Friday, September 15, 2023

What "traditional" education is not

Like clockwork, when September rolls around, memes begin flooding social media with a consistent message for homeschoolers: Dear homeschooling families, please stop trying to do "school at home" and just enjoy learning. 

I see these message and think of all the people who, after brick-and-mortar schools went to the virtual model during Covid shutdowns, were frustrated as they tried to understand lesson plans and help their children complete schoolwork...and decided that homeschooling was not a good fit for them. 

I think of the new homeschooling parents who feel exasperated as they try to force their young children into a rigid schedule and curriculum to fill several hours a day because "that's what school is." 

This is a problem. 

Homeschooling isn't always a good fit for every child at every stage, and I'm grateful that there are some good schools in this country. I'm also grateful for the amazing teachers who work selflessly to help their students; they do tremendous work. However, we can't make our educational decisions based off of dramatic assumptions about what education necessarily looks like. A variety of factors contribute to our conclusions, including the terms that we use. 

Specifically, I'm thinking of how we pair the word "traditional" with education. 

For the past several years in America, we've acted like a specific model of schooling is "traditional education": a model that involves students from around the age of six to eighteen years old, segregated by age, staying in buildings from around nine a.m. to three p.m., five days a week, nine months a year, to learn a variety of preselected subjects. This is "traditional education." This is normal. This is necessary for the proper education and development of children. 

When we embrace this model as "traditional education," we then assume that any method of schooling which deviates from this schema is "nontraditional."  These other methods may be good for some kids, but they are abnormal--and treated as such. 

However, what we think of as "traditional education" is not exactly traditional. In fact, this whole business of segregating students by grade, for thirty-ish-hours each week in a building, is a relatively new innovation in America.  

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

An Open Book: August 2023 Reads

 It's time to chat about literature! I started off August with some really deep books and then hit a complete slump where I was struggling to get into anything-I kept trying books from the library and returning them unread (even books that had been recommended!). So, I finished off a children's book series that I started last summer, and finished up a couple more books that I had been slowly working on. I'm linking up with An Open Book; let's dive in! 

Sunday, August 27, 2023

A cozy cup of tea (Or coffee. Or cocoa. Or chicken broth)

Last night, the kids went off to bed and I made myself a cup of hot chocolate. I heated milk in the pan and mixed in some cocoa powder. I sprinkled in some chocolate chips. I splashed some vanilla extract into the pot. I gently whisked the milky mixture as the house filled with the savory smell of the za’atar manaqish that I was preparing for an event at church.  Soon, I sat with my husband as we talked through our schedule, full cup of hot chocolate in hand. The world slowed down as I sipped.

There’s just something special about curling up with a warm drink.

Books, movies, and television shows covering different historical periods and cultures embrace the goodness of a warm drink. At the end of a long day solving mysteries or dealing with heartbreak, characters gather in the kitchen for a cup of cocoa. They begin the day with strong cups of tea to weather them against any storms and turmoil. Or, like the Ray family in the classic Betsy-Tacy novels, they greet moments of stress or crisis with a fresh pot of coffee.

While we still gather with friends and family for mugs of hot coffee or dainty cups of tea, in modern America, we’ve shifted things.

Tea and coffee have ceased to be gentle embraces of warmth and relaxation with friends, and they have instead found their place next to the computer or in the car. We now see them as ways to fuel ourselves with caffeine and push through the day (and yes, as I write this, I’m sipping a hot mug of coffee). I’m not planning to ditch caffeinated beverages anytime soon as I try to keep up with my several young children, but it’s important to remember that we need to slow down. We need to stop, sit with friends or by ourselves, and savor the warmth of that coffee, tea, or cup of cocoa.

Saturday, August 5, 2023


I bounced out of the bedroom, exuberant. A pad of paper was covered in scrawls, noting wisdom that I had gleaned in the past hour and a half. I had just participated in a free online webinar with an editor at a renowned Catholic publishing house.

Information and advice had piled into my lap, and I was encouraged by all the other people I saw participating in the webinar—some of whom I already knew of through various online Catholic publications. I was also excited about this opportunity: to receive wisdom from a woman who was freely offering her thoughts and expertise to us.

In a culture where countless offerings from creatives are monetized, this shocked me.

It’s important to compensate people for their work. Resources require time and money, and someone, somewhere, has to pay for them. Paying for books, art, classes, and conferences helps to offset the cost of producing these things. It also creates a general recognition that these resources are valuable—they are so worthwhile that we pay money for them. 

However, we’ve reached a point where we stick price tags on everything. Articles, talks, newsletters, courses, conferences, meetups—just to name a few—often have some kind of fee attached. Everything has a price, and if you don’t have the money to pay up, then you don’t receive the mentorship, training, or advice that is touted as “indispensable.”

“My time is valuable” is a refrain that I’ve seen bounce around frequently. People who create courses and other online content spend a lot of time doing this work, and it’s important that they are compensated in some way. However, our attempts to stick price tags on our time can get obsessive.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

An Open Book: July 2023

Summer is flying by, so I'm grateful for the chance to pause and look back on the books that accompanied me through some hot summer days. I mostly dove into fiction, but I did have a couple of fascinating nonfiction books that I began reading (and will hopefully finish in time for next month's linkup!). I'm joining An Open Book, so make sure to check over there for other literary discussions :) Let's dive in!

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Snapshots of Summer

I lay on the grass in the backyard the in the shade of the pecan tree. The baby sat across from me, her grin causing dimples to form on the edge of her mouth, her two top teeth gleaming like a rabbit’s. Her gentle rolls of fat cascaded down to her cloth diaper, and we rested, blissful. I thought about how, if I had a camera in my hand, this would be the perfect chance to snap a picture. But, my hands were empty. So, I lay there on the grass with her and just let myself enjoy the moment. Perhaps it is a good thing, after all, that I didn’t have a camera on hand—because I have this memory, this moment in time, unsullied by technology. Just the two of us in the backyard on a summer afternoon.

My oldest found this awesome mushroom next to our house. 
It was so cool!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

An Open Book: June 2023 Reads

 It's time for another literature round-up! I'm linking up with An Open Book to chat about the books that got me through June. Shockingly, almost every book I picked up was fiction-and some of them were really fantastic. Let's dive in! 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Writing through Burnout: Pursuing creative work when life feels overwhelming

I sit on the kitchen floor and place the baby nearby with toys. The toddler is napping in bed, and the two other children play quietly in the living room. I open a new document on my computer, proudly typing out the words: DRAFT 2. This is it--I am finally beginning a full rewrite of my book.  

My already-scattered thoughts started to drift away as my baby bangs on a tambourine and waves her arms. She gazes at me in anguish. It's okay, I can still do this, I think to myself. I pull her into my lap and wrap my arms around her, my fingers reaching for the keyboard. Slowly, the sentences start to form on the page, but progress is slow. The baby begins to grow even crankier, and I rush her to the bedroom, hopeful that she'll nap. I return to my spot in the kitchen and sigh, relieved that I finally have a chance to write in peace and quiet. 

I begin to type frantically. 

My other children appear. 

"Go back to rest time!" I insist. 

After several minutes of guiding them away (only for them to quickly return), I finally declare: "Okay, give me ten minutes of silence, and then you can be done with rest time." 

My children prance away to play, and I type as fast as I can, trying hard to fling words onto the page as I seize the rapidly disappearing minutes. Feelings of frustration begin to bubble within me, but alongside this, a strong conviction rises up: 

This is work that I can do--that I need to do!--in spite of any difficulties. It may not happen on my timeline or come together as quickly as I want, but it is still worthwhile--and I can do it.

Within the past few years, I've had a number of conversations about the creative life. The people I've spoken with have differed from each other: single, married, male, female, those with kids and those with no kids. Yet, despite the differences, there's a question that unifies us: 

How do I pursue my own creative projects when there's a lot going on?

We've all endured phases when life feels like a lot to handle. We may routinely feel frazzled or exhausted after a long day at the office. We may feel overwhelmed and overstimulated from being with other people all day long. The tragedies of the world might weigh on us in an emotionally heavy way. Any number of other factors can pour into our lives, and together, our creative work remains a dream for "someday."

Someday, when I'm in a new life phase...

Someday, when my kids are older...

Someday, when I have more time...

Someday, when I have a different job...

With so many demands in our lives, we may set our creative desires aside for months, or years. But, perhaps we don't want to do this. Maybe we want to engage in creative work now, in spite of less-than-ideal circumstances. We may even have the time, space, and materials for our creative pursuits. However, the exhaustion of our daily lives can begin to smother our aspirations. Feelings of burnout and mental fatigue grow. Our initial enthusiasm begins to dissipate. Maybe someday, I can try again...

What can we do when burnout knocks on the door? 

I look for an easy answer, but memories fly through my mind instead. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

An Open Book: May 2023 Reads

I hope you all are having a beautiful start to summer! With the entrance of a new month, I'm linking up with An Open Book to look back on the many books that came my way during the month of May. It was a delightful reading month, with a mixture of fiction and nonfiction that kept me edified, entertained, and engaged. It has been a wild week so far, so I'm going to keep things short and simple. Let's dive in! 

Monday, June 5, 2023

The path of joy is uncomfortable

 In the vast stillness of the church building, the Responsorial Psalm rang out solemnly from the pulpit: 

"The law of the LORD is perfect,

refreshing the soul.

The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,

giving wisdom to the simple." (from Psalm 19)

Again and again, the refrain declared: "The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart." 

My thoughts danced around the 10 Commandments and all of the teachings that Christ presents in the Gospels. Yes, these DO give joy to the heart, a deep freedom from sin and the fullness of God's life-but do we let them?

Do we allow God to grant us joy and peace through his laws? 

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Tragedy of Mandatory "Sacrament Systems"

I remember how excited I was when I figured out that I could receive the Sacrament of Confirmation "earlier" than my peers at other parishes. My family had moved to a new state, and many churches in the diocese offered Confirmation for teens who were sophomores in high school. However, the Roman Catholic parish we joined offered Confirmation for high school students every two years--and it just so happened that I would be a freshman when the bishop came to administer this sacrament. With excitement, I tried to patiently wait for the day when I would receive this special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostles did in the Upper Room (cf. Acts 2:1-4).  

I was ecstatic to be confirmed, and I was immensely grateful to God that I would be confirmed "early." In my excitement, naivety, and self-centeredness, I didn't even think about how tragic this was: that while I got to receive Confirmation as a fifteen-year-old, many of my friends would be deprived of this sacramental grace for another year. This was just "how the system worked." 

The "system" ("the way things are done here") decreed that the availability of this particular Sacrament of Initiation depended on what parish you attended. 

I had many classmates who belonged to parishes where Confirmation was only offered to sophomores, but these teenagers needed this sacrament just as much as I did. Why did I get the special privilege of not "having to wait" another year? 

The "sacrament system" at our parish worked in my favor.  

When you've grown up Catholic and you've seen things done a certain way for several years, it can be easy to assume that the way things are done is the one right way. If the systems seem to be working fairly well, we can just continue doing what we've been doing. We see no need to change things, so we don't. We attend Mass, celebrate the liturgical year in our homes and parishes, and we abide by the systems that regulate how the sacraments are administered. 

I've found that often, the people involved in the "sacrament systems" have a deep love for God and good intentions. Many times, these people have moved into a job or parish with no control over the existing systems that are in place. They try to do the best they can, with what they've been given. These people--both clergy and lay--offer a tremendous amount of their time and their talent to God, the parish, and the community. I am grateful for their many sacrifices. 

Unfortunately, there is a basic element that--at some point in history--went missing in our conversations about the "sacrament systems": A foundational examination of the Sacraments of Initiation.