The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Ponderings (page 1 of 7)

Homeschool Reflections

We have been guiding our children’s educational experiences for 32 years. We have been (mostly) homeschooling for the past 28 years. It has been interesting to take time to explore the homeschool reflections for each of us. I know many folks who are considering homeschooling or are in the early years are worried about the long-term impact on their kids. I hope these summaries are of encouragement!

Our eldest daughter CM started me down this road of retrospection with a post she made on Facebook recently. She told the following story, followed by a comment thread discussing her homeschool experiences. She wrote: “I laughed when I read the news today about a kid who finished his remote schooling by 9am, frustrating his working parents. For a while, my brother woke at five, carefully finished all his homeschool readings, writing assignments, and tests, and then sat there calmly eating cereal when I awoke at eight. He grinned at me because *he* was done for the day, and I hadn’t started.”

family history, homeschool reflections

Thoughts from Parents

We never set out to teach our kids at home. Even after starting to homeschool, it has remained a year by year, even semester by semester decision based on what we thought was best for individual children and for the family as a whole. If you had told me that we would still be doing this almost 3 decades later, I would have said you were crazy!

When we were in the middle of this adventure, I was uncertain, frustrated, and overwhelmed at times, just like every mom. As the primary “teacher,” I was sometimes impatient, occasionally demanding, and often too lax, depending on the moment. I regret the times I misunderstood or overlooked struggles and wish I could go back and give each child better life skills to deal with those things. Overall, we hoped our kids would become avid learners, independent thinkers, and successful adults. So far, that has been true for the grown kids, with just one still at home.

From our vantage point today, looking back, we see the benefits of homeschooling. Our kids had longitudinal relationships with their siblings and each one’s learning was influenced by the interests and activities of the others. Freedom was a constant—identifying passions and not accepting “rules” as barriers; allowing flexibility in schedules and choice in activities; and helping each child learn within their strengths and (hopefully) cope with their challenges. For me with my nomadic heart and love of outdoors, homeschooling also allowed our family to wander during less busy, non-traditional-vacation times of the year.

As we talked about our homeschool reflections, my husband noted that the passions each child pursued in middle adolescence can still be seen in the work or hobbies they pursue today. I wonder if this would still be true if our kids had been focused on friends and busy with succeeding at traditional mass education during those formative years.

There are plenty of stories written and shared by parents. What follows is the summarized comments gathered informally in conversation with each of our now grown children. I asked them to share what they remember as being effective, enjoyable, or memorable about their homeschooling journey. I also invited them to share what was difficult. For the most part, the ideas are theirs while the writing style is mine. These snippets were fascinating to me… hopefully they are encouraging to you, as well!

CM – eldest daughter, our “guinea pig”

We started homeschooling when this child was in third grade. In her teen years, CM was interested in research, cultures, and costumes. A summer in Central Asia reinforced these interests. Today she is a University Anthropology Librarian, still fascinated by travel and studying other cultures.

The most memorable [thing] for me was probably in high school when I was challenged to write out a light curriculum — e.g. to research and put together a sequence of learning activities to teach my siblings about Inca, Maya, and Aztec societies. I seem to recall looking at the learning exercises we had for other topics and then researching these settings to see how I could create games and exercises to teach others. It stretched my brain in a new way, which is probably why I still remember it.

I also appreciated homeschool groups where we could learn from different adults, and do presentations / activities with kids in other families. I guess that while on the one hand I was an independent learner who could be impatient with others, looking back I also appreciated seeing how others were doing and how they approached learning.

Both had me reflecting on my own learning in relationship to others, which might have been why they made a more lasting impression than all the other information absorbed / papers written.”

RK – eldest son, 16 mos younger than his sister, a fellow “guinea pig”

We brought this son home from public school the year after his sister. Because I couldn’t bear the thought of teaching him the exact same third grade curriculum CM and I had just finished, that second year of homeschooling I taught fourth grade to both of them while chasing their younger siblings. In teen years, RK was a “Renaissance Guy,” diving deeply into a wide array of passions and activities. RK just completed his PhD and is job hunting—hoping to find a career which allows him to synthesize his many interests under the umbrella of political theory.

RK comments that “self-directed education worked really well for ME, but I wouldn’t recommend it for very many others” who might not get a well-rounded education. He preferred to get up by 6 am when it was quiet so he could do his work away from others. He remembers that every time we went to the library, the kids were urged to choose books that caught their attention. RK says this reinforced and strengthened his innate wide range of interests.

RC – second son, third child, helped “break the mold” for his younger siblings

Of all our kids, RC spent the most time bouncing between homeschool and various types of formal school settings. We weren’t yet comfortable with a significantly alternative, interest-led course of study, so it was hard to meet his needs for action and kinesthetic learning. RC frequently created his own hands-on projects to reinforce what he was learning. In addition, he spent time with mentors to learn auto mechanics, auto body repair, home maintenance, and woodworking while in high school. Today RC has moved into management, doing workforce (data) analytics (a different kind of hands-on work). He has a full woodshop in his garage and enjoys the occasional project as a hobby.

RC points out that a significant benefit of homeschooling is learning in a way that is appropriate for the developmental level of individual students. He gave the example of being allowed to HATE math and quit after he completed Algebra. Because he wasn’t forced to continue, he came back to it when he was ready and now has a heavily math-focused career. At the same time, RC notes that it is important to have rigor in certain subjects. He says that one of the most important things in ANY education curriculum is writing. He points out that getting good at writing allows and prepares you to voice your thoughts and defend your thesis with supporting arguments. Both math and reading are significant for critical thinking.

RC argues that a love of reading is the third pillar of a strong educational foundation. For him, homeschooling allowed the flexibility to fundamentally enjoy reading while absorbing new things. He says reading needs to be both a passion and a tool—neither of which will happen if reading is simply an assignment followed by writing reports or taking tests for no clear reason.

RC also has some helpful observations about the potential risks of homeschooling. He has seen peers who went off the rails when they hit college—having been overly sheltered from both society and relationships while homeschooling. In addition, RC comments that schooling students effectively is hard, trying to find a balance between being too aggressive/pushing too hard for excellence versus being too lax with expectations. This is difficult enough for teachers in schools. For parents, it is even harder trying to find a healthy balance for education while being both parent and teacher. He sees co-operative teaching models for homeschooling as an effective way to make this juggling act more sustainable.

JT – second daughter, fourth child, solidly in the middle of the family

JT attended the local public school for 3rd grade. By the end of that year, she saw reading as a dreaded chore. It took her a few more years before she started reading for pleasure again. Seeing how mass education killed her love of learning reinforced for us the significance of interest led learning in homeschooling.  In her teen years, JT discovered falconry. Over the years, she volunteered for raptor rehab centers in many different locations, including spending time at a falconry centre in England during high school. By the time she was ready to apply for college, we had finally learned to present our homeschooled kids as unique individuals with broad interests rather than cookie-cutter clones of the traditional education system. After college, JT considered becoming an avian veterinarian, but decided to pursue a degree in Pharmacy instead. I suspect birds will again be part of her life as a hobby in the future!

As she shared her homeschool reflections, JT remembers our focus as a family on big over-arching projects with lots of smaller interest-led projects done by individual siblings. She comments that this worked well with how she has learned ever since: as a pattern learner she does best when she can interact with both the big and the small parts of a subject at the same time.

JT points out that she has much more vivid memories of the major projects we did rather than any of the school-type learning she covered. As she says, it was also much more fun showing off these projects to others! Memorable units for her included mapping the Solar System in our street (and eating yummy food at our celebration party!); writing our own Magic School Bus book about the Mayan world, and studying Conquistadors and Explorers during the fall we lived in Florida. She also enjoyed the years that we frequently went to COSI (the local science center) when her older siblings volunteered there each week.

JOE—third son, fifth child, “bridge” between the “big kids” and the “little kids”

Like his eldest brother, JOE tended to dive deeply into interests, then move on to other things. He was a competitive Figure Skater, a year-round sport which consumes many hours per day for practice. Homeschooling was ideal for fitting learning into this demanding schedule. By the time he was doing school, we were fully focused on individual, personalized learning. He spent free time playing an online game and taught himself Spanish so he could play on that server. He refused to do much math, until his mid-teens when he moved through algebra to calculus in just a handful of semesters. Sadly, he died when he was not quite 16 years old.

family portrait

JK – fourth son, sixth child, his role in the family often changed!

Because of the gap between the two groups of siblings, after JOE died, JK took on the role of older brother to his little sister. During his formative years, we were on the road: traveling across the USA and up to Alaska in an RV and living with the Navajo in New Mexico. He spent part of one year living in a remote area and helping to tame/train wild mustangs before we moved back to middle America suburbia.  JK chose to head back west for college. Today he is a technician in a BioRepository (archiving and preparing shipments of tissue samples for research). He is still a sojourner, not yet certain of his place in the world.

JK says that he thinks homeschooling was beneficial and helpful overall. He comments, “I could pursue areas I enjoyed, and it was focused toward my own learning pace.” He remembers so many good, wonderful experiences, including wandering the US and working at Mustang Camp.

JK observes that the homeschooling he experienced was different than that of his older siblings. Looking back, he notes that homeschooling contributed to some of the biggest challenges he has faced in life. He wishes he had learned and practiced stronger writing skills. He points out that “it was great to work within my strengths, but [we] didn’t push as much as I needed where I was weak.” And he found the social aspects to be challenging since we moved so often which meant he had less opportunity to learn and practice social relationships, patterns and skills.

AP – third daughter, seventh child – yep, she’s the “baby” of the family!

AP is 18 years younger than her oldest sibling and was born when both CM and RK were already in college. From a young age, AP has thrived on change and excitement and has enjoyed costumes, acting and roleplaying. She is highly intelligent but struggles with academics because of developmental disabilities. She was just 7 years old when our family began to wander. She prefers to be outdoors, including collecting Jr Ranger badges in National Parks and backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. She starts a landscape design program at the local career center this fall, hoping to eventually find an outdoor career in a park department or forest service.

AP explains that all the traveling we did in the RV, in Alaska, and in other countries “made me more interested and curious about history and the environment wherever I go.” She feels like homeschooling was helpful because if she had been in a regular school, we wouldn’t have been able to travel. She notes that the freedom she had with the family to personally wander and explore wouldn’t have been possible on school outings.

AP says sometimes she wishes she hadn’t been in public school for 6th and 7th grades. She hated the drama, bullying, and the resulting trauma she still deals with. But she also notes that this time taught her what school was like and it taught her how to find the good in other people. She summarizes her homeschool experience this way:

“I’m glad you did it! I would be a very different person now if I hadn’t been homeschooled.”

AP, our youngest child

If you identify with this lifestyle, I would love to hear YOUR homeschool reflections about the benefits and challenges of your education. Please share in the comments below…

For other information-based posts about homeschooling, please read 10 Myths of Homeschooling HERE and learn about getting started with homeschooling HERE.

Sunrise-Sunset (Part 1) — Seasons Change

Sometimes (many times?) nature beings are smarter than humans. Seasons change but the natural world just flows along with the changes. Trees don’t look back and wish they still had their bright colored fall leaves. Porcupines don’t look forward and wish it were already warm summer. Squirrels don’t look around and worry if they do or don’t have enough nuts stashed in their surroundings to get them through the winter. Too often, we humans find ourselves stuck, wishing for something that isn’t current reality. I know I struggle with this…what about you?

A year ago, I was finishing my training and practicum to become a certified forest therapy guide. I spent an entire day on the land, from Sunrise to Sunset, noticing what was happening in my surroundings, looking back at how I had reached that point, pondering what the future might look like as I worked to more deeply connect humans with the healing benefits of nature. (In the next few weeks, I will share some of the photos and lessons I found on that beautiful day.)

sunset over lake with reeds, nature immersion, forest therapy

All of that pondering and visioning did not prepare me for where I now find myself: in a difficult, winter season of dealing with a diagnosis of chronic cancer. I’m resting, grieving, and trying to accept this new reality. I find myself looking back, wishing forward, worrying about today, none of which is particularly helpful. I am aware that I need to find a larger framework in which to place this current difficult time. Changing seasons and swiftly flowing years tell me again and again to relax into the now, remembering that none of these challenges are forever…

My training as a forest therapy guide is personally beneficial. It reminds me to take time to sit with the land, to consider the lessons I can learn from nature beings. (For myself personally, I am grateful for a loving Creator who speaks to me through the nature I love!) As I look around me in one of my favorite places, I am encouraged to remember that seasons change. Unlike the lush green landscape of last summer, I now see dead grasses and thorny underbrush. I notice a few brown leaves still attached to branches and dancing in the wind. I sit beside the stream and listen to the flowing water. I see where banks have been more deeply carved by floodwaters. I notice water flowing through new paths in the jumbled rocks. These changes aren’t good, they aren’t bad. They just ARE. I realize I can choose to follow the natural world and flow along with the changes in my own life. I can look for the lessons and support for THIS day, in the middle of THIS season.

seasons change, winter, stream, dead leaves, nature immersion, forest therapy

For the past few days, I have been singing the chorus to “Sunrise, Sunset” from a favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

“Sunrise, sunset, Sunrise, sunset, Swiftly flow the years. One season following another, laden with happiness and tears.”

from “Fiddler on the Roof”

Sometimes it is helpful to look back toward “sunrise” – not wishing I were back in those days, but simply noting how swiftly the years have flown by. (My oh my we were babies when this song was sung at our wedding 38 years ago!) I think back on different seasons of life—preparing for a different career overseas; staying here in the same-old, same-old instead; homeschooling a large chaotic family; living on a tiny farm; travel and adventure on my own and with family; mentoring and encouraging folks on the margins; a son’s death and other children happily married. Heartbreak and celebration. Happiness and tears.

vintage wedding, love, seasons change, in the beginning

Just like the experience of nature beings, my life moves forward, day after day, year after year. Seasons change, bringing new challenges, new surprises, and new beauty. And I realize: I’m going to be okay. Sunset is coming…but not yet.

sunset over frozen lake, winter, seasons change, nature immersion, forest therapy

(Read other posts about TIME and CHANGING SEASONS)

Changing Season: which season describes YOUR life?

It’s autumn in Ohio and we all know what that means. The changing season brings leaves in bright red and yellow, cold blustery winds, humans wearing warm hoodies or jean-jackets and savoring mugs of hot cocoa and pots of spicy chili. It’s a time that writers talk about “letting go” or getting ready for winter or letting one’s true colors shine brightly. This year I’ve been thinking about different aspects of how seasons come and go. As I share my ponderings, I wonder where YOU might find yourself right now in life?

We live in a small town surrounded by hills and woods and rolling farm fields. Multiple times per week, I’m driving down country roads, taking daughter to lessons and youth groups in the city, creative classes and volunteer barn chores in the surrounding countryside. This year, in particular, I found myself taking photos of the fields, noticing the seasonal changes of planting through harvest for the soybean crop. As the noisy combines currently drive the rows up and down the hills, I realize there were changes all year long in the march toward harvest season. Let’s look back and consider the journey!

1—the year starts with EMPTY FIELDS:

farming, plowed field,

The dry land shows no signs of life, yet it is filled with possibilities. Winter is a time for farmers to stay inside, to dream of future harvests. Decisions are eventually made: this field will hold corn, that one timothy for hay, the other one soybeans. Soil is analyzed; equipment is serviced. Seeds are ordered; plans are made.

Disc Harrow, plowing, farming

The farmer was in the fields with his equipment a few times, getting the land ready for future use. She cleared the field: using discs to get rid of remnants of past crops and to smooth the dirt, breaking up clumps. He might spread manure over the fields during the winter to allow it time to build up the nutrient levels in the soil. As the weather begins to warm, the farmer starts walking the fields, eager for the land to thaw and dry out enough to get equipment in the fields to plow one more time before spring planting.

2—Spring brings NEW GROWTH (and challenges):

Farming, Spring, New growth

Finally, the waiting and planning and preparing is ended. This changing season is a hectic time of starting and stopping, waiting and watching for weather to cooperate, the freeze date to pass, the fields to dry out. After days and weeks of work, the various crops are planted. A faint haze of pale green appears across the empty fields.

spring floods, farming,

Some challenges to new growth can be overcome by the farmer: adding appropriate fertilizer, taking care of pest control. Winter was the time to consider these potential problems and make plans based on research and experience. Now the farmer simply carries out the plans already made. However, there are challenges the farmer knows may occur, but that are out of her control. When the weather is capricious, even the best preparations may not help. Drought or flooding destroy crops and stunt growth. Sometimes the farmer must start over and replant entire fields.

3—Time for LUSH GROWTH:

farming, summer fields, soy beans

Finally, the weather cooperates, the plants are strong, the pests are controlled, and lush growth occurs. The fields on my country drives are dark, brilliant green, crops thicker and taller each week when I drive past. The farmer no longer has a single focus on getting fields planted. Summer is a time for multi-tasking: paying attention to fertilizing, controlling weeds, prepping equipment for the next seasons. There is extra time for occasional fun with family and friends.

soy bean closeup, lush growth, farming

In this changing season, there is still waiting, but it is an expectant time. Growth is visible and plants are ripening with the promise of future bounty. It is a time to maintain what has been set in motion, to monitor how things are progressing.

4—LOOK AGAIN at colorful and bright fields:

golden fields, farming, soybeans

Late summer brings another changing season to farmers. The soybean fields are beautiful—with colorful contrast of bright yellows and greens. It is exhilarating for me to drive past this beauty, savoring the colors, looking forward to hot summer days soon changing to cool fall nights.

soy beans, ripening, dying, farming

But this is not yet time to celebrate. Look closer at those fields. This is a transition time: from lush growth to letting go of what is no longer sustainable or needed. The golden leaves that look so beautiful from a distance are filled with holes and tears. If the farmer focused only on those leaves, she would be disappointed at the apparent decline. But when he looks instead at the seed pods, he realizes a good harvest is coming.

5—now it’s time for a PAUSE:

dry fields, soybeans, farming, harvest time

Slowly, slowly, the bright colors fade, the plants dry out, the leaves wither and fall off. The countryside gradually turns from green to yellow to rusty brown. As eager as he is for harvest, the farmer must pause.

soybean pods, farming, harvest time

The farmer needs to wait for the seeds to be optimum for a good harvest—fully dry but still firm and plump in their pods. If she walks into the field on a windy day and listens, the seeds should rattle in the pods. After nine months of waiting and dreaming and planning and working, it is almost time…

6—CHAOS & NOISE are not always bad!

Harvest Chaos, Farming, Noisy Combine

It’s time! It’s time! The farmer gives a final push—coordinating support and helpers, working round the clock, doing whatever it takes to finally gather the crops. No time to celebrate now! This is loud, messy, chaotic work. The neighbors might not be happy, but the farmer knows this apparent disorder is actually the culmination of the changing seasons of farming: it’s harvest time!

7—the year ends with EMPTY FIELDS:

Country Road, Farm field, Farming

After the harvest is over, the once lush, colorful, thriving fields are left with bits and pieces of stubble. There is a sadness that the growing season is over. The fields look desolate with no crops or movement. But in the farming community, this apparent barrenness is a time for celebration! The harvest is gathered. The hard work has been rewarded. Later it will be time to look back and analyze what went well with this year’s changing seasons of farming and how things can be improved for next year’s projects.

What about YOU? What changing season are you in? Where are you in the process of moving out of the old ways, stepping into new things, fostering a new stage of life?

As I ponder these seasons in a farmer’s year, I realize there are similarities to my own life. These micro-cycles of changing seasons apply to child-raising, finishing college, starting a new business, embarking on adventures… I wonder how they might apply in your life?

Over and over, I have empty times which eventually lead to considering future possibilities, dreaming and planning. There are the early stages of any new endeavor, plans which were so exciting but always seem to move so slowly in real life, challenges that cause me to reevaluate. Once I get through those roadblocks, life often flourishes, with growth and promise of success. I love the colorful season, so fun and quirky! (But it’s hard for me to remember this, too, is transient.) Then pausing, waiting, watching to see final results. (I HATE this stage!!) Finally, the goal is fully met, the “harvest” occurs! (the kid is “launched,” the degree is completed, the business is gaining recognition, the epic adventure is completed…) YAY! Success! But then…a down time, wondering if it was worth all the hassles, pondering what might possibly come next.

It helps to remember the story of the farmer’s fields on my countryside drives. Whatever season I’m in, it’s gonna be okay…

Can a Health Crisis Be an Adventure?

You aren’t imagining things. I indeed disappeared from the world for a month or so… I’ve had an unexpected health crisis and am slowly recovering. I’m finally clear minded and more even-keeled emotionally. So, while I spend much of each day physically recovering on the couch, I have plenty of time to ponder. Since I write about epic adventures, I’ve been wondering about the similarities and differences between a health crisis and an adventure…

Rather than leave you wondering, here are the basics before we move on to consider adventures. I had some slightly out-of-the-ordinary female symptoms for a number of months. My doc and I were quite comfortable just monitoring the situation with no action needed unless things changed. Then in early October, I started having a bit of spotting and aching. Things progressed rapidly—within just two weeks, I had 4 visits to the Hospital ER, multiple tests including a biopsy, was admitted to the hospital on day 13 and had emergency surgery on day 15. Whew! This health crisis wasn’t just a roller coaster…it felt more like a powerful, fast moving hurricane. (And I have the bruises to prove I was in a battle…HA!)

vampires, phlebotomists

I wrote a blog post in March considering whether my daughter’s robotics team was an adventure. (You can read that discussion HERE.) When I look again at the criteria I laid out, I think this health crisis was close to being an (unwanted) adventure:

Personally Stretching and having an Uncertain Outcome: Definitely true! It’s fine when I CHOOSE to step outside my comfort zone. And I’m okay with trying something new even when it’s not clear how I will do. This time, however, I was given no choice. I dislike being sick and I hate feeling like life is out of my control. If I didn’t choose the risks, it doesn’t feel fair that I’m stuck in the situation. Maybe someday I will get better about accepting these unexpected challenges as part of life…

Requires Perseverance, Hard Work and Finding Appropriate Mentors/Information: In this case, I kept pushing hard to get medical providers to take the spiraling pain and increased bleeding seriously. I finally found a specialist who is amazing at listening, researching, and acting. Good thing I did—having a tumor turning gangrenous would have had a very bad outcome if treatment had been delayed! Even when I was curled up and crying with pain, I’ve learned to keep fighting. (Thanks, Appalachian Trail backpacking trips for helping me deeply internalize these lessons! Read a post about the challenges of a long-distance hiking trip HERE.)

Makes a Good Story Later: Oh, yeah. There’s an amazing surprise ending to this story! Even the doctor was surprised… (Scroll to bottom of this post for more details…) For now, I’ll just comment that even my daughter’s dog knew something was terribly wrong. For the past three weeks, she has been glued to me, cuddling beside or on top of me while I have spent most of my time on the couch. Now, however, I must be mostly cured—the dog is back to spending all of her time with daughter.

guardian dog, healing cuddles

BUT…was it an Adventure? My criteria for something being an adventure also includes it being an “enjoyable activity.” Nope, nope, nope! Even with my comfy blanket dragged with me to every hospital visit, this health crisis was in no way “enjoyable.” Thus, I vote that although it had some things in common, this emergency was NOT an “ADVENTURE.”

comfort blanket

However, when I take a further look at the introductory pages on my blog, I think this past month might well fit the definition of a “Big Epic” (which is a larger category than just adventures). This crisis was certainly a change from normal routines. And it was a life transition. (You can read more about these definitions  HERE.) I am learning (again) the significance of making time to rest. I am learning (again) to set aside my independence and allow others to help. And I am learning how much I LONG to get back outside and continue building my new practice as a Forest Therapy Guide.

I would love to hear about YOUR unexpected adventures and life transitions! Post a comment here on the blog or on my fb page

(FURTHER DETAILS: (Saga started in early October) Pain was caused by a large tumor. Miracle 1it was determined to be benign. Tumor became gangrenous so an emergency hysterectomy was scheduled (just two weeks after initial ER visit). Miracle 2after I was in the OR, the surgeon discovered that my body had already “delivered” the tumor on its own so no surgery was needed after all. With a more accurate biopsy of the tumor, the surgeon referred me to an oncologist because a very few of the cells were determined to be abnormal. I argued against a hysterectomy (after all, a miracle made the previously scheduled surgery unnecessary), but the oncologist insisted we schedule the surgery after all. I had outpatient “robotic” surgery (in early December, just two months after all of this began). Miracle 3during the surgery, a very small tumor was discovered, hidden in the far corner of the uterus. This was sent off for biopsy. When the results came back, it was a very rare, very aggressive form of cancer that is never found before it has spread throughout the abdomen and become a Stage 4 cancer. Miracle 4the oncologist said this cancer was never found so early. She called it a stage 1 cancer, although there is nothing in the literature about early stages.Miracle 5the treatment? A complete hysterectomy…which had already been completed! No further cancer treatments needed! (Monitoring for the next few years…) Neither surgeon can explain how this series of events happened. Both agree that I am more than lucky….and both are comfortable saying that my outcome is indeed miraculous!)

Dare to LIVE in Empty Moments

Every one of us will have empty moments in our lives, times of struggle, pain, or disappointment. But those empty moments do not have to define who we are. My son shared this poem with me a few years ago—discovered for a presentation he made in college speech class. It continues to resonate for me, in various seasons of life.

Right now, our family is celebrating joys, walking beside each other through challenges, and dealing with unexpected medical concerns. (Reasons why I have been quieter than usual on both social media and here on the blog. I’m giving myself grace to rest when needed…) I pulled this poem back out a few days ago to remind myself of the important things in life. Perhaps it will be an encouragement to you as well!

The Invitation (By Oriah Mountain Dreamer)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

Computer Geeks

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

OhioPyle State Park, PA

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

pallbearers for my dad's funeral

 

 

 

 

 

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

sunset at Nokomis Beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

Finding beauty in empty moments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”

Banff National Park, Alberta

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

Grandparents rule!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

Firefighters are heroes

 

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

college graduation, ODU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

pondering, nature connection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always treasure hearing the stories of others. I would love to (virtually) sit with you as you share about your empty moments. And I would love to (virtually) dance with you to celebrate the moments you feel truly alive! Please leave a comment below!

You can read a story from my grief journey HERE. Or read a story about fun times HERE.

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Growing into a Forest Therapy Guide

I admit it. I have a zillion interests to pursue and not enough time to chase them all. (Please tell me this happens to you also?!) As I’ve begun to talk about becoming a Forest Therapy Guide, I’ve gotten push-back from some family and friends. Over the years they have often asked if I’ve gotten “it” out of my system yet. They question how long I will stick with THIS interest. They mock me for never finishing things. This has been a challenge all the way back to my growing up years. (To be clear—I have other supportive family and friends who always cheer me on and love to hear about my latest adventures…)

For some reason, this latest round of criticism made me sit back and ponder. Is there truth in what they throw at me? Am I failing at the task of “growing up”? Do I NEED to pick one interest and pursue it single-mindedly? I know that is a common path for many people…but is it the right path for me?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.” – Gail Sheehy –

I had an “aha” moment while reading a book by Amos Clifford, the founder of one organization that trains Forest Therapy Guides.  He writes about different stages in his life being part of the whole of who he is. This helped me realize that the various interests I have explored over the years are all related. They are parts of my unique tree of life. Let me explain:

I am growing up from strong roots and a sturdy trunk into a forest therapy guide

I look back and see that foundational to everything I have pursued is a deep curiosity about the world. This began in young childhood when I wanted to know more about the people I met, the places we went, and the things I saw. (I probably drove my parents crazy by asking so many questions!) I have had a lifelong passion for exploring and learning.

When I was growing up, I became a Story Seeker. (I have written more about this HERE) I want to hear people’s stories. At first this story gathering was a way of feeding my own curiosity about the world. Gradually, I used what I was hearing to support my personal growth. Today, I know that sharing bits of those stories can be of great encouragement to others I meet. This has been a strong “trunk”—supporting everything else I do in life.

From the roots of curiosity and the trunk of gathering stories, I became a teacher. Sometimes this is a formal role (such as teaching cello to young students, becoming an instructor for National Ski Patrol or being a paid tutor in a Native American school). Other times this has been an informal role. Over the years, I continue to have a deep need to share what I learn with others.

As an adult, I have put out many branches. Some were tiny shoots that withered or broke off. Others have become solid parts of who I am. I am creative and express that originality through photography and art and painting and writing. I am a mentor, reaching behind me from whatever season of life I am in, and taking the hands of others to encourage them as they walk a similar path. And I am a peer counselor, listening and asking questions to help folks untie knots, climb over obstacles, and pursue their own wellness and passion.

Counter to the accusations of the nay-sayers, I am not constantly changing directions. I am not a small boat being thrown this way and that as I am buffeted by winds of “new” and “different” interests. I am a unique tree. All of the seemingly unrelated passions I have pursued are actually solid branches growing from strong roots and a sturdy trunk. I am growing up and maturing. And I have discovered that becoming a Forest Therapy Guide is a way to use all these parts of me to help others.

“I am not afraid of my truth anymore. I will not omit pieces of me to make you comfortable.”

This weekend I start the six month training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. I will write more about that process in the next few weeks and months. If you aren’t sure what I am talking about, I have written a FAQ you can read HERE.

I would love to hear 1-2 “branches” on your Tree of Life. Please share your passion(s) in the comments below!

 

Childhood Fun!

Recently I saw a fascinating video on Facebook. In this ad for Nature Valley, 3 generations in families were asked what they did for Childhood Fun. Consistent with current research, the grandparents talked about unstructured outdoor play, the parents enjoyed playing outdoors with neighborhood friends, and current kids apparently spend most of their time indoors on electronics. The ad finishes by challenging us to provide opportunities and nurture our children’s connections with Nature.

VIDEO: When you were a kid, what did you do for fun? 3 Generations answer. (Nature Valley Ad) 

I have read many articles and books which bemoan this progression. (See list of some of my favorite resources about the importance of Nature Connection HERE.) I know my friends and I often talk about how to get our kids (and ourselves) outside more often. I was curious to try my own (very informal) survey. I asked friends to share lists of childhood fun from their own families. I received 23 responses out of 31 people I asked about. Here is a summary of the results:

Active Play (mostly outside):

54% of all responses, #1 category for all adults

Active outside play used to be a fun part of childhood

It was interesting to notice that the mentioned activities were not organized or run by adults: swimming, playground, playing in barn, making scarecrows with family, wrestling with siblings, riding bike/scooter (often all over town), roller skating, ice skating, informal backyard sports with neighbor kids, sledding, hiking, tag and team games with friends. I also included active indoor hobbies/classes in this category: gymnastics, dance, ballet, Tae-Kwon-do, and rock climbing.

Imagination Play (mostly inside):

25% of all responses, #1 category for children & teens

Playing with little toys and collectibles hones the imagination

This category includes both solo and group activities: dress-ups, Legos, small toys (hot wheels, figurines, Littlest Pet-Shop animals), collections of objects, puzzles, board games, and raising butterflies. A number of respondents wondered what happened to these objects after they grew up. (I have written before about our youngest daughter’s love of imagination play and costumes. You can read about it HERE.)

Other Childhood Fun Activities:

  • Reading: 8%, not mentioned by children or teens
  • Arts & Crafts: 7%, scattered across all ages
  • Screen Time: 6%, up through young 30s

Reading and relaxing used to be significant parts of childhood play

For decades, Childhood fun has included Crayola!

Childhood Fun today raises fears of too many video games, movies and electronics

Obviously this was a very informal survey of a handful of family members and friends. It was interesting to me to notice that the results do NOT match experts’ concerns about rampant growth of uncontrolled screen time as the primary form of Childhood Fun in the past 20 years. (Read a typical article HERE.) This discrepancy could be explained by a number of variables: My personal friends and family tend to be biased toward outdoor, active pursuits. Participants may have self-censored, not reporting screen-time which is considered “bad” today. Wording of the survey question was too broad to elicit accurate responses regarding entertainment. For example, I did not ask how much time was spent on various activities but merely asked what the participants remembered as fun when they were young. In addition, by asking for a list of what the participants did for “fun,” the question filtered for activities that were perceived as enjoyable or special, not just routine everyday activities.

“When you were a kid, what did you do for fun?”

I’m very curious how YOU would respond to this question…and what your own friends and family members would list. Many of us had an enjoyable time sharing stories as we reminisced about childhood days. Join us in discussing this question with others and let me know YOUR answers—either in the comments on this blog or on facebook.

Get to Know Me!

When I discover a new blogger to follow, I dive deeply into their website. I read all the pages, poke into their archives, and fully explore their explanations of who they are and what they value. (What? You don’t do the same? You mean everyone is not the same curious Story Seeker that I am?? Shocking!) I recently realized that many of my readers enjoy the blog posts I write, but have yet to discover the wealth of background information shared on my website. Pull up a comfy chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me. To get to know me and better understand my story, here are some of the highlights:

get to know me, coffee mugs

Let’s share stories and get to know each other!

Foundational to my life are relationships with family and friends—in-person and online. I surround myself with people who are supportive as I reach for my dreams and I love challenging others to do the same. Life is sometimes chaotic and/or painful. That’s when it is important to be part of a community for mutual encouragement and support. When I learn something, I can’t wait to share information and experiences—via homeschooling, classes and seminars, and regular blogging. (My current blog about the adventures of connecting with Nature is, of course, found HERE. You can also get to know me by exploring my archived blogs—about turning 50 HERE and about life in Navajoland HERE.)

grandma, mom, big family

I’m a family gal with treasured friends around the world!

 You can read my own summary of who I am and what I do on the “About” page (found HERE). Wondering how the Blog/Website got its name? My entire life can be seen through the lens of “The Big Epic.” (Read a brief explanation HERE. Links from that page will take you to more in-depth information about Epic Adventures in my life.)

get to know me, poppies,https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/

I’m a Story Seeker who craves the pursuit of Big Epic adventures.

I keep talking about Nature Therapy and Forest Therapy Guiding. What in the world does that mean? (Learn about this practice by reading the answers to Frequently Asked Questions HERE. Read why I was inspired to become a Forest Therapy Guide HERE. And find a collection of my favorite resources about this subject HERE.)

sunset, Thomas Knob, AT hikers

I’m a Nature Girl who needs regular time in the woods for balanced living.

As my regular readers know, in less than one month I will start my training to become a certified Forest Therapy Guide. (Read more about this process HERE.)

What else would you like to know about me? Ask away in the comments below so you can get to know me better. And, of course, I would love to hear YOUR story! Tell me more about who you are and what dreams you are pursuing.

(Formal Portrait above was taken by the wonderful Jo Blackwell. If you are ever in Britain, look her up! https://joblackwellphotography.co.uk/ )

Celebrating an AT Birthday!

Today celebrates the birthday of the Appalachian Trail. When I saw the below post on Facebook, I remembered … the Appalachian Trail is the same age as my mama! No wonder she has always felt drawn to it. She turned 81 exactly 1 month ago. And today we celebrate the same AT Birthday.

“Happy Birthday to the Appalachian Trail! Completed on August 14, 1937, the A.T. is a 2,180-mile long footpath that traverses the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. Conceived in 1921 and built by private citizens over the next 15 years, the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail has been conquered by over 17,500 thru-hikers. “ – US Dept of the Interior

I love that our country sets aside and protects wild places for future generations to enjoy. Unlike most National Parks which celebrate one specific historic or natural place, the Appalachian Trail is constantly changing. It is a living footpath—with new trail being added every year. Land continues to be acquired to move more miles of official path off of roadways and into the woods. As I have explained in other posts, the trail must be re-routed occasionally because of fallen trees or flooded out walkways. And with better practices for erosion control, volunteer trail workers add switchbacks and run-off ditches.

AT in VA, freeway underpass, white blaze

In my family (as I wrote HERE), my mom has enjoyed spending time backpacking with her children and her grandchildren. She still day-hikes but is no longer able to carry the weight needed for overnight trips on the Appalachian Trail. But I look forward to the day I can pass on her legacy to her great-grandchildren. I will certainly tell them stories of “Grandma Bubblewrap” each year as we celebrate both her birthday and the AT birthday!

Happy AT Birthday!, multi-generations on the AT, Smoky Mountain NP

It’s the AT Birthday today! May we be celebrating (and using) this woodland footpath for centuries to come!

Find more info about the Appalachian Trail HERE on my blog or HERE on the official website.

Find ideas for a Woodland birthday party including the above cake HERE.)

What’s YOUR favorite way to celebrate a birthday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

City Mouse — Country Mouse

Do you know the classic story of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse? Each visited the other but hated what they found there.  They were afraid of the unknowns and stressed by the different sights and sounds when away from their home settings. Humans tend to be the same.

Are you a City Mouse? Perhaps you love the hustle and bustle of the Big City. There is always something going on—even late into the night. Everything is larger here—more people, more buildings, more cars, more noise. (I might like living in the middle of everything in a city…but I know I hate the suburbs, where everyone spends as many hours in their cars as if they lived in the country but without the laid-back lifestyle!) (Read about Nature Girl in the Big City HERE )

City Mouse, Urban Gray

City Mouse, Transit, City Nights

Are you a Country Mouse? Perhaps you enjoy the peace of rural living. The only traffic jams are getting stuck behind slow farm equipment during planting and harvesting seasons. Fewer people mean each one is acknowledged, at least by “throwing up a hand” to wave as you drive past. A slower pace and a more direct connection with nature allow the Country Mouse to watch the seasons change and notice weather patterns. Yes, you really CAN smell the rain moving toward you across the fields!

Kokosing River, Country Mouse, Bridge

Seasons Change, Country Mouse

For humans, I suspect that cities are even more jarring places than they are for a little Country Mouse. As I’ve mentioned before (HERE and HERE), humans need regular time in Nature. This is harder to find in a Big City. Studies have shown that even the colors we look at affect our moods:

“Our eyes weren’t designed to look at cityscapes… Studies on the effect of colours on emotions have shown that we find the blues and greens of nature the most restful. They make us less anxious and reduce our stress. The greys of an urban scene, however, have been shown to make us unhappier and more aggressive.” (p 172, Forest-Bathing by Dr. Qing Li)

Are you wondering who I am? I enjoyed many years of being a Country Mouse. And I enjoy visiting the Big City occasionally—knowing I will soon be back to my rural life. But I have a confession to make: I love my Small-Town living best of all. Seems to me, I get the best of both worlds—slower pace, few traffic jams, close to parks and nature but also walkable to many shops, plus more activities available than I have time to attend! And, with plenty of porches that people actually use, there is always someone to chat with on a summer evening. (Read about some of our local discoveries HERE )

Summer Living, Small Town

I’m a Small-Town Mouse…Which one are YOU?! (Drop me a line in the comments below…)

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