loves everything about it. He has gone on his own, studying and testing, and earning certifications through FEMA, above and beyond his class requirements. We are blessed here to have a specialty school for high school students to take courses that interest them, and help to prepare them to enter the working world. They have hospitality training, and a beauty school; they have culinary arts and auto shop; they have welding and computer programming. Do you want to become a travel agent? A TV journalist? A policeman? A seamstress? A plumber? Aircraft mechanic? You can gain certifications and skill sets that prepare you to get a good job, right after graduation from high school. We were thrilled when he was accepted into their Fire Science program. By going there, he was able to get his EMT 1 certification, and in 2 more days, his Fire Fighter, Search & Rescue certification. It has been such a blessing.

Last night we had the annual Family Night at Fire Explorers, where they demonstrate what the kids have learned, showing us their new skill sets, and they pass out awards. My son won two awards this year and we were so proud. He won, “Most Enthusiastic Explorer” and, “Class Clown.” He is a joyful person, and is always making people laugh. And as I said, he lives, eats, and breathes fire fighting. He truly loves the life and culture of first-responders. He is always volunteering for ride-alongs and will drop everything to volunteer at a fire event. He loves this so much and it makes my heart swell to see him so happy. We have definitely encouraged it. He does not, however, plan to pursue any schooling past high school. And you know what? I am perfectly okay with that. I didn’t think I would be, but I truly am.

As we have homeschooled our sons, and then placed them in high school programs, and watched the older ones attend college, we have learned a lot. Our schooling experience has spanned more than 27 years, and has had many expressions – public, private, and homeschooling. Parenting does not come with books (well, the pundits and experts write books, but very few of us in the trenches have the leisurely time to read them) and we learn as we go along. It’s funny how your dreams and expectations for your children change as you get to know them as individuals. I was raised to pursue college; I was enrolled in “Courses for the college bound” in high school. My brother majored in sports and girls, and lasted 2 semesters at a junior college. But he has been a business owner and is very successful in life. I lasted 10 years, off and on, at a local university. But neither of us completed our studies (I could not major long enough in any one area…I love learning!!). I am a housewife and homeschooling mom who blogs. My husband is degreed and is working on further certifications even now, in his late 50s. My older son has 2 AA’s and uses neither of them, but rather, found a career as an electrician and only just completed his 5-year apprenticeship program. Literally a week ago, he passed the state exams and is now a certified electrician! Our middle son went to a 4-year college and graduated with high honors. But he does not use that degree in his life…he is a 9-1-1 dispatcher, paying off college loans and raising a family. My point? Not everyone needs college or university. I am totally fine with who my sons are as men and have become, as breadwinners and citizens. I am a very proud mother!!

I really don’t agree with how our schools have morphed over the years. Kids get very little recess time and we have a preponderance of ADD and ADHD….I know there is a correlation. And we removed music and band, choir and art. We took away shop class and cooking class. We replaced it all with Common-Core-aligned academics that are producing students who cannot pass basic English to attend college. And they can’t change a tire or fix a meal. Nor have they been taught basic civics, in order to take their place, responsibly as voters, or even as members of our military or government.

As in the above photo, I have this in an old milk bottle, on the shelf above my kitchen sink. Whenever I touch it, I think lovingly of my grandma and her mom, my great-grandma. My youngest son asked me, when I touched it the other day, what it was. I have had it my whole life. And I have had it displayed my entire marriage. And he is just now, at 18 years old, asking me what it is. I thought he knew. It surprised me. I had to take it out of the milk bottle and explain what I meant when I said, “It is a sock-darner.” His reply? “Huh?”  I had to explain that when our socks got holes in them, we repaired the holes – we “darned” them. We did not throw socks away. He was shocked. And it made me think of all the things we have lost along the way.

I posted in another blog about all my stuff and how my kids will not want it. I also inherited my grandparents’ keepsakes. Like the sock-darner. I will have to explain what some of these items are because the arts of home-making and keeping a house (as in basic repairs) have been lost. In home economics in school I learned basic stitches, so I could hand-sew buttons and darn socks. Ha-Ha.  I learned how to do some basic repairs in that class, “in case our husbands were not around.” My brother did shop class and developed a love for engines and the smell of gasoline he still has. My sons were taught some basics by my husband, around the house and with our vehicles. They grew up, for the most part, on dairy farms and were riding tractors and working in milking barns by the time they were 6 and 7 years old. They worked on tractors and tossed hay, fed cows and cleaned barns. It was a blessed way to raise boys. The past few weekends my youngest son has learned to replace his brakes and to change his oil, and to check for all the fluid levels in his car. But so many of our kids know nothing about these basic skills. My dad can barely make a cup of tea and burn some toast. He never had to learn the “womanly arts.” His mom or his two wives did/do all that for him. I don’t think he has ever vacuumed or washed clothes or windows. But he can replace our garbage disposal and garage door. He can fix the A/C in the house and in the car. And he still remembers doing that, at 90 years old. I taught my sons to cook and do laundry, as well as how to clean a house and wash the windows. I did not want them to leave that to their wives/girlfriends, or to have to hire someone to do it for them, when they were adults. I wanted them to be well-rounded men. In part, I think I was a success. But their skill levels in laundry are still not that good…even as married men! Ha-Ha.

As my grandchildren prepare to enter the school system, I am taking pause to think about the direction in which education is going. Who will become our mechanics and plumbers? Who will be able to put a man on the moon? Who will discover the cure for diseases plaguing us now? Who? With our alignment with Common Core standards, we are eliminating so many things that help kids think. They are now providing reading material that is aligned with the Common Core testing. Most of it is not fiction, it is technical. It is not about fantasy adventures where there are swords and damsels in distress, or where heroes are facing giants and lands are discovered. It is about how things work. It is basic linguistic patterning. It is not the language of artistic expression; poetry or some of our sagas and myths. There are plenty of facts (many of which do NOT match the facts I was taught) to remember and stories of recent events (which don’t jive with what I recall). I have been researching Common Core and to tell you the truth, there is good in it. But the vast majority of it, the way in which the information is disseminated, and the testing procedures, are all bad. Unfortunately, our SATs and ACTs, as well as college entrance requirements, are all CC aligned, too.

So what is next? Where do we direct our children? Personally, I loved college. But I also know not everyone is wired that way. Some kids needs to be physically active and do things with their hands and brute strength. Some adults prefer to look at their jobs as jobs, and not careers. As a way of providing the life they want to live, not the career they want to have. Some people want to be that famous scientist or engineer that figures out how to run cars without gasoline, or to reach the moon and colonize it. Are we providing the tools necessary to our young children, in order for them to realize these dreams? I would opine that, in our current state of schooling in America, we are not. We have lost our focus on what learning should be; what education should be. I am privileged to have been able to homeschool our children. We have gone back and forth for their high school with private school and homeschooling. We are blessed to live in a state that supports homeschooling 100% and then some. We have a state that has these specialty schools that teach kids the skills they need to seek immediate employment upon graduation. But not everyone is so blessed. We need to embrace, actively, making our school system better. Throwing money at the problem does not fix it. I think we all need to seriously look at it and answer the question, “What’s next?”

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Technology, Yoga Pants, and God

Blogging has become something of a chore of late. WordPress (who I blog through) is changing how you blog, and my computer is not playing nice. It is old and although it doesn’t seem to me that it’s so old that I need to replace it, it’s so old that I need to replace it. I have a MacBook and I love it. But its operating system is so ancient, I cannot upgrade. My keyboard is starting to stick and more often than not, spaces are not where they should be, or keystrokes are flat out missing.  Some keys have no letters on them any longer; others fly off when I type. So, I get frustrated. I had this amazing post all ready to go last week and each time I saved it, it deleted it. So frustrated. I am trying again, using the new format. Another new factoid for you – did you know that double spacing between sentences is no longer required? The typesetting abilities of computers space each letter, according to its need, so we no longer have to leave big spaces between sentences. If you do, your typing will look all off-kilter. I often have to go back and re-space things.  Another frustration! Ha-Ha!

So here I am, musing over many things today. Let’s just say, I have little, annoying “peas in my mattress.” For me, when something keeps popping into my head, it means I have to deal with it or I don’t get restful sleep or good days of accomplishments. One thing for me is the whole area of education, Common Core, standardized testing. Ugh. We opted out of testing this year. It took some courage, but we decided it was not in the best interest of our family. So we did not play. In addition to that, I discovered that our homeschool program requires participation in statewide, national standardized testing (aka Common Core) and will not compromise (as in allowing other tests or not testing at all). So now I am feverishly looking for schooling alternatives for our son. He only has two years left!!! And here I was, thinking we could cruise through the next two years! Unfortunately, because dollars yell louder than parental rights, Common Core is becoming required in all districts who take federal funding (and all programs who taking funding, homeschool or brick-and-mortar schools). Add to that the ACT/SAT are now CC aligned, and recently, even the GED became CC aligned. You can’t get away from it. But I am certainly going to try. It infuriated me, when I learned the details of CC and the annual testing. What the government wants to do with our personal data (I am not fooling myself; I know there really isn’t much personal privacy any more) makes me so angry, I am just not going to play their game as long as I can. Today I have been researching independent programs that do not take funding and do not test, and are not CC curriculum, either. The list is not that long. How sad. Moving to the “Last Frontier” is life saving in the sense that there are a lot of independent thinkers here. I was able to connect up with a few and will be attending a statewide conference this next weekend. Vendors will be there, so I can look at actual curriculum and decide what we are going to do.  Constitutional attorneys will be speaking. Legislation will be discussed. Good opportunity to learn about our options. Check that off my “pea in the mattress” list.

I finally filed my taxes on Saturday. Yes, I was avoiding it. I learned a valuable lesson – again. I need to trust more. I need to pray more. I need to realize the sky is not falling. It was a piece of cake. I sat there after e-filing my return and just sighed. We are even getting a small refund. Yay! Better than owing! Another check on my list.

As some of you know, we started working out and watching what we eat. We are overhauling our lives. We joined a health club and my husband even engaged a personal trainer for me, for just 1/2 hour a week. It does help. The other help is that we are doing this with our son and his wife, too. My husband, our married son, and our teenage son all meet at 5:00 AM, five days a week, Monday – Friday, and workout together. It’s funny, because there is not a lot of chatting going on, but being together just makes it better. My husband loves watching our sons interact and he is enjoying the “guy time” with his sons. My daughter-in-law and I work out in the afternoons together. Our health club offers free childcare, but she leaves the kids with my son when he gets home from work. They get time with Daddy each afternoon, and my DIL and I get girl time. Once again, not too much chatter going on, but we’re together and I love it. I miss her when we go separately due to scheduling conflicts (not much conflict at 5:00 AM!!).  Along with working out has come some realizations for me.

When you are not your best self, you can fall into habits that are not promoting a good life for you. Somehow, over the past 30 years, I became a couch potato. I am not sure how it happened, but it did. I’ve never been overly athletic, but I could hike and camp and fish. Now, taking a long walk hurts. It was one of the motivating factors to lose weight and get in shape. (Along with wanting to be there for my grandchildren). There is just so much to do outside here, that I wanted to be able to do it all and not be hindered by my lack of physical shape. I also realized that when someone is overweight, we don’t really see ourselves. I look down and think, “This looks good. I look okay today.” And then I see a photo and realize that I did not look great. I was fooling myself. When I look in a full length mirror, I see the truth of how I have let myself go. I am reminded of the Scripture passage from Corinthians, “We see darkly as in a mirror.”  Well, I actually looked and what I saw surprised me. I did not honestly realize what a large person I had become, because I don’t feel that way inside. I am the same as when I wore a size 8 and weighed 115 pounds. But that is not my reality. My trainer brought this to my forefront of thinking, having me work out in a mirrored weight room. You can’t get away from yourself. It was not on purpose for him; it is natural because most weight rooms are designed that way. I don’t think he even realized it was an issue for me. He also asked me why I did not wear work out clothes. I told him I could not find any my size. He told me to look harder. I have been working out in sweats. Let me tell you, working out being overweight creates enough sweat without adding to it by wearing “sweat pants.” I don’t need any extra help sweating. I wanted to find better shoes for both my son and myself, and so I went shopping with my daughter-in-law, my son, towing our adorable grandchildren with us. I had a sale coupon sent to me by my favorite deal app, “RetailMeNot” and so we headed out to Sports Authority (who had also sent me a coupon). I found shoes! Yay!  But, I also found work out gear specifically for heavy people. Imagine that! I had been looking at my local retailers and online, but honestly did not think Sports Authority would have work out clothes for me. I bought a pair of work out pants, or Yoga Pants, as they are called. I was nervous, but excited.

I got home and tried on my new shoes (which are neon green and blue – Go Seahawks!) and my Yoga pants, which are black. My teenager laughed at me when he saw my new outfit. I guess I shocked him, as I usually dress very conservatively and am mostly, “covered up.” I cried. And then we hugged. And then I went and sat down and prayed about it. Should I wear these Yoga pants in public? Euww… would I gross people out?Could I do this and be okay? And I realized a bunch of things about myself. God loves me. He loves me fat, skinny, sick, or healthy. He loves me as a sinner or in a state of grace. He flat out loves me. Regardless. No strings. No attachments. He loves me. He certainly doesn’t care if I wear sweats or Yoga pants; He is happy I am taking care of myself. But I don’t really love myself. I am disappointed in me and now that I really see me, I am sort of embarrassed. My sloth and gluttony are there for everyone to see. And wearing Yoga pants is truly no big deal. Everyone around me has been seeing me as I am for years – I’m the one who is just catching up. And because I realized I am joining the game pretty late, it spurred me on to keep at it. We’ve been taking the weekends off from working out and I can honestly say I miss it. And trust me, that is quite something for me to say. I showed up for my session with my trainer in my Yoga pants and shoes. I also wore my hair in a tight bun, exposing my white hair – ha-ha! But he greeted me warmly and we worked out for 45 minutes. Two ladies came by to ask me where I got my shoes (how funny is that? More Seahawks fans than you think up here!) and I was not embarrassed walking around the gym, mirrors and all. I am there. I am sweating this out, but I am present. And I am proud of myself for finally allowing myself to really look in a mirror. God taught me something about humility and unconditional love. All these years of being overweight, I still made friends; I was always welcomed into women’s groups and homeschooling groups. I stayed married to my best friend (who tells me all the time how beautiful I am. I love that man so much). And my Lord and My God loves me, even on my worst days or ugliest moments.

God never stops keeping us company; He patiently waits for us. He loves my frustrated pecking on this darn computer, and whispers thoughts to me to actually share with others. He walks with me as I deal with governmental over-reach and decisions for our youngest son and his future. He is there as we struggle through homeschooling and being a family. He encourages me to meet my debts and walks with me as I try to offer to Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes). And God wants me to live a full, and long, life. So He is walking with me at the weight room and on the elliptical. He is in my daughter-in-law’s smiles and her high-fives when I get past my newest goal. He is in my husband as he texts me happy faces as I am working out. He is in our teenager as he scrounges for goodies in the cupboards and only finds healthy foods to eat, and eats it without grumbling. He is in my oldest son, hugging me and telling me how proud he is of me finally taking my health into my own hands. He is with me in the affirmations from our son who lives out of state. He is with me in my brother, calling out of the blue to encourage me. And He is with me in all the friends who stand with me and pray for me, and with me, for success in these areas and so many others. I am so blessed.

There is just one more thing that is bugging me today. When we are resurrected with Christ, we get our best selves, right? So if this getting into shape thing kills me, maybe the effort will get me bonus points and I’ll resurrect as my 20-something self? I am tongue-in-cheek kidding, I hope you know! But think about it. What is our best self? Is it when we are kneeling in prayer, covered in grace by Our Lord? Is it as a 20-year old, who thinks they have that “tiger by the tail”? Is it when we cross that finish line in our first marathon in our late 20s? Is it when we show up to work out, bravely wearing work out gear? Is it when we help our brothers, friends, and especially, our enemies? Is it when we work for the glory and money and fame? Or is it when we feed the poor or visit the shut in? Is it when we share our successes and try to help others? I’ve been ruminating on this over and over again. We are called by God to always strive to be our best selves. But when will we know we’ve accomplished our best self? Is it one of those moments where we reminisce about the “good old days?” I have memories of especially close moments to God, when I have felt Him touching me. Can we peak and then slide down again? (Since we are human, I automatically think, yes, we can slide down again). And every so often, I am glimpsing what I can become and what I can be, for God. Not for me, but for God. Will He tell me when I have reached that moment of Theosis, or being “one with God”?

My body is God’s temple and it needs an overhaul and deep cleaning. Great Lent is over and we are in the light of the gift of Easter. How am I honoring that gift? His patience with me? I plan to pray; I plan to keep working out to become healthier. I plan to remind myself often that God stands with me; my guardian angel stands with me; all the saints who have gone before me, they also stand with me. My husband, children, and friends – we stand together in faith. We are all working out our journey to God and together, all of us, we are the Church. We hold each other up and in prayer and love. And together, we can conquer all of this, in the name of Christ, Who gave His life for us.

He is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!