Archive for the ‘Julie’s Life’ Category

Happy Anniversary to Brave Writer!!

Friday, January 2nd, 2015

Happy 15th Anniversary to Brave Writer!

SHOP NOW!

(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 “writingcompass.com” 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: bravewriter.com. 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/

Peace,
xoxo Julie

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To resolve or not to resolve, that is the question

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Julie Winter 2014_blog

The fad this year seems to be “not to resolve”—to say “no” to the compulsory diets and new exercise regimens, and to be happy with yourself as you are. This competitive, image-oriented culture is exhausted from the relentless demands. Finally. Good for us!

I’ve never been adept at resolutions mostly because I forget what I’ve resolved by January 3rd. Usually I don’t resolve to do anything—except to drink champagne at midnight and hope to be kissed!

Until 2014. Last year I unwittingly made a year long commitment. My best friend and running partner decided in late December 2013 to run every day of 2014.

Every. Day. of the YEAR.

I did not commit to this goal.

However, on January 1, I ran. And on January 2, I laced up my shoes and ran again. By January 5th, I realized that I was not going to let this pixie friend of mine spend a whole year beating me in mileage and bragging rights.

I resolved to run every day of 2014 out of pride and competitiveness.

Because it was such a simple goal (run every day—once every 24 hours—no carrying it over to the next day or make-ups possible!), I knew what I had to do every day—even on the day I got a mild concussion surfing, even when I had to fly on airplanes at 6:00 a.m. and had to run at 3:00 a.m., even when the temperatures were 6 degrees and snow covered the trails, even when I was tired or sick or sick of running!

I ran and ran and ran. I ran in the rain, and in the humidity, and in shorts, and in sweaters and down jackets.

Every day I didn’t wake up and run first thing, I felt an inner pressure all day long to figure out when I would get that run in (sometimes not until after dark!). My family and friends knew they couldn’t talk me out of running or say, “Can’t you just skip it?” when we were on vacations. And I knew I wouldn’t let them (so empowering to have a boundary like that!) It was this one, immovable goal that governed my life for precisely 365 days.

Can you imagine how great it feels to say, “Sorry, I have to do this?” and then get to go do it? It’s amazing!

Truth is: I loved it, even when I hated it.

Which is precisely the reason to have a goal or resolution. There’s something about the commitment that carries you over the edge from “Gosh this bed is comfy and warm and so much nicer than the 10 degree, -15º wind chill factor and dark skies out there” to “Damn, I’m running! This is awesome! I’m amazing! Look at me go!”

The more the days accumulated, the more pressure I felt to keep going. “How can you quit now?” I’d say to myself. And mean it.

So here I sit near the end of this amazing goal (that has hammered my heels, made me gain about ten pounds, and exhausted me) and I’m already sniffing around for another daily commitment.

I remember in 2007 I took a photo a day for Project 365—just one picture a day to post to a blog! Every day. No make-ups. That is one of the most memorable years of my life. Why? Because I was so busy observing it every minute!

So I thought I’d throw it out there. What can we (you and me) commit to do this coming year, the year of 2015, that is a daily goal that can’t be carried over to the next day or crammed into the too small space of the weekend? What is the one thing you can do, every day, this year that will not be quenched or squelched by anyone because, hey—you said you’d do it every. single. day?

I’m toying with a brave goal for me (more intimidating that running). It has to do with writing.

What can you do?

Let’s brain storm and then START on Thursday, January 1!

Here’s to the One Thing Resolution! One Thing, Every Day, for One Year!

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When you lose your cool…

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014

Bokeh Tree 2

…and it’s the holidays when you are not supposed to lose your cool!

So this happened. To me. Or rather, to my kids.

I snapped. Not just once, but a couple times already since they’ve been home. I don’t see myself this way—as a person who will “snap” and get testy or passive-aggressive when I’m under stress. I see myself in this idealized view—that I have patience and perspective, that I can say what I need directly, without using shame or manipulation to get what I want.

Then, the kitchen is upside down, and my brand new white dish towels are slowly drying with black tea stains, and I’m behind on my shopping, and there are piles of large adult children’s stuff tucked in around the edges of each room because that’s what college kids do with their stuff when home for break…

Bam! I get blind-sided by my own frustration and let it out! It’s not so much that I yell. Not my usual style. Rather, I bound into the room already on edge from shopping among thousands of other stressed last minute shoppers, aware that I have work to do, un-mindful of my hunger pangs, and cold. I see the evidence of a meal just made and the stained new tea towel—and react. I make declarative statements about who is responsible for “this mess” and blame randomly someone other than me for the tea towels and expect everyone to pop up and fix it.

I do, almost, cry. Over-reaction! Yet perhaps it is not at all an over-reaction. Perhaps that is the reaction that needed to happen hours before when I felt past my limit and worried about how I’d get it all done, before I entered the house and found someone to blame for my pent up anxiety.

The big kids snapped to, including my son’s girlfriend who also witnessed my meltdown. That’s when the guilt hit. I knew I’d been unnecessarily exasperated.

Fortunately for me, one of the kids called me on it. He stated calmly and honestly (but with hurt in his voice) that I had crossed a line—had crashed the peaceful atmosphere of the home with my anxiety and had misplaced my accusations. I hate that. I hate doing that. I hate being in the wrong. I hate that I had to apologize to my kids for that behavior and I even didn’t want to!

But I know it’s a gift—that if I can let go of my pride for a moment, I can stop the madness and start over with everyone. Which is what we did—I apologized, so did he, and we cleaned up the kitchen, and ate food, and turned up the thermostat, and watched TV by the fire.

Holidays are meant to be relaxed, homey opportunities for family togetherness. Weird how that vision can lead to the very things that undermine the goal: chaos, stress, expectation, and moodiness.

I rebooted last night. I’m glad my kids feel free to tell me when I’m out of line.

Cross-posted on facebook. Image by Eric Chan (cc cropped)

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Remember to pause

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Santa Cruz at night Capitola Beach Dec 2014
Santa Cruz at night. Capitola Beach. December 2014.

December catches me off guard every year, as though I don’t know it’s coming. As though I have never shopped for presents before, or haven’t had a busy calendar in the last month of any other year.

I confess to just wanting it to be over sometimes. The hassle and hustle of the season triggers my guilt, too. Why do I rarely succeed in getting lights up on the house? How could I let my college kids come home for winter break to an empty home (I was away traveling to see extended family members who are sick)? I even found myself wondering how necessary a decorated tree is to our over-all well-being.

Some years I’ve had every gift purchased and shipped by the start of December. Other years, I’m paying the extra fees for one day shipping. And still others, I’ve had to box and wrap a receipt, letting the teen know the gift would arrive within a day or two of Christmas.

So it was with great curiosity and interest that I listened to a friend share with me a strategy for being in the present moment—something I need to remember to do for myself. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.

She told me that when she finds herself whipped up into a frenetic energy, or guilt, or anxiety—she deliberately pauses, for a moment. She checks in with her thoughts, her feelings, and her body—to see what’s really there, so that she’s not just operating from a script of past holiday seasons or past expectations.

The pause.

I had forgotten about the pause! It helps to re-center myself and ask the basic questions: Where is my mind (what am I thinking about, or obsessing over)? How do I feel (am I churned up? am I excited? am I distracted and edgy)? What’s going on in my body (clenched jaw—I grind my teeth so a clenched jaw does tell me a lot about how much I’m holding inside; upset stomach, headache, short breath)?

Once I’ve paused to see what’s going on with me, I can then accept it and honor it. I don’t have to sweep it away or pretend it’s not there or overcome it. I can allow myself to embrace that moment, and the next, and the next one too.

From this place of checking in with myself, I can then make choices that take me and how I’m doing into account. Usually when I blow or lose it, it’s because I am checked out—I’m attempting to fill expectations or am moving really fast or have decided that this moment is annoying and I just want to get past it. When I’m in that mindset, I lose the moment and my choices.

Maybe today we can all pause—simply stop long enough to be present to ourselves and to our families; to let 2014 be its own unique holiday season, not a remix of all holidays past.

I paused this morning. I noticed a lot of agitation and urgency inside. A dismissiveness toward the demands of the season. A resentment brewing.

Time for a run, a cup of tea, and a hot shower. Then I’ll rouse Noah out of his well earned slumber, and we’ll go get that tree I keep putting off. I want to enjoy it with him, not rush through it (or even skip it!). That’s what I discovered when I paused this morning.

Thanks for your emails and posts. It is wonderful to hear from you. What are you discovering when you pause?

Cross-posted on facebook.

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My family culture

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014-blogCaitrin, Liam, Jacob, Johannah, Noah

This weekend, my five adult kids were home for Thanksgiving. This is remarkable to me as it is the first time the entire family has celebrated Thanksgiving together since 2008. Yes, 2008!! They are such travelers that too often someone has been out of the country or off in another state when the holiday rolled around. This year, we did not expect Jacob to be home, but thanks to a scholarship interview, he was flown to the states from Bangkok in time for the the big day.

Much hilarity ensued. And ensued. And ensued.

Oh my goodness, I had forgotten how LOUD these five people are! It was a long weekend fest of traded inside jokes taken from pop culture, song lyrics, books read, movies we’ve all memorized, favorite Shakespeare quotes, and Seinfeld.

There was much SINGING at the tops of their lungs (or rapping, or some hybrid of the two), paired with dancing.

We played endless (I do mean endless) games from Ticket to Ride Europe expansion set to card games like Sushi-Go, a Moroccan version of “I Doubt It” (aka B. S.), Nertz, and Rummy, and Settlers of Catan, ping-pong, and Spoons.

We had too many cooks in my kitchen which was AWESOME. We had more than enough help with the dishes (I even got a text from the one kid who lives with me saying, “Don’t touch the dishes; I’ll do them when I get home from work”). (Yes, there’s hope that they will all one day be GLAD to help you in the kitchen.) Recipes were vegan and not vegan. Noah used his bartending skills to introduce us to new festive drinks.

The catching up on each other’s lives was expansive from learning about the properties of Hindi to the strange lives of the people of ancient Sparta, how ancient Greek compares with modern languages, what it’s like to live in Thailand, how the “system” is rarely fair to under-resourced kids in Brooklyn, and how to become a better and better programmer without going to school at all.

Books were traded, book titles were entered into phones to look up to read to discuss with a sibling via Skype later this year.

Many travel plans were laid so that much intersecting could continue.

Some poignant discussions surfaced in one-on-one times as there were moments available to probe a little deeper, to reflect on past painful interactions that had found their way back to the surface and needed some support or care or understanding that hadn’t been available back when X happened.

It was this weekend where I watched my adults be more of who they are—I recognized them, I was surprised by them, I was proud of them, I was humbled by them.

Kinda cool, actually. All of it. The next step in the parenting journey. We may never have one like this again—no one is married yet so it was just “them.” Love those big kids.

Thanksgiving 2014-blog_2

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Inhabit your happiness

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Julie Flowers - surprise of happy quote

A strange thing happened to me. Two of my adult kids shared essentially the same thought with me. Liam shared that he appreciates college and that he has to remind himself to “inhabit this happiness” rather than continuing to feel as though he is still working to arrive somewhere happier. He’s arrived. Time to be happy.

Then just this morning Johannah talked about how she’s considering the truth of the idea that there is no other moment to get to. What we need to feel content exists already within us. What prevents us from feeling the happiness is our belief that there is some other space to go to before we can allow ourselves the feeling of contentment.

I was struck by the similarity of these ideas. We all have objectives and goals. We all want to see evidence of growth in our children. We are looking for signs of happiness and beauty in our children.

What if today we simply chose to be glad about where we all are? What if it were okay to not know the times tables and to have to do visual processing therapies with the middle child and to skip naps and to make sandwiches for dinner?

What if we could exercise the “happy muscle” for a few minutes today? Not gratitude necessarily (though gratitude can be a good place to start). More like this:

“I’m going to choose to find genuine happiness in a moment today. I’m going to let that moment surprise me. I am hereby on alert for a surprise of happy.”

During the darkest year of my life, this is one of the ways I got through each day. I couldn’t feel happy, but I chose to stay open to a surprise of happy and then to inhabit it, even for a moment.

Let me know how it goes for you!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Today is a gift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-cheering-woman-open-arms-beach-sunrise-sunset-image38568748

I know you know. I know everyone keeps telling you that.

Yet it’s true. Heartbreakingly so.

Family members living with cancer, random bullets shot at optimistic college students in Santa Barbara, martial law in Bangkok, a missing 22 year old in Cincinnati, never-planned car accidents, aging parents losing their words and memories, births with unexpected complications…

The assault on living by the dangerous and dying is relentless.

The best we can do is to make cakes for birthday parties, to have friends stop by to grill on holiday weekends, to root for our teams in the playoffs, to stand in the sunshine and feel its warmth, today.

I spent the other day decluttering more than a decade’s worth of stuff bought with real dollars earned through hard work that brought various levels of comfort, pleasure, and distraction. 20 bags destined for trash.

Nothing lasts, no matter how precious.

Today’s a good day to let go of a grudge, to eat ice cream, to sit a little longer with the needy child, to not take “it” personally, to reach out to the far away suffering person, to share a meaningful memory with the person closest to you.

Homeschooling is merely one way to wander through the years—a rich, layered, intimate way.

I don’t like it when people tell me to be grateful or urge me to be happy on days when I’m on the verge of tears.

Occasionally, though, when I’m going through the motions, it’s good to remember the bargain we’ve all made in life—there is no promised length to our days. Today is it.

So if you are in that place today—doing the routine without much thought, I hope you find a pocket of time to pause and remember. Remember the ones who died and have afforded us this life. Remember the ones who are yet alive and love you.

May today be a good day in the string of days that are your life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image © | Dreamstime.com

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Memories from a good public school

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Julie school IDs

I grew up in southern California in the 1970s. My junior high school was located in Malibu Canyon—literally in the canyon. It backed up to a creek and stood quite alone on a long stretch of windy road between mountains.

My teachers were hip—straight out of college, and half of them home from the first batch of Peace Corps tours of duty. They wore bell bottoms and presented us slide shows from India, Uruguay, and the Andes Mountains.

In the 1970s, education underwent a genuine overhaul. Teachers were free to use their creativity to create classrooms unlike any my parents had experienced. On short supply were textbook, quiz, test, assessment structures. Sure, math still used a book, mostly, but every other class busted out of the brick and mortar into the world!

Our entire 7th grade, for instance, held a Renaissance Faire at the end of the school year during a full-fledged school day. It took us months to prepare. Kids worked in candle making shops and leather curing stands, there were jesters and gymnasts (me), food booths with grog and buns, and more! We had to barter our goods and skills to enjoy the labors/gifts/skills of others. We dressed up too. Such a memorable experience of the Renaissance era—I’ve never forgotten it.

Butterfly and Bee Sharing a MealMy science teacher took our class to the creek and wilderness behind the school every day for six weeks so we could observe nature, learn to identify everything in a 10 foot square, and then draw it representationally with accurate names for bugs, plants, fish, birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, oak trees, nettles (ouch!), and tadpoles. She also required us to catch and euthanize butterflies for our own butterfly displays. I remember running around the hills with my own handmade net catching them, and then putting them in a jar with nail polish remover, then sticking them with pins, and mounting them on Styrofoam.

My language arts instructor taught us how to write songs from existing tunes to create original lyrics, and then we performed them. We made collages of our bodies on butcher paper and decorated them with clipped images and words, markers and stickers. We had an open classroom with another teacher and her students, and freely moved between the two each day. I actually learned more from the teacher who wasn’t my “official” teacher, as it turned out. She created a magazine to “publish” our poetry and short stories.

One social studies instructor taught us how to make Inca pottery. We made the pots, painted them according to the traditional designs, fired them, and then! And then!! We got to smash them with hammers into broken pieces.

The next night, that instructor buried our pots in a field in the back of the school, with sheets of cardboard to represent sedimentary layers, buried between the various eras of pottery. The next day at school, we divided into archaeological dig parties and dug up our pots, then dating them according to the layers. I’ll never forget being the last person to find our particular “dig site.” It was so frustrating to see other kids “find” their pots immediately.

I complained to Ms. Fagan: “Our pots are lost! They’re not where you said they’d be.”

She responded, “You are having the most authentic experience in the class. This is what it is actually like for archaeologists. They don’t know where the pots are buried.”

That comment stuck with me. I was having a real experience! Sure enough, we did find the spot where our pottery was buried after several more attempts, and how elated I felt then! We took the broken pieces back to class, reassembled them with special glue, labeled them, and displayed them the way a museum would. What an experience!

In high school, I had a teacher who taught us yoga, one instructor who had spent time in China taught us how to take “cooperative tests” (“Friendship first, competition second” hung as a banner in our classroom), another who introduced us to Beowulf and Grendel (the spoof on Beowulf) and gave us a chance to write our own spoofs or revisions.

My friends and I caught a vision for poetry through this English teacher and one day decided we wanted to make “tea and crumples” (I didn’t know the word was “crumpets”!) to celebrate British poetry. We invited our teacher and another English teacher as a treat. (The original teatime!) I wound up making corn muffins with diced apple in them to create our own unique “crumples.”

Dorothy
Playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Our high school had a robust theater department that not only made the sets from scratch, but all the costume design and costume construction were done by students as well. Students ran everything: light and sound boards, stage management, props, make-up, costumes. The director/teacher sat in the audience to watch our shows, leaving us to run everything. To this day, I feel such pride when I remember the theater productions.

I share all this because something got lost in education in the last 30 years. It’s become a system of assessment and targeted information goals (rather than multi-faceted exploration and immersion).

Home education offers you the chance to be that 1970s teacher who uses creativity and imagination to create an education. It really is better to have a medieval feast with your kids and their friends, for all of you to dress up in clothes you sewed yourselves, to eat traditional foods you prepared in your kitchen, to hold a pretend jousting competition in the living room…than to read about it and write a single paragraph narration.

It is worth taking the time to make a replica of the various styles of teepees and wigwams of Native American tribes in America than to simply look at pictures in a book.

Panning for fool’s gold yourself in a makeshift creek is better than watching a movie about panning for gold in 1849.

You can’t do these extravagant experiences every day. But if you do a few of them per year, your children will never forget them. I can’t tell you what textbooks I read in junior high, but I have never forgotten the teachers who brought learning to life for me, and I’ve never forgotten the experience of learning that they gave me. I have a fondness for ancient pottery even today because I experienced the value of design, the dig, and the rescue firsthand. I developed an affinity; I didn’t simply master a subject.

Go forth and be creative. Take time. Immerse. Plan. Prepare. Do! Execute and enjoy! Give your children a true, groovy education.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Also, Spring Semester starts today! It’s not too late to enroll for some classes, but hurry!

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I’m so glad I homeschooled my kids…and didn’t build my business

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Italy

Photo taken in Lucca Italy 2005 (family trip)

Not too infrequently, a parent will virtually back me against a wall and say, “But why haven’t I heard of Brave Writer before? Where have you been all these years?”

It’s a fair question. Usually a company of our longevity would have had its coming out party by now. Instead, I crept along, slowly adding staff and products in the by-ways of the Internet, content to grow organically rather than through a big media campaign or annual trudge to all the state conventions or by advertising and spending a lot of money.

There’s a reason I didn’t make a big splash into the homeschool curriculum world over the last decade: I was homeschooling.

I thought about that today. I homeschooled my kids. I wrote writing books on the side. I answered emails after I sang lullabies at bedtime or before the toddler pounced on my chest first thing in the morning. I didn’t go to conventions lest I miss a soccer game or ballet performance. I didn’t ask for speaking opportunities. I let them come to me and many times, turned them down. I haven’t been available. I didn’t want to BE available.

I wanted to write materials and teach classes, but I wanted to be able to do it without interrupting my time with my kids. I certainly didn’t do it perfectly. There are days I remember where I got stuck at the computer all morning and other days where I had a deadline and would hole up in my office to meet it while everyone “unschooled” for a week. The kids have a joke that sometimes they needed to “double click” on mom to “wake me up” from my computer-stare.

But I am happy to say that on the whole, my work didn’t interfere with my kids having a genuine parent-led homeschool experience. I spent hours upon hours with them, being a part of their lives, struggling to teach reading, math, grammar, writing, and history, just like you. I had to figure out how to balance our lives, and incorporate art, music, and nature, too.

Even more, the projects we did together have formed the basis for the products and classes Brave Writer offers. In fact, Liam said to me once that it is odd to read Brave Writer materials; it’s like reading a journal of his childhood. My family loves it, for instance, when we see your families create fairytale and homonym books, because we still have ours and we get a kick out of seeing how you do them, too. I email them to my adult children or show them your projects when they come home for a visit.

It’s just what I wanted to do, is all.

Some of the most well known curriculum creators have never homeschooled their kids. For those who are homeschooling, it is often the husbands who build the companies and travel to conventions while their wives provide the children’s education. I met one writing company owner who told me he had been to 26 conventions in a year (that’s one convention-one city!-every other weekend). Another well-known curriculum writer hires a tutor to homeschool her children so she can be free to write books for her homeschooling business.

I do understand this.

My friend and I used to joke. She ran our homeschool co-op, and I ran Brave Writer. She would say, “Our work would be so much easier if we just didn’t homeschool.” True!

But I did homeschool. For 17 years.

I’m glad I did. It helps me be a better homeschooling business owner, even if our growth has been slower than it might have been. I hope you will always share your struggles and experiences with me. They help Brave Writer be more responsive to you.

I look forward to meeting a slew of you over the next several years (particularly this year at our first ever Brave Writer Retreat in June!) now that I have time to travel because my kids are grown.

I just thought you might like to know how I made my decisions and how Brave Writer evolved. But I’m here now, all dressed up and ready to come out and play with you!

Hope I see/meet/hug many of you soon!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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You are smart enough!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Afraid of MathImage by Jimmie

I remember when Noah was in the 4th grade, his math text had a lesson about fractions: dividing them, multiplying them, adding and subtracting them. I looked at the page and panicked. I couldn’t remember a single thing about fractions—except they had confused me as a girl, and I resented the United States of America for not going on the sane metric system like they had promised back in 1975!

I stared blankly at the page. Nothing. Not a thing. I had no idea how to find a common denominator, or when to flip the fraction, or how to reduce the overgrown result once you got past the equals sign.

I was 35 years old.

My father’s voice rang in my head: “The only true intelligence is mathematical intelligence” shared with me after I had earned straight A’s in English, Social Studies, Spanish, Science, and Acting.

He didn’t mean any harm. I think he really believes that to this day, though he always approves of my work and was proud of my good grades.

Still, I managed to bungle math so many times, my Algebra 2 instructor suggested I quit at the semester. He bargained, “I’ll give you a B if you drop the class. It’s torturing you and I don’t want you to harm your GPA for college.”

Needless to say: my confidence in teaching math to my kids was low.

I used Cuisinaire Rods in the early years to help them understand multiplication, only to realize with astonishment: “Did everyone know that four groups of four makes sixteen? How had I never learned that?!”

Oh I knew my times tables. I just didn’t understand them.

I had not comprehended multiplication—the basis of it. To me, it was a set of memorized magic—tables of numbers associated with each other for inscrutable reasons. I never quite grasped the fundamentals: multiplication meant multiples of the same thing. Mind Blown!

How had I missed that? With the endless tutoring, teacher help, textbook study, math labs, and a father with an engineering degree, how had I missed the primary structure of multiplication? Why had no one made sure I had got that much? Perhaps because it was so obvious to everyone else, it didn’t seem possible that it was not obvious to me?

I don’t know. But what I do know is the day I had an epiphany about the times tables is the day I began my true math education. In my thirties. With four children and a baby on the way.

So when faced with fractions, I took the book, excused myself to the garage, and sat on the concrete floor playing with the rods and making myself understand fractions. It took me a bit of time, but not that long. After all, I had been baking, cooking, and quilting for a decade and a half. I had familiarity with fractions even if I didn’t understand how to use them in mathematical equations.

Understanding returned; or rather, grew! I saw what had eluded me in my grade school days.

I re-entered the house armed with the information, and now, understanding, that would enable me to teach Noah. He learned it all easily. Then he said, “So basically what you are saying is that I need to learn fractions now because we use them in school, but adults never need to use them, right? Because you didn’t understand them until a few minutes ago…”

Ha! Caught me. Made me laugh. I explained my profound lack of skill in math and how it had hampered me from many possible career options, and had made some of the work I do difficult as a result. But I resolved now that we learn together.

I never did become a fabulous math teacher to my children. Yet they have all surpassed my impoverished skills. I made sure they had tutors or went to classes at the local public school for higher math. Each of them has shown an aptitude far ahead of mine. But then again, they each had individualized help to catch those oversights before they mushroomed. They didn’t live under the wrong impression that true intelligence was only found in mathematics.

There is no subject area you can’t learn along with your children. I had a friend who was bilingual in Spanish and English, but without a good working knowledge of written Spanish or English. She hired a tutor…for herself! And learned. Then taught her kids.

It can be done. You are now an adult, with far more experience, patience, and mental agility than when you were 10, 12, and 16. What you missed before can be learned now. At the very least, you can ensure that your children have the chance to understand what was inscrutable to you. Take the time to find the tools that bring you understanding, not just information or practice sheets.

Then share them with your children and continue to advance your own understanding. You are smart enough. You are committed enough. You love your children enough. There are tools and helps enough.

Enjoy your educational renaissance!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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