Wednesday, December 31, 2008


A card came for my brother today, forwarded to my address, as is all his mail.

"Hope all is well..." I read, shaking my head.

Obviously, someone had not heard the news, had not read the blog post or searched the Internet, had not been e-mailed or called.

Who is this mysterious card-signer from Canada and what is his/her name? I can't make out the signature at all. The well-wisher did not write a return address, and the postmark is smeared, as if on purpose, so I don't even know the city from which the card was sent. The sender will remain blissfully, regretably uninformed.

All is not well...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Death certificate at last!

Fourteen and a half weeks after his death, my brother's death certificate finally arrived from Kansas City.

It's been a trial waiting and waiting for this piece of paper without which I could do nothing with my brother's estate. Already the electricity was turned off at his house once, and after a series of phone calls and a letter from the lawyer, I managed to get the power on before this massive freeze that hit half the country, so the pipes at his house didn't freeze and his basement didn't flood. But the company had only so much patience. Death certificate of not, they were going to turn off power for good on Dec. 24 - unless I paid them $173.53 before that date. So I paid them out of my own funds.

The courts are closed until after the New Year, and even though I finally got the death certificate and immediately rushed it over to the lawyer's office, I won't be appointed administrator of his estate until January. And until I get that official appointment, I still can't sell his car or take care of his estate.

But at least we passed the initial hurdle. I still can't believe that it took over three months to issue this piece of paper!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

St. Nicholas Day present

I’m thankful that the Ukrainian tradition is to exchange gifts on St. Nicholas Day, and to celebrate the birth of Christ on a different day. Gift-giving is not a part of our family’s Christmas ritual; it’s what we do to celebrate the life of Saint Nicholas, who used his inherited wealth to give to the needy. Christmas celebrations are never “polluted” with what has become the center point of the holiday for most people: not the birth of Jesus, our Savior, but the orgy of tearing open all those piles of presents...

While most of the country is preoccupied with buying better and more expensive presents for junior, we have decided to cut back. I have been pained to witness people who have all they need continue to give, give, give – to their spouses, to their kids. Our media has brainwashed us, suggesting that we’re not good parents if we aren’t burying our kids with gifts, indulging them with games and things that they don’t need and may rarely use. But it’s our moral obligation to give to the kids or they’ll think that we don’t love them.

Is it really??

I think that it’s my moral obligation to teach the children to be good Christians and good world citizens, and to think of others, not just of themselves. Painful as it is not to indulge my kids with gifts, my husband and I chose to curb back on consumption and give only token presents, things that they need or will use. Our kids know that we love them; they also know why they aren’t getting the latest electronic gadgets for presents.

St. Nicholas Day has already come and gone, and our family gift exchange is already in the past. I’ll share with you what I gave each of the three kids as their main gift. Each received a letter, a check for $500, and a catalog. The letter said:

St. Nicholas is said to have come from a wealthy family, but he used his wealth not for himself, but gave it away to the poor. Thus, St. Nicholas Day should be commemorated not by gift-giving to those who already have all they need, but by acts of charity – giving to the poor. So this year, my gift to you is for you to select $500 of items for the needy from this catalog, and send in the enclosed check and your selections to help those who do not have nearly as much as you do.

The catalog was not to a clothing company or electronics store, but to Partners International and ANM.

Larissa chose a well in Kenya for her gift.

Jacob bought education for three kids in Sudan, fed four poor families, provided therapy for two disabled children, and bought some Bibles.

Alexandra is still mulling over the catalog, reading all the selections. Then she’ll choose her gift. I’m sure it will be a good one.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Greatest Gift

As the holidays draw near, you may be wondering what gifts to buy for your child. What’s the popular gift this season? Where are the sales? What are the best catalogs?

But the greatest gift of all, the one your child wants more than anything, is free. You just have to make it.

You may wonder, “What supplies do I need? Do I have the skills to create this gift? What could I possibly make for my child that’s better than what’s on sale in the stores?”

I urge you to think back for a minute to your childhood holidays. I, for instance, recall my father strumming a mandolin and teaching my four siblings and me Ukrainian Christmas carols. I remember the smells of the traditional 12-course Christmas Eve dinner that my mother cooked for days in advance, and the stories my father told every year just before dinner, stories about Ukrainian Christmas traditions and how he celebrated Christmas “in the old country.” Like my father, we’d excitedly watch for the first evening star before sitting down to the traditional candlelit Christmas Eve supper. I remember well the time my parents spent with me; I can’t recall many of the gifts I received.

The time you give your child is the greatest gift of all. Children need you far more than they need any material thing. As your gift, make the time to spend with your child.

Make an annual tradition of going out to cut down your own Christmas tree. Or create a wreath with your child and hang it on your front door. Start a tradition of making ornaments for your tree. Or bake Christmas cookies together to give away. My own children remember our cookie-baking times far better than they remember any particular Christmas gift. Although I, too, recall the clouds of flour in the kitchen during this process, baking cookies together ever since my son was old enough to hold a cookie cutter has been a favorite and much-looked-forward-to event for all of us. And we don’t bake just once. During the holiday season, we measure flour and sugar and butter every few days, mix and roll and cut, decorate and bake, then do it all over again. We give away many of the cookies we bake, but it’s the process more than the eating that the children enjoy.

Making time for your child should not be a one-day deal or simply an annual holiday event. In the end, the time you spend with your child is the one gift you give him that makes the most difference in his life.

Your time on this earth is limited like a pad of paper from which you tear off one sheet at a time, slowly, continuously, until the pad is gone. But you don’t know how thick a pad you were given at birth. After a day, a week, or a year is gone, you can’t change how you spent it. And only you control how you spend your time, how you use up those sheets in your pad.

Each one of us is free to spend our time as we please — within limits, of course — so the way you choose to spend your time says a lot about you and your priorities.

Because we each have a finite amount of time, the time you spend doing something is a sign of your priority. You do something because you feel that it’s worth the expenditure of part of your pad of paper. When you truly enjoy doing something, you want to spend a lot of time doing it, so time equals love. It’s hard to convince children with whom you spend little time that you love them.
The next time you think of agreeing to another community activity or project, or of accepting a promotion that will keep you away from home even more, think of your pad of paper: you never know just how thick a pad you have left.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I worked as a technical writer in a department where the highest positions were held by a husband and wife team whose son was in a Montessori school. Both worked hard and kept long hours, often picking up their only child late from Child Care, having kept the staff overtime.

A few years later, after I had left on-site work to write from my home office, I heard from a mutual friend that the husband had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was 41.

After her husband’s death, the wife cut down on work hours and turned down a promotion that required lots of business travel. She and her son later moved out of state to be close to her family. But I often wonder if she doesn’t have regrets about how little time they spent together as a family when her son was young and her husband was alive. Does she now think that focusing so much on their careers was worth it?

When I hear stories like this, I think about the odd twists and turns of fate. We live life for the moment as best we know how, but not always in the wisest way. We never know just what will happen in ten years, or even in two. You can plan all you want, but an event that happens unexpectedly tomorrow can turn your life upside down. My brother's death in September was such an event.

With all three of my kids now teenagers, I already look back nostalgically on their childhoods. I feel fortunate that I realized back then that the interactions with my children are the precious moments in life, the memories I’m already looking back upon wistfully. So I chose to work from home when they were young because that way I could come out of my home office any time of day and spend time with the children. I recall my son Jacob catching the first ants that came out one long-ago spring, putting them in his critter cage, and taking them to his bedroom to admire and lay next to as he and his sister Alexandra each drank a bottle of warm milk — but I don’t remember any of the work projects I was working on at the time. I remember watching from my office window as the children caught toads in the backyard, then splashed with them in the wading pool and swung with them on the swingset — but I have long forgotten the tight deadlines and late-night meetings with clients that took place at that time.

In one sixth-grade classroom, a teacher was surprised to hear her pupils say that they would really like another Depression. The pupils realized that a Depression meant lack of material things. “Why would you want a Depression?” the teacher asked her pupils, puzzled. The answer surprised her. “Because my parents would spend more time with me!” Children all through the classroom echoed this response. That says something about our society — and about children’s true needs.

Money and the stuff money can buy is no substitute for time. Time is your most precious commodity, so spend it wisely. Your children need you, and your greatest gift to them is the time you spend with them.

Homeschooling parents already know this. They give this gift throughout the year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Missionary biography project

Sometimes part of the challenge of teaching is coming up with assignments – assignments that aren't just busy work, but will actually teach the kids life skills. Being able to write a paper and deliver an oral report about a researched subject is a valuable life skill. I've done it many times as an adult. I dreaded public speaking all the way into my 20s; now I love it, especially if I'm talking about a subject that I'm passionate about, like missions. So after reading many biographies of missionaries, I came up with the following assigment, which I'll give the kids tomorrow:

- - - - - - - - - - - -

JACOB: Samuel Morris: Missionary to America by W. Terry Whalin
ALEXANDRA: Mary Slessor: Light for the Dark Continent by Sam Wellman
LARISSA: Gladys Aylward: For the Children of China by Sam Wellman

For this assignment, you will:

- Read a biography about a missionary.

- Write a report summarizing the interesting and important events in the missionary’s life (5 – 10 pages, double-spaced).

- Deliver a 5- to 10-minute oral report about the missionary – with notes but not reading your report – to the family at devotion time.

1. READ the assigned book by Friday, December 5.

As you read, take notes and, if you wish, use sticky notes on pages where there is important information. Jot down interesting or humorous details as you read because you will forget them! In your notes, write down important events and page numbers so you can look back at important facts when you write your report.


  • David Livingstone got into trouble for reading on the job in a spinning factory, but under questioning, the supervisor saw how studious David was and that he could recite all 176 verses of Psalm 119 by heart, so he allowed David to continue reading on the job, as long as he did his work as he read. – p. 17
  • Factory boys rarely knew how to read, but David not only read, he also studied Latin at night after work. David was determined not to work in a factory all his life. - p. 27

2. WRITE the report by Friday, December 12.

Write a report 5 – 10 pages long, Times Roman 12, double-spaced. Summarize the interesting and important events in the missionary’s life. Include:

  • Whether the subject was raised a Christian, and if not, when/how did he become a Christian
  • Any pivotal event that inspired the subject to go into missionary work
  • The reason that the missionary choose the country he served in, or if he wanted to serve in one country and ended up in another, describe how that happened
  • How he got there (not just means of transportation, but whether someone paid his way or he earned the money, whether through mission organization or on his own, etc.)
  • What did he do in the country? Be specific and descriptive.
  • What you admire about the missionary

3. GIVE AN ORAL REPORT 5 – 10 minutes long one evening during the week of December 15.

Write down bullet points that you may look at while delivering your oral report. The report should include the main information covered in the written report, but may also include additional information. Practice giving this report out loud before actually delivering the report. It must be at least 5 minutes long so you can give a lot of interesting details, but no longer than 10 minutes.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A routine for teaching English (at last)

From all the subjects I’m teaching my teens, the single most important academic subject, I believe, is English. It’s not because I’m a Shakespeare fan. Nor do I expect my kids to grow up to be authors. No, I consider English so crucial because it’s a basic skill that my kids will use in any career. Engineers, teachers, doctors, policemen – all have to write reports, requests, summaries, invoices, proposals… something. Others often judge a person’s level of ability and intelligence by their writing skills.

Thus, I am stressing English. And I don’t mean just reading literary classics like they do in our local public high school; I’m talking about reading literature and doing drills in vocabulary, grammar, and writing. Beating those skills into them through practice, practice, practice.

However, until this past week, I still didn’t have a method to my madness. I’d assign daily literature reading plus vocabulary exercises, and then sporadically I’d give them a grammar lesson from a workbook. Or a creative writing assignment. I had no strategy, no schedule; I wanted to throw all the information at the kids, but I wasn’t doing it systematically. When I recently noticed that the grammar workbooks were several hundred pages long, I panicked! I’d never get through it all, and time was slipping away. My oldest is a junior, so I have very little time left to teach him!

I assign the literary works as long-term reading assignments, and the essays based on the reading as long-term writing assignments. I expect the kids to work on them every day. This has been our standard. Read a book; write an essay. And on top of that, I assigned a vocabulary exercise every single day. But that left no time for grammar. And when would be do those clever creative writing assignments I’d dreamed up?

Then it hit me. I can’t believe that I didn’t think of it sooner:

Monday – vocabulary
Tuesday – grammar
Wednesday – vocabulary
Thursday – grammar
Friday – creative writing

It’s so simple. Why did it take me since last January, when I first started homeschooling, to think of it?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First snow

View out my home office window

It actually happened two days ago. I was not ready. On Friday, it had been over 60 degrees - warm, fall-like. Then just a few days later - wham! Now it's winter...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Last night after everyone was in bed, I pulled out a box with dozens of envelopes of photos that I had brought from my late brother’s house. In the quietness of nighttime, I observed Greg’s life from a perspective I didn’t have while he was alive.

These photos were mainly from the time he was married. Wedding photos. Exuberant smiles. Cake and glasses of champagne. Only Greg’s two closest friends and their wives attended Greg’s private wedding ceremony in snow-covered Vermont. Yesterday I glimpsed their joyous party. The sleigh ride. The giddy delight of close friends celebrating.

It pained me that all three couples eventually divorced.

I looked on at other photos. Photos of ski trips. Hotel rooms. A jacuzzi. Ski slopes. Mountains. Driving somewhere with a dog in the car. A ride on a ferry. Orcas. A dinner party. His pet dogs and cats. The view from his lake house – the one he left to his ex-wife. Spectacular sunsets.

I felt like a voyeur going through all those pictures. A smile. A look. A gesture. Moments between two people caught on film. There was nothing indecent, just a depth of feeling that it pained me to see. It pained me because the marriage dissolved. It hurt because Greg will never again smile at anyone. Ever. And he was always smiling, always upbeat.

It was the joy of his relationship, the love and delight that shone through the pictures that pierced my heart.

Sometimes it’s really hard to look at photos.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bit by bit

My first garden project was building a water garden in 2001 – pond, waterfall, rock border, stone path, and a flower garden on the berm created from the soil dug out of the pond. I worked on this water garden every night after work for several hours (I ate after dark), and every Saturday from morning until nightfall. My family was away at the time, and I wanted to surprise them.

The project took me four weeks to complete.

Today, this home of goldfish and frogs is the focal point of my backyard.

The following summer, I cleaned up an area between two spruce trees, an old garden so unkempt that the periwinkle and lilies of the valley were completely intertwined, and most spadefuls I dug out some of each. Patiently, I separated the two types of plants, placing periwinkle in boxes on the right, lilies of the valley in temporary containers on the left. It was the summer I was first diagnosed with lupus, so some evenings I had the strength to dig out and separate only two or three spadefuls. But each evening I persevered, dug and divided.

“I don’t know how you have the patience for that,” commented my husband one evening as I teased apart plants and put them in separate places, then dug up another spadeful of plants. “I would have dug all that up in one day and just bought new plants.”

“But these are perfectly good plants,” I defended. “Just neglected over the years. I don’t mind doing this a bit at a time. Besides, it would be far too expensive to buy enough lilies of the valley and periwinkle to cover the areas I have in mind for them.” I had a vision for that garden, so I persisted.

At the end of the summer, I planted the periwinkle on the right, lilies of the valley on the left, and hostas and astilbes in the center. It’s a delightful and orderly garden now. The lilies of the valley thrive in their separate area; the periwinkle grows profusely in its spot.

Every summer since 2001, I’ve tackled a new garden project. Mostly I’m bringing order to the chaos of gardens planted decades ago, then neglected. The majority of the projects are daunting at first. Putting in a new garden is far easier than making neatness out of a mess.

”As long as you do something every day, even for 10 minutes, you’re making progress,” a coworker once told me. I have recalled those words often.

This fall, I put in a new garden. It hadn’t been in my plans to do so, but when my brother, an avid gardener, died suddenly, I wanted to create a memorial garden using some of the dozens and dozens of stunning hostas from his yard. But I have not been well, so I certainly couldn’t put in a garden in a weekend, not even a small new one. So I’ve worked on it bit by bit. When weather permitted, I broke ground in front of my house. I turned over a few spadefuls of earth. Improved the soil with a bag of cow manure. Installed a stone step or two in the hill. Planted a dozen daffodil bulbs. A couple dozen crocuses. Placed a large rock by the bottom step. Carted compost from the backyard. Planted a hosta. Then another. Baby steps, not major leaps, day after day, week after week.

And now I’m done.

As I was thinking about the “baby steps” I was making on my memorial garden, I thought how this applies to teaching children. I can’t teach my child grammar in a day. Or even in a year. That task indeed is daunting. But if I teach a little every day, bit by bit, year by year, my child will learn whatever it is that I want to teach her. I must remember to have the same patience with teaching my children as I do working on my gardens.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Everyone's Encyclopedia

“Do we have sand?”

“Yes, it’s behind the green shed. It’s labeled ‘play sand.’”

“Where is the toilet cleaner?” Jacob continued.

“Why do you need that?” I wondered. Could it be that he had a sudden urge to clean?

“For the experiment.”

“What experiment? You must be on the wrong experiment.” Luckily I had read the experiment – and the rest of his Chemistry assignment – last night as I continue to relearn Chemistry. I knew he needed sand – plus salt and filter paper and beakers – but certainly not toilet cleaner.

“Oh. Maybe I turned to the wrong page.”

I’m relearning a lot more than just Chemistry. As I sit in my home office writing for my company’s website, I get a parade of family members through my office door. Today I decided to write down all the questions they asked me because it was getting comical. The door would remain closed only a few minutes before the next person would barge in with a question.

“I know this is sad,” Larissa introduced what she figured was a ‘dumb’ question, “but how do you subtract fractions, say 5/2 – 17/5?” She was doing review and she had, quite understandable, forgotten how to do this task. I had relearned it several years ago when Jacob was introduced to fractions in elementary school.

“They have to have the same denominator for you to subtract them. Do you know how to make both numbers have the same denominator – like 10 in this case? Multiply the top and bottom numbers by…”

“Oh, yeah…”

“Is China or the US bigger?” Jacob was now working on Spanish; this must have been one of the questions he had to answer in his workbook – in Spanish.

“China is bigger,” I said offhand. “Russia is the biggest country – Siberia is huge – then Canada, then China, then the US. That’s how I learned them. But let me check…”

I quickly Googled “countries by area.”

“Wait, what’s this? Disputed territories? China is bigger according to some lists, and the US according to others, depending on whether or not you count the disputed territories?”

“Never mind,” waved Jacob, probably wondering how he’d phrase such a complex answer in Spanish.

It was Alexandra’s turn. She came in, vocabulary book in hand. “In this sentence, does ‘allure’ make sense? A career in show business held a certain BLANK for Jodie Foster from a young age.”

“Yes, allure makes perfect sense there. It means attraction or appeal. Jodie Foster is an actress, by the way,” I called after Alexandra since our kids are not into TV or movies. But Alexandra was out the door as soon as she heard my initial “yes.”

Larissa was next, back with her math. The door had barely closed. “I have to place brackets around this math statement to make it true. Do I need two sets of brackets, or is one enough?”

“Let me see. Four minus one times three divided by… Definitely two sets of brackets.”

“Do you have any strong perfume?” This time it was my husband, and his queer request caught me off guard.

“Perfume? Whatever for? Oh, never mind, it’s in the bathroom medicine cabinet.”

“Mom.” It was Larissa again. “Last time you gave me exercise 5C; this time you gave me 5E. Why did you skip 5D?”

“Because with three of you to keep track of, I make mistakes! Do exercise 5D in the vocabulary book.”

OK, so not all the questions required encyclopedic knowledge. But I am regularly expected to spell words, give a definition without looking up a word, explain anything to do with science, help with math problems, recall facts from history, and take care of organizational matters – plus cook and clean, of course!

“Did you know that wigs had to be maintained – recurled and perfumed regularly?” This time it was Jacob telling me something that I hadn’t known. He was working on his history lesson.

“No, I didn’t know that.”

Perhaps someday he can take over being the encyclopedia.

Monday, November 3, 2008


In two weeks, the first 10-week marking period will be over and the quarterly reports will be due. I’m not relieved about that, but I am breathing an inward sigh of relief that we’re almost on track with science.

Larissa just finished chapter 4 (out of 16) of her Physical Science today, so she’s actually a bit ahead. Jacob and Alexandra are finishing up chapter 3 (out of 16) of their Chemistry. They won’t quite finish chapter 4 before the marking period is over, but we’re not as far behind as I’d feared. With my brother’s death and the kids’ struggle with chapter 2, I was afraid that we’d be so bogged down that I’d be homeschooling science year round just to get through it. So despite the setbacks this fall, we’re almost on track with Chemistry, the subject I’d been most concerned with.

In math, the kids don’t seem to get as much homework from the math tutor as I had expected, especially since they go to her only once per week. (She lives over 15 miles away, so math takes a big chunk of the day when we do go there.) I was assuming that they’d be doing an hour of homework per day — but they aren’t.

“You’re not getting as much homework as I thought you’d be getting,” I mentioned to Jacob today. “Do you think that you’re learning as much as you did in school?” Jacob had been in public school until last January, so he still often compares homeschool to ‘real’ school.

“Yes, I think we are. In school we’d go over the homework in class over and over and beat it to death. Here we’re moving along more quickly. We’re not going over the same thing so many times.”

Hm, I hadn’t thought of that. But I do remember how Jacob and Alexandra, both in the same Spanish I class at the public high school last year, lamented how slowly they were covering their material then, waiting for the slowest student to catch on before going on to the next lesson. That class never did cover all the Spanish I materials before the end of the year. Once Jacob left public school in the middle of the year, he sped ahead of the public school class even though he took Spanish only twice a week. His sister, whom we pulled out of public school only this year, still sat through each painfully tedious Spanish lesson day after day, falling more and more behind.

Perhaps, despite my trepidation and insecurity, I’m not doing as badly as I’d feared.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

IHIP for grade 11

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm challenging Jacob enough. I push his younger sisters, but it's like pushing a wagon down a sidewalk. An even sidewalk. They're studious and conscientious. And they like to read. With Jacob, I feel like I'm pushing him up a steep incline on a dirt road with lots of potholes. He'd much rather be taking a computer apart than reading.

Because Jacob doesn't like to read, I have to give him daily assigned readings with page numbers; with the girls, I just say, "Read this book by Friday." Giving them daily page counts would drive them crazy; not giving Jacob daily page counts is too unstructured for him.

And he doesn't like foreign languages. Spanish is torture for him. Fortunately, Alexandra takes the same class at a friend's house and coaches him - if he asks her politely and she's in a good mood.

If Jacob had gotten into that auto mechanics class, perhaps there I wouldn't get the resistance I do with the more traditional subjects. But I'm doing the best I can. Which means I'm pushing that grammar and writing and vocabulary, history as a story rather than a set of facts, and lots more, as you can see.

Monday, October 27, 2008

IHIP for grade 10

Alexandra was in Honors everything in public high school last year, so this IHIP surely looks like I'm not just pushing her, but drowning her in work. But she manages her workload better than my other two, turning in the most thoroughly documented labs and topnotch writing projects. And she catches her French tutor's mistakes (which is a little troubling, since the tutor is expensive...)

If only she were as polite as she is talented.

Here is her IHIP for this school year:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Finally - my IHIPs!

At last, two months after I started school, I finally completed the IHIPs (Individualized Home Instruction Plans) for all three of my kids.

It’s not that I didn’t know what I was going to teach them or was that late in writing them. I was just putting the finishing touches on them when I got news of my brother’s accident. Then his death. After that there was the funeral preparation. The dozens and dozens of calls each day. The funeral itself. The thank you notes afterward. The phone calls canceling his credit cards, magazine subscriptions, phone service... I’m still dealing with the ramifications of his death - his estate, his bills… So IHIPs fell off my radar screen - until the school district contacted me last Friday. Oops!

So here is Larissa's eighth grade IHIP, hot off the computer. As I revised this plan, I added books to her English curriculum because she read five of them before mid-October! I suspect I'll have her read even more literature, but I won't commit her to it yet. Perhaps this plan is more detailed than those submitted by others, but for me, it serves as a chart across the unknown territory of an eighth grader’s education. I consult it when I don’t know where I’m going next.

I hope I do Larissa justice, pushing her, but not overburdening her.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Yesterday Jacob and Alexandra finally took – and passed! – the test for chapter two of our Chemistry book. We’re weeks behind, but we’ve made progress!

We learned the different units with which you measure energy. We survived calculations to determine specific heat of objects. Even I could recite equations such as q = m c ΔT (where q is heat absorbed or released, m is mass, c is the specific heat, and delta T is the change in temperature), and -q (object) = q (water) + q (calorimeter), which tells us that the heat lost by the object placed in the calorimeter is gained by the water and calorimeter.

Aren’t you impressed? I certainly surprised myself by memorizing those equations!

I was solving for that mysterious specific heat of an unknown metallic object or finding out how much energy was lost or gained, working out algebraic equations better than my kids were. Perhaps now – decades after being a new girl in my school and being forced to take Algebra a second time because my new school system didn’t believe that a seventh grader could possibly have taken Algebra – the Algebra that I had so thoroughly learned in junior high was coming in handy.

I don’t know why both my kids got so mired in that chapter on energy, heat, and temperature. I understood it. It was a painful three and a half weeks as I explained and reworked problems and sat with them, handholding them through equations, reteaching them algebra so they could solve the equations.

And through it all, my son shook his head and said, “Why do I have to learn all that? I’ll never need to know the specific heat of anything!” Deep down I could see his point, but… We plodded on.

And it paid off. They both got the same grade on the test, a 93%, though each got different problems wrong. I was so relieved.

On to atoms and molecules.

Sigh. I know what tonight’s bedtime reading will be for me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fall is...

I gave another creative writing assignment to all three kids today titled "Fall is..." The kids could write prose or poem and about anything that the words "fall is" trigger.

This is what Jacob came up with:

Fall is…
Fall is a season, one out of four
Comes after summer and right before snow.
The cold arrives and the warm winds pass,
When colorful leaves fall, and cover the grass.

The raking begins, more work for me.
There’s so many leaves it seems like a sea.
A new school year, eleventh grade
Can’t wait for it to pass and fade.

The wood-burning stove creates some heat
So we can come by and warm our feet
The wood that we burn, I had to chop,
Bring from the woods and pile up.

Fall brings us more cold days
To stay inside is the best way
You bundle up, but your nose turns red
You go outside, “Put a hat on your head!”

The leaves twirl and flutter down
You can hear the rustling sound
To play outside they do insist.
The poofy leaf piles they can’t resist.

I wish you could like the poem I wrote
But I’m a failure, it will not float
Just please don’t give me a big, fat F
Because I’m special, my name is Jeff.

Very intersting. Jacob certainly got into rhyming today; I was expecting prose. But I did say they could be creative in any style or format they wanted. While my son's name isn't Jeff and he said that he doesn't really want eleventh grade to speed by, he made those up just to rhyme. He certainly got silly at the end, rhyming words that made no sense. We have a Rhyming Dictionary, and it's a great way to explore words, especially words that rhyme.

I'm glad Jacob enjoyed himself - after carrying in the wood he chopped so we could light a fire in the wood-burning stove and stay warm as he writes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Black beans

I inherited a stockpile of food from my brother: noodles and dried beans, fish sauce and rice vinegar, sesame oil and popcorn, canned green beans and canned tomatoes, a shopping bag full of exotic spices — and a whole case of canned black beans.

Black beans? I’d never cooked with black beans.

Larissa came with me to the grocery store last week. When they were little, all three of my children played with a computer in the store, a computer near the meats where you type in a keyword and it provides a recipe using that item. Larissa suggested finding a recipe for – what else? – black beans.

This is what came up on the screen:

* * * * * * *
Black Bean Chili

1.5 lb. boneless pork, cut into 1/2–inch cubes
two 14.5-oz. cans black beans, drained
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 cup thick and chunky salsa
one 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, do NOT drain
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt to taste
sour cream and shredded Cheddar cheese for garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in 3.5-quart slower cooker. Cover and cook on low heat setting for 7 to 8 hours.

Garnish individual bowls with sour cream and Cheddar cheese, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6.

* * * * * * *

Sounded good. Since we had all the ingredients but the pork at home, we printed out the recipe and bought the pork. I assigned cooking “class” to Larissa the next morning.

“Looks like a salad,” commented Jacob when all the ingredients were in the crock pot.

By suppertime, the “salad” had cooked down into a fragrant chili.

While we waited for George to come home from work, a neighbor came by to greet me as I worked on my new garden – a Greg memorial garden using hostas from my deceased brother's gardens – in the front yard. As she strolled up to me, George arrived home. Since the neighbor, a nurse, lives alone and was just coming home from work, I invited her in for chili dinner.

The chili was delicious! That recipe is a keeper.

I no longer wonder what I’ll do with a case of black beans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What can one person do?

I dug a well in a Cambodian village. I sent care packages to inmates in Middle Eastern prisons. I educated several Sudanese children for a year.

And that’s not all.

I bought uniforms, books, and writing paper for children in India whose parents barely earn enough to put food on their table; they could never have sent their children to school without help. I delivered live rabbits and chickens to destitute Indian families so they could raise them for food. And in Africa, I gave away dozens of life-giving goats, goats that provided milk, and thus sustenance, for impoverished families on the brink of hunger.

And I did all this from the comfort of my home.

It was a single incident during a trip to Kenya that spurred me to give in this way: In a church in a mountain village two hours drive from Nairobi, I watched as the poor gave their extra clothing to the poorer in their own church. Their pastor thanked them – and challenged his parishioners to give even more, to bring in extra bedding and blankets and beds to give to others in their church who had no bed or mattress to sleep on. “They sleep on dirt floors,” he announced to the church.

I had seen poverty before, but never a home without a mattress or hammock. I asked to be taken to such a home.

We hiked down a very steep red-earth path to an equally red mud hut. In the doorway stood a widow holding an infant; inside were three young children sitting on the earthen floor. Just sitting there – not chattering, not running around, not reacting to my presence.

Something wasn’t right.

“What is wrong with the children?” I asked my travel companion, a woman who had worked in refugee camps in Africa.

“These kids are starving. Literally.”

Indeed, we saw no food in the house, other than the flour, oil, and sugar that we had just brought as a gift. For furniture, the house had but one chair. For bedding, just a few rags. The “kitchen” was a few stones on the ground where ashes marked the remains of the cooking fire. The single pot was empty.

The children, we learned, were six, four, and three. The “infant” was over a year old. The three-year-old had not yet learned to walk. She just sat dull-eyed on the uneven floor without the energy to get up.

The scene haunted me long after I was back in Nairobi. I’d never seen starvation with my own eyes. I’d never seen a house with so little in it.

“What can we do for that widow?” I pondered aloud, discussing with my fellow traveler how we could help.

“If we send her more food, it’ll run out in a while. What if we bought her chickens?” I mused. “They could eat the eggs. But I’m not sure what they would feed the chickens. Hey – how about a goat? They eat almost anything, and they produce milk. If we buy her a lactating goat, the children could have milk right away. I read about tribes in Africa that subsist on milk alone for periods of time.”

The lactating goat, purchased for $35, was delivered a few days later – right during the funeral of one of the children. For that child, it was too late. But for the others, milk from that goat would make a difference – the difference between life and death.

It’s only by God’s grace that I was born in North America into a family that never knew the kind of starvation that is all too common in other parts of the world. Maybe, I once read in a book, God is testing you by placing you in North America. Maybe He gave you the wealth you have to see what you would do with it – spend it for your own pleasures, or do as the Bible says and share it with the less fortunate. “Whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31b).

Sometimes the issue of poverty seems so overwhelming that we are immobilized. The problem seems too immense for one person. But if we each did our part, each bought a goat to distribute instead of purchasing another change of clothing or streaking our hair or dining out, we would make a huge impact. I know that I change the fate of many families with
goats and chickens and wells and medicine.

And now my children, through my teaching and my example, are making a difference, too. They’ve heard my story and have seen the pictures. Now they, too, send in their coins or part of their tithe to buy a few more goats for the children of Africa. I can imagine the joy in the faces of the recipients.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40).

“Someday in heaven, Jesus will thank me for all the goats I bought Him,” 12-year-old Larissa said.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Relearning Chemistry

Heat equals mass times specific heat times change in temperature.

Colorimetry. Calories. Joules. Atoms. Molecules.


My nightly ritual after work and dinner is to write up daily schedules for the next day of schooling, correct the kids’ assignments, grade tests – and then sit up and read Chemistry. Yes, Chemistry. I get out my highlighter, mark the important text, memorize the formulas, then using my paper and pencil, I figure out the examples and assigned problems.

Why am I relearning Chemistry?

We have a tutor for math. Another for French. A friend teaches them Spanish. And a music teacher gives them piano lessons. These are subjects I cannot teach my kids. But I was a science major in college – granted, in Biology, not Chemistry – and I can teach the science myself.

Oh, I thought I could hand off the book – Aplogia’s Exploring Creation With Chemistry – to the kids and have them teach themselves. I even found help on the Internet for scheduling the course. I thought they would read the small chunks of material, follow the examples, work out the problems, and learn Chemistry on their own.

But they got stuck in chapter 2. The only way to help them is to read the material myself. If I tutored Chemistry in college, I know I can relearn this stuff. So night after night, after the kids are in bed, I read my Chemistry, work out the problems, and follow along so I can explain the problems, the math, the concepts.

I hope that one day the kids will appreciate what I am going through to teach them at home because frankly, I’d rather be gardening or reading novels than relearning Chemistry. But one thing I’ll say about this: my brain is getting a workout, so I’ll be keeping Alzheimer’s at bay for a while!

Thursday, October 9, 2008


It's official: I'm handicapped.

When I went in to the company office recently, the long walk from the back of the company parking lot to the building, then up the elevator and through one building, then another and another all the way to my office was too much for me. By the time I got to my cubicle, my heart was pounding and the chest pains worsened. Granted, I don't have to come in often these days; mostly I work from home. But when I do have to come in, I'd like to park close to the entrance of the building. So this week I did park there – and got a note from Security warning me not park in the handicapped spots again.

I had a doctor appointment this past week to re-evaluate my health and my ability to work. I've felt ill with my lupus for so long that it's now "normal," but there is no way I could work an 8-hour day, not even if I weren't homeschooling the kids. I'm just too fatigued and my heart hurts much of the time. I feel comfortable working my six hours per day from home, but more than that would set my health back, probably to the point where I could hardly work at all.

So the doctor extended my part-time disability for another ten weeks. Meanwhile, I've asked for part-time status at work to relieve me from the pressure of getting well and getting back to work full-time. Part-time is all I can handle, and I'd like to have that be my official status. But we shall see. This is about being handicapped.

What a strange and unwanted status: Handicapped. Impaired. Disadvantaged. These words apply to me, a "supermom" who until lately was a full-time employee, mother, wife, housekeeper, Sunday school teacher, and singer in the church choir. I was a volunteer newsletter writer and photographer, and I went on international short-time mission trips almost annually. Sometimes twice a year. And I wrote about these experiences for my company's blog on a volunteer basis. I was a mom who took on homeschooling as well (after dropping the choir and Sunday school roles). Yes, I was someone who burned the candle at both ends – and still had time to read.

And now I have a tag in my car that allows me to park as close as possible to a building so I don't exhaust myself...

My doctor had offered to fill in the paperwork so I could get a handicapped parking permit the last time I saw him. I refused. During this week’s visit, I requested it myself.

So it’s official: I'm handicapped. And I have the tag to prove it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New driver

Jacob passed his driver's test this morning and got his driver's license. Now I have an additional item on my prayer list: his safety while driving.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


“Hi Nita. How are you doing?” I started my conversation, not knowing how to tell Nita that I needed to drop off my kids at her house at least half an hour early for their Spanish lesson with her.

I was feeling frazzled because I had to be at my company office for training at 1:00, but the work I was trying to do from home in the morning wasn’t working. The database wasn’t accepting my images, and I didn’t even know how to link an image in the new software program I’m learning. I had to go to the office to seek help – before my training.

Nita sounded rather stressed out herself. Nita homeschools her three children, who are about the age of my three. She helps me out by teaching Jacob and Alexandra Spanish twice a week.

“Well, it’s not a good day,” she admitted.

I could tell that by the tone of her voice.

“Things aren’t going well. It’s Peter. Again. I’m so frustrated that I’m considering sending him to the public high school next year.”

I’d heard that before, but Peter has been homeschooled all his life. He is now in tenth grade. Somehow Nita has managed to keep on homeschooling him despite some rocky periods.

“Or maybe a military boarding school,” Nita continued, venting her frustration. “He’s just not doing his work. I’ve taken away his iPod, his computer, I’ve taken away his privilege to use the phone. I’ve grounded him so he can’t go outside. I’ve taken away his books. He’s not even allowed upstairs because he goes up there and doesn’t do his schoolwork. I’m so annoyed and discouraged – he’s not doing his work!!”

I can’t say that I was glad to hear it. Not at all. But I sure empathized. My kids haven’t gotten to the point that they didn’t do their work; they sometimes do it more slowly than I’d like, turn it in days late, end up reading a book on horses instead of the Holocaust, or take homeschool less seriously than “real” school.

But I could sure relate!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


All the homeschooling blogs I’ve read paint a rosy picture of happy children with unruffled moms blissfully pursuing knowledge in the form of fun field trips or organized home activities. The kids are happy, the mom is happy, and learning happens almost as an afterthought.

So what am I doing wrong?

I have three teens at home – grades 8, 10, and 11. I’ll ignore for now the fact that they don’t always stay on course and get their work done within the timeframe I specify. That they distract one another with chatter. That on a nice day one or more go outside and putter in the garden until I herd them inside, chiding them for taking a break before finishing their work. And I’ll overlook that I’ve completely disrupted their routines – routines that we were just in the process of establishing, frankly, because we hadn’t even completed two full weeks of school – by putting schoolwork aside when I first heard of my brother’s tragic accident, then worked with my family to organize his funeral. I’ll ignore that because we’re back on track now, really we are. Back to doing all our subjects.

That means that Jacob and Alexandra are studying Chemistry again. I decided to have Jacob and Alexandra both do Chemistry this year because it’s easier on me to have them do labs together, and for me to keep up with two science courses rather than three.

Because of our disruption, it took all of September to cover just the first chapter of Chemistry: Measurement and Units. Now how hard can that chapter be? I read half the chapter to familiarize myself with the subject. Yep, it’s a lot of math. The chapter stressed consistency in units and significant figures. They beat significant figures into you. There were practice questions and review questions and pre-test practice questions. No, I didn’t hand hold Jacob and Alexandra through it. I expect them to review their answers and read the answer key and figure out where they went wrong if they didn’t get the correct answer.

In our home, homeschooling means self-study. Maybe it’s not the best way, but that’s what it is here. You read, you do the problems, you check your work against the answer key. I check the labs. If you have a question, ask me and I’ll make sure I find the answer and explain it; if you don’t ask, I assume you understand.

“Ready for your first test?” I asked. It was, as I said, way behind schedule. “It’s all problems just like the practice questions. Remember – always convert numbers so they have the same units – you can’t compare measurements in inches and centimeters, or centimeters and meters. An answer with no units is considered wrong. And always, always pay attention to significant figures. Are you sure you’re ready?”

Alexandra took the test before Jacob. She got a 95% – one problem wrong.

Jacob dragged his feet and studied longer.

“Yes, I’m ready,” he finally said.

He’s not as diligent as Alexandra, so I reminded him about the units and significant figures. Then I repeated myself. I had a bad feeling about this test.

He got the first few right. But then as I compared his answers with the answer key – correct answer, wrong number of significant figures. Unfortunately, that’s considered wrong. One wrong, two wrong, three… My stomach sank. Four wrong… By the time I’d marked the test, he ended up with a 69%. I was so disappointed. I felt I’d failed somehow.

“Jacob, I told you to pay attention to significant figures. That’s the one thing that they stress over and over in this chapter.”

Without missing a beat, he sassed back. “Stupid test! All along we’re taught in math to be precise, to have as many significant figures as possible! This is really dumb!”

“Yes, but this chapter is specifically about measurements and calculations with these measurements. If you measure a board that’s 3.1 meters long, you suddenly can’t do a calculation using the 3.1 meters and come up with an answer accurate to the thousandths of meters!” I explained.

“I bet they’re not doing stupid stuff like this in public school!” Oh, Jacob said more than that. Stupid book, stupid test – it’s everyone’s fault but his.

He grabbed the phone angrily and called his classmate from last year, who is taking Chemistry in public school. What I heard of the conversation suggested that in public school, they, too, learn about – and are tested on – significant figures.

Meanwhile, I confronted Alexandra about her Health test that she’d taken that day.

“Alexandra, this is a really easy test. You’re an A+ student. Last test you got an 80-something. This week you got an 86%. You can do better than that! Jacob got a 103% on this test last year – all the answers plus the bonus. Did you even study? I think you aren’t taking homeschooling seriously. I expect you to score in the 90s. You’ve always been a good student; you aren’t trying.”

Was Alexandra remorseful? Embarrassed? Did she vow she’d do better? No, she laughed! In a sing-song voice, she mocked, “Oh, let’s all be sad now.”

I lost it. Where are the happy, respectful kids? Don’t they have an ounce of appreciation for the sacrifice I make daily to homeschool them? (Yes, we know the answer to that.) For all my time and efforts, my late nights and failing health, they argue and sass and mock.

I left the house. I did not stay for dinner. I did not make dinner. (Fortunately, it was Larissa’s assignment to do that.) I went to my deceased brother Greg’s house and just chilled out there, alone with my thoughts, alone in his garden, alone with photos of him with his son.

And there I finally found a strange peace.

Friday, October 3, 2008


My brother’s house stands empty now. The tools that I had to step over upon entering it the first time after his death are put away. His piles of motorcycle parts and papers – gone. Cleaned up. Boxed up or thrown away. All the things he considered dear or essential – unnecessary now. Left behind. He took nothing with him. No one does.

I’ve been to his house more times in the last two weeks than in the six years that he lived there. I’ve been there with my kids, with my husband, with my sister and brothers, with Cindi and her sister. And recently, I’ve been there alone. I walked through the chilly house, trying not to think as I saw the framed photos of Greg smiling with his son still up where he left them.

Of course he thought he’d be back.

Today I removed all the photos from the refrigerator. I couldn’t stand to see his memories on the metal door.

I’m still not sure what to do about the things that are left in the house. The lawyer said I’d be appointed administrator of the estate by the end of this week. But being appointed doesn’t give me sudden knowledge of what to do. Isn’t there a manual I should read, a brochure with easy 1 – 2 – 3 instructions?

But it’s not like that. What does one do with another’s estate? I’ve made a few calls, canceled some magazines and a credit card, but what do I do with the house and its contents? Sell them, I know, but where do I begin?

I can think about Greg now without crying. But when I go over and see his beloved gardens, his more than 80 hostas, most of which he could name – that is still very painful. Greg was the only other member of my family who liked to garden; none of my other siblings do. Sometimes he'd come to my cubicle and describe what's blooming that day. He loved to walk through his yard and marvel at the beauty of the plants.

Fortunately for me, Larissa has caught the bug. So we have dug up a few of Greg’s hostas and I’ve started planting a memorial garden in my front yard, a garden created from plants taken from his gardens and transplanted from mine. It’ll be a lovely garden, Greg, right under the redbud tree.

I wish you could see it.

Another note

A grey-haired man approached me after the first Community Bible Study session I attended last year.

"I know you!" he said, waggling his finger at me. "You're Faith! I grew up around the corner from you!" He went on to describe his escapades with my brothers. Since I was older than the boys around the corner, I hadn't paid much attention to them.

But now, as adults, we reconnected. I often chatted with Ken after our weekly class, but by the end of the school year when my lupus flared up, I stopped attending.

After Greg died, I sent Ken a note describing what had happened. A few days later, he replied:


Hi Faith,

After I had a chance to process your email and all the comments I read about Greg on the V-Nation forum, I came home from work today, lay down, and had a good cry. I was surprised how much Greg’s death affected me, but on reflection realized we did an amazing amount of stuff together. Your brothers Greg and John are part of the reason I'm so close to my brother Chuck now – even though Chuck is six years older than me, we all spent a lot of time together. The four (or five if you include your youngest brother Andrew) of us tried to do ourselves in in a remarkable variety of ways, including fireworks, rockets, airplane propellers, flash paper, firecracker powered BB rifles, and insane bicycle stunts.

It seems so unfair that some as well loved as Greg was taken so suddenly and so strangely, especially unfair to Luke and Cindi. This is one of those times you know God is in control, but you have to wonder what he was thinking.

Your family was such a big part of my growing up that I'm feeling a lot of pain for you as well. Please remember that I am praying for all of you, even the ones I've never met. We've published this on our family mailing list, so I'm sure many prayers are going up on your behalf.

The peace of Christ be with you,


Thursday, October 2, 2008


"Now you listen to me," I must have been saying to Greg back when we were so very young in Toronto.

I can't even imagine the pain my mother must feel when she looks at these faded photos of our happy childhoods, childhoods long gone.

And now, not only are our childhoods gone, one of the children is gone, too... Gone. Never to come back again.

And that's what's so hard about the death of a loved one. You have so many things you still want to tell them, so many things to share that you catch yourself sometimes thinking, "Oh, wouldn't he like this," or "I can't wait to tell him that." But that's no longer possible.

Oh, how that hurts...

More letters about my brother

In happier times; Greg is in
the middle, I'm on the right


I am so sad that Greg has passed away. I am sad for his fiancée Cindi, and son Luke, and all your family. I am sad for myself because after years of detachment, Greg and I had resumed our friendship but now we are separated again. My 14-year-old daughter only met Greg twice, but she cried this morning when I told her about him.

I have known Greg about as long as anyone not directly related to him, and I can tell you he became a very good man. Life threw Greg a curve when Luke was born, but he took on the challenges of a special child with same grace and vigor as he took on a challenging ski slope.

One of the aspects of Greg's personality that I loved was his thirst for knowledge. Much of my intellectual curiosity I can directly attribute to the many hours I spent with Greg growing up. He was always into something fascinating, and I could only be amazed by his grasp of subjects that were years beyond me. I just wanted to play with the slot cars; he wanted to show me how the AC current was transformed into DC and how the motors worked. I wanted to play with the plasticine clay; he said, "Let's make an animated movie!" As you know, we did.

Greg was a superb writer. I have some email from him regarding his experiences in the Coast Guard. If you want I will send them to you.

Greg had a tremendous sense of humor that endeared him to me a great deal. He turned me on to Monty Python and other British comedy when we were kids. I have always been a bit of a clown, but with Greg the repartee was always a step above.

I will miss him for the rest of my life, but he is a pretty good part of what makes me who I am. I will take some small comfort from that.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Tributes to my brother

Family photo: Greg, on the left, is the middle child with two older sisters and two younger brothers. The youngest had not yet been born when this picture was taken. I, the oldest, am in back.


My brother touched many lives in his 49 years. His outgoing nature, his ready smile, his ability to talk with people and share part of himself with those he came across - these made an impact on people. His sudden death affected a great number of people. Childhood friends, coworkers, bikers, cyberfriends - many have felt compelled to write tributes to my brother, then share them. Since we were in the same department at work, I received this email that a work associate sent to her coworkers:

* * *

I finished writing this over the weekend and wanted to share it with you.

September 24, 2008

To Friends of Greg,

Some people touch your life in unexpected ways and leave you with a lasting gift. I knew Greg only as a work colleague and only for a few years, but to know him at all was to count yourself his friend.

What struck everyone immediately about Greg, of course, was his love for his son. When he spoke about Luke, Greg's face beamed. This little boy with all his special needs was perfect in Greg's eyes. And, just as his love for Luke was inspiring, Greg’s love for life was contagious. He made his teammates laugh in a way that put work problems in the proper perspective.

The large number of non-Ukrainian-speaking friends attentively making their way through the beautifully chanted service at the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Epiphany last Monday was a testament to the kind of person that Greg was. He was adventurous and told of stories of the kind that, to my mind, "guys" like to tell: his Pacific experiences in the Coast Guard, his nights on the Bristol ski patrol, his motorcycle trips.... But, he could talk with equal enthusiasm about personal relationships in a way that many men in our culture cannot: his parents, brothers, and sisters – the "whole bunch of us crazy Ukrainians," as he affectionately called his family; his son Luke, who cannot walk or talk but would joyously crawl over to his father and babble happily when Greg came into the room; his upcoming wedding plans with Cindi, the beautiful woman who seemed his soul mate in so many ways and with whom he looked forward to spending the rest of his life.

As his love for Cindi grew, it seemed to flow over into his other relationships, even in some surprising ways. Not too long ago, he told me that he loved his ex-wife. At the time, it seemed such an unusual thing to say that I remember it almost word for word. He said something like, "I love her sort of like a little sister. We get along great now. Her husband is so good with Luke, and she's a wonderful mother. She and I...we just weren't good together."

The only shadow that I ever saw fall on Greg was the worry that he would not have the financial wherewithal to leave for Luke' care after Greg’s death. Probably all parents of special needs children worry about that. But, certainly, Greg's death must have seemed to be very far in the future on September 11th, when he was hit by a golf cart, struck his head, and lost consciousness. A golf cart? How could a golf cart fell a man like Greg, an expert skier, a man who "swam with the sharks" in his Coast Guard days?

"Impossible," his friends thought. "How unfair!" "Why," everyone asked themselves and each other.

Why? Why would a compassionate God take such a vibrant man, one whom so many people needed: his son, his aging parents, his fiancée, his siblings, friends, and coworkers. As human beings, we will never know the answer to that. We probably shouldn't even try. Yet, I'm the type who always wants to know that there is a pattern there, even if I can't fathom the weave.

Greg loved his life, and he loved the people who were part of it. He had fun, but not at the expense of other people. He made sacrifices without even considering them as such. He had his priorities right. He didn't just "make the best of a bad situation," he instinctively saw the good in every situation and he celebrated it. So, why would God take someone like that so abruptly and prematurely?

I don’t know. But I can't help thinking that maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the idea that we are all sent into this world to learn to love one another. Maybe Greg just learned the lesson faster than most of us do. "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Our memories of the way that Greg embraced life and danced with it are his legacy to us. This is the gift that we can carry into our own lives if we have the courage to do so. Let's not let Greg down.

- Catherine

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Getting back on track

My brother’s death derailed homeschooling for over a week. However, since family tragedies are part of life, completely ignoring them would not be normal. Had Jacob, Alexandra, and Larissa been going to school, I would have been writing excuses to the teachers. They might have been able to be physically present in school, but they would not have had time for homework. We congregated at my parents’ house almost daily since hearing of my brother’s accident, first to wait for news, then to mourn, and finally to plan the funeral. My parents needed them for moral support; the family needed them to babysit my out-to-town niece as the adults all ran errands.

But the funeral is over and it’s back to the homeschooling routine. I’ve added back all the subjects that were put on hold. Monday evening on the day of the funeral, I went back to spending over an hour per night writing up individual schedules. This weekend I’m working on weekly schedules for each of the kids. Managing their time and planning out the curriculum for each child over the course of the year takes more time than the “teaching.” In fact, for teenagers, I think that this planning is the majority of the teaching!

Since I’m homeschooling three kids this year, I have a new policy: that day’s homework must be on the corner of my home office desk by the end of the day. No more tracking down assignments. I haven’t come up with a penalty for not handing in an assignment by the end of the day though I realize that in school the consequences are either a full grade lower for a late assignment or a zero for not turning it in. I want to run a tight ship (it’s part of my personality and my role at work), but I don’t want to be so strict that it’s more about schedules than actual learning.

So I’m considering going to a weekly schedule – that is, still writing out the schedules for each day’s work, but allowing them the week to complete all the assignments. One day they can do all their vocabulary and math, another day spend the whole day reading literature, and still another day do their science. There are subjects, like voice and piano, that they must do daily. You can’t sing a week’s worth in a day. But whether I collect work at the end of the day or by the end of the week, I should come up with a penalty for late work, shouldn’t I?

I’ve read so many theories about homeschooling that I suppose it’s completely up to me how to handle late work. I do know, however, that for my job as a writer, I have schedules and deadlines, and the consequence of turning in late work could cost me my job. If my husband George promises clients a job will be completed by a certain date because the client is planning a party but George doesn’t finish by that date, they’ll never hire him again to paint or install a floor.

That’s the real world, and that’s where all kids end up someday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Where’s the will?

This is the question in the forefront of our minds. My two brothers, Andrew and John, and I converged on Greg’s house today and sorted through his things searching for that key paper. Andrew’s wife Tammy was with us. She was a filing genius. Andrew went through the three organized filing drawers that contained papers only up to 2004; Tammy sorted a box full of papers from 2004 to the present, organizing all those papers into folders. I realized a bit later that since Greg lived in that house four years, the papers in that large cardboard box were ALL the bills, etc., that came in since he moved into that house!

My job was to open and sort new mail. We found out more about Greg’s financial affairs than Greg would have ever been comfortable sharing. How much he made. How much he owed. How many credit cards he had and what he spent his (or rather not his) money on. It didn’t feel right finding out all those details.

The elusive will was not in the filing cabinet. Nor the box of papers. His divorce lawyer did not write one up. Greg’s ex-wife knows nothing of a will. Nor does his fiancée. Yet Greg had come into my office one day and demanded, “Do you have a will?” You don’t do that unless you have one. It would be like me asking, “Did you eat all your vegetables?” I can only challenge that if I ate mine. So there must be a will!

We don’t know of a safe deposit box (his credit union doesn’t have one). His will isn’t on file with the county clerk’s office. It wasn’t among the papers at work. (On a long shot, I drove to the company to pick up my brother’s effects.) We found no record of it on his computer when we did key word searches. Greg wasn’t the neatest guy, but there are only so many places you would logically put a will – aren’t there? Where or where can it be?? If we don’t find it, I will get appointed executor, and that’s a crash course I didn’t want to go through – while homeschooling children and working?!

Homeschooling? Oh, that. For the last week as I frantically took care of funeral details, I shoved a book at each of the kids (The Jungle, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and a book of short stories by Tolstoy) and told the kids to read. Fortunately, I’d started school with them in mid-August, in case we had guests that would distract them from working. Instead, my brother’s death distracted them.

But now I’m being distracted. What is a logical place to keep a will? Wouldn’t you put it in a place where others would find it???

Monday, September 22, 2008


It’s very difficult to bury your brother – especially when he’s not a believer. In fact, he rejected God.

We grew up in a Catholic church. While I left the Catholic Church and joined an evangelical church, after Greg left home, he never went to church again – except for weddings, funerals, and the occasional Christmas.

I was assigned the task to speak in church about my brother, mainly because the Ukrainian Catholic church my mother attends – and where the funeral was – has a new priest directly from Ukraine, one who doesn’t know Greg and who cannot speak much English.

The turnout was huge. Greg was gregarious and well-loved – a ski patrolman, a biker (Harley Davidson, not bicycle), a veteran of the Coast Guard, an adventurer, a multimedia graphic designer in a large company where he and I worked in the same department – and a loving dad. So this is what I said to the congregation today:

* * *
…and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. - Ecclesiastes 12: 7

We are gathered here to remember my brother, Gregory. Greg was a devoted father. From the moment that his son Luke came into this earth, Greg doted on him. Luke wasn’t like other children; he had special needs, and special needs required extra sacrifice on the part of the parents. Greg never complained about this turn of fate. Not once. He adored Luke, doted on him, and simply glowed whenever he talked about his son. Since Greg and I worked together for the same department, Greg would come to my office quite often and share stories about Luke – how Luke had a cough and how worried he was that the cough might go to his lungs. How Luke had finally learned to crawl. Then taken his first steps – but not at a year like most children; he was much older. Or Greg would describe how Luke laughed with delight when Greg would play the guitar for him. He described Luke’s teachers in Kindergarten or told me how good the other classmates were to him. Greg could mimic Luke’s giggles and squeals. He talked about getting him hearing aids. Braces for his legs. A special walker. There was nothing that Greg wouldn’t have done for his son.

Our Father in heaven loves us even more than Greg loved Luke. But how many of us return that love? Do we just think about Him once a week on Sunday mornings? Or perhaps not even that often? I think that if Greg could speak to us today, he would tell us that this is the most important relationship – our relationship with Jesus Chris, our redeemer – to work on while here on earth.

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. – John 6:63

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What can I do to help?

I hear this question often since my brother died. So many of us tend to say that we can’t think of anything. We think that turning down offers of help is the right thing to do. That way we won’t burden the other person. In reality, you are rejecting their love when you reject their offer of help. If you accept help, you allow them to serve you and you become obligated – or at least that’s the perception.

When folks have asked how they can help, I’ve accepted their love offering and suggested that they bring meals to my parents’ house. Many of us converge on their house now; it’s our central station for planning our brother’s funeral.

“You have such nice friends,” my mother told me after the parents of Larissa’s best friend dropped off some chicken and rice and a cake.

“I’ve taken them up on their offers to help,” I replied. And indeed, this visit and the visit of coworkers have cheered us and helped us in a tangible way.

But help on a completely different level came about from a conversation with Greg’s boss. I mentioned that in the past, especially after Greg’s divorce, my family would come over in the fall to rake the leaves in my brother’s wooded lot. He always had a LOT of leaves because of his 40 or so trees. “With Greg gone, we will have to do a lot of raking this fall,” I sighed.

“Now there’s a way we can help,” said Barb. “We’ll do the raking.” She had mentioned that the folks at work wanted to know how they could help the family, and this was a concrete way.

“Well, you can help even sooner. The windstorm a few days ago knocked off a lot of branches in his yard,” I informed Barb.

The next day when I visited his house, the branches were cleaned up, the deck and walkways swept, the lawn raked.

Today even more bags of leaves were by the curb. Like little secrets Santas, people had come and bagged leaves, mowed the lawn, and left.

While Greg was an avid gardener and had just painted his house and changed the roof, the inside of his house is a different story. It’s a true bachelor pad. When you open the front door, you step over his toolkit. Even though Ruby the cat is very timid and hides, you know that there’s a cat in the house by the white cat fur. (We took the cat to my parents for the time being.) Clothes are strewn on the floor in one room; in the office, you can hardly get to the desk. The linoleum floor is in need of replacement because it’s broken in places. The wall studs are visible because part of the wall is missing in the dining room.

The house needs an overwhelming amount of work. My brother simply hadn’t gotten to it. He was living life – biking, ski patrolling, and spending time with his sweetheart.

“We’ll need to do a lot of work on the house before we can sell it,” I mentioned to Barb tonight when I called to thank her for the yard work.

“Just tell us what you need done and when you want to do it. You’ll have to limit the volunteers to they’re not tripping over each other,” Barb said.

I’m humbled, truly humbled by this outpouring of help – of love. In large part, it’s a testimony to the type of person my brother was. My brother touched many, many lives in his short life. He was a dedicated father of a disabled child, and although his life was tough at times, he didn’t complain. He could always see the bright side of things, even about being the parent of a disabled child. “He’s always happy,” Greg said of his son. And Greg seemed like he was always happy, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


My mother and I got out of the van and looked at a plot of ground.

No, not good. Not enough shade.

We got into the van and were taken a little ways down a peaceful drive. I got out, still holding my morning coffee and the folder of papers that I began carrying with me yesterday. Mom and I looked at another plot of land.

No, too out in the open. Too stark.

We went around the corner in that van. I left my folder in the vehicle and gazed at a majestic oak nearby. A few browned leaves littered the ground, signaling that fall was imminent.

I looked at another plot, then turned away. Walking toward the oak, I gave in to my grief. Tears streamed down my face. I sobbed.

This was the spot, the place where my brother would be buried.

My brother, who a week ago was taking off on vacation on his motorcycle with his lovely fiancée-to-be. My brother, the optimist, the outgoing man who could bring out even the shiest, most reticent person. My brother, full of joy and life, who had a ready smile and a way with people. My dear, dear brother…

The sun shone and the day was warm. He would have enjoyed this day.

Oh, Greg, I never thought that I’d have to bury you! I never expected I’d stand by your grave someday. Oh, my dear brother, I thought that you would outlive me, your older sister! You were in such good health, had so much vigor, so much to give, so much of your life still ahead! My dear brother, how I’ll miss you!

Greg, I’ll take good care of your gravesite. We shared a passion for gardening, and yours, my brother, will be a lovely site with hostas and spring bulbs and many forget-me-nots from my garden. They will be watered with tears.

My dear brother, it will be very, very hard to stand by your gravesite when we bury you in a few days.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)