What does homeschooling look like?

Boo with Blocks

As I’ve mentioned, I am an accidental homeschooling mom. While it isn’t my first go in the home education rodeo, it is still somewhat a new thing this time around. It takes some time to completely switch gears, rework your schedule and your life, and get some of the “now what!?!?!” out of your head and replace it with “here’s how…”

Boo is a math and spacial genius with a massive vocabulary, a love of reading, and an affinity for all-things electronic. He is not a writer in the sense that it is almost impossible for him to take spoken or thought language and put it into any written form. Keyboards don’t help. It’s as if his brain decided to use those circuits for something else.

So, if he can’t write, how can he be a genius? Let me first say that I don’t use this word lightly. Genius is as genius does, my grandmother would say. Yes, he tests off the charts in every academic and achievement assessment thrown at him. His IQ scores — as little faith as I place in those — are consistently through the roof. So, he has the paper cred. But without any of that, the reality is that we knew this kid was smart before he ever spoke his first word. It’s something just innate. The sad truth is that no one got to experience any of this brilliance as he was being bodily removed from classrooms because boredom turned into unsanctioned creativity.

I wish I could say that the minute I brought him home everything turned into a series of wonderful brain-stimulating activities interspersed with museum visits and park dates. Well, we have done each of those things, but the reality is that I’ve been in a denial-induced shock and only sort of half-committing to this thing. We have and use a core curriculum. I’ve bought a dozen magazine subscriptions that he reads cover to cover the day each issue arrives. I can’t keep him in books –he reads them faster than we get them from the library. He has robotics and electronic circuitry kits, craft supplies, and manipulatives of every type at his reach. He’s learning, but I haven’t really been in it with him.

We’ve been fighting some recently. I want him to do his educational stuff and he wants to do something else. I want him to clean his room and he wants to do something else. I want him to come to dinner and he wants to do something else. I’ve never had this kind of relationship with this child and I don’t believe it’s just a bunch of changing hormones.

The good news is that I think I’m finally coming back around. Yes, me. I think I needed an attitude adjustment.

Boo didn’t choose to be home with me any more than he chose to have autism or be brilliant or be a boy or be at all. He’s a kid who likes what he likes and has a pretty strong neurological excuse to be a pain in the neck. Yet, for the most part he’s a sweet child who really does want to be in relationship with folks — including and especially me — in spite of what his diagnosis might indicate.

So, this morning, after spending the week in a bit of despair about the whole thing, I relented. Instead of doing the “first work then play” mantra I’ve been harping on for weeks, I brought out an unopened block set that was stuffed into a toy bin the day after Christmas. I handed him the pieces and he had challenge #60 completed before I got the cards open. He completed 6 more in the time it took me to get my camera.

Champ the Weather Dog made his appearance and I kept my mouth shut as the two of them worked together rather than telling Boo to leave the dog alone and get back to work. We did hit the online curriculum pretty hard this afternoon, but it wasn’t a fight this time. It was a treat to spend the day with my amazing kiddo.

Even if it took me a while to get with the program.

Boo Petting ChampBoo and ChampChamp Helping Boo

Block Challenge 5

All Shall Be Well

Bluebird and Julian

“all shall be well

and all shall be well

and all manner of thing shall be well”

— Julian of Norwich

Instant Validation

True Confessions Time

I’ve been relapsing pretty hard (or flaring or aggressive resting or in active cycle or whatever happens to be your favorite term for when a chronic illness gets the upper hand for a few days) for about the past week.

I’m a pretty balanced, gentle person around these things. I encourage folks to take really good care of themselves and I mean it. I even do a decent job of taking my own advice. I mean, twenty years in, I’ve kind of gotten the hang of this thing. I know what my limits are and that if I don’t rest, it only gets worse and takes longer to ease up. Then there comes the day, typically about a week to ten days in, when I just want to dooooooo the stuff I want to doooooooo.


Not think about it. Not stare at it. Not precontemplate it. Not wish for it. Not ask someone else to do it.

I start to get a little disgusted that I have all of these ideas and inspirations and, let’s face it, pressing deadlines and piling emails. I look for opportunities to sneak in some productivity. I push a little harder. I stay up a little (okay, a whole lot) later. I do some Olympic-level mental gymnastics to ignore the pain and fatigue and nagging little voice that says, “This little game you play only makes it worse. Rest!”

So, I’m going through my not-feeling-so-great-but-determined-to-be-productive morning routine. I force myself to get up with Ned Andrew and walk Champ (in the rain). I straighten the kitchen after abandoning it to write a paper last night. I come up to the studio and sit at the desk to make my list of accomplishments for the upcoming day. I check email for urgent requests and stop by Facebook for a quick check on how folks are. I update my status:

October 13 Status: Gina Lynette really should take it very, very easy for several more days. But what's the fun in that?

I turn my attention back to my desk, straightening pens, organizing papers, lighting a candle or two, and flip my perpetual calendar to October 13.

October 13 -- Wayne Dyer

“Never give up on yourself or feel shame as a result of not fulfilling your objective to serve as a being of inspiration. Every fall that  you take is a gift, and every relapse is a glorious opportunity.”

— Dr Wayne Dyer, Inspiration Perpetual Flip Calendar


So, okay. No shame in this relapse thing — whether it be a physical or spiritual or or financial or motivational or emotional or relationship-tional set-back. It’s a pause. As much as I’d like to barrel forward into my next set of accomplishments, maybe I truly need this pause. Maybe I don’t just need a physical break, but a real respite from the pressure and intention and expectation to accomplish stuff for a bit.

I may still make/do/organize/read/plan during this pause. But I’m going to try to be okay with the reality that the one thing I may actually accomplish is taking the next breath.


The New Yorker: Steve Jobs & St Peter

The New Yorker Cover, Oct 10, 2011 -- Steve Jobs with St Peter at the Gates of Heaven

I love this magazine.

Honestly, there are some weeks when the cover is all I need.



Object Permanence



I was born in 1971 and into a world of throw-away, temporary convenience. Ours was the first generation that ate more meals in the car than around the kitchen table. When we did eat at home, we perched our TV dinners on fold-away metal trays and watched Little House on the Prairie — the irony completely lost on us. By the time I was in high school, paper plates, Tupperware, plastic forks, Styrofoam* cups, Saran Wrap, fast food, and microwaved meals were the standard.

Food isn’t the only area of transience. My parents had a brick home at first, but by the time I was three they’d sold it and we moved 3 times before settling into a trailer on a few acres outside of Temple, Texas. From their perspective, buying the land was a step toward a long-held dream of owning a ranch of their own. In mine, it was one in a series of moves into temporary dwellings that would continue for nearly 40 years. Less than 6 months after moving there, my parents divorced and we — my younger sister and I — moved with my mother to Tennessee.

So, the other lesson was that relationships aren’t forever either. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were miserable together and everyone is better off with a thousand miles of highway between them. I’m sure most kids who grew up with divorced parents eventually get why their parents split up, but it doesn’t make it easier in the meantime. Having the foundational relationship of your childhood — of your very existence — blow up right there in front of you is quite the life lesson.

In my case the blow up was literal. It happened on Fourth of July weekend and the images of that fight haunted me for years. When I’d see pictures of events at my grandmother’s house I wouldn’t see people, I would see places where the yucky stuff happened. He was there. She was there. I was there. That happened there. I was four. I’m always four years old when I think about my parents.

The search started then for something solid and permanent; something I could trust. I tried churches — big ones, old ones, strict ones. I kept trinkets that my grandparents would send from around the world, the watch Daddy gave me when I was five, clippings from the newspaper, every card and letter I ever received. I counted anniversaries —  3 months at this job, 4 years in this relationship, 7 years since I moved here — in an effort to create a sense of longevity.

Even though I was aware of the search, and even talked about it in therapy, I didn’t really understand it and see all of the tendrils of my quest until very recently. Ironically, I’ve created the sense of permanence right here that I kept trying to find out there.

I’m sitting on my substantial sofa in my brick home surrounded by massive oak and black walnut trees in a part of the world that feels established and stable. Ned Andrew and I have collected artwork made by people we know and love. We’ve purchased dishes that were handmade for us. We use spoons carved from trees that fell nearby. We make dinners that sometimes take hours to prepare and are at other times reheated from another meal, but are always served on our gorgeous dishes, placed on linens, eaten with stainless, wiped away with actual cloth napkins as we sit all together around our kitchen table.

We try to use only items that can be reused, but when we do have things that get thrown away, we separate them out into their recyclable components and deliver them to the convenience station. I love that our local “dump” is 90% recycling bins and only has 2 spots for “trash.” I love that for every bag of trash, we take 12 of items to be remade.

We don’t have a television anywhere on our main floor. We play music. We create art. We talk. We laugh. We walk the dog. We spend an entire day making challah from scratch. We read. We write. We make things with our own hands to give to people — prayer shawls when someone is ill or sad, Ned Andrew’s Peanut Butter Pie when someone blesses us in some way. We invite people to dinner. We sit on the deck and watch the sky.

There’s a developmental milestone that happens around the time a baby turns nine months old. They figure out that things can go away and come back. The pediatric folks call this idea “object permanence.” The ironic aspect of this discovery is that once the child learns that things don’t disappear forever, they develop separation anxiety — they don’t want things to go away at all. After some more time, they grow to be okay with stuff coming and going. They start to trust that most of it will come back eventually.

I know that life is no more predictable than it was before we put our roots into this space, this relationship, our routines. Honestly, with four children and a dog there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t get some kind of surprise. We are aging and have lost loved ones and know we will lose others and eventually, we’ll go, too. But there is a sense of foundation here.

I feel placed. I feel rooted. I feel supported. I feel honored. I feel purposeful. I feel needed. I feel safe. I feel loved.

I am here. I am in this moment. It’s plenty.



*Dow Chemical would be quick to point out that there is no such thing as a “Styrofoam” cup. They never licensed the use of their trademarked product for the manufacture of polystyrene consumer goods. Regardless, the name stuck. Kinda ironic that we’ve permanently attached the wrong name to something that is tossed after a single use and lasts for just about eternity.

Plotting and Planning

 Ingredients -- Gina Lynette

To the untrained eye Edna’s plot to take over the world appeared quaint, but she’s a crafty one, that girl.

Ten Years and Forever

Macy's Ad in the Sunday Times on Nine Eleven Twenty Eleven

There’s something about those frozen-in-time events that we share. The ones where we all immediately recall where we were when they happened; when we heard. They somehow encapsulate a moment into this immutable snapshot that we carry and share and reflect upon when other milestone moments occur.

Ten years later, life is very different for me and the concrete contrast of the content of that day and this one causes me to reflect on more than the shared experience of Nine Eleven.

So, I remember.

I remember that I was driving from my home to my therapist’s home office on a sunny Tuesday morning. I was listening to the radio and the host was making some crack about how bad a pilot has to be to crash into a 110 story building. Todd Ethridge cut in to say something like, “Dude. That’s not funny. We don’t joke about stuff like that.” I love Todd — he’s a good guy who, at the time, was fronting a band called the Throwbacks. We’d go see them perform 80s covers whenever they played. It was one of the few things the wasband and I continued doing together as our marriage fell apart.

And that’s how the memories go. It’s never linear. Each moment pulls a thread of narrative that leads you to memories you’ve left boxed up for a decade.

I continued driving and learned that it wasn’t a small plane — as originally thought — but a commercial jet. Such a tragic accident. How awful for those families…

And then there was the second one.

I arrived at pj’s and a man was waiting outside — oblivious to the most recent information. I blurted, “They’re bombing us with our own planes!” We exchanged a few sentences about what was happening before he rushed to his car to turn on the radio.

pj had been in sessions all morning and didn’t know what was happening outside, on this gorgeous September morning. How do you break that sanctuary — in this dark, quiet office where you come for respite and healing and to look at the hard parts of your existence? I somehow did.

And so it went.

I emerged from that space to the horror that two more planes were down. And then there were the reactions and the overreactions, if you can overreact when planes with real people are being crashed into buildings with real people. The rumors about gas lines being shut down, more planes, poisoned water supplies, and on and on spread. I ignored them. Some members of my larger family talked about stocking up and going to our mountain retreat. I ignored them, too. I was scheduled to speak at a conference in Nashville and decided to take my family with me.

Decisions. Lots of worry. Lots of wondering. Lots of news, until I picked Berns up from preschool. I did not want him to know or see or hear this horror. Gillian was only 6 months old. She wouldn’t remember this day, and I somehow hoped it wouldn’t become a part of her childhood that colored things in heathers.

If I had an album from that week it would have images of  the corner of Kingston Pike and Smith Road where I was when Todd shared the news, pj’s dark office, the smoldering field in Pennsylvania, the napping preschoolers, the gashed side of the Pentagon, the Volvo station wagon that became our refuge, the TVs everywhere with those planes hitting the towers and those towers falling again, my tiny children sequestered in a room, the conventioning news editors scrambling to get out of Nashville and back to their posts, the banquet hall filled with service coordinators who chose to listen to me when they were feeling the pull of the news, the people jumping from those buildings, the full Maxwell House hotel, newsprint flags, the drive from Knoxville to Nashville and back, the firefighters and the priests and the police officers and the smoke, the empty Opryland Hotel, the depressed rescue dogs who were trained to find life in that rubble, the first airplane overhead after days of silence.

The insult and miracle in grief is that in spite of cataclysmic loss, we carry on. We count the days and recount the events, but we carry on. We promise to change and honor and unite, yet we carry on. The moment becomes encapsulated and part of our memory forever, and we carry on. It’s been a day. It’s been a week. It’s been a month. It’s been a year. It’s been a decade. It’s been a lifetime. It’s been a millennium.

We mark the time. We carry on.


Celebrating the Launch of Self Care Day on the 6th

Sept 6

The first time I recall ever hearing “Self Care” mentioned was a little over 10 years ago. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, exhausted, depressed, and hurting all over. I had just given birth to the Diva Princess, been handed two diagnoses within a month of one another — autism for Berns and lupus for me —  and was worn down to the nub from giving every ounce of energy, love, and attention to the needs of a newborn, her still-a-mystery-to-me brother, and their spiraling-from-the-weight-of-it-all dad.

As I sat in pj’s office venting all that was pissing me off, weighing me down, and breaking my heart, she said something to me that might as well have been whale song.

“Gina, you are going to have to take better care of yourself. You have to sleep. You have to eat. You have to go to the doctor. Your kids need a mother who is strong and you can’t be strong if you don’t do some self care.”

Self care?

I suppose I gave her my best golden retriever head cock, because she went on to say, “Yes. Self care. It is not selfish to keep yourself alive, healthy, and happy.”

Wait. What?

Luckily pj was a font of patience and walked me through the fog of self-denial into some pretty painful self awareness and on out the other side. I did a whole lot of work in those five (five!!) years of therapy with her. But it all really started with my nails.

Two Years Later…

I didn’t say this happened quickly.

While we were in Florida at the end of my father-in-law’s life, I went with one of my favorite people on the planet — my sister-in-law, E — to wait with her while she had her nails done. While I was sitting there, I decided that, heck, I could get my nails done, too. It had been a couple of years since I had and it was always for special occasions like a wedding or prom. I suppose I rationalized that a funeral was a pretty special occasion. Regardless, I got my nails done. I felt 72% more beautiful. Sure, it’s silly, but it was true.

So, I kept getting them done. Every 2 weeks for the next 6 years I went in for my manicure — an act of pure selfishness. No one benefited from this activity but me. Just me. All me. It was revelatory. It was an act of self care and it was the beginning of my taking myself seriously.

So Now…

As a coach and friend, I’m often “giving permission” to people to take care of themselves. Sure, there are a cadre of narcissists out there who do nothing but care about themselves, but most folks are pretty giving. And a certain segment of folks were taught that anything they do for themselves is immoral and selfish. They’ll drop everything to race across town at the slightest indication that someone neeeeeeds them, but they won’t walk across the room to meet their own needs.

Well enough of that!

As Joyce Rupp would say, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” So, it’s high time you started refilling yours. And now there’s an official day to do it — the 6th of each month. Why the 6th? Because the idea came to be when we were talking about the facebook games about breast cancer, and I do my monthly self exams on the 6th (it’s Berns’ birthdate).

As I said when this thing popped into existence as a fully-formed idea, urged on by Page and CG:

I am — as the winner of the Internet (see: Bacon Klout) — declaring the 6th of every month Self Care Day.

What does that mean? It means that we’ll remind one another to take good care of ourselves on this day. You know, perform your self-check (skin & moles, breasts, etc), make your dentist appointment you’ve been putting off, get a massage, take a nap, start a class, clean the slate, laugh, polish your nails, or whatever it is you do that nurtures you.

It’s officially official, so there are no excuses big enough to put you and your health on the back burner any more. I’d love for you to share your Self Care Day activities in the comments.

I anticipate future posts about specific kinds of self care, how folks are observing the day, the Self Care Day T-shirt launch, the app, and the commemorative bracelet charm. Or maybe I’ll just be satisfied knowing that the folks I love are taking better care of themselves.

Either way, pretty please take really good care of yourself. It is not selfish to keep yourself alive, healthy, and happy.

It’s your job.

My Journey with Graphic Coaching

Graphic Coaching

Note from Gina: As a coach and facilitator, I use a number of tools to help folks get from where they are to where they want to be. One of my very, very favorite ways to work is graphically — through PATH and other “big paper” methods as well as in smaller, table-top graphic formats. Who better to explain how this works than the smart lady who graciously taught me how to put it all together? Read on as Christina Merkley explains, in her own words, her role in bringing visuals and coaching together into one pretty powerful package.

My Journey with Graphic Coaching

By Graphic Coaching Pioneer, Christina Merkley

I was interviewed about my Graphic Coaching niche for an American T.V. show earlier in the year … called Meet the Experts (see video to right).

While Arielle Ford and I didn’t have time to go into it, many people ask me how I came to have such an unusual profession … so this article outlines the evolution of Graphic Coaching and the path I took to create this my unique work and how I now teach others to do it too.

Early Background:

For many years I worked in both the United States and Canada as a ‘graphic recorder’ and a ‘graphic facilitator’, in corporate, governmental and not-for-profit settings. In a nutshell, both these roles use visuals to help groups understand each other and make collaborative decisions.

Always interested in personal growth, in 2000 I enrolled in coach training via The Coaches Training Institute and also became an Alchemical Hypnotherapist. While I enjoyed my facilitation work with companies, it required me to travel extensively (leaving little time for anything else) and to sometimes work with organizational mandates I wasn’t fully aligned with. So I was on the lookout for an entrepreneurial venture that I could be morally congruent with and hopefully not travel as much (where people could come to me or we could work online).

Doing Focus Wheel Work With a Client
In coaching and hypnotherapy school I discovered that I was very popular with the other students … they wanted to work with me because of the cool visual notes I took of their sessions instead of just the verbal way that the other coaches worked (as a professional doodler I just couldn’t help but create visual summaries of the insights, ahhas and results that my clients came to).

Spotting a market opportunity, I tried for a while to convince other visual colleagues that they should develop “Graphic Coaching” … as I was too busy to explore it more seriously. However that all changed on the morning of September 11th in 2001 as I awoke in my San Francisco home to the trauma of that infamous day. I was supposed to be in New York that week but a series of synchronicities had kept me away.

Watching lives being forever changed … I made a vow that day to reorganize my life around the things that really mattered to me. To pursue what I was most attracted to, even if it seemed unusual or strange … as life can be short.

Within a year I had moved back to my beautiful hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada … and set about creating a new life and livelihood.

I continued to do graphic recording and graphic facilitation work and concurrently developed Graphic Coaching — developing my signature process and suite of 17 visual tools: The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coaching Process®.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process

There are so many ways that one can work visually with individuals, biz partners and couples — using different processes and formats. In the early days I mostly did strategic planning hybrids … helping people literally SEE where they had been (Life Maps), where they wanted to go (Personal Visions) and how to organize their steps to get there (Action Plans). Later my specialty honed into the area of resistance — what I call “Trouble at the Border”. Pinpointing and flipping the inner blocks, self-sabotage and wonky energy that prevents people from having what they desire.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Client Demo in Training Class
The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Young Client in Front of His New Vision

My practice flourished as word got out about my innovations and the results clients were getting (careers, jobs, raises, homes, partners, children, etc). I got emails inquiring about my work — especially from other consultants, facilitators, trainers, coaches, etc who wanted to use my methods and tools themselves. So, after years of contemplating it, in 2010 I launched the first Graphic Coach Certification cohort, with wonderful coaches-in-training from around the world.

Cynthia Miller, Certified Graphic Coach at Her Private Training Learning to Draw Icons.

Certified Graphic Coaches Allison Crow and Jennifer Voss … Developing Visual Skills.

Today Graphic Coaching is growing nicely, aided by the growing ranks of Certified Graphic Coaches. They work in a diversity of environments and specialty areas including: executive coaching, small biz & solopreneurs development, military, grief & bereavement, first nations, autism, eating disorders, relationships, social justice & youth, human trafficking, mind/body and weight loss, abundance, health and wellness, etc.

Each cohort brings a new group of fascinating professionals who are doing great work in the world … and doing it even better by learning how to effectively use visuals to help their clients SHIFT.

While it hasn’t always been easy, I’m proud that I pursued my dream and have successfully SHIFTed my own work. And that I get to help others do the same. Its exciting to see the ripple effect as the work expands internationally.

The SHIFT-IT Graphic Coacing Process
Me in Front of My SHIFT-IT Templates

How to Draw Quick People!

Graphic Coach-in-Training
Melissa Blevins
Author’s Bio: Christina Merkley is The SHIFT-IT Coach. Founder of “Graphic Coaching” … Christina has pioneered the use of interactive- visuals to help individuals, couples and business partners make and manifest clear decisions about their work and lives. Based in charming Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, she maintains a thriving coaching and facilitation practice and trains other helping professionals from around the globe in her innovative ways of working.
For more information visit: www.shift-it-coach.com
Gina's SHIFT-IT Testimonial

Self Care Day on The 6th

CandleIt doesn’t happen often, but I got upset this morning. Not in an angry way. Just in a, “Really? Are you serious? This is the best we can do?” way.

I saw a friend post “is 2 weeks and craving pickles” on facebook and, naturally, thought she might be pregnant. Except for the part where I am a pro at being pregnant and know that at the medical definition of 2 weeks pregnant you are actually just ovulating and there’s no actual baby and, therefore, no positive pregnancy test or, for heaven sakes, cravings.

So, hmmmmm…

Fast forward 15 minutes and it all becomes clear. It’s the latest “Breast Cancer Awareness Game” only it isn’t a game. It’s cruel. Added to the one about how long your feet are or the other one where you indicate where you stash your purse that are downright crude, some folks have had enough. (Like CG Ward. Warning: I love CG’s post, but she has auto-play music on her blog.)

Anywho, in keeping with my “don’t complain; improve” ethos, I got all inspired to start something positive.

I quipped on Page‘s facebook posting of CG’s blog link about starting a date-related meme for self checks. And then I thought about it. Well, why not? So, here it comes!


I am — as the winner of the Internet (see: Bacon Klout) — declaring the 6th of every month Self Care Day.

What does that mean? It means that we’ll remind one another to take good care of ourselves on this day. You know, perform your self-check (moles, breasts, etc), make your dentist appointment you’ve been putting off, get a massage, take a nap, start a class, clean the slate, laugh, polish your nails, or whatever it is you do that nurtures you.

It’s officially official, so there are no excuses big enough to put you and your health on the back burner any more.

Well, now that it’s out, I’m going to have to get the graphics department all spooled up and the PR machine working overtime. We need a logo! We need a slogan!

Wait. What I really need is a refill of my coffee.

Seriously, though, please take really good care of you.

I’ll be reminding you on the 6th of forever.


Self Care Day



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