Archive for the ‘Julie’s Life’ Category

Gold Star Story

Karen O'Connor

At the recent Brave Writer staff retreat, our instructors were asked to share their history with writing. Karen O’Connor (Write for Fun classes) told us this inspiring account.

Gold Star Story

by Karen O’Connor

“I sold it! I sold my article for kids,” I called into the bright morning sky from the balcony overlooking our backyard. “I am now a professional writer! And I can prove it,” I added waving the publisher’s check with giddy abandon.

Three birds perched on the telephone line overhead flapped their wings in a sudden flurry. “Thank you. Thank you,” I joked and bowed from the waist. The ‘applause’ died down and my feathered friends rested at attention. “It’s all up from here,” I shouted, and off they flew, self-appointed messengers of my glad tidings.

I leaned against the railing and breathed in the scent of spring. It was a solemn moment–and a grateful one. This was the ‘gold star’ I had reached for since I left the tender care of Sister Mary Pius, fourth grade teacher at Our Lady of Charity Elementary School. I could still picture that sweet old nun–not much taller than the boys and girls in front of her–pinning my prize-winning story to the bulletin board in the back of the room one sunny April day. “This is a gold-star story,” she said aloud, as she licked the small glittery sticker and placed it above the title line for all to see.

ON MY WAY

After school that day she called me to her desk, and in a tone that sounded serious to my little-girl ears, she said, “Karen, you’re going to be a professional writer someday.”

Then her eyes sparkled like the star on my story. She leaned forward and a soft smile broke across her wrinkled face. “That star,” she said, pointing in the direction of the bulletin board, “is just the first of many to come. Reach for those stars. Write the words God gives you.”

The whistle of the teakettle brought me out of my reverie and I stepped back inside my house. I sat down with a cup of Mint Medley, my thoughts and memories, the letter of acceptance from the editor of Crusader Magazine, a copy of my ‘sold’ manuscript, “A Trail of Tips for First-Time Campers,” and the check–for $12.50! I didn’t know what was ahead but I couldn’t imagine anything topping the wonder I felt in that moment. “It’s all up from here,” I reminded myself.

What I didn’t know at the time, however, was that to go up requires a lot more than simply hitching your dream to a star. Though it felt good to have my head in the clouds for a moment or two of celebration, I would soon discover that to earn the next gold star I had to plant my feet firmly on the ground. Even to go underground for a time–to learn my craft, to unearth the thoughts and ideas that are worth writing about, to mine my soul for the words God had for me, to experiment, to think.

And so I carried on bravely practicing, learning, and submitting my writing, selling articles and books and also receiving rejections from time to time. But that’s all part of the process of becoming a ‘brave writer’ for a lifetime.

Karen O'Connor with her granddaughter
With my granddaughter Mairin, age 18, at her high school graduation party.
I helped her with writing during a stretch of homeschooling in her early years.

Karen O’Connor is an award-winning author and speaker from Watsonville, California and teaches Write for Fun 1 and Write for Fun 2 for Brave Writer.

YouTube Videos: The Bogart Kids

YouTube videos: The Bogart KidsFrom left to right: Caitrin, Liam, Jacob, Johannah, Noah

It’s YouTube Thursday! The scopes released today feature the Bogart kids! Homeschool projects they did over the years are shared and then Noah, Liam, and Johannah are featured in broadcasts. There are also cameo appearances by Jacob and Caitrin. Enjoy!

Show & Tell: 17 Years of Great Successes and Epic Fails

Table Top Games with Noah

Here’s a list of all the suggested games!

You are the Blueprint PLUS Liam Talks about Video Gaming

Johannah and Noah: A Conversation about Homeschool

This periscope is in podcast form and can be listened to here.

And though Jacob and Caitrin have yet to be featured on Periscope, you can catch a glimpse of them at the end of the video where Cindy and the Brave Writer community shared a big surprise!

What on earth?! I’m being ambushed by Cindy!

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Deep investigation led by fascination

Deep investigation led by fascination

Shared this on BraveScopes:

Turner Classic Movies did a marathon of Emma Thompson films last night. We caught the end of “Much Ado About Nothing” (always a family favorite!) and then watched in full “Sense and Sensibility.” S&S will always be special to me. It was a breakthrough in my homeschool—an epiphany moment! I watched it, then I watched it with the kids, then I read the book, then I read some of it aloud to my kids, then I read Emma Thompson’s book where she writes about making the film and writing the screenplay (fabulous~!), then I read parts of that to my kids, then I discovered that she and the actors wrote each other letters in character to help deepen their acting, so we did that in our family.

Then I checked out the soundtrack to the music and we used it for our copywork time. It became my most checked out CD from the library in all the years I took the kids there (I never bought it—no money for that!). That soundtrack led to listening to soundtracks. This became a “thing” in our homeschool and to this day, Jacob still shares soundtracks with us (and his love of classical music bloomed as a result).

Finally, I received the DVD as a Christmas stocking gift one year and the Jane Austen set of novels (several times…haha).

I found myself watching all the Emma Thompson films, I became acquainted with Ang Lee films (he’s the director of S&S and so I watched “Eat, Drink, Man, Woman” –Chinese subtitles first, and then most of his films like “The Ice Storm,” “The Wedding Banquet,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Brokeback Mountain” [my favorite], and “Life of Pi”).

Because of S&S, I became familiar with amazing actors: Kate Winslet (before “Titanic”), Hugh Grant in a more serious role, Alan Rickman (RIP—Snape!), Hugh Laurie, Imelda Stauton, Greg Wise, and more. We found ourselves looking for more films that featured these actors, the director, and so on. I wound up reading “Emma” to Johannah at night before bed and she went on to write a novella set in the Civil War based on the story-line of Emma. Our Jane Austen love affair led to our Vintage Dance experience. Our enjoyment of Emma Thompson in “Much Ado About Nothing” fueled our Shakespeare habit.

I wanted to share this with you because as I was watching the film last night, this flood of memories came to me and I saw in a way I couldn’t while it was happening, the richness that came from one film, one deep investigation led by my fascination, my craving for romance and British accents, and great acting and writing.

This is what home education IS. Last night I missed it so much, it almost hurt. I beat back tears several times as the actors uttered lines that had become family favorites (Fannie is PRICELESS “I am the soul of discretion” and “I will be as silent as the grave” and so is Mrs. Jennings—”I’ll find something to tempt her. Does she like olives?”).

As you build your family lives, you are bringing a kind of education that DEFIES planning. Know what I mean? It’s the “way leads on to way” education.

Embrace it.

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

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!

Wistful

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.

BE THERE!

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,
Julie

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Image by Karen Roe (cc cropped, text added)