Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Lessons Learned Abroad

Having grown up here in Florida, I thought that I was familiar with the homeless situation. I mean, there have been economic times here where every trip to the grocery store meant another handout in the parking lot. Although that seems to have decreased this year.  But, now I have traveled to Europe.

We spent several days in Athens, Greece to start off our trip. As we exited the metro station near our hotel, there was a crippled man stretched full out on the sidewalk begging for his daily bread.  Someone carried him in and out everyday to do this.  At every tourist stop, especially every church, there was at least one, sometimes several beggars.  Some stood and gave a story about how they needed money and could we help?  Others sat at the gate or doorway, silent, but eyes eloquent of need.  Some were fathers, some mothers, some grandmothers, some children.  Some were trying to play music for you to "earn" your charity, others just sat.  One young mother cradled her toddler on her lap and wept.  They all had hats or cups or hands ready to accept a penny or a euro or a bill.

I learned to carry coins in my pocket -- something I don't do at home because they weigh you down -- because a coin brought even the smallest amount of relief to those haunting eyes.  You knew that for one euro they could get some bread or water.

We gave a little here, a little there.  Not too much, we didn't have too much to spend.  But, we had so much more than they did waiting for us here at home.

I am thankful to live in America where opportunity is great.  Where we have been blessed.  Where we have more than enough. On Thanksgiving, my family will set down to a feast of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, several breads, several desserts, and more.  We will have more than plenty.  We will leave the table stuffed and wish we hadn't eaten so much.

I don't mean to sound guilty about it. I mean only to sound grateful.

The contrast is so great.  Because even on a regular day -- a day where I might, without thinking, complain that "there is nothing in the house to eat" -- I have more than those street beggars.  I have more than I need. And I am thankful.

Monday, September 30, 2013

How God Measures Us

This is an object lesson I used with a middle school class at church a couple of years ago.

Need: tape measure, 10 commandments, scale

Measure 3 girls...give height in inches, feet, yards.

I can use this tape measure to measure how tall you are, or I can measure cloth or the room or anything else I want. I can measure you in other ways too – I can use a scale to get your weight in grams, pounds or use a big scale to weigh an elephant even in the tons!

It is important to have standards of weights and measures. You’ve probably heard the story of long ago when a foot was really a foot. So, if you wanted a foot of lumber, you'd measure with your foot. What is the problem with that system? [Everybody’s foot is a different size!] So, our country set up standard measurements. A foot equals 12 inches – all the time! (Perfect for my dad!  He wears size 12.) The butcher who sells you a pound of meat, always means 16 oz. The government has people who go around and make sure that the scales are accurate and conform to the standards so that no one gets cheated.

But, our standards don’t work everywhere in the world. In Europe, they use the metric system. There, you wouldn’t ask for a yard of cloth, you would ask for a meter. But the meter is always a meter.

Did you know that God also has a standard of measure? He doesn’t measure us according to the height of our body, but according to our moral character. He measures to see whether we are good or bad. God’s standard of measure is found in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have the 10 Commandments. Every one in this room has broken at least one of these commandments. I know because Romans 3:23 says, “For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”

The only one who never sinned, who lived a perfect life, was Jesus Christ. He came to set a perfect example for us to imitate.

God’s moral law is a perfect law. Psalms says “the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” In France, the standard may be different from here, but with God’s law, the standards are the same everywhere, all the time. It is wrong to lie and steal in France and it is wrong to lie and steal here in America – or anywhere else in the universe! It is wicked now to swear or murder and it was always wicked. It was just as wicked 3,000 years ago as it is today. God has only one standard for all people, for all time.

God requires even you young ladies to be pure and holy. And He requires it of us adults too. If it is wrong for a preacher to go see a particular movie, it is also wrong for you. We will all be measured by the same standard.

At the end of our lives, or when the Day of Judgement comes, God will measure each of us according to HIS standard. Not by whether you THINK you were good enough and TRIED hard, but by the absolutes of His word. If you have broken one commandment, the Bible says you have broken them all. Think about it like a set of fancy teacups and saucers. If you break one, you have broken the whole set – it cannot be perfect! So, none of us will measure up.  But, God provided a way to give us the extra inches we need – thru Jesus Christ. If you give your life to Him and let Him live through you – then God measures Jesus when it is your turn! He takes our place – just like He took our place on the cross. Make sure you have a relationship with Him...keep growing in Him...that leads to measuring up and fitting thru the ONE door to Heaven. If you don’t fit, there is only one alternative – Hell, and separation from God for eternity.

If I had measured you a year ago, and then again tonight, I bet I would find that you had grown some. Probably an inch or two.  Just as you have been growing in height, you should also be growing in Jesus Christ and into His character. You should be making progress towards being holy. You should be lying less, stealing less, murdering less, taking God’s name in vain less, and honoring your parents more than you did last year. You should be thinking more about others than about yourself – more so than last year.

You remember the story of Jesus preaching in the temple when He was 13? The Bible says there that He went home obediently with His parents and grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. Stature is height...but Jesus also grew in wisdom and in favor with God and man. I hope that you are growing in wisdom and in favor with God and man. If you want to grow, you must read the Bible and pray! And don’t just read the Bible – do what it says.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Vacation 101

Ask a kid what he likes best about school and he’ll either say “lunch” or “vacation!” As homeschoolers, we’ve found the flexibility to do more traveling than the typical school setting might allow.

Because we don’t follow the normal 180-day schedule, we can find off-season days to head to the beach or the mountains. This helps the budget quite a bit! (I have to admit here that my amazing world-traveling mother-in-law has also helped us frequently get to where we want to go!)

Over the years, we panned for gold in the Yukon, we measured the great sequoia in California, we walked on that Great Wall in China, we played quoits in Williamsburg, we dipped our fingers in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, we traveled in trains, planes, automobiles and houseboats. We are now preparing for one of the most complicated itineraries we’ve ever faced: a Mediterranean tour including stops in Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel.

Planning for vacations can be overwhelming. I can remember being overwhelmed by our first vacation with our first baby. We just wanted to spend a weekend at the beach. Is that so hard? It can be when you need a car seat, baby crib, playpen, beach umbrella, beach toys, baby food, and, oh yes, diapers!

My husband and I started a pattern then that we have followed ever since:

1. We make an itinerary. I type up a “formal document” that lists the days we will be traveling in the left column, then a column with the information about where we will be staying (hotels, tents, or houses) and what we will do while there. In the third column, I track the estimated amount of time for the drive or the visit to the museum or other point of interest. In the final column, I track the prices for lodging, attractions, restaurants, etc. (The 4-column approach doesn't work on this blog-site, so I just put the hours and cost next to each event.) Here is what one day of our last vacation looked like:

Day     Time     Destination/Hrs/Cost
9/15     9:30a      Breakfast at Hotel (FREE)
                           Drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga, TN (1½ hr)
            12:00n     Eat picnic lunch at Lookout Mountain?
                            Visit Ruby Falls & Lookout Mountain (open 8a-8p daily)
                                    1720 S. Scenic Highway, Chattanooga, TN
                               Take Guided Tour of Ruby Falls (1½ hr) ($18/pp)
                                     Wear sneakers & jacket (60-65 degrees)
                               Stay at La Quinta Chattanooga/Hamilton Place ($69)
                                      7017 Shallowford Rd, Chattanooga, TN
                                     Conf#________ (LQ Returns #______)
             6:00p         Eat dinner at Fazoli’s (same road/across street) ($8/pp)
                                      2332 Shallowford Village Drive, Chattanooga, TN

My husband likes running up the expenses in column 4 and making sure he knows how much money to prepare to spend.  The timelines are guesses and remain generally flexible.  We keep the itinerary in a folder for that specific vacation along with any mapquest directions, hotel confirmation forms and other paperwork we need while traveling.

When looking for lodging, we have a few things we generally look for:

a) price (of course)...I feel gypped if I spend over $100/night, and I go for lower when I can. However, you have to balance safety, comfort, and cleanliness with price. Don’t sacrifice a good night’s sleep for an extra $10.

b) location...I try to find a place near an interesting activity or sight (of course).

Everybody does that. But, what we really love is finding places that have:

c) indoor pools...if there is any boring moment, we can always swim; plus great to stretch out after a long drive!

d) in-room helpful so we can bring supplies to make lunches to take with us whenever possible.

e) free breakfast...this is a huge time/money/space saver. We don’t have to carry as much food. We can just go downstairs and not have to make breakfast or look for a restaurant. Eating out at restaurants can get really expensive!

2. We make a packing list. I keep all of my packing lists on the computer so the next time we go on vacation, I can browse through and see what we packed before for a similar vacation. For instance, we have a favorite hotel we like to stay at when we go to the beach (Sun Viking) and every time we go there, I just modify that list for our current needs (no more diapers!) and save it with the current year in the file name.

Our list of things to pack includes clothing, accessories, hygiene, medicines, games/toys, and food items as needed. I check things off as they go into the suitcase or car (or whatever). Of course, other special items like cameras, pillows, identification, money, and other things are listed as needed as well. Some vacations require more “stuff” than others. Last week, we were houseboating in Kentucky, and took along a lot of camping-type supplies (flashlights, fishing poles/bait, star and bird watching charts) that we would never consider taking on an airplane ride to New York City. Every packing list is tailored to the specific trip’s needs.

3. We make a countdown. For bigger or more exciting trips, I often print up little squares with numbers. Usually the pictures that go along with the numbers related to the trip – a cruise ship or an airplane or in the case of our upcoming Mediterranean tour, we have the Pantheon, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum included. Each day, the kids take turns pulling off one number and we get closer and closer to leaving. When I forget (or get too lazy) for this step, my (now high school aged) children remind me over and over again – so it really does help build excitement!

4. We make it educational. Now, don’t get carried away thinking that we make some huge effort or bore our kids to death on vacation. We really don’t. But, we try to find one or two things that make the brain function while we take a break from “regular school.” There are lots of ways to do this. In that first beach vacation with a preschooler, we just made an attempt to notice things. For instance, let’s talk about that salty water you just swallowed. See that horizon line? Oooh! Look at that crab! In later years, we could refer back to those things during science class – remember when...

On other trips (at the initial suggestion by my MIL), we’ve collected water or sand samples. We have a whole array of little plastic bottles of water on the shelf from the Red, Dead and Mediterranean Seas, the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans. We didn’t do anything “educational” on the vacation but collect the water (the more exotic “flavors” were given to us by my traveling MIL) but later, at home, we compared salinity or color.

In the Sequoia forest (at the suggestion of my BIL/SIL who live near there), we took a ball of yarn. We found the fattest tree we could and tried to hug it all around. Failing that, we used the yarn and now have a cool souvenir that reminds us exactly how big – and it is really, really big – that tree really was.

Some trips were perfect for history or cultural instruction. On the drive from California to Washington, we took along little history books for each state we were driving through. My kids love to read, so it was no big deal to ask them to read those along the way and get a feel for the places and things we would see. On the trip to China, we studied up before-hand on geography, history and culture. We learned some common phrases (hello, thanks, where’s the bathroom) and customs.

Everywhere we can, we make sure to visit museums, science centers, planetariums, living history centers, and zoos in various places. We’ve taken tours of government buildings, factories, historical houses, and farms. There is such a vast variety of things you can do that don’t look like “school” along the way. I tend to google “fun things to do in...” wherever we are going and I usually get more lists than I know what to do with. We don’t do everything, we can’t afford everything, and we don’t have time for everything. We pick one or two things that fit our time, our interest (or the interest we are trying to build) and our budget. We had no idea we were interested in wallabies until we met the cutest pair last week at the Creation Museum in Kentucky! We’ll be following up that trip with a trip to the library to research about how we can get our own pair! (Not likely, but fun to think about.)

One of my son’s favorite trips was Patriot’s Point in South Carolina. He would not have been interested in touring a plantation at that time. He was (and is) all about the air craft carrier and submarine tours that we took there. One of my daughter’s favorite places was our Williamsburg/Yorktown/Jamestown adventure. She loved just running around on the redoubts at Yorktown, watching the glassblower and silversmith at Williamsburg, and trying to hoe the garden at the living history museum in Jamestown. We weren’t being overtly educational, but I think we all learned a lot from those trips.

In the long run, our main goals are always to be together and be relaxed and have fun. Having the itinerary and the packing list help us keep organized and sane. And we also take on age-appropriate challenges of learning things like: saying common phrases in Chinese or another local language, counting foreign currency, trying out some hypotheses, reading about and absorbing the places we visited. For our next trip, we are looking forward not only to seeing the amazing architecture and bringing biblical history to life, but also trying all the flavors of gelato that we can fit in!*

*update: Mediterranean vacation complete and both Italian and Greek gelato flavors have been evaluated. However, more tests may be needed in the future to validate our results.  ;o)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Keep the Faith, Baby

Ten and a half years ago when we started homeschooling, there was lots of pessimistic encouragement in the form of “It’s worth a try; you can’t mess up kindergarten.” In other words, never fear, for if (or when) you fail at this endeavor, the schools are still waiting to take your children and they could undo anything horrible that you did. 

Now, as my youngest enters high school, I find less people with encouraging words – even those who homeschool themselves. There is this idea that high school should be hard and not only should I not be able to teach most of it, but my kids must be missing something. I’ve heard moms say, “Aren’t you freaking out? Aren’t you worried? Aren’t you afraid?” 

I check in with my kids pretty regularly – I mean, I see them pretty much all day, every day, and we do talk about stuff. I ask them if they are still happy homeschooling. (They are.) In fact, they’d be highly offended if I wanted to switch venues at this point. They would think I was pretty hypocritical and wonder if I still loved them as much as I did when they were little. (I do.) 

Do I ever have fears and uncertainties? Of course. Who wouldn’t? We can’t know the future. We can’t know what we might have “missed,” by definition, until we run into problems. So far, we haven’t. But, I do know God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He knows the future. And He is the one who set us down this path. And I trust that He knows what He is doing, even when I don’t. 

A man’s heart plans his way,
But the Lord directs his steps. 
Proverbs 16:9

We are trying some new things this year. My kids have started earning college credits through examination. If they continue to do well, we’ll ditch more and more high school and keep on this path. I find that they are meeting the challenges that are set before them. When they hit a roadblock, we’ll stop and look for the way around or through it. 

I don’t know about you, but I was public schooled and ran into confusing situations and roadblocks and followed divergent paths and somehow I still got into (and graduated) college (and my college was the infamous UCF which stands for “U Can’t Finish”). Amazingly, those career goals (public school teacher) that I set for myself didn’t materialize, but God had uniquely prepared me to do what my future really held: wife, mother, homeschooler. So, fear or no fear, I’ll go down this road as far as God leads and as long as He is holding my hand.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

National Treasures

I just noticed my blog sitting there, so long ignored, but patiently waiting for the update on my life.  How kind, sweet blog!  I am back now and ready to talk!

This month has been a whirlwind of activities (including hot air balloons and tornadoes):

The first two weeks were dedicated to finally taking our family on that long-awaited trip to Washington DC.    We'd been planning for over a year (maybe two) and there were a lot of things on our itinerary!  We had an amazing time and got to see so many things, including:
  • National Zoo (saw a panda!)
  • Pentagon (tour)
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing (tour, but no free samples)
  • Washington Monument (inside is closed, boo hoo)
  • Smithsonial Museum of Natural History (can you say "evolution?")
  • National Archives (waited in line for over an hour!)
  • Sculpture Garden
  • Air & Space Museum on the National Mall and the Udvar Hazy off-site
  • Smithsonian Castle 
  • Library of Congress (tour)
  • US Capitol Building (tour of senate and house galleries, rotunda and more)
  • The White House (no tour, boo hoo - cancelled for imaginary "snow storm")
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Korean Memorial
  • WW2 Memorial
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
  • FDR Memorial 
  • Jefferson Memorial 
  • Viet Nam War Memorial (engulfed by the names)
  • Iwo Jima Memorial
  • Ford's Theater (tour)
  • Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery
  • Old Post Office (tour of clock tower)
  • and more!
We got lots of experience using the DC Metro.  And, after a while, we figured out the Metro was using us -- we were paying an extra dollar each way for each passenger ($8, multiple times a day) just because we used a paper pass!   

Along the way, we also went to the Airborne & Special Ops Museum in Ft. Bragg, NC -- very nicely done museum! 

So, we shared all these "national treasures" with our children (allusion to the movie is intended as we had fun locating some of the movie's events/documents) and what did they enjoy the most?
  • It snowed on us! (that was pretty neat)
  • Eating donuts every morning at the cheap, old motel we stayed at
  • Watching HGTV (home & garden - we don't have cable at home)
  • Visiting the Air and Space Museums (with the kind of stuff we see in Florida all the time!)
  • An unexpected and unplanned ice skating experience in an outdoor rink! and
  • Eating ravioli at a Fazoli's Restaurant on the way home (ours closed down a few years ago)!
Go figure!

After getting things back to normal (the laundry got done and the pets came home), my daughter and I were scheduled for a hot air balloon ride.  After two cancellations for weather, we were excited (and a little scared) for our journey.  More about our ride and our later brush with tornadoes in the next update!

Friday, February 1, 2013

One Month Gone

A month has passed since my New Year's resolution post.  I have to say, I'm still going...  My resolve, of course, was to lose weight and get healthy...

I started the year off right by going through my old Weight Watcher materials and tracking what I was eating.  I re-joined Weight Watchers and started attending weekly meetings.

The second, third and fourth weeks of January were pretty easy.  My church went on a 21 day "Daniel's Fast," which we interpret as "no meat, no wheat, no sweets."  (The fast is a spiritual one -- bringing your body under subjection so that your spirit is stronger -- but it does have a physical result of weight loss as well.)  Because my promises were made to God, instead of myself, I found it very easy to say "No" to temptations.  Until midnight on the last night of the fast!  Can you believe I stayed up to make sure I got the first nibble of chocolate in?  I had tried to psyche myself up into going longer on the fast, but just couldn't do it.

So, the long and the short of it -- or should I say, the fat and the thin of it? -- is that I lost 10 pounds in the month of January.  This month, I'll be continuing on with the Weight Watcher's plan and trying to add more exercise into my daily routine.  I've been walking a mile almost daily, but need now to add some more toning exercises -- abs and legs routines by Denise Austin.

My goal is to lose another 8 pounds this month...

How are your resolutions holding up?  Are you approaching them with an "all or nothing" attitude, or are you able to take baby steps to get to your goals?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

The ball has dropped and the new year has dawned.  I'm getting older and my New Year's resolutions are sounding a bit cliche!

I need to lose weight!  I had some medical issues last year that kept me from exercising for a while and then habit grabbed hold when I was feeling better and I just never got back to it.  So, today, I begin again!  My husband and I walked a bit over a mile this morning just to get things kicked off.  I'm going to make the kids go again with me this evening...and tonight I go back to Weight Watchers for the first time in a long time.

Starting over is hard.  I was very successful with Weight Watchers a few years ago, but when I slid, I slid big!  (Pun intended.)  It can feel depressing and overwhelming to go back over the same ground again, but I know I need to.

There are other things on my list too, and probably more important in the grand scheme of life, but this is the one that is "weighing me down."  (Too many puns?)  I know that with good diet and exercise, I will have more energy to focus on and accomplish my other goals!

John 3:30 says it all:  "He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease."  

So, here's to a Happy New Start for me...and a very blessed Happy New Year to you!