Home School, Bribes and a Ghost!

This has been a great week, if you don’t count the ghost.
But first I’ll tell you about school.
I started “school” with my kids and is how it goes: We sit down at the kitchen table and I pass out their journals. They spend some time writing about a topic that I have chosen for them. Then we do math, then penmanship, then some vocabulary. And then school is done!
This takes about 8 minutes.
As you might guess, my kids are loving this school. But I’m afraid their teacher is lacking. I have decided that my music/English degree did not train me for this and I am having a hard time coming up with meaningful projects. . . Naomi’s current project is to draw and identify every plant in the back garden.
But good news–! I found out that two of my kids will get into Oxford schools! Sophie and Syrena have been accepted into a very good school . . . and they will wear UNIFORMS. When I broke the news to them, Sophie and Syrena, who had been bubbly ever since we got here, became graveyard-silent. They didn’t laugh for 24 hours. We went to London the next day to sight-see and they walked around all day as if they were on their way to the gallows. There is a lot going on in those two heads right now.
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I think that if those two made it into school the others have a good chance, but we shall see. I will have a more clear picture this week. I don’t think Chelsea’s 8-minute school will last forever. . . but Naomi has already identified two plants!
Now . . . about the ghost.
Remember I told you that my closet door keeps opening when my back is turned? Well, so does an attic crawl space door above Naomi’s bed. At night. And it creaks.
Not only that, but a couple days ago I was on the phone and I heard a tremendous crash. Not just one crash, but a series of crashes. It sounded as if someone had fallen down the stairs with a mirror. But no one was on the stairs (either stairs) and nothing seemed amiss in the house. Danny thought it might have happened outside, but no one was in the alley. It was a mystery . . . until we went into Syrena’s room. And there, in a catastrophic heap on the tile floor, was Syrena’s collapsed desk and all of her books and pens and pencils and a broken mug.
No one was in the room when it happened.
At least no one . . . living.
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And speaking of living, on goes the struggle to keep my boys alive. I decided that boys are born without a common sense gene. I’m sure they develop it later, but they are definitely NOT born with it. Somehow they can’t comprehend that every time we go out for a walk we are inches from death with all the zooming cars. Scott keeps reminding me that the cars are only going about 20 miles per hour, but to me that is fast enough.¬†
Since the boys still resist holding my hand I have resorted to bribery. I keep a package of Skittles in my pocket, and every time the boys willingly hold my hand to cross the street I put one in their hand and say “thank you for holding my hand.” It is working grrrrreat. I make sure Sophie and Syrena also have skittles in their pockets.
Of course, Scott doesn’t need to have any skittles because the boys *love* to hold his hand. Grrr.
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Here is a parting shot of a street near our home and one of the sweetest kids I know:
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Our First Week in Oxford

When you only have a little bit of time and you have to decide whether you are going to write a blog post or write to your mother, always write to your mother.
But I will let you eavesdrop.
Hi Mom–
Please excuse the spelling and grammar of my letter. I wanted to send you some photos of our trip so far and tell you what we’ve been up do but I don’t have much time (Scott is down stairs streaming Indiana Jones with the kids). But now that we’ve been here for almost a week I wanted to write and let you know we are alive and things are going better than I expected.
We have a great house. It is super old (200 years?) but sturdy. The stairs slant and the floorboards have cracks and creak REALLY LOUDLY (good thing, too, because there is no lock on the master bedroom door). I also think a ghost lives in my closet because no matter how often I close the door it opens when I am not looking . . . but it is perfect for us because there are enough dents in the floors and walls that the ones we add will not be so noticeable. It is furnished, so we have everything we need, pots and pans and spoons and a washer-dryer contraption that I’m not sure I understand yet. We have enough beds for everyone, and most of the rooms are light and airy. I love the skylights! The rooms that are in the basement are not light and airy but at least they are cozy. There is a big sticker down stairs that says “IF YOU SMELL GAS CALL THIS NUMBER.”
That sticker keeps me up at night.
We live in a great part of the city–everything is walkable–the post office, the health center, all of the grocery stores, lots of restaurants, it is wonderful! Scott and I had a very romantic date at a nearby pub that claimed they made “proper hamburgers” which were absolutely delicious. I think we have walked about 15 miles this week. I am glad because this means I can eat more proper hamburgers.
. . . and Cadbury chocolate. YUM!
Church is a little out there–2.5 miles–but we did it anyway. I’m not sure that is sustainable, though. We might have to figure out another way to get to church. Or go to another church . . .the Scientology church is much closer. And the Quakers.
But going to church really was wonderful. I told the kids before church how you always told me that every time you go to church in a different country you feel like you are coming home. It felt like that here, too, only this church has an ELEVATOR. Danny was excited about that. Too excited.
It is so funny how small the world is. I met someone at church whom I knew in the BYU married ward when I was RS pres. That was a great surprise!
I am trying and praying really hard for the kids to get in school. Sophie and Syrena will be fine if they don’t get into school because they can do BYU Independent Study. But I MUST GET DANNY IN SCHOOL. Not for my sake, but for his. He needs a break from his nagging mom. But I am not trying to be naggy…I am only trying to save his life. (That is the only stressful thing about walking everywhere, is that 7 year old boys think they can walk across streets and not look both ways and that cars will just magically halt. Kind of the same way Dad thought, only Danny doesn’t old up his hand and grin at people. PLEEEEZZZ pray for Danny EVERY NIGHT.)
It has been so fun to have Scott around. Usually he is at work or doing church stuff, but he has been with us 24/7 and we’ve done so much–punting on the river, walking around parks and ran a community scavenger hunt (“orienteering course”) and it has been so great to have him around. He really is an amazing man. He is positive and optimistic no matter what. I know that this trip has gone so smoothly because of him. That will end tomorrow, though, when he goes to Oxford to work and I am on my own.
*trying to hold in the sobs*
I wish I could write more, but I have to get my home schooling stuff organized just in case I have to teach my kids. I can’t remember how to do fractions. Or division. Or spelling.
Did I mention you need to pray for Danny?
Love,
Chelsea
PS Mom, every time I see lace in the windows I remember how much you loved that. I wish you were here. It would be fun to go on a walk with you. Adelaide street is where we live. The street sign is much prettier than our front door. ūüôā
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The Year We Changed Our Lives

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After months of deliberating, strategizing, decision-making and then fine-tuning those decisions, Scott and I are finally on the brink of a dream we’ve wanted to achieve for many years: we are taking our family to England.

We gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, put our house in beautiful North Carolina on the market and just finished driving across the country. All of our things are going into storage, and now the only obstacle between us and the biggest adventure my family has ever had is 8 days.

Scott will be working at Oxford for only a semester, so we will be back to the States in December, but it will be enough time for us to have a wide range of experiences in the United Kingdom and surrounding areas that we would not have if we were simply tourists. To make things even more interesting, we won’t have a car and we will be living in the middle of a city.

If you are wondering how we are feeling about all of this, imagine you are about to jump off of a bridge, step into the gladiator’s ring, or are standing on a street in Pamplona, Spain just before the bulls are released and you will have a good idea.

Wish us luck. Updates to follow.

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Book of the Month: Charles and Emma, The Darwins’ Leap of Faith

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Recently I found this gem in my library. It is a YA biography about Charles Darwin and the relationship he had with his wife Emma. Theirs was a marriage perfectly matched in every way but one: Emma believed firmly in God and Charles believed in science. Yet together they had ten kids and they were completely devoted, even through¬†illnesses, deaths of children, and Charles‚Äô growing ambivalence toward religion. Despite their theological differences, his wife read and edited every one of his papers, and never stopped gently trying to persuade him that some truths were found through “feeling, not reasoning.” By using¬†many quotes from letters, diaries, and from Darwin‚Äôs own papers (which he let his kids draw pictures on the backs of), the author portrays¬†Charles Darwin as a devoted family man who preferred to be with his Emma above all others. Although I felt the author was a little presumptive at times, and I have no idea why it is categorized as a YA, it was a fascinating read for me and gives the reader a human side of¬†Charles Darwin beyond¬†the¬†image of the walking fish that gobbles the Christian symbol on cars. Most of all, I was very moved by the depth of appreciation and respect Charles and Emma had for each other. Truly they showed that two people who don‚Äôt share profound beliefs can still share a profound love. A great read.

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Love Notes, Fried in Butter

Last night, after all the kids had gone to bed, my husband made me the most exquisite fried egg.

He made one for me¬†and one for him, and each was fried in butter in its own little single-egg pan.¬†We sat down together to eat them, and when I put it in my mouth it melted on my tongue . . .so salty and velvety and warm … It was like eating a bit of a sunbeam, and it tasted so luxuriously superior¬†to the fried eggs I make for myself (which require¬†a lot¬†more chewing).

When Scott makes an egg like this I know that he loves me.

Next story.

Scott and I go out every week. Every. Week. ¬†Why? Because dating is cheaper than therapy. And a few weeks ago we invited my friend and her husband to come with us. ¬†We all sat in a booth, and my friend’s husband sat on the inside of the booth, while my friend sat at the edge.¬†Halfway through dinner my friend stopped the waitress and asked, “Excuse me, can you fill up my husband’s Coke? It is over there in the corner of the table, and I don’t think you saw it last time you came around.”

Wow, I thought. If my husband’s Coke went dry I wouldn’t have even noticed (or cared), but¬†this observant¬†wife¬†was making sure her husband was getting his refills.

I bet he adores her.

One more story . . .

Another friend of mine was¬†cutting her husband’s hair. He was preparing for¬†a series of important interviews that will change the course of their lives, and they both wanted him¬†to look his best. As she was snipping away she was telling him about a book that she was reading for book club (The Night Circus, if you must know). She became so engrossed in telling him that suddenly she sheared off a section of hair that was meant to be preserved. I can imagine that the¬†expression on her husband’s face, when he saw himself in the mirror, was that of a volcano on the verge of an eruption (well, a partially deforested¬†volcano). She braced herself¬†for his censure . . . but it never came. Later she told him that she will¬†always remember his restraint in not saying a sharp word, for the words he might have said would have lasted much longer than his unfortunate¬†hair cut.

Is there a greater love than this? Well, yes.

And no.

I have found, in close to twenty years of marriage, that “I love you” doesn’t always come in three words. “I love you” can be¬†manifested¬†through¬†every action of our¬†mundane lives. By caring for the ones we love with generous attention and loving awareness, we¬†are dropping “love notes” all the time. It doesn’t have to be big or showy or expensive. It is as simple¬†as an¬†exquisitely cooked egg, a Coke refill, or a word of deserved criticism that is¬†never uttered. And when love is spoken in this context¬†it becomes living poetry¬†that marks¬†the difference between roommates and soulmates.

What’s the earth

With all its art, verse, music, worth –

Compared with love, found, gained, and kept?

–Robert Browning

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The Loudest Minds

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Yesterday, as I was bringing my kids home from piano, I entered into a line of cars that were stopped at a stoplight.

While we waited for the light to turn, I started¬†thinking. I was thinking about the canyon in Utah between Heber City and Provo. I was wondering if there were very many deer that crossed that highway and if it was dangerous for drivers. But, I reasoned, there are a lot of deer here in North Carolina, so it wouldn’t be any more dangerous than driving to my own home. What would really be dangerous would be a moose. We don’t have those in North Carolina. Or an elk! After all, elk are big and have pointed antlers. But I have heard that moose are meaner. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that bears hibernate in the winter, so if I were to go snowshoeing (which I love to do) I would not have to worry about a bear. But a moose! Yes, I would definitely have to worry about a moose. And if I were out by myself, in snowshoes, and a moose charged me, what would I do? Ring a moose-bell? ¬†I guess I would try to hide behind the nearest tree. But what if the tree was too small and the moose was able to to reach around it with his antlers? I guess I would have to climb the tree. But I would first have to take off my snowshoes. I wonder how long that would take? Would it take longer to remove the shoes and climb the tree, or try to climb the tree with my shoes on? I would probably have time to get one snowshoe off and then start climbing. But seriously, I am almost forty years old…would I even be able to climb the tree? I might pull a lot of muscles. But what are a few pulled muscles compared internal bleeding wounds from the blunt moose antlers? ¬†What would most likely¬†happen would be that my one foot with the snowshoe would get wedged as I was halfway up the tree, and as the moose started ramming the tree I would lose my grip and then be swinging¬†there, my hair brushing the snow, looking at the moose from a unadventagious perspective, watching it as it pawed the ground, getting ready for what every moose knows as The Final Death Ram.

By now my heart is racing. But then I blink and I realize that I am not on a snowy hillside hanging upside down about to be killed by a moose. I am in my car. My kids are in the back seat. I am still waiting at a stoplight that is now green and all of the other cars in front of me have left. And I am holding on really, really tight to the steering wheel.

Later that day¬†my mother-in-law called me to tell me she read my book, The Last Messenger. “How do you come up with stuff like this?”she asked. I thought of telling her the moose story, but I didn’t want to confuse her.

There is a quote that I love. It is:

Quiet people have the loudest minds.

I originally thought this was said by Stephen King. When I looked it up I found it was said by Stephen Hawkins, which¬†makes me wonder who stole it from whom? ¬†It doesn’t matter because with¬†either Stephen the noise level must be deafening.

While I’m not exactly shy, I do have¬†far too much going on in my brain. It is why I can’t go to sleep the moment my head hits the pillow like my husband (not that he isn’t a thinker. He is. But his thoughts are in numbers which I believe are more obediently put to bed. I haven’t¬†had a number in my head for years.) It is also the reason I worry about things that will never happen and why I had many inner anxieties as a child.

I read once that when you have a child with a lot of anxiety issues, and you have to take them to see a doctor, you should reassure them that they are not going because they are crazy but because they have an incredible imagination, and that the doctor is going to help them organize all the monsters and scary stuff (and moose) so they all stay in the proper places.

I wish someone would have told me that, because I thought I was crazy for a very long time. But it doesn’t matter, because I have learned what to do with all of my thoughts. I have found a way to tame them, organize them, and make them mind me.

I do it by writing.

I make grand, wonderful stories out of them…stories that are too fantastic to ever be true.

It is quite freeing. It also makes me grateful for challenges, because when we understand them, and learn how to turn them into strengths, they can do wonderful things for us.

But I am not sure what a police officer would think if I’m ever stuck at a North Carolina traffic light for too long and I tell him it was because of the moose.

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Teaching Kids about Trump, Canada, and the End of the World

So we just finished with an election which proved to be very historic but not for the reason everyone had originally supposed. You know the details.

My husband¬†and I (dyed-in-the-wool Republicans but not Trump fans) were stunned when we started to see what was happening on the screen as Donald Trump’s numbers went up. As our reactions became more and more flabbergasted, so did the panic level in my kids. And why were they panicking? Because we had been telling them all along that if Donald Trump won it would basically mean the End of the World. But that had been¬†just a joke, because someone as brash as Donald Trump would never¬†win!

But now he was winning, and each time a new red state popped up on the screen my son went to his knees saying, “Hurry, Jesus!”

When we discovered in the morning that it was really, truly so–that Trump really was going to be the new president–we had to regroup. Instead of making jokes about bunkers and moving to Canada¬†we told our kids what we should have¬†been teaching them all along. Specifically, that

  1. There are three branches of the government. The president is only one branch.
  2. There are checks and balances.
  3. A¬†president can’t even be the president for more than 8 years…and if he does a really lousy¬†job he’ll only be president for half of that time, and if he breaks the law than he will be president for even less time than that. It is called impeachment.
  4. America has survived many presidents. Some of them were not so great. Some of them turned out better than expected.
  5. The president should be treated with respect, no matter who he or she is.
  6. The president does not have as much power to make a difference in your world as you do.

When a very young child falls and scrapes their knee they will first look for the reaction in their parent’s face. What they want to know is “Should I cry?” If the parent is fearful the¬†child will react with tears. If the parent is encouraging, the child¬†will stand up, give a shaky laugh, and move on.

After school my kids came home and one of my daughters said, “I’m glad Hillary Clinton didn’t win. Because now I can become the first female president!”

I was proud of her. But there are a zillion other ways she can make an impact on the world that are more powerful than being the President of the United States.

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