Homeschool Life

First Day of School, First Triathlon, NO CEILINGS, & First Day of the Rest of Mom’s Life

Today is the first time I have ever watched one of my children get on a yellow school bus. When people were awed that I homeschooled four kids, I used to tell them homeschooling wasn’t much different than doing homework together.

I take that back.

It’s one thing to be a cog in the great machine of education; it’s another to be responsible for the entirety. I only realize that now, as I watch the bus pull away. With it goes a great weight I didn’t know was there.

Gabe is enrolled in almost all honors classes. His standardized tests put him in the top 97% year after year, so I feel pretty confident he’s where he belongs. Though he’s heard a few what-R-U?-nuts? over it. This is a theme in our family. This, U-nuts? 

Today I’m overwhelmed with nostalgia; I must lay down some words.

Months ago, I intended to post about how Gabe beat his Boston-Marathon-running dad in a 5K race. That’s an accomplishment in and of itself, but it gets better. Gabe hadn’t run any significant distance for six months prior. Zero training. He’s a swimmer, sure, so he has good lungs. But I worried he’d hurt himself. My husband wasn’t the least bit worried.

What-R-U?-nuts? hasn’t concerned any of my children. Katae graduated college at age 20. Tory is a marathoner. Luke’s off to Cornell on a full academic scholarship, and Gabe…

…used the strategy his dad taught him: choose a fast runner and stick with him, just a few yards behind. Let him pace you, and then at the end, turn it on. Gabe blew by his dad in the last quarter mile. Thanks, Dad.

Gabe climbing someplace he shouldn’t…

How did Bob respond? By running an Olympic triathlon. Just kidding—only in that it was the response. The triathlon was a New Year’s Resolution. Bob bought a racing bike in February and began figuring it out. He learned all he could about triathlons.

Race day. Every time Bob mentioned it was his first triathlon, people asked, “Which distance?” He told them Olympic, and they gasped and looked at him like…U-nuts? After a few times of that, Bob began to wonder if he was, indeed, nuts.

Just before the race, a triathlete friend of Bob’s related how his son got into Harvard. The son was apprehensive, but his dad convinced him to reach crazy-high, like, U-nuts? high: Harvard and Stanford. You know what? The kid got into Harvard. Was he surprised? I’m betting yes.

A U-nuts? mentality doesn’t mean you don’t plan. Bob did his homework for the triathlon. He trained. At first, a few laps in the pool laid him low. But he kept at it and eventually could swim a mile without difficulty. He sought pointers from Gabe and other veteran swimmers and cyclists. The race was brutal, but he did it. And he got a time that pleased him, within his goal.

We all know the only regrets we have are the chances we don’t take and the mountains we’ve stared at wistfully but never climbed. The Harvard dad said something along the lines of nothing ventured… People bandy that phrase about, but we mostly don’t live it.

Live it, is what I’m thinking as Gabe goes to high school and Luke to Cornell. If people ask if you’re nuts, look at them like you’re Jack Nicolson from the Shining, just hacked his way through the hotel door. They’ll make way.

 

Today is the first day EVER that I have no child to teach. I guess this is the first day of the rest of my life. I’m already dreaming of things like scrubbing the kitchen floor and learning to cook like Gordon Ramsay.

And finish that second book and publish the first.

And I do get to teach other people’s kiddos, which I’m excited about. I have a class I teach to homeschooled students. Writing and reading. I show them ceilings are bull. They find college English easy in comparison. One has gone on to West Point—starting his second year, one to Germany for college and missionary training, several to Miami University. Lots to local and not-so-local colleges, doing great things. I feel nostalgic for them today. And proud.

Happy First Day of School, First Triathlon, & First Day of the Rest of My Life.

See that little figure? …Gabe.  We all inspire each other.

 

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on writing

Long Day’s Journey

I just saw O’Neill’s autobiographical play, so it’s on my mind. The way a piano can be on a mind. Or an elephant, digging in its toenails. I don’t know if I feel worse for O’Neill or the audience. It was four and a half hours. I walked out with PTSD. To be fair, the cast did a magnificent job portraying those dreadful people. Over and over. I’d be hitting the anti-depressants after a stint like that.

I feel about the play the way I feel about a certain piece of art that used to hang in the local museum. It was basically graph paper, enlarged. I couldn’t understand. I guess I’m not smart enough. Same with Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I don’t get it. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Don’t get me wrong, I think it has value. POW camps could play it on a loop. The CIA could do away with waterboarding. Just strap the terrorists into chairs and hit play. Come back five hours later and threaten to show it again. Have I gone overboard? Well, so did O’Neill. By about two and a half hours.

This brings me to my book journey. August marks one year since I received my first rejection on my first novel. I’ve enjoyed reading the stories of others on the same journey. Most read like O’Neill’s play: pain…pain…pain…and the show is over. No happy ending, and you’re thinking it may have been a waste of time.

Since I began querying, FOUR of my writer-friends wrote and self-published their books (some published two!) and a student of mine self-published her novella. And in a little file sits my dusty book. Enthralling, my husband called it. My friend said I better not die (of a brain tumor) before I could write the sequel. I’ve had agents request it, but zero offers of representation.

Me

I’m almost done writing my second book. I remember when I thought the hard part would be writing books. It’s a Long Day’s Journey Into Might.

As in, you MIGHT publish dat book, girl. You jes might. It’s a long journey.

…or a long day’s journey into MIGHT, as in power and strength.

Let’s go with that.

 

on writing, Personal Journey

The Road to Traditional Publishing: A Walk, No. A Serpentine Crawl, on the Pan-American Highway

Radio Silence. I’m learning to live there. In January (yes, January) I had several agents request full manuscripts, two of whom were veterans; one was building his list. I heard back from the list-building agent quickly. He didn’t like that a dog died in my story. I’ve since read other agent bios where they specify: no pets dying. Who knew? I still had three manuscripts out (another request in the interim), and I waited. And recovered from brain surgery. And sold our house and was homeless for a few weeks. And got settled in our new home. And puttered around in short stories and flash. And got started on a second book. Today I’m 50K into Bookworm.

In the beginning of a new novel, I’m pulling a wagon with square wheels. It’s not pretty. It hurts. I’m getting nowhere. And who are these characters? Most writers love that part, the show-up-to-the-blank-page part. Not me. I’m all about revising. In order to get anything down, I have to chant, SFD…SFD…SFD… till I get something I can revise.

Last week one of the veteran agents (gently and with many kind words of praise) passed on my manuscript. I actually read the email to my writer’s group. I’m not usually that public, but it arrived in my inbox just as we were starting, and oddly enough, I’d literally JUST been lamenting over not hearing back from him. He apologized for having it so long. He was so gracious, I didn’t even cry. Darn. I would have loved to work with someone that nice.

Two other agents are still considering it, and when I nudged them, they assured me I’m in the queue. I’ve learned agents have intern-readers. So an assistant may be the first to read my full manuscript. If it passes muster, then the agent will take a look. It makes sense, given how many manuscripts pass over their desks. When every query rejection reminds me of the subjectivity of the business (…not a fit for me, but another agent may feel differently…) I dust myself off and look for the next agent who, hopefully, will feel differently.

I’ve become a student of the publishing industry, which has given me a sense of just how long it takes to get something traditionally published, as well as how insanely collaborative it is. Great books are written by great authors, but I believe they were blessed by great editorial agents and finally polished by great editors. Not to mention all the greatness that goes into marketing.

Knowledge isn’t just power; it’s peace of mind. Yesterday while spinning and sweating and gasping on an upright bike, I listened to an agent panel interview. (I hear your applause at my multi-tasking.) In the interview, an agent mentioned passing on a book that went on to become a best-seller. Another agent said his list of clients is rivaled by the list of greats on which he passed. Great books are passed on every day. My book has been passed on many days. Therefore, my book must be great. (I hear your applause at my entirely sensible rhetoric.)

Here are some of the ways I’m bettering myself as a writer. I’m thankful for the people who’ve shared these resources and am glad to pay it forward.

The Manuscript Academy

Writer 2.0 Podcast

Beautiful Writer’s Podcast

Writing and Illustrating blog hosted by Kathy Temean

Overhaul My Novel (Get a beta reader.)

And books that deal with craft:

On Writing by Stephen King

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass

Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King

Each book imparts something different. King is…well, King. You get a bit of everything and a whole lot of swear words. Anne Lamott tells writers: Everything will be fine, darlin’. The last two are craft-specific but engaging and helpful beyond belief. And nothing helps more than a few friends who come alongside and believe in you, even before the editorial agent, before the editor. I have a group. We call ourselves The Little Red Writing Hoods. We are an eclectic mix of ages and genres. Knowing I have to submit something keeps me motivated. I love groups so much, I agreed to host one. It’s in the fledgling stages, but I am grateful for a right-hand man who is honest and smart and critical.

If you want some motivation, check out The First Line. Submissions are due August 1st. They pay. It’s free to submit. The first lines they provide are wonderful. One year a sixteen-year-old won the competition. How cool is that? I have some students I imagine could pull that off.

Credit: Diego Jimenez

PS – The Pan-American Highway is the world’s longest road, linking almost all the nations in North and South America except for a stretch of 100 km called the Darien Gap, a forest and swampland.

Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Thoughts from Mount Everest

Figurative thoughts, that is. Four years ago I posted this in regard to my son attending Saint Ignatius, a rigorous private school. I used Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled,” and I used it in that wrong way so many do (but I don’t care). The idea being, find a barely perceptible path in the middle of nowhere and it will yield you a wild-forest-of-a-life. For who wants to stay on the boring path? I wrote that signing up for St. Ignatius was akin to signing for an Everest hike, that if Luke didn’t at least try, he’d look up at the mountain one day and regret it. But. If he tried and managed to climb even to base camp, he’d have a beautiful view, a valley to appreciate. Some of my favorite moments are when I cease the proverbial hike, pull out a glass of wine, and survey where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

This I wanted for my son.

Luke had been homeschooled all his life. What he knew was the plush couch, great books, experiential learning in organizations like Civil Air Patrol, mastery learning in everything, and the yours-truly-taskmaster who—at that point—was losing her ability to motivate him. A Bear Grylls type, Luke thrives in the wild. Any wild will do, even high school. The kid didn’t even know how to work a combination lock when I sent him off with a brand new backpack into the inner-city campus wearing his first tie. I could hardly believe I wouldn’t see him for a whole day.

In a week he’ll be done with high school. To say it had its ups and downs covers it as well as an article from Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. I’d confess the four years of mother angst in diary-style, but my son would kill me, private man that he is. In the end, what I can say of his high school years is he hit the ball out of the park. From the kitchen table to Saint Ignatius to Cornell University. This proud mom thinks he made it to his personal Everest, that he hacked a path of his own and it made all the difference.

For from [God] and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! – Romans 11:36

 

Homeschool Life

5000 Words Spring 2019 Contest Winners!

What makes 5000 Words stories stand out? I believe it’s the boot camp dynamic of the class. For 12 weeks, we immerse ourselves in a great work of literature (this time, Lord of the Flies) while churning out copious amounts of stellar writing. Students who can handle the demands of the class come out with a serious portfolio—far more than 5000 Words.

Each session we hold a peer-judged creative writing contest where students craft an original story and run it through the gauntlet of a class critique. 100% of students survive the workshop (but they do fret). They revise, and the final stories are judged by anonymous vote. Rachel Carpenter, Katelyn Steyer, and John Grigoli were our winners. Click on the titles to read and be amazed by their winning stories.

1st Place – “Broken” by Rachel Carpenter

Rachel Carpenter is 18 years old and a senior in high school. She will be attending the University of Akron in the fall of 2019. Dance is her passion and her major in college, but she has other hobbies to occupy her time when she is not dancing. She enjoys writing fictional stories, playing with animals (especially cats), and spending time with her friends and family. She also enjoys stepping out of her comfort zone, making new memories, and giving back to people in need by going on mission trips. Her faith is very important to her and is one of the reasons why she goes on mission trips. Rachel has been on a total of four mission trips and will be going on her fifth in June of 2019.

 

 

2nd Place – “Battle Scars” by Katelyn Steyer

Katelyn is seventeen and the oldest of six kids. She has participated in the 5000 words class for the past five years. When she was first enrolled to take the class, she cried because of the unknown. And when the session came to an end, she cried because it was over. Without 5000 words her passion for writing wouldn’t have been discovered. She has enjoyed every minute of the past classes and is forever grateful for Mrs. Griffiths and the lessons she has taught her.

 

 

3rd Place – “Tribute to Opportunity” by John Grigoli

John Grigoli is 14 years old and in eighth grade.  Besides writing, he enjoys baseball, basketball, cross country, playing piano, and camping.  He has a love for the outdoors, which grew from being a member of Boy Scouts.  He is currently working towards the Eagle Scout rank.  In his first full year in the 5000 Words class, he quickly gained an appreciation for creative writing, as well as the class discussions.  Additionally, he is grateful for the peer critiquing and the instruction from Mrs. Griffiths.

 

Personal Journey

That Entirely Legal Thing I Did to Celebrate My One Year Brain Surgery Anniversary

In college, I was into modern dance, which was my introduction to the green room, to theatre, and to the adrenaline rush of performing. I loved the jack-hammering of my heart as I stood in the dark wings. I loved the blinding lights and the one or two dancers whose epic fits would make the rest of us feel so poised. Confession: I loved the attention. As a young person, I was an attention junky, and I wasn’t picky about the sort I got. Bad. Good. Legal. Illegal. Here I am, notice me. was the mantra of my life. But with dancing, I was part of a team or a duo. Even if I was dancing a solo, I was a cog in a machine, and we were making something lovely.

Ever after, when I would watch a play, I’d be crazy-jealous of the cast members. They seemed to be having so much fun. But I sing as well as a cat in heat, and I’ve never acted before. As much as I missed the stage, as an adult it wasn’t happening for me.

The one attribute I bring to the theatrical table is my willingness to look stupid, especially at church. If we can’t mess up there, where can we? (That may be an upside-down perspective for those who think church is for the perfectly put together.) Enter, Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames, a mind-blowing spiritual drama that explores what happens the second after we die. Seneca said, “The day which we fear is our last is but the birthday of eternity.” Audiences come to be entertained, but they come away with much to think about. Isn’t that the point of art—to shine a spotlight and shatter dogmas?

So I told the insecure miscreant who lives inside my head and comes out whenever there’s a hard and/or uncomfortable thing to do…I told her to shut up, and I went and read the script. I got a little part, and I—with God’s help—performed. I got to be a cog again. This time, making something lasting. And I hope, lovely. A performance to make people stop and think about what they believe.

Personal Journey

Happy Brain Surgery Anniversary to Me

April 6th, 2018. It was the Cleveland Indians’ home opener. I was at University Hospital having an opener of my own. Brain surgery.

Kumquats: Joanna Kosinska

A year later the skin on my head is still tight. I often run my fingers along the dents in my skull. They can’t be seen because my superhero surgeon managed to extract a kumquat-sized tumor without shaving my hair. My jog pace is three minutes slower and hurts worse. I mess up numbers and dates with freakish consistency (just ask my students). But thank you, God. I can write. And teach. And hug. And walk. I can have coffee with my grown daughters, watch my son graduate high school, watch my teenager swim. I live with a new perspective: life isn’t forever. Don’t waste.

Carpe diem, we’re told. Seize the day. I am a Jedi-Master at day-seizing. I climb volcanos. I sled head-first and backward. I slide down the hot metal handrail in swanky pools. I dance the Stanky Leg stone sober and the YMCA without regard for which way the “C” goes. I rock the high dive, the low dive, and any balcony or roof within ten feet of a pool.

Professional day-seizer, right? Au contraire mon frère. That is thrill seeking. To carpe diem is to hug tightly, to look someone square in the eyes, to hold hands like they’re welded together. To carpe diem is to write love letters, make meatloaf, be interruptable, do dishes, leave the dishes, serve a meal, smile, cry, all of it without vanity.

When things go south—not just hiccup south, but kamikaze-nose-dive south—God takes over. It’s magnificent.

But first comes poverty. Blessed are the poor in spirit. I remember going to church and wanting to stop my ears at the upbeat worship songs. I wanted to scream, I had this piano dropped on me! Why are we all singing like it’s standard ops? Where are the thunderclouds? Where is Mozart’s Requiem? I could not sing. Those words weren’t for me. Are you kidding me? Poor? I was destitute in my spirit.

We think we deserve a smooth road. We pray for asphalt, lay down good habits and programs to assure a wrinkle-free trip; we buy apps, sign up for accountability groups. Sometimes we sin for a toll road. And when a root trips us or a bridge is out—don’t we just howl in indignation? How could you, God? How DARE you! Fact is, the Awful with-a-capital-A moment has to come in order for the After to come. Like Jesus. His Awful was the cross. We live in his After. I’m glad he went through with it. He had a choice.

When you know something is very wrong with you, but you don’t know exactly what, or you can’t fix it with diet and exercise…you are meek. You’re at the mercy of your broken body, of doctors, nurses, health insurance policies, lab techs, maintenance personnel (did they sanitize the instruments?), high-tech computers, the unbroken flow of electricity during your surgery. You feel at the mercy of gobs of stuff. But that’s a lie. You’re at the mercy of only one thing: God.

There are no promises of healing. Only: blessed are the meek. This I experienced. I am blessed by the fact that my brain surgery was a success, but even beforehand I was blessed by the way I felt…held is the best word for it. Not alone. Not forsaken. Not punished. I was exactly where God wanted me to be. For other people, the place to be was the baseball home opener. I cannot compare myself to others. Do you think it’s possible I wasn’t jealous of those hotdog-eating fans with their perfect health? I wasn’t. That was my miracle.

In the face of no guarantees, here is my takeaway:

Love.

Love however it looks for you. Maybe it means speaking up. Or shutting up. Love can be as easy as smiling at a stranger. But it’s more fun when it’s kissing my husband. Bob taught me what love under duress looks like. The mention of 2018 gives him the willies, but I have fond memories of his arm around me, his hand in mine, his Oscar-worthy declarations of you’ll-be-fine. And he was right. Ever the optimist is my husband. He’s trying to get me to see things that way. It’s less painful to be an optimist. But see, Bob would have said, “It’s more pleasant to be an optimist.” I still have halfway to go. 😉

Today I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to try. (It’s scary and exciting and entirely legal.) What is it, you ask? I’ll let you know if I actually go through with it.

Cheers! And happy brain surgery anniversary to me.