Saturday, July 22, 2017

When your goals change. . .

Doing the monthly book goal reading program with my daughters has been such a rewarding experience. I highly suggest it as a way to encourage yourself to read more, read more widely, connect with your children, and to practice self-discipline. However, there are many good goals in life, and there is a season for all of them. As Scripture says in Ecclesiastes 3 "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:" (NIV). I like to set goals in life, but my highest goal is to be sensitive to God's leading in all things and live according to my priorities. I feel like I am heading into a very busy time of life where reading outside of my area of research for my dissertation will need to be limited. I have finished my first year of coursework for my doctorate in Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology. I am beginning year two with an intense focus on finishing my internship hours of which I have very few. After that, I must pursue my dissertation research full force. This is on top of caring for my large family of nine children and a full time job as a second grade teacher. I have the help of my husband and oldest daughters, but my oldest two are in a band that is becoming busy with shows and traveling, and my husband works a lot to help them. This sucks the energy out of him (he has fibromyalgia) along with all the other care-taking he does with our large family. I say all that only to say this--I must pare down my life to the highest priorities for this season, so I will be stepping out of doing the monthly reading program full force as is. Do I still want to share the reading experience with my daughters? Yes, as I have opportunity to read, and as they share what they are reading with me. Two of my daughters read all the time; I will try to ask about their reading lives. Will I still seek to sneak in a fun book now and then? Yes, probably, for my own sanity's sake! Haha! But I must relieve myself of the overload my brain experiences when I try to do too much and have too many areas of focus. I must conserve mental strength, so I am rewriting my reading goals for the rest of the year. My new monthly book goal will be to read at least one book and one article a month related to my possible dissertation topic, and then if I find a book for fun, sneak it in as I have time, using it as a needed rest or "brain break." This still keeps me reading with my children, but helps me keep my priorities in check.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Books inspire us. . .

This month our category was our favorite category of non-fiction book. I love animal books, and so I chose the book "The Soul of an Octopus" by Sy Montgomery. It is about a woman's thoughts, experiences, and various first hand encounters of this unique creature. The octopus fascinates me, so I was looking forward to reading it. I cannot help but think about my daughter, Kat, who wants to be a marine biologist, as I read it. I think I will recommend it to her when I finish. It makes me want to visit an aquarium and go to the beach again. As I delved into my love for the natural world, Landree investigated her love of writing in her book choice of the month. Landree has finished her book on writing a novel, and I think she is now working on writing her first novel. She said two of the characters from her novels appeared in her dreams the other night. I love how books inspire and encourage new interests and curiosities. In fact, I think it was a book I read to kids at school about octopuses that sparked my love for the creature. Books have that power to help us see each facet of creation in a beautiful new way.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

When you reach a goal by not reaching a goal

This month of April, our reading goal was to read a book by an author you've read before and/or an author you haven't read before. We set these goals in order to challenge ourselves, give us some direction and guidance in our choice of reading material, and for fun. However, this month, many other things were on my mind other than our monthly reading goal. I was starting into a busy month of working full time, preparing for finals for my doctoral classes, and caring for a soon to be three month old. My oldest two daughters had several things going on with their band, Easter was coming, etc. . . So in order to pursue the things I needed to do to fulfill my first priorities--my family and career/education, I had to scale back on something. So instead of reading a brand new book, I merely decided to finish the second Harry Potter book I'd started back in March and my Leadership book by John Maxwell I had began for my final class project. They were both books by authors I'd read before, and I had started them back in March, so they couldn't completely "count" for my book goals, but sometimes we have to break our own "rules" in order to do the right thing. I used to give up on a goal when I couldn't reach my them to "perfection" feeling that it wasn't worth it anymore, but as I've gotten older and grown in maturity, I have realized that true "perfection" isn't what I'd imagined. True "perfection" is authenticity and wholeness; it is accepting circumstances as they are, striving for what is best, and being flexible in those things that do not matter. Obeying God's calling in each moment from a heart of love is the best goal. All other goals bend to that goal. So I can choose a new book for April realizing that the journey of inspiration in reading I am taking with my daughters is still a worthy goal. What is most important, though, is the peace from knowing that doing what God wants each moment can trump that goal or any other personal goal I set in the future.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March's Reading Goal

Our reading goal for March is to read a book or books from a series. Katriel is continuing to work on the Chronicles of Narnia series (which is one of my favorites!), and she is currently in the book "Prince Caspian" after having read "The Magician's Nephew," "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," and "The Horse and His Boy." Landree is reading the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. She enjoyed "The Hobbit" and thought she might enjoy those. I look forward to her being exposed to this classic series. As far as my goal. . .well, Landree has been begging me to read the "Harry Potter" series, so I began, and am currently in book 2. You would think as a teacher that I would have already read this series long ago. Well, when the books first came out, I heard all about how wonderful they were by many, but then heard how dangerous they were by the Christian community. As a dedicated Christian, I wanted nothing to do with witchcraft, and wanted to do the "right" thing, so I steered clear of them. Well, age and maturity has a way of showing you that things are not always so "black and white." In fact, how many times did I enjoy "The Wizard of Oz" with my children despite the presence of witches, good and bad? I also began to see how much damage the Christian community did in the world by judging things harshly that were not a big deal and batting an eye at things much more damaging. Not only that, but I had seen too many Christians judge books and movies without every having watched or read them, and so had little chance to discuss them intelligently. There is a time to steer clear of entertainment that might draw us away from the Lord, and a time to not indulge in that entertainment if it will cause others to stray, but I believe there is a time to view books and movies through the lens of redemption (see this blog for clarity as what I mean by that: Using godly wisdom in these things takes maturity and discernment. So as a mom, when my third daughter (who received permission from dad to read the books) begged me to read them, I consented. What a better way to open up the discussion about a variety of things, including the real nature of witchcraft (as opposed to the fantasy based world of Harry Potter), friendship, bravery, obedience, etc. What did I discover and what are my conclusions of this series so far, based on my Christian worldview? Though I would hesitate to recommend it to a child not grounded in the faith, since a fascination with the books could possibly lead to a curiosity about real world witchcraft, I find that for a believer grounded in their faith or someone with no curiosity of the occult, it appears to be a harmless fantasy world. I would rather the story not include so much occultic terminology, but the story is not centered on the magical as much as it is upon the friendship and adventures of the characters. The magical that it does contain has a fantastical childlike quality about it. Real witchcraft is based on the manipulation of others and nature through demonic power and self-will so as to thwart the good will of God and the free will of other humans. These books does not appear to encapsulate the essence of true witchcraft so far (though many things in the books go by that name.) Overall, there are lessons to be learned, such as in the first book, where Harry had to take the existence of platform 9 3/4 on faith, where Ron sacrificed himself for his friends and the greater good of the school, and the mirror and Dumbledore taught Harry that being truly happy means being content with life as you have it. Now, granted, I have not finished the series, but this is my perspective so far. Does this mean I think these are books for everyone or all Christian families? And do they compare to the depth of Christian teaching contained in the Narnia series? No, but we must use discernment, wisdom, and a view of redemption in all we do, and not jump to conclusions out of spiritual pride or without intelligently and wisely considering things.

How is the family reading plan going?

My oldest two daughters, due to their band commitments have mostly dropped out of our reading program. I am sad by this, but it is understandable. Their band, Crossing Fire, is doing well; their first song is #1 on, and my oldest daughter is trying to prepare for the ACT. I suppose they are doing well in how to handle multiple commitments (especially when being a "one track mind" runs in your family genetic pool). How? They have learned it seems to "choose your top priorities and focus on them, letting other things go." Music is their ministry right now, and their age demands they focus on preparing for college. Not only that, but living in a large family, I am a happy momma that they consider helping out around here and developing relationships with their younger siblings as priorities. Does this mean I do not think they should make reading more of a priority? Not necessarily, but it is important to me not to meddle too much in their volition to think, pray about, and then choose for themselves these kinds of things at their age. I want them to learn to depend upon God in making choices and not push upon them my own self-chosen agenda. Every now and then, I am sure I will encourage them to not forget the important part in ones' life reading can play, and see if they want to join in again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Where are we now in our reading goals?

So I ended up choosing Tom Sawyer as my classic book. Landree began reading it for fun, so I thought, "Hey, maybe we can discuss it if I choose it as my classic book!" She actually chose a different book for her classic book (which I fail to remember because she reads so many books outside the categories of the month), but she inspired me in mine. I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn last year and thought it was a well-written adventure. I have to say that although the orneriness of Tom bothered me at first (I am a schoolteacher after all, and didn't find his antics as amusing as a child might), the genuineness of Mark Twain's characterization and his childhood simplicity appealed to me greatly. His adventures and outlook were enjoyable, and as the book went on, I enjoyed it more and more, just like with Huck Finn. I also liked being exposed to a story so connected to my American/Missourian history and heritage. I think it is a valuable part of one's education to know the stories connected to your own heritage; I think it helps us better understand ourselves. Multi-culturalism is important, because we need to understand others, but understanding ourselves is the first step towards understanding others. Maybe this is why I am saddened that European-American and early colonial and pioneer stories are being forgotten as we focus in on stories of Native and African Americans. We need both, and each child should be able to celebrate their own even as they learn about others.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Our February Family Reading Goals

Last year, we really enjoyed choosing a book for each new month's category. However, a problem we sometimes ran into was that one of us (my daughter usually--who had more time), would finish their book within a few days and then have no new goal to focus on the rest of the month. So this year, except for the first month--which was a challenging book--we chose two categories per month. We did this with the expectation that there was to be no pressure if one of us only got one of the categories read that month. Nevertheless, it allows early finishers to choose another book goal, and it also gives us more exciting categories per year to read from. So February's book goals are a Bestseller and a Classic. When choosing the categories for the month, we tried to choose two categories that would somehow complement each other. When choosing this duo we thought, "a popular new book" and a "popular old book" or the best of old and new. Well, seeing that I finished "Crime and Punishment" a little early (I am on maternity leave. Normally, a book like that would take me the whole month), I began my bestseller at the end of January. It was so good, and it was an easy read, so I actually finished it before February. That's okay, though, because I know I will get busy come April and May, so if I get ahead on all my categories, that would be a good thing. So what did I choose? I chose the book, "Ghost Boy" by Martin Pistorious. It is an international bestseller and an autobiography (one of my favorite categories) about a boy who comes down with a mysterious sickness that causes him to lose memory of his childhood, but also control of his body. People think he is a vegetable with little brain function, but he is completely aware and intelligent, just unable to communicate at all. Finally, one person believes in him enough to realize he can communicate by staring at pictures, and through time he finds ways to communicate with technology and regains some control back of his body. It was a great story of someone who overcame a great obstacle and the importance of treating all people with dignity no matter what we perceive their level of awareness or intelligence. My girls are choosing their books now too. My third daughter chose a bestselling book of Christian encouragement and began reading it as soon as "War and Peace" was finished, my oldest, Faith, chose a bestseller non-fiction book about octopuses, Kat chose the book "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" which is popular enough to have a movie out about it right now, and Arwen chose the new "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book. Savannah is choosing to take her time with her challenging read from January, "Jane Eyre." It is a classic anyway, so hey, it fits into one of February's categories anyway. Landree and Savannah (in honor of Landree finishing "War and Peace") are watching the History channel "War and Peace" mini-series. I just love to see how reading is becoming a normal part of our family life and how our books give us something new to discuss and share with one another. I am not quite sure what book to choose for my classic read. Hmmm. . . what am I in the mood for? Feel free to comment your suggestions below.

Friday, January 27, 2017

My philosophy on true leadership and free will

Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, said the following:
You cannot force commitment. What you can do … you nudge a little here, inspire a little there, and provide a role model. Your primary influence is the environment you create.
“As a leader, how do you get people to do what you want them to do, or is this not even your idea of what a leader does?” In response to this question, I would have to say that this is not my idea of what a leader does because true leadership is not about pushing your agenda upon others. Please forgive me if I get deep and philosophical in this post, but this topic is one close to my heart. Leadership should never be about “getting people to do” certain things. Senge is spot on when he says, “You cannot force commitment. . . your primary influence is the environment you create.” Jesus says in Mark 10:43, “He who wants to be great among you, must be servant of all.”
Free will is the sacred gift bestowed upon all from God Himself, and I believe it is a grave sin to violate that free will through force, pressure, manipulation, or oppression. It is best encapsulated in Christ’s phrase, “Whosoever will.” Unfortunately, a lot of schools and educational leaders become oppressors as they force their visions upon schools and teachers. Paulo Freire, an educational philosopher, in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, says, “the more the oppressors control the oppressed, the more they change them into apparently inanimate ‘things.’ This tendency of the oppressor consciousness to ‘in-animate’ everything and everyone it encounters. . . corresponds with sadism. . . They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than a thousand actions in their favor without that trust” (1970, p. 41-42). John Holt, another revolutionary educational thinker, in his book Freedom and Beyond says, “no one can find his work, what he really wants to put all of himself into, when everything he does he is made to do by others. This kind of searching must be done freely or not at all” (1972, p.57). I Corinthians 13 says, “Love always. . .trusts. . .”
So how does one lead, then? You lead by the “environment you create” --your attitudes. First, you lead through the attitude of respect for the humanity of your followers, and because of that respect, you are willing to suffer for their freely chosen mistakes and support them in their part within your organization. Secondly, you lead through trust. God puts in the hearts of people His dreams for them, and if you are their leader, you are to trust that God will use their skills, talents, and even failures to drive the agenda in which He wants you to lead them. Only then does the “nudging” and “inspiring” have a place.
The “nudging” is the “planting of the seed”—the new idea, the action that helps people overcome their weakness, or the clearing of the path for them to go through. Sometimes they have a mental roadblock you must help them overcome through the “nudge” of new information, belief in their abilities, or godly discipline. The “inspiring” might be like the word I spoke to my student teacher when I told her of a time that I went through a similar experience and overcame. It is also the belief in the abilities and potential of those you serve. The “providing a role model” is the most important element of all, for it is what truly inspires others to follow you of their own free will. When you are willing to chase the vision first, to put forth the effort and dedication despite the cost to yourself, speak with passion of it, and then give your very life energy towards that goal, you embody the spirit of Christ who gave all when He was “lifted up” upon a cross of suffering and thereby “draws all men to Himself” (John 12:32).
If we are to lead our educational institutions towards school improvement using data as a primary tool, we must believe in it and commit our own selves to it first. Then we can gently nudge and inspire those around us to engage in the journey as well.
Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.
Holt, John (1972). Freedom and beyond. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook.
Senge, Peter M. (2006). The fifth discipline. New York: Doubleday/Currency.

Our January Reading Goal Update

So our January Goal for this month was "A Book that Challenges You." I finished "Crime and Punishment," and I have to say that the first half challenged me. Not because of the fact it was an older classic book, but because the theme was dark, and you kept wondering what he was thinking and what was going on until the second half started answering your questions. The first half of the book bored me. Thankfully, the second half of the book was better, and the last third of the book was so good that I read it in about a day. I came to the conclusion, though, that I much prefer Tolstoy as my Russian author of choice, over Dostoyevsky. His characters are more lovable, in my opinion, and I love his philosophical bent. In fact, Tolstoy is still one of my favorite new authors of late.
My third daughter read "War and Peace" by Tolstoy and loved it as much as I did. A girl after my own heart! And she read it much faster than me, my little bookworm! She said the characters were so well-thought through that you could feel what they felt; I agreed. She said that the war parts were boring, but she agreed with me that they were well worth getting through for the main story. She also liked how the book began by discussing five different families separately and how it ended with all of their lives intertwined with one another. Like me, she liked how it opened your mind up to a different way of perceiving and understanding history.
My first daughter is almost done with "To Kill a Mockingbird." She is not much of a reader, so I have been so excited to see her get interested in the book. She said it was nice to have something else to do besides her normal hobbies. Her and my second daughter are very caught up and busy with their music and band, so they are not as determined to stick with their goals, but they do say they want to read more this year. My second daughter released the pressure from herself to get a book done every month, but she has started "Jane Eyre" and intends to finish it. My fifth daughter got frustrated with her book this month; I feel the author's speech and topics were frustrating for her level of understanding, so she decided to focus on other books. This is perfectly fine with me. I do not want reading to feel forced and unenjoyable for any of my children.
Finally, my fourth daughter finished "White Fang." She had a hard time being committed at the first, and then she really took off about the first third of the way through. I can tell that my little animal-lover enjoyed it, and she asked about a lot of new vocabulary words as she read, so I know it was a good learning experience for her.
I really encourage you, if you are any sort of a reader at all, to try something like this challenge with your children. It really brings you together as you discuss your books, and it encourages your children to become life-long learners. I have also done something like this at school where I share my reading goals with my students, and it is such a rewarding learning experience for children as you model to them reading and thinking skills in real life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tag teaming--a key to large family dynamics

Many people are fascinated by how things work in a large family--especially one that is as busy as ours. If you have ever worked in any large group situation, you may have discovered the importance of everyone having a job, trust, and committment between the group members. Delegation, obedience, and teamwork are also important components to making sure that things are accomplished. We also have to watch out for each other's needs and set priorities without selfishness. So how does this work in a typical day or week in our family household?
First of all, each member has their primary assigned duties that are priorities for them.
For dad, it is running laundry through the wash, taking trash to the curb, helping mow the lawn, bills/finances, shopping, car and household maintenance, cooking dinner, planning and coordinating the teenage daughters' home-school, band gigs, and other extra-curricular. With his fibromyalgia, we also have to watch to make sure dad is not doing too much to overexert himself.
For mom, it is working a full-time teaching job, working on her doctorate, reading with and monitoring schoolwork of the school age children each night, keeping her and dad's room and bathroom clean, putting her and dad's laundry away, and overseeing weekend chores and break-time organizational tasks around the house.
For the oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, band gigs, music practices and lessons, daily breakfast/lunch cleanup and cooking,her room/shared bathroom and laundry, and weekend kitchen clean-up.
For the second oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, band gigs, music practices and lessons, weekly putting away of the laundry, her room/shared bathroom, and cleaning of the family room and nursery.
For the third oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, music practices and lessons, extra reading/writing practice, feeding and watering of the pets, weekly laundry, her bedroom/shared bathroom and cleaning of the living room.
For the fourth oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, music practices and other extra-curriculars, her bedroom/bathroom, her weekly Awana memory verses, putting away her own laundry,picking up toys, and daily dinner clean-up.
For the fifth oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, picking up toys, soccer practice, her bedroom, taking out the household trash, putting away her own laundry, and cleaning off the kitchen table.
For the sixth oldest daughter, it is her schoolwork, bedroom, picking up toys, and the weekly organization of the shoe closet.
For the seventh oldest daughter (four years old), it is her bedroom, picking up toys, and helping the sixth oldest with the organization of the shoe closet.
The toddler's job is to be good! LOL
Now beyond those individual priorities, every one does one of the most important components to making a large family work: delegation and tag teaming!
Childcare of the babies and toddlers, as well as seasonal cleaning and organization, fit into this category. When one person is done with a job, TAG! They watch the toddler and/or baby while the previous family member does what they need to do. When other big people have to be gone to extra-curriculars, work, or school events, TAG! The teenager or adult at home does childcare. When seasonal cleaning time arrives, delegation happens with childcare tag-teaming at play. It is a constant interplay of back and forth work to make family life balance.
Finally, how do we make sure family members are not tired and burnt out? Sundays and select vacation days take on a relaxed and laid back approach with built in rest/nap times, family time, and scheduled days for family members to go out with their friends or have some alone time. Life in a large family can work well when everyone works as a team!