May 14 is my last day as a homeschool teacher. I have been directing my son’s education from birth. We began his official school education when I registered him with an “umbrella school” in Tennessee as K4 in 2007.
I intend to write a few blog posts, reminiscing and evaluating the good, the bad, and the beautiful of these past 18 years, especially concerning the particular curriculum we followed – AmblesideOnline.
For now, I’d like to share some of my more immediate wishes and goals for my new life:
I would like to make some changes with how I run my piano studio, currently with 36 students. I may add openings, but only a very, very few. I have no intention to return to my overwhelmed status prior to the one blessing of covid, which was greatly reducing the size of my studio. I just need to tighten up the business side of it.
I want to continue teaching “Story, Rhyme, and Song” for 3-6 year olds, perhaps adding another class and raising it to age 7.
In contemplating how I can assist the overwhelmed homeschool mom, I will offer my services to read to their children, and throw in some reading instruction, if they would like.
I will continue to study educational philosophy and be involved with the Charlotte Mason and AmblesideOnline community. I will make myself available for consulting both online and locally.
By fall of 2022 I hope to be giving reading instruction (phonics) in a group setting, either at my own studio or through We, Montana!
By fall of 2022 I hope to be teaching a “How to Read Literature”, based on all I’ve been learning with the Literary Life podcast and conferences, and classes with House of Humane Letters. This will be for middle-school, high-school, and adults, and will be either at my own studio or through We, Montana!
Perhaps the most challenging of all — I want to finally stop caring (and obsessing at times) that some people don’t like me. I will be 60 years old in 6 months. I think it is about time.
I will continue to seek Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and my Creator, and living in His image.
So much to say about this little book about dying. It’s also about living. Tolstoy takes us through the different stages of Ivan Ilych’s life, the choices he makes, and the values he exhibits. We are allowed inside Ivan Ilych’s mind so that we know the true man. In the end Ivan Ilych struggles with the choices he made in life and the values that he had. Were they right? As he is in physical anguish, he is also in mental anguish when he evaluates what it was all worth now that he has come to this black tunnel. We also see his wife, children, and friends reacting to this illness. We’re not taken inside their minds as much as we are Ivan Ilych’s, so I’m not certain as to how much truth we know about them.
I could relate to some of the feelings of the family and friends. Twenty-three years ago I left my NY home and went to Alabama to spend what would turn out to be the last 6 weeks of my younger brother’s life. I was with him the moment he took his last breath. It was not pretty. My brother was staying in the home of our older brother. During that time that the family was caring for him, I observed the interactions with the many, many visitors that James had. Yesterday I shared the following on social media: ********************************************************************* I’m reading/listening to “The Death of Ivan Ilych”, and some of it is reminiscent of spending those last weeks with my brother James as he was dying from cancer. Although my family is not quite like Ivan’s family and friends, there are ideas that are similar to what was most likely going on in all our hearts and minds.
I have no way of knowing all that my brother James was thinking and feeling in the way that Tolstoy takes us into the thoughts and feelings of Ivan, but here’s one thing that brought James to mind:
“Peter went out. Left alone Ivan Ilych groaned not so much with pain, terrible though that was, as from mental anguish. Always and for ever the same, always these endless days and nights. If only it would come quicker! If only what would come quicker? Death, darkness?… No, no! anything rather than death!”
James had friends who were very faithful in visiting him at our brother Mike’s house where James lived out his last days. James was very well loved. I overheard a conversation where a friend was telling him that he was being “a great example of dying” (meaning, I assumed, that he was exhibiting great peace considering what was drawing near, and possibly more of an encouragement to his friends than they were to him). I heard James respond, “But I don’t want to be a great example of dying; I want to be a great example of living.”
I’m reading now about Ivan’s wife and family going out to a concert (that I think Ivan had bought tickets for in anticipation of going himself), and the wife is saying that, of course, she’d rather stay home and be with him, but that she has this obligation. I remember that feeling of guilt for enjoying things in life when James couldn’t. And that feeling lasted long after he died. It took me several years to recover the enjoyment of the things I love in this life. Sometimes, 23 years later, I still struggle with being okay with it. ****************************************************************** As I ended the book this morning I wondered, How did Tolstoy know so much about dying?
“The Death of Ivan Ilych” ought to be required reading for every high school student. Although he won’t be able to fully relate to someone approaching death, evaluating and mourning over his life choices, it might at least insert the idea that things aren’t as big a deal in the end as they seem in the moment when you’re 20 and 30 and 40. What is really Worth it All?
Today a Facebook page that I follow asked, “One thing you could never homeschool without is ________?” and since I was sitting there doing my Saturday planning, my response was “Planning”. Oh, you want to know the rest of what I said? “Six more weeks to go, and I’m done forever, but I still take time to plan each week. Don’t think I’ve just winged it any week in these 15 years, unless I just threw in the towel and gave us a week off.”
Then my friend Cindy posts her “annual catalog post” in the form of a rhetorical question that addressed the fact that moms are lured by curriculum that promises to form virtue in their child(ren), as if it was our job or even in our power (or that magic curriculum’s power) to do so.
So I’m washing dishes (and poke myself in my already hurting thumb joint with the tomato knife), and I’m thinking about my Planning to the bitter end, and all the good books that we’ve read through the years in hopes of molding my son’s heart, mind, and soul, and I’m thinking about my mother. My mother didn’t homeschool me, but what she was was There. And of all the planning and reading I’ve done through these 18 years of his life, I’m betting if there’s anything that I have done for my son’s heart and soul, it was just being there. I can remember the comfort and security I felt as a child and teen finding my mother at home when I arrived from school. Maybe we chatted about my day, but mostly it was about just being. I don’t know if my son feels the same about me, or if he ever will recognize what it has done for him, but I know it has made a difference. And it has been worth it all.
What follows is a long quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Reflections on the Psalms. I will follow it up with some context and my thoughts. (The bold of some sentences is my addition.)
One’s first impression is that the Jews were much more vindictive and vitriolic than the Pagans.…we cannot be certain that the comparative absence of vindictiveness in the Pagans, though certainly a good thing in itself, is a good symptom. This was borne in upon me during a night journey taken early in the Second War in a compartment full of young soldiers. Their conversation made it clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi régime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to “pep up” our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger. That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of their fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it. Now it seemed to me that the most violent of the Psalmists—or, for that matter any child wailing out “But it’s not fair”—was in a more hopeful condition than these young men. If they had perceived, and felt as a man should feel, the diabolical wickedness which they believed our rulers to be committing, and then forgiven them, they would have been saints. But not to perceive it at all—not even to be tempted to resentment—to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world—argues a terrifying insensibility. Clearly these young men had (on that subject anyway) no conception of good and evil whatsoever.Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one. Even when that indignation passes into bitter personal vindictiveness, it may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin; but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists—just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or great reformer point to something in him above mere self. If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim.
Lewis is looking at the Psalms that call down curses on their enemies and thinking through how this might trouble believers. How could God’s chosen people do this kind of thing. He notes that some people might say, Well, this was pre-Christian times and even the pagans did this kind of stuff. So he goes searching in the pagan writings and says, “I can find in them lasciviousness, much brutal insensibility, cold cruelties taken for granted, but not this fury or luxury of hatred. I mean, of course, where writers are speaking in their own person; speeches put into the mouths of angry characters in a play are a different matter.”
How could this be? How could pagans be more tolerant than God’s own people? He says some other interesting things before you get to the part I quoted above, and boy howdy, I wish I had the time and energy to explain this more, but here goes something: In summary, the pagans might seem more tolerant because they didn’t care about good and evil. And this leads to some interesting ideas. For instance, he says: “It seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated ‘The higher, the more in danger’.” So what in the world does that mean? Or could it mean? This is what I’m thinking right now: In some areas there is way more temptation to sin because we care. Something matters to us. We have passion for it.
I hope you read all the quote above. I hope you read that story about the soldiers and really thought about it. And if you still need more context and want to think more about this, go read the book. But I’ll tell you what struck me immediately when I first read this a few nights ago: Often in my life, and in my husband Jack’s life , people have said, ‘Calm down, it’s no big deal, why are you getting so worked up about, let it go, it doesn’t matter…..’ And it has frustrated me that people (who I would have thought would) do not Care. They don’t really Care about what is Right and what is Wrong. That’s why they can stay calm. That’s why they tolerate bad behavior and lies. So be careful admiring the Patient and Tolerant. I’d rather keep Caring about what is Right and overcome whatever temptation and sin that that provokes. I’ve actually thought sometimes about just stopping Caring. It’s really frustrating, and often depressing. But I’m not going to do it. I will keep Caring. Caring about Truth and what is Right and Just and Fair.
I was a sad girl when I met Jack Pelham in November of 1998. My younger brother (and best friend) had died from cancer in July, and my grief was unbearable at times. Three months after my brother’s death, I left New York, my home of the previous 11 years, with its memories of several visits from him, and moved to Tennessee to be near my family. Jack Pelham had left Florida for a fresh start in Nashville the week before I arrived from New York. We met some time in the next few weeks when in rehearsals for a charity show that the church we both had joined would be doing at the Ryman Auditorium.
Jack was finishing up his 17 year Bachelor’s degree in Music from Florida State. For this particular show, he directed a small chorus and maybe did a solo or duet. I did some solo piano pieces. The following year we did the show at the Grand Ole Opry House, and either before or after I became a regular member of Jack’s chorus in Nashville. Unbeknownst to him, Jack was slowly filling up the huge hole in my heart left by the loss of my brother. Jack was putting music and singing back into my life.
But I was still lonely for a friend like my brother James had been. Someone who cared about ideas and wanted to read about and think about and talk about ideas. About truth. About goodness. About beauty. This church that we were a part of was a very busy church. More about that some other day. People who genuinely wanted to study out and dig deep into ideas were very rare in this group. In 1999, after a few months break from this busy church, I returned and met Kathryn. Kathryn was more than a decade my junior and had cystic fibrosis. You wouldn’t know it upon first meeting her until she told you about it. I remember her telling me her life-expectancy was 31 years. I found it interesting, as I told her, that she has known this her whole life, and my brother died at 31, not knowing his whole life that 31 was his final year. Kathryn was very real, very smart, and cared about truth. Kathryn didn’t let her “death sentence” stop her from living. Kathryn had also been dating Jack Pelham. They had recently broken up but were trying to work things out. Long story short….really! …. although Jack and I had known each other through the music ministry in the church, it was through our mutual friendship with Kathryn that we became friends. And through this I discovered that Jack was way more than a very good musician. He cared about real things like Kathryn did, like my brother James had. Whether or not I would have gotten to know this about Jack without having known Kathryn, I will never know, but I sure am glad Kathryn was there. I am digressing a bit, but really, Kathryn was a big part of restoring my sanity. And at some point when she saw it just wasn’t going to work for them, she said, “You know, you two should be together.” To which I replied, “Oh, that would just be weird.” She did give her blessing in person to Jack to pursue a relationship with me. Kathryn passed away at age 34 in 2011.
Home. One of the things that would come up in chats with Jack was wanting to find “home”. We would know we had found “the one” when we felt we were at home. I made a travel cassette tape (remember those?) for Jack in that first (and only) summer of our dating. A few of the selections had the theme of Home. Linda Ronstadt sang “feels like home to me, feels like I’m all the way back where I belong”; Shawn Colvin, “Home, that’s where I want to be….because I can’t tell one from the other, did I find you or you find me….out of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view. And I am just an animal looking for a home to share the same space for a minute or two…” I felt that I had found Home. We cared about the same things. We wanted to keep learning and asking questions about our beliefs. He knew who Cousin Pearl was! I was so comfortable with him. There’s a lot of peace when you don’t have to work your brain trying to not talk about what you want to talk about. You know what I mean? Small talk wears me out.
Wishing to record a song for our 19th anniversary, I found sheet music for some of the home-themed songs I had put on that cassette of long ago, but the one I ended up choosing is a recent find through one of my piano students. Here is (the unedited-until-I-can-get-help-from-JackorJames, and certainly unenhanced version of) Runnin’ Home to You.
I started singing with Jack in 1999, some of our Nashville choir joined us to sing at our 2002 wedding, and today we have our Freedom Choir. He began filling up that musical part of my heart 22 years ago, and he still keeps me singing all these years later. And thinking, and reading, and studying, and talking about all the true, good, and beautiful things of this life.
Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . . ~CS Lewis, “The Four Loves”
Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Airman’s Odyssey”
We buried our daughter on this day 15 years ago, the day after she had breathed her last in my mother’s arms. The funeral home hosted a visitation for family and friends, and then we all drove to the cemetery to hear words from her father, sing Amazing Grace, and then lower her little body into the ground. When I entered the room where her coffin was at the funeral home, I first saw my mother and father. I hugged my 88 year old dad as we cried together, and I said, “I know, Dad, parents aren’t supposed to bury their children.” My dad had suffered his own loss and buried his youngest child 8 years before. Our daughter is buried next to her Uncle James. Dad passed in 2015 and is resting beside his son and granddaughter.
On a visit with my Tennessee family in 2019 I took my usual tour of Leonard Cemetery, where many members of my Dad’s family are buried. On that visit I especially noted how many in my family have had to bury their children. I have not suffered alone. There in front of my paternal grandparents are the markers for their two infants that they lost at birth and their daughter who died at age 14. Next to my dad’s older sister Irene and her husband Will is their 4 year old daughter Linda. Dad’s younger sister Annise and her husband Vandal have their one-day old son Stephen next to them. Annise’s grandson, the son of her daughter Martha and husband Dwight, killed in a car accident just before his 21st birthday, is also there.
Is seems so wrong, doesn’t it? We feel that this is not the way it is supposed to be. Parents ought not have to bury their children. My dad had expressed this idea in his struggle with his youngest child’s cancer and eventual death. I knew he was reliving those feelings as we buried Grace, and it’s why I said what I did to him that day. Many things in this life don’t make sense to us, and so it is with our babies who are born unable to live long, like our Grace, my cousin Stephen Crawford, and uncles Hillman and Carl Davis, or children who die in tragic accidents, as my cousins Linda Bean and Joseph Smith did, or from sickness, such as the cancer that took my brother James at 31, and the virus that took my Aunt Olene at 14. But we survive and go on loving and caring for those still here. Perhaps we’ll understand it by and by.
The death of one that belongs to him is precious to the Lord. ~Psalm 116:15 ICB
“While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” ~King David, at the death of his infant son, 2 Samuel 12:22,23
By and by, when the morning comes, All the saints of God are gathering home. We will tell the story of how we’ve overcome. We will understand it better by and by. ~Charles Albert Tindley
Some time after I had started piano lessons at age 7, my mother asked my sister Karen, five years my senior, if she wanted to take lessons. Karen responded, “Why would a lawyer need to know how to play piano?” Karen was a huge Perry Mason fan, and lawyering was her goal at that point in her life. She ended up with a degree in journalism and lost the zeal along the way for having a law practice, but she remains a Mason fan, knowing all the TV episodes, as well as collecting the Erle Stanley Gardner novels. (By the way, Karen was writing and telling stories long before that journalism degree. She’s still writing and telling stories at her blog and other venues.)
I often spend the evening watching episodes of Perry Mason. I enjoy them for the stories, the settings, for recognizing actors in their early years guesting on an episode, and just for the good old style of television production, but mostly they make me feel near my big sister. I’ve been particularly fascinated recently with that theme music, so I took on the task of learning an arrangement of it to share for Karen’s special day.
Happy Birthday to the one who taught me to love the best in music, literature, and drama. And for always being there for me when I’ve got questions about Perry, or Andy, or John, or any stock cast member of old movies and TV. You are the best.
Today my oldest of two sisters is 7 decades old. She has ten years on me, and since she married and moved to the other side of the country when she was 19, my childhood memories of her are very few. But I think even that far away sister had a great influence on who I grew to be.
My oldest sister was a reader, thinker, talker (and how!), and challenger from the time she could do any of those things. She was a child of the 50s and 60s when many traditional ideas and values were being turned upside down in the schools, in churches, in society, and among her same-age peers. Hearing stories about elementary-aged Rita responding to a teacher that was challenging her belief in Bible stories made a big impression on her littlest sister Kay.
My oldest sister married Maurice Delwin Watson in August of 1970. I’m sure you can do the math and can determine that last year they celebrated their 50th anniversary. If my memory is still serving me right, they met when she was 15 and he was some months shy of his 17th birthday. He had come up with a group from his church in Texas, and she had crossed over the river from our Illinois home, to work in a summer campaign in Iowa, inviting people to church and to study the Bible. It was with the organization Campaigns for Christ, and one of their directors, Lloyd Deal, would end up officiating at their wedding 4 summers later. My sister and her husband have remained faithful to each other and to the Christ for whose cause they first met 55 years ago. I have no memory of meeting Del in the summer of ’66, although I heard he had visited our little house on the Illinois side of the river. What I do remember is visiting them in their homes in Colorado, Texas, (I missed visiting in their Oregon years), North Carolina, and Tennessee, and seeing the shelves of books, and hearing the discussions of “the Greek” and various translations of the Bible, and their efforts to get the people of their current church fellowship to study and think, and to care about studying and thinking. What I also saw was a couple faithful to each other and their children. Little Kay from age 9 saw and knew that this was exactly what she wanted. This is what big Kay got at 40. She waited because she saw what was possible, and she would have no less.
My oldest sister brought The Beatles and Petula Clark into our home — much to our mother’s chagrin. The Beatles’ album “With the Beatles” was hidden by Mom in our East Moline house, never to be found when we moved from that house. I believe she also put an end to the “Downtown” single. But guess what, Mom? I love The Beatles and Petula Clark! I often credit my older sister Karen with my love for music, but really, where would Karen and I be without Rita’s boldness in the 1960s? (And I don’t think that Rita especially cares for The Beatles anymore.) Rita was to me a groovy icon of the 60s. I thought she was beautiful. And groovy. She loved the folk songs of that time and still has that Mitchell/Baez soft vibrato in her singing voice. Rita sang in high school choir and college choir. All 5 of us ended up singing under G. Donald Dyer in high school. He was an excellent musician and teacher, and I’m grateful to Rita for leading the way. Mr. Dyer remembered all 5 of us, from the ’69 grad to the ’84 grad.
My oldest sister is also a visual artist. She took private art lessons in high school and has continued to sketch and paint through the years. She currently is owner/operator of “Grandpa’s House“, a store of handcrafted items from local artisans. She teaches classes in drawing and doodling. Yes, doodling. Along with marrying a fellow believer and student of the Bible, she also married a fellow artisan. Together they have remodeled (that seems too dainty a word for the work they’ve actually done) our ancestral home and turned it into its current state as a craft store, and what some have called a museum of rural life. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that because when it comes to being a visual artist, my oldest sister’s influence on me has been for me to look and admire but not to do. She’s good. Very good. I can’t draw a straight line, nor a curved one, at that. But I certainly appreciate the skill and work that goes into it.
My oldest sister made her baby sister’s wedding happen 32 years after her own wedding. Sure, I found the guy, but all that other stuff, oh, no. My oldest sister’s artistic skill runs far beyond painting a picture. I picked the music…and, yes, the guy. And my attendants. And the minister. But the rest the wedding and reception, including making the cake, were all my oldest sister. (Not to leave out my mother making my dress, my sister-in-law making the bridesmaids’ clothes, and my niece — Rita’s daughter — helping with planning and directing the ceremony. Yeah, I’m beyond blessed.) So, after persuading me to have my wedding in Tennessee (and not in Atlanta, where I was living at the time), she put it all together. Why? I guess that’s what oldest sisters do when they can, even when the baby sister is marrying at 40.
My oldest sister began homeschooling her youngest child, a son, when he was in 2nd grade in the mid 90s. I was a single woman living in NY, about 2 decades out from becoming a mother myself. I was concerned. Won’t he be isolated? (His older sisters were in high school at the time, and then off to college.) But then I realized between church, playing soccer, and other family activities, he had plenty of time being around others — kids and adults. As with that “socialization” concern, all others fell by the wayside as I witnessed my sister facilitating her son’s education. I knew before I even married that if I did have a child, I would homeschool. Without my sister’s example, which allowed me to enter the ‘homeschool world’, including getting to know other homeschool families, I wonder if homeschooling would have even crossed my radar. And what a blessing it has been to homeschool my own son from birth.
Family lore tells that in the late 50s, Mom would gather her 3 children after church to travel home, and she would count them “Eeny-Meeny-Miney, and there ain’t going to me no Mo.” Well, Mo was, and that would be me (and then our #5, brother James.) I’m glad there was Mo, and I’m glad there was Eeny. I wouldn’t be who I am without her.
Thank you, Rita.
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Our daughter, Virginia Grace Pelham, was born February 3, 2006 and passed from this life three weeks later, almost to the very hour of her birth, on February 24, 2006. I’ve often written on social media and on this blog about her and the experience of being her mother for that brief time. You can click on ‘Virginia Grace’ under Tags to the right and see the memories I’ve shared here. This year I simply wanted to play this piece by Ravel to honor her short time on this planet and her continuing impact on our hearts and minds.
When I was not yet 18 years old, I was headed to college 12 hours away from home. I was excited about this. Not that I had not enjoyed my super secure home life with Mom, Dad, 3 older siblings, and one younger sibling, but I had this idea that I was headed somewhere where all would be right — peaceful and orderly. Up until that time, as I told Mom some time before my leaving home, I had only had real conflict with my siblings, and they wouldn’t be there. I could not imagine that I would not get along very well with roommates, classmates, and other friends. Yes, I was in for an awakening. Yes, I was naive. And I had been to public school K-12! My home-educated 17 year old son is more ‘woke’ (forgive me) than I was at that time.
I was headed to a Christian college. And here is the other element of my excitement and ultimate rude awakening. At 17 I just knew I was going to be around real, mature Christians (expectations including fellow students, faculty, administration, and whatever local church I would choose to attend). There would not be the squabbles that I personally witnessed and those I would hear from my parents, my dad being a regular attender of the ‘Men’s Business Meetings’, serving at various times as ‘Duty Roster’ maker (rooster would always come to mind when I heard Dad say that word), Treasurer (which involved typing those Financial Reports on his manual typewriter from the 40s — on which I also typed many a school term paper), and as an Elder of the church. I don’t know what all was going on in my teen-ager mind with trying to understand why these Christians, who were reading the same Bible I was, who had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins, receiving the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’, and living a new life, as I had 6 weeks before my 11th birthday, were acting as they were; but somehow I determined that the folks I would meet, live with, study under at that college in Tennessee would be different — more mature, more honest, more patient, and know how to argue a point without nearly descending into fisticuffs — oh, and getting mad and stomping off to join another group. Once again, I had my little eyes opened.
So there you have it. Kay at 17 about to begin, what has turned out so far to be, her next 42 years around many blocks of various sizes and styles. Always learning. Always growing.