Christmas Eve

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**It is Christmas Eve, I am sitting under a warm blanket amidst a relatively clean home, and I don’t quite know what I want to say, and yet I am here writing.  There’s laundry and final shopping and such, but a quiet house, rain on the windows, and a sleeping dog are much better calling cards.**

Facebook has been active lately with all types of posts.  But a few are standing out.  One was a working mother with two boys stressing over her lack of baking.  Another was a shared article about a mother struggling with family Christmas cards after the death of a son.  Another, a woman struggling to get through the holidays for the first time without her mother.  And then, finally, the lyrics of some song about the birth of Christ.  

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

~Andrew Peterson’s Labor or Love

All of this out there for the taking on Facebook.  It made me do a double take.  We talk about the happiness of this season, with the wrapping and the presents, the giving, the acts of kindness, the children, the candy, the pictures, the Christmas Eve services and holiday clothing.  The tree.  And popcorn.  And good food.  And prayers.  And a cute Nativity set out on the foyer entrance table.  

So when a person doesn’t feel that happy, that excited, that giving, that pleased with the whole red and green season, it seems wrong.  We have been taught that Christmas is a happy time.  Advent is the dark before the light.  But Christmas, well, it is a celebration.  Of Light that has come into the world.  So we should be happy.  Grateful.  Reflective.  Prayerful.  Children should be cute.  Adults, blessed.  And if we aren’t feeling it, something is wrong with us.  We aren’t getting it.

But what if the ones not in the mood are the ones that truly do get it?  Christ did come, and we are grateful.  But he came because the world wasn’t right.  People were struggling.  Darkness prevailed.  It wasn’t happy, happy.  And his birth wasn’t cute.  It was painful and dirty and bloody.  And the momma was most likely not quiet and pretty and the daddy was quite honestly, probably, feeling a bit overwhelmed at the destitute situation.  And though Jesus was “the Light” in the world, the whole world didn’t get that memo the moment his head crowned and Mary screamed.  Yes, screamed.  In pain.  

So those feeling loss and ache and emptiness and overwhelm and stress and anxiety and loneliness. They are the ones that may be getting what Christmas is for.  Christmas is a hope that those feelings may pass.  It isn’t some immediate solution.  It is just a hope.  Hope for better.  Hope for love.  For good memories.  For peace.  For breathing without a boulder in the throat.  For less ache and tears.  For acceptance.

Christmas is hope – and God’s promise.  And we know the whole story.  God knew when he sent Jesus that Jesus would die a gruesome death.  He was setting into motion our salvation and His sacrifice.  Again, I am guessing if God was human, he’d have some conflicting feelings.  Baby, yay!  Assured gruesome, painful death, boo!  I mean, yes, Christmas is a celebration.  Feeling overwhelming gratitude and happiness and a little buzz from the eggnog is a good and normal reaction.  

But so is the opposite.  Those feelings are normal too.  I feel comfortable saying that I guarantee God gets it.  

Whole point of Jesus, actually.  

So those of you in the moody pew or sitting at home not feeling the Spirit, know that you are not alone, you are normal and justified in those feelings, and that there is Hope.  There was Hope when Mary screamed, and there is still Hope today.  

**And just for the record, I have not sent out Christmas cards in years.  Gave up.  Too hard.  Baking, well, yeah.  That was my mom’s thing.  I have tried, but I am not her.  She was Superwoman of the Christmas cookies, and I did not inherit that power.  Presents, nope, not wrapped.  Me? Still sitting here under this blanket.  Family?  At Waffle House because Clif bars aren’t enough for breakfast.  And tonight for that big meal?  Can’t eat at the dining room table because I have yet to give up on some pitiful attempt to put together a yard sale that started gathering in that room three months ago.  So we’re having soup in the kitchen.  After my kids play their parts in a play that the church is putting on, which we found out about after soccer season when we showed back up again.  Yep.  Going to do some laundry now.  Grateful I own all that dirty stuff, too.  There are kids in Africa with less.  Seriously.**

Homeschooling 101: Socialization

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What about socialization?

“Homeschoolers are just a bit weird.  The one that lives next door to me is odd.  I worry he’s not going to be able to make it in the real world.”

Please stick with me for a minute….thinking back to the good old days when you, the reader, went to high school – was everybody normal?  Can’t think of one single different kid?  Nobody struggled to make friends, relate to other peers, or fit in?  High school was great and fantastic and socially healthy for all involved?  Hmm?

Maybe, the weird homeschooler that lives next door would be that weird public school kid that gets taunted by bullies and whispered about by girls passing by.  Maybe he or she would be the kid eating lunch in the bathroom stall to avoid sitting alone in the corner of the lunchroom.  Maybe, just maybe, he or she is weird no matter where he or she learns.  But either way, I am guessing lunch is a lot more pleasant at his or her own kitchen table, and he or she is probably able to better concentrate on his or her studies since the bullies aren’t in his or her math class.

Now think about our real world.  Is it made up of groups of people all the same age?  At work, do you the reader raise your hand or ask permission to use the restroom?  Do you all go together at certain intervals throughout the day, while one of you monitors the stalls for misbehavior?  Do you eat your lunch in silence at a table full of coworkers, afraid that talking out loud may land you in trouble?  Do you work on your assignments based on a bell?  Do you switch to a new file every fifty five minutes regardless of the progress on the previous file?  Do all of you out there in this real world sit for seven to nine hours in a frenzied schedule of concentration?  See, I am not buying this idea that a public school is true preparation for the real world.  The real world actually looks nothing like public school at all.

But homeschooling, well…..

These students interact with the world around them every day while other students are sitting in classrooms.  Homeschoolers get together for activities and studies and projects all the time.  With over two million students roaming the US during normal school hours, there are no shortage of social opportunities from which to choose.  For example, in my county alone, I can name four different support groups, a teen group, a 4-H chapter with multiple homeschool club offerings, two football teams, a cheerleading squad, a choir, an orchestra, six co-ops, and even a few legal associations, all off the top of my head.  If I were to start a Google search, the opportunities would likely multiply, and this does not even begin to name the activities students seek out on their own, such as club sports, music lessons, and community groups.

More likely than not, homeschoolers have to prioritize their social schedule rather than seek it out.

Homeschooling 101: The Truth in Numbers

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Based on information from the U.S. Department of Education, about 2 million students are homeschooled.  If you ask the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), they will tell you the numbers are possibly even higher.  But regardless, homeschooled students make up almost four percent of the current school age population , K – 12th grade.

***Also, let me define “homeschool”.  This is a student that does not attend a brick and mortar school setting and does not depend on any public funds, be it federal, state, or local education funds or any tax payer provided resources.  “Homeschool” does not include online charter students that are still funded by any public money.***

Therefore, there are even more than two million students outside of a traditional school setting that are not attending a private school once online and charter schools become factored.

Now, let’s talk money.  The families that choose to homeschool their children do so out of their own finances, saving the U.S. approximately $16 billion each year.  In fact, in my home state there were 15,826 homeschool students this past school year (2013-14). Let’s assume the state government alone puts in $10,000 per student (it is really a little more, but I rounded down to the nearest thousand); that means that if all the homeschooled students in my state suddenly showed up at the doors of the local public school, it could cost the state tax payers $158,260,000.  That is not figuring in county money, district money, or extra federal funding provided.  Let me be the first to break the news to those not in the know….in my little rural, poor town, even a fraction of that number up there would break the bank.  The schools are poor with what they’ve got, and if we showed up they’d end up destitute.

And yet, despite the state spending thousands and thousands of dollars per student, most homeschooling families do not spend anywhere close to that on educating their children.  Often the families are living on single incomes, expenses are tight, and budgets are a necessity.  The myth that homeschoolers are wealthy and very religious is just that – a myth.  The National Center for Education Statistics, as published at this site, found that while homeschool families are slighty less likely than the average population to be poor, they are more likely to be near poor or middle class.  Homeschool families are no wealthier than the average public school population.   And as for religious, well, while religion is one of the reasons people choose to homeschool, it is not the only one.  If we look at the numbers and see where homeschoolers are located, we notice a higher average of rural students in homeschooling than in public school, as well as more larger families of three or more children in a household.  But even at that, students are coming from all types of environments – city, suburban, rural, single parents, two working parents, large families, small families, etc.  So while religion does play a part in their decision to homeschool in many instances, convenience, flexibility, or poor public educational options are also common reasons as well.

So finally, this begs the question – But can homeschoolers graduate from high school?  Does Mom write up a transcript?  Is their education as thorough as a public education?  In other words, are they getting at a minimum what their public school peers are getting?  And the answer is yes.  Homeschoolers are getting what they need to succeed.  In fact, on average, homeschoolers score higher on standardized tests and go on to be successful college students and/ or involved members of our communities.

While this post highlighted a few basic questions, more information is available for those readers interested in comparison by numbers.  There is a fun chart here.  Also, for even more statistics on homeschooling, please click on the highlighted links in this post above.

Homeschooling 101 will continue in the next post with the question of socialization.

Mr. Jimmy

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Mr. Jimmy is my son’s banjo teacher.  We love Mr. Jimmy in a way I cannot easily express here on the written page.  The man is a what you are picturing “a banjo teaching Mr. Jimmy” to be.  He wears the same pair of jeans and the same t-shirt every week.  We named his t-shirt the Monday shirt because our lessons are on Mondays and he’s always wearing it.  One week we rescheduled for Thursday and Mr. Jimmy had on a different shirt.  No belt.  Hikes up those jeans every time he stands up.  Over 70 years old.  Has foot problems, so he goes barefoot in the house.  Dips.  As in keeps his spit can on the floor next to his chair so he can lean over and spit his dip juice from time to time.  Clean shaven and neat.  Hard of hearing.  Writes out music by hand – in tableture form – and gives it to my boy for practice.

Probably, just maybe, one of the best banjo players living currently.  Earl Scruggs is the Godfather of three finger picking.  Hubert Davis learned banjo from Earl Scruggs and Mr. Jimmy learned banjo from Hubert Davis.  Met Earl Scruggs.  Travelled the country.  Made it as a professional banjo player.  And now teaches little guys like mine in his old age.

The whole reason I am telling you about Mr. Jimmy is because of who he is to my sons.  Our lives are just better because of our Mondays with Mr. Jimmy.  Every week when I pull up in that driveway, Mr. Jimmy stands on his porch, waves to us, and yells out, “You bring me a banjo picker?  Is that my Kelly?  I ain’t heard no good banjo pickin’ since y’all left me here last week!”  And Kelly beams.

“Come play me a tune, Mr. Kelly Belly!  Those girls gonna be chasin’ you in no time!  Momma, those girls chasin’ Kelly here yet?  Gonna be no time at all, he gonna have ’em after him with his banjo pickin’.”  “How you doin’ Key (that’s my older son that comes to read and listen most weeks).  You doin’ all right?”

My boys look forward to seeing this man every single week because he is encouraging, respectful, and joyful to be around.  He shares music with these that will carry music into the next generations.  He builds them up. Engages.  Is present for them.  Shares wisdom through his interactions.  The man makes them feel good about themselves.  If only all teachers could do these things.

I mean, “You don’t want them gettin’ flusterated.  They won’t want to keep goin’ if it ain’t fun no more. Gotta give ’em somethin’ from the start to feel good about.  Start ’em with a song.  That way they can feel good and have something to play.  Those books, they start with all those scales and stuff.  It ain’t no fun.  And then they quit.  No, I want don’t want Kelly gettin’ no flusterated. He’s a right good little banjo picker.  Ain’t ya’ Kelly?  You a good banjo picker?  Course you are!”

I mean, is there a better way to start the Mondays?  I really don’t see it to be possible.

Especially if you’re Kelly.

Playing Solitaire

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I play solitaire every evening on the computer without fail.  I do this because I am fidgety by nature and yet I want to sit with my family at the end of our day.  They watch various television series on Netflix and I join in.  But my hands need busy work, I don’t know how to knit, I tried scrapbooking with little interest, and solitaire meets my needs.  Knitting might be healthier at this point, but another hobby would be overwhelming.

When I was younger, I learned several versions of solitaire from my mother.  My mother got her solitaire habit from my grandmother, so it is obviously a generational addiction.  The four versions I still know in card form are Idiot’s Delight, Patience, Golf, and Triangle.  These are the names my mom called them – to computer addicts like me, similar versions are Pyramid, Klondike, Spider, Tripeaks, and Freecell.  Several websites provide online versions of many different types of solitaire. Idiot’s Delight I have never played in computer form.

Now, in all fairness, there are benefits and drawbacks to solitaire, just as there are in many aspects of life.  The game in any form, cards or computer, can increase brain activity, help retain memory as we age, decrease stress, soothe emotion, promote simple thinking skills, and introduce ordering.  In computer form, it has been used as part of installed operating systems to help people frightened of computers learn to use the mouse, dragging, clicking, and highlighting items on a screen.  Yet solitaire is addictive.  I was teasing a bit earlier, but in all fairness, computers and gaming can be a true addiction and solitaire is not immune to this problem.  Many workplaces have even removed the game from their systems in order to reduce the number of hours employees waste playing the game.  In other words, use solitaire for fun and for its benefits, but be aware of its addictive nature.  For the purpose of using it as an introductory math game, I suggest the tactile function real cards provide.

Below are the rules for three versions.  I copied all of the rules from http://www.solitairecentral.com  This useful website has many other ways to play these games as well.

Rules for Idiot’s Delight:

Idiot’s Delight is a standard solitaire, described in most solitaire references. Its more proper name is “Aces Up”, but it’s also known as “Aces High”, “Four Aces”, “Firing Squad”, and “Drivel”.

The game is begun by shuffling a standard 52-card deck, and dealing the first four cards face-up in a row, forming the tableau. The remainder of the cards are dealt face-down into a single stock pile. The initial layout looks like this:

Idiot's Delight initial card layout

Where the “S” is the stock pile, and the “T’s” are the first cards of the tableau piles.

Play

The object of the game is to remove cards from the tableau, until the stock is empty and only the four aces remain.

Discard any card that is lower than another card of the same suit. Cards are ranked A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2, with Ace high and 2 low. When no more cards can be discarded, deal another four cards from the stock to the tableau. At this point, only cards that are fully exposed are available for play. If a space is created in one of the tableau piles, any other tableau card may be moved into that space. If you’ve emptied the stock, and only the four aces remain, you’ve won!

Rules for Golf:

Number of Decks: 1 (52 cards)

Alternate Names: Fan Tan, One Foundation

Initial Layout: Begin by dealing 35 cards to the tableau, as seven piles of five cards each, spread out vertically so that all cards are visible. There is a single foundation pile beneath the tableau, and one card is dealt to it to begin the game. The remaining cards form the stock, and are held in a single face-down pile next to the foundation.

Object: The object of the game is to move all of the cards from the tableau to the foundation.

Play: The foundation may be built up or down regardless of suit. Only the top card of each tableau pile is available for play. The king ranks above the queen, and is a stopper, unable to connect to either a queen or an ace. You may not build “around the corner” from ace to king.

When you’re unable to make any more moves, turn over the top card of the stock and place it face-up on top of the foundation pile, then once again make any moves available on the tableau.

If you’re able to remove all the cards from the tableau, the game is won (whether or not any cards remain in the stock).

Scoring: Golf solitaire is often played for points. A player scores one point for each card remaining in the tableau after the stock is exhausted. If you manage to clear the tableau, one point is deducted from your score for every card left in the stock. A game is nine “holes” (deals). Par for each hole is 4, so a score of 36 or less is better than par.

Tournament Golf: This is Golf solitaire played head-to-head, by two or more players. Each player has their own deck, and plays their own 9-hole game of Golf. Whoever has the lower score at the end of nine rounds wins the match.

Rules for Klondike:

Number of Decks: 1

Alternate Names: Canfield, Chinaman, Demon, Fascination, Small Triangle

Initial Layout: The tableau consists of seven columns, with the first column containing one card, the second column two cards, the third column three cards, and so on. The top card of each column is face-up; the remainder of the cards are face-down. The 24 unplayed cards are left face-down to form the stock.

Object: The object of the game is to move the four aces, as they appear, to the foundations, and build each up in suit from ace to king (A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K).

Play: Turn cards face-up from the stock three at a time onto a waste pile. The top card of the waste pile may be played onto the tableau or foundations. Likewise, the top card of each tableau pile is available for play onto the foundations or another tableau pile. Cards within the tableau may be build down in sequence and alternating color. A sequence of cards may be moved as a unit from one pile to another. When a face-down tableau card is exposed, turn it face-up. If a space is created in the tableau, it may only be filled with a king. The stock may be recycled from the waste pile when it becomes empty. The game ends when either all foundations are filled (in which case you’ve won), or when no more moves are possible (or when the only possible move is to recycle the stock). In this case you’ve lost.

A slightly easier version of the game allows you to pull cards from the stock one at a time (rather than three at a time). In some versions of the game, this also limits the number of redeals you’re allowed (usually to two).

Source:  www.solitairecentral.com