~ Christmas Traditions ~

December 21, 2008

I hope you are enjoying a lovely Saturday in your little neck of the woods. I am feeling kind of reflective this afternoon, and since I have nothing else that needs doing five days before Christmas, I thought I would peck out a few thoughts on this ol’ keyboard.

Christmas means something different to each human being. In fact, one’s definition of Christmas can change with time. I know mine has. I can still remember the magic of childhood Christmases when I would wake up to find my before-empty stocking filled with goodies and the realization that Santa had been to my house! (Yes, I remember believing in Santa. I still speak to my parents, even though I was deliberately lied to. LOL)

As I got older, I looked forward to baking cookies, taking part in Christmas musical productions, and wrapping gifts. Some of my best memories involve listening to “A Partridge Family Christmas” on my record player in my room over and over again, singing into the proverbial hair brush at times. We didn’t have karaoke, unfortunately.

I remember listening to another Christmas album that had something to do with Snoopy and the Red Baron suspending their eternal feud for Christmas. Does anybody remember that? It was kind of popular at the time. Oh yeah, and then there was my mom’s Glen Campbell Christmas album. The memories are flooding back now in time to “pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue-ooooo. ” And what could compare to a candlelight Christmas Eve service?

As I think about what I was doing while listening to Christmas music those many years ago, what I remember doing is just hanging around the house on our Christmas vacation from school. (No one homeschooled 25 years ago up North.) My dad would be at work, and mom would be doing regular mom stuff. We did not have much money, but it really didn’t matter. Christmas was not about what I would be “getting.”

To me, Christmas was about Jesus coming to earth, and it was about living in the moment. I didn’t stress over Christmas years ago. The freedom from school work and the regular routine was a gift in itself. The food and fellowship at special get-togethers was pretty nice as well.

Then I got married and had a couple of children. Somehow Christmas started to become more and more intense. I took upon myself this burden to make Christmas “perfect” for my children, which meant lots of gifts, decorations, a huge tree, and lots of useless stuff that only stole from the joy of the season.

After having a few more children, Tim and I became convicted about the commerciality of Christmas in our home, and for a time we eschewed almost all Christmas influences altogether. This was a reaction to just too much pressure for too many years. For me as a mom, it was incredibly freeing! We were home-churching at the time, so it was less complex to withdraw from the tree-thing, the endless buying of gifts, and all the hoopla. It was actually quite peaceful on December 25th as we would read the story of Jesus’ birth together and have a special dinner.

To my knowledge the kids did not feel left out or slighted because we did not do a big Christmas thing. I think it was very, very good for them to have the cycle of commercialism broken. Once we just said no to holiday hell, we were able to enjoy the simple things once again.

Now we are slowly adding things back in as we feel led. I have actually been working full time outside of the home for the past four Christmases, so this is my first one home in quite a while. And I am loving it! Yesterday as the girls and I were making sand tarts together with me rolling and cutting out shapes, and them taking turns decorating large sheets of cookies, Olivia said to me, “Mom, remember last year when you were working? You were all stressed out, and we didn’t do much together.”

Yes, I *do* remember, and I am so sorry that she and the others have this memory. I can not do anything about the past, but I can do something about the now. I am going to continue doing what we have been doing, which is taking one day at a time, using what energy the Lord has given for that day as well as the resources He has provided, and work with those things without lamenting that we don’t have more money to work with, or more time to do this or that.

making-cookies

~ Cookie baking fun ~

ad-with-cookies

~ AD’s prize cookies ~

lilie-pointing

~ Lilie doesn’t want credit for making “THE cookie” ~

taylors-cookie

~Close up of Taylor’s creation. Yeah, we thought so, too. ~

lydia-decorating1

~ Lydia nicely decorates hers ~

So this afternoon I am sitting in the freshly-cleaned family room that is alight with three strands of pretty lights, some holly I cut from our trees, a couple of candles for atmosphere, and my children coming in and out of the room as they enjoy their day. I will put on a favorite Christmas album (with Amy Grant’s “Tender Tennessee Christmas”), and put the homemade bread in the oven to bake for supper.

Christmas is once again simple, but there is a real joy in that simplicity. In a couple of days we will do our Christmas shopping, which is very small: we all draw a name on Thanksgiving, and we purchase gifts within a set amount of money for the person we chose. (This Thanksgiving we had to pick names five times because each time someone would pull their own name, and we would have to start over. Is it any wonder no one can remember who they have this year? LOL)

On Christmas morning it will take us quite some time to watch each person oooh and aaaah over the gift that one of their siblings or parents chose just for them. It is more fun for them to watch their “person” open what they carefully purchased for him/her than even the shopping was.

This year Grandma and Grandpa Calderwood will be joining us for a few days, which will add a layer of joy to the week. As we are sitting around the family room in the evenings with the grandparents here, with Nick and Lauren home from college, and with the rest of our healthy family, I know I will have tears in my eyes which will be just a reflection of the peace and joy in my heart this year.

Christmas has come full circle for me. It is about me doing mom things, and the children enjoying time off from school and the daily routine. It is about Christmas music playing in the background, accompanying us as we enjoy just being.

Now I am not stressed about the holiday season because I know without a doubt the best thing I can do for my family is to not stress. The best way to not stress is to be at home and enjoy doing some special things for my family, like baking cookies, changing the scenery with greenery indoors, and just enjoying the moment with them.

“Little is much when God is in it,” says the signboard of a local church here in town. For many people there will be “less under the tree this  year,” but I see that as a blessing. It isn’t the stuff that makes Christmas. This year there have been times when we haven’t known how the next day’s needs would would be met until that day arrived. Raising a larger-than-average family on normal-family budget is an ongoing challenge and daily cause for faith, but that is not a bad thing.

One thing has always been true: Jesus has taken care of us. Without fail. I am learning not to stress but to relax in the arms of my Creator who has had my days planned out since before the foundation of the world. He knows all of your tomorrows as well as your yesterdays.

The most wondrous gift to humankind was Jesus, and He was born into poverty. His parents had very little to offer him at the time of His birth, yet the angels from heaven accompanied the Gift, and there was a heavenly sign given as well — the Star of Bethlehem. The heavens themselves declared the Gift’s arrival. Great men traveled to present their gifts to him, but He himself had little of His own throughout His 33 years on earth. Yet all of His needs were met by His Father.

This is the same Father who created you and who wants you to lean on, trust in, and rely on Him. Accepting the gift of Jesus means realizing that you can not come unto the Father any other way but through Him. His arrival into the world was heralded just as His Second Coming will be as well. He is waiting to see you face to face at a time only the Father knows.

But for now, He wants you to come to Him,  lay down those Christmas burdens, and rest a while. Trust Him to be your Savior, and prove that He is your King by leaning on, trusting in, and relying on Him.

I wish you a very peaceful holiday season with those who love you. If you feel as though you are just going through the motions and are stressed as I have been for so many Christmases, think about what would make this season more enjoyable for you and plan for next year so you don’t get caught in the same trap in 2009.

As for this year, simply SLOW DOWN: relax more, listen more, give attention more, and love more. May Christmas have little to do with things, and everything to do with a thankful, humble heart.

Merry Christmas!


~ Hardcore Homeschool: An 11-part Series ~

December 13, 2008

If you are reading this, welcome to a new series I am working on entitled, obviously, Hardcore Homeschool. This will be an 11-part read unless I change my mind between now and when the series is done. Ya just never know. In any case, I would be interested in hearing your comments as we go along.

I am hoping this series will encourage parents who are not too sure about homeschooling to go ahead and take the plunge, and to enable parents who are already homeschooling to streamline their processes and lighten their loads just a little bit.  It is time to be vocal about education ~ what it is and what it is not.  Here we go.

Hardcore Homeschool: 11 Things Parents Need to Know about Educating Their Kids

You can successfully teach your child or children at home, and this series will help you understand the most important aspects of education itself. What I am about to share with you is information that has been hijacked by the government’s educational establishment, has been taken, twisted around, and in some cases altogether hidden from view.

What had been commonly and widely known about education 100 years ago has been challenged by modern theories that have, over time, proven to be nothing less than psycho-babble and bunk, to put it nicely.

It is time to get back to the true tenets of the discipline known as education and how it naturally is fostered. There is nothing natural about public or private schools in the 21st century. And here’s why.

You are about to read 11 concepts that are important for every home-educating parent to understand in order for their children to get the best possible education. We will not be discussing curriculum; rather, we will be dissecting methodology. Sound dull? I guarantee it will be spicy.

1. Attitude is everything, both yours and your child’s.

As a parent, you must approach homeschooling with an air of confidence even if your knees are knocking under the table on Day One of your homeschool journey. Kids can smell fear and hesitation, and they will latch onto any negative attitude more quickly than they will latch onto a positive one. Give them positive words to work with, not negative or wishy-washy ones. Then watch them bloom in the environment you have established.

Many parents begin home education with an attitude of experimentation. “Let’s try this and just hope it works out okay,” is the attitude I frequently observe. Why wouldn’t a parent feel that way? Society tells us that we are not competent to educate our own offspring unless we have a degree in something or other, preferably in education. As a parent with a degree in education, I challenge this assumption and say that there is nothing I learned in college that prepared me to be a teacher more than having a child of my own.

You as a parent need to arm yourself with the internalized knowledge that you are the very best teacher your young child can possibly ever have. Parents naturally teach children how to walk, eat, become potty-trained, talk, ride a bike, and many other basic and fundamental tasks and skills. Why should it stop there?

Why should you just give up instructing your child at age five and suddenly give him or her over to “The Professionals”? Don’t we think that our children will think it strange that suddenly mom and dad are not adequate to teach him anymore? No wonder parents have problems garnering respect from their teens; it stems way back to parents telling their children ten years earlier that “Honey, someone more qualified than me is going to take you over from here. I’ve gone as far as I can go with you. Now you get turned over to the state. You wouldn’t want me to handle your education from this point.”

Nonsense! Parents are the most qualified individuals on the face of the earth to teach their young children how to read, spell, add, subtract, write, and most importantly, behave the way they, the parents, would have them behave. Impressing standards of behavior on children is an important part of education. Why would a parent want to hand that over to a stranger or a series of strangers, a different stranger every year?

I remember doing my student teaching in college. I was assigned to a first grade classroom for the first part of the practicum experience. The teacher was old enough to be retired, but she kept going for some reason none of us could quite figure out. Her classroom was quite orderly and well-maintained, although the children seemed to be slightly afraid of her. I was afraid of her. I was relieved when my 8 weeks of learning from her was done. Pity the poor children who had 32 more weeks to go. But learn from her I did; I learned how I did not want to treat little children.

My other student teaching experience was assisting in a fifth grade classroom with a teacher who wanted to be well liked more than he wanted to impart education. The students spoke to him as though he was their age with a familiarity that raised my eyebrows. I remember thinking how poorly behaved the students were, and I realized that the difference between the rather rowdy fifth graders and the made-to-toe-the-line first graders was the expectations and the attitudes of their teachers. This is an important observation.

Have you ever been in the presence of children, and their behavior was such that you found yourself thinking, “If that was my child, I sure wouldn’t put up with that attitude and that behavior!” and you couldn’t wait to get away? Bingo! Your expectations were quite different than those of the children’s overseers at that point in time.

Children will rise to your expectations, and they will develop an attitude toward homeschool just as they develop an attitude towards anything. Children will assimilate the attitudes of the people with whom they spend time. It is your right and your privilege as a parent to determine your expectations for your children, to determine in which way you will go, and to walk alongside your children as they journey each day further and further into the realm of true education.

You are not only the best possible teacher for your child, but also you are the best role model for your child as well. There is something about being a parent that causes one to think twice before modeling certain behavior. Some people actually give up certain habits when they become parents in order for their children to avoid bumps down the road. Thinking twice about how our behavior affects someone else is always a good thing. Being vigilant to set a good example in both word and deed is an important part of parenting.

Not all parents are vigilant in this manner, however. By sending children off to a school setting with a myriad of other young children, we are inviting the habits of others to rub off on our children, both good and bad. For some reason, it is the bad habits that seem to stick in these situations.

For example, think how prevalent foul language is in elementary school settings these days. Why is that? It is because parents are not vigilant about to what or to whom their children are exposed. Garbage comes in at a much younger age than it used to, and not surprisingly, garbage comes right back out, staining all that it touches. It is important to remember that once something goes into your child’s head, it is almost impossible to erase it, especially information that is of the garbage variety.

It is your privilege as a parent to choose carefully the things your children will be exposed to and when. This is something for which we will be held accountable as well, I believe. Your young children will be much healthier individuals emotionally than their public or private school counterparts simply by virtue of your children being in a controlled environment, surrounded by people who love them dearly, not people who are paid to pay attention to them. There is definitely a difference, and anyone who says that a classroom teacher provides the same nurture that a parent can is sadly mistaken.

So far I have been talking about a parent being highly qualified to teach their young children at home. Is there a difference between teaching young children and teaching older children? Am I saying that parents are not as qualified to teach their middle school or high school aged kids? Absolutely not, but we have to start somewhere.

If you have sent your children out of the home for instruction, and you are now rethinking that idea, I commend you highly and urge you to act quickly, but taking a student out of a classroom situation and bringing him home to be educated has some intrinsic challenges, and the biggest one is attitude.

No matter what the homeschooling situation, a yes-we-can attitude will be invaluable to you. You have to adopt a positive attitude when beginning to homeschool your children for their sake as well as for yours no matter the age of your children. Remember, you are establishing expectations, and hopefully one of your expectations is that your children will learn. You don’t have to know exactly what they will learn and exactly when. You don’t have to have all 12 years of their education planned out before they begin kindergarten.

Just establish your authority from the start, have a positive attitude about your homeschooling journey, and walk into it with joy and enthusiasm. You may not feel joyful and enthusiastic every day, but you can provide your children with a yes-you-can attitude that motivates them to see the positives of homeschooling. Homeschooling is an awesome opportunity, and I don’t let my children forget that.

Focus: Parents can homeschool with confidence because they are best equipped to understand their children, to meet their deepest needs both socially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. A positive attitude is essential for the parents to demonstrate.

Homeschooling requires parents to set expectations for their children which will also determine what types of attitudes are fostered towards education in the home. If mom and dad support home education, the children will as well. If mom and dad believe that they can teach their children, which they most certainly can, then the children will accept this structure as well.


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