Chew On This

callie reading

Some of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in parenting thus far have been when I’ve said no to something one of my children wanted to do. Because I thought I knew better or had more life experience.

Well, I almost did it again this week at the library, but instead I listened to my daughter’s plea and said yes…

My sweet 3rd grader could have a blog of her own. She is so full of ideas and loves to write and create. However, until this week, she would have told you that she didn’t like to read. She would have told you that it was a waste of her time. Which is the very reason we go to the library every other week. Mama wins this one every time.

We check out books on all sorts of topics, typically leaving with 30 or more books between both of my kids. And of course the 3 or 4 I throw in with theirs. This week was no different until we were walking to the checkout station.

“Mom, I want to get this book. It looks really interesting.”

I was struggling to carry our haul for the day to the checkout station and I flippantly said, “No, baby, we’ve got enough books don’t you think?”

“No, I really want this one. Besides, you might like it, too.” She pressed a little harder and tried using her negotiating skills to reel me in.

I stopped walking and said, “Let me see it.”

No joke, it was a 259 page book entitled “Chew on This”. Here it is:

I chuckled on the inside as I listened to my daughter fighting for her right to read a book that caught her eye.

As I listened to her words, I also heard something else. Her desire to read something she picked out. Something that wasn’t forced on her. Something that caught her eye.

Lastly, I listened to the little voice inside of me that said, “just say yes”.

“Yes, Callie, you can get it and I am sure you will learn a lot of interesting things.”

“Awesome! Thank you mom!” she shouted. In the library nonetheless…

She has since then read over 120 pages of “Chew on This” and has said over 30 times, “I am so glad we don’t eat at ____________!”

But most of all, she is reading. Something she has never ever enjoyed. It has always been something she checks off her daily agenda. I have no idea if it will last, but today I cherish her newfound love of reading. I’ve heard many say that those who dislike reading are reading the wrong things.

Maybe my activist daughter will continue to soak up page after page as she wades through life. Few things make me happier than a good book. Well, maybe my children reading a good book!

I’m wading through waters, too. Parenting waters. Sometimes calm and other times treacherous. I’m reading a few good books of my own and I’m learning as well. As Frederick Buechner said: ““Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” 

I’m seeing that my job as a parent is so much bigger than I can ever do on my own. And sometimes the best thing I can do is get out of their way.

Parenting is more about space than fences.

More about letting them make their own mistakes instead of trying to fix them before they can learn from them.

More about letting them experience life and less about keeping them sheltered.

More about letting them go instead of holding them back.

And in these moments, they fly. They soar. They fall. They get back up.

They learn they’ve got what it takes…and so do I.



Not For the Faint of Heart


He holds on tightly to his yellow #2 like it’s his life line. His eyes focused intensely on his math problems. Silence. When he finishes his 3 pages, he looks up, towards me, but never connecting his soul windows with mine.

“Mom…are you mad at me?”

“No, baby. Why would I be mad at you?”

“Because you yelled….at Callie.” His little heart aching and his mind not understanding.

“I didn’t yell, Sean. I raised my voice the 5th time I asked Callie to get her work done. She was goofing off and not being serious about her school work.”

“But it felt like you yelled at me.” This time his and my sea blue eyes meet and a wave of emotion knocks me down.

I let the tears roll. So does he. Callie is watching all of this transpire. I feel like a failure. Sean is heart broken. And Callie is finally doing her work. For goodness sakes…

My kids are so different. And they need to be parented differently.

Sean is tenderhearted and looking at him the wrong way elicits a meltdown. I can totally relate.

Callie is my firecracker. She is fierce and determined. A natural born leader. And she will argue with me or you or anyone willing to get into the ring until she gets you to say yes to something. Anything.

And honestly, it wears me out sometimes.

One of my biggest fears as a mom is crushing my children’s spirits. I want to shepherd their hearts and love them according to their bent or temperamental God-given design.

And sometimes, when I do this, one of them will get caught up in the aftermath of a parenting tornado as I try to think quickly on my feet and utter the prayer of my friend Peter, “HELP!”

Can you relate?!

Being a mom is by far the hardest and most amazing calling I’ve ever accepted. I know I won’t get it all right, but I pray I am humble enough to apologize and ask for forgiveness when I’m wrong. I also pray I am firm enough with my children, yet shepherd their hearts so they can grow and develop their own God-given ways.

And if not, Sean will keep me straight…or at least we can cry together! HA!

When you wonder if your words matter…

As a wife, mama, daughter, friend, life coach, artist, speaker, writer, I use a lot of words. I’ve always been told I have a lot to say. I wonder if that’s the positive twist on you talk too much.

As I’ve gotten older and maybe a little wiser, I talk a little less and listen better, with intentions. Not with an agenda, but with ears to hear what hearts are saying and needing. But you never arrive in the game of life. And I am continuing to learn.

I have a great teacher right now…a little boy in my life who has a powerful voice. He’s been in speech therapy since he was 3.5 years old. Two years ago this month, we started with our amazing speech therapist, Ms. Renee. Little did I know that she would become such an integral part of all of our lives. We love her like she is family. What we pay her will never be enough.

She has helped Sean in so many ways. I have learned a lot from her as well. Most importantly, I have learned that our words matter. All of them. All of the time.

Sean is a clutterer, meaning he talks so fast that all of his words clutter together. Not only did he get my phenotype when it comes to looks, but he also got my linguistic speeding tendencies.


I remind Sean almost daily during our home school routine, “Slow down, buddy. Your words are important and I want to hear all of them.”

He smiles, shakes his head, and replies with, “I know mommy, I know!”

Not only does my sweet little speed talker have a powerful voice, he also has a powerful memory. He has absorbed so much this year in Kindergarten just being present and listening to what I am teaching to both him and Callie. One word: SPONGE!!

He lies in bed at night saying: “If you have 17 and you take away 9, you have 8. So, that means 9 plus 8 is 17.”

Eating his snack at the table while I’m wiping down counters in the kitchen he says: “If you have 10 batman people and you take away 7 batman people you only have 3 batman people left.”

Yes, he loves math. And for that I am grateful, but even more so, I am so humbled by his ability to use his words to speak love in a way that touches my soul.

On the way home from our mommy/son date this week, he said: “You know what makes me happy mommy? My family because we love each other so much…”

Yes, son. My sweet boy. My {now} child who will one day be a husband and daddy and amazing man of God. There’s power in our words. The power of life and death. I pray you will always use your God-given voice to give life and share love with all those around you.

Friends, your words matter. Every single one of them. People are always listening because we can all use more encouragement and less negativity. More courage and less comparing. More hope and less I told you so.

Who in your life could use some encouragement? Pick up the phone. Send them a text. Meet them for coffee. I can think of no better gift to give someone than the gift of your time and your words.

Guest Post: Callie Branch, age 8

I am so excited about my guest poster today. She is my very own 8 year old daughter, Callie!


We recently read “The Secrets of Mrs. Snickle’s Class”:

Both of my students loved it! It gave us an opportunity to discuss secrets, confidentiality, and things we talk about in private. Both of my kids know that we don’t normally keep secrets, but we can keep things private. There is a big difference in our family!

As part of Callie’s assignment, she had to write a book report. She asked me if she could write a blog post instead. Why, of course! Here are a few thoughts from Callie about secrets:



Secrets are everywhere.
You do not know if your brother has one.

Secrets are very fragile.
You can kill a secret if you tell someone what it is.

Do you have a secret?
Wait! Don’t tell!

Don’t tell anyone but me!
Wait! No, no! I am joking.

I have a secret, but I’m not telling anyone!


So proud of Callie’s poem. She loves to express herself using words and all sorts of crafty goodness. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree!



You never know as a parent if anything you say today will have any impact tomorrow. God gave me a small but powerful gift today. He showed me not only are little ears listening, but little people are learning and choosing and living out the things they hear.

During our home school morning routine, Sean was working on writing his numbers. He was slacking off on his 4’s, his least favorite number to write, when I over heard Callie say:

“Sean, mommy is expecting great things from us. You can write better than that!”

This from my 8-year-old who seems to have cotton balls in her ears most days. This from my daughter who likes to press me to the wall when I ask her to do something. This. Yes, this today.

I am expecting great things from them. I wrote this on the board yesterday before we started school:


Way down at the bottom. Yes, that’s it. And that is what my sweet girl chose to believe and encouraged her brother to live up to it. We usually live up to expectations…

As the old adage goes, “if you think you can, you probably will and if you think you can’t, you probably won’t”!

What are you believing you can and can’t do today? Whatever you are believing may be your reality tomorrow. I have great expectations of YOU!!!


4-year-old Perspective: When History Meets Theology

I am learning so much while “teaching” Callie. And it is quite obvious that another little fellow in our house, although not officially enrolled in Branch Academy, is learning by default.

We discussed George Washington today and talked about the America Revolution. I asked Callie this question after she finished reading out loud about our first President and why the American Revolution started:

Me: “Before America became a country, who owned the land?”

While Callie meditated on her answer, I heard a very confident shout echoing up the stairs and down the hall to our homeschool room:

Sean: “GOD owned it and He still does!”

Callie and I chuckled.

Callie: “Mommy, Sean is right! But, the land belonged to England, too. So both of us are right!”

For those of you who know my sweet Sean, he can be quite vocal. However, he has not always been this way. He had a very timid streak that he has, well, let’s just say he has gotten over being timid! He is also an auditory learner. He soaks up everything he hears and memorizes it.

Callie on the other hand is a more visual and tactile learner. She learns by seeing and doing. I understand her because I am also a visual learner. It irritates me when someone tries to read something to me. I shut them out completely because they sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. {Please watch the video…humor me!}

Funny, right?

Yes, but not to someone who would rather eat shards of glass than have to learn something in a manner that is like hearing Chinese on fast forward with no dictionary.

How do you best learn? Which modality (visual, auditory, tactile) seems to best fit your learning style?

If learning styles are a brand new topic for you, I highly recommend taking some time to investigate how you and your kids learn best.

You may figure out why you have such a hard time listening in class or in meetings, why you like handouts or charts, and why you like to get your hands dirty before you fully understand a project.

You may definitely save yourself and those you love from eating shards of glass!! {Please go listen to Charlie Brown’s teacher since you didn’t earlier!!}




Mom, Do You Feel It?

“To him that waits all things reveal themselves, provided that he has the courage not to deny, in the darkness, what he has seen in the light.” Coventry Patmore


I came home from a meeting with a client last week and I found these in our office/homeschool room:














Made with love from scratch by my favorite art student.

When I asked her what they were to be used for, she wrinkled her little nose and said, “They are for our Thanksgiving dinner. You know, mom! They are decorations for our place settings.”

Oh, yes. I know!

This offering came from the same sweet child who asked me on a cold and rainy Tuesday in November, “Mom, do you feel it in the air?”

“No. Feel what, baby?” I inquired.

That warm spirit. Don’t you feel it, too? I just love this time of the year because of the warm spirit that is in the air,” she shared with 7-year-old wonder in her eyes and heart.

A simple conversation in the car on the way home from piano lessons that caused tears to form in the corners of my eyes. It was a very cold and rainy day. I was freezing, in a bad mood, anxious about so many things,  and had a terrible headache. And my sweet gift from the Lord could see and feel the warm spirit of the holiday season approaching.

The joyful, simply complex, and delightful eyes of a 7-year-old see much more than my 36-year-old weathered and cynical eyes can even capture.

That warm spirit. Do you feel it?

I strongly doubt that Callie is referring to Black Friday or family gatherings that feel more like the circus came to town or fretting over the stuffing or credit cards that scream at you come January.

Oh, friends! I care about each of you. I encourage you this holiday season to slow down on purpose, with intention. To take time to savor the moments that will soon drift away to years. And we will reminisce one day with wonder and amazement at how fast they disappeared. Capture the moments today. Live with the wonder and amazement now so that we won’t have to look back and think about what could have been.

The stuffing will be fine without that special ingredient that you are missing. Love those you don’t like where they are. Chances are they are doing the best they can. If not, set boundaries. You are in charge of your life. Saying no to one thing or person means saying yes to many other things or people.  Black Friday will pass. You will live without all the latest and greatest. Don’t kill your soul and trample the souls of those you love in the process. And Visa and Mastercard won’t be able to pester you in 2013!

I am looking forward to this holiday season. We have much to celebrate.

That warm spirit is back in our home. And I hope it lasts longer than January 1st 2013.

I have my precious daughter back.

Not that she was lost, but things are different now that she is home for school. And it feels really, really good.

I don’t yet have the words to describe what has happened or how it happened. They will come and I will blog about it then.

For now, there is sacredness in the ordinary details of our lives. Before it was “rush” and “go” and “hurry up” and “get it done now”.

Today, I am soaking in the warm spirit and my soul is alive with hope.

And it is not all about homeschool. It is our life.

How we live our moments define who we become. Savoring the moments today. Won’t you join me? I promise it is better than the most perfect stuffing!

What I’ve Learned in 7 Days of Homeschooling…

I always thought in the back of my mind that homeschooling might be an option for us. But, I also knew that I wanted to be patient and wait for God to move before I moved into a calling that wasn’t mine to unwrap…yet. To say that He moved would be an understatement. Like a lightening bolt would be more descriptive.








After only 7 days of homeschooling and with a writing conference in PA smack dab in the middle of those 7 days, the changes in our home and family have been palpable.

Here are the top seven ways that our lives have changed or things I’ve learned so far:

1. My house is cleaner.

2. My mind is clearer.

3. My soul is quieter and I am more patient.

4. My daughter is hopeful.

5. The homeschool community is aMaZiNg!!!

6. My daughter learns a lot like her mother.

7. I have gotten more hugs and affection from my daughter than I ever have before. Completely different than before we started homeschooling. I have a feeling her love language is quality time and I was not doing a great job meeting her needs for quality time.

Here are Callie’s “three best things”:

1. Not having to dress according to the dress code.

2. Being with mama.

3. Not having to stay in her seat all day long.

To be honest, Callie misses her friends and her teacher. She would like to be able to see them. We have talked about this a lot and she knows that our community will change. We will be joining a homeschool coop very soon and she is very excited about that!

Homeschool has been a massive change for us, but the benefits are already outweighing the costs. Number 7 above means more to me than any score that my daughter may make on the Woodcock Johnson in June.

I am excited about the possibilities after only 7 days.

What change(s) in your life are you excited about?

**Disclaimer: I believe that every family knows what is best for their own children. We have many choices and many ways to educate our children and ourselves. Don’t judge. Seek, pray, and learn so that you can make the best decision for your children whether that be private, public, homeschool, or some combination of any of the above. 

What if I fail?

A year ago, I would have told you that you were crazy. I considered it, prayed about it, and decided to keep doing what we were doing. I don’t really know why, because it wasn’t working. I mean, it wasn’t really broken, but it wasn’t working either.

What do you do when you are praying about something and you don’t get clear answers? No writing in neon marker on the wall?

12 months ago, I was worried about what people would think. What would they say? Who would talk about us and whisper things about us?

I was afraid of what might happen if I stepped out in faith and followed that inkling in my spirit. What if I had it all wrong? What if I screwed up? I am fairly stubborn and determined. But I can’t guarantee a successful outcome.

Out of frustration, I starting questioning lots of things: what is success? Who is my judge? What does it matter what they say or think?

I was listening to all the other whispers and they muted out the other whisper that was not so pushy or persistent. It was always there in the back of my mind, but it didn’t try to shove its way to the front. Very patient and gracious. But also forgettable when the other whispers were using a megaphone.

But, that little whisper started to grow wings and it got more confident as I started to listen longer and deeper. I asked different questions:

What if we succeed, whatever that means?

What is most important/best for our family?

If I don’t do this, will I regret it?

Do I trust that God is big enough to catch us if we mess up? Or said differently, do I believe in His grace?

And then it hit me. I had my answer. I didn’t trust Him or His grace. I thought I had to have all the right answers and to be able to have an answer for all those whispers. But I don’t.

His whisper is the only one that will ever, ever matter. And in His grace, He gave me more than whispers to help me make a decision. But it all started with a whisper. An inkling. A curiosity about something.

I was afraid of failing. Afraid of letting go and trusting the process. I can’t know what the future holds. But I know today what He wants for me. And I don’t want to ever look back and wonder “what if?”.

And you may ask what does grace and success look like for us today?

Lying on our backs reading “Eight Keys” together. Crying and laughing because it is that good!

Listening to their laughter drift into the kitchen from the backyard “playground”.

Eating lunch together and holding hands to pray and list our gratitudes.

Working on adjectives and describing each member of our family with funny descriptors.

Using poprocks that we can’t eat to do a science experiment with.

Learning about our 5 senses and taking an investigative field trip around the Branch Ranch.

I may fail by some standards, but I won’t regret falling into the deep abyss known as grace.

“I’ve had to learn through experiences not to be afraid to fail. You don’t know what the future holds for you. You can hope your dreams come true, but you have to be fearless. I don’t want to look back and think, What if?” — Nastia Lukin, U.S. Olympic gymnast