Human Reset Button Strategies

I have a strategy with kids that developed over the years, I call “Back to Basics” which essentially is a process of simplifying life for a child that is having behavior problems by 1. achoring healthy simple meals to a schedule, (eliminating junky snacks and most sweets) 2. getting plenty of age appropriate physical play, 3. getting them outdoors, 4. reducing or eliminating overstimulating outings and electronic entertainment and 5. giving them lots of eye contact, encouragement and affection and 6. reverting to early consistent bedtimes and nap times if necessary. 7. Remembering to teach and emphasize their moral and spiritual connection to everything. It results in more quality time and improved behavior every time.

I just realized today as I prepare for the Baha’i Fast that I do the same thing for myself. When life becomes so hectic and frenetic that I am not functioning well (sick, sad or nervous) or am stressed/angry at people I need to be patient and loving with, it is time to cut back or make life smaller as I think of it. In the coming weeks I am going to focus on buying healthy food and prepping and eating it (feeding it to my family) and going to focus on prayer and quality time with my books and find time for my art that is not stolen from someone or some task. I may attend fewer events but try to be more present at those events. I am going to make sure I have the inner quality to look at the people in my life and really be able to say “lets sit down and talk” or “I want to hear more about that” and really mean it.

The tyranny of the task list is a cruelty I will be rebelling against by carefully evaluating every activity to be sure it is part of my overall goal in life and meaningfully approaching every person in my life with healthy practices, patience and love, starting with my children and including my self. The Fast each year offers the perfect time to do so, it is like hitting the human reset button!

I Want Morticia Adam’s Life

Ok, Is anyone else experiencing serious envy of Morticia Adams and her  bizarre family? There is so much for the modern mom to envy! You know, they walk around with their inner crazy being their greatest charm! (I keep getting subtle reminders to tuck mine back in) They have larger than life, doggedly loyal help always at the ready! They have the most intense romance imaginable every time they look across the room at each other. Their house is at its macabre best with zero upkeep and the last cleaning maybe 30 years ago. Do you know what I would give to have a housekeeping schedule like that? Their garden is perfection when it is full of dead things and the more disgusting and dangerous behavior the kids exhibit they happier they are with them!  Think about it!  It does not end there either, their crazy extended family members and deformed housepets are their greatest delight!  I think my favorite is that all day they seem to walk around engaged in some obscure leisure activity or simply looking magnificently tragic.

She expresses confident, in- your- face Horrid, but she’s never felt harried and never miserably exhausted. She she might be solidly guilty but unlike the modern mother has never been debilitated  with anxious guilt.  Just to top it all off, in her home its freaking Halloween EVERY DAY!  Morticia, my mothers hat goes off to you. May some of the unapologetic deviant joy you bring to family life be experienced by your modern counterparts. #ijustneedacreepyoldmansionandsometangolessons

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Mother’s Day 2016

Mother’s Day 2016

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I have the privelege this year to be traveling alone with my husband over both his birthday and Mother’s Day simply for the pleasure of traveling together and renewing our 30 year marriage.

Walking around the museum district of Seattle on Mother’s Day enjoying the sights with him, I thought a lot about my children, about being a mother . It came to me that how I feel about motherhood is simply not PC but it is real and it is currently the biggest part of who I am. I deeply respect the progress that has been made for women and it is completely unthinkable to return to the male dominated, female repressing society we once were, and are still fighting against. But I cannot get over how much I have enjoyed being a full time mother to my nine children. I can’t downplay it for the sake of women’s independence. Isn’t there a place in the world for gender equality AND intense love of female roles in life? And a matter for future discussion would be how very difficult it is to be professionally engaged or independent while bearing and rearing children. I feel a deep admiration for the women who do it and do it well. I feel a deep awe for those hearty souls who do it all alone: working and parenting with no partner.

That was not my task, however. I have been very well supported and made to feel very comfortable as an at home mom. (truth be known, I think my husband much preferred it that way) This luxury gave me the ability to completely wallow in  motherhood as the most incredible thing I have ever experienced after falling in love with my husband. It was the absolute joy of my life. The day that they laid my oldest child in my arms I experienced something for which I can never explain all the implications nor the depth of complex emotion. I gave a speech, for crying out loud, the semester he was born with him sleeping contentedly in my arms that made my Speech professor CRY! Every child and infant who joined our family after that felt like I was simply going where I was meant to go.

Their presence in my life made me a mother. Their needs and demands gave me a deeply satisfying job. Their lives intersecting with every thing I planned or did gave me an experience of purpose I cannot describe. I don’t know if this is how most women feel but I know it is an understatement of how I feel.

Loving too much, too deeply and too strongly is frowned upon in our current understanding of the healthy human psyche as well as our Western preference for personal independence. Always, I am swimming against the current, in danger of becoming “Enmeshed” in the psyche’s of those I love. I strive for balance. I let clear principles of  balanced judgment direct my behavioral parameters, but the hurricane of emotions has been my wild inner secret.

Because sometime we are not in charge. Sometimes it is our heart calling the shots and we are just hanging on for the ride.

Loving my children and loving the job of raising them so deeply that it seems to completely define me may not be politically correct, emotionally healthy or even pscyhologically sustainable since they are growing up and moving on leaving an empty nest that is so much more than unfilled space in a house. But,like it or not, it has been my reality and quite possibly my emotional desert to inhabit when they are all grown.

That is a bridge I will have to cross when I come to it and more I will have to find a passion in life that equals the hole that is left. Being a mother does not seem to have any equal in professional life that I have found.  But I am looking! Loving them demands that I keep searching for a fulfilling way to continue this journey of compassion and connection that began with the birth of my children.

So to all the women in the world trying so hard to be set free from ONLY being wives and mothers, their potential as everything else squashed by societies limitations, I apologize  for being so damn happy simply being a wife and mother.  For all the women out there working so hard to establish their identity in the various fields and professions I am sorry for losing my identity in unadulterated motherhood.

And wherever I will be on future points of motherhood, on this Mother’s Day, I offer a tribute of gratitude and wonder to my children. Gratitude for initiating and making the journey with me and wonder at the profound emotional satisfaction that has quantified that journey at every stage.

The Highs and Lows of Homeschooling

 

Written at the end of the 2015-2016 school year

I have been to every extreme this year with homeschooling. Absolute stellar highs at Harry Potter World, McDonald Observatory and the day that I wrote the blog entry on gratitude . I was over the moon in the weeks following Jianna’s launch into reading the Harry Potter series without prompting. Absolutely abject lows when our school year unraveled, my feelings of being overwhelmed, inadequate and solidly failing these guys in consistent ability appropriate academics and subsequently suffering extreme stress related health issues related to the weight of house, community, life and parenting responsibilities. I feel like an actor when I look back on the days that were so incredibly good. I frequently feel that i cannot somehow grasp and maintain all the critical activities and consistencies that Lexi and Jianna need from me and keep them in the air at the same time. My plates go up and I am on top of the world, then they come crashing down and I am struggling to figure out why and what I can do about it.

Here is what I know:

I have years of experience and I know what kids generally need each day to feel secure, empowered, challenged and on track.

I have an understanding of Lexi and Jianna, where their weaknesses and where their strengths lie.

I can get my brain around what they most likely need to progress

I seem to be struggling when it comes to matching their learning weaknesses up with pacing of material presented, to be honest I struggle with that in general. I always find myself wanting to present too much at once, frustrated when they cannot digest it.

I am struggling with feeling panicked when they cannot master quickly some small portion of skills or normal portion of material presented.

I struggle with their resistance to learning (or perhaps resistance to the way the material is presented)

I become overwhelmed with 1.the need for scope and sequence thinking, 2. adaptive learning strategies, 3. need for repetition, 4. mind numbing monotonous daily routines, 5.Mommy thinking, 6. teacher thinking and 7.need for enthusiasm when I am frankly losing my s*^# over fear of failure and no time to think or breathe apart from their needs.

By some miracle gift of God I have a husband who can be convinced and I have good instincts. With both of those resources I took a badly needed trip without the children, talked to some key people who are wise and more experienced, contemplated long and deeply about what part of this rodeo I can delegate so as to do a better job with the parts remaining.

I looked at it from every angle and cost is an issue. My husband just cut back his hours at work to have a healthier life, I am struggling to get everything on my plate properly attended too. I decided that farming out curriculum decisions was more doable than farming out instruction, and more practical than farming out household responsibilities. I decided that an online school or a complete curriculum that the girls can follow and begin to take some responsibility for their learning was a key component in this plan. This is a risky idea because I have attempted to solve problems from resources I lack before with $ and ended up with piles of crap i don’t use.

I did make a full force attempt at a free online public school but it was not possible due to the Texas requirement that my child have been enrolled in public school in the last year. It would have given them someone else to answer to but less flexibility. In the end I chose a full blown curriculum that I have loved and used successfully over the years.

It was pricy but nothing like the cost of enough monthly tutoring to alleviate this situation. Oak Meadow grade 3 and grade 4 complete, offers the balance that we are lacking, it offers clear structure and properly paced expectation with some flexibility in all areas. It offers lots of hands-on activities, that I do not have to think up, determine if they are appropriate, design or describe! The other bonus I did not anticipate is the separate programs are alleviating the intense competition and territorial attitudes that plague them and their relationship. Hooray for hidden benefits!

Today was day two of week one and the girls have played a math card game with their Dad, studied trees on our property and selected one to draw, spontaneously drew me into a discussion about what happened on this property in the past, recounted and illustrated the relationship of the sun and the earth, practiced and did well on cursive writing, read books on trees, worked on a solar robot (that was not in the curriculum), researched Hebrew culture and established a system for storing their books and papers.

I do not know if it will last but I know that I am really really happy to be making mom decisions, managing help with skill and progress, absolutely reveling in the periods of the day they work on their own (previously there were none of those), feeling sincerely proud of their skill and ability with the curriculum expectations and their steps toward independence and I am over the moon about someone else making the decision of what we are doing tomorrow.

Bob’s Tribute

Today my husband turned to me and said, “I just want to thank you for talking me, bullying me, convincing me and helping me to adopt and have all of the incredible children we had and adopted. Because my life would not have been nearly as amazing/awesome/exciting/fantastic/ every adjective you can think of, without them” I was really moved by this declaration so unlike my often worried, stressed husband. (a funny picture of us without children flashed into my head: of him sitting hunched over in a dark room counting money and me alternating between severe pathetic depression and manic purchase of dozens of pets and clothes for them or mothering inanimate objects) I should add for clarity, that a few of our children he talked/convinced me into : )–We decided in further conversation that we would not be nearly the people we are without them. They are truly the color, texture and movement that fill in the outline of our life and we are eternally grateful for their presence, excitement and beauty AND for the phenomenal people they have brought with them into our lives: our kids in law and grandchildren–

I have come to terms with the idea of reinventing myself –I may never come to terms with the idea that they are not going to be in my life every day.  I have celebrated many times over what my husband celebrated in this aha moment that he generously attributed to me.  This makes it sound like I was somewhat of a Momaholic who drug him along on a wild 20 year child round up but that is not exactly how it was.  As teens we both loved children and dreamed of a big family someday.  Once he was past the concern for the HOW to logistically pay for a large family his natural confidence and enthusiasm took over and he was  on board all the way, every day.  I only hope what comes next in our lives will elicit such loving happiness and moments of happy recollection.   Although I know from experience that what is scary, overwhelming and painful in the moment will be the light of your life looking back.

Why I Blog

All of my adult life has been spent primarily at home.  The work of running a home and raising kids full time, while somewhat luxurious in today’s world, is isolating.  Most all of my accomplishments, all of my “Aha!” moments and my triumphs as well as my failures were experienced and lived out in the private world of the home.  What I find as my family grows up and moves out into the world is that I have gained a lifetime of experience and become even more isolated.  I have accumulated masters level learning at a job that is not always well understood. My desire to do this work has in no way diminished but as a friend once said “I have room in my heart for more children but not room in my head” so with my brood complete, mostly grown and my adult children shockingly opposed to being fussed over, parented and instructed anymore, I have no clear way to share that experience.  The options open to me are teaching parenting classes, working as a consultant to parents, orphanage staff, dorm mom at a boarding school or writing my experiences and hope that those who might benefit from the information will find it.

I find that promoting and circulating what I write makes me feel pompous and pretentious; like the opposite of humble.  I also find living in a quiet unconnected world with knowledge that is wasted to be anathema to the human experience.  In a word, I want to share what I know and I want to connect with the wider world.  Blogging allows me to accomplish these two goals while having to tolerate the first.  So, I want to apologize for putting my stuff in your path, second I really hope it is useful or inspiring to you (or you can share it with someone for whom it will be) and third I really care about you and write to feel connected.  So that is why I blog.   I merely share to be useful so please feel free to disagree with me and welcome to my world.

Contentment

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There is a new mood in the air around here and it is soft, calm, peaceful and if we were not paying attention we might just not give it the acknowledgement it deserves.  Sitting for an hour in the evening with complete silence used to mean someone had snuck off into the other room with a tablet to watch PBS kids or some youtube barbie video.  Now it means the girls are outside riding their bikes, or READING CHAPTER BOOKS!  I know in some houses that happens early and frequently but for us it did not come early or easy.  It does not change how amazing it is or how proud I am to see Jianna reading Greek Myths, Fairy tales, a kids biography on Martin Luther King, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and now Harry Potter on her own, in a quiet moment and for a long time on a cold sunny afternoon or Lexi reading Little House before bed simply because she wanted to.

Today was fire in the fireplace, bread in the bread maker, typing five paragraph essays on the computer, Singapore math workbooks, hot tea and one of the final chapters of Harry Potter. Chores this afternoon were a family affair that was followed by playing outside on the trampoline and riding bicycles. Tonight was Ancient Egypt on the DVD player for me and Jianna and how braces are put on courtesy of youtube for Lexi.  Dad took a nap and went to work.  Blogging about gratitude was my main goal this evening but it goes hand in hand with the contentment that a day like today offers and I simply did not want to let it slip by without acknowledging it.  12718183_10153809566156878_6728906790969203747_n12715549_10153809566436878_751195367664831292_n

NOT Just Another Manic Momschool Monday

12642616_10153244947361945_7136117016143454405_n12646959_10153244947376945_7131471943146538903_nWe have turned a corner.  Something has changed.  I cannot pretend that I am completely surprised due to all the times I followed my intuition with these two in ways that made everyone around me shocked/angry/surprised. I promised myself when my babies were born years ago that I would follow my instincts. I promised myself when I began homeschooling years ago that I would reassess the kids progress every year (or more often) and decide whether to keep homeschooling based on what seemed to be the best for them at the time. I have pretty much kept these promises. I have been overwhelmed at times, exhausted and miserably wishing to be elsewhere. I have struggled with the daily reality of years when the kids went to school and when they were home with me. I have watched them all grow and progress and with only a few scary exceptions maintain happy and safe bodies and spirits. I have been deeply relieved, grateful and pleased with the results.

All that background in place might explain why I often employ strange methods and generate abrupt changes in homeschool plan and procedure; sudden total revisions of scope and sequence.  I believe in long vacations with lots of pretend play. I may decide we MUST get reading tutoring NOW or worse, we must let all the tutors go because it is not going well for the girls.  I have been known to jump in and out of curriculum like a swimming pool.  I adamantly insisted on taking them with us to Hawaii form my brother-in-laws wedding (even though it was EXPENSIVE and I had a great baby sitter)  I have dragged myself to things I hated and begged people to take them on as students.  I have been known to both actively hate myself for their failures and suddenly throw out the goal altogether, relaxing life for all of us quite suddenly and joyfully .  I have pursued academics like a demon in one month and dropped it like a rotten potato for four month summers.  I have arranged our environment as everything from a completely natural Waldorfy existence to electronics heavy days with educational videos and apps to  workbooks, textbooks, reading, writing and arithmetic, skill building and academics pretty much all of the waking hours.

Well something must have taken. Either that or none of my approaches took I simply WILLED them to succeed. I don’t know, but whether it was crazy co-op days, stern old school tutors, sweet loving creative tutors, long playful vacations, travel with lots of learning support materials, the thousands of prayers I have said, the music, dance and theatre, the skaking and bike riding, the unbelievable repetition of lessons, the incredible hours with teachers or simply all of it together we have arrived somewhere we have never been before.  I began this semester with what I felt were steep goals:  transitioning to typing, writing organized essays, reading long novels in a series (Harry Potter to be specific), Saxon Math, musical instrument proficiency, longer memorizations, writing factual reports with more sophistication, helping out around the house to a greater degree (learning all the jobs in a home), more sophisticated knowledge, detailed biographies and more complex history.

I thought I would have to drag them kicking and screaming but that is not what happened.  They are in some ways exceeding my goals and were doing so within a few weeks of starting back to school on Jan 14th (this was after a being on break since Thanksgiving!) I had organized an elaborate reward and punishments system to motivate them to actually get the amount of work done I wanted.  Hah! They are up and ready, working happily late into the day.  I have not had to push them even once! They have cheerfully woken up and done their school work plus volunteered for the service I require of them each week ~3-6 hours.  On the days I slept in and we did not wake up at 7 as we had planned they were disappointed!  

I am so discombobulated, school has kind of fallen apart briefly because they have been meeting our goals so readily I have to change the whole trajectory for the semester and alter our goals!  I have to back up, re-assess and re-plan. And I have to give some kind of serious and deep thanks to SOMEONE!! (or find out who the hell these kids are and what they have done with my children!) We have really struggled in the years they have been homeschooling.  This has not been easy and I had to shorten our goals (or simply throw them OUT!) many times in the past to keep from going insane with anxiety due to slow or irregular progress.  It has been quite a journey and I have a lot of people to thank. Mostly my mom Pamela Kennedy, my daughter-in-law Sevara Sobhani, my dear friend  Elizabeth Foster and my devoted husband Boback Sobhani who have all really been there shouldering large parts of this difficult project with me. Traci McGrath and Keely Hooker gave of themselves so generously and I am indebted to you all forever. To the Man Upstairs who is more generous than I could have ever dreamed with gifts, grace and guidance,  I cannot express enough thanks. A sincere and heartfelt thank you to Aigerim Sobhani for often jumping in on short notice, for always being encouraging and calm (when I was sometimes hysterical or enraged) for truly being the big sister that every little girl needs to grow into the fine women they are destined to be. To the Baha’i Communities of Williamson County, Austin, Georgetown, Round Rock and Cedar Park and Hutto for alway welcoming them with the true love and sincere sense of community we all need to feel in life.

We have reached a critical threshold and it is a feeling like I can hardly explain.  But of all the things I have done in my life, mothering so many, being a young wife and mother, working alone much of my adult life amid dirty dishes and dirty diapers, living overseas, living in the country or whatever unusual circumstances I found myself in NONE was as challenging as homeschooling Lexi and Jianna. People sometimes give me extreme praise for raising so many kids but I LOVED every minute of mothering them and raising them and did not find it nearly as difficult as people’s faces said they thought it was. But if anyone wants to give me special accolades I have to say the one thing I might deserve it for is staying the course homeschooling Lexi and Jianna.  The difficulty level was extreme at times, the critical opinions from others were deeply disheartening, my own doubt was crippling so many days and the fear that they weren’t going to achieve what they should (that they weren’t even going to be LITERATE  for Gods sake) was the greatest fear of all and I am not even mentioning how much I disliked many of the tasks involved. If you are wondering why I chose this path I would answer so that my beautiful and talented daughters would not during this critical time of forming their self concept be subject to racist remarks and attitudes, to low standards or general misunderstandig of their true motives, their true capacity or their true nature as beautiful human beings in a system that habitually sells minority kids short and incubates toxic attitudes and  environments and simply does not serve them well on any level.

This all makes the successes of the recent weeks so incredibly sweet. In the coming days we are preparing to host beloved family members for a large conference in the area and then to celebrate Lexi’s tenth birthday at the end of the weekend. Our theme is Mardi Gras on Valentines Day and it could not be more appropriate.  Wild Celebration layered on top of absolute love is exactly where we are in life and I don’t even have to worry about taking a day off of school to get ready for the weekend! So with great gusto I say:  Happy Valentines Day, Happy Homeschooling and Laissez les bons temps rouler!  everyone.

A Day in the Life of a Homeschool Mom

I write about gratitude a lot.  Somehow, it comes up and acknowledgement of it makes my life better.  Some of my gratitude is for things outside of my control, such as my deeply committed husband who is a wonderful provider and the reason I am driving down the road to take my daughters skating in a van that runs and carries us comfortably. A good bit of my gratitude is for people in my life who have helped me along the way do a job that at times seemed overwhelming; people like my adult daughters and daughter’s in law always ready to be shining examples or mini mom to their little sisters.  People like my own mother, an untiring retired teacher who took on the hardest portion of teaching for an anxious, occasionally flaky and overwhelmed daughter.   Some of my gratitude is for things I struggled to do in the past, did not give up on and am now realizing some incredible benefit from.

That is what I am thinking about as I watch my two youngest daughters skating around the rink, smiling, skilled and growing in confidence and a sweet naiveté. They are mannerly, kind, well spoken and an absolute joy to spend the day with.  I feel like the mantra that I recently shared with a battle weary mom of special needs kids in school: “I can do this! Every painful hour of THIS DAY gets us one step closer to THIS CHILD being a successful and happy adult rather than a suicidal dysfunctional burden to themselves and society!! Never mind my resulting insanity, I’ll get treatment on their 18th birthday!!! (or something like that : )” While painfully accurate a few years ago, this is no longer applicable to my days. My sigh of relief is actually a loud and audible shout of gratitude.

A lot of discussion is held over the role of nature vs nurture in a successful life.  I don’t hear as much discussion over the third and most critical determinant in how our lives turn out. That of moral education and active choice. This is really the bottom line deciding factor.  I give a lot of credit to my young daughters for their frequent deliberate decision to apply the character education they have received over the course of their life to their behavior and decisions.  They are courteous to strangers and to me.  They make friends easily and talk with them lovingly, making them feel encouraged.  They are kind to each other (!) almost all day (today, that is).  They listen to me and strive to learn what I am teaching them (even if it is not what they are focused on this moment).  They eat with manners, accept graciously my decisions, express their ideas and opinions in a language that is assertive and confident and yet not demanding or aggressive. I know that they learned today because they asked me questions like: Were you alive when Ella Fitzgerald was singing, did you hear her sing?  Why was she singing in Carnegie hall before civil rights?  Can I study more about this tomorrow? How long did you go to camp?  Were you homesick?

We ended the afternoon at an Australian themed restaurant; completely atypical for our homeschool days, but I wanted to do something special to acknowledge their hard work and excellent behavior. I wanted to capture the feeling that today was special somehow and create a memory while still keeping it a learning experience. I pointed out to them the building style ( a large frame house with a huge porch) told them about ‘stations’ equivalent to our ranches. I showed them the artwork and explained about the Aboriginal people of Australia, we discussed terms like ‘outback’ and ‘barbie’ and  pretty much everything I could teach them about Australia in that setting with no books. We did access the internet on my phone to look at more Aboriginal style paintings. I promised to get some books on Australia for them and show them an edited version of the movie “Australia”. They told me what they knew about the animals of Australia and it turned out fancy school day lunch was an awesome decision.  Good on ya, mates.

I took them on to look at antiques and we had even more fun identifying pieces of history.  They ended up finding things that they imagined some of their favorite characters from books (the March sisters and the Ingalls sisters) would have used, asked for things like old corsets and beaded necklaces to which I said no but assured them they could make some or buy one someday in the future.  Our trip home involved watching Scholastic videos of the books: Martin’s Big Words, John Henry, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and more.  This video hit a chord with Jianna and she gained a serious interest in Ella Fitzgerald that would lead her to research on her own, write a beautiful essay with an excellent portrait with no prompting from me!  The First Lady of Song ended our day with a beautiful melody of History, hero admiration, and arts appreciation resulting in sincere excellence in composition and cultural/racial pride.

And so as I started out saying, deep gratitude is the clear response to today because our days and afternoons and mornings have not always been like this one.12717658_10153809642851878_5049070598848034924_n

 

Take Nothing For Granted

The Nomads Manifesto

FB_IMG_1437064690472I find a fundamental conflict with the human tendency to expect things to stay the same and the nature of the world to be in a continual process of change. Looking back I see change over time that is dramatic, sometimes even devastating and the evidence of change is everywhere but in the moment we don’t always see change. We live in moments, moments strung together to make slow motion days.

To arrive at the home of a child you raised to adulthood, be welcomed by them and made comfortable for the night is part honor, part surreal and part “you’re getting old alert!” I was exhausted however and unable to emote and reflect to the usual degree on this phenomena. I am making up for that as I write this. I will say that driving for two days to see Meena, her sweet baby Zara and be a guest…

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