Togas in the Backyard

Dorothy GillI must confess: I’m not a particularly energetic, clever or imaginative homeschooler. I just have attitude. 

And while I’ve been at this for over 20 years, like the Velveteen Rabbit, I sometimes sit still in the bracken of stacked teacher’s manuals and hope that the other homeschool moms won’t notice.  As they hop sideways, on their hind legs and whirl round and dance, I am longing to join them, but am keenly aware of my lack of artistic legs.   So while scope and sequence recommendations and Common Core standards do not intimidate me, I have always longed for the creative flair.   

Above all, teaching history requires imagination.  While I generally detest for-classroom text books with their “read the chapter, answer the questions approach,” left to my own devices I can never seem to fully launch into the “living history” method that homeschooled kids love.

This is where belonging to a homeschool support group really pays off.  With all sorts of talented homeschoolers —   left-brain, right brain, and menopause brain — you are sure to find people who will complement your strengths, compensate for your deficiencies and create magic for your students. 

Ancient History assignments had my kids merrily creating maps, time-lines, poetry, vocabulary or costumes for the Big Day. We recited the bloody portions of “Horatius at the Bridge” (did I mention I have only boys?) 

Birthed in the crucible of necessity, the modern homeschool co-op harnesses this diversity (sorry, I usually avoid this word)  and yields a blend of arts & crafts, literature, research, home-ec,  drama, composition and public speaking — all rolled into performance art.  They don’t teach history to your kids, they invite them to discover history.

I experienced textbook-free, blended-age learning in an Ancient History co-op with families from Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, Oregon. My first clue that I was onto something special was my kids asking, “When do we get to go to co-op?”  They were actually begging to do history!  Soon, they became the enforcers of the schedule, hounding me for assistance as they prepared for the Big Day each week. The younger kids would listen to stories read out loud and maybe draw a picture while the older ones would work on reading a novel or encyclopedia article.  Their Ancient History assignments had them merrily creating maps, time-lines, poetry, vocabulary or costumes for the Big Day.

My math brain boggled at the cornucopia of offerings: carpentry, cooking, plays, painting, pottery, sewing, singing, sculpture, science, weapon making, architecture and games.   No one mom could hope to teach such a series of classes, and not collapse in exhaustion.  And yet, joined together, the burden was light as our kids experienced a culture distant in both time and space in a way that no text book could compete with.  It was memory-making magic.

pax1CONSTRUCTING CATAPULTS AND ARMOR TO DEFEND ROME FROM THE BARBARIANS: An Ancient History co-op in Portland, Oregon.

In studying Ancient Rome, we examined the five century development of the Republic and worked through the Pax Romana.   But instead of only reading, we immersed ourselves. Tarquin brutally ruled over all in the household chores one day, which led to Brutus leading his overthrow, and the tension between the patricians and plebeians which led to a workers strike and no dishes getting done until terms of tribune representation were agreed upon.  We recited the bloody portions of “Horatius at the Bridge” (did I mention I have only boys?)  and constructed catapults and armor.

When our Ancient History adventure was over, we celebrated. The dads joined in, all of us wearing bed-sheet togas and declaiming in simple Latin.   We reclined in the backyard at our plywood table and guzzled grape juice “wine” from goblets as we were served by “slaves.”   We ate with our fingers off a common platter, dipping figs in honey and bread in olive oil.  

We will never forget these lessons and memories that our co-op adventures have brought us.  And while my legs remain as inartistic as ever, to my kids I am a dancing real homeschool mom.

The dads joined in, all of us wearing bed-sheet togas and declaiming in simple Latin.   We reclined in the backyard at our plywood table and guzzled grape juice “wine” from goblets as we were served by “slaves.”

pax2pax3ROMAN ‘SLAVES’ PREPARING FOR A BACKYARD FEAST: AnAncient History homeschooling co-op by parishioners at Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, Oregon culminated in a ‘feast’ for all who taught their kids about the legacy of ancient Rome.

 

by Dorothy Gill

Simple. Seasonal. Catholic.

For Sunday dinner after Mass, impress your friends and family with the real thing: New York Italian lasagna with roasted seasonal vegetables, smothered in Aunt Josephine’s sauce. This recipe is Mediterranean, low in polyunsaturated fats and vegetarian – not vegan – and extremely good for you. If you want to make it even more delicious … Read more

Ladies, We Are What We Cook

N ext time you find yourself terrifyingly bored at some de rigeur gathering – I’m talking bridal and baby showers, children’s birthday parties, Tupperware or the like – I’ve got just the thing to light a fire under the other ladies, guaranteed to instantly banish your boredom. (Ah, you say. Now, this is dangerous line … Read more

Running Around Europe

 

running1At age 30, you have already done quite a bit. Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in a military community — Clarksville, Tennessee near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  In 2000 I began at the University of Tennessee-Martin, where I was a ‘walk on’ to the Women’s Basketball program.  Immediately after graduating, I began Optometry school at Indiana University, on an Army scholarship, which left me with a three year commitment to the Army.  My military career therefore began with my residency program at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. In 2009, I moved to South Korea for my first “real” duty station. After a year there – with lots of travel through Asia — I was assigned to a clinic in Germany.

How did you start your love affair with running?

Running has always been part of my physical training for sports, but to be honest I historically saw it as a necessary evil.  I didn’t start running for pleasure until I was in Korea.  This all began because I have a problem saying “no”, when there’s something I can do to help.  The Army base staged races nearly every month, but participation was dwindling.  I was asked to compete in a duathlon, then a sprint triathlon, and then a half marathon.  At one point, my parents were in Korea for a visit, and I asked my dad — a long-time runner — to pace me for my first half marathon.  He reluctantly agreed.  I set a personal record on my first race that still stands.

When did you decide to run marathons?

Running a marathon had been on my bucket list for years: the only problem was that I really hated running.  Korea was a pivotal year for me.  I learned to actually enjoy running, and as an added bonus, it helped keep the weight off.

An American girlfriend in Germany convinced me I could really “do” a marathon.  So I set my sights on the Brussels marathon, just a couple of hours’ drive away. Now, I love Belgian chocolates, waffles, fries, and their amazing beer, so my reasoning was that running for a few hours was an easy trade off.  (You burn roughly 100 calories a mile, so 2600 calories for splurge food sounded good to me!)

What has been your favorite race in Europe? 

The US military sponsors the “Run to Remember” in Stuttgart, Germany. Special Forces organizes the race to honor all of our fallen brothers and sisters in arms since the start of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.  At the start of the race, the runners are called to attention, and the roll call of the fallen is read.  After that emotional start, we race through the forest, a truly challenging course which gives me perspective. It’s about not quitting and embracing the discomfort of a race, when there are others who have given the ultimate sacrifice.

My favorite experience was actually running the “Run to Remember” half marathon in the morning, then traveling 3 hours to run the Romantic Castle half marathon in the evening.  It was really a grueling day.  But the second was a much more forgiving course, and the people were very friendly. Plus, the view was fantastic — Neuschwanstein Schloss, the real “Walt Disney Castle” in the distance.

And your worst running experience in Europe?

My worst experience running in Europe was also the funniest experience.  I am not sure why Europeans like to dress in costume to run, but they really do.  A group of friends decided to run the Champagne Valley half marathon in medieval Rheims, France – the capital of the Champagne district.

I was warned there would be people in costumes, but that it nevertheless was a “serious” race.  At the starting line, we were amazed to see a complete hospital bed, including an “IV fluid pole” right behind us, with 8 or 10 “doctors” and one really small “patient.”

As we began to run, I was confused by the people carrying water bottles during a race. The reason for this dawned on me about four miles into the race, when we finally reached our first water station.  I realized that, when you run through fields, there aren’t really wide roads, or places to set up water stations.  In consequence, we would only have hydration stations when we were in the French villages.  (An important lesson learned: check the course map for hydration stations, and plan accordingly.)

Once I recovered from the realization that I was not going to have water regularly, my goal for the race shifted significantly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that in the last half of the race, champagne was served in the “hydration stations.”  In short, it was not a record-setting day, but it was an important lesson learned.

Doctor Julie’s Advice for New Runners

  • Get good shoes. They really are worth it.  Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or go to a specialty running store. 
  • Get cute workout clothes.  It’s not always about how good you run, but how good you look doing it!  You are more likely to get out there, if you have cute clothes to wear.
  • Just get going.  Walk, jog, run.  Some days are easy to run and others are a real challenge.  Not every day is going to be great.  Enjoy the good ones, but learn from your struggles.

What are European runners like?

Runners come in all shapes and sizes, physically, mentally, and socially. As for me, I am not out to “win” any race I enter.  The Europeans in my time category tend to be pretty jovial folks out for a nice little run.  Everyone has been very friendly.  Conversations can be a bit challenging, however, as typically English is not the primary language, and my communication skills are slight in other languages, but a smile sure goes a long way!

running2RUNNING THROUGH CHAMPAGNE: Dr. Julie ran a marathon through the famous vineyards of the Champagne region of France in summer 2012.

“Running is also a place for me to pray.  Sitting home and praying is a struggle for me.  Being outside and alone on a long run provides an excellent alternative.  I think the solitude of running is my favorite part.”

What does running do for you?

Running is completely addictive, once you get over the hump. However, starting a running program is in no way easy.  It takes dedication, but it can teach some very valuable life lessons.  Running allows time for me to be quiet, to put aside all the stressors of the week and just relax.  (The first few minutes are not quiet, as I am still huffing and puffing until my body realizes it is OK.)

What’s your next challenge?

I just completed the Berlin Marathon, and my new goal is to set a personal record in the half marathon.  I have not picked a race yet, but I am looking for a flat course in the Spring of 2013; my goal time of 1:45.

“Running a marathon had been on my bucket list for years; the only problem was that I really hated running. “

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BERLIN, GERMANY: Dr. Julie keeps the pace with other runners, as the sun pours through the famous Brandenburg Gate in the German capital.

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BAVARIAN DREAM: “During this race, the view was fantastic — Neuschwanstein Schloss, the real Walt Disney Castle — in the distance.”

running5TOWER BRIDGE GLOWS: Dr. Julie enjoys a night on the town in London.


 

Our Bodies, Our Souls

 

boyd1It is only in Christianity that we find the belief that each human person is a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal, body and soul.

For Christians, being in the body takes on profound and counter-cultural significance. To be in the body is to share an experience that our Lord understood first-hand. The body of Jesus is our perfect guide to the Body of Christ.

A subject this complex requires far more space than is possible in the context of an article. My goal here is to establish some basic considerations for further development regarding the health of body and soul, and the relationship between physical and spiritual fitness.

“Glorify the Lord in your bodies,” St. Paul wrote in Corinthians. The way we treat the body, then, is a visible witness of discipleship. Of course, a healthy body alone does not encompass the fullness of St. Paul’s teaching.  Many great saints have been afflicted with less than ideal health, and acceptance of illness can often be part of our spiritual journey.

How do health and fitness relate to our lives as Christians?

From its foundation in the Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity alone among religions has expressed the deep connection, and ultimately, the permanent unity of body and soul. New Age philosophies, which are modern variations on eastern spiritual traditions, attempt to link body, mind, and spirit, but it is only in Christianity that we find the belief that each human person is a unique, unrepeatable, and eternal body and soul.

Despite this eschatological belief in the union of body and soul, finding specifically Christian-based programs for health and fitness can be a challenge. Many Christians have gone outside the Church for easily and widely available eastern-based body awareness techniques, such as yoga and martial arts. At first glance, yoga practice, especially given its ubiquity in America today, seems relatively harmless. Many people practicing yoga state that they are doing it just for exercise benefits; the more one studies yoga, however, the more questionable that possibility becomes.

As a yoga teacher for nine years, before coming home to the Catholic faith, I understand yoga’s appeal. But these paths of self-discovery, and self-improvement through the perfecting of postures, can distract us from our larger purpose. Fr. Robert Barron made this point recently when he said, “The Christian spiritual journey is never primarily a journey of self-discovery…it’s a journey toward mission.” When we are converted to Christ, we now have got “the privilege of participating in God’s own life, God’s own purpose, which is to bring grace, joy, and life into the world.”

Jesus makes clear that there are times to feast and times to fast. We take pleasure readily in the feast, but without a period of fasting, what is there to make the feast day special?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIn the modern era, it is rare to find the practice of religion suggested as part of a fitness plan. Holistic medicine offers tips on cultivating mindfulness, but mentions nothing directly about worship.

And this is expressly not how our Lord conducted His earthly life. Jesus, who by any measure has to be one of the most fit persons in history, continuously prayed, and referred all His actions and efforts to the Father in Heaven. For Jesus, and for us, prayer is the most essential element of fitness.

What about exercise? The Bible speaks of good stewardship; we honor our Creator by taking good care of his creation. And we can look to our Savior. He walked everywhere. Walking is great exercise, free, and available to almost everyone. Pilgrimage, a long and noble tradition in the Church, has the added benefit of directly combining prayer with physical effort.

We know that physical exercise is valuable for bodily fitness; “fitness” relates to our mental and spiritual natures, as well. When we are physically fit, we have the strength and vitality to fight off pathogens more efficiently.  Mental fitness might be described as clear-headed thinking, being able to turn down the volume on personal neuroses and cultivate empathy. To be spiritually fit is to come through the dark night of the soul with one’s belief intact or restored.

In terms of diet, the foods mentioned directly in Scripture would be a good starting place. Even in biblical days, however, one would have to exercise the virtue of temperance. Saying no to excess food or wine at the table, for example.  Myriad habits can creep up on us so gradually they can feel entirely normal, and deviations to more moderate consumption, by contrast, odd.

Jesus makes clear that there are times to feast and times to fast. We take pleasure readily in the feast, but without a period of fasting, what is there to make the feast day special?

The Church long ago established every Friday as a fast day, and every Sunday as a feast day, corresponding to the day of Christ’s death and the day of His Resurrection. Even keeping this simple arrangement will help us focus more on what is and is not important about the food and drink choices we make. And as Catholics, we know that the Bread of Heaven itself, shared during Holy Communion is our ultimate nourishment.

This, from Corinthians, is an important reminder: “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.” We are not to become too satisfied or pre-occupied in our own flesh. When we are filled with worldly comforts or concerns, it is easy to overlook the Author of all our joys.

One of the great tools available to us as followers of Christ is to do what He did; that is, to fast. Fasting is powerful. It places our decisions and commitments above our impulses and habits. It humbles us, to realize how much of our time is spent chasing after transitory gratifications. It frees us from the grip of mindless repetitive behaviors. It corrects acedia, challenges our comfort zones. It awakens in us the deepest hunger, and takes us to a place of profound prayer.

The great season of Lent is the Church’s time of fasting — which isn’t simply “giving something up.” Fasting is a complete re-framing of our consumptions. What we choose to eat or not, drink or not, or take in via other sensory perceptions, all have a role in fasting.

boyd2Fasting is a complete re-framing of our consumptions. What we choose to eat or not, drink or not, or take in via other sensory perceptions, all have a role in fasting. 

St. Paul also states in Ephesians the important role each of us has in building up the Body of Christ, which is to suggest that as we are healed, we are to become healers. Being fit means we will have the energy available to give to others, to serve the purpose of building God’s Church, to have the stamina for the work of witness. As human beings, we are the crown of creation. And it gives glory to God for the crown to stay well polished — to shine the way He intends for us to shine.

The relationship of body and soul takes on special significance in the context of Christian community.  By comparison, eastern spiritual traditions describe the journey of the individual self toward enlightenment. The postures and meditation practices are all geared to help the practitioner reach this state. The goals are renunciation and non-attachment. There is no need for a savior because there is no one to save. And there is no particular need for community, either. Practitioners may find “community” in ashrams or yoga classes, but each person there is understood to be on a separate journey.

For the Christian, community is understood differently, beginning with the creation of Adam and Eve, symbolizing among other things, the unity of the human race.  The human journey continues through Abraham and his family, and through the new community founded at Sinai, Israel, and finally, more than a millennium later, through Jesus of Nazareth, who fulfilled Israel’s vocation to be the light to the nations, to gather all people into God’s House.

The disciples of Jesus will bear this message through the Church until the end of history. Community, therefore, is intrinsic to the experience of Christian life. Christ gives explicit instruction on the importance of love of neighbor, especially taking care of the least among us; there are the graces present when three or more are gathered in His name, and most profoundly, we have been given the commandment to celebrate together what Jesus accomplished in the Paschal Mystery: “Do this in memory of me.”

prayingAs a yoga teacher for nine years, before coming home to the Catholic faith, I understand yoga’s appeal.

The New Age enthusiasts have touched on something, though. The relationship of body to spirit is much more than incidental. Christians can honor the body through a program of health, fitness, and prayer, to increase physical and spiritual health, promote a deeper relationship with the Lord, and prepare our bodies and our souls for the life of the world to come. Our model is Christ himself. We should aim to make our earthly lives more like His: to pray, to fast, and to heal.

Our model is Christ himself. We should aim to make our earthly lives more like His: to pray, to fast, and to heal.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Losana Boyd is a writer and artist from New York, currently living in Florence, Italy, where she studies classical, realist painting. This article is excerpted from the prologue of her forthcoming book, “Our Bodies, Our Souls.”


The Homeschooling Goddess

Can You Homeschool?

by Dorothy Gill

You have no clue what it’s all about, or what a real homeschooling family actually looks like, but you’re pretty sure that they’re a strange breed of survivalist apocalypse- types who live off the grid behind their ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

After all, what else could possibly possess a family to say “no, thank you” to a free education provided just down the street, and instead take on the full-time responsibility of teaching their own kids — if it wasn’t for their paranoid anti-social tendencies?

You might be surprised to learn that the most frequently-cited priority of families who take this road less traveled is the happiness of their children.  I’m betting that you can relate to that one, so here’s a look at the top three myths about the whole homeschooling phenomenon.

MYTH #1: What about socialization?

If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  Or you have met them but did not realize it, because you were looking in vain for those rumored telltale socially-awkward clues.

As it happens, kids who do not spend the majority of their waking hours in the exclusive company of their peers end up being perfectly comfortable relating to and spending time with people of all ages.  (This is similar to what they will encounter in the real working world, after all, so you can rest assured that your kids will be well-prepared to take their place in adult society.)

If in fact you did notice anything unusual, it might be that you were surprised by the child’s polite, unaffected manner. Chances are you were greeted by name while being looked in the eye and offered a hand to shake — all from a smiling face that didn’t seem to hold you in any particular contempt for your adulthood.

Frequently, homeschooled kids’ self-confidence is not as vulnerable to pressure from their peers, and therefore they may well be more individual in expressing their style. This self-expression might manifest itself as anything from geek to fashionista, though chances are it will not mirror what you’d see on the local school grounds.

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 If you are asking this question, then you have probably not met many homeschooled kids.  

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You may also notice that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. This is because being able to use their time more efficiently, having access to home-cooked nutrition three times a day, adjusting their study schedule to accommodate their sleep needs, and the absence of the daily social ostracism, cliques and bullying which are huge sources of stress in the life of ordinary teens actually ‘dials down’ the usual teenage surliness.

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You may also have noticed that homeschooled kids are generally happy. Even the teens. 

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MYTH#2: Most people are not capable of homeschooling their children

If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to homeschool, there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: “Got kids?”  If you do, then you qualify. 

In fact, the education of children in the home, by their parents, in the company of their differently aged siblings, is the most natural environment for learning. 

There is no automatic barrier that materializes in the mind of a child at the age of 5 or 6 that renders void the parent’s heretofore competence in directing the child’s discovery of her universe.  And there is no ingredient more important in the education of children than love.  In this, a parent is more qualified than any credentialed stranger can ever be. 

By virtue of your vocation as a parent, you are already endowed with everything you need to successfully homeschool your children.

MYTH#3: Homeschooling means re-creating ‘school’ at home

‘Home education’ is a much better description of this work than ‘homeschooling.’  This is because schools are where you load a room up with same-aged children sitting at desks and attempt to teach them all the same thing at the same time. This requires text books that are designed to facilitate 45 minute instruction segments, punctuated by a bell.

There is no need to replicate this dubious environment at home.  With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.   And your local library, community center, the internet and the dozens of online curriculum providers will provide as much or as little assistance as you could possibly need. This approach accommodates any budget, and allows you to custom-tailor your approach to each child’s needs.

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 With education (as opposed to ‘school’) as your goal, you have access to the world as your text book and the rhythm of family life as your school bell.

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So, have the courage of your convictions. Turn off the TV and video games, harness your kids’ creativity, direct their natural curiosity and let the learning begin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dorothy Gill is the mother of four sons, ages 11 to 26 and she has been homeschooling since 1992.  She is active in her parish  and lives in Vancouver, Washington with her husband and three of her four sons.