On and Off the Beaten Path

Wow, what a blog break, huh?   It was somewhat unintentional.  I knew that the week out of town would involve some heavy travel days, but I had no idea that the nights would be so busy, or that I’d be too zonked to do anything except rest when I wasn’t driving.    Plan A was to write during some of the hotel down time.   Here’s to Plan B.  It’s good to be home, but we have memories well worth capturing.

The first leg of the trip took us to the home of a lady who, though I’ve not known her for very long, I consider a dear friend.   In fact, my friendship with Karen is a true testament of the power of social media.   We met as blog buddies several years back, and its rare that I’ve found someone with soooo much in common with me–even down to our jobs as college instructors online and our love of professional football.   How cool is that??!!    Our first time meeting face-to-face was in 2009, and when she offered us her home for the night in route to our final destination, I could not pass on the opportunity to see her again.    The youngest, remembering their littlest angel from our first meeting, packed up tutus and heels for dress up, and off we went.   Right before we left, though, I “dug” through my Photobucket album in the anticipation of some then and now shots.

Here are the youngest ladies two years ago:

And then on last week:

Of course, both moms have changed a bit, too, in two years.   This was our first connection two years ago:

And aging like fine wine today:

One of the realities of growing kids and dynamic families is that you can’t always catch everyone at the same time.   So between work, school, and extended vacations, these were what was left of either family:

As much as we enjoyed the Shaw family, we moved on to the second leg, and the primary reason for our trip: a visit to one of the most gorgeous college campuses I’ve ever seen, minus the 40-degree drop in temperature–  🙂 .

It’d been a long time since I’d walked a college campus!   That’s me in the bright yellow hat, taking the stairs one groan step at a time.

At times, I thought I heard the distinct moo-ing of cows as we were being herded through the campus as one group of many, but overall, I felt really pleased with the information we received, the connections we made, and the potential for our daughter to consider this campus home for four years.     But, as is often the case, the more memorable part of a vacation is the trip you didn’t plan to take.

One of the many things I love about my husband is his willingness to coordinate a trip, inclusive of finding all kinds of fun, inexpensive, out-of-the-way family stops in or near whatever town we plan to visit.   I’m always tickled when we talk about a certain trip and tell people where we went, and they’ll say something along the lines of “I never even knew that was there!”    This time, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere at Purina Farms, milking cows,  and seeing dogs do more things than I think that food we buy at the store is totally capable of (smile).

Most of the dog shows happened at a speed that was entirely too fast to capture on our cameras, but the above shot is of the border collies herding ducks.   The trainer was demonstrating why border collies aren’t the best dogs for children because of the nipping they do at cows, ducks, etc., to keep them in line.   After this show, she only had to convince me once.

 

Well, with 1-1/2 weeks away, I’ve much on the brain!  Get ready for some serious rambling!  God bless.

Thankful

Plan A was to write this post on last week before we began our fall semester, but the days have been busy, friends.   With what looked like an open window of time and opportunity, I decided to take advantage of an offer to complete a certification for work over the next four weeks.   I’ve also spent a significant amount of away-from-the-computer time completing last-minute preparations for school.   Those preparations included modifying my original syllabus for the 2nd high schooler in our home, detailing economics lesson plans for our budding junior (11th grade) and taking advantage of the recent tax-free weekend to purchase a few last resources for our growing littlest girl, now in 3rd grade.  College ended a couple of weeks back, and for seven days we rested.   Then we were at it again.   Dance began the day after school started for our youngest, at least.

Before any flurry of activity began, though, I had an opportunity to attend the Heart of the Matter online conference.   I make a point of listening in when I can each year.   Usually, our school has been in session for about 3 weeks by then, so my immediate take-aways are few, and I have to wait for the mp3s to be available for longer-term inspiration.   This year, because of the oldest’s college schedule, I had whole mornings to sit while the younger two slept.  I absorbed so much richness, and, almost as if by divine intervention, the schedule of my days at that point afforded me ample time for sweet reflection before our school days kicked off.

We are now entering our 8th year of homeschooling, and though anxiety will, on occasion, rear its unattractive head, on most days, I’m truly thankful.

I’m thankful for my earliest homeschool education in the importance of setting the environment for learning to occur.   I sometimes look over my pre-homeschooling wish lists and plans to make our home friendlier for all day.   Little of that has actually happened.   Our learning centers are still not full of all the many educational games and toys that I intended to buy.   I never purchased the piano I wanted (and placing one in the space I’d planned for it would now severely limit the kids from moving freely in their self-created dance space).   Thank God I couldn’t afford all that pricey curriculum that I took the time to extract from the catalogs; I don’t know that the kids would have been more knowledgeable, but we would have been a lot more broke.

I’m thankful for the couple who introduced us to the Charlotte Mason approach years before we actually began to homeschool.   We don’t get out of doors nearly as much as Miss Mason prescribes, and there are semesters/ years when my lack of expertise in poetry and music history is glaringly obvious.   But, the kids have learned to stop and take notice of a bird at the feeder, and to be curious enough to find the field guide and discover a name for this visitor.   They have learned to stop and look at clouds and take note, not just of their imaginary figures, but also to notice what type of cloud has captured their attention and what its existence might mean to our weather.   They can enjoy Tchaikovsky and identify Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

I’m thankful for a routine that works for us.   I know that some schools thrive in spontaneity, but in our home, little changes in terms of class days and times.   I want us to spend as little mental energy as possible on “what are we going to do today?” and instead delve the work that is before us.   Yet, as much as I am thankful for a routine, I’m also thankful that there is enough new-ness, enough rest in the schedule, and just enough change in plans to keep everyone energized, including me.   I loved sitting down with each of them on the 1st day and talking about what was new, what was the same, and what our expectations were of each of them at this step in their educational process.   Our son read through his “syllabus,” asking questions as if he was signing away his birthright.   The oldest was a step ahead, asking the day before school started, “Is there an assignment that I need to start reading now for later this week?”   It may not sound like much, but my long-term readers will perhaps remember that this is the same child who convinced me that she’d be less distracted, and therefore more productive, if I let her work upstairs in her room; math, consequently, started taking 5 hrs. to complete, science took 4, etc.   So much for less distracted.   It’s difficult, looking at her now, to believe those types of days and months actually were a part of our school day, but God did a mighty work—in her and in me.

I wrote this because, for many homeschoolers, this month is the beginning of that next school year.  And for many brand-new, fresh-out-of-the-box homeschoolers, this might be your first week.  Hopefully things went well, but maybe the time happened very differently than you would have planned it.   Maybe you’re questioning your decision, whether that decision was to begin homeschooling, or to homeschool this year.   Though we’ve had fabulous starts (and finishes) in the last few years , I shudder as I vividly remember years when I toyed with the thought of public school for the sake of peace.    There is always something to be thankful for, and the Lord is always at work in our lives, if we trust Him.   If you didn’t have the week you planned, make your “I’m thankful” list.  If you don’t blog, grab a friend and tell him or her about it.   You’d be amazed at how uplifting a different perspective can be.   I’m looking forward to Monday already.

The Do-Nothing Summer

This post could have just as easily have been entitled “Second Week of Summer,” but my heart is not to document how we spend each week of what I anticipate to be a 10-week break from our school routine.   But this was a week of “ah-has,” as we called them in my corporate days–the point at which I had to heed to the teachable moment.

It happened quickly, as teachable moments often do, and I was left to marinate what the moment meant to me for days afterward.    After picking up the oldest from her volunteer work, I had to run inside a grocery store.   I had all three children with me when we ran into a friend from church.   She immediately recognized the oldest’s volunteer jacket, and they had a brief dialogue about how much the oldest was enjoying her opportunity.    Then our friend asked our son, “And what are you doing this summer?”    With all the honesty and candor of a child, he replied, “Nothing.”    She played it off well, saying that “nothing can be good sometimes, too,” and I smiled in agreement, but inside I was crushed.   (Gasp!!)   My child saying that he was doing nothing this summer?!!

 Of course, he is not actually doing nothing.    We’re completing a minimal amount of school.   He and his dad are set for a record to see every superhero movie out this summer, and he’ll attend a dance workshop later in the summer.   However, given that I normally have camps planned and at least one trip in the works, hearing him tell someone that he’s doing nothing was awkward.   It’s like when someone asked your homeschooled kid, who might have a 7th grade science book, a 6th grade math text, a 5th grade English workbook, and read on a 10th grade level, what grade he/ she is in.    When the kid replies, “I don’t know,” it’s just not a good look.

While this short scene marinated in my mind, it occurred to me that I’d been so psychologically preoccupied with getting the oldest’s plans and activities in order until I let everything else go.   Moreover, her daily activities are taking over our summer such that I have a hard time sitting to think  and accomplish other tasks.   To begin with, during our more formalized school time, I normally wake up when my husband awakens, but I don’t get up until around 7:30.   This gives me–in theory–at least an hour by myself before I awaken the kids to meditate on the Lord, have my own worship time, get a headstart on breakfast, or catch up on some last-minute project from the night before.   Summer was supposed to be more-laid back and relaxed.  Instead, I now have to get up every morning by 7 a.m. at the latest so that the oldest can get to school on time.    Even on Fridays when she has no class, she’s taken on extra volunteer opportunities, and so I’m still up early to have her in place.   And almost all the flexibility that homeschooling allows into our schedule is gone as we adjust ourselves to having to meet others’ time and deadlines.   

 

So our younger two are left to their own devices this summer–at least, so far, and I’m having to learn re-learn a few things, too.   1st lesson: it’s okay at times to have nothing to do, aka Miss Mason’s “masterly inactivity.”    I love seeing the kids turn off the television on their own.   Our son, a huge fan of author Rick Riordan (of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” fame), has taken on the task of an avid reader–to read what his favorite authors read, and thereby to gain more insight into their perspective.   So, there are long periods of the day when we don’t see him, but I pass by to be sure that he’s still breathing.    I often find him on his futon with his head in a book.

 

The youngest could come up with a brand new project, complete with its brand new mess, about once per hour, if I let her.   But, with her time, she created a family restaurant out of all the chairs and tv trays in the house (and she accidentally deleted my picture of it), where we decided to eat and have dinner once per month.   She’s learned basic sewing stitches well enough to make purses for her and her dolls.     Today, she made a tent of quilts and chairs where she and the dogs could nap, in case she actually takes a nap, which would be enough reason to take a picture.

 

 

 

I can be taught, too.   I can learn that I don’t have full control of my schedule as I accustomed to having, and that’s okay.   I can sew.  I can read.   I can plan.    I can work.    I can even take a mid-day nap.   Wow, this do-nothing summer might just work out after all.

 

Losing Control

We have two weeks of school left.

Usually by this time, I would already have summer reading lists compiled and printed off for the children.   In my defense, I have at least talked to my son about what I want to do.  

I plan to simply keep school going with our youngest daughter.  When I reflect upon her school year, there is too much low-hanging fruit for me to feel comfortable about a clear, seamless transition into third grade.   As one example, I still think she needs to “seal in” the concept of borrowing when subtraction.   Once she completes the first problem, she fine.   Yet, almost every day, I have to remnd her that, if the larger number is below the smaller number, you cannot simply reverse the numbers, i.e., 7 – 9 is not the same as 9 – 7.   I have to remind her all too often that since you are borrowing 10, it is as easy as placing a 1 in front of the number that you are adding to (as I write it, I realize that I sound equally confused!)  With the text having introduced borrowing from the tens’ columns and the hundreds’ column, she also sometimes forgets which column to borrow from.   Finally, there are also days when she’s very distracted and starts adding some numbers and subtracting others.   GEEEESH!   So the summer will give us an opportunity to slow down and gain confidence in this area.

We’ll also continue handwriting.   This week, she accomplished the difficult cursive “S,” and so she can now write her full name in cursive.  I intentionally delayed teaching cursive to give her more of a chance to gain confidence with a pencil and to work on the right direction for the “ball” of the letter “b” or “d,” or which way to turn a “j”–challenging lessons that all little ones must tackle.

What’s stopping me from bringing my “A” game?  Three things.

1) the heat. Spring is my absolute favorite time of year.  It’s when I crave the outdoors, the cool morning breeze that begs you to be out and about in the garden.  However, this year, we had no spring.  We went from winter to summer, and at a time when many in this country are experiencing flooding, we have not seen rain in weeks.   All our flowers and grass popped up, and just as quickly, it dried out and died.   Now I find myself in a bit of a funk after not seeing a hibiscus bloom after a fresh rain, or seeing my mimosa blossoms shrivel almost immediately after blooming.

2) the busy schedule.  In four weekends, I have had to prepare, as a parent prepares (given that I’m not the one actually performing), for a science competition, two dance competitions, and a prom.    Most Sunday nights I have crawled into bed, and most Monday mornings I wake up behind.   Hence, nothing that is outside of the norm do I accomplish without Herculean effort.    Searching book lists, reviews, descriptions, etc., has simply been more than I can do right now, especially with my laptop dying a slow death ( and consequently, the kids standing over me in line while I attempt to check off a few to-dos  on the family desktop).

3) the life-changing decision to allow our oldest to enter college early–at least as a part-time student.   The state of Texas has a wonderful partnership between community colleges and high schools, including high school homeschools.   With the dual credit initiative, a high schooler can complete college courses at a greatly reduced rate (like less than $200), receiving college credit and high school credit.    Most Texas 4-year colleges and universities readily accept these credits, saving parents bundles in higher education costs.   Many homeschooling parents actually enroll their children at junior college as Associates degree candidates, and then send them off to 4-year universities as degreed students for their final two years.   We went to all the meetings and thought well in advance about what a wonderful benefit this would be to both the oldest, and to us.   It all sounded great–that is, until now, when it is all about 3 weeks from happening.   Now I’m feeling as I felt when we packed her up at 3 years old and sent her off to private school, only worse.   Back then, I was convinced that we were giving her an early start on the best education money could buy; now I know that we’ve got the best education love can afford right here at home.   I’m struggling with her possibly learning history from another perspective rather than it being His story.   I’m struggling with the people with whom she might come in contact.   I’m struggling with all the plans I had that will probably not happen with her before she goes farther away to school in a couple of years.   How did this moment get here so fast?  

Having said all of that, I am also rejoicing.   In spite of my angst, I know this is a great opportunity for her, and I’m proud of her for stepping up to this challenge.   I’m proud of me and the realization that I had a little something to do with getting her here (not to take away from my husband or the Lord).   Most of all, I’m thankful that the Lord loves this mother hen (as my husband describes me) enough to allow me to gradually, lovingly, lose control.   Not that I’m misled into thinking that I had control anyway, but now, as these four walls become increasingly inadequate to  protect her from what she’ll encounter, I’m glad she is His.

P.S.   We finally got a bit of rain today.   Guess I’d better get busy.