"Have you tried...you know...not having the flu?"

Since I have opened up about my depression, mania, bipolar disorder, feeling worthless from time to time, having a chemical imbalance in my brain… people around me have very slowly started to peek out from behind their own curtains and make eye contact with me.  Some have waved me over and whispered, “I’m depressed, too.”  Some have told me they’re proud of me. 

Others have pretended like I don’t exist anymore, but I realize it’s probably because they are embarrassed or just don’t know what to say to me.  I’m okay with that.  Perhaps a seed has been planted.

Here is what I have learned in the last 3 years about my mental health:

1.  Food is an important component.  It can help or it can hurt any condition, including our moods. 

My magic formula consists of coffee, greens and cruciferous vegetables, lots of good fats, protein, dark chocolate, and water. 

2.  It can scare people when I talk openly about mental health.  It was taboo to discuss things like depression a few decades ago and that stigma lingers. 

When a disease is carried through generations and everyone pretends it isn’t there, ignoring it feeds the idea that people should hide in shame with their imperfections.  The “suffer in silence” mindset doesn’t work for me.  That brings me to #3.

3.  I can put on a happy face and pretend like I am not closely monitoring my medications, diet and environment to strike a healthy balance for myself, but it won’t last. 

If I don't share with others that I use Western medicine, meditation, counseling, literature, writing, walking, and essential oils as therapy, it feels like I’m lying to myself and dishonoring my true nature.  If I'm okay being me, others might wake up to the idea that it's okay to be them.

It maybe a novel idea that some people have to work harder than others to keep their brains healthy, but it's still there.  Ignoring it doesn't make it go away.  Heaping on shame, making them feel like it's their fault, and relegating them to solitude won't help them or the next generation.  

Education and Empathy will help.

For people who don’t understand depression, this neat little graphic has been circulating for a while.  It's funny, but also true:

Seth Adam Smith's work is inspiring.  He "writes fearlessly", shares his process for writing and getting published, and documents his challenge with "the black dog" of depression (as Winston Churchill put it).

Let Me Introduce You...

In the middle of the afternoon, when the last schoolwork box has been checked, my kids run away to pretend and make messes and goof around.  This fills them up and balances them out.

While they're busy getting their needs met, I either clean things because it is quiet and active and makes feel happy, or I read and write.

I used to just read, but I've found that it's more productive if I write while I'm reading.  That way the little sparks of inspiration don't fly away before I have a chance to capture them.  

I don't just read things by people who think like I do.  I read books and blogs and stories by people whom I don't understand.  This is how I balance myself.  

Here are some of the blogs that stretch my thinking:

There is a woman, Heather Madder, who writes about creating the life you want.  She fascinates me.  She is all fire and I am all water, so I enjoy walking in her shoes for a while.  The things she writes are all punctuated with exclamation points and CAPITAL letters!!!  What she says is TRUE for her and I love that.  She inspires me to get a pair!  Not think so much about how different I might be!  Or to even celebrate the fact that I'm different!

Another blog I read from time to time has an intriguing name:  the Tattooed Mormon.  
I love this woman's spirit and spunk.  Period.  (Note: I am not Mormon, nor tattooed.  I had a nose ring for 2 weeks until I sneezed it out.  It was cool while it lasted.)

"Your Child is Actually Raising You" is a sample of a blog I read with every new post.  It is written by a South African Clinical Psychologist named Eilat Avriam with a "turned on its head" view of parenting.  She is funny and honest and I love to learn about myself as a parent through her filter.

The name The Inappropriate Homeschooler kind of says it all.  Sassy, smart, outspoken.  Her blog is one of those that gave me the courage to begin homeschooling.

When I started seeing things all over the media about homemade water purifiers, emergency food storage, and bug-out bags, I started to wonder, "Is there something going on I don't know about?..."  In my research I ran across Damian Brindle's website.  He is a self-proclaimed "survival enthusiast."  He has a family and an incredibly informative website without the fear-mongering.  (Do you know how to open your garage door if the power goes out?... Neither did I!)  Aside from being fun and practical, his articles helped me see that I lacked basic knowledge about how to keep my family safe in the event of an emergency. 

One of the keys to successfully eating a Primal diet long-term is knowing how to treat yourself.  PaleoOMG.com is an excellent resource for amazing, rich and satisfying treats without refined sugar.  On top of the recipes, the author oozes style and enthusiasm for her lifestyle. 

And Anything about Depression or Bipolar Disorder:

I read these things because I always need new ways to help people understand me.  Let's face it, I scare people!   People with mood disorders scare other people.  I don't want my kids to look back in 30 years and say, "Oh my gosh, that's why my mom cried every 5 minutes!" or "Oh my gosh, that's why my mom crocheted 4 blankets, painted the house, baked a wedding cake, and wrote a novel all in 24 hours that one time!"

I want to have words to educate them and anyone who asks.

I also need the validation that this really isn't my fault.  I did not actually cause this mood disorder by eating too many Big Macs in college.

Someone who is reading chapters of my book as I write them commented recently, "The writing you do for your blog is so...life affirming.  This writing is different."  

The phrase "Life affirming" was accompanied by fluttery fingers and a high-pitched voice.  I laughed knowingly.  It totally is.  It is to remind myself why it's good to be alive on the days when my brain is telling me otherwise. It is for balance.

"Why do I need to learn Freeennnch?"

This was a common refrain in my middle school classroom years ago.

A little background - I taught French at an amazing independent school for gifted kids in the Chicago area.  I have a Masters degree in French linguistics and literature, and most of a teacher's certification. (I ran screaming from that program when I was offered this sweet job.)

These kids were all nerds* and liked it that way.  All the teachers were nerds and all the kids' parents were nerds.  It was heaven.

*nerds - people who love learning in any form and aren't afraid to show it

Still, not everyone was in love with French class.

The French language is partially responsible for shaping the person I am.  So when I heard this question - "Why do I need to learn Freeeennnnch?"  I would pull the tiny dagger out of my heart and then I would say, "You don't!"

After they stared at me blankly for a minute, I would explain that they would likely not need it for survival or even for success as an adult...however!!!...They would need richness in their lives, depth to their education, and the chance to discover unawakened passions.

Keeping my French fresh - in Paris over summer break 2001

My answer to their parents also included the following information:

40% of our English language is derived from French.  French language learning, like Latin, is a major and measurable boost to a student's vocabulary.  It stretches their brain in a unique way as well.

The answer to myself:  If we think of the sum of our lives as a hand-woven tapestry, French is the golden thread that highlights the figures and shapes on my tapestry.  Not necessary, purely decorative, but stunning.

This is Why You Need to Learn French

I crafted this post because I often think of homeschooling in those terms, too.  

What is important to the very structure of a person's tapestry?

      Nourishment, survival, safety, love

What serves as the scene depicted?

       Friends, stories, beliefs, values, risks, failures, and happy successes

What are the embellishments and unique artistic qualities? 

       That is different for every individual, of course

And This is Why You Need to Travel

By homeschooling, we spend the majority of our time witnessing and supporting our kids while they weave their own scene as youngsters, so they have the best chance of going on to add their own richness later in life. 

Attitude of Play

Considering Homeschooling? Part V - Philosophies

In the spirit of keeping it simple, here is a link to a previous post with details about a variety of well-known homeschool philosophies.

Our philosophy is keeping an attitude of play.


It works well for me because I lean toward the serious, organized, wet blanket style of learning.  Focusing on play keeps my family balanced. 

It works like this:

Playing is learning.  Playing is important to kids.  When we give them time to spend as they wish, we are respecting their natural ability to grow and use their instincts.

In our home, I am responsible to the State of Missouri and since I need documentation to prove to myself that my children are gaining skills, I set aside specific time every weekday for written work. Roughly 20% of that time is spent on what I call "straight up math."  It is textbook and workbook driven.  The other 80%  is based in relevant seasonal activities or real-life events.

I keep a list of the top 5 skills I'd like to check on for each of my kids.  The list comes from the public school standards for our district.  Knowing that my middle son needs practice in paragraph structure and identifying the topic sentence, I will look for a place to fit that in naturally with something he loves.

I could never have anticipated how much all three of my kids have enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek.  My middle child, in particular has a strong sense of justice and is in the phase of his life where he is solidifying his ideas of right and wrong.  This was the perfect opportunity to have him write about the conflict between the Osage Indians and the Ingalls Family.

When we had the chance to visit the Shawnee National Forest and hike in the Garden of the Gods a few weeks ago, we talked about the Trail of Tears, just miles away.  This perspective on history was fascinating for my kids.  Suddenly, their perspective on the anger and savagery from their favorite story had changed.

They were able to forage for food along the same trails the Cherokee did when they were forcibly removed from the ancestral home.  They were reverent and their opinions weren't so black and white anymore.

My five year-old retold the story of the scary shrieking war cries that the Ingalls family heard in the middle of the night on the prairie.  Retelling a story is part of the Kindergarten standards.  I believe that story is relevant and has impacted his life.

The key to making this system work is starting with play.  Using a child's' interests as a jumping-off point means everything falls naturally into place.  Less nagging, threatening, and reasoning is needed to help kids see the purpose behind what they're doing.  They're doing it simply because it's fun.

My brother is gone

Last week, I received a shocking phone call.  My little brother had died.  He was 33 and was killed instantly in an accident on the job.

My first reaction was to cry out, fall to my knees, and will it not to be true.

After that shock had run its course, a deep despair and emptiness settled in.  It remained throughout the long road trip to his funeral 500 miles away.  

The kind of silence that held me reminded me of the few other times in my life when I had born witness to someone's passing.  This pain was more acute and took my breath away.

During his visitation and funeral I had the pleasure of meeting people that interacted with him on a daily basis.  They shared stories of how he made them laugh, of the kind of person he was apart from the little boy I remembered best.

Those stories are precious to me.

I was finally able to put words to my feelings after the funeral had ended.  We were driving to bury my baby brother in the dry, dusty earth of East Texas.  His body would rest there.  His grave would mark him as a beloved father, son and husband.

The days around his death were punctuated by so many conflicting emotions.  It's true what they say:  Every time you think you are done grieving a new wave of sadness will wash over you.

Tears and Laughing

Togetherness and Solitude

Pain and Healing

Confusion and Love

Old Family and New Family

Fresh Hurts and New Forgiveness

Darkness and Light

Sorrow and Remembrance

The other thing that stood out to me after I had returned home to my own little family, was that we should never let important words be unsaid.  We should never miss the opportunity to speak our hearts and give hugs.  

My brother's death and all the people who gathered to send him home in a beautiful and peaceful ceremony was life-affirming.

Another apparent conflict, but not really.

This is the description of my blog that appears on the homepage:

I believe in the ability of stories to teach, amuse, widen our perspective, and heal. I seek the divine in people and want them to see it in themselves and others, in turn. This is a place to help remind people of the lightness and beauty that life can hold even through chaos, depression, and loneliness. 

I believe this even more strongly now.  I am going to hang on to the happy stories that my brother's friends shared about how he lived his life.

Even though it ended too soon, I choose to learn from his stories because in doing so I find truth and peace.

Free to Learn?

I don't blame schools.  I think schools are marvelous at managing hundreds of curious, energetic, squirmy individuals.  They are generally full of professionals with a passion for serving others who are dedicated to guiding children in the best way possible.

I point instead to a strange, unnatural mindset rooted in competition, arbitrary skill mastery, and schedules created for crowd management.  This is the one that underlies institutionalized education. It is the mindset that points us away from letting kids take the lead in learning and points us toward trying to put them each in the same exact box for measurement, ranking, and funding.

This process sounds like something out of a science fiction film.

Even directing the learning of my own three kids is impossible.

I mean it.  It's impossible. (Ask me how I know.)

That's why they direct their own learning.

It's messy.  It doesn't stay on schedule, and it definitely does not fit into any box.

It's also kind of amazing.

This is also the answer I give to people who ask me what I plan to do when they need to learn things I can't teach them.

First, they already do!  As much as I loved math as a kid, my acute and obtuse angles are all jumbled up with improper fractions and covered with cobwebs in some dark corner of my brain.

                All grown-ups were once children... but few of them remember it.
                                                               -Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

This means that my daughter and I learn together.  She has to make sense of it in her own way.  As much as I wish I could somehow imprint the multiplication tables on her, she has to learn them herself.

My job is to look for the connections between these math concepts and something she's naturally engaged in.

I have made a difficult choice to commit time and effort to helping my children pursue their own academic interests at home.  I have chosen to risk them "falling behind" in certain subjects so they can stay happy, and not feel adult pressures at the ages of 5, 7 and 9.

I don't believe it's easy to be happy and stay happy as a kid.  I think adults take for granted that kids should be naturally joyful.

They can only stay that way if we guard that joy and show them how we, too live in that joy.

Grown-ups love figures... When you tell them you've made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? " Instead they demand "How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? " Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

                                                                   -Le Petit Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This post was inspired by Peter Gray's book-

Spiral Staircase

Today I was struck by a revelation that I possibly hadn't healed from an old wound after all. Something wasn't sitting right in my gut for days.  I was sad, burdened, cranky.

In talking with a close friend about it, she reminded me that we had talked about the very same thing before...twice.  (My friend is very patient.) 

She reminded me that we don't just learn lessons once -- the spiritually important ones, that is.

In fact, old patterns will repeat.  If we envision ourselves on a spiral staircase, looking at the same issue from a (hopefully) higher, more enlightened level than the last time we can process the whys and hows even more completely than the last time.

This particular problem has haunted me.  I wanted to believe it was put to rest.  Actually, it just came back around at a new time in my life when I had the chance to look at it in a different way.

This time around, I have gratitude for the experience.

I think I might even throw in a little forgiveness and understanding, too.

This new level of the spiral was painful.  I have been so incredibly happy and in love with my life.  This made the downswing seem that much larger.

The alternative is to let it fester, cover it with a bandage and hope it goes away. 

Fortunately, I don't cover anything up.  Silence is golden until it's suffocating.  Then you need to whisper it, sing it, scream it. 

Then the upswing is that much sweeter.  That is what freedom feels like.

The Opposite of Suicide

We have been in our new home for one whole year now.  We have filled the house with happiness, exciting adventures, skinned knees, 1,000 cups of coffee, new stories, and a lot of growth.

This morning we celebrated our "moving-in" anniversary with a big breakfast and telling stories about the past year.

My kids thought of the first time they played in the snow, meeting all their new friends, missing their old ones, and seeing so many family members on a regular basis.

My husband changed jobs, found a new project car, got his motorcycle running and supported me in my new ventures with humor and grace.

I have launched my public writing career, started a jewelry business, and made a commitment to myself.

I want to keep 3 things in the forefront of my mind:

In Honor of National Suicide Prevention Month-

Do you remember before you were born, when you were sitting with Heavenly Father?  He asked you if you were ready to take on this life and you valiantly agreed. 

Do you remember what it felt like to be in his presence? 

Dream of that love, greater than any you’ve ever felt, magnified to a rapturous degree.

Now turn it on yourself. 

That love is where you started and where you’ll return.  This pain won’t last forever.

See yourself as Heavenly Father would.

He would be so proud.  He would scoop you up gently in his arms and embrace your earthly body, full of pain and memories, and remind you that you are of infinite worth.