From Tracie

Monday, March 16, 2015

These Definitions No Longer Fit Me

I was fourteen when capri pants came back into style. I wasn't a fan. A friend and I stood in the mall one day and decided together that people needed to make a real decision: pants or shorts. No more of this indecisive, in the middle, nonsense. And we agreed not to give in to the capri craze. In that moment I defined myself as a person who didn't wear capris. Not a major definition, of course. Not something I thought about daily, or to which I gave too much weight. But I continued not buying capris.

A few years later, my friend arrived at church in a pair of (admittedly cute) capri pants. My mind immediately went to that day we stood in the Gap and agreed to not give in to indecisive clothing. It hurt just a little. The change. The moving on.

Of course I understand that there is nothing wrong with changing your mind or buying a cute pair of capris. I understood it then. It wasn't a betrayal. A lot of things change in the years between fourteen and seventeen. This is probably one of the smallest changes a teenager could make.

My feelings were very little about her and even less about a pair of pants. What this experience really spoke to was my strong memory and my tendency to hold on to small things. Moments. Inside jokes. Bonds.


There is a lot of advice out there to not let other people define you. To see your own self. To chart your course without listening to people who would limit you to a safe and boring shoreline.

But what do you do when the person writing the definition is you?

I have defined myself in big and small ways.

Some of those definitions have served me well, others have not. Sure, they were fine for a time, but I held them close, writing them over and over again like a school assignment, long after they should have been erased. Writing them in ink and type and blood. And when those definitions itched and burned, when they hurt so bad I could scream, I cooled them with my tears. But I did not let go. They were a part of me.

How do you let go of something that is from you and of you? Or even worse, how do you show up one day in a pair of cute capris without apology or explanation - even if just to youself? I did not know. Not for many years, and not really now.

What I do know now is that I'm tired of the itch, the burn, the pain. I'm tired of the definitions that no longer fit, and I am ready to make new decisions. I am ready to find out what is hidden.


Katarina and I just finished watching The Wonder Years. I hadn't seen all of the episodes in many years, and it was her first time watching it. It is the kind of show that feels different in different stages of life. In the last two episodes, Kevin wants to find himself. He keeps saying it over and over again. Sending Winnie away for the summer, then wanting nothing more than to be with her, and as he packs his bag to leave home after a fight with his dad, this is the explanation he gives to his mother, "I gotta be on my own. I gotta find myself."

"I know, but you can find yourself here. People don't realize it, but there's lots of places you can find yourself. I mean, you can go into a restaurant, lost...not knowing what you're doing. And all of a can find yourself. It can happen anywhere," she replies.

I've been thinking about it for days now, that restaurant. Being lost, but not really knowing why or how. The struggle against definitions that fit too tightly and words that chafe. I think of what it means to let go of these things and to introduce the world and myself to the person who remains. I think that the problem isn't finding myself. The problem is not allowing myself to be free.


What do you do when the definitions you, or someone else, have placed upon you no longer fit?

Monday, March 09, 2015

Every Day Lasts Forever

When I look back at my teen years, every memory is marked by one thing - the feeling that that day was forever. Years that didn't go fast or slow, because a year is a year no matter how you measure it, were made up of eternal days.

I wrote through those days. Not all the important things, but things. Words. Thoughts.

Every moment was huge. It was the moment.

Slowing down and waiting something out didn't seem like an option.

I'm well past those years now, but sometimes those eternal days still show up.

Sunday was one of those days. A long car ride with music and stories and laughing about sheep. Dreaming of different places to live and words to be written. Each leaf of every tree hit by the light from the slowly melting sun was a poem.

I think I could have stayed in that car forever. Or maybe I did stay there.

The road calls to me with no destination in mind, and each time I answer that call it is harder and harder to turn back toward home.

One day forever might not end.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

World Read Aloud Day 2015 (+A Great Giveaway From Staples!)

It is no secret that I love books, and Katarina does, too. We’ve been reading together since she was born. In those early years, I did all of the reading, but once she was old enough to start sounding out her first words, she wanted her turn. Katarina doesn’t need me to read to her, not the way she did when she was two and three years old, brining me a stack of her favorite books. She can (and does - most of the day) read to herself. But there is still something special about reading a book together. Cuddling close, sharing a story, and taking turns reading chapters.

Reading The Hobbit On World Read Aloud Day

Whether it is a book I remember fondly from my childhood, or a new book that she wants to share with me because it was SO good, I love that we can pass our books back and forth and talk about the stories we love.

World Read Aloud Day 2015

World Read Aloud Day 2015 Logo

Today is World Read Aloud Day. Pretty much the best holiday for a lover of books. But it is about more than just books. WRAD was created by LitWorld, to motivate people of all ages worldwide to celebrate the power of words and create a community of readers taking action to show the world that the right to literacy belongs to all people.

By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their futures: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their stories.

Yes! That is my heart right there.

So when Staples asked me if I was going to participate in World Read Aloud Day, I couldn't say yes fast enough. They sent a World Read Aloud Day prize pack with books and craft supplies so we could read and create art about the story. It is basically the best week ever when both books and office supplies arrive in the mail.

Just look at those HUGE drawing pads! They are almost as tall as Katarina.

As I took my turn reading, Katarina got creative. And then I had to pause for a few minutes and add a little tree of my own, because there are few things better than being the first person to color with a brand new crayon.

Drawing A Hobbit House

I looked up from the book, and Bilbo's house was taking shape. And before I knew it, there was a path leading to the mountains and adventure.

Katarina with Bilbo's House

We have plans for later today to use the construction paper to create a little Bilbo and Galdalf and maybe even a few dwarves to add to the picture. We might even keep going, and draw more scenes from the story later this week....because it is FUN!

Making your own story illustrations, and representing the things that mean the most to you in the story, is a great way to open up a discussion.

Enter To Win A World Read Aloud Day Prize Pack

World Read Aloud Day Prize Pack

Would you like to add a little bookish fun to your day? One of my readers is going to win a WRAD prize pack from Staples (ARV $50 minimum) with craft supplies and books. You might not get the exact same craft supplies I did, but whatever you get will be awesome. Plus, they will send books that are perfect for your child's reading level and interest.

It was fun to see what they picked out for Katarina when her box arrived: The HobbitBecause of Winn DixieBridge To Terabithia, and Number The Stars. All great picks!

To enter, leave a comment below telling me the name of your favorite book, or something you love about reading aloud with your kids.

Giveaway ends on March 20, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. Open to US only. Winners will be chosen by and contacted by email. Please respond within 48 hours or a new winner will be chosen.

*This giveaway is sponsored by Staples. I was provided with a WRAD prize pack. I was not required to say nice things or dance around singing when boxes of office supplies and books arrived at my door.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How To Make Homeschool Work For Your Family

There has been a lot of change in our lives this year, the biggest being, I'm working full time now. I work from home, but it is still full time. One of the first questions I get when talking about my job with people is, "Did you put Katarina in school?"quickly followed by, "But how does that work?" when I assure them we are still homeschooling.

A big part of homeschooling in our family has always been the ability to be flexible with our schedule and make school work for us. It isn't unusual for Katarina to do more than one day's worth of work at a time to "earn" a Friday off of school. We don't take winter break, President's Day, or many other days that schools shut down for holidays, but we do take a break for most of December. As my work hours increased, we had a little trial and error to figure out what worked best.

For us, mornings are the best time for school, but not first thing. I start my work day early, while the rest of my family is still sleeping. When Katarina wakes up, she has about an hour and a half to relax before her day officially stars. During this time we eat breakfast, have a morning walk, and Katarina usually reads or works on one of her computer programing projects. Then it is time for school to start. I take a break from work and do some teaching, and then as I go back to work, she finishes up the rest of her school day's writing and reading assignments. I step in when she has any questions, and look over her finished work as the day progresses.

In the last few weeks, one of Katarina's favorite subjects, Pre-Algebra, hit a difficult patch. While simplifying radicals was, well, simple, dividing with radicals proved to be a little harder. I felt the pressure of trying to juggle work, life, and homeschool while trying to remember how to use math I haven't thought about since I was 14. And trying to do that during those morning hours wasn't working well for either of us.

So we made a new decision.

We started saving Pre-Algebra not just for the end of the school day, but for the end of the day entirely. After dinner we have been sitting down with our math problems, pencils, paper, and Khan Academy, and conquering radicals. And it is working. Katarina doesn't feel the pressure of the rest of her school day hanging over her while she calculates, and is sailing through her work without either of us melting down. And we still have time for a couple of episodes of The Wonder Years before bedtime.

For now, we are keeping this new math in the evening schedule. It might change later in the year, but we both like the way this is working. That is the key to homeschool - not just viewing it as an opportunity to be flexible with your schedule in regards to vacation days, but also an opportunity to be flexible with everything, and mold school to fit your child's needs.

I'm very blessed that I'm working at home, so I don't have to go into an office each day. It also helps that Katarina is eleven years old, and I'm not needed for every second of her school day the way I was when she was younger.

As our lives and needs change, homeschool is changing with us. That doesn't mean we might not make the decision to try something different next year. We have the "what about public school" conversation each summer. I'm not against the idea of traditional school, and I don't believe homeschool is the answer for everyone, but for now, homeschool is our best answer. And even though our schedule might not be a good fit for your family, it has been great for us.

Learn how to make homeschool work for your family.

How To Make Homeschool Work For Your Family

1. Learn which hours are best for your child. Are early mornings the best time for focusing, or do you find that afternoons work best? Does your child need some down time before school starts or part way through the day? Don't feel like you have to keep the same hours that your local school is keeping. Try different times to see what works best for you.

2. Don't be afraid to make curriculum changes. This is true for your curriculum as a whole - you might find that the fancy curriculum package you bought just isn't working - but it is also true for smaller things like taking a few days to focus on something or do extra study if your child is really interested, or swapping out a book for something that you think your child will enjoy more.

3. Take advantage of all the resources available for homeschoolers. From your local library and free educational websites like Khan Academy (have I mentioned how much we love Khan?) to co-ops and local homeschool associations, you don't have to do this thing alone. You also don't have to spend a lot of money to homeschool.

4. Ask for help. You might be the primary teacher in your child's life, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything. If your spouse is a science whiz, there is no reason for you and your child to struggle with something you aren't gifted at if it could be put off until later in the day when Professor Labcoat gets home from work. Or maybe it isn't an all the time issue, but you find yourself having a particularly difficult week. Call in favors, invite the grandparents over, tell your spouse you need extra help, or just take the week off to read and watch educational videos. We always build in extra time for off-days in our year for just these times, so if one of us needs a break, we don't have to stress over falling behind. If you need help, you have to ask. And if you aren't willing to ask for help for yourself, do it for your kids. Modeling this kind of self awareness and self love for them is one of the best lessons you can teach.

5. Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. This quote is often used as blogging advice, but it is true in almost everything in life, homeschool included. If you are starting out with a five year old, you won't be able to say, "Read five chapters in this book and write a summary for me," and then go sit down to an hour of uninterrupted work. All homeschool families have bad days (yes, even the ones with picture-perfect blogs), we all hit rough patches, and we all have to learn that what seems to be working for everyone else in the homeschool world might not work in our family. Don't get discouraged on your journey by looking how much farther down the path other people have traveled.

6. Be Flexible. I think this one fits with almost every point in this list. Make a schedule, have a plan, get a routine going - all of those things have their place - and then be willing to throw all of that out the window when needed.

7. Have fun. Take a nature walk before cracking open that science book. Have art twice a day. Read really fun books together. Share your passions, and watch as your children develop passions of their own. Enjoy the extra hours you get to spend with them each day.

This is some of my best homeschool advice. I know it didn't tell you which curriculum to buy, or how to write a lesson plan. That is important stuff, and you will do it, but I think these things are what you need to support all of those decisions. The best curriculum in the world won't mean anything if you haven't learned how to make homeschool work for your family and your schedule.

How do you make school work in your family? Even if you aren't a homeschooler, leave your best tips in the comments, or share what is working for your kids. We can all learn from each other as we navigate parenting and school - no matter what kind of education is best for our individual children.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Compassion Is A Calling

I am participating in a worldwide writing movement to speak for compassion.

Compassion is a calling. Not the kind that is only visited on a select few - it is a calling for each of us. You may have silenced its voice, pushed it down and back until you can't hear its gentle leading, but it is still there. Calling out to you.


This is the whisper of compassion.

Love is the difference between true compassion and what is so often just disguised pity.

Love is the feeling that bubbles up in your heart and shows itself in your actions. Love is what makes you dig deep, give sacrificially, hug a stranger, smile, listen closely, share tears, forgive, seek understanding, and reserve judgement.

Compassion reminds you that you know better now, but it wasn't always that way. And it enables you to see those around you with grace.

There is a verse from the Bible that echoes in my heart - usually at the most inopportune times when I am happy in my selfishness, secure in my pride, or not wanting to put others first or even consider their feelings at all.
Above all, love each other deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.
- I Peter 4:8
And if I listen to that echo, if I allow it to penetrate the wall I'm so often building around my heart, I will stop and think about love. Deep love. Love that covers sins also covers misunderstandings, confusion, differences, and all manner of pain.

It is easy to love my family. Sure there are small things like the one millionth conversation about leaving shoes in the dark walkway, and big things that are more important and harder to resolve, but the love is always there under and around it all.

It is easy to love my friends. Even when they make different decisions than I might make, or walk paths I would never choose for them, I can almost always see their side of the story. I might not agree, but I can understand their hearts and feel their pain and joy, and I love them exactly where they are.

But what about the rest of world? The people I don't know, the people who don't hold pieces of my heart in their hands? The ones who I don't understand at all, whose words don't even make sense to my heart? What about the people who are fast and harsh and rude? The ones with jagged edges and not a soft spot to be seen?

What is my response to these people?

Is it love - deep love - love that covers...everything?
Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all transgressions.
Proverbs 10:12
Oh readers, not always. Not enough. I often do not look past my own feelings to care for another's. I often hold myself back from the pain. I rush past. I do not seek to listen, to understand, to love deeply.

Here's the truth: Love is messy and compassion requires work.

You can not step in and out of compassion when it suits your day.

To have true compassion, you must allow yourself to be open to another person's heart and story and truths; you have to be willing to stop and listen to not just their words but their very souls. True compassion must be mixed with the love that covers all the cracks and broken places and makes us whole.

This is the calling of compassion: To share your life and your heart with those around you. To let go of hatred and anger. To give the same grace to others that you would wish for yourself. To listen before you make up your mind, and to cover all the things, with love.

The calling of compassion is to cover everything in love.

If you listen closely, you will hear this calling echoing through your heart. Reminding you to love, to serve, and to practice compassion every day.

What does compassion mean to you?

Today, over 1,000 bloggers are joining together to write about compassion.

It started with a blog post from Lizzie and an idea from Yvonne, and blossomed into a beautiful community. You can find out more about #1000Speak For Compassion here.