Archive for the ‘Julie’s Life’ Category

Show and Tell: 17 years of great successes and epic fails!

Thursday, September 17th, 2015

Show and Tell: 17 years of great homeschool successes and epic fails!

It’s easy to get turned around by all the various strategies for managing this unruly beast: the two horned monster of homeschool and child-rearing. Like most homeschoolers, I meandered between a variety of programs, plans, and philosophies, trying them out. When my kids were small, I plunged into the curricular zeitgeist of the day: KONOS. It was a kinesthetic curriculum that focused on developing character as it taught academics. Tall order for my little rascals! We loved it, though. From the start, we immersed ourselves in activities paired with school subjects. We made a model of an ear canal using a turkey baster, cookie sheets, and rubber hoses. We held a Japanese luncheon for neighbors making tempura, sitting on cushions at a low table, and putting chopsticks in our hair buns!

The pattern of making our learning hand’s on was firmly established. It became my primary objective: to see if I could coax a school subject into an activity or set of activities. For instance, I remember when we read Farmer Boy, we served pie for breakfast alongside both ham AND bacon. Eggs and pancakes too. It was a feast of yumminess followed by a food coma which sent the morning’s math lesson out the window.

Provide emotional safety for educational risks.

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When Johannah fell in love with American Girl Dolls, she started a club with her best homeschooling friends. Each one picked a doll and each family hosted a party with foods, dress-ups, crafts, and games suited to the doll and period in history. When we fell in love with the night sky, my best friends and my family created a solar system teatime after dark—complete with star cut-outs of cheese and crescent moon apple slices. The oldest daughter from the other family came dressed up as Jupiter, bearing a painted red eye. We read poetry and sang songs.

Homeschooling does include skill building. There are a gazillion suggestions (official count) from every quarter about how to manage these necessary tasks, particularly in large families. Try them all! See which ones fit. But remember: this year’s solution may lose traction next year. Or, what makes one child feel secure and successful makes another child feel oppressed. And even more baffling: the moment you subdue the loose threads of housekeeping, car trips, and homeschool into your neat binder, it may all unravel due to ticks, the flu, or an unexpected hail storm!

Homeschool Tip: This year’s solution may lose traction next year.

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It’s maddening! And exhilarating. I wouldn’t rob you of the journey and all you will learn on your own.

The truth is: our homeschools wind up looking like us for better or worse. I’d say: for better. It can’t be helped! I have friends who are homeschool parents and both are in the medical field. One is a transcriptionist for a laboratory and the other supervises medical tests for P&G products. Is it shocking that their three kids are now a doctor and two nurses? No. Is it surprising that my kids are into foreign languages, reading, writing, the Internet, and Shakespeare? Um, no.

Indulge what you are good at, right in front of your children, so that they may carry on the family genetic dispositions with even more competence than you had! It’s one of the ways we make the world better. Play with homeschool philosophies the way your kids play with soccer balls—kick them around, aim them for the goal, pass them off between children, bounce them on your knees, and then take a rest and see if you want to do that again.

Play with homeschool philosophies
the way your kids play with soccer balls.

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There’s no formula that works for everyone—every homeschooler or every child. But somewhere in all that investigating and cheerful exploration is your homeschool! Relish it!

Here is yesterday’s periscope talk with an EXCLUSIVE VIEW of my kids’ homeschool products over the years!

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Monday, August 17th, 2015

The Empty Nest

In ten days, I’ll live in a little empty nest—the five kids will all have successfully gone onto the next part of their lives, living away from home, and I’ll be here—no dog, no one. Just me.

I have a good friend who ran our huge homeschool co-op back when our kids were young, and I was just starting Brave Writer. We used to joke and say,

“I could run a really great co-op or business, if I wasn’t homeschooling!”

And it was true.

I ran my business on “mommy time” which meant squeezing it in around all the edges. I didn’t travel to conventions (which was against popular homeschool business wisdom). I didn’t seek publication through traditional means. I spoke when it fit into our family schedule—which turned out to be seldom.

I wouldn’t change it.

There’s an ocean of time in front of me now—time I’ll fill teaching at Xavier, traveling to see my kids in all the exotic locales they choose to inhabit, revising products and classes, writing books, and more.

The best part is: I’m ready. I don’t have regrets of not having seen Johannah act on a professional stage in a Shakespeare play. I didn’t miss a single lacrosse game for Liam or Noah. I was home to lie on my back and gaze at the night sky with Jacob. I watched Caitrin swim for fun at the YMCA from a lounge chair for many summers.

We’ve played more board games, taken more trips to museums, and have spent more time reading aloud than I ever imagined when my kids were babies and toddlers.

I’ve traveled with and to all of them, showing them the world first and then letting them show me.

They’ve educated me about topics unfamiliar to me, and I’ve gotten to share with them all of my passions, which they graciously admire. We love, know, and support each other—through all kinds of tough icky hard stuff and the celebrations and joys that come with evolving as human beings, in a tightly-knit homeschooling family.

And I’m so grateful! Deeply!

Doesn’t mean I’ve stopped worrying, nagging, or caring. I’m still a mom! But I’m conscious of the bond—and the strength and generosity of the shared memories. In short, I’m glad I have the memories—they are wonderful companions in the empty nest.

Now I’m looking around and taking stock.

Brave Writer is strong and healthy even with all the devoted energy I gave my family, but some days I reread my writing from 16 years ago and think: “Julie, you’ve GOT to revise that book!”

My website has been the tract home with the maze of room additions where you could easily get lost on your way back to the front door. Trust me, I know! It’s happened to me! This summer, I made it a priority to fix that!

We launched our brand new, revised, mobile-friendly (looks AMAZING on the iPhone) website. Go directly to the online classes portion (it’s the BEST!).

We’re rewriting whole sections of it (it will take all fall to complete that project so check in from time to time and click around).

Revision projects for older products are now in the pipeline (aka, writing!), and I’m making myself more available for speaking (conventions, webinars).

Thank you for all the support, and reviews of Brave Writer’s work over the years. Thanks for being generous to me, but also giving me honest feedback, too. When I gather my courage, I read your reviews and take to heart what I read. Your evaluations make Brave Writer a better company and product every time you tell me the truth. (Much of it is wonderfully supportive, too, which helps me keep going.)

I have so much more I want to write and share—I’ve spent the last 20 years reading, studying, and developing my pedagogy. I get to test it regularly and have it reviewed by peers in the academy. It’s a privilege to both teach college students, and to work in this community, with all of you.

I’ll miss those early morning snuggles of little ones (I already do!) and the loud happy voices of teens who bust through the front door (do they ever just walk through one?) with all their plans and ideas squirting out of their every movement and comment.

In exchange, I’ll have time—to reflect, to write, to speak, to share, and to be a front row cheerleader for your homeschool odyssey! It’s so so worth it! I’m so happy you are taking that risk to be that parent to your kids.


You won’t regret it (at least, I hope you don’t!). If I can help you get there (to that place of deep investment and confidence), let me know.

Much love,

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Image by Karen Roe (cc cropped, text added)

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Why journaling helps people

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Why journaling helps people

When I lived in France as an exchange student, I wrote over 1000 pages in my journal. When I lived in Morocco, I wrote dozens of journals. I’ve kept some semblance of a journal since 4th grade—writing more some years than others. I always know when I’m “going through something.” Journaling pops back to the forefront of my life.

This study is fascinating to me. It clarifies why journaling helps people. Writing helps us tell our story back to ourselves. It helps us put the emotions and experiences into a meaningful context.

You might try this with your own children. I remember how Noah struggled with big emotions after particularly meaningful experiences in his life (sleep away camp, performing in a play, a great vacation). He’d get swamped by the feelings and didn’t know what to do with them.

I suggested he keep a “special occasions” journal. He could write his memories while they were fresh and then reread them any time he wanted to revisit those precious experiences. It worked…and he still has that journal to this day.

Image by Emma Larkins (cc cropped, smudged, text added)

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Stick up for yourself inside

Monday, February 16th, 2015

Julie Rearview Mirror Rainy Day

15 years ago, I started an online discussion board for (mostly) homeschool mom friends called The Trapdoor Society. The concept was this: Because our days were filled with small children and home-keeping demands, we needed an escape—a trapdoor through which we could pursue our own self-education: art, literature, film, politics, religion, poetry, and more. We’d be friendly and supportive when we disagreed and we’d help each other expand our worlds together…

In other words, Internet Utopia.

In other words, good luck with that.

We did become incredible friends (there are still about 40 of us in touch today). But those friendships also survived some truly painful clashes of personality, belief systems, emotional meltdowns, and even a version of trolling (though that word didn’t exist back then).

I remember spending hours crafting response posts in my head when I felt maligned or judged or misunderstood. Years later, this xkcd cartoon captured my feelings of compulsion to respond online perfectly: “Someone is wrong on the Internet.”

Underneath that surface reason, though, was an invisible-to-me-at-the-time one. Fear. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to be misunderstood. I didn’t want to have made an irrevocable choice.

When criticism came my way, I wanted to fight back—to not take it. I fought back on the outside.

If I could get everyone out there to agree that I was okay, then I would finally allow myself to feel okay in here.

The benefit of aging is the increasing awareness that it is nigh to impossible to get all the people out there to all agree that you are perfectly wonderful as you are. (I know, I’ve tried.)

No one likes you enough to do that for you. They’re all too busy trying to get you to tell them that they are okay, as they are.

One of the reasons it’s tough to hear our kids tell us that some of our choices were painful to them is that we especially want their approval—after all, we are “sacrificing” careers, manicures, a good tennis game, grad school, hobbies, and beautifully decorated homes to ensure they have the best possible childhoods. How they can’t know that, can’t see that, can’t forgive us for our foibles is incomprehensible.

The only way out is inner confidence—to firm up your shaky insides with your resilient belief that you are conscientious, intentional, and sincere. These three qualities won’t prevent mistakes or over-reach. They won’t guarantee romanticized notions of success. But they can be the firm base from which you continue to grow, revise, and expand your life’s vision.

If you resist the temptation to defend

If you resist the temptation to defend yourself to others, but instead, take any criticism or disagreement as a chance to revisit your personal creed and practice, you will slowly but surely see that you are, in fact, that worthwhile person you wish others could see. You’ll know it from the inside—that your choices, and your vision are perfectly valid for you.

Meanwhile, rather than eviscerate your persecutors with better arguments or lengthy diatribes, go soft on the outside. The old proverb, “A gentle word turns away wrath” may not always work in intimate relationships, but it does provide a neat exit online.

It is often the perfect response to children—respond in the opposite spirit. They come with anger and force, you respond with internal strength and gentle words: “I hear you. That sounds awful. I want better for you.”

Strong on the inside, soft on the outside.

Respond in the opposite spirit.

Stick up for yourself to yourself.

Trust—you don’t know the outcome of this grand risky experiment. The only way forward is one day at a time, with your conscientiousness, sincerity, and intentionality to guide you.

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Happy Anniversary to Brave Writer!!

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Happy 15th Anniversary to Brave Writer!


(Discount does not apply to online classes)

Plus here’s a little history of Brave Writer! This was posted New Year’s Eve on Facebook:

I’m feeling sentimental this afternoon.

It’s the last day of 2014. 15 years ago today, I completed the working draft of The Writer’s Jungle and was set to launch a little company I called “The Writing Compass” in January 2000. I never liked the name of the company but I was determined to start and couldn’t keep sitting around waiting for the “right name” to reveal itself. I have notebook pages filled with possibilities. None right. I gave in. The Writing Compass it would be.

My first “Kidswrite Basic” class began the first Monday of January with full enrollment (25 moms), the last one registering at midnight before class began (that enrollment happened to be the extraordinary Rachel Boyer, who went on to become a Brave Writer instructor for 5 years!). How fortuitous that she found me! We bonded and she learned to teach the way I taught (not much of a stretch for her).

That first class in January 2000 lasted 8 weeks (phew!) and was run exclusively through an email list. (You think forums can be confusing!) Tuition? $25.00 per family! Ha ha. I think my hourly might have been about $2.00 an hour by the time it was over. I was a happy, exhausted dishrag at the end of that first class, burning the candle at both ends, learning as much as my families. I still have most of the emails.

A few notable students came through the first session:

  • Anne Somanas (whose essays are the models in Help for High School)
  • Gabrielle Linnell (whose “Adventuring Maid” story in The Writer’s Jungle is the first time she was published–age 8; she’s gone on to be quite the writer, starting her own online magazine for teens, featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Extraordinary Teens, and interviewed by Writer’s Digest as a promising up and coming young writer!)
  • Logan, famous for his hilarious and honest freewrites that I share at every convention and included in The Writer’s Jungle.
  • Bennett Horton, my 16 year old student who *would not write* and started from scratch (Jot It Down!) and went on to get As in freshman composition in college just two years later (I have his thank you note still!). Today he is married, a father of two girls, and is making his way up the corporate ladder quite successfully. So reassuring to see!

I had a blast with these families, and loved my work! Suddenly speaking engagements popped up! The attached photo is of me at the CHEO convention in Columbus Ohio, June 2000—my first big speaking gig, where we rolled out The Writer’s Jungle, my only product. Cindy Clark, who works for Brave Writer today, helped me assemble the first volumes in my living room along with Bennett’s mother, Paula Horton (who also works intermittently for Brave Writer now). Sold every one I brought with me! Blew me away. Apparently it was something I said.

Mid-workshop while speaking, I heard myself saying these words, “We want free writers! We want brave writers!” and as the words escaped my lips, my brain thought, “Crap! That’s it! That’s the name of my company: Brave Writer!”

Naturally “” was emblazoned across the vinyl cover of The Writer’s Jungle. Such a dilemma! My first exposure to the world of homeschoolers and I was already going to make a huge change in identity. I went straight home and bought the URL: Jon set up a redirect on the original site and I never looked back.

15 years in Internet time is an eternity. When I go to my entrepreneurial social media gatherings, I am always the oldest business by several years, built on social media long before it was called by that name. Brave Writer has grown by word of mouth. I didn’t want it to grow too quickly. I wanted to homeschool my kids and not miss soccer matches and lacrosse games.

In those years of slow growth, I learned a lot about writing, home education, parenting, and business. I went to graduate school. I got a divorce. I went on college visits. I became an adjunct professor. I value it all, even the life-shattering, life-rearranging moments.

Today, Brave Writer is strong and growing by leaps and bounds. My family is well—including Jon, without whom I could never have launched a company in 2000. He designed my first website and laid out The Writer’s Jungle and Help for High School. His freshman composition teaching career in college gave me countless resources that helped form what I teach and write. I’m grateful to him. We have a good relationship today.

Thank you for being a part of the Brave Writer community and journey:

for all your good ideas
for finding typos in my products that I miss
for sharing your amazing children with me and my staff
for your patience when my product roll outs get delayed
for your passion for your children
for learning how to be coaches and allies to your children (not everyone wants that job—but I’m so glad you do!)
for observing copyright (homeschool parents are the most ethical consumers and I don’t take that for granted!)
for helping each other and showing one another kindness and consideration
and for sending me uplifting emails that help me keep going.

I love this community and opportunity to put all of my skills and heart into a venture that I believe in. Without you, Brave Writer quite literally wouldn’t exist.

Much much love to you all and your dear families on this, the last day of 2014. Tomorrow, we start 2015 and January offers you a special deal for Brave Writer as my thank you for your years of loyalty! (Sneak peek on the home page of the site, if you want to see it.)

May you each reflect on the past year(s) and see how far you’ve come, and trust you will get where you need to go.

Happy New Year! /blows horn!/ /tosses confetti/

xoxo Julie

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