Friday, July 31, 2009

What to write...?

Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

We have been in a whirlwind of activities lately, which is why I have not been writing much: some I have written about, some I cannot post at this time or surprises will be spoiled, and other concerns occupying my thoughts I simply cannot place on this blog for one good reason or another. So, every time I tried clearing my mind and sat down to write, I was either falling asleep from exhaustion or my mind went completely blank--too much clearing of the mind, perhaps!

So, here I sit with my laptop on my lap, not particularly inspired. What to write? All I can think of is trying to get started to write. It is said a writer writes always. Well, that was not particularly helpful. Once a professional editor/writer told me to just start writing whatever thoughts I had, even if I was to write about a certain topic, and something will take shape. All this while, the writing itself consumes my thoughts.

Write about writing...? From out of a dismal abyss a memory emerges, one full of irony tickling dormant brain synapses out of their slumber: junior high school. When I was in eighth grade my grades slipped in two subjects quite sharply. I quite am ashamed to admit it, but I went from being a nearly straight A student in sixth and seventh grades to having three D's in eighth. Science, which I had always loved, was one of the subjects and the other was English, which had always been easy for me. These were the only D's I ever received during my school years. What happened? Teachers are what happened!

The teachers I had in those subjects that year nearly killed my love of learning altogether. My science teacher gave us long projects so he would not have to be in the classroom at all and he wasn't. This left us in teams to work mostly unsupervised and on my team was a girl, who had relished bullying me for the last five years. My English teacher, on the other hand, was the type who covered all the basics in an oppressing manner and gave us no opportunity to apply them. I had a difficult time staying mentally engaged in her class.

As I was picking subjects for my first year of high school, my eighth grade English teacher said that she could not recommend me for the College Prep English course I had chosen. I remember telling her I was sure I could do it and that the ninth grade teacher would be able to tell if I could cut it in her class within the first few weeks. It may have been that my test scores supported my argument indicating I was what they like to call an "underachiever," because teachers just don't like to use straightforward terms like "bored completely out of her little pea-picking brain."

I did get the course I chose in ninth grade and I LOVED it. It was advanced and moved at a pace that kept my interest. Every week we were required to write a theme at a least one page long but no more than two. We were given the subject on Friday and it was due the following Friday. We did things like sentence diagramming and learned more terms about grammar and the proper use of grammar than I remember today, most likely, but the foundations were well laid. I know that I learned more in that one year than I did in the next three years after switching schools because of a move. Those following three years I was again bored out of my skull, but this time the knowledge was already in my head and it came spilling out, so my grades did not suffer.

More importantly, I gained confidence to write with a deadline, within a certain criteria, with good grammar,...and I learned to love writing. Years later I worked from home writing résumés for a company specializing in finding people overseas jobs. They usually only would hire college students or graduates, but after seeing a few examples of my work, they took me on with just my high school diploma. They had their own restrictive format keeping each no more than two pages, therefore the writing was easy in that one way but also more challenging to get one noticed more than another using descriptive summaries with the available information.

From that time on I have protracted my self-deception believing I just have had to write for various reasons associated with business or making a minuscule bit of money, but as I reflect on this I find that the truth is I have found reasons to write because I enjoy it. Yet, I don't think I would have been as confident in writing had it not been for that one class I almost did not get the opportunity to take.

~ Thank you, my Lord, for giving me the opportunities to write for my own enjoyment and to share my writing for the enjoyment of others. Guide me, my Lord, to use it to glorify You more. ~

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Etowah Mounds

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. ~ Unknown

After having some fun in European history at Medieval Times on Wednesday, the following Saturday we ventured to real historical place within an hour's drive from home: the Etowah Indian Mounds. We have lived in Georgia for nearly twelve years and I have been wanting to go there ever since I first heard of them. I am kind of glad that I did not go previously, because it was not until the spring of last year that some American Indians, Etowah staff, and volunteers built a wattle and daub house, believed to be similar to homes and buildings built by the Etowah. It was a rather warm day when we visited the mounds and the wattle and daub dwelling was pleasantly cooler inside.

Mound A is the largest and tallest, about 63 feet in height. The steps were shallow and easy to walk, but still daunting and not for the faint of heart. There was a time that Mound A had trees on this sides, but in 2007 they were cut down to preserve the structural integrity of what is believed to be the ceremonial mound. The stumps were left behind.

In the river is a V-shaped fish trap of piled stone. It is believed that the Etowah used the flow of the river to channel fish into baskets placed at the point.

There is a strange, hushed feeling of presence, mystery, wonder, and even loss in places a civilization has abandoned yet left its mark upon the land. These people fortified their village, even built a moat. All that work to improve their lives and they are gone, leaving us trying to understand what happened to them by what they left behind.

~ My Lord, how many civilizations have you seen rise and fall, grow to be engulfed by another and fade away, and conquer to be conquered? How many more centuries will it take for mankind to learn to come to You and stop taking from each other? ~

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Medieval Times

Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth. ~Charles Kingsley

Amidst all the work we did on our vacation last week, I fasted on Tuesday instead of Wednesday so that we could enjoy this one indulgence: Medieval Times. What could be more fitting for my Princess and her love of horses and sword fighting as well as a preference for eating with her hands?

Medieval Times was conceived in Spain in 1973. Ten years later the first one on American soil debuted in Florida. Even with the phalanx of other tourist attractions surrounding Disney World, the castle was well situated with its battlements quite visible aside a busy highway. We went to that one with my little ten year old brother in its first years. Each castle is quite different, as you can see here.

Locating the one in Georgia, we were surprised to find it in such an unlikely place as a mall, but its outside turrets were unmistakable, even so. Although it is an expensive evening, we cut the costs considerably with special offers when we purchased the tickets online.

We arrived early and asked for the Green Knight, simply because we liked the color with the dragon emblem. We walked about and enjoyed the ambiance as more people arrived.

We met the Master Falconer, Lady Aerial, named so from a bird of prey's nest, or aerie. The falcon she is holding in this picture was full grown but young and still being trained. The falcon to perform the show that night was to be another older and well trained bird. I am not overly fond of birds in general, especially not as pets, but I definitely had a soft spot for birds of prey. The falcon's performance was spectacular to watch as he flew away and dove towards the Master Falconer in figure eights several times in the arena. It dove right over us, so fast it could barely be seen and continued until finally it was allowed the morsel it sought.

After looking at all the items for sale, the Princess decided on a light up sword instead of the pretty things a princess would wear. Then it just came down to waiting for the doors to open so we could be seated. Of course, with that much time on our hands and having a new sword, things were bound to happen.

By the way, one of the reasons I wrestle the camera from my husband is that my wild antics are even more embarrassing. Being behind the camera, keeps me busy and provides the illusion of decorum.

Everyone addressed us as my lord, milady, and princess. (How did they know?) Once seated at long tables, which are more like bars, tiered for the ease of viewing the arena, our serving wench began bringing us our food and drink, but no utensils, as is the custom. The meal was tasty and plenty with drinks the only offered choice and then only two, but there is a vegetarian alternative for the meal.

The show begins revealing a dreadful plot. Not everyone is happy within the kingdom, as is usually the case when we study history. Tensions rise as the tournament goes on. One of the six knights is probably going to make a play against the throne, but who? Well, it is a tale to be experienced, so there will be no spoilers here, although I have learned that every five years or so, the plot changes.

Occasionally, the knights toss two carnations separately out to ladies in the crowd and my Princess is the second one of the evening to get a flower from our Green Knight.

Although just acting, the tournament is not just child's play. In this picture, I just happened to capture sparks flying from the metal swords clashing.

Even though well rehearsed at their roles, things are not always predictable in a show, especially when horses are partakers. One of the horses was a bit vexed while the knights were lined up on their mounts and after it pranced a bit, it turned sharply dumping its rider. The White and Black Knight landed on his side in the sand and walked out in obvious pain. It was some time before he returned with a substitute horse to finish the show, suggesting he more likely had the wind knocked out of him than a serious injury. Such are the risks of being a knight.

A hierarchy exists behind the scenes as well. The head knight is in charge of the three-hour-a-day training of man and beast in jousting, sword fighting, riding, and everything in the show as well as scheduling and paperwork. All knights start out as squires in the stables cleaning up after the horses. In training to be a knight, a squire also learns the various aspects of the show, including riding and weapons use. Squires may be promoted to knights in three to six months and new knights spend plenty of time as squires in the shows. It takes about one to three years before a squire/knight can master all the aspects of a show.

Need I say that it was a very enjoyable evening?

~ Thank you, my Lord, for playful moments. ~

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why I blog....?

If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad. ~Lord Byron

Every once in awhile, I find a quote that basically says it all, but without some periphrasis now and then, how can I truly explore my feelings?

Ganeida, my friend in Australia, asked these questions on her own blog:

So why do you blog? What is it about blogging that keeps you posting, week after week?

Ganeida was the one who got me thinking of blogging seriously. Besides the fact we have homeschooling a musically gifted child in common, I so enjoy her humor, bits of trivia, style of writing, and occasional exotic words in common Aussie dialect. Why I decided to blog was...well, the contributing factors were many, but Ganeida provided just the right amount of encouragement through writing her own blog. Perhaps, I could say just for the enjoyment of it and be done with it, but that would not be me, would it? It simply must to be more complicated than that!

You see, I have been writing articles published in a local newspaper about alternative and complimentary health for the last eleven years. These articles have a deadline and must to meet a criteria to be published, such as length, content, format and such. Apparently the publisher and I have differing opinions about my writing abilities. My inadequacies embarrass me too much to think I am a real "writer." However, beyond the fact that I enjoy researching and writing, after eleven years I think I can claim, technically, that I am a published writer of health related articles, at least. As much as I enjoy that form of writing, I do not have the freedom to write about just anything that comes to mind or other interests and I find I have a desire to share my faith through writing more than ever before.

For the last two years I had toyed with the idea of dropping forums completely and blogging, but I was concerned about putting personal information out there on the Internet even with some anonymity. They say what goes on the Internet, stays on the Internet, and my husband does not like to put anything in writing unless necessary. So, I decided that I would be happy with just a personal private journal on my own computer. I had been keeping a journal...although rather irregularly. I really wanted to write a bit of something more regularly, but I found myself struggling with motivation. In my heart, I still wanted to do a blog, and yet not....(This is why I always warn people that I am often conflicted.)

I felt a blog would be confining when it came to some of the things I would like to express and it is. Even though I have configured it so that search engines will not see it, making it semi-private, some things I wish to write about should remain absolutely private and, if I write about them at all, it would only be in my private journal on my own computer. On the other hand, I truly love the freedom to write about the things I want, whether random thoughts, spiritual insights, memories, homeschooling, or happenings, all without any rules but my own!

The most motivating thing about blogging, in comparison to keeping a private journal, is that someone might read it within minutes after I finish. In fact, I feel compelled to write more often to keep my family and friends interested and informed. I was a bit timid in the beginning about adding pictures of my daughter, as my husband and I have been always in agreement about posting pictures on the Internet, but then I got into face painting--how could I share my artwork if I did not post the face used as a canvass? Of course, the face I paint the most belongs to my own daughter.

Digital scrapbooking is another time consuming interest of mine for which I really do not have time, but that is also a desire that is satisfied, in part, through blogging. I could really get caught up in making lovely scrapbook pages for my pictures, but it remains low on my list of priorities for now.

A few pictures and a little writing (or a lot) to share with my loved ones and a prayer to remind me to seek my Lord in all things makes blogging an enjoyable, worthwhile, and excusable indulgence, but if it did no honor to my Lord it would be a sinful waste of time.

~ My Lord, may I honor You by using the gifts You have given me and resources available to me. Thank you for this blog so that I am able to share my thoughts with my family and friends. ~

Friday, July 10, 2009

One Week Off But It's No Vacation!

No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one.
~Elbert Hubbard

My husband scheduled his vacation this week due to some tight work schedules coming up. We thought we might be going down to Florida to visit his parents, but it was decided that their health issues and appointments would make for poor timing. We have more than few projects to do here at home. My husband picked refinishing the back deck and the front porch.

In the late spring of 2004, my dearest felt strongly that we needed a hot tub and not just any hot tub but a Bullfrog--quite pricey! However, it does have some very nice features like the interchangeable JetPaks so they can be moved to different seats or replaced easily. Plus, all the tubing is inside the tub not on the outside where they cool more easily, making it much more efficient.

Normally, I see the price tag and just say no, but the health minded side of me could see the therapeutic value. I reasoned that it be like having a personal massage therapist on call and could lessen the number of chiropractic visits and those infrequent but absolutely necessary massages for our back pains. Now the thing was that we had no level place to put the hot tub except on the back deck, which was a bit small for it, of course.

The entire deck had been rebuilt a year before we bought our house because a tree had hit it during a strong storm. Actually, our deck was rebuilt to be twice as big as all the others in our subdivision, but it was built badly. My husband went to work to create a new deck.

Not just a regular deck, mind you, but a bit of fancy had to be added using the old framing with a half circular addition. He decided to make the spa sunken which meant that it would need its own well supported platform under the deck floor. This would all need to be customized to fit the spa of choice as well.

Then it was my turn! I never liked the stairs coming down from the deck. I am talking twelve open, steep steps straight down and a three year old--need I say more?--so I asked my husband to also rebuild the stairs so they were not so steep and place a landing near the crepe myrtle tree that would turn the rest of the few steps at about a 45 degree angle towards the yard with wider bottom steps. I was thinking that sometime in the future we would level the upper portion of the yard and have part of it done with paving bricks. The yard project still has not even begun, but I have my hopes.

My husband even surprised me with an interesting design in the gate with left over pieces!

You may have noticed in the first picture that the then-three-year-old Princess is holding something. That something is Sammy Lamby. In the second picture, you may notice a dark cat lying on the step just below the landing. That was Smoke, as I called him. He adopted us soon after he found he had nothing to fear with our dogs, even though he was a neighbor's cat named Dusty. He was well treated there, but he had competition. So, Smoke was my cat in every other way until...the Princess. He then adored her even more and became her shadow.

The deck has not been completely finished to date. The top railing has not been done yet, but it will be, I am told. Anyway, the wood was way overdue for refinishing, and a few bad boards needed replaced, including one support, so that is how my husband and I spent part of his vacation, staining the deck in between showers of rain.

The front porch needed a new facing on the ceiling, which we got up. Pressure washing, and painting the ceiling and railing will be done at another time, but our goal is to have it done before December. (I did mention his tight work schedule coming up with a trip to Israel for training included, so we shall see how that goes.)

All in all, it has been a productive vacation. (Isn't that an oxymoron?) We also rested and did a few fun and frivolous things--one for which I need to prepare right now, in fact, so I will be writing more about our vacation week later on.

~ Thank you, my Lord, for the time to do things for which we have no time, and for my husband being such a talented craftsman. ~

Monday, July 6, 2009

May I Have a Word with You?

We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary. ~Booker T. Washington

Lately, I have become keenly aware that my vocabulary could use some augmentation. Perhaps it is because I homeschool that I feel the importance of not just being well acquainted with more words for myself, but exposing my daughter to the diversities of our language, even if adding just a word or two a day. Etymology has always intrigued me, but more so now that I am learning Latin and Greek along with my daughter. The subtle nuances and unusual phraseologies created in writing by selective wording truly delight my senses and stimulate my intellect. While I adore a good plot with excellence in writing, if given the choice between poor expression with a good plot and a poor plot with excellent writing style, I would prefer the latter most of the time.

A couple of weeks ago, I began visiting three websites giving a word a day, although one does weekdays only. I also have been adding unfamiliar words I have read. I listed them on an index card reviewing them each day. When I am quite comfortable with its spelling and use, drop it from my list. So far, I have added 45 new words (or new usages of words) to my vocabulary in fifteen days.

I would like to share just a few:
  1. Now, it is likely all of us have defenestrated at some time in our lives and never knew we could use just that one word to describe throwing something or someone out of the window. Defenestrate is pronounced "dee-FEN-uh-strayt." Somehow that makes throwing something out the window sound more impressive, doesn't it?

  2. Bird watchers might not be so impressed with the corvine population since it refers to the common crow.

  3. Nowadays crescent typically refers to a shape of the moon, but originally, it referred only to the increasing illumination phase that immediately follows the new moon as it comes from the Latin "crescere," which means "to grow."

Here are some sites that give a word a day:
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day Word of the Day A Word a Day

I am going use an index card system to teach my daughter two words a day using these sites:
Merriam-Webster's Daily Buzzword
SuperKids Vocabulary Builder - This site has several daily vocabulary words categorized by grade levels!

~ My Lord, I am thankful that I do not need to express in words to You what is in my heart, but language is truly a gift necessary to communicate with others. Guide my daughter and me in learning new words and in using them wisely.~

Sunday, July 5, 2009

5-H: Head, Heart, Hands, Health,...and Horses!

The horse is God's gift to mankind. ~Arabian Proverb

I have come to appreciate the freedom of not being in a homeschool group, the subject I wrote about yesterday. In a way, being in a homeschool group was the easy way and would likely get myself into a homeschool rut, keeping me from looking around to the various events, activities, clubs, and other opportunities our community offers.

I feel that I should take a moment to give credit to Whom credit is most definitely due. My Lord heard my prayers and remembered. Since even before I was pregnant with my daughter, I prayed to my Lord for many things for her, but of them this one was the most unlikely to me: She would ride horses.

It was unlikely because we do not have horses. We possibly did have the finances for horses at one time, but no time or space for them. Now we really don't have the finances or space. We also did not know anyone near us with horses. However, members of my family have been horse people, so to speak, and I think the desire is just in the blood.

It probably should not have been any surprise, after I gave up on homeschooling groups, that the Lord led us right into the one thing that fit us very well. At a fair, there was a horse ride and from the moment my Princess sat the horse, she looked as if she was born to it--such confidence, even with her feet dangling well above the stirrups! All I could think was my grandfather would have loved seeing her and my heart ached.

God will make a way, when there seems to be no way.

That three dollar ride led us to the the local 4-H Horse and Pony Club, which she joined soon after. It is well organized and very active, and unlike the other local 4-H clubs, it allowed younger members. It also meets in the late evening once a month just five minutes from my house and schedules all its activities around a school schedule, mostly late evenings and weekends so even if my husband is working from home, he can usually get home in time for us to make the meeting, usually. It is a very large group with all ages, some home, private, and public schoolers as well as people of all religions. I have yet to witness any parent behave in a way that causes me concern.

One of the things I love most: There are sign up sheets to inform them of who plans to attend special events and who plans to help out, but there is no requirements to fulfill so I cannot lose membership just because I signed up for something and did not make it. Plus, they always appreciate extra hands to just show up.

Miss Annette, (addressing with "miss" and "mister" before the first name is a southern thing) who oversees the club, has horses, mostly miniatures. She has opened her place to the members to use her horses for training. Teen 4-H members with more experience offer horseback riding lessons for $15 for about 30 to 45 minutes on the horse and about another 30 to 45 on the ground learning about and caring for the horse. We have not begun this, as I was hoping some of our finances would free up, but I have considering how opportunities can pass us by as my daughter matures. It seems the years are just slipping by now so, for some things, I will just have to do it while she is young and rely on my Lord to provide.

One of the things I really like about the 4-H club is that my daughter is learning the format for formal meetings and presentations, which the older children run themselves, and she is doing lots of community and charity work as well as learning about horses. With her enthusiasm, drive, and friendly ways, I can envision her as a popular choice for a future officer in the club.

We still do not have any prospects of owning a horse at this time, but if the Lord wants it for her, He will provide it--of that, I have no doubt! Plus, she is having so much fun! For us, this has worked out far better than a homeschool group.

~ My Lord, sometimes I wonder if I asked for the things You already planned, or if You are giving me the things for which I asked, just because I asked for them. Either way, my Lord, I thank You for it all, particularly taking away the things that get in the way of Your plan. ~

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Homeschool Groups

If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself. If you are accompanied by even one companion you belong only half to yourself, or even less, in proportion to the thoughtlessness of his conduct; and if you have more than one companion you will fall more deeply into the same plight. ~Leonardo da Vinci

I am often asked if we are in a homeschool group or what I think about these groups. I was an active member in one a few years ago and I did enjoy it, but it got to be overwhelming. While I think they are great option, I do not think homeschool groups are a necessity for every homeschooling family. Homeschool support groups of all varieties abound close enough for us, but here are many things that make them inconvenient or unnecessary, perhaps even undesirable for us as well.

  1. I think only reason I looked for homeschool groups is for the socialization factor because I only have one child, a highly social child. While I enjoy people very much, I am rather independent and not that fond of groups in general. I really don't feel the need of a group for emotional support. I have a great husband who is my best friend, a close-knit church, and a few good and sweet friends, which seem to be enough for me.

  2. We did well with unstructured play dates when my daughter was younger and doing activities at a discount with a group, but we had much more flexibility and fun with just meeting up with one homeschooling family for a year until things changed so we couldn't do that anymore.

  3. Most groups are co-ops and we only have one car, which is all mine when my husband flies out of town (quite often), but we only know a day in advance sometimes that he will be flying out and then we have to drive to the airport too. When he works from home, he needs the van. That being said, it is nearly impossible for me to plan ahead or participate with a group that requires it from its members. I barely make it each week for piano lessons! Even field trips have to be paid in advance. Now I am very good at filling in and helping out when I am there, but I cannot make commitments in advance at all. I have not found any flexible co-ops in my area that will give me credit for participation if I just show up to help when I am able. I did part of year book for one that I could do on my own time at home, but that was a huge commitment and it only counted for one of the two things required for me to keep my membership.

  4. Since I live in the Bible Belt, there are many Christian homeschool groups, but some can be a bit too selective, perhaps. As if to countervail that, the inclusive groups could also be too all inclusive. Let me just say that I did not understand why an inclusive group had such good rules of conduct for the children and yet would allow the children to witness such bad conduct from a parent and not have it addressed in the bylaws.

  5. Even if I had no commitment to fulfill, homeschool groups still require time. They take as much as they give. When I was a member of one, I had to prioritize and balance activities with my available time and transportation, when transportation was not a problem. If I only did the select activities, I still did not really have much time to squeeze in lessons and often the activities conflicted with other items in our weekly schedule, so we could not do many of them anyway. In the end, I felt it was more important to stick with the things that interests us, coordinate our outings with what we are covering in our lessons, and keep our priorities, which I could do better when not distracted by all those other unnecessary activities.

What should have made homeschool groups the most undesirable at this time, believe it or not, was that I felt my Lord was telling me not to join any and since it has worked out so badly when I did--yes, even though I was sure my Lord said not to, I did it...twice!--I have decided to follow His leading. Someday, my Lord may lead us to group membership, but until then we will remain independent.

~ Thank you for having patience with me, my Lord, when I go off doing things my way instead of Your way. ~