Slowing Down to Speed Up

“I don’t want my children’s education to be so fast-paced and so abstract that there is not time to meditate on the fantastical. I do not want them to treat glorious facts as mundane.”
–Leigh Bortins, The Question

I was just meditating today on the concept of slowing down to speed up, and then I got this quote in a Classical Conversations e-mail, validating my thoughts. The slowing down/speeding up concept is that if you stop and think about what is really important to you and just focus on that one thing… or maybe one or two simple goals related to that thing, you’ll soon end up leaps and bounds ahead of where you’d be if you had a checklist of 10-50 things you’re trying to accomplish all at once. It’s so easy to get distracted and over-schedule these days, yet this “busy-ness” is getting us nowhere.

To share a personal example, last year all I really wanted to focus on was home schooling my children well. I just wanted to be a good mom, and a good teacher, and in a good mood, more often than not. Pretty simple conceptually, although all moms know that this is far easier said than done for nearly all of us. As I focused on just this one main goal–whereas I normally have a minimum of 6-7 challenging goals going simultaneously–I started to feel so light and unencumbered. I actually had time to think, and read for pleasure (!), and just sit and enjoy my kids. I was so unaccustomed to these luxuries that I kept feeling guilty or lost at first. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was forgetting something and that my bubble would be burst at any moment. But instead, what happened was that eventually other goals that I had not previously been able to accomplish when I tackled them more directly and distractedly, began to come to fruition as well. Consequently, not only are my kids and I now enjoying home schooling immensely, I am also in my best physical shape in more than a decade, and I have my own business that is actually bringing in money! And those are just two of the bonus goals–there are several other “lesser” goals that would never even have made my top ten list in the past that I am also making progress on.  WOO. HOO.

Slowing down is such an important thing to do. As much as we like to identify ourselves by our occupations or bodies or reputations, we are in fact vibrant, creative spirits that long for beauty and truth and love. In a world that constantly tries to suck the meaning out of everything, we are yearning to make our lives meaningful. For most of us, I’m willing to bet that our dreams are pretty much just sitting there beside us, waiting for us to turn and pick them up, but we’re just flying by, too oblivious to notice. If you think things are moving too fast, or you’re frustrated that you haven’t been able to accomplish things despite putting them on your “list” for years, try slowing down for awhile. Breathe, and assess your values and priorities. And then if you’re really feeling courageous, try organizing your life to actually support those top priorities, at the expense of lesser ones if necessary. I can almost guarantee it won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worth it.

Truth About Wealth

As a stay-at-home mom for the past two-plus years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time pondering the concept of wealth and assessing my values and desires. Having this time to breathe has been such a tremendous gift and has allowed me to think and reevaluate how I want to live and raise my children. One of the things I’ve come to realize lately is that money is actually one of the poorest measures you can use to determine wealth. Loving relationships are wealth. Health is wealth. Wisdom is wealth. Time is wealth. Creativity is wealth. Money is only wealth to the extent that it is used to support and enhance these other invaluable assets rather than diminish them.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with money. I’ve made many stupid mistakes with my money over the years, which I am now in the process of rectifying, but I’m not overly upset about those things, nor do I resent those who have been wiser and/or better educated than me in the area of money management. I just think that as a society, especially here in America, we place far too much emphasis on making money as a means to success and happiness. Wealth comes from the inside out, but hardly anyone talks about that fact.

To further illustrate my point, in Hebrew, the word for money comes from the root word kacaph (kaf, samech, phe) and means, “to become pale, i.e., (by implication) to pine after; also to fear: have desire, be greedy, long, sore.” Kind of shocking when I first read it. Money causes people to cease from being grateful for what they have and long for more. Money often brings stress and fear. No wonder Scripture says that the love of money is a root of all evil. Loving money will never bring you any satisfaction. Similar to a drug addict, you will never get enough.

Still, this truth does not necessarily mean that money can’t be a useful tool to those who understand how to use it. I am working on this understanding myself. As I said in the beginning of this post, money can be considered wealth when it is used to serve the real assets in your life–your relationships with family and friends, your talents, your health, your time–all of which you must recognize as gifts to be cherished, not prizes which you have earned.

Money should work for you, not the other way around, but that is easier said than done. For the first time in my life I can say without reservation that I am an entrepreneur, and that I am earning money doing what I love and what I’d be doing even if I weren’t getting paid. But, I have fought my heart out to get to this point, and I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. Am I wealthy? Absolutely! Am I “making Arab money” as they say? (No offense to anyone.) No way! I AM happy. I AM hopeful. I am looking forward to sharing more of my journey with you here. I hope you’ll share your lessons learned with me as well. I will always be teachable.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to our wealth!

Classical Conversations Practicum & Foundations Tutor Training

It’s been a while since I’ve written about home schooling, so I thought I’d give an update on the latest. We’re just winding down to our summer schedule, which includes reading more great books at our leisure, practicing Spanish conversation, and lots of time in nature. We also just attended a Classical Conversations Practicum, which is a fabulous three-day, free training for parents (kids’ camps available at a very reasonable price) on classical education as well as the CC theme for the year. This year’s theme is rhetoric. I love these events because they are so encouraging and thought provoking, and I meet the most wonderful people. I can’t resist giving a little plug here, so if you’re interested in attending one near you, check out this link for more details, times, and dates: http://parentpracticum.com.

For CC tutors and directors, there are afternoon trainings during the Practicum for Foundations, Essentials, and Challenge. I attended the Foundations training at this Practicum, and I was really impressed. The trainer had brought a posse of extremely talented, close knit tutors from her community and incorporated lots of demonstrations of ways to present the content in the classroom. Even with a year of tutoring already under my belt, I learned so much from them! It was inspiring to see what good friends these tutors have become. They’re obviously helping to elevate one another to the highest standards of excellence while keeping it lots of fun. I hope to foster this same kind of environment as I direct my own community this year.

Another great thing about the Foundations tutor training was that issues like discipline and classroom management were brought to the forefront and plenty of ideas shared from experienced tutors. I hadn’t had any experience leading a classroom when I started tutoring, and I was primarily focused on creativity in presenting the content rather than setting classroom expectations and having a plan of action for disciplinary issues. I thought that since parents are usually in the classroom with their children, I could leave that entirely up to them, but I’ve since realized that every classroom needs clear expectations and some form of discipline in order to run smoothly. I later found lots of great classroom management ideas on Pinterest, but I wish I would have used them from day one. If you are going to be a CC tutor in the coming year, be sure to spend some time thinking about your strategy for maintaining order. The kids quickly become good friends and are excited to see each other every week, so it’s normal for them to be energetic and chatty when they come together. It’s important to keep things fun, but also to emphasize the importance of respect for others, respect for the property, following instructions, etc. for the benefit of everyone participating.

Review games was another topic we spent a good deal of time on, including more great demonstrations. This was an area I hadn’t anticipated spending so much prep time on as a tutor. Every week, I’d agonize over finding the perfect review game, and I felt like I had to come up with a new one every week (at least for the first half of our year). There was a lot of trial and error. Again, I found tons of stuff on Pinterest, but it was hard to gauge what would work with my kids until I actually tried it. I had kids who were very competitive, and kids who were not at all. I had a couple kids who rarely wanted to play any game, no matter what it was. I was tempted to take it personally when a game didn’t work out. At the training I found out that most of the tutors struggled with these very same issues. It would have been great to hear this last year just so I’d know I wasn’t alone or doing something wrong. Turns out I really only needed 4-5 good games for my class and there was one they requested almost every week. I had a fantastic first year as a tutor and I LOVED my class dearly — these are just little things I wish I’d anticipated to make the year even more amazing. I have no complaints — I just mention these things here to help others who may be preparing to tutor for the first time.

Our new community is growing nicely and I’m excited to see who the Lord brings to join us over the year. We have more Info Meetings to hold over the coming months, and it seems that more and more people are hearing about CC all the time. We had 70,000+ students nationwide last year! It’s really exciting to be part of this dynamic community, which is stretching my whole family on so many levels. I look forward to reporting more as our journey continues to unfold.

 

 

Spartan Postmortem

Today is the day. Let's do this. #spartanrace

A post shared by Rachael Marie Lewinson (@rachael.lewinson) on

Yesterday was the big day —

the day this 40-year-old Spartan Virgin was initiated into the world of Spartan racers. I knew that the race was going to be intense, but I had no idea just how intense, or just how woefully under-prepared I was as I stood at that starting line. This was just a Spartan Sprint, mind you, the shortest distance offered (4+ miles and 21 obstacles), and still it has left an indelible impression on me. Thus I feel it is my civic duty to help prepare any potential future Spartans for the realities of this race, as well as offer my kudos to the event’s organizers for finding such a creative outlet for their sadism.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve always been an athlete, and I usually find athletic challenges to be fun (and frankly, not all that challenging). For example, I’ve biked 105 miles through the desert in Death Valley, with diarrhea (entirely TMI, I realize, but I need to give you the full picture here). It was very tough, but I handled it. I’ve also given birth to four children vaginally, three of them without drugs. So maybe you’re beginning to get an understanding of why I thought this #SpartanRace might be just another over-hyped, remedial “challenge” like those we encounter in so many other areas of life these days.

Not so, folks.

THIS.

IS.

THE.

REAL.

DEAL.

Some caveats:

Not surprisingly, my body decided to give me a few extra difficulties on this of all days. I was menstruating. I had a cold/cough/scratchy throat. And on top of that, my husband really ticked me off on the car ride there. So granted, I wasn’t starting off on the happiest of notes when the race began. I had trained diligently for 5 months (not more than that because I was nursing my new baby for the whole previous year). But then I stupidly scheduled a vacation right before a 3-day conference I had to attend, all right before the race. So I had nearly 2 full weeks of exercise challenges (rushed, abbreviated workouts and long days of sitting still) immediately before the event. I was pretty exhausted. I now realize I should have been training hard core every day and going to bed early every night right up until race day.

The blow-by-blow:

All excuses aside, here’s how it went down. I arrived at the venue, a ski resort, and stared up at the steep, smoking hills before me. A little shiver crept up my spine. Young, muscular bodies flowed gracefully around me in a constant stream. A few of the elite class men were already weaving their way down the rocky mountainside, pecs slick and glistening in the sun. I turned to my left and headed toward a set of obstacles at the foot of the mountain. College kids were hoisting heavy sandbags into the air, grimacing only slightly, as if stuck on a tricky question during a Bio final. They then scampered toward an inverted wall and activated their spider powers as they climbed over the top in a matter of seconds. I moved on, scribbling copious mental notes and taking a few deep breaths.

I then arrived at the starting area to warm up. The wave before mine was about to take off. The emcee was psyching them up, having them shout “I am Spartan!” in response to his rousing declarations. I didn’t think much about his obvious mirth at the time, but in retrospect, I now see why he found the whole scene so bleeping hilarious.

We had to climb a wall just to get to the starting line, by the way. That was my first clue that this could be a bit more than I bargained for. After our own Spartan pep rally, we were off, zig-zagging up the mountain strewn with rocks of all sizes and little smoking things stuck into the ground for extra effect. The first third of the race actually went pretty well. It was mostly strenuous hiking through the woods, climbing walls and nets, and monkey bars over muddy water. I started to enjoy myself.

Then came several upper-body challenges, like lifting and carrying a 65-pound boulder, dragging cinder blocks through the woods with a chain, carrying logs through the woods, etc. I have never had much upper body strength even in my best shape, and here is where I realized that arms/shoulders should have been my primary area of focus in training. I was in for a rough 2+ hours (2:11:20, to be exact). The other thing I didn’t realize is that you only get one chance to complete most of the obstacles, and if you fall or miss, you can’t go back and start again. Nope, you immediately get sent to the burpee zone, where you have to do 30 burpees (chest hitting the ground) for every obstacle you miss. In my training, I could never really do more than 30 burpees in a day without great difficulty. On my race day, I did at least 150-180 (I lost count after awhile). This was both exhausting and demoralizing.

RL_Spartan_burpees

I whimpered a few times. I wasn’t used to feeling so defeated. But I soldiered on. ‘Soldier’ is truly an appropriate verb here, as I eventually had to crawl what seemed like 1/4 mile under barbed wire, scraping my knees and shins on the hard rocks underneath me as I inched and rolled along to the sound of the drill sergeant’s taunts and jeers. I also had to carry a sandbag up and down yet another steep hill, and the only way I could do it was to pretend it was a baby, whom I had to carry safely through a war zone. Everyone else had the bag on their head or shoulders, but I cradled it right against my belly, picturing my baby every step of the way. It was the only way I could keep myself going.

There were some other bright spots along the way. I loved the steep downhills where I just let my feet fly and somehow managed not to fall and break my face. I loved the camaraderie of the teams I saw along the way, waiting for each other when someone fell behind and encouraging one another to keep moving. I even managed not to be bitter about my own team bailing on me at the last minute. (Oops, did I forget to mention that in my caveats section earlier? Yeah.) But honestly, even if you do participate as an individual, you soon realize that you are all one big team during this event. One woman offered me her shoulder to stand on, as we both stood waist deep in muddy, manure-scented water staring up at the first step of the wall we were about to climb. And then there was the sweet volunteer who now knows my crotch about as well as my midwife does, after shoving my rear up over that inverted wall I mentioned earlier (guess my spider powers failed to activate). So you see, it wasn’t all bad, really.

Some of the later obstacles are barely worth mentioning, as I was so exhausted by the time I got to them I could scarcely attempt them before sulking my way over to the burpee zone, again. Eventually, I got to the last few obstacles where my husband and kids were watching. Seeing their proud faces and hearing my kids cheer me on really gave me the strength to continue and even start to feel a little proud of myself at last. After a couple more manure baths and twisting my ankle just as I was about to leap over the final obstacle — logs on fire! — which almost caused me to land in the fire, I limped across the finish line with a huge wave of relief. A protein bar and a banana were shoved into my hands, my finisher medal hung around my neck, and I was released back into civilization once again.

It was over.

I didn’t feel the same euphoria I had felt after my first mud race, which was more of a glorified 5K with mud puddles in comparison, and even now I am not sure how soon I will be signing up for my next punishment, I mean event. (But I’m sure I will be signing up — only for the Sprint!) It wasn’t until my daughter got ready to do her Spartan Kids race the same day that I really felt excited about the whole experience. Seeing her beaming face as she approached each obstacle, and watching her proudly display her finisher medal (which I’m pretty sure she slept in) has truly made this a rewarding experience. It’s really not about looking good for the cameras, or finishing in the top 10, it’s about developing physical, mental, and emotional toughness, and learning to persevere even under the worst of circumstances.

Action shot of Scarlett from yesterday.

A post shared by Rachael Marie Lewinson (@rachael.lewinson) on

In short, when I signed up for Spartan, I thought I was signing up for a fun obstacle race. What I got instead was another rough life lesson, but in all honesty, I’m still very grateful. Once my soreness subsides and my scrapes heal, I’m sure I’ll be more enthusiastic, but I wanted to document the brutal realities of this race while they’re fresh in my mind. If you are planning to run a Spartan Race and are not already a world class athlete, you now have a pretty accurate idea of what to expect. I wish I had read something like this early in my training, so I thought the least I could do is give someone else the heads up I didn’t get. Let me be clear: I absolutely recommend this race…for those who will prepare for it. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like it. But when they say it’s no joke, they mean it.

Go Spartans! Aroo!

We did it!!! #spartanrace #finishers

A post shared by Rachael Marie Lewinson (@rachael.lewinson) on

Fortified (I’m Turning 40 Tomorrow!)

Tomorrow is the much-anticipated big day… the day I happily wave good-bye to my thirties (not that it was a bad decade, by any means) and turn to greet a fresh new decade ripe with possibilities and full of the promise of great ongoing progress. I guess we all love fresh starts, and although we can theoretically have one any day we choose, it always helps to have the momentum or pomp and circumstance of an appropriate event like a milestone birthday to take full advantage of the opportunity.

So, I keep getting asked what I am going to do to celebrate. In fact, I began celebrating at the beginning of the year and will continue to do so for as long as possible…hopefully forever. My gift to myself for this year and this decade, at least, is unprecedented health and balance. For one thing, I decided to get back into athletic shape, similar to when I was in high school, playing sports year-round and setting school and local records left and right. I want exercise and athleticism to again be part of my daily regimen, and even identity. I love the discipline and the connection with my body, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with working out regularly. So, as I’ve blogged about before, I signed up for a Spartan Race and am enjoying the training immensely.

I’ve also been pampering myself a lot more. I’ve never been much of a girly-girl, so for me one of the ultimate luxuries is making time to read, for pleasure and for my own education. Sitting down with a cup of organic decaf coffee and a great book for even half an hour is the equivalent of a spa day or a week’s vacation at this point in my life. On a similar note, writing just for the sake of writing is another guilty pleasure of mine, which is why I began this new blog earlier this year. In fact, at this very moment, I should be cajoling my children to do their math work (we home school), but since they’re playing happily together outside and the baby is napping, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to flex my fingers and reflect on how I’m feeling. Math can wait, especially on a beautiful day like today.

I like to keep things simple and natural, and every so often I have to remind myself to shed the unnecessary and get back to the basics. I’m feeling more comfortable in my own skin than ever before, somewhat as if I’ve been rediscovering what I’ve always known and loved about myself. I’m so grateful for everything I’ve been through and everything I’ve been given. Are there things I want that I can’t have right now? Things I regret? Sure, a few. But overall I am in a really great place, and it feels very solid and secure. I certainly didn’t get to this place by myself, but I’ve worked hard to get here nonetheless, and there are things I’ve learned along the way that can’t ever be taken away from me now. In short, I have so much more than a birthday to celebrate, so it’s hard for me to plan a day, or a week, or a party that could possibly capture who I am and how I’m feeling this year (especially on my budget – ha!). Instead, I will do my best to celebrate my Life, and all it includes, to the fullest, each and every day. Cheers!

My 4 Essential Ingredients for Delicious, Nutritious Smoothies

I love smoothies and I drink them several times a week. My whole family (15 mos. old, 4, 7, 8 years old, and my husband) enjoys the smoothies, and I believe that’s part of the reason we rarely get sick. I almost never use recipes for my smoothies, but I thought I would share what I consider to be the 4 essential ingredients to make your smoothies both delicious and extremely healthy. In all cases, organic foods are best if you can get them.

1. Good water. I usually use alkaline (pH above 7.0), ionized water, but mineral water or any clean water will do. You can also use rice milk, almond milk, coconut water or milk with, or instead of, the water.

2. Fruit. I almost always include at least one banana, plus one or two other fruits we like. The most common ones we use are frozen mango, pineapple, frozen blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries, but you can throw in any fruits you enjoy.

3. Greens. Dark, leafy greens are best — like kale and spinach — but you can use romaine lettuce, swiss chard, arugula, mixed baby greens, etc. for different flavorings and nutritional value. (No iceberg lettuce if you want nutrition.) Most of the time the fruit masks the taste of the greens almost completely.

4. Healthy fats and protein. Include one or more of the following: avocado, chia seeds, nut or seed butter, coconut oil, coconut cream, yogurt made from organic goat’s milk or coconut milk.

Play with different combos and quantities of these ingredients to find what you like best. You can’t really go wrong. For an extra treat I sometimes throw dark chocolate chips or cocoa powder in, too. Antioxidants! Enjoy…

Loving My Strong-Willed Children

Setting Limits bookI’ve been reading several parenting books lately and wishing I had accessed the wisdom in them long ago. The one pictured here, “Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child” was really great. When I picked it up, I was just thinking of my daughter, who is very stubborn but also has so many wonderful qualities. I wasn’t having any particularly difficult challenges with her, I just wanted to be prepared should any arise. As I read this book, however, I realized that my four-year-old is also a strong-willed child, and that was why I WAS having so many challenges with him. I am also pretty sure my youngest will be just as intense. Yay.

What I love about this book, though, is the way it talks about the children, describing them as “aggressive researchers” and explaining that they are just wired to learn the hard way most of the time, and that they need to collect a lot of concrete data/evidence in order to know what their boundaries are. I felt so much relief and compassion as I read, because I realized a) that there are LOTS of kids like this out there, b) the parents didn’t do anything wrong to cause the kids to develop these intense personalities, and c) they’re not little anarchists, but rather just determined little scientists trying to figure out how things work in their world.

I got a lot of tools to implement in this book, and I’ve already started using them regularly (and making mistakes with them, too). I realize how inconsistent and vague I’ve been with my discipline and instructions over the years, and am trying to be much more focused going forward. Even with the mistakes, I’ve already had a significant breakthrough in my relationship with my daughter, which I believe was set in motion by this book.

This all started with a goal of yelling less at the beginning of this year… who knew there was so much more to it than just that. Yelling was a symptom of much deeper and more complex issues lying beneath the surface. Although I wish I’d seen them sooner, it feels great to be dealing with these issues so productively now. Better late than never. Yet another lesson in agile mothering!