Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Lessons on Bribie Island

I don't want to go!

The Doctor never wants to go!  But today she had a surprise.  An island about an hour north of Brisbane with amazing treasures:  a beach full of soldier crabs, lorikeets, and a gorgeous surf beach!

On this rainy and wet day, we decided to go for a drive, taking random roads and letting chance dictate our direction.  We ended up on Bribie Island

First we went to Banksia Beach.  A real TREASURE of a beach.  At low tide, the soldier crabs come up to the beach.  There they sift the sand for nutrients, leaving small balls of sand behind them.  This invasion happens every day!  The thousands of little fellas are all BLUE!
It is absolutely astonishing!

Who knew?

After they sift through the sand, they leave the small balls of sand behind.

A man who was out walking his dog at this beach explained that the crabs remain on the beach and hide in the sand or scuttle away if they feel threatened.  We saw the scuttle alright!  They make this tiny little sound as the mob moves away at the same time.

Also on Banksia Beach were the squawky lorikeets.  It seems that it must be mating season because all of them were in twos in the trees.

Banksia Beach

We then took off for Woorim Beach on the east side of Bribie Island.  The entire east coast of the island is one long beach.  It is gorgeous!  We were alone for most of the time on the beach.  The kids ran in the water, shouted across the Coral Sea to America, and ...well, frolicked!  The sand was so clean and beautiful and the water was still warm and lovely.  We found some gorgeous shells and coral!  The weather was breezy, but still so nice!

This is my favorite picture of all!
The Doctor


We played in the water and collected shells and had a MARVELOUS time!  We only wished Jerry was there to share it with us.

And at the end of the day The Doctor said,  
I'm so glad we came!


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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

No, We are Not Canadian

The kids and I have a list of a number of FAQs we get from Queenslanders that we meet.  Those top three questions are:  Why are you here?  Do you like Brisbane?  and Are you from Canada?

But the jig is up!
We know the secret code!

Australians have discovered that Canadians are slightly offended when it is assumed that they are from American whereas Americans are not similarly offended when asked if we are Canadian.  Thus, Australians, in their endless capacity for peace and good international relations have given up asking people "Are you American?" And risking offending half of the people...

So they simply ask everyone from the North American continent Are you from Canada?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Thirteen Tips for Parenting Your Strong-Willed Teen

atheist parenting, difficult teen, atheist parenting, difficult teen, atheist parenting, difficult teen,
Is your strong-willed teen confusing you?
Looking for that magical thing that will make everything all better?

I don't have the answers, but I think I'm doing pretty well with mine... (well, for TODAY anyway...) I think about this so often, how to raise my child. Figuring out the best way to parent this child has been a full time job for me, trying to help her to grow up to live a healthier and a happier life. It's not easy and both of us struggle with it...because it matters to us.

Actually I'm so grateful that my daughter is strong-willed. I myself was a mousy teen. Wishy-washy is how I thought of myself. So while I was pregnant with my daughter, I frequently heard myself saying that I wanted a strong-willed child, a child just like my sister Brenda, I would say. Well...I got one! So, to me the term "strong-willed" is not a pejorative; It is a challenge! 

Of course, there are no magic bullets in the parenting game, but I have figured out a few things in how to parent this child who is strong-willed. The way our parents raised us, that last generation, would not bring this child up to be healthy or happy. That authoritative parenting that I grew up with would, I think, make my child into either a bullying tyrant or an extremely insecure mouse who doubts herself. I didn't want my daughter to be either one of these... though she skims over both of them at times.

A parent's dream, to avoid the negative stereotypes with their beloved children. 

I've learned a few lessons as I've traveled this path with my daughter. For example, a token economy-type arrangement does not work with the strong-willed child. John, on the other hand, is thrilled to "earn" good points. Elizabeth couldn't care less! She laughs at the idea. She is not so lame that I can buy her cooperation. Oh no. Not this kid.

I have also learned that my beloved teen doesn't like to argue with me, although it certainly seems so at times. Conflict with me leads her to feel misunderstood and devalued. She far prefers to feel capable, respected, and loved. In fact, I think being heard and being understood are the major goals of Elizabeth's life right now. If she could accomplish these things without the drama, I'm sure she would do it.  

Another lesson I have learned is that those teen years don't necessarily have to be about teens "growing away" as they grow up. You can continue to experience delight and joy with your teen as long as your relationship with your teen stays strong (or gets repaired.) Although our culture tends to disrespect a close parent/teen bond, even to expect significant distance between parents and teens, each family has it in their power to create a family of their own definition. 

Allow your teens to direct their own lives, learning, healthy activities, and passions just as much while they are teens as you did when they were little ones. Celebrate with them. Be sensitive to their feelings. Acknowledge their struggles. Enter into difficult but honest conversations. Learn new ways of dealing with their growing and questioning minds. Support their journey. 
It means evolving as a parent.

As Elizabeth has grown up, I have worked hard to figure out the best ways to parent her. I have these few hard-won truths that underlie my philosophical approach to being the best parent I can be for her.  I have a few truths that I have had as a starting point when feeling like I am in a muddle, which happens often these days.

Those "truths" include:
  • Say "Yes" - Unless a thing is unhealthy, unsafe, or unethical, I want to be able to tell my children "yes" as much as possible. Why? Because I want my kids to know that they can make choices and to live with those choices. In general, I stand behind this though I have regretted it on occasion.  
  • Expect her to treat others kindly - Under no circumstances is it okay to victimize another person or to make them subservient.
  • Avoid punishment and grounding - In almost every case, this type of parenting merely sets up a negative feedback loop. The teen feels misunderstood and sits and stews in those feelings; that is the last thing she needs at a time like that. Talking a crisis through is a better way of encouraging a teen to work through the overwhelming emotions. Almost no teen ever went into a grounding without also slamming a door. At least mine never has!
  • Be honest - As long as my children are honest with me about mistakes, I always give some leeway in consequences. And my honesty with them lets them know I trust and respect them. 
  • Always model mature behavior - Regardless of how pissed off I am, I seldom go off on my daughter. I have raised my voice, but I know that she uses my increased volume as a sign to increase her own. If I need a time out, I take one.
  •  Involving my daughter in decisions about her life does not take away my authority, but it shows her that I respect her opinions and her needs and that I think she has a great deal to offer.
  • View "defiance" as a problem with the relationship in that moment - rather than as an issue with someone's personality. At this point think about how to improve the relationship. Just stop, take a breath, and remind yourself that winning a battle with your teen always sets you up to lose what’s most important: the relationship. Not surprisingly, my daughter is always aware of this transition in an interaction and she transitions as well.
  • Recognize she is feeling out of control - At the moments of her worst outbursts and behavior, I know she is feeling either out of control, painted into a corner, or in a "down" position. At any one moment, she is doing the best she can so I have to be aware of these meta messages and make changes accordingly.
  • Our relationship matters - I have this advantage, there is no doubt that our relationship means a great deal to both of us. Some parents may not have this advantage. My daughter is tough, it is true.  But I know that, no matter how hard she makes things, as some point she will always come to me, apologize, and be able to talk and think again.
  • Reinforce the desired behavior - Without fail, expecting a child to learn from negative consequences will not produce the desired behavior. We all know this.  

OK, LOTS of information here. Stick with me.

Without further ado, and after much thought, here are my thirteen tips for dealing with my strong-willed teen. I don't claim that they are miracles, but I do claim that these tips can improve even the most difficult of parent/teen relationships.
Maybe even the most difficult human vs. human relationships.

It all begins with the relationship:

  1. Let Her Save Face.
    There is no point in needing to be
    right. Allowing my daughter to have her own views and to find her way to new information has very positive effects. It allows her to not have to be oppositional with me. It means that our conversations can be less about her being in a "learning" position, which she hates, and more about us exploring ideas together.

    If I give her the room to back down, she will do so gracefully (and gratefully). And, I notice that the times when I force the issue of me being right, the less productive it is. Letting her save face also allows her to feel positive about the lessons she does eventually learn.
  2. P.S.  Needing to be "right" is a power struggle you don't want to get into and it suggests that you have become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. Besides, NO ONE learns a lesson during a conflict. The more you push the issue, the less likely your teen will ever "give in."
  3. Remember that thing about how we are our child's inner voice?
    The way I talk to my daughter will become how she talks to herself. If I am harsh with her, she will take that inside. If I am gentle, yet firm, she will learn to let herself off of the hook when she feels stuck inside, even when she needs limits and boundaries. Putting your relationship with your child in the forefront and sincerely letting them know that the relationship is important to you helps! I have found that our best days happen when we both acknowledge that our relationship is essential to our sense of well being.
  4. A strong-willed teen is seeking to master her surroundings.
    (Brilliant insight, I know.)
    The more I allow her to make her own choices without my input, criticism, or comment the happier she feels. Of course this means that we all have to live with her choices. As long as she makes those choices, however ridiculous they may seem to me, the less she feels the need to rebel against me.
    For example, Elizabeth has these shorts that I think look like underwear with the Union Jack on them. She thinks that they are OK to wear in public while I think they look shocking. The other day, as I was driving her to the mall to meet with friends, it occurred to me that she might be hiding something about her wardrobe. I asked her if she was hiding some Union Jack under that long black skirt. She looked over at me and said that she was. I could have freaked. (Maybe I should have, but) I asked her to show me how they looked without the skirt. With the black tights they still looked awful, but I told her, "Well, then keep the skirt in your bag in case you want it." Off she went, at the mall, wearing the underwear shorts over the tights. When I picked her up later, she was wearing the skirt. BAM. I wasn't the bad guy. But watching her walk away in that get up was murder!

  5. Give her absolute power over her body
    The dressing issue comes up for us often, but there is more, more than just the shoulder-length earrings and black make up.
    One morning, picking her up from a sleepover, I found my daughter's skin covered with tons of doodling, all in Sharpie Marker. Words, images, all over her body. I could see her waiting for me to explode. I wasn't happy, but I did say, "How cool is that one...who gave you the Union Jack?" She was so happy and talked about the experience for days. Later she admitted how silly the ink was and how it lasted way longer than she had hoped.

    Also, when my sister was in high school she and her best friend shaved their heads, bald! We could have freaked. But, guess what, it grew back.
    Still with ME?
    Let's keep going...

  6. Value the relationship you have with your teen.  Communicate this to her by listening to her point of view. If she has a habit of putting her feet down and standing her ground it may get your goat. So remember, the thing she is standing up for is important to her. Do everything you can to listen calmly to your teenager. If you can listen with a loving heart and if you can find a way to "yes" you will find that the generosity and goodness of your heart will begin to be mirrored in your teen. The closer you work at being with your teen the more likely you and your teen will be able to find a middle ground. Which brings us to...
  7. Try to see struggles from her point of view.
    When Elizabeth sees that I am seeking to see her point of view, she appreciates that. For a moment, overlook her unpleasant attitude and look at the content of the situation. Evaluate the conflict based on whether it strengthens or weakens your relationship with your child. Making this effort to approach the conflict in this empathic way helps your teen focus on improving her behavior rather than on being angry at you.
  8. Give choices -
    Chores and responsibility. Will I sound utterly simple if I remind parents to give their child choices? Saturday chore days around here can be very unfun if I forget this one. But, the days I remember to offer choices of what needs doing and when it needs to be done, I get lots more cooperation. No one likes orders. I HATE rules and orders and guidelines. Interestingly enough, when I give her a job that actually challenges her, she tends to rise to the challenge! Which brings me to the next...
  9. Remember what it's like to have a tyranical boss - Who likes this?
    Who enjoys and respects a tyrannical boss? No one, of course. Start all interactions by reaffirming the importance of your connection with your teen and remember that teens generally enter into conflict when they feel bad about themselves or when they feel disconnected from us. These states of mind can be difficult for a teen to put into words and they can be a difficult feedback loop to escape from.

  10. Use empathy when setting limits - Sometimes we, as parents, have to say "no". When necessary, do so with empathy. Acknowledge your teen's feelings so that they know that you truly care about the feelings that they have. The less confrontational a limit is set, the easier it may be for your teen to accept those limits. In ALL situations when your child is in danger, you must set limits with extremely high levels of empathy and enforce those limits.
  11. Offer your strong-willed teen respect and empathy. Most teens are fighting for respect. If you offer it to them, they don’t need to fight to protect their position. And, like the rest of us, it helps a lot if they feel understood. If you see his point of view and think he's wrong you can still offer him empathy and meet him part way while you set the limit. 
  12. Avoid Groundings and Punishments -Timeouts, while infinitely better than arguing, are just another version of punishment by banishment and humiliation. They leave a worked-up teen alone to manage their tangled-up emotions. They actually undermine opportunity for emotional growth. They break down, rather than strengthen, your relationship with your child. They set up a power struggle. Instead, expect a teen to face natural consequences. Teens can learn alot by suffering through natural consequences. In some difficult cases, we all learn from letting things go wrong. 
  13. Give yourself a timeout when you feel like your temper is rising. If you're in a heated discussion, excuse yourself for a few moments before shouting or saying hurtful things. Take a break until you can come back with a more rational approach. Your teen will see a health way to handle being difficult and may be more apt to play a calmer part in the discussion once he sees that you are being respectful toward him.
  14. Recognize that the final goal is for your teen to be able to self-discipline. It takes time and the teen years are learning years. Ultimately loving guidance results in your teen being better able to make decisions for herself...and isn't that what this is all about?

And, BONUS!  
Number 14: ENJOY and CELEBRATE this child!  
That strong will will take them far in life!

Did you notice?
Much of this is MY attitude needing adjusting.

I'm The Doctor and I have APPROVED of this message

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Brief Interaction

The jetty at Wynnum
Last week the kids and I went down to Wynnum (my favorite little bayside village). Elizabeth and a friend were walking out on the jetty; I was way behind them, just enjoying the peace. It was a very overcast day in the middle of several days of rain.

As I strolled down the jetty I saw this little tiny motorboat tied to one side. A very elderly gentleman quietly stepped up behind me and down to the motorboat carrying a shopping bag.

I greeted him. He was silent, didn't even make eye contact. I asked him how his day was and other small pleasantries. He said very little.

I asked him if the small boat I could see out on the water belonged to him. He said it did. "Do you live on it?" He said he did. "Where do you go during the storms, do you bring it in somewhere?" He motioned to the water. "You keep it out on the bay?" 

"Yes." He continued to untie his motorboat and arrange his shopping bag and oars.

I said, "Well, I see you don't talk to strangers much; that's OK.  So I will just wish you a nice afternoon."

He stood a moment, looking out to sea, and said, "I just come into town in the afternoon and walk on the streets. It breaks up the day."

I grinned at him. "Do you keep busy on the boat? I guess you read a bit."

He said, "I read quite alot."

We talked about books, we recommended an author to each other. And off he went, in his motorboat, out to his little home on the water.

I'm thinking about him tonight. It's a bit breezy and cool with the rain...I hope he's got a good book...

Heading out to his boat moored in the grey distance


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Part Two: What to do with Spelling Words

Ok, we have our spelling list, now what????

I remember in elementary school working with that word list through the week and then having a test on Friday. As a homeschooling parent, I see what we were doing. We were exposing ourselves to each word:  seeing it, writing it, saying it. We were putting it into our brain with as many senses as possible so that we could recognize the word just by looking at it and then we could spell it.

I started really thinking about ways to expose my son to each word in ways that would appeal to him. (BTW, I did do a bit of spelling with my daughter, but she has a natural affinity with words, just as I do, and she didn't need lessons in spelling.)  In thinking about my guy, I know that he needed to move and he needed to use his hands. Together, we came up with these ideas for working with words in a way that makes sense for him:

  • Basketball:  Spell the word out loud as he takes shots at the basket
  • Jumping Rope:  spell while jumping rope
  • Trampoline:  Spell the words out loud as he bounced, a letter a bounce - you choose your sport or game of choice and make up the rules!
  • Shuffle off to Buffalo, tap, jazz, ballet spelling the words - whatever works!
  • Mother May I?  He must spell the word I give him (and here we review alot!) and ask "Mother, may I?" I have to warn you, this one can get pretty silly! We have been known to switch roles and I have to do the spelling is usually quite bad at those time!  LOL
  • Dictionary and Thesaurus:  (IRL and online) Two ideas here. Look up each word, write it in syllables and write the words before it and after it alphabetically
  • Brainstorm:  Come up with as many words as possible that are spelled with similar spelling rules  (Village:  pillage, millage)   List them on a white board, chalk board
  • Prefixes and Suffixes:  Write each word with as many variations as possible by adding prefixes and suffices  (weapon:  weaponry, weapons or likely:  unlikely)
  • Crosswords, word finds, fill in the missing letters, word scrambles, etc. Worksheets that are games
  • Sentences and stories:  Writing either sentences or stories containing the words, act out the story with action figures, stop to write or spell the word out loud, the more outlandish the story the better!
  • Using index cards, put words into alphabetical order
  • Using index cards with each spelling word in it, shuffle the card, draw one card at a time, telling an ongoing adventure story using that word
  • Paint the words, type them, write them in dust, with water, in the air, use letter stamps, cut letters out of magazines, use calligraphy, bubble letters, or any fun lettering. This is only as limited as your imagination!
  • Write each word with markers, using a different color for each letter. For some reason, everyone loves this one!
  • Stack the word - see my example on the right
  • Pyramid the word - check out my example
  • Sing a freakishly silly song with spelling
  • Figure out what part of speech it is - on the right is an example of one way to do this...but there are many others
  • Look for synonyms, homonyms, antonyms - anytime you are using the word, your child is getting a visual awareness of that word
  • Look for root words, silent letters, syllables - becoming familiar with the appearance of that word helps in rereading and editing work. In fact, one of my "worksheets" is often a story that he has to edit. Naturally, all of the spelling words are misspelled.
  • Learn the spelling rule that explains the spelling - in general it's not just random!
  • Do extra work with the words that give a bit of trouble
  • At some point I made a board game that we repurposed to use as a spelling word game...Shoots and Ladders style.
  • Review past word lists and include them in your games.

Usually I will ask John to choose an activity he wants to do with his spelling list. But, occasionally, I do give him seat work to do at the table.

So, these are my ideas.  Do you have any?!  

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Part One:  How to Create a Great Spelling List
Note to my Former Self
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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Part One: How to Create Great Spelling and Vocabulary Lists

We have been less than busy lately, unless you count running here and there.  The kids each have classes and activities that have kept us fairly active in the rainy weather.  For the most part it has been too rainy to really get out much (OR to do the laundry and hang it on the only means of drying clothing...).  On rainy days we have mostly been reading and working here at home...unless the kids are out walking in the rain!  When I say rain, I mean the sweetest most gentle rain ever!

Man, I love Brisbane rain!

Bonobo is working on spelling, among other things.  For other mothers of sons who dislike all language work, this part of the post is for you.  Bonobo's spelling is quite atrocious.  He really hasn't cared much about spelling.  (I tried the browbeat method of spelling training and the giving him "bad grades" and letting him feel like a stupid kid method and that didn't work...)  A few weeks ago, he told me that he wanted to learn how to spell.

EUREKA!!!  (The moment I had waited for and never thought would arrive...)

The trick here was, of course, figuring out where to start.  So, as he loves Minecraft and about a dozen other games, I decided to begin with words that applied directly to what he was working on, but with a twist.  I read some of his stuff and cherry-picked out words that are useful to him.  Our first list contained words like "sword", "armour", and "defense".  He immediately wanted to spell those words correctly.  For each word, we talked about spelling words and exceptions that make that word make more sense.

He literally attacked this list!  LOL

This week I have selected words that are useful and likely to be used by him, as well as a word or two of similar spelling.  For example, with "battle" I can also use words like "little", "dabble", or "riddle".  So the target words can open us up to larger groups of words easily.

To improve spelling, I also plan on having him choose a set of words that he would like to work on, on selecting words directly from his reading, and using words we hear and see in the world as we move through it.  In these ways, I am using words that are relevant and emergent for him.  So he cares.

For Cassandra, erm, I mean The Doctor, we are doing lots of vocabulary.  She asked for it and she loves it.  We started out with a couple of those books with lists of words like 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know and other titles like that.  Not because they are authoritative lists, but just to give us someplace to begin.  Then, as she is working on monologues for drama, we started adding words that came directly out of those monologues or words that would apply to them.

This did two things simultaneously.  She, of course, understood the content of the monologue better, but she also better understood the overall context of the monologue, thereby improving her performance!  Win win.

Man, I love these kids!!!!

Bonobo and The Doctor


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You Live and You Learn

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Being Religion-Free


It's a lot like being the only sober person
in a car full of drunk people,
and they refuse to pull over and let you drive.
I seldom go through my day thinking of religion or gods or anything supernatural at all.  There is no part of my day that includes "holy" books, devils, ghosts (holy or otherwise), tarot cards, talking to the dead, afterlives, (prelives, for that matter,) runes, angels, daemons, special undergarments, phrenology, palmistry, alchemy, Big Foot, astrology, crystals, crop circles, UFO abductions, deja vu, faith healing, guilt and shame, telekinesis, resurrections, reincarnation, palm reading, vampires, dream reading, zombies, magical hocus pocus, juju and woo woo of all kinds, horoscopes, and the like.

I'll just be moving through the day, rationally. Suddenly someone will, in all sincerity, say something about an angel thing or a prayer thing and I'm immediately thinking:


Oh yeah, people out there actually believe this stuff

and it is meaningful for them...



Here is an example:  I was at a pharmacy the other day and saw a DVD meant for TODDLERS explaining the beauty of God's creation...  I literally nearly tripped!

All I could think was:  ACK!!!

I find it discouraging that there are parents out there trying to do the right thing for their children and the best that they can come up with is the Christian religion.  That parents do their part in the indoctrination of children into the church.  

I remember how my daughter used to listen to every single thing I ever said and compare those things with every single thing she heard every place else. She was being discerning, looking for patterns, trying to find things that didn't fit. She was great at this! The problem was that Christians have their messages out there in abundance. It is as pervasive as racism, body distorting images, or fast food. Preschool-aged The Doctor was always on alert, still is! She would always be pointing out the places where religion was saying things different from what I was saying.

In her kindergarten class alone (in the year 2001), she was exposed to Christian stuff on a daily basis. From the Pledge of Allegiance to lovely Christian Jesus stories (in a public school). I strongly felt that is was my responsibility to be honest about the world. She was looking to me for information and for truth. In fact, she was demanding it. I strongly felt I would have failed her if I had told her stories of a flood or a father being told by God to kill his beloved son. It just made no sense. But the religion stories were all around her. She saw them, heard them, and felt confused by them. And this was with me being vigilant.

I admit, that had something to do with us moving into homeschooling at first...

My daughter remembers those days well, especially the confusion of how pervasive the religious bias was in our area. She fondly remembers the stories of fairies from her younger days, and she relegates the religious stories to that same bin.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Atheist Parenting Advice Clip Art

If you are on Pinterest, you may have seen my new clip art out there called "Atheist Parenting Tips".  I have forty or fifty of them on Pinterest now.  You are welcome to them as long as you link back here to my blog!  You can check out my Pinterest "Parenting" board for more:



I will post more of them here on my atheist parenting-focused blog posts.  You will notice that many of them are good parenting in general, but with a humanistic slant...  I thought about this little project for awhile before doing it.  I would be thrilled to add to this collection.  Please comment below if you have some more suggestions.

As for why I am working on this project, I'm not trying to suggest that I'm the best atheist parent around, only that I have the best atheist children.  *grin*

I feel like I am on a mission in my teeny tiny corner of the world to give freethinking parents support and information so that they can help create the next generation of skeptical adults!  It truly means something to me to be a resource for this type of information...even on this small scale.

What do you think of my clip arts????

What about you?  If you had to give advice to newly "out" atheist parents looking for suggestions on raising ethical children, what would you tell them? 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Would if I Could

Taking the interesting challenge put out there by NerdMom on NerdFamily Blog I have been thinking about which three things I would tell teenage me.

Oh yes, if I could time travel and change some thing, I would. I don't have the slightest dilemma about now being "me" now, because it's all an exercise in creativity, eh?!

If you could go back to teenage you, what would you tell yourself? Assuming teen age you would even listen.
  1. The Trinity: Never, ever give up your own integrity for a boy. Never be afraid to be who you really are to keep a boy. Never give up yourself for a boy. Because, I promise, Karen, the very moment you finally stand up and become yourself, it will become clear to both you and the boy that this relationship wasn't meant to be  after all. In fact, as long as you are in this relationship, you have absolutely no chance of meeting the "right one". You can't be yourself in this relationship, and it can take a loooong time to get "yourself" back after so successfully burying her. As painful as it is to lose this person, it is far more painful to look for yourself again. And the grief will pass. 
  2. Question everything. Never hide your questioning mind. Being "good" is not as important as being honest and curious and informed. 
  3. And remember, sex is NOT love. But the loss of love of self  is a tough one to get back. Avoid the cognitive dissonance and remember: sex is sex. Enjoy it in a healthy way if you like, but don't confuse what it is. But maybe, hopefully, if you listen to the first two of these things, will never have had such trouble with this third one...But everyone should hear it anyway.

No, I'm sure teenage me wouldn't have listened. I was already pretty damaged and I had so many other things going on. But it would have been nice if someone had been there...saying these things to me...

What about you? What would you like to have told teen you? Assuming you would have listened... 

Monday, February 11, 2013

You Were Never a Real Believer

I was having dinner with a very good friend of mine, let's call her Tracy. Tracy asked me if she could ask me a question about my faith, or lack thereof. I thought, here it is, finally. I had been expecting this for a long time, looking forward to it, really.

I replied, of course! You can ask me anything. In fact, I enjoy our conversations.  She then went on to propose the usual reasons of how I could not possibly be an atheist if I had once been a True Believer.

Her memorable question from that evening:
Maybe you were never a believer. Not really.

Incredulously, I look at her tipped head and sad eyes.
How insulting that could be to me, Tracy, I replied, if you think about it for a moment. Do you doubt my belief was genuine and important to me? I assure you, my belief was as strong and as certain as yours in now. I was a deep and true believer.

Then I uttered the true central fear in her heart: I was where you are and now I am here, an atheist. And I am happy.


Several weeks went by. She called me and said, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you.

Yes, I said, I am fine, of course. I know that you find it difficult to accept the fact that a person could be where you are now and, in the same life, be where I am now.

Yes, that is true.

I wasn't insulted at all, actually. I admit that I used to feel insulted with that one, though. I simply wanted to see if Tracy could see how it could have been insulting to suggest that if a person is different from you then it is inconceivable for them to be truly happy in their choice. It's even more difficult for a believer to accept that a person can deeply believe...until they don't. It's terrifying for some believers to consider. I get that.

And Tracy truly tries I give her a great deal of credit. Our friendship is important to both of us and she struggles with the person that I am, the children I have, our family's general joy and goodness, and the fact that we are open and unabashed atheists. I know it's difficult for her because it doesn't fit into what she has been told, to what she has believed, about atheists.

I have thought about that conversation in particular again and again. Tracy and I are good friends, but our belief systems are so different. (Her son actually has and displays one of those timelines that begins at 4004 B.C.!) I am open about my atheism and I can see it discomfit her at times. It is clear that she thinks about this dilemma pretty frequently because she asks me about it when we have private moments.

Could the cognitive dissonance be getting to her?

It's not that I enjoy giving discomfort to people I care about. I guess I think about this so often because I know she is struggling and I care. I remember being where she is.

A believer who is so certain.
A believer who feared atheists.

One thing is very different though, I was never as brave as she is, having an openly atheist friend, having conversations about it, even spending time thinking about it. No. I was far more insulated and frightened than that.

So, KUDOS to you, My Friend!
I love you and I always enjoy our time together!

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

GREAT READS for Tweens and Teens: For the Love of a Good Book

Online, one of the most common questions I hear is  
"What can my kids read?!"

It's that wonderful moment when you realize your kids are finally interested in books...!

Over the years I have lead many book groups with teens and tweens and I have seen kids go crazy over books that really challenge them, inform them, entertain them.  I have seen kids get so "into" a book that they bring snacks, projects, hand-written comics, fan fic, costumes, and so many other things that they have done independently for their love of a good book.

I have gathered here a list of books that I can almost guarantee will be one of those books for your tween!  I would estimate the "level" of these books to be about ages 9-13.  But you know your child!  Some younger children will LOVE them and some older ones will dig them as well.  So, now and always, use these recommended ages with a grain of salt!  Because I love them too!  Some of the books are doorway books (as I call them) because they open up the door to a series of books or to an entirely new genre'.

If you are leading a co op reading group, I highly recommend this list!


# - These books will accidently teach you something
* - These books are a part of a series
+ - These books are for slightly advanced readers due to length or content
- These books are for slightly younger readers 

If we HAVE to choose our absolute favorites from this excellent list


  • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke - Cornelia Funke will surprise you with her pen.  This one is about two boys who run away and who find a secret group of kids in Venice Italy who are being loved and supported by their mysterious older boy, the one they call "The Thief Lord"
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - I remember being blown away by this one!  Groups of children are selected by way of a test to go to a special school for the super-intelligent.  They learn many lessons there!  This is a part of a series.     *
  • Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson - Eva Ibbotson has written many books that may entertain your child, if they dare!  This one has a bit of freak, a bit of magic, and lots of fun.  Be prepared for some amazing creatures and lots of secrets.  I have Michael Boehm to thank for this one!
  • The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch - You will be grabbed by the mysteries of this story from page one.  I guarantee it!  This is the beginning of a series.  I have Evee Hockett to thank for this one!    *
  • Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass - Jeremy and his best friend go on the adventure of their lives and learn so much about what is important in life...but in a fun way!  This journey is one you will never forget!    #
  • Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett - This is one of those books that will accidently teach you something about Vermeer...and even more about accepting challenges!    =
  • 39 Clues by various authors - this series of books begins with a sister and brother from a super-wealthy family learning that their family holds many secrets!  You will love this series!  We waited with baited breath for each new book.    #  *
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin - Another fun book about secrets and the solving of mysteries.  Not to mention codes!     *
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques - This book introduces you to a group of animal characters who take on the biggest challenge of their lives!  Don't be fooled by the animal characters!  Set in medieval times, Matthias manages the castle to take on the most despicable villain!  This is the first of a set of adventures.  I will never forget Asmodeas, Cluny, Constance, Silent Sam, or Methuselah!  Check out the Redwall Cookbook.    *
  • Despereaux by Kate DeCamillio - Take one sweet mouse and add lots of adventure.  See what can happen to a heroic character who falls in love with a princess who is in trouble.    =
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan - I don't know how to describe how much we loved these books!  Greek mythology in modern day.  Adventure after adventure with lots of great humor.  Read the books instead of watch the movie!     *
  • Fablehaven by Cornelia Funke - What happens when two kids discover that their family is in charge of all of the characters from fables.  I will absolutely never forget the chicken!    *  + 
  • The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull - You will always remember the day you picked up this book.  How does magical candy and adventure sound to you?  Brandon Mull will be one of those authors you return to again and again. 
  • Schooled by Gordon Korman - Here is a homeschooled kid making a huge splash in school when circumstances require him to attend.  Makes me proud to be a "hippy dippy" homeschool mom.  And don't worry, the stereotypes may bother you at first, but it's all worth the journey.  #
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko - How can this possibly be a good book?  Making a deal with Al Capone?  My kids couldn't wait for the second book!    #  *
  • The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Jolen - You know Jane Yolen, books with a message  Well, this one is about a young Jewish girl who doesn't quite appreciate her first.   #
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt - This book is about one of those kids who never gets the breaks, but somehow becomes a bit of a hero.  You will laugh out loud.   #
  • The Dragon's Eye:  Erec Rex by Kasa Kingsley - Don't be surprised when your kids get online and start looking for more information on this author.  With such a remarkably clever story and the horrible Biskania, you will want to read all three books.  Erec discovers amazing secrets about his family and their secret land...and becomes something of a hero.  You won't want to miss it.     *  +
  • Code Talker:  A novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two by Joseph Bruchac - How to pass codes during WWII when the enemy can decode absolutely everything?  Learn about the amazing contribution of the Navajos during WWII.  This is an amazing story that will engage your child.  Lots of Navajo language and vocabulary at the end of the book.  Also, check out the website.   #  +
  • The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies - What happens with competitive siblings try to earn more and more money from their lemonade stand and things get a bit out of hand?   #
  • Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda - We all remember this series so fondly.  All of us were very moved by Rowan's adventures and courage.  See how this gentle young boy takes on one challenge after another...  This fantasy story is written by an Australian author.    *   =
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen - An absolutely stunning story about a boy and how he changes after being stranded after an airplane crash in the Canadian wild.    #
  • The White Giraffe by Lauren St. John - After the death of her parents, Martine goes to live with her grandmother in Africa and begins pursuing a mythical white giraffe.    #   *   =
  • Isabel of the Whales by Hester Velmans - You will thank me for this book.  When Isabel discovers she is a special one, she becomes a whale for a full year, and learns more about whales and humans than she expected.    #
  • Pendragon by D.J. MacHale - Bobby Pendragon discovers that he is capable of dimension travel, from one dimension to another.  He figures out how to save each world before moving on.  An adventure series like no other.  This series has many mysteries and lessons to learn!     *   +
  • H.I.V.E.:  Higher Institute for Villainous Education by Mark Walden - Otto is thrilled to be a part of this secret school, but has a bit of trouble when he decides to leave the organization.  Otto's brilliance and ingenuity make this story of beating the villain particularly fun.    *
  • The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau - When the power of the underground city of Ember begins to falter, two teens look for a way out.   Avoid the movie.  Also check out the graphic novel!    *   +
  • Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George -To her small Eskimo village, she is known as Miyax; to her friend in San Francisco, she is Julie. When her life in the village becomes dangerous, Miyax runs away, only to find herself lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Without food and time running out, Miyax tries to survive by copying the ways of a pack of wolves.    #
  • The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood - Widge's Elizabethian mysterious kidnapper forces him to steal Shakespeare's play "Hamlet" by infiltrating the Globe Theater.  Widge's ethical dilemmas and physical challenges are fun, adventurous, and exciting.    #
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi - What's a "great reads" list without Avi?  In this unique adventure, Charlotte is placed upon a ship heading for America when things go terribly wrong.  Her ladylike upbringing does not give her any advantage over the situation so she finds herself making choices she would never have considered before!  This books is not just for girls!
  • The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare - Vengeful eighteen-year-old Daniel seeks revenge for the death of his family members in Ancient Israel at the hands of the Romans.  In time he sees that his anger is not leading to any sort of satisfying end.  He learns, from a traveling prophet, about loving thy neighbor.    #
  • Crispin:  The Cross of Lead by Avi - Timid boy, Crispin, gets into many scrapes in his powerlessness.  But as mysteries begin to reveal themselves, Crispin discovers there is more to his life than he ever imagined.  Set in 1300s England.   #
  • Boy of the Painted Cave by Justin Denzel - A beautifully written story about an artistic prehistoric boy named Tao.  Set in France over 16,000 years ago, Tao's desire to become a cave painter leads him on adventures that he doesn't always understand.  I have Soren Peterson to thank for this one.    #   =
  • My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George - About a boy who chooses to live deliberately on the mountain.  His parents support his decision to live in a tree.  His life lessons are wonderful and his wit and wisdom are timeless.    #
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training. Elder's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity.  His internal battles are just as challenging...     *   +

I also have a list of some more books that I would love to read from this reading level, but , alas, it is time for me to moving on...


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