In the spring of 2000, my family (Bill & I, plus our three teenagers) went to the FPEA convention in Orlando, Florida. FPEA has always been one of our favorites, but this time we were particularly excited as Bill Anderson, the author of Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, was going to be at the convention promoting his newest book. I had not yet had the privilege of meeting Bill, but we had been working together on the Musical Memories project for several months via phone and email.
As we discovered him amongst opened boxes in his booth, I was delighted to finally meet the author with whom it been such a joy to work. With great enthusiasm, my kids and I asked, "Bill, do you want to come over to our hotel room for dinner one evening? We would love to have a chance to chat!" He seemed pleased with the invitation, but hesitantly asked for one provision: "Would it be all right if I brought a guest with me?"
There is ALWAYS room around the Waring table for an extra guest, so we enthusiastically said, "YES!"
I was curious, however.
"Who is your guest?"
Bill motioned to a lovely older woman, standing off to the side, and invited her to come into the midst of our jollity.
"This is Rosemary Trapp, the first child born to Captain and Maria von Trapp."
As it turned out, Bill's latest book was on the Von Trapp Family Singers, and, during his interviews, the adult children of this famous family took him to their hearts. When he had the opportunity to come to the FPEA convention, he invited Rosemary to come along. She actually did a workshop (I sat on the FRONT ROW!) and shared a bit of her life. She even invited us to join her in singing Edel Weiss!!
Thus is was that, one evening during the convention, Rosemary Trapp came to our room. We spent hours with Rosemary and Bill, talking, laughing, eating, swapping stories and even SINGING! She thought it was delightful that we sang together as a family—and that we had just returned from 7 months in New Zealand. Her family had also loved traveling in the Pacific region!!
I have to say that it was a magical night. And it remains one of the most amazing memories in my life.
In 2004, homeschoolers in Rotorua, New Zealand, joined us for an evening of dialogue about parents teaching children at home. It was a precious time, particularly poignant for me because it was being hosted by a Maori family. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, with a somewhat similar history to Native Americans in America or First Nations people in Canada, and to have many Maori families at this gathering was a significant indicator of how homeschooling was gaining acceptance—despite the cultural challenges —among the native people.
One of the questions posed to me during our Q & A was that of teaching writing—especially of the incredible frustration on the part of many younger students (which translated into incredible frustration for their parents!). As I was trying to gather my travel-weary wits, a Maori father began to share marvelous wisdom that I would like to share with you.
He spoke to us all about the many steps which must simultaneously be taken in order to write something:
• handwriting, or penmanship;
* sentence construction, or grammar;
• adequate and accurate use of vocabulary;
• concepts and ideas to be expressed;
• logical flow of ideas;
As adults, if there is something to write, we simply write it. We don't struggle over penmanship, spelling, sentence construction. or vocabulary. We spend most of our time on the concepts and logic. However, it's not the same at all for younger students who are just beginning the journey of communicating through the written word. For them, it's a massive, glacier-covered mountain with formidable ice-fields and no visible paths.
So, as parents with children who need to learn to write, what do we do?
This incredibly wise and thoughtful father suggested that we break down the steps for our children. Where is it that they are finding the insurmountable obstacle? Is it in penmanship? Spelling? Grammar? Vocabulary? Idea? Logic? At which point along the way are they being overwhelmed? If we can break down each of the steps, walking them through one by one, it will soon become evident where the difficulties lie, and we can gently provide help—coming alongside lovingly and kindly—until they have the needed skills for that point.
It's not a quick fix. It doesn't work if you are frustrated and angry. It will not happen if you are pressured by the goals set by someone else who does not know your child and their unique situation.
But, if you can patiently break down the task, helping them little by little to acquire the necessary dexterity for writing, they will eventually climb that mountain!
Have you ever wondered where speakers come from? I mean, how do THEY get to stand up and speak THEIR minds? What motivates someone to do what most consider the scariest activity on the planet—speaking to an audience?
Well, I can't answer for most speakers, but I can share a bit of the back story of what propelled me, as a young homeschool mom, onto the platform. . . and how that led me to write my first book, America (one of the Experience History Through Music books).
In 1988, after I had been struggling for about three years with homeschooling (my kids and I were ALL bored!!!), a good friend suggested that it might help if I could attend the state homeschool convention near Seattle. . .
In those days, the main way to learn more about homeschooling was to attend a convention—oh, how times have changed!!
The problem was I couldn't afford it. My husband was a public school band teacher, we were single income, and there simply wasn't anything extra in the budget. When I voiced that practical concern, my friend said, "Oh, you should teach a workshop! If they accept a proposed workshop, they will pay you $50 for speaking, mileage to get up to the convention, and, best of all, you get in FREE!!" Looking at her in amazement, I asked, "What on earth would I teach????"
Did I mention that I had been struggling with homeschooling ever since I started? Wasn't it ludicrous to think of me teaching a workshop on homeschooling so I could afford a convention where I could be taught how to homeschool? A proverbial chicken/ egg situation if ever there was one!
Not recognizing my mental struggle with this dilemma, Joan pulled out the previous year's convention schedule, with its varied workshops, and handed it to me. Quickly glancing down the list, I noted that the ONLY music workshop was using classical music in the home and that there were NO history workshops. At that moment, an idea was born:
Why not teach American history through American folk music?
This combined two of my passions: history and music. As one who loved the stories of history, I had seen how the subject had often been rendered as dry as dust and as forgettable as leftover oatmeal. And, as an instructor of folk guitar, I had noticed that many of my elementary age students had no familiarity with the common songs of my childhood—like Yankee Doodle, Erie Canal, and She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain. When I suggested playing one of these tunes, my students would often look at me with blank faces, because they did not know the songs that had previously been taught as a normal part of school. It had become something of a soapbox issue for me—I wanted to do something to restore folk songs to the curriculum of American children. After all, folk songs are part of our heritage, they give us a sense of who we are and where we came from. . . And, they happen to be a lot of FUN!!
Speaking on your own passion is a good rule of thumb for wannabe speakers. If you love it, others may catch your enthusiasm for the subject.
To my surprise, when I sent a proposed workshop, "History Alive! Through Music," the convention organizers accepted it for the 1989 WHO convention.
That was the start of twenty-five years as a homeschool speaker and, as I'll share in a later post, the start of twenty-five years as a homeschool writer/ curriculum producer.
Never saw it coming, but, oh, what a ride this has been!!
A six-year old girl is told she must drink buttermilk.
No one in her family likes it. But since they were all required to drink buttermilk by stern teachers with sour faces (impacted, no doubt, by the buttermilk), she must now experience the unpleasantness.
She tries a sip—and it is worse than she feared!!
It tastes SO awful, yet she has no choice but to drink the whole glass.
Tearfully, whimpering with each swallow, this little one chokes down the most disgusting drink of her entire life.
There is no joy here, only a dismal future of consuming soured milk.
Now, imagine this:
A six-year old girl is told she gets to drink BUTTERMILK with her beloved daddy!
It is initiation day into a very select group of buttermilk-lovers.
Her father shares stories with her of how much he, his brother and his dad LOVED buttermilk when he was growing up, and she can tell he means it because of the delight on his face.
He describes how carefully they would search out the best sources of really thick, wonderful buttermilk…And how they sprinkled just the tiniest bit of black pepper on top to make it perfect.
She takes her first sip of what she knows must be INCREDIBLY wonderful, because her father considers it so. YUM!! It is simply the best flavor she has ever had in her entire life.
There is utter delight, a sense of belonging, a new world of flavor opened up for her. The anticipation of her next glass of buttermilk prompts her to ask, "Daddy, when do we get to have some more????"
I have imagined the first scenario, but I lived the second at age 6, in Miami, Florida.
Do you know, until my husband turned slightly pale when I wanted to buy some shortly after we were married, I had no idea that others did not LOVE buttermilk.
I had the same experience, with that same sense of wonder and initiation into the world of oyster-eating, when I learned to eat raw oysters with my daddy when I was four years old. Hood's Canal, Washington.
And, again, when I was introduced into the wonders of eating pickled pigs feet with my daddy at age five. Apple Valley, California.
What are the common elements to these three unlikely-to-be-enjoyed-by-a-kid foods?
It's simple: my father's passion for them.
He not only loved these foods, he thoughtfully engaged me in the experience, introducing them to me with his own delight and with you-get-to-be-part-of-this-amazing-treat-too stories.
On Monday, I shared "What's In Your Cupboard?" to bring to light the remarkable wealth of wonderful heritage, experiences, passions, and knowledge each of us bring to our own table—and the powerful antidote this can be to the "comparison trap." But knowing what you have is only the first step. The second step is learning how to share it in such a way that our kids think it is FUN!!
The Buttermilk Lesson is a window into how my father shared weird foods with me when I was young in such a way that I totally loved them.
No, this is not one of those how-to-make-a-meal-from-whatever-you-can-find-in-your-cupboard-when-you-should-have-gone-to-the-store-yesterday blogs. Although, if I were to be truly transparent, I might be considered an expert in putting off going to get groceries. . .
Instead, it's a mental morsel to munch on as you go through your day, loving your kids and doing life.
When I was a young homeschool mom, it became SO intimidating to listen to others talk about all of the things they were doing:
"My son is studying with a Ph.D. scientist at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry."
"My daughter is studying Chinese and Arabic with native speakers."
"My children study dance at the Pacific Northwest Ballet."
"My children are taking private harp lessons from the symphony harpist."
I mean, how could I possibly do all of those things for my children? Thinking that those activities were what we needed to be doing—though impossible for us at that time—brought a level of burden and guilt that nearly crushed me.
You with me so far? Does this sound familiar to you??
Well, dear one, let me share something that was a great antidote to this "comparison trap."
Think about what's in YOUR cupboard when it comes to your heritage, your interests, your experiences, your knowledge.
For instance, we have friends who love to snow ski. And they are good at it. REAL good. It was a joyous part of what Bruce and Barb did in the early years of their relationship, and it became a natural part of their homeschooling journey. I was constantly amazed to hear about the incredible places they skied, the wild adventures they had, and the way it knit them together as a family.
I don't ski.
We have other friends who live in the Canadian Rockies. They intentionally chose to make the most of the great outdoors where they lived, learning as a family how to camp, canoe and hike in a wilderness setting. Daryl and Kathy shared extraordinary stories with us as we drove along the Ice Fields parkway, providing not only a vista to the Rockies, but a glimpse into the incredible experiences of this family.
I don't camp.
Good friends of ours spoke Hungarian at home. When their children were little, they chose to begin teaching them both Hungarian and English. This wildly difficult langauge to learn became part and parcel of two little boys' lives because their mom and dad knew the langauge.
I don't speak Hungarian.
But, when considering what was in MY cupboard, I realized that music was something that we could actually give to our children. My husband, a band teacher, brought a variety of musical styles and a knowledge of music history to our kids, while my love for folk music (playing folk guitar and singing) provided an opportunity for them to play with—and enjoy—a unique interaction with music.
At last, something I could do.
For instance, when teaching our children how to sing harmonies, I used humor, rhyme and rollicking musical fun in this ridiculous round (which my middle child vigorously protested):
That was us, the uniquely Waring family, giving to our kids something they would not get anywhere else. It helped define who we were as a family, it provided engagement and interaction, and it was a LOT of fun!
So, what about you? You may not snow ski, camp, speak Hungarian, or sing. But there are amazing things you bring to the table—fabulous gifts to give your children—that no one else can give them in your unique way. Looking at yourself, your spouse, your extended family through appreciative eyes, consider the treasures you have to share with your own children. Ask yourself: What ethnic heritage, particular passion, interesting experience, or fascinating knowledge do I have to give to my children? In other words, what's in YOUR cupboard?
For the past few weeks, I have been sharing back stories for the 62 bloggers on our Experience History Through Music launch team. By request, I would like to share it with you:
So, more back story. . .this one brings us up to the present—with a bit of a miracle thrown in!
Sometime in the mid 1990s, the partnership that had originally produced "America," "Westward Ho!" and "Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder," decided that it was time to let a "real" publisher take over. So, we signed contracts with a company that was quite large in the homeschooling movement at the time. We were excited to have others doing the day-to-day details, as I had moved from the Portland area to South Dakota, and this was going to make things so much easier for us all.
However, when this business went bankrupt in the late 1990s, something happened that was past my comprehension. I still don't know why, but when they declared bankruptcy they simply threw everything in the dumpster—including our masters. When I heard this, it utterly devastated me. These wonderful projects were gone, and to reproduce this again seemed too hard without the audio masters. Between having to start over from scratch with all of the images and graphic design and having no audio masters, I thought the entire project was gone forever.
People would ask us about them from time to time, as they had read about them, or heard of them, or had owned the original cassette tapes, but we always told them sadly, "I don't think they will ever come back into print."
Then, several years ago, Gena Suarez of The Old Schoolhouse contacted me to see if we might have any remaining stock of this product. She had heard of a family who had gone through a fire and lost everything, and her company was trying to help them rebuild their lives. I guess that the mom specifically talked about these American folk music in history books/audios, and this prompted Gena's call to me.
I contacted the former partner who owned the recording studio to see if he, perchance, had somehow saved the audio files to digital. At the time, Tad was quite busy with other things, but he told me that he thought he might have saved a FEW songs. Since it didn't sound promising, I thought it was probably a dead end. And I was sad all over again. It seemed like such a waste of a really fun product, that families had thoroughly enjoyed for years!
And, of course, these were the first books I had ever written. . .
Why I tried again two years ago is a mystery to me. I just took the notion to contact Tad once more and ask if he had discovered whether or not he had saved any of the songs. This time, as we talked, Tad realized that there were possibly some ways he could "pull out" the recordings from the antiquated DAT machines. However, he was in the midst of some medical issues, and was not sure how much time he would have to devote to the project.
It took two years. And then, suddenly, I had an email in my inbox. The songs had ALL been digitally restored, remastered for CD, and were ready to go!! I could hardly believe my eyes. After fifteen years, these products were going to have a new life.
I can hardly describe what this means to me, personally. But, maybe I can share with you what happened a few months ago to illustrate. Our business phone rang one day, and a woman began excitedly talking to my husband. As he heard what she was saying, he suggested that I would like to hear her story directly. When I took the phone, this is what she said:
"Diana, I met you fourteen years ago at a convention. When I told you that our family absolutely LOVED 'Musical Memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder,' you told me what had happened when the publisher threw your masters away. You asked me to pray that somehow it would all be restored. . . And, I have been praying!! Each time I walked by the cassette tape, I was reminded to pray. . . for FOURTEEN years!!"
She went on to say that she had just read on social media that the products were coming back into print, and she was so excited to see that her prayers were finally being answered. Together, we shared a few tears and a few amazed words of joy at what was taking place before our very eyes.
And, now, YOU are all a part of this restoration!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!
I love this week's topic. Experiencing the bubbling up of real joy is one of the most precious, wonderful gifts life has to offer, isn't it?
Joy is possible at all ages, in multi-faceted ways. Consider these few:
- successfully riding a bike for the first time;
– picking up a squirming puppy who happily licks you;
– seeing a sparkling hummingbird sip from your feeder;
– hiking up a mountain to a spectacular vista;
– promising "I do" to the one who has captured your heart;
– holding your new born child.
But joy is not limited to wholly happy situations. Joy is possible in times of difficulty, as well. And it is as much a gift in that time, if not more, as it is in times of happiness.
While researching the background for the Civil War song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," I was struck by the fact that this jaunty piece of music was loved—and played—by both North and South. In the midst of devastation, here was a tune that invited war-weary soldiers to continue moving forward with a smile and a song.
I remember, in the midst of great difficulties twenty years ago, listening to Larnelle Harris' song, "I Choose Joy." Each time I heard it play on the radio, I was reminded of the incredible opportunity we each have to welcome joy in the difficulties. Please believe me, I am not talking of a fake, smiley-face, pretend sort of joy. Instead, I found that moments of real joy can honestly be experienced in times of trouble.
These are a few from my life:
- laughing uproariously at a silly joke with a friend who lay dying;
– listening to a profoundly beautiful song that connected my heart to hope and life;
– sharing dark-roast coffee and precious moments of conversation with a dear friend;
– luxuriating in the comfort of a steaming hot bath;
– enumerating the blessings in my life, and seeing how they far outnumber the tragedies.
Dear friends, today I choose joy. How about you?
Sitting by the beach at Lake Erie only a few days before Mother's Day, I am pondering the concept of "choice" in love. In the English folk song, "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier"—which was a favorite tune during the American Civil War—a young woman determines to sell her spinning wheel in order to buy her beloved a weapon of defense in a time of war.
I have a spinning wheel, two, in fact. The novel experience of spinning wool into yarn is usually fun, though I seldom make the time. In fact, it took me eight years to spin enough wool to knit my husband a sweater! Fortunately, since spinning is just a hobby for me, we have the opportunity to buy sweaters in a store.
It was not the same for the woman in the song. In her era, a spinning wheel was a dearly held necessity. Though it is hard to imagine now, a spinning wheel was once the technology that allowed one to make yarns/fabric/clothes and, for many, it was the critical piece of equipment for earning a living.
She chose to sell it in a breath-taking act of sacrifice.
Why? Because of her love for Johnny.
Real love is not mere words. Instead, love is a day-by-day choice, most clearly discerned through generously unmeasured acts that benefit the loved one.
Today I choose to love. How about you?
P.S. If you are in the Harrisburg, PA, region, I would love to meet you at the CHAP convention this weekend! Be sure to catch my mini-concert at noon on Friday, featuring some of the stories and songs from the Experience History Through Music series. Bring your sing-along voice, as it will be an audience participation concert!
I have been thinking a lot about the realities of life for a slave in America, prior to the Civil War. Research on the slave spiritual, Wade in the Water, reveals a connection between the experiences of the ancient Israelites as they fled enslavement in the Exodus, and the experiences of American slaves, who fled captivity on the Underground Railroad. It took courage to leave the only life they knew, despite its brutality, and to flee into the unknown. And the leaving was not easy, as terror followed close behind—Pharaoh's army for the one, brutal slave-catchers for the other.
What made that possible? Why did some slaves in America brave the terrors of the trail while others remained behind in the familiar difficulties?
For me, the answer lies in the strength of the vision before them. For those who fled, there was a soul-stirring hope that life could be different, that it could hold a freedom and joy beyond imagining. . . And it was vision that gave them the courage to leave, it was hope that emboldened their hearts to face the journey, despite the terrors following close behind.
There are many ways to be enslaved today. And the answer is still the same: with the courage borne of hope, take your first steps towards freedom, regardless of obstacles before you or terror behind.
It is not easy. But it opens the door to a life beyond our wildest dreams.
Today I choose to be brave. How about you?
Ok, I'll admit it. I love to sing. I've sung onstage, in church, in the shower, at meals, in the car, and at Starbucks in Auckland, New Zealand, and, most recently, in a fabulous performance of Beethoven's 9th. Singing with my guitar, my husband, my kids, friends, choirs, all of it delights my heart.
But that is not what I am singing about today. In researching the folk song, "Old Dan Tucker," I was intrigued to read of the Hutchison Family singers who turned it into a popular abolitionist tune. A family making music made me stop and think about 21st century America.
With our headphones, our iPods, and our music apps aside, what if we took a moment to explore an idea that is radically different than the norm? What would happen if, sometimes, singing were not canned, not orchestrated, and not perfect?
What if sometimes we:
• Sing–and encourage our children to sing?
• Make our own music, whether that meant writing it or playing it?
• Sing simple nursery rhymes with our kids (like, "Three Blind Mice")?
• Teach others to sing in rounds (like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat")?
• Pull out our dusty guitars, open up our old pianos, and find old sheet music for songs we used to sing?
Until recently, that is the way it was done.
It's not that I am not thankful for iTunes, who effortlessly provides me music while I write. It's just that we seem to have lost something that can't be replaced with a purchase.
Knowing gardeners assure us that home-grown tomatoes have a taste no grocery-store tomato will ever have. Singing is like that—open your mouth and give it a try! I think you will discover, as I have, that singing will bring an invigorated delight no canned music will ever offer.
It takes time. It takes practice to really enjoy the experience. And, it is pretty counter-cultural in this era. But, oh, my, it is FUN!!
So, today I choose to sing. How about you?
If you need some encouragement to get singing, you will LOVE our new Experience History Through Music series! You can sing with it, learn the songs with the sheet music and sing it yourself, and discover the American history surrounding the songs. Coming soon. . .