Thursday, February 18, 2016

Of Squirrels and Settlers and Shredded Cheese

Source: The Far Side Gallery by Gary Larson
So, it's been way too long again since I posted, and there's so much to say, it's hard to know where to start.  So I am going to just do a quick post about what's been going on, what I'm thinking, and what I'm (maybe?) learning about.

-- First off, homeschool.  This is our fourth full year of it, and overall I'd say it's going great.  

But "great" does not mean "easy".  If people tell you they homeschool because it is easy, they are either insane or boldfaced liars.  At least once a day, I question my decision to do it.  Now that I have a child who is on the downhill side of high school (how did that happen?!) and doing amazingly well (again: how did that happen?!), I feel like I can definitely see the benefits of it, even while there are still some huge obstacles ahead of us.  

One of the biggest challenges, honestly, is science.  Doing science at home is hard.  Nine times out of ten, the experiments don't seem to work, plus finding the lab materials/ paying the insane shipping prices to get those materials here makes me just want to throw my hands up and forget about it.

I really have to hand it to my two big girls for what they are doing in science in spite of the obstacles. For example, last week, Skyler had two labs she was working on that required things being left out for multiple days.  In one, she had beans in plaster of Paris (which was supposed to show how plants grow through rocks and cement).  In the other, she left steel wool in vinegar, I can't remember why.

I've talked here before about Wyatt's big cheese experiment...  Well, by the second day of both labs, there was shredded cheese on her labs.  The great mysteries of science!  By the end of the week, Skyler dryly remarked, "Well, the conclusion I've reached based on both labs is that homeschool science experiments grow cheese."

-- I have no good segue for this, but I warned you that this was a little random and a lot honest, so just stick with me to the end, and maybe it will make sense.  So... Squirrel!  More specifically, Arctic ground squirrel!  

Matt and I were recently watching the National Geographic channel for a few minutes (I know, nerd alert), and it was about animals of the Arctic. The snippet that we watched included a piece about the Arctic ground squirrel, a truly fascinating creature that hibernates eight months of the year.  Its body temperature dips below freezing, but in order to survive, it has periodic shivering spells that bring its temperature back up to where it doesn't die.

Okay, let that sink in for just a minute.  I've had a few nights that were so cold I shivered myself awake.  One of those nights, I even grabbed the pet cat of the people I was staying with and tried to get her to sleep next to me just to have some extra warmth, even though I'm super allergic to cats.  I decided that wheezing, sneezing and hives were a good trade for a little less cold. Cold = misery.

Back to the story.  After emerging from this epic hibernation, the arctic ground squirrel has three days to mate, and I think the narrator said the female is only receptive for 12 hours of that.  I know, right?  Talk about pressure!  

There's so much to say about this, but anyway, we watched as this poor little guy popped out of his burrow after those long, cold eight months, and went looking for his lady love.  He found her pretty quick, and they were in the midst of making squirrel small talk and googly eyes at each other when a bigger guy showed up.  And of course... As it always happens, the two guys had a brawl, which left the smaller guy bleeding, and obviously, he lost the girl.  The narrator said, "He has missed his chance to mate for another year."

Okay, wow. I decided that any day you can say, "Well, at least I'm not an arctic ground squirrel," is a good day.

-- And last but not least, I've been reading the Little House books to Lilly.  This is the third time through them as an adult.  I have no idea how many times I read them as a child, but they were a favorite.  Last week, I finished reading Little House on the Prairie.  I hope I don't have to say "spoiler alert" because of course you've read them all, right?  

I was struck again by the ending of this book.  The Ingalls family moved into "Indian Territory", thinking it was all theirs to settle, but then, after a year of hard work, the government decided to kick the settlers off the land and give it to the "Indians" (Native Americans).  Now, obviously it wasn't right for anyone to take that land from the Native Americans, and it appears that this was one case where the right thing was done, as difficult as it was for the Ingalls at the time.

But what impressed me reading the story this time was Pa Ingalls' reaction: he gets really mad when his neighbors come to tell him the news, as he and Ma are obviously heartbroken that a year of hard work is just gone.  And then... snap of the fingers... he announces that they will leave in the morning.  He's not waiting to get "officially" kicked out.  

On the way to the next place, which they don't even know yet, they come across a couple in a wagon who have had their horses stolen.  They're miles from anywhere, just sitting with all their belongings because they don't want to leave any of it behind.  Pa offers them a ride, but they are so set on keeping their stuff, they turn him down. They're resigned to die with their wagon rather than abandon it to try something new.

Anyway, all these things (science, squirrels, settlers) kind of speak to what I've been thinking about lately: discouragement.  I don't want to make it sound like things are terrible, because that would be a lie -- I think overall, most things in my life are pretty great.  I'm so very thankful.

But at the same time, there are moments when it feels like if I made a pie chart of the encouragement I get in my day-to-day living versus the discouragement... Well, discouragement would be most of the pie.  

I love, love, LOVE my kids and being a mom, and I like homeschooling, but there are days when all I hear or see is how I'm failing at all of the above.  Some days my kids point out my failings ("You're so unfair!" "You always side with her!" "You're the meanest mommy ever!" etc.), sometimes I read an article that makes me feel like a failure because I just finished yelling at my kids/ let them eat too much sugar/ post too many pictures of them on my social media/  whatever, or sometimes I see someone else who just seems to be doing it all so well.  I don't hear a lot of, "Hey. Good job."  

And I've talked about it here before, but when it comes to writing and blogging, I do get a little encouragement, but I get lots of loud and clear discouragement, too.  If I look just at numbers, frankly, most of the time I want to cry.  Also, have you ever submitted writing to a magazine?  I've had a few things published now, which felt amazing in the moment, but I've received dozens of rejection letters. 

Some people straight up tell me, "Your writing dreams will never take off."  Some people say it more nicely, suggesting other things that I could do instead.  Yeah, but it's not writing.  I love writing.  

So discouragement is always there.  Sometimes it's nothing -- but sometimes, it turns into a big ugly bad guy, other times it's just a big rock in the middle of my road that I have to figure out a way around.  Yes, I'm busy as can be, but I think I could write more blog posts if I could just push away discouragement.  There's so much I want to say and that I'd love to do with this blog, and I can type fast.  I just can't always beat discouragement.  

But I also don't think I'm the only one who wrestles pretty constantly with discouragement.  I feel like I'm hearing all around me, whether it's actually spoken or not, "Today was hard."  I get it.  I've so been there.  Many days, I'm right there with you.

We can post inspiring Thomas Edison quotes around the house (*raises hand*), and read inspiring books, and listen to inspiring music.  But when someone says something encouraging to me, I'm surprised.  Sometimes I actually gasp or am moved to tears.  I've realized it's because that's what we need most .  There's nothing that actually breathes wind into our sails like someone speaking or writing encouragement to us because it becomes personal.  

Anyway, I've been thinking that maybe "discouragement" should be my "word of the year."  That sounds terrible and depressive, and I don't mean it that way.  But maybe what I need to learn is how to face discouragement and get better at staring it down. I want to be more resilient, like Skyler with her sense of humor, or Pa Ingalls, who says to Ma, "What's one year?  We've got all the time in the world!"

The flip side of that is, I want to figure out when to just let something go.  If it's just not right, I want to be able to walk away from it rather than stay on to the bitter end.  The definition of crazy is doing the same thing and expecting different results, right?  I don't want to be those settlers sitting in the wilderness with their wagon.

And more than that, I want to be an encourager. I think I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing here on the blog, even if there are only three people who read it, and two are my parents (Hi, Mom and Dad!).  But I also want to have my eyes and ears wide open to those who need encouragement and be ready to help them out too.

So that's what I've been doing and thinking.  How about you?  What makes you feel discouraged?  And how do you deal with it?