A Day in the Life-My Unconventional Innovation Writer’s Home School

So I am an author. And like most other authors, I have a side gig. My side gig so happens to be raising miniature humans (no hate mail please, I have nowhere else to go from the term humans). And that includes educating them at home. Unlike many home educators, the approach I take is slightly un-orthodox, but it works well for us and is tailored to the individual giftings and callings of my children, as well as accounts for the Hand of Providence to guide and do what Providence does: make sure I don’t royally mess up.

In the fall, Yah willing, we will be enrolling our children in the program Classical Conversations, a wonderful program which does not teach children WHAT to think, but HOW to think, and also does not contradict the very important phases of cognitive development, as set forth by the Creator, and discovered by some. As we are made in the Creator’s image, and I ascribe to the “inspire, not require” philosophy of home schooling and self motivation, a lot of what I do in our children’s education is to model for them the creative and innovative processes. Which means I do a lot of reading, a lot of writing, a lot of self improvement, a lot of praying, and a lot of “thinking out loud” or sharing my ideas through an often-overlooked educational tool- discussion.

This morning, I woke the kids up by telling them the inspirational story of Temple Grandin. I explained that as an individual who so happened to have the condition known as autism, Temple Grandin did not allow her limitations to get in her way. Instead, she used her unique perspective on the world (specifically her love of animals and ability to empathize with them- a detail which captured my animal-loving daughter’s attention) in order to make life better for cows. Specifically, she was able to discern that cows did not like the rigid corral system set up for them by men who sought to make things more convenient and bearable for only themselves. But rather, she saw from the perspective of the cows that they did not like the sharp angles and scary corners of the conventional corral system. So, she designed a much more loving, user-friendly system for the cows. And by doing so, revolutionized the way the industry operated. Stressed-out cows full of the hormone cortisol in their muscles often made for tougher meat, and so the beef industry benefited well from her invention.

At this point, I had triggered the imagination of my ten year old son, who tends toward creativity and innovation. In fact, I pride myself on the frequency of one of his hobbies, which is to “think.” “What are you doing, son?” I often say. How my heart beams when the reply comes, “I am thinking.” In my estimation, when a child matures to the stage of being able to think in abstract concepts and what’s more, chooses to spend his free time doing such, nothing makes me gladder. So my son starts his morning actually wanting to get out of bed (a feat in and of itself), but not only that, starts on a tangent of creativity and idea generation, and shares those ideas with me; which I then give positive feedback and encouragement through a variety of ways, one of which is to ask questions, which then causes him to learn to think about his ideas in more critical ways, and all this before breakfast. Win.

During our discussion, my son asks me how Facebook became a multi-billion dollar company, so we google the history of Facebook, and watch the movie trailer for The Social Network. Then, we watch a youtube video, something along the lines of the Stock Market for Dummies, which leads us to have a discussion about how innovative ideas can drive markets. I continue my recent education in this area right alongside him.

Then I cooperatively work to help my eight year old prepare breakfast, to which we all sit down and eat together. I pull out the Brain Quest game, which is a series of trivia questions, using facts and general knowledge from many different areas: grammar, math, history, geography, and we set ourselves to playing the game and the kids are learning without even knowing it. After breakfast is group prayer, where I take prayer requests and praise reports, and lead us in prayer. This is a mainstay of our lives, and we do this almost every day without fail.

Next after breakfast is chores, or “family work”, an important staple of Core Phase, and a sturdy practice which all the other phases of learning can be built upon. Together we learn hard work, we learn it alongside each other, we learn it can be fun, and we learn to take pride in our work, for which we are accountable. This is an invaluable lesson to learn before they reach scholar phase, during which they apply the principles of hard work to academic discipline, a time during which eight hour days of nothing but reading and studying are not rare. That is, if they successfully progress through the phases.

After chores is personal hygiene. Then my son redeems some computer time, which he earned, through my system of rewards, which really does shape behavior and was invaluable, especially during those years when it was very difficult to find what would actually motivate him. Speaking of difficulty in motivation, after this, they do their copy work, during which they copy a passage from the scriptures and progress nicely in the act of forming letters and sentences on the page, a practice which will become of greater value later, especially to my son, after he develops the area of the brain which forms thoughts, and what’s more- combines them with the skills needed to organize those thoughts, allowing them to flow out the hand in the currency of letters, words, and eventually, paragraphs, then sets them down on the page through the pen. I spent a good deal of this past Saturday afternoon following Brave Writer’s advice of writing down everything your child dictates to you when they reach the point of what she calls “red hot language”, that point when the child is most excited and talking a million miles a minute about something they love. Doing this regularly, will give reluctant writers the message that their thoughts are important and that is indeed what you want them to write down, making the imperative connection between their thought life and writing, a connection which will be filled in later on with the writing of narrative, descriptive, expository, and persuasive essays.

After copy-work, both children set to a rhythm of independent reading and academic online learning in grammar, reading, and math, a schedule which they themselves get to decide on and have wiggle room. Sometimes my daughter plays “Beat the Clock”, a timed exercise in doing math fact exercises. After they have done these for awhile, I call for Power of an Hour, a technique I learned from another home school veteran, Donna Goff (because borrowing for your kids from the best is a wise idea). During Power of an Hour, I read aloud from the Torah portion from that week, while my eight year old daughter usually doodles or colors on a paper while she listens, and my ten year old auditory-learner son soaks in all my words as he glances around the room. Sometimes I give a little treat to sweeten the deal. At then end, I ask questions and we engage in discussion (something which we all do an extended version of with Papa as a family together on Sabbath morning, as we learn to engage and ‘midrash’, or discuss, the scriptures). Then I read aloud from a work which has high merit and applies to the applicable phase and the prayer for guidance I have lifted up. We had been reading out of “Born a Jew, Die a Jew” by Yohanna Chernoff, a biography on the life of Martin Chernoff, a pioneer in the Messianic Jewish Movement. Now we are reading aloud “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch”, the story of a boy who loves arithmetic and grows up to be a sea navigator. This inspires in us all a love of all things math.

After Power of an Hour comes lunch where the children are on their own in the kitchen with some minor loose supervision from me from a distance (so as not to make it seem as though I am hovering over them too much), where they get to practice making good choices for their health and building a sense of confidence and autonomy in the kitchen with those essential life skills. It is at this time that I either do a workout, take a much-needed shower, or write. After this we either head off to the library, or the kids do what I call Free School. At the library, they hunt books like they are prey on the African savannah, bringing them to the mama lion, (me) with enthusiasm (look what I killed, err, found, Ma!) and I have to tell them when their piles of selections are about to break my back when I carry them to the check-out counter. I smile inwardly, knowing they have safely entered the Love of Learning Phase of their education, and I have a pep talk with myself to try not to do anything to mess that up. If they do Free School, it can be any project or interest (within reason, not just watching tv and my kids don’t have phones, so no texting), but for my son, it usually involves learning about computer programming, and for my daughter, usually involves learning about animals. It is during these hours where sometimes each child will narrate to me a book or story which I type out for them, or my daughter works on her own story typing it out on the laptop. Sometimes, it means we get out on a nice spring sunny day. This is also the time of day where we either do a field trip when one is planned, at the end of which I might run a quick errand before the afternoon routine of karate class preparation and afternoon chores take over, before we get in the car or I do another load of laundry or another round of health-driven food prep while on some days, we will do a lesson from Supercharged Science (e- science), with Miss Aurora, a real NASA rocket scientist, or the kids will play Word Roots or Roblox Studio.

Today I was also able to fit in an online training about innovation/entrepreneurship and learning about crypto-currencies, as well as read a few pages of my step-father’s new novel, one which he so graciously allowed me to get a sneak peak of (mind you, these personal activities were done mostly before waking kids and before my coffee had a chance to get cold).

After dropping off my son at karate class, I rush home, throw dinner together, greet my husband when he comes home, pick up my son from karate (daughter will be beginning horse riding lessons soon and that will be incorporated into our busy afternoon schedules), and get the night time routines going. These routines end with brushing teeth, the kids self-monitoring the shut off time for tv, praying with Papa leading the family prayer, and them getting settled in with a cozy book in bed, usually one or more of their library killings. (Lol!) After which, I will either help my eight year old get on with her settling-in skills, or I collapse into the current book I am reading, Facebook, or an episode of whatever Netflix series I have been vegging my mommy-brain on (I just finished all of the up to date offerings of Call the Midwife).

The next morning, it all starts again and I wake up seeking inspiration and vision which will sustain not only my own life and calling, but also that which will spur the littles on toward forging a path of their own, using their unique giftings and callings. And the time of day will again come when I settle back with a Chocolate Moses (a low carb dessert I coined, long story of why that name), and reflect on how I can do it all again- rise up to sustain my important role as Vision Caster and Encourager Extraordinaire. Either that, or to thank Elohim that the kids’ clothes made it into the hamper that day, instead of landing on some pipe somewhere undisturbed, and I was able to keep some semblance of sanity, as I endeavored to keep the roof from falling down on all our heads.

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Killing Two Birds With One Stone-the New Anti-Semitism and Writer’s Block

This might perhaps be one of the most important blogs that I will ever write. Lately I set out to answer a very pertinent question having to do with the inspiration for my writing. Why do I do what I do? What is the meaning in all of this? Instead of just a conveniently boxed theme or tag line for my novel, I discovered something deeper and more important- something akin to a raw material living on the inside of me- something which drives me, motivates me, even sometimes makes me venomous with anger. I have discovered why I have a passion to write about the things I write about. If a writer can do that, it is nothing short of introspective gold.

Ya see, I found more than just a portion of gumption to write that next scene. I found something that is truly critical in making a story palpable to the reader. I found my voice. Instead of continuing to sit at the computer time after time,  purposely distracting myself with Facebook, Twitter, emails; instead of staring down the frightening blank page of my sophomore novel, I found what really makes me tick. And also what really ticks me off.  Those who know me well can tell you that I can be somewhat of a mama bear when it comes to my kids,  spouse, friends, even those in my faith community. I dislike injustice. I hate manipulation. I abhor  ulterior motives, especially when it is rolled up into a nicely packaged offering, like baklava with a ribbon. Who doesn’t love baklava?! I don’t, not if it contains a toxic adjuvant of my-will-over-yours hidden agenda. I can usually sniff out a prejudical agenda a mile away, especially when it has to do with that against the Jewish people. My Jewish people. You will know in a moment why I say,”My Jewish people”. Narrowly escaping the gripping snare of replacement theology when I left the church I was in, I thought I had already become familiar with the bias against Israel in all its many subtle forms. But now I find myself  grappling with an Anti-Semitism that’s even more insidious and evil than its predecessor: I am now fighting an of Anti-Semitism that’s within my own faith movement: the Hebrew Roots, slash Torah observers, slash the Way faith walk. If you call it something else, please insert your preferred label here. As if that were even possible! But alas…the tares do grow up with the wheat.

This newly packaged anti-Judaic attitude mixes in subtly through a bias known as “anti-Zionism”, and it goes a little something like this:  The Jews who now live in the Land of Israel (or sometimes, they insist, Palestine), are not “TRUE Jews”, but are rather OF THE “SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN”. Some of these people actually assert that the Jews who are in power in Israel are not even Jews at all , but are rather,  some half-breed lot of Khazarians who wormed their way into power, many of whom are the “elite” of the earth who will soon be taking over the world! Yeah, find that in scripture, if you can.  And when Yeshua comes back,  they say, or during the time of judgement, He’s going to kick them out of the Land. I actually heard one person posit that those Jews who live in the Land right now are just “place-holders” until the rest of the twelve tribes get there and claim their inheritance. Really?? Here is why I personally feel offended by such drivel: My husband, the beloved of my life, is Jewish. Physically Jewish. Not half, not 1/8th of a Jew. He is 100% from both sides of his family, as far as anyone can go back to remember. (He is also a follower of Yeshua, and so is circumcised of heart, but that is for another discussion). That means that our children are also Jewish (although I realize not by Orthodox standards, so please no correction emails, thanks).

This faith walk that my husband and I have entered, that is, walking fully in Torah since 2010, has been a safe haven for us for the most part. We went long periods of time wandering in a spiritual desert, looking for like-hearted fellowship with other Torah-walking believers. So when we found those with whom we now fellowship on a regular and a semi-regular basis (for those who live a little further away), it was like water to our souls. And we didn’t want anything to sully this burgeoning little life that Abba had shown us. We also started to fellowship with people online through social media. That is when my mama red flag alerts started ringing with persistent regularity. That’s when the anti-Judaic attitudes and parroted statements started spouting about the  history and failings of the Jews, whether it be how they corrupted the Tanakh and even the language of Hebrew in Babylon, or how they all (not just certain sects or houses of rabbis) added to and took away from the Torah in violation of Deuteronomy 4:2. How they are even currently trying to take over the world! I have shockingly even heard accusations that come straight out of the fraudulent and many-times-over debunked Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When I hear such statements amongst my  brethren, a knife goes through my heart, and I look over at the precious faces of my two children and ask myself, “Will there be room in such a movement as this for my children in the future? Or will they be ousted by these sentiments? Or, even worse than that- will they feel that they must suppress their own Jewish identity?!”

Don’t get me wrong: I realize we all have to give one another a large amount of grace to grow into this new thing. I mean, for MOST people who are now walking in Torah, there is so much to adjust to in such a short amount of time, it can sometimes be overwhelming: new holidays which we didn’t grow up with, a new day for the Sabbath, new ways of worshipping, sometimes family and friends who turn their backs on us, or jobs we’ve lost, and the list goes on and on. Shouldn’t we give people the time and grace to adjust to this new idea that we are not only in our faith related to the Jews, but we are actually now part of the same household as them?! I get it. New paradigm shift. Let’s all turn our brain frequencies to an entire new identity! Hellooooow! Does it feel like we are in Bizzarro World yet?? That takes an enormous adjustment and an austere amount of effort. Been there and done that. And I am the first to admit I need all the grace I can solicit from others. I tend to struggle with the “love your neighbor” side of the tablets, many times.

But isn’t some of the leaven of false teaching and attitudes about the Jewish people indeed just leftovers from a lifetime of hearing this in our old churches, some of us never even having met a real Jewish person in our lives before coming to Torah? When we moved onto the “meat” of the Word, His Torah, wouldn’t you say it was about time to put the rattles and diapers away, put our big boys and girls underoos on, and actually re-new our minds to the realities and the implications that come from knowing we were adopted into an actual family, one which already had children who lived in the household who actually stuck close-by the Father?

Perhaps those of us in the Hebrew Roots Movement (or insert your preferred label here) ought to start making it a common occurrence to cry out to Abba in prayer and intercession for the Jewish people, both those in the Land of Israel, and our neighbors down the block. That would enlarge our hearts a bit more for our brother Judah, don’t you think? After all, that is how He first started moving me into this walk. It wasn’t scripture study that won me over in the beginning. I literally fell in love. With a people-group. I caught a love for Israel and the Jewish people from a pastor who talked about that love from the pulpit. And then I entered into intercessory prayer sessions where I would just literally lay out on the floor, crying, weeping, praying for the Jewish people (No, really, you can ask my former roommate), or crying out during my church’s worship service “I love Your people” while the band played on. Yeah, that was how it all began. One time during prayer, I actually felt what it was like to cry out and ask the Father to take my own life in exchange for that of Elohim’s chosen people, the Jews. Similar to how  it must have been for Moses or Rabbi Shaul (Paul), who both conveyed similar sentiments in the scriptures. You don’t understand what a work of our Abba this was! Ha! I laugh now, but you have to realize that my maternal grandfather was anti-Semitic. From what I can piece together from conversations and memories from other family members  was that he actually admired and praised Hitler! Or at least, he made statements to that effect in front of other people, so much so that it was very difficult for a beloved family member to even walk through and experience Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in person. After the consecutive years of praying for the Jewish people and wandering around, asking Elohim what I was supposed to do with this love, the answer came in the form of a man. My husband. Abba promised me, as He did for Shiprah and Puah, the two Hebrew midwives in Egypt who saved Hebrew babies, to give me a family of my own. A Jewish one! After all, He is an Elohim of good economy, ya know!

Now you know why I stand looking at the wide array of teaching and sometimes the unwitting repeat of offenses that goes on amongst the brethren, and when statements pop up of unfounded suspicion of the Jewish people or their motives, I remember the work in my heart that made this walking in Torah even possible for me. And I think to myself, “There is nothing too difficult for our Elohim. Especially the changing of inaccurate or stinky thinking we have allowed to sneak in along the way that would steal our blessing from being able to love our long lost brother. We can do this!”

One of the reasons I love writing fiction is because as readers, we willingly become part of a process that actually by-passes the critical part of the brain where non-fiction or teachings would be stopped and dissected, and then stored mostly in our short-term memory. That’s right. Most of what we hear or read, if we do not walk it out immediately  in a real-life practical situation, only stays in short term memory. Not so with stories! With stories, whether they be fiction, movies, tv drama, we actively become participants in a process called the willing suspension of disbelief. We become part of the story by proxy. And inasmuch as it is possible, we actually become spiritually like little children where faith is concerned and we can receive the message more readily. Think back to what used to move you most during a church service…wasn’t it those tear-jerking stories of missionaries returning from the field?  And I think Yeshua was really onto something with those parables! Now here is an added bonus: fiction also has been proven to develop the skill of empathy in a person. Readers can more closely identify with the characters in a story than they can with abstract theories or broad statements. When it comes to our faith walk, fiction can lend much in the way of allowing people to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and therefore they can learn to extend much-needed grace to people on an ongoing basis. That is probably why most of my characters have a passion to save the Jewish people from enemies both big and small. I’ll admit it: I want my audience to be able to develop a love for the Jews, even if by proxy of a character or theme in a novel. I am shameless in admitting this. It is in the least planting a seed!

Knowing all this puts wind in my sails. Knowing the enemy’s “MO” by listening to propaganda and knowing where it originally comes from, by studying the history of the blood libels and the origins of the Protocols through a gem-find of a book from a Judaica bookstore that will provide for more spit fire and vinegar in my writing (thanks, Will Eisner!), I set to task.  I have a tall order. When I die, I want my gravestone to say “Lover of Israel”. Because that is what my Savior is. A lover of his people. All of them. I want my King to know that during my life, I did everything within my power to love my brother and that I did everything within my power to pass on that love to others in the most efficient way possible. After all, time is short.

So I look up at my computer screen with a new voice and a new sense of clarity (or maybe even just a breakthrough in my writer’s block) and I say to myself…..I’m ready for battle: bring on the fiction!

The Age of Elijah earns 5’s in all categories of the Inspirational division of Writer’s Digest E-book Awards

Friends, I just received the commentary for my first novel, the Age of Elijah, from the 3rd Annual Writer’s Digest Self Published e-book awards, Inspirational category. I am delighted to say that the book earned a score of “5” in each scoring category!! Let me explain: this writing contest has different divisions, such as: fiction/mainstream; fiction/genre; non-fiction; etc. The division  I entered the book  was “Inspirational”.  Although Age did not earn the top prize, we did well across all criteria. The judges use a scale  of 1-5. A score of 1 means “needs improvement”.  A score of 5 is “outstanding”. The Age of Elijah earned all 5’s! Thank you to those of you who inspired me, bore with me, and encouraged me. If you have not purchased the book yet, it is never too late to purchase a copy, since the book has been *revised*, prior to its entry into this contest. The Kindle version (e-book) is only $3.99 on Amazon (please see buy link at the end of this post). And remember, a tenth of all proceeds from the book go to support Leket Israel, an organization which feeds the poor in Israel.

Here are the categories used for judging, with their scores and the written commentary, verbatim, sent to me by the judge :

Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5
Plot and Story Appeal: 5
Character Appeal and Development: 5
Voice and Writing Style: 5

Judge #60 wrote:

A fascinating look into this religious culture. We learn so much about their lifestyle and devotion to their practices, aided by the smartly provided glossary. This is indeed an immersion into a culture we may not know much about, a reminder that we are richer in our own faith by exploring others. The author demonstrates a tremendous ease in explaining the many details of her religion’s lifestyle, with an engaging voice filled with knowledge. We’re seeing and *experiencing* so many of the rituals and rules of her people. Author provides excellent sensory details, and shows a great economy of words in sharing the backgrounds of her faith life. Well done. We are in good hands here. This allows us to connect on a deeper level.

Watch out for very long paragraphs, which occasionally happen in this book. Long paragraphs, especially those filled with a tremendous amount of detail and new lessons, can feel heavy visually, and cloak some of the details within. Breaking up big text blocks lets your material breathe and shine.

A strength of this book is the author’s recounting of Elijah the prophet. There was a different energy there, a greater depth of detail than in the other wonderfully recounted stories, which I interpreted as the author’s feeling particularly connected to this story. Well done. Author shows a life with great dedication to her faith, and we’re very present in her world through excellent creation of settings, beautiful dialogue from well-differentiated characters, and a lovely pace that progresses us through her story. Well done.

http://www.amazon.com/Age-Elijah-Vesteen-L-Blackman/dp/1512374458/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1453492412&sr=1-1&keywords=the+Age+of+Elijah

The Age of Elijah and other post-release musings

Shalom!  Yesterday, I published my first novel The Age of Elijah. I pressed the approve button and suddenly, my private thoughts and storylines for the last year and some odd months, is going out into the universe for anyone to read. It’s a strange feeling.  At the end of editing and revising the book, I felt like I was giving birth. PUSH! Ok, not really, as both my children were born via C-section, but it is what I would  imagine the pushing would feel like.  Exhausting.  Daunting.  That was the tail end of writing.  Now it is out of my hands, and while I feel, well, relieved, I also feel a little bit of trepidation. Ya see, some of the main characters in my book belong to the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement.  And within that movement, there is such a varied spectrum of belief and halachah (the way in which one walks out his or her faith), that I am just hoping my readers will not feel under-represented.  But then my left-brained self which, many times sounds a lot like my husband’s voice interestingly enough, tells me that my story is my own, the goal of which is not to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy inside, but rather, to tell a story.  And one that is important to me.  Still, the right side of my brain is hoping that in some way, my readers can connect with this baby of a book, whose head is still slightly cone-shaped.

Well…Here’s to variety!