Enjoying Long Distance Games with Family and Friends

There is so much going on these days that seems outside of our control. Depending on which parts of your life have been turned upside down, you may find yourself having more time or less time that you are trying to fill. Even though my current schedule doesn’t include getting in a car and driving to the other side of town as many as seven days a week, I have found that my “free” time seems to be decreasing rather than increasing.  But maybe that has more to do with how I am prioritizing it these days than anything else.

Communication is Critical

One of the things that has become more and more important to me is communication – communicating with family and friends across the country and across the world. Thankfully with the technology we have these days, staying in touch has become so much easier. The people we care about are just a phone call, text, WhatsApp message, or email away.

And by virtue of the fact that you are reading this blog post, I can probably assume that you have access to technology in one or more of those forms.  And that’s great, because I’m going to encourage you to use that technology in a positive manner beyond just basic communication.

As you consider how best to stay in touch with those you care about, I want to suggest that you think beyond just having a conversation with them to having fun with them! And I know of no better way to do that than through games. My family has always loved games. When we get together it is seldom a question of if we will play games, but rather a question of when, which ones, and for how long. 

Liven Things Up with Games

In the midst of the current crisis we have discovered new and innovative ways to bridge the miles that separate so many of us, while still getting in our game playing.  And by the use of the various types of technology we all have access to, we have been able to play games with anywhere from two of us to more than a dozen at a time. Some of the games have been a little more challenging to accomplish when we’re not all sitting across a table from each other, but some have actually been fairly easy to do this way.  I have hopes that we will continue to do some of these long distance games even after all of this goes away.

The most basic games can be played with just a phone call. I have been very appreciative of the fact that all of my family members have cell phones with unlimited minutes and unlimited long distance (even internationally when we make WiFi calls). I bet some of you don’t even remember when long distance calls were expensive and minutes on cell phones had to be monitored! Fortunately, we’re beyond that now, and calling someone across the country and talking, laughing, and playing games for an hour or more is very easy and very doable. 

Basic Games with a Phone Call

So far this month we have played three different games using just a simple phone call: Yahtzee, Quixx, and Speed Scrabble.  In all three cases, each of us, on each end of the call had the dice (for Yahtzee and Quixx) or the letters (for Speed Scrabble).  I don’t see any way you could get around each having letters for Speed Scrabble (unless of course you went to purely electronic, and that’s not been our goal here), but I suppose you could actually play Yahtzee and/or Quixx with only one person having dice – as long as you were okay with them doing all of the rolling and just letting you know what they rolled. (We might actually be trying that sometime soon with Quixx, since we have family members overseas that enjoy the game as much as we do, but who don’t have the requisite dice to play it!)

To play those or similar games, decide on a good time, get your materials out on each end, place the call, put your phones on speaker, and have at it.  Even without being able to see each other, it is fun to be talking and playing together, especially when it’s a game you love, with a person you love even more. 

Games with Video Calls – and Multiple Copies of the Game

The next category of games are ones we have been playing with some type of video calls. (I have personally used WhatsApp video chats and Zoom calls to accomplish this, but anything you have that will allow you to see each other should work – I would imagine FaceTime and Skype would work in similar ways, we just happen to be partial to the other two.) 

I would actually divide “games played with video” into two separate categories: those where each family has to have their own copy of the game and those where only one “central” copy is needed.

I think at this point we’ve actually played more games where each family has their own copy. So far, I have played Azul, Splendor, Sagrada, and Dominion that way. And several other family members played Settlers of Cattan. I’m not a big Settlers fan, so I can only tell you that they’ve enjoyed it enough to play it several times. (And, by the way, while thus far it’s worked out that we’ve limited those games to just two groups of people, there isn’t any reason you can’t play with a group call going to three or four different places, or more, depending on the game. We’re hoping to do that with Azul soon.)

Example: Azul

With most of those games (Splendor being the exception from the above list), it was actually fairly simple to set up our “boards” (or cards or whatever the game’s equivalent is) on each side of the call.  I’ll give you an example of how that worked: With Azul, we each had our own boards in front of us, and then we also pulled out a board for the person(s) at the other end. In that game people take turns choosing tiles from several locations in front of them. On this particular occasion I drew the twenty tiles out of my bag, placing them into their respective places in front of me. As I did that, I informed my sister of which tiles I had pulled out and where they were being placed. She mirrored what I was doing. As we took turns drawing and placing tiles, we would mirror the action on both sides of the call.  (Now that I think about it, the video aspect for this particular game was a nice extra feature, so we could see each other, but it wasn’t critical. We told each other what we were doing more often than showed each other.)

Game play like that tends to take a little longer than if everyone was in the same room, since everything is having to be communicated and then done at both ends. But for games like Azul, Sagrada, and Dominion, it wasn’t much additional time.

The types of games that we have found that lend themselves to playing like this are ones where it is easy to mimic what’s being done by the other person (in other words, your “draw” pile (of cards, dice, or tiles) have a fairly limited variety of types, so that finding and matching what the other person has done goes fairly quickly. Games like Monopoly would be easy to do this way too.

Example: Splendor

I was a little skeptical about how the mechanics of playing a game like Splendor would go in this long distance fashion, since it has so many more “moving pieces” than the other similar games we had played (only three decks of cards – but one of them has 42 different cards and the other two have dozens each!). But once we got going it went surprisingly well! This time my sister had the “main board” at her end. As she turned over a new card for her board, she would tell us what it was, we would find it at our end, and mirror her activities. After determining a way to organize each of the three decks we were able to find the matching card fairly quickly. While it definitely added more time than with the other games we had played in a similar fashion, it was still not bad.

So if you have favorite games that are owned by family members in various locations, take a look and see if they can be played this way, with a mirroring style of play. I think you’ll find it opens up brand new ways to enjoy time together!

Playing Card Games?

Before I move to the last category of games, I want to mention card games – you know the old fashioned 52 cards in a deck type. Unfortunately, I don’t think most card games lend themselves to long distance playing in this manner. But we did come up with one card game that should work just fine – Hand and Foot.  While you would normally shuffle lots of decks together to play from a central pile, it also works just fine to have everyone playing from their own draw piles. We’ve done it with two decks per person, and that worked great. (We might try playing with partners sometime, but only if there are the same number of people at each location that can play together on the same table. So far we haven’t had that set up, but maybe some day!)

Games with Video Calls – with One Copy of the Game

And finally, there are the group games that can be played with just one central copy of a game. We’ve already come up with a pretty long list of these games. The first one we played was CodeNames. As I think about it, even though we were using video chats to play the above games, CodeNames was actually the first game we played that did require some sort of visual. If you aren’t familiar with the game, it starts with twenty-five cards laid out in a five by five matrix. There are two teams, and each team is trying to get their team members to find their group’s cards by giving them clues. Everyone is going to have to be able to see the layout of the cards. Since we have family members with an iPad, it was easy to set up the tablet to look down at the arrangement and constantly “stream” it to all of us. As cards get selected, they then get covered, so you need to be able to track the changes that get made to the “board” as guesses are made. You could do that without a video chat, if you got really creative with pictures on your phones, but I’m confident that the video makes it easier, and is a readily available option to almost anyone these days.

Other Game Options

Other games we have played this way, or plan to play, include Scattegories, Hit or Miss, Six Word Memoir, Wits and Wagers, and some form of Pictionary. (Did I mention we have LOTS of games?!?) And we’re still working on how to play Cranium this way!

Once again, now that I think about it, most of those games could actually be played with just a phone call if you don’t want to mess with a video chat. Not Cranium, of course, and probably not Pictionary! But come on, you really needed an excuse to see each other, didn’t you?

I hope some of these ideas are helpful in giving you and your loved ones some new ways to connect! If I’ve left out any of your favorite long distance games, please let me know. And if you have specific questions about how we played any of these, let me know that, too. The goal is to encourage everyone here, not to discourage you!

Have fun. Keep safe and keep sane.


P.S. – One month in we’ve played 17 different games like this with family and friends across the city, the country, and around the world, and have many more on our list to try in the future!

Memorial Day Rememberances

I had originally planned to do a post today on the history of Memorial Day, but in my search for information I discovered “The American Presidency Project” (at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/) with its vast collection of presidential speeches from across the centuries of U.S. history. So, instead of a history lesson, today’s post is a collection of excerpts from many of the Memorial Day speeches various presidents have given. I hope you are as moved by some of these as I was.

President Benjamin Harrison, Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia ,1891

… How vividly come to my memory many battle scenes; not the impetuous rush of conflict, but the cover of sadness that followed victory. Then it was our sad duty to gather from the field the bodies of those who had given the last pledge of loyalty. There is open to my vision more than one yawning trench in which we laid the dead of the old brigade. We laid them elbow touching elbow in the order in which they had stood in the line of battle. We left them in the hasty sepulcher and marched on…

President William G. Harding , Arlington National Cemetery, 1923

…This is the special day of the nation’s gratitude, most genuinely felt and most gladly expressed. I do not believe republics are ungrateful. They may sometimes have the seeming of ingratitude, but since republics must be like the citizens who constitute them, we are bound to believe our Republic full of the gratitude which animates our citizenship.

…And I like to think of the individual citizen as a veteran of our contending forces in peace as well as a defender in war, who deserves likewise the gratitude of his countrymen. It little matters what war one served in. The supreme offering of life on the altar of American patriotism was the same in every one. No man could offer more. It calls for gratitude unlimited and unfailing.

…Yes, we are met in memory of the fallen, but I can not escape the thought that the real compensation comes to the living. The fallen do not, can not know of our remembrance of them, but the living may take to their breasts the consolation that the republic does love and revere, and comfort ourselves in so doing. Just as sure as present-day civilization endures, just so sure will the Americans of next year and the next century and the century after that be meeting gratefully on Memorial Day to pay memory’s tribute to the soldier dead who had served the Republic. Veterans marching near the shadows, but with heads erect and hearts all brave; veterans of middle age, who look back on marvelous achievement and to the future for still greater; veterans of youth, with the seriousness of life mostly before them, starting with the supreme experience—all may go on, assured of a becoming and grateful remembrance, which is chief among the compensations of life.

…It is not enough to seek assurance for ourselves. I believe it a God-given duty to give of our influence to establish the ways of peace throughout the world. We cannot guarantee, but we can promote the peaceful adjustment of disputes, we can aid in the establishment of the agencies of peace, we can be influential in committing the world to the triumphs of peace and make hateful to humankind the spoils of war.

Calvin Coolidge in 1925 at the Arlington National Cemetery

For those who are the inheritors of a noble estate and a high place in the world, it is a good thing to pause at intervals and consider by what favor of fortune and of ancestry their lines have fallen in such pleasant places. Thus to meditate upon that course of events, which has given them what they have and made them what they are, will tend to remind them how great is their debt and how little is their share of merit.

This is the day on which the American people each year acknowledge that they have such a debt. It has been set aside that a grateful nation may do fitting honor to the memory of those who have made the greatest and most voluntary contribution to it. Here about us, in this place of beauty and reverence, lies the mortal dust of a noble host, to whom we have come to pay our tribute, as thousands of other like gatherings will do throughout our land. In their youth and strength, their love and loyalty, those who rest here gave to their country all that mortality can give. For what they sacrificed we must give back the pledge of faith to all that they held dear, constantly renewed, constantly justified. Doing less would betray them and dishonor us.

To such a memorial as exists here we can only come in a spirit of humility and of gratitude. We can not hope to repay those whom we are assembled to honor. They were moved by a noble conception of human possibilities and human destiny. But we can undertake to find what was their inspiration and seek to make it our guide. By that they will be recompensed.

…Our gathering here to-day is in testimony of supreme obligation to those who have given most to make and preserve the nation. They established it upon the dual system of state government and federal government, each supreme in its own sphere.

Herbert Hoover in 1931 at Valley Forge

WE ARE upon the eve of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington. It is, therefore, appropriate that our observance of Memorial Day should this year be at this place, so intimately associated with the moral grandeur of the Father of our Country.

This national shrine needs no description; the events enacted here require no recounting to the American people. The very name, Valley Forge, swells within us a pride of nationality. These peaceful fields hold a glory peculiarly their own. The sufferings of Washington’s army in that dreadful winter of privation have made this place famous among all men.

It was not the glory of battle for which these fields are remembered. No great battle was fought here. It was not the pomp of victory, for no martial triumph was won here. It was not the scene where peace was signed by which independence of a great nation was won. It was not the tombs of courageous men who, facing the enemy, gave the supreme sacrifice for their country to which we bow in reverence. A thousand other fields mark the courage, the glory, the valor, the skill, the martial triumph of our race. Yet the instinct and the judgment of our people after the abrasion of the years has appraised this place as a foremost shrine in the War of Independence and in our Nation. It is a shrine to the things of the spirit and of the soul.

It was the transcendent fortitude and steadfastness of these men who in adversity and in suffering through the darkest hour of our history held faithful to an ideal. Here men endured that a nation might live.

George Washington and his men at any moment could have accepted the counsels of an easy path to an easy end of their privations. They could have surrendered their ideals to the widespread spirit of despair and discouragement. They could have abandoned their claims to freedom. They could have deserted their hopes and forsaken their faith. Instead, they chose the harder way of steadfast fortitude and for many of death.

Here Washington and his little band of hungry and almost naked patriots kept alive the spark of liberty in the lowest hours of the Revolution. They met the crisis with steadfast fortitude; they conserved their strength; they husbanded their resources; they seized the opportunity, which, with the turn and the tide of war, led on to victory. It was a triumph of character and idealism and high intelligence over the counsels of despair, of prudence, and material comfort. This was one of those moral victories that are the glory of the race. Without such victories the life of man would descend to a sheer materialism for “where there is no vision the people perish.” Lacking these high inspirations mankind could claim no distinction higher than the beasts of the field, that sing no songs, dream no dreams, inspire no hope, and grasp no faith.

It is this high spirit that we commemorate when we pay our yearly tribute of reverence to those who in all wars have stood steadfast and those who have died in the service of our country. Our citizens in every war have flocked to arms at the call of country. They have responded willingly, because in every emergency they have had up before them an ideal of liberty and the freedom of their country. Some wars in history have been instigated by old and cynical men for cruel or selfish reasons. Some wars have been fought for power and possessions. The ends of some wars could have been more nobly won and more wisely won by patience and negotiation. But war for liberty has endowed the race not alone with the most precious possessions of freedom but has inspired every succeeding generation with that idealism which is the outpouring of man’s spiritual nature.

…No one who reviews the past and realizes the vast strength of our people can doubt that this, like a score of similar experiences in our history, is a passing trial. From it will come a greater knowledge of the weaknesses of our system, and from this knowledge must come the courage and wisdom to improve and strengthen us for the future. Numerous are the temptations under the distress of the day to turn aside from our true national purposes and from wise national policies and fundamental ideals of the men who builded our Republic. Never was the lure of the rosy path to every panacea and of easy ways to imagined security more tempting.

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Arlington, 1966

Peace does not come just because we wish for it. Peace must be fought for. It must be built stone by stone.

In the first half of this century we learned that there can be no peace if might makes right–if force used by one nation against a weaker nation is ever permitted to succeed. We have learned that the time to stop aggression is when it first begins. And that is one reason we are in South Vietnam today.

Modern weapons and means of communications, even more than common aspirations, have created a single world community. There is no going back. This is the way it will be as far ahead as any of us can see. We can only go forward to help make that community one in which nations respect the rights of other nations and live at peace with one another.

For the American interest will be well served if our children grow up in a world of independent nations capable of assuming collective responsibility for the peace. Our interest–and the interest of world peace-will not be served if nations continue to violate the independence of other nations.

…On this Memorial Day, it is right for us to remember the living and the dead for whom the call of their country has meant much pain and sacrifice.

And so today I remind all of my fellow countrymen that a grateful Nation is deeply in their debt.

President Richard Nixon in 1969

ON MEMORIAL DAY, the American people unite to pay tribute to the many brave men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. We pause to reflect upon the courage and sacrifice of those who responded when their nation called, who left home and family to take up arms on distant shores to ensure to posterity the blessings of peace and freedom. We render our thanks and express our gratitude, for we have not forgotten what they did or the price they paid.

…For the heroism and sacrifice displayed by the American fighting man, past and present, we are indeed filled with pride and gratitude.

President Gerald Ford in 1976 at Arlington

There is no higher honor or more solemn privilege than to represent our Nation in paying tribute to its honored dead. In this, our 200th year, this day and this hallowed ground take on a very special meaning. As we mark this anniversary of our national independence, we must remember that the Bicentennial celebrates more than a successful political revolution which freed America from foreign rule. The founding of our Nation was more than a political event; it was an act of faith, a promise to Americans and to the entire world. The Declaration of Independence declared that people can govern themselves, that they can live in freedom with equal rights, that they can respect the rights of others.

In the two centuries that have passed since 1776, millions upon millions of Americans have worked and taken up arms when necessary to make that dream a reality. We can be extremely proud of what they have accomplished. Today, we are the world’s oldest republic. We are at peace. Our Nation and our way of life endure. We are free.

All who come to Arlington this Memorial Day must reflect upon the sacrifices made by those continually brave Americans who lie in rest on these hillsides as beneath silent markers at Valley Forge, Gettysburg, and Pearl Harbor. Their courage won a revolution. Their bravery preserved our Republic. Their perseverance kept the peace and ensured a heritage of freedom.

It is through their sacrifice that we have a Bicentennial. It is through their sacrifice that we, the living, have inherited a sacred burden, a trust to honor the past by working for the future. Other nations have risen to great heights only to weaken in their resolve. We must not repeat their error.

A nation born of faith and carried forward by action requires from each of us a commitment to advance individual liberty and to maintain our guard against those who would threaten our freedom. Although we thank God that no Americans are dying in battle today, we must renew our resolve to use both our moral leadership and our material strength to keep the peace.

Over a century ago another President stood before America’s fallen at Gettysburg and spoke words that have rung through the decades of our history. They are particularly appropriate today.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their [the] last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Ronald Reagan’s Memorial Day Speech in 1982

In America’s cities and towns today, flags will be placed on graves in cemeteries; public officials will speak of the sacrifice and the valor of those whose memory we honor.

In 1863, when he dedicated a small cemetery in Pennsylvania marking a terrible collision between the armies of North and South, Abraham Lincoln noted the swift obscurity of such speeches. Well, we know now that Lincoln was wrong about that particular occasion. His remarks commemorating those who gave their “last full measure of devotion” were long remembered. But since that moment at Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage—not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words.

I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.

Yet, we must try to honor them—not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.

Our first obligation to them and ourselves is plain enough: The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we—in a less final, less heroic way—be willing to give of ourselves.

It is this, beyond the controversy and the congressional debate, beyond the blizzard of budget numbers and the complexity of modern weapons systems, that motivates us in our search for security and peace…

The willingness of some to give their lives so that others might live never fails to evoke in us a sense of wonder and mystery. One gets that feeling here on this hallowed ground, and I have known that same poignant feeling as I looked out across the rows of white crosses and Stars of David in Europe, in the Philippines, and the military cemeteries here in our own land. Each one marks the resting place of an American hero and, in my lifetime, the heroes of World War I, the Doughboys, the GI’s of World War II or Korea or Vietnam. They span several generations of young Americans, all different and yet all alike, like the markers above their resting places, all alike in a truly meaningful way.

…As we honor their memory today, let us pledge that their lives, their sacrifices, their valor shall be justified and remembered for as long as God gives life to this nation. And let us also pledge to do our utmost to carry out what must have been their wish: that no other generation of young men will every have to share their experiences and repeat their sacrifice…

President George Bush in 1989

As we gather today, it is dawn in America, Memorial Day weekend. And as the Sun rises and the summer begins, the images both here and at home are of countries that are prosperous and secure, countries confident of their place in the world and aware of the responsibility that comes with that place. Soon that lone soldier at Arlington will resume his paces, 21 steps in each direction, the changing of the guard precisely on the half hour. And at Gettysburg, the schoolchildren will scatter flowers on other unknown graves, blue and gray, side-by-side, Americans.

On Memorial Day, we give thanks for the blessings of freedom and peace and for the generations of Americans who have won them for us. We also pray for the same strength and moral reserve demonstrated by these veterans, as well as for the true and lasting peace found in a world where liberty and justice prevail.

President William Clinton in 1993

We come together this morning, along with our countrymen and women in cities across the land, to honor those who died that we might live in freedom, the only way that Americans can ever truly live. Today we put aside our differences to better reflect on what unites us. The lines so often drawn between and among us, lines of region or race or partisanship, all those lines fall away today as we gaze upon the lines of markers that surround us on these hallowed hills. The lines of difference are freedom’s privilege. The lines of these markers are freedom’s cost.

Today Americans all across our land draw together in shared experience and shared remembrance. And whether it is an older veteran in Florida, or a teenager in New Mexico, or a mother in Wisconsin, all today will bow their heads and put hand to heart. And without knowing each other, still we will all be joined in spirit, because we are Americans and because we know we are equal shareholders in humanity’s most uplifting dream.

…In honoring those who died in the defense of our country, we must never neglect to honor as well our living American veterans. The Nation owes a special debt to the millions of men and women who took up posts at home or abroad to secure our defenses or to fight for our freedom. Because of what they have done for us, their health and well-being must always be a cause for our special concern.

Here by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we renew our Nation’s solemn pledge also to the POW and MIA families from all wars, a pledge to provide not just the prayers and memorials but also to the extent humanly possible to provide the answers you deserve. And we vow, with the new Korean War Memorial project finally underway, that no future conflict, if conflict there must be, must ever be regarded as a forgotten war. The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier says that he is, quote, “Known only to God.” But that is only partly true. While the soldier’s name is known only to God, we know a lot about him. We know he served his country, honored his community, and died for the cause of freedom. And we know that no higher praise can be assigned to any human being than those simple words.

Today we are at peace, but we live in a troubled world. From that flag and from these, our honored dead, we draw strength and inspiration to carry on in our time the tasks of defending and preserving freedom that were so nobly fulfilled by all those we come here to honor in this time. In that effort and in the presence of those buried all around us, we ask the support of all Americans in the aid and blessing of God Almighty.

President George W Bush in 2001

Every Memorial Day we try to grasp the extent of this loss and the meaning of this sacrifice. And it always seems more than words can convey. All we can do is remember and always appreciate the price that was paid for our own lives and for our own freedom.

Today, in thousands of towns across this great land, Americans are gathered to pay their own tributes. At 3 o’clock this afternoon Americans will pause for a moment of remembrance. They will meet at monuments or in public squares or, like us, in places where those we honor were laid to rest.

More than any words we say, the truth is told in the things we see, in markers, in dates, in names around us…Within these 200 acres are the remains of men and women who died young, some very young. Walking along these paths, a visitor to this national cemetery might view these markers as one great national loss, and that is certainly the case. But we must remember, for many who come here, there is one marker that will always stand out among all the others. In their eyes, it lies alone.

For one woman, Memorial Day brings thoughts of the father she never knew. She recalled as, a young child, learning to pray the words “Our Father, who art in heaven,” thinking she was talking to her own father.

For others, there is the memory of the last kiss as the train pulled away, a last wink and parting wisecrack from a big brother, a brave smile from a son who seemed like a boy. And then there was the telegram that came.

To those who have known that loss and felt that absence, Memorial Day gives formal expression to a very personal experience. Their losses can be marked but not measured. We can never measure the full value of what was gained in their sacrifice. We live it every day in the comforts of peace and the gifts of freedom. These have all been purchased for us.

From the very beginning, our country has faced many tests of courage. Our answer to such tests can be found here on these hills and in America’s cemeteries, from the islands of the Pacific to the north coast of France.

And on Memorial Day, we must remember a special group of veterans, Americans still missing and unaccounted for from Vietnam, Korea, the cold war, and World War II. We honor them today. They deserve and will have our best efforts to achieve the fullest possible accounting and, alive or dead, to return them home to America.

It is not in our nature to seek out wars and conflicts. But whenever they have come, when adversaries have left us no alternative, American men and women have stood ready to take the risks and to pay the ultimate price. People of the same caliber and the same character today fill the ranks of the Armed Forces of the United States. Any foe who might ever challenge our national resolve would be repeating the grave errors of defeated enemies. Because this Nation loves peace, we do not take it for granted. Because we love freedom, we are always prepared to bear even its greatest costs.

Arriving here today, all of us passed the strong, straight figures of men and women who serve our country today. To see their youth and discipline and clarity of purpose is humbling to a Commander in Chief. They are the new generation of America’s defenders. They follow an unbroken line of good and brave and unfaltering people who have never let this country down.

Today we honor those who fell from the line, who left us, never knowing how much they would be missed. We pray for them with an affection that grows deeper with the years. And we remember them, all of them, with the love of a grateful Nation.

God bless America.

President Barack Obama in 2014

Today, in small towns across America, in cemeteries throughout our country and around the world, and here on these solemn hillsides, the families of our fallen share stories of the lives they led. Our hearts ache in their absence. But our hearts are also full, full in knowing that their legacy shines bright in the people that they loved the most. Through almost unimaginable loss, these families of the fallen have tapped a courage and resolve that many of us will never know. And we draw comfort and strength from their example. We draw strength from the promise of their children

… For the parents who have lost a child, for the husbands and wives who have lost a partner, for the children who have lost a parent, this day and this place are solemn reminders of the extraordinary sacrifice they have made in our name. But today reminds us as well that for these family and for their comrades-in-arms, their service to our Nation endures. There are few who truly understand what it means to send a child into war or to watch a battle buddy give his life to save others. On this Memorial Day, and every day, these are the families and veterans we’re sworn to look after.

And so here, on these hallowed grounds, we rededicate ourselves to our sacred obligations to all who wear America’s uniform and to the families who stand by them always: that our troops will have the resources they need to do their job; that our Nation will never stop searching for those who’ve gone missing, who are held as prisoners of war; that, as we’ve been reminded in recent days, we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve. These Americans have done their duty. They ask nothing more than that our country does ours, now and for decades to come.

The fallen patriots we memorialize today gave their last full measure of devotion. Not so we might mourn them, though we do. Not so that our Nation might honor their sacrifice, although it does. They gave their lives so that we might live ours: so that a daughter might grow up to pursue her dreams; so that a wife might be able to live a long life, free and secure; so that a mother might raise her family in a land of peace and freedom. Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible by Americans who gave their all. And because of them, our Nation is stronger, safer, and will always remain a shining beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.

May God bless the fallen and all those who serve. May God watch over their families. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

President Donald Trump in 2017

Words cannot measure the depth of their devotion, the purity of their love, or the totality of their courage. We only hope that every day we can prove worthy not only of their sacrifice and service, but of the sacrifice made by the families and loved ones they left behind. Special, special people.

… We can never replace them. We can never repay them. But we can always remember. And today that is what we are doing: We remember. Words cannot wipe away the tears or bring back those smiling faces. But if Americans just take the time to look into your eyes and tell you how much we thank you and how dearly we pray for you and how truly we love you, then hopefully, you can find solace through your pain. And every time you see the Sun rise over this blessed land, please know your brave sons and daughters pushed away the night and delivered for us all that great and glorious dawn.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless our fallen heroes. God bless their families. God bless our military. And God bless the United States of America.

Review – Creation Museum and the Ark

To say that I am a long-time creationist would be an understatement. My husband and I listened to our first debate on creation versus evolution decades ago when we were college students. And I have read, watched, or listened to a wide variety of creation resources over the ensuing forty plus years. Needless, to say I’m a big fan of Ken Ham’s work with Answers in Genesis.

And since we live in northern Alabama, less than 400 miles from the Creation Museum, we have made many trips there. In fact, we became members in 2008, within a year of their opening, and have had some sort of membership there ever since. We probably only average one trip per year, but with the size of our family, one trip per year has still made memberships a worthwhile investment. This is something I found to be the case almost any place I took my kids – from zoos to aquariums to most museums. (For example,  in 2005, on our Lewis and Clark  adventure we got a one year family membership at Fort Mandan’s Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center – knowing there was almost no chance we would be back in North Dakota within the next twelve months – but we were still better off getting the membership.)

In addition to numerous trips with family members, I’ve taken students to the Creation Museum twice and the Ark Encounter once (it was still just a dream the first time I took students up there.)

Every trip has been a little bit different, of course, but every one of them has been worthwhile. On this most recent trip, we did the Ark Encounter first. It was the second time my daughter and I had been, and we had the privilege of introducing four others to it (two teens and two older adults). As expected, a good time was had by all.  And there is something awe-inspiring about seeing a life-size ark, and then going inside and imagining (with the help of some wonderful creative effects) how Noah’s family and all those animals would have lived and worked in such a space for over a year.

The exhibits at both museums are extremely well done – from both a visual aspect and an information one. Since my daughter and I had been before, we were able to focus on some of the exhibits that we had only glossed over the first time, as well as enjoying several that were new since our first visit.

One of My Favorite New Exhibits at the Ark Encounter

Because there is so much to see there, it is most definitely the type of place that begs for a return visit (or 2 or 3 or …), hence the beauty of a membership. It’s just really hard to take it all in at one time.

Additionally, I strongly recommend against trying to do both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum in one day. I met a couple as we were finishing the Ark who had done them both that day, and it made me tired just listening to them. There is so much to see and do at both places that I cannot imagine doing that – there would be no way to fully enjoy both places if you were trying to cram them both into the same day.

Population: What we know versus what we can only deduce.

And at the Creation Museum, be sure to include a planetarium show if at all possible. We have watched one almost every time we have been there, and never get tired of them  – with our favorite being Created Cosmos.

So, again, my recommendations for getting the most out of your trip to the Creation Museum and the Ark:

The absolute best option is to get an annual combo pass so that you can go to both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum two or more times in a twelve month period.

Next best is to get a ticket that includes both – and go to one on one day and the other one on the next day. We actually did one on Tuesday and one on Thursday on our last trip, and visited the Newport Aquarium in between the two. No right or wrong way to do it!

Even the diversity of the fish at the aquarium tell the story of Creation.

But, if those are not options, and you have the endurance for it – visit them both in one day – just know that you’ll be really tired at the end of the day! (Also, figure in forty-five – ninety minutes to get from one to the other and park. At the Ark Encounter you will be parking and riding a shuttle to the Ark itself, and at the Creation Museum you may end up parked far enough away to where you prefer to ride the shuttle bus. And of course, all that adds to the time factor.)

And, if you just can’t work in the time or the money for both, you can’t go wrong with either. The friend I took this last time enjoyed the Ark more – feeling like she was “encountering Noah and the Flood” in an entirely new way there. But, the Creation Museum might be my choice for just one, because it covers such a broad array of topics within the area of creation, including a small exhibit on the ark. But again, neither would be a bad choice.

This is part of what I like throughout the beginning of the Creation Museum – the explanations of Present vs. Past.

Both places have restaurants that you can eat at if you are there over a meal (we usually are) and don’t want to pack a picnic (we usually can’t). The restaurant at the Ark became a buffet between our first and second trips there, which made it a little more expensive than we had planned on, but it was actually an exceptional meal, so in the end we all decided it had been worth it, and we will gladly eat there again on future trips.

Whether you are “in the area” or have to make a special trip to the greater Cincinnati area for these, I strongly encourage you to work these into your trip. If you want to share good, solid Creation information with your students or family, or just want to increase your own knowledge, you can’t go wrong with the Ark Encounter and/or the Creation Museum.

Each place has done an exceptional job of bringing together great displays with good information, in a family friendly location, suitable for children and adults alike. There are inside portions, and weather permitting, some nice outside portions at both as well – including a petting zoo and nice botanical gardens.

Happy traveling and learning!


Musings of a Mom after an Accident

As Our Children Learn to Drive

As our children are growing up, is there anything that can make a parent more nervous than when our children are learning to drive?  It was certainly not something I looked forward to as each of mine got closer to that age. (Though I do have to admit that I liked the idea of no longer being the family’s only chauffeur. )

And there’s nothing like being involved in a car accident to make a mom think about such things again, even years after they’ve all learned to drive.  More on last week’s accident in a moment; for now, suffice it to say, that miraculously, we all walked away from it without injuries.

Non-Driver to New Driver to Experienced Driver

After watching each of my children move from being a non-driver, to a new driver, to an experienced driver, I now believe that teaching them the mechanics of driving was the easy part. But, I pray, especially after this most recent accident, that they’ve all become not just adequate drivers, but also safe drivers.

I’m convinced that the longer we drive, the less we tend to think about how much more goes into being safe on the road than just knowing how to drive.  Last Wednesday evening we got caught in rush hour traffic as we returned to Louisville from a day trip to the aquarium near Cincinnati. Too many other cars were trying to exit the interstate at the same exit we were supposed to be getting off at, and the traffic in our lane slowed down until it had come to a complete halt. We stopped; the small vehicle behind us stopped; the SUV behind it stopped; the 18-wheeler did not; nor did the pickup truck behind it. Within minutes the vehicular dominoes had fallen, and all five vehicles, and the twelve people within them, were no longer heading anywhere.

An Injury-Free Accident

Amazingly, there was no loss of life. In fact, all twelve of us climbed out of the various vehicles without a scratch. But there were other consequences. Our vehicle was totaled. The small car that hit us was definitely totaled. The SUV behind him sustained quite a bit of damage in both the front and the back, but was a relatively new vehicle, so I don’t know what will happen with it. And then there was the damage to the 18-wheeler and the pickup truck; thousands of dollars more damage to those two, I’m sure.

One way or another I suspect that the insurance companies will eventually take care of some sort of payments for all of that. But will those of us with the two smaller cars be able to replace our vehicles for the money that we receive if they are considered totaled?  It is highly unlikely. On moment we had good, functioning vehicles, and the next moment we did not. How do the insurance companies make that situation right? By writing us checks for a small portion of their true value?

A Ruined Career?

And then there was the driver of the 18-wheeler. He made a mistake that has probably ruined his career. When he barreled into the back of the SUV, setting off the five-car wreck, he was holding a cell phone. (Something I’ve since been told is illegal for any driver of an 18-wheeler.) Whether he was texting, or just in some other way distracted by his phone, it resulted in his failure to realize what the traffic was doing, and he endangered his own life and at least eleven others. (And apparently, in Kentucky, where this happened, the fine if they decide he was texting and driving will be astronomical.)

Vs. A Ruined Evening

In just moments the evening plans of a dozen people turned upside down. Though, again, we were all very thankful that it was plans and not lives that were ruined. We were headed back to a friend’s house, looking forward to an early dinner and a quiet evening (doing things like writing a very different blog post!) The young man in the car behind us was heading home from work, and was a mere five minutes from his house when his car was struck. The SUV contained a family of four, on their way to basketball practice for the two teenage girls. And so it went on down the road. None of us thought we would be spending more than two hours by the side of the road that evening, giving statements to the police, and then eventually waiting for our mangled vehicles to be towed away.

The Critical Driving Lessons

And as I go over the accident in my mind, I wonder once again, as I have since my children started learning to drive more than twenty-five years ago, have they learned the driving lessons they needed to learn? And what would I consider the most important ones for them to remember?

Here is a short list of ones that came to mind as a result of this accident:

  • Will they pay attention to the cars around them? (The driver of the 18-wheeler was not; but a sixth driver, who had originally been between the 18-wheeler and the SUV, actually realized what was happening, and moved out of the way just in time to avoid being part of the accident.)
  • Will they drive at a safe speed? (Which, as we saw that evening, isn’t always the posted speed limit.)
  • Will they get off the road if they are tired? (Which I’ve heard can be as dangerous as driving drunk.)
  • And as they get older – will they stay off the road if they’ve been drinking? (Illegal, as well as unsafe.)
  • With as many older cars as we’ve owned – will their cars be safe and not have problems that cause an accident?
  • Will they wear their seatbelts? (I’m fairly sure we would not have all walked away from this accident without injuries if hadn’t been for our seatbelts.)
  • Will they remember not to tailgate? (The only reason we didn’t hit a car in front of us when we were hit from behind was because my daughter had not been following too closely.)
  • And, now more than ever, will they not drive distracted? (The rest of us may never know what caused that driver to be distracted, but he was clearly not paying attention, or the wreck would never have happened.)

Lessons Learned In An Accident

After an accident like this, I just want to reach out and hug each and every one of my children. And then to follow that up with doing my motherly thing. “Please be sure not to tailgate. And to remember that nothing you want to do with that phone, is worth the damage that can occur if you take your eyes off the road at just the wrong time. And, ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you are the best driver on the road, you are only as safe as the drivers around you – so pay attention to them!”

Be safe!


35 More Great Education Quotes

About six months ago I put together a post with almost three dozen of my favorite quotes about education. Of course, that was barely scratching the surface on such wonderful quotes.

I’ve decided that this week is another good week for such a list. (I just returned from Texas, I’m trying to finish editing one novel and start editing a second one, all while doing a variety of planning for a major trip next fall, and two different family reunions. So “free time” has been rather limited of late!)

So, this week I’m again going to “cheat” and use some great words from other people. You will certainly see my attitude towards education when you read these quotes. And again, even if you don’t agree with every one of them, I hope they cause you to think!

  1. “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)
  2. “I learned most, not from those who taught me, but from those who talked with me.” Augustine (354 – 430 AD)
  3. “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Erasmus (1466 – 1536)
  4. “The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.” Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790)
  5. “All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.” Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
  6. “The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret.” Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)
  7. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
  8. “One you learn to read you will be forever free.” Frederick Douglass (1818 – 1895)
  9. “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841 – 1935)
  10. “Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.” Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)
  11. “Do not let the endless succession of small things crowd great ideals out of sight and mind.” Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923)
  12. “I remember that I was never able to get along at school. I was always at the foot of the class.” Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931)
  13. “Education is an admirable thing, but nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)
  14. “Unless education promotes character making, unless it helps men to be more moral, more just to their fellows, more law abiding, more discriminatingly patriotic and public spirited, it is not worth the trouble taken to furnish it.” William Howard Taft (1857 – 1930)
  15. “Thank goodness I was never sent to school: it would have rubbed off some of the originality.” Beatrix Potter (1866 – 1943)
  16. “It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.” Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)
  17. “Education is the period during which you are being instructed by someone you don’t know, about something you do not want to know.” K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936)
  18. “Schools have not necessarily much to do with education…they are mainly institutions of control where basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.” Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965)
  19. “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
  20. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)
  21. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by the way it climbs a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein  (1879 – 1955)
  22. “Play is the highest form of research.” Albert Einstein (1879 -1955)
  23. “I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.” Agatha Christie (1890 – 1976)
  24. “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done.” Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980)
  25. “The greatest service we can do to education today is to teach fewer subjects. No one has time to do more than a few things well before he is twenty, and when we force a boy to be a mediocrity in a dozen subjects we destroy his standards, perhaps for life.” S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)
  26. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Seuss (1904 – 1991)
  27. “When we make our laws and educational policies primarily for the parents who don’t care, instead of for those who do, those laws are backwards. We urge the burden of proof be on the state to show which mothers and fathers are not doing their job.” Raymond Moore (1916 – 2007)
  28. “Education is the most powerful weapon for changing the world.” Nelson Mandella (1918 – 2013)
  29. “What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth into the world is not that it is a better school than the schools, but that it isn’t a school at all.” John Holt (1923 – 1985)
  30. “Ask questions to find out something about the world itself, not to find out whether or not someone knows it.” John Holt (1923 – 1985)
  31. “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But, for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003)
  32. “When you take the free will out of education, that turns it into schooling.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  33. “I don’t think we’ll get rid of schools any time soon, certainly not in my lifetime, but if we’re going to change what’s rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance, we need to realize that the institution ‘schools’ very well, but it does not ‘educate,’ that’s inherent in the design of the thing. It’s not the fault of bad teachers or too little money spent. It’s just impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  34. “Genius is an exceedingly common human quality, probably natural to most of us.” John Taylor Gatto (1935 – )
  35. “Education doesn’t need to be reformed – it needs to be transformed. The key is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to built achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” Sir Ken Robinson (1950 – )

Happy learning!


Learning Styles and Curriculum Choices

Homeschooling parents have to take many things into consideration when they are planning their educational package for their children. Yes, it would be easy to just pick up a pre-packaged curriculum complete with student books, tests, answer keys, and lesson plans. What could be wrong with that?

Why Not Just Buy a Pre-Packaged Curriculum?

After more than thirty-five years of homeschooling, several things come to my mind – (1) The costs of such a package can be too much for many homeschooling families. (2) The time involved in putting such a package into use can actually be quite intimidating, particularly for families with multiple aged students. (That was the driving factor for me looking into other options just a few years into our homeschooling journey.) (3) And not least of all, not all students do well with prepackaged curriculum. As the following info-graphic shows, children learn best in a variety of different ways – and not all do well with the high level of reading and writing that prepackaged curriculum tend to focus on.

Taking Learning Styles Into Consideration

Whether you are just starting out on your homeschooling journey, or have been at it for awhile and now see the need for a change, it can be beneficial to consider what your students’ learning styles are. I’m not saying that everything has to be taught that way (in only a hands-on manner for kinesthetic learners, or in just an auditory manner for students who learn best that way, for example).

In fact, the best learning often comes from a combination of methods – hands-on, audio, visual, etc. But when you take into account the way your student best learns, instead of blindly following a pre-packaged curriculum, you will often find that the process goes better, with both students and teacher being less frustrated.

Examples of Different Options for Different Styles

Visual learners usually remember 75% of what they see or read. Needless to say, they understand information best when they see it. So instead of  struggling to get visual learners to memorize flashcards or just read from the textbook, try watching educational homeschooling videos or looking at charts when teaching a new topic.

For your kinesthetic learners, try engaging them in hands-on activities like field trips or a trip to your local zoo or museum. Incorporate movement and storytelling with these types of learners.

If your child is an auditory learner, there are numerous resources such as audio books, where they can listen to books or read along with books.

And for almost any learner,  on our educational journey we found that both travel and games added to the variety and interest of  all involved!

Spending Money Differently

And if you go about it the right way, you will find yourself spending less money. Or choosing to spend it on things with more lasting educational value – good quality real books instead of textbooks that are generally used and then abandoned; family memberships at those zoos, aquariums, or museums that you will want to visit more frequently, and so on.

A Smoother Journey

So, if you are wondering how to make your homeschooling journey go a little smoother,  I strongly encourage you to take learning styles into consideration and work to make it a more enjoyable and more effective trip for all involved!

Happy learning!


Two Book Reviews

Movie and book reviews are not a primary focus of this blog. But occasionally, I just have to share about a book or movie that I’ve recently enjoyed, and this is one of those times. I actually have two books that I’ve that I want to review this week – and I can strongly recommend them both for teenagers and adults.

In December I wrote a review of the movie Wonder. A few weeks later I finished listening to the Audible version of it. It too was well done. I can heartily recommend the movie or the book for most any age.  I’ve listened to two other, very different books recently, that I can also recommend, though for a more limited audience. I don’t think either of these would be as good for younger students, but I can see adults and older students enjoying them both.

Like Wonder, one of the main characters in each is a pre-teen child. And like Wonder, both books show the importance of family, though in vastly different ways. In Wonder, the family is “fairly typical” – dad, mom, two children, all living together in one place.  The main characters in One-in-a-Million Boy are divorced parents, their 11-year-old son, and Ona Vitkus, a 104-year-old woman he starts helping in order to earn a Boy Scout merit badge. After befriending the old woman he helps once a week, but before he has completed the requisite number of visits, the young boy dies suddenly of a rare, and previously undiagnosed, disease. His father takes over the task of visiting Ona, fully expecting that he will fulfill the unfinished visits, and then be done. Of course, it doesn’t end quite like he had expected.

I’m not generally a fan of stories that are non-linear – where they bounce from one period of time to another and back again – but the author of One-in-a-Million Boy pulls it off. The story goes back and forth from the present to various times in the past (usually different parts of Ona’s extensive past).  

As the story continues, we gain a real love for Ona and her young friend, whose life is different, short, and at the same time, beautiful. And along the way we gain more insight into his parents, the difficulties that led to their separation, and how their son and his relationship with Ona changes both their lives. It is an intense story, and like Wonder, I found myself crying at different times throughout, but it is also a beautiful story.

Just a few days ago I finished another amazing book that I also think should be enjoyed by adults and older students – News of the World by Paulette Jiles. This lovely book tells the story of Johanna, a 10-year-old girl who had been stolen from her family by Kiowa raiders, and the 70-year-old widower who accepts the difficult task of taking her through 400 miles of post-Civil War Texas to an aunt and uncle she doesn’t remember, in a culture she is no longer comfortable in. They are two lonely people who are thrown together in a difficult situation that neither of them caused and neither of them want. It was like going back in time to watch their lives change as they made the hazardous trip.

Neither book had anything truly inappropriate that I recall, but even though a main character in each of them is ten or eleven, I’m not sure I would listen to them with students that age, nor have them read them, though maybe that’s just me. But both are well worth the time for teens and adults alike.

I listened to the Audible versions of both these books and can say that the narrators in both cases did a wonderful job.  I’m sure reading both books would also be great, though I’m glad I had the experience of listening to them.

I would love to know what you think of them if you give either of them a try.

Happy listening and reading!


The End of Another Era

A Twenty Year Journey

Twenty years ago I started a journey as the WHCS Government Club Advisor. Like so many adventures, it started small, without a full understanding of where the adventure would lead, or how long it would last.

That first year we had six members on our first (of 43) Judicial teams. Between then and now I’ve taken as few as six students to Judicial, and as many as 21 (the one year we had three teams and three judges). And I have taken as few as three students to Youth Legislature, and as many as twelve. All told I accompanied over 200 students and dozens of adults to 21 Judicial competitions and 20 Legislative conferences.

The Many Hats I Wore

Throughout that time I wore many hats, including Mom, Advisor, Coach, Team Mom, Driver, and Nurse. There were good times and not so good times, but overall it was an amazing experience and a journey that I am very thankful to have taken.  I have been able to have a role (ranging from quite small to decently large) in the lives of some amazing teenagers throughout those years. I have laughed with them and cried with them, I have coached them, I have mentored them, and I have taught them. But I have also learned from them and with them.

Together We Traveled

We have traipsed across the state together, on dozens of trips to and from Anniston, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Montgomery. I have accompanied students to national events in Virginia and Oklahoma and on numerous field trips to Virginia and D.C. – where together we added to our knowledge of history, government, and Shakespeare.

Amazing Students

Throughout it all, my heart has been blessed by the wisdom and understanding of so many of these students.  Without all of this in my life during the last two decades I would have saved some time, saved some money, and missed out on so much more.

Thank You to the Helpful Adults!

And I certainly have not done this alone. Throughout all of this there have been countless adults who joined me on one or more of these endless trips – helping me with the driving, the chaperoning, the coaching, the meal purchasing and meal preparation (especially when we had the choice of NOT buying meal tickets!), and so much more. I would love to thank all the various folks who helped along the way, but I know if I start listing names, I would miss someone and that would make me sad. So I will cheat with a blanket “thank you so much” to those who have assisted, and assume you each know I mean you!

My Last Youth Legislature

This past weekend, twenty years since the beginning of all this, I took my final six students to our last Legislative event. It was a bittersweet feeling. I knew the end was approaching. I had already passed the reins of Judicial on to two family members after our competition last fall. And I knew that Youth Leg couldn’t be far behind. But it wasn’t until we were at least half way through the weekend that I realized that this one was, indeed, to be my last official event. It wasn’t anything big that told me that, it was more the little things – the food I shouldn’t be eating with my recent diagnosis of diabetes, but that I was paying for regardless; the frustration of knowing that yet again my students had written bills that wouldn’t be debated; and then the aggravation of watching them try, again and again, to participate in the debate, while being shut out.

Frustrations Over Benefits

I’ve always said that as long as the benefits of participating outweighed the frustrations being caused, we could justify our continued participation. But this weekend, at least where Youth Legislature was concerned, the scales finally tipped. We had become spectators at an event that spoke of the value of participation. We had been shut off as having opinions no one wanted to hear. Bill after bill came to the floor where a small variety of speakers stood time and again to praise their merits. But no one wanted to hear another side. True debate was shut out as the student leadership doggedly avoided calling on anyone who might stir up controversy. It was as if they were afraid of actually having to think.

Who Us? Listen to You?

We had seen the start of a trend that direction the previous year, when my students did much more watching than participating. But this year the trend blossomed into a full-blown attack. Not only were my students not allowed to speak, they were indirectly mocked by more than one speaker who felt it necessary to criticize all who could even think of speaking against such a marvelous bill as this one or that one.  It was tragic to see what this once great program had become.

As we sat at dinner that last night discussing the high and low points for each of us from the weekend, I told my students that ultimately they were not the real losers this weekend. They had formulated their ideas, written up their arguments, and actually thought about what was right and wrong with the various bills they wanted to speak against.  It was the other students who would never hear those arguments that were the ones who had lost out. The ones who were convinced that everyone thought like them, that might honestly have believed that because no one got up and spoke against a bill, that there was no one there who disagreed with them – they were the ones who had missed out.

Youth in Government

The Alabama Youth in Government program has been a huge part of my life, my children’s lives, and countless of my students. It has given us much and taught us much. It is with a sad heart that I watch our participation in this portion of a once great program come to an end.

Happy learning!


Learning Differently or Learning Disabled?

I miss many things since closing the physical space of Creative Learning Connection. But there is one thing I certainly don’t miss – standing in front of parents, generally well-meaning mothers, who went on to tell me of their children’s disabilities – in front of their children.  It made me want to cringe. And then to lash out at them, maybe shake them, and ask if they knew what damage they were doing to their child. But I could do none of that. I had to listen quietly and then pray that I could come up with an answer that would be helpful.

Labels – Good or Bad?

I have never been a fan of these labels and cringed at their use. To hear many of these mothers use them, they sounded more like a crutch or a curse. And I shuddered more than once at what those labels were doing to the children on whom they had been placed.

Square Pegs and Round Holes

I would prefer we talk about the fact that some of our students learn differently, because isn’t that what it’s truly about? We aren’t all wired the same. We learn in different ways, but schools (and sadly, often even homeschool programs) all seem bent on making square pegs fit into round holes. Let’s embrace the differences, rather than trying to make everyone the same! It’s the differences that brought many of our most famous artists and scientists to where they managed to accomplish so much. Men like Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein probably accomplished what they did because of their learning differences, rather than in spite of them. Maybe someday we’ll learn to embrace those differences, rather than just labeling them and fighting against them.

Using Labels for Good

In the meantime, I have not completely changed my mind about labels. I think they can still cause more problems than they solve in many cases. But I have softened my view on them a bit. I have spoken with mothers recently who were embracing the labels as the answer to why their child struggles/struggled to learn many things. When the labels can be used to get help in school or to convince a parent that the child is not merely being rebellious or stubborn when they aren’t learning something, then they have become a tool for good rather than just pain.

And I have found nothing that expresses the good that can come from a properly applied label than a video that my niece and her son made recently. It made me cry and I can only hope that others will be moved by it as well.

Happy learning – regardless of your learning abilities and differences!


Personal Libraries

Happy New Years

Happy New Years to all of you! I hope you are each ready for 2018 – I’m still trying to figure out where 2017 disappeared to. I might have skipped today’s blog post, but it’s already been almost a month since I last posted one on this site, so I thought it would be better to do a “short” post rather than wait another couple of weeks!

Holidays and visits to and from family are certainly part of why I’ve been absent from writing for so long, but there has actually been another big distraction for the last few weeks – I’ve been redoing my personal library.  I knew it would be a big task, I really did. But, whew, now that we’ve been working on it for so long, I’m not sure we really had any idea just how big it would be. (And on more than one occasion I did wonder what we were thinking!)

Do you have a Personal Library?

But, before I get into more about that, I would like to ask – how many of you have personal libraries? Since most of the readers of this blog are homeschoolers, I hope that most of you can answer yes to that question! I realize that here in the twenty-first century we live in a digital world that didn’t exist when I started homeschooling over thirty years ago, but there is still something very special about “real” books that sit there on a shelf, reminding you they are there and that they are meant to be used.

A Long-time Love Affair with Books

I’ve always loved books – I can credit my parents for implanting that love many decades ago. And it is a love that I have strived to pass on to my children. (Games and books have been the largest category of gifts in my family for as long as I can remember.)

Libraries and Homeschooling

And as a homeschooler, I really can’t imagine not having had a personal library all those years that I was educating my own children. We happily moved thousands of books across the world and across the country as the Army moved us from place to place. In fact, when we were heading stateside from Germany, we started to worry about our weight limit, and we were willing to get rid of furniture if need be, rather than get rid of any of our books. My best guess puts my library at about 7,000 books when we moved into our current home and converted the “formal dining room” into a library. My husband graciously filled three of the four walls with wall to wall, floor to ceiling bookshelves.

Purging Books

As my homeschooling came to an end, I started trying to purge my books, though I don’t think I’ve managed to shrink my current holdings to much under 5,000 books.

“New” Bookcases

When I closed my physical store at this time last year, we chose to keep more than a dozen of the bookcases that had graced the walls of Creative Learning Connection for the previous decade. But for the last year the shelves have sat in our storage unit awaiting the time and energy to put them back to use. So several weeks ago I decided the time had come to bring the brown bookcases over and replace the white shelves that had served our needs for so long.

It was mid-December and company and holidays were just around the corner – but my son had some time off between semesters and I wasn’t going to get a better opportunity to do this! To increase the chances we wouldn’t change our mind – I scheduled someone to come clean our carpets on December 15. So we were committed. We had to remove thousands of books, so that my son could then remove the dozens of shelves that were already there.

A BIG Project

Several students helped remove and box some of the books on Wednesday, and Thursday three of us worked until late into the night (or early into the morning) to finish the task. But we did it! We cleared out the room, the carpets were cleaned and the following week we were ready to reverse the process.

It’s a good thing the Liquor store gives away free boxes! This is NOT all of the boxes either.

Of course, removing the books and the shelves was actually the easy part. The next week, the fun really started. I determined I had space for seven bookcases in the library. The problem was that our brown bookcases were actually two different styles – so in order to get seven that matched, we had to get three of them from the storage unit, and then also trade for the two in the office and the two that were in my second floor bedroom. And, of course, the four that were already in the house were already full of books and/or games! So before those could be moved they had to be emptied.  My son and two of his friends brought over the bookcases we needed from the storage unit (including two to replace the ones in the office – the bedroom replacements will have to wait until this part of the project is completed.) Meanwhile my daughter and I were removing books and games as quickly as we could.

Is the End in Sight?

By the end of Monday the bookcases were in place in the library. The shelves still had to be installed, and then 100 or so boxes had to be emptied. Two weeks later, we’re approximately half way through the process of installing those shelves and putting the books in their proper places. (If I’m going to all this trouble, I want my books to be more or less organized!)

I think this is where we were in the process a week ago.

We’re not where I had hoped to be by today, but we’re getting there. I have knee surgery scheduled for January 10, so finishing before then is the new target. (We’ve already missed the before Christmas company deadline.) In the meantime, we try not to trip over the stacks of boxes and books that really are shrinking!

Happy reading.


« Older posts

© 2024

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑