Tuesday, May 10, 2016

My John

 18th birthday, almost a year ago.
I folded a few of John's T shirts early this morning -- Joe Cool, Colonel Sanders, and Iron Man. He won't be needing them for two months because he left in the middle of the night for Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for basic training. I cried while folding of course. I'll add them to Rees' pile and hope he puts them away nicely for his brother. Both of the big boys and Ken don't really like it when I fold their clothes. Don't do that, Mom; we can. Don't do that, Honey; they should. And I know; I know. But folding clothes in the very early morning with a cup of (now) decaf is an odd pleasure of mine. It gets something tangible done while I'm able to think about whatever my mind wants. The only interruptions are from my own brain's thoughts flitting here and there and I like it.

About 18 months, always with Rees

This morning I thought about John. About how cute he was and how handsome he is. About how ready he is for this tough adventure and good plan. About how old and strong he looked last night saying goodbye to his little brothers and sisters and about how I noticed a flicker of nervousness while he explained to Ken about how the airport in San Antonio has an Air Force desk because there are so many recruits passing through and he'll just need to get to that desk and they'll put him on a bus.

When I hugged him goodbye, I told him that I wasn't worried about his "making it" ~ he's been itching to go since February ~ but that I would miss him terribly. We gave him a replica of a WW1 Rosary, the kind handed out to Catholics by the US government back then (Imagine that!), and the Combat Prayer Book, a tiny book, easily slipped into one of the many arm pockets. But not during boot camp, he tells me. That's OK. Someday he'll want it and he'll have it.

About 12; shot a grouse.
It's bearable because he'll be back in mid-July (Until they send him away again for Tech school, but I won't think about that yet.). Ken warns me that he will be changed when he returns. Just typing that sentence makes me drip tears on my keyboard. It's good, though. I'm happy for him. He needs to do something that is Just John. He has always been with Rees, making what breaks he could. Doesn't like hiking; doesn't like country music; doesn't like to read. I imagine they will miss each other terribly, anyway.


.
 He tells me to wait two weeks, then call a number on a paper he gave me (Good Lord, I'm awful about keeping track of papers.) and they will tell me where to send letters. He also tells me that he may not get to read them or write back if he gets in trouble. Lovely. So I will busy myself with writing to him and helping Clare pick out a Million Degrees Hot Texas wardrobe, for she and Ken will fly to San Antonio for his graduation. She's never been out of Alaska; never even been on an airplane. It's a trip of a lifetime and I will love picking out clothes with her!

So my John is gone. But he's all right. And I suppose I am.
St. Michael, the archangel, pray for him please.








Monday, April 18, 2016

Clare's Take on Dorian Grey

(Every once in a while, I copy and paste something from Clare's locked blog. I'm especially proud of her notice of the lack of conversation between Dorian and his grandfather during his formative years.)


Dorian Grey

Mum said I post too many H.P. things, so she suggested I publish this essay I wrote about Dorian Grey.




I have just finished The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde for literature, and throughout the whole book, one thing seemed to strike me as a recurring theme: Dorian Grey's absurdly weak will
coupled with his insatiable curiosity—and why that's a dangerous combination. Every time he makes a plan to do something good, he allows himself to be talked out of it.

The story starts out with Dorian Grey as a rich young man, ready to go out into the world and be a philanthropist. At the art studio of his friend Basil Halward, he meets Lord Henry, a middle aged
man with a very immoral view of the world, telling Dorian things like, 'Conscience is just a polite word  for cowardice. No civilized man regrets a pleasure.' Dorian was raised by his reclusive grandfather and never had anyone to talk to deeply about such issues. Therefore, Lord Henry was the first person he had ever met who explored the three-dimensional meanings of religion and art, and the curious young Dorian snapped up his ideas greedily.

There is a life-size portrait of Dorian Grey at his english manor, and as the young man slowly sinks into an evil life (encouraged by the ever-present Lord Henry), he suddenly notices that, while his
body stays young and his visage pure, the painting grows old and become a mirror of his wretched
soul. He is horrified by this realization and resolves to change and marry Sybil Vance, the girl he loves. But right after he privately pledges this to himself, Lord Henry shows up. He tells Dorian that Sybil is dead and that marriage is 'just a habit, and a bad one at that.' Without giving Henry's words any thought, Dorian agrees with him and keeps following his way of life, like a little puppy that can't fend for itself without its master. This a good example of his weak will.

This happens over and over again, until Dorian is known all over London as a bad, immoral man. The last straw is when, for heinous reasons, he murders the only good person who ever really loved him. After that he becomes completely unhinged, and any scrap of goodness left in him is obliterated. He blackmails a chemist to help him destroy the body, he lies about regular matters that don't even call for lying, and he continues to visit the corrupting Lord Henry. In the end, he stabs the portrait in an attempt to destroy the last bit of evidence of the murder. But in doing so, he ends up killing himself because he and the painting are one.

Dorian Grey's story loosely reminded me of Pinocchio's. The little wooden boy also had a weak
will and kept letting Honest John and other questionable characters lead him astray. And although he doesn't actually appear in the story (he is just discussed), I think that Dorian's grandfather also played a big part in his grandson's corruption, as I briefly touched upon earlier. Maybe if he had spent more time with Dorian when he was younger and taught him the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, etc., he may have been able to put his foot down and tune out Lord Henry's blasphemy.

This is a famous depiction of The Portrait from a museum

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Kids' Expo Cuteness

Our homeschool charter school had a student expo last week. Students could display any project they wanted.



Six year old Joseph collected some of his favorite artwork, named them all, and glued them to a board ~



 Nine year old Luke is obsessed with the Titanic, so he gathered up pictures he'd drawn, put together a few paragraphs, made a small diorama, and built the famous ship out of old-fashioned legos (no kit) ~




Eleven year old Ian is currently into the Civil War (or the War for Southern Independence, as he informs me is more accurate). He wrote biographies, made a diorama of Little Round Top and baked real hard-tack~




Fourteen year old Clare is a bona fide Potter-head and has drawn some fan-art. I insisted on an essay and she popped one out in half an hour ~






Here's her essay, as a clue to how our homeschooling looks in the dreary grayness here. Just add their mathematics, and they're good.


HOGWARTS

Lately I have invented a fun game for my younger siblings. I teach them and then test their knowledge on five different subjects. It's called Hogwarts. Yup, I set up our living room to look like the legendary school and I teach Addie, Joseph, Luke, and Ian what the kids in the books learn. I am the teacher: Professor Lyra Burke, pureblood head of Slytherin house.

The five subjects are all from the Harry Potter books and I teach them all. There's Defence [She has adopted British spelling.] Against the Dark Arts, where I teach the kids all about the evil Wizarding things and how to defeat them. Herbology is the study of magical plants such as Mimbulus Mimbletonia, Bubotubers, and Mandrakes. Almost everyone likes Care of Magical Creatures, and I'm sure you can guess what I teach in this class! Potions, however, is hard of most of the students because they have to memorize the ingredients, the way to make it, and how to use it. For the fifth class I choose either Quidditch or Astronomy, as an extra.

I have sorted each of my siblings into separate houses. Eleven year old Ian is a proud Gryffindor who is very good at taking notes during class. Nine year old Luke and four year Addie are studious Ravenclaws who often achieve high marks during exams. Last but not least, six year old Joseph is a happy-go-lucky Hufflepuff who goofs around a lot but like Herbology. They're all good students for the most part.

But they are naughty sometimes. I have a notebook where I keep records of the classes, and also a tally of points. The students' achievements will earn their house points. Any rule-breaking or not listening to the teacher and their house will lose points. When exams (which are going on now) are over, I will figure out which house has the most points and I will give its members a prize. The looming threat of defeat helps the students work harder to gain points and sit still in my classes.

Right now we are in the middle of exams, and Gryffindor is in the lead with 80 points. However, it is closely followed by Ravenclaw, which is boasting an impressive 72 points. Poor Hufflepuff, however, is still trailing a the bottom with 25 points. Still, it's a fun game and everybody involved loves it.

(Especially this mother!)

Hurry up, Spring!


Friday, March 4, 2016

7 Ways Homeschooling Surprised Me

Before jumping on the "7 Reasons I Love Educating One Way or Another" bandwagon, here are my credentials:

I am 46 years old.
I have been married for 25 years.
We have 7 children, aged 21 down to 4.
I have been homeschooling since 1999.
We have 2 sons that have graduated from a course of study acceptable to our state.
They both work and take college classes.

Sure, I love homeschooling and it's what we've done for 17 years. But I also love Catholic schooling and public schooling. I love kids learning stuff and parents engaging with their kids. It happens in all the places, each with its own dance between the pros and cons. The fact that tempers my points below is that homeschooling did not exactly pan out how we thought when our eldest was five. The rose-colored glasses got lost. I may have thrown them in the trash. We had all the feels about faith and family unity; all the plans for excellent books and science journals and museums; and all the expectations of academic curiosity driving them to be active learners. I was sure all the beautiful benefits would be ours. After all these years, I offer our surprises to the families just starting out.

1.) Children will not work without force. Maybe in the beginning when it's sunshine and roses but not as the months and years plod on. To leave them be means that they will play legos and fight (teenagers, too), not cheerfully look up interesting things and journal with abandon. And sure, legos are smart toys but that's not going to teach them times tables or geometric proofs. It must be insisted upon. Ballast becomes necessary. Shocking surprise.

2.) Most science experiments did not work. The rockets never went up; the paper never turned purple; the potato never shriveled; and what in the world is agar and why does the box say "common items easily purchased?" Grumpy surprise.

3.) Even if you read nothing but beautiful picture books and classic chapter books to children; even if you assign important literature to teenagers, you may get a kid who, at 18, does not read for pleasure but shrugs and says, "I don't like to read." This will embarrass you. But that kid may understand vehicle manuals and be a great mechanic. This will not embarrass you. Still a surprise.

4.) We rarely go on field trips because they are expensive for a big family (and absolutely crazy with a ton of kids). Galleries, museums, and shows all cost an arm and a leg. If I go with just the older ones, then I need a babysitter for the younger set. More money. Huge coffee table books are good friends and can usually be found on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble and Sam's Club. Actually, we don't have a coffee table anymore due to too many split lips, black eyes, and goose eggs. You can find gorgeous oversized books on art, architecture, Civil War, battlefield maps, and the real Ingalls family, and you might not have to force the kids to flip through them. OK surprise.

5.) My children don't love morning prayer time. In fact, I pass out sticks of gum if they are decent and there's usually at least one who doesn't get gum. We've been Catholic for 11 years, so most of them are cradle Catholics and know all the liturgical seasons and prayers. They still make jokes for prayer requests, balk at leading, and generally goof off. Worried surprise.

6.) Catholic school seems wonderful ~ the uniforms are crisp, cute, and scream Smart Kid. Daily rosaries and an extra Mass a week is a dream come true for this mother who often goes to Sunday Mass with a wet head and an empty stomach. If only it didn't cost 6 weeks' pay per child. There is no sacrifice to be made (Food? Gas? Braces?).  May we have some teaching sisters, please? Sad surprise.

7.) I signed my children up for a homeschool public charter school in our town. What this means is that I bring my kids to a building full of teachers teaching classes for homeschoolers  ~ grades K-2 one day, grades 3-5 another day, and grades 6-12 on another. So I get to lose a few kids each day and they get to do science experiments, oil paint, deal with bullies on the playground, and obey another teacher. I never thought this would be something I would desire. But surprise.


My sweeping proclamations in the first few years of homeschooling ~ of Christianity, unity, beauty, logic, community, academia, Kids that aren't lazy and don't make stupid decisions ~ didn't exactly come to fruition. I've been surprised both at them and at myself. Mostly, I now know that all the ways of educating children are good with parents' love. I no longer think any other way is second-best. It's what we do and we like it. We like reading science texts and good stories on the sofa with hot chocolate; we like older kids helping younger kids with math (sometimes what I have them do if they're not understanding theirs); we like high schoolers getting up at 6am to get their work done before the younger kids get up; we like taking off whatever days we want because Daddy's off; and we like arguing over what Jesus meant in Luke 6:30 (what we're memorizing for Lent).


I raise my cup of tea to all of us with children and adult children ~ to their growth and education in academics and virtue and to our growth and education in wisdom and charity. And surprises.






Monday, February 29, 2016

What Happened? Oh Help!

February 2015
A church down the road has an annual Father Daughter Dance close to Valentine's Day. Last year was the first time Ken took Clare and Addie.



And then exactly one year later . . .



February 2016


That's all. I'm going to take a nap now. Hopefully for ten years.

'Night, all.




Sunday, January 31, 2016

Proposal and Some New Marriage Stages

1990
Today is January 31, the day Ken proposed! A few years ago I posted our proposal story. It's our own holiday, better than Valentine's Day. But just a little better, since now we had our Adah Marie on Valentine's Day!

I'd like to take a minute to yack about the four stages of marriage. I've recently been informed by Experts that all marriages, all of them without exception, go through four stages: romance, disillusionment, misery, and reawakening. I read from here to Ken and after he clapped his jaw shut from the dropping shock, we were sad and angry.

These sorts of articles should read "many" marriages. Or even "most" if it makes them feel better, but certainly not "all." I propose a different set of four stages, a set without disillusionment and misery as official stages lasting years and years (of course there may be short times of feeling this way). I am not going to preach about why I think ours has gone better because it will engender some problems: one, there will be some who did what we did and didn't do what we didn't do who had a different outcome; and two, there will be some who have not done things our way and also find that these stages are foreign to their own experience. For the record, we are in our 26th year of marriage.

Honeymoon stage. This should not be called "romance" as if you only get romance in the first few years. Here is the beginning of intimacy and life together when all is fresh and wonderful and new. When being near each other still makes the heart pound and you're sure that everyone is jealous of you.

Settled stage. Yup, there are weird things going on. There are socks here and there, annoying habits, and sleepless nights with babies and toddlers. So what? Why be disillusioned? People are people and we all have talents and troubles. We all have moments when we shine and moments when we're dull. We know this. Time to settle in, make love through it all, and continue to do what you like together (hiking, skating, movies, coffees, whatever). There's so much to talk about and learn, especially if there are children doing weird things, too.

Comfort stage. Satisfied, secure, and still sexy. Middle age is here and it's good. Ditto the settled stage for making love and doing things together.

Still hiking. He talked me into liking dogs.
Deep stage. Twenty-five years and beyond.  Deep, settled, comfortable romance full of joy. Together dealing with whatever our 50's, 60's, and beyond bring. All the years give rise to this place.

At each stage we should be intimate and talking and doing things together ~ interests we share and things we've introduced to each other and are learning. There will be sadness and shock, heartbreak and horror. These are times to cling to each other; after all, we made solemn vows.

I am glad to know that there are therapists and organizations helping marriages come through terrible times. I know couples whose weld is better than if it had not broken.

And yes, there are marriages that go on through the years getting deeper, stronger, and better without teetering on the brink. If you read articles and wonder when the years of disillusionment and misery will descend, be assured that they may not. You are not shallow juveniles stuck in the honeymoon stage (as was suggested to me when I balked at the other stages).

Happy Proposal to us!
Happy marriages to my friends!
And please, Experts, change your opening paragraphs to read "most."

Love, Allison




Sunday, January 17, 2016

What Kind of Christian

Our Archbishop Emeritus Francis Hurley passed away this week. The diocesan newspaper ran this piece telling his amazing story and these are the first few comments from a local news station's web page:


* I am not even Catholic, but respected this guy!

* He was a good man -- he reached out to the Muslim community here in Anchorage, and we considered him a dear friend. Rest in peace, Archbishop Hurley.

* Godspeed to a good man. Prayers for the Church.

* Rest in your Lord's arms, Father.

* My husband and son are named after him. He will be missed.


My heart swelled to read such sentiments. How much he was loved and respected, even by non-Catholics and  Muslims. You see, I know Christians, Catholic and otherwise, who are always angry. Angry about music; angry about sermons; angry about culture; angry about personalities; angry about politics; angry, angry, angry. Their "suffering" at church is all they can talk about. Loudly. Often rudely.  But Pope Francis has called us to a culture of encounter, of reaching out in dialogue and friendship outside our usual circles. If we live actively attempting to encounter people, we might not be as angry. We might be nice. We certainly will not insult and mock others, even others with whom we disagree.

I have been the recipient of such an angry attack. An attack in front of others, never apologized for, and spun into alteration. It changed my life. And not over something crucial like doctrine or morals. I dared express an opposing opinion than that of the loud Angry One. Now that I know what that kind of treatment feels like, I resolve not to mock or insult another human, even those on "the other side" of the doctrine and morals I hold dear. Nope. If I cannot reach out in dialogue and friendship then I will pray for their souls. If I have to stay away from those that insult and mock, then I will.  I can still pray.

What kind of Christian do I want to be? Yes, I despise how our culture celebrates sin. Yes, I'd like to see some things done differently at church. Yes, I keep myself and my children away from certain people, movies, music, and books. But I do not need to hurt and humiliate. The contrast between the archbishop and the Angry Ones is striking.

I think Archbishop Hurley encountered people. From these comments above, he seemed to have had decent contact with all sorts of folks, both in and out of the Church. I daresay that some of those Catholics embraced different music or practices or politics than he. That's how I want to be remembered ~ as an example of a Catholic who was decent to people without compromising my own Holy Faith. Being nice does not mean I think that everyone is right and sin doesn't matter. It's not either/or. I can attend Mass and receive my precious sacraments. I can vote and dress and sing and read how I like. I can raise my children how I see fit.  I can run my household and strengthen my inner life my way. And, I can try to truly encounter people, whether on Facebook or in real life.

As a Catholic, I encounter Christ in His Church first. Then others. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And love your neighbor as yourself. Upon these two rest all the law and prophets (Matthew 22:36-40)."

Archbishop Hurley, rest in peace. We love you and will miss your stories.

This is how I remember him, smiling at the pulpit.