Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When with a wounded heart…

I was scrolling through Facebook at a gas station, on the road coming home from vacation when I first learned about the gunman who forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and 6 women, and wounded several other people.  Like everyone who was posting about it on Facebook, I was horrified, shocked, and heartbroken.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it and tried to look up every online article I could find about it—but the events and aftermath were still unfolding—families were still searching and hoping to find their babies, and there weren’t many details.
I’ve been checking online news sources, blogs, and Facebook frequently, in an effort to learn more, to find something to DO to help, and it’s been interesting to see how the nation and people around the world have been reacting to this tragedy.
First, I noticed people posting things about how to talk with your children about tragedies and disasters.  Then things got political---posts and arguments about gun control. Then pleadings from people still shattered by the killings begging others NOT to get political, but to hug loved ones, pray, light a candle, and just put away political agendas.  I have to admit, after I felt shock and sadness, my first thought was—“now everything is going to come down to gun control---but why won’t people talk about mental health care?”  I was about to post something on Facebook about that, when I stumbled on a friend’s post asking people to NOT get political yet—it hadn’t even been 24 hours since the shootings, and really, shouldn’t we mourn with those who mourn?”  I didn’t publish my post about mental health care reform.  In fact, I deleted it. 
Then I noticed some people were posting light hearted things—pictures of kittens and puppies, or of tropical beaches, or they were telling jokes, commenting that they “need a distraction from all this bad news.”  This ticked me off.  How could anyone laugh or make merry NOW, of all times???
Then I noticed images---not the photographs and videos from the crime scenes, but photographs and paintings of angels drooping over headstones, or candles lit, with the names of the victims, banners, pictures of children with angels wings, children holding the hand of Jesus, doves, flags, of first responders huddled together.
Then came the articles and photographs of the gunman, followed by angry posts about the media allowing the gunman to gain notoriety by showing his photo and printing or speaking his name.
Then, as the identities of the victims were released, I saw photos of smiling children, laughing adult women, and messages with their names and the word “Hero” underneath or over their heads.
Today, one of my friends posted on Facebook that she wanted to DO something—she mentioned that she was already praying, had worn green and white (Sandy Hook’s school colors), and thought she’d do 26 good deeds—one in honor of each of the victims.
This made me think…when we are hit with a tragedy—how do we cope? I think most of us go into “action mode” wanting to DO something tangible to make things better, or at least alleviate some of the pain, something to move FORWARD—so we create prayer chains, or write poems, or light candles, or close our eyes and pretend it isn’t happening.  Or laugh so we don’t have to deal with the pain.  But we still feel terrible and helpless and angry.
As I was thinking of this, the story of Lazarus in the Book of John in the Bible came to mind.  Lazarus dies, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, are in the acute first stages of mourning. Mary runs to Jesus, falls at his feet and cries to him that if Jesus had been with them, Lazarus wouldn’t have died. Mary knows that Jesus had the power to prevent Lazarus’ death.
I don’t know if Mary had any idea that Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, but Jesus knew he was going to do that.  He could have patted Mary on the head right then and there and said, “Hey, it’s okay.  I got this.” But he didn’t. He didn’t say, “Well, if Lazarus had had better health insurance…” or “we need to tighten the sword and cimeter laws.”  He didn’t crack a joke, or point out the cute little lamb frolicking in the next field over in an effort to distract Mary and Martha from their grief.  The Bible says “he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” (KJV, John 11:32) He then asked where they had laid Lazarus’ body and was taken to it.  Once there, the Bible says, “Jesus wept.”  (John 11:33.)
I have read this story before, and heard it countless times in church, and I never understood why the Savior of the World would weep over his friend, whom he knew he could (and would) bring back to life.  Jesus is the author of the great plan of happiness—the Plan of Salvation—he knows the end from the beginning—and yet, he wept for his deceased friend. It made no sense to me whatsoever, until now.
When something bad happens, we want to DO something to make it better.  We want to alleviate the suffering.  We want to comfort, or we want to point fingers, and blame, we want to change legislation.  We want to distract ourselves, gloss over things---tell ourselves that the victims are angels now and are in a better place.
But it’s all a bunch of crap.  The families of those who died at Sandy Hook are mourning.  I certainly can’t speak for them, but when I imagine myself in their place—I can only think that I would rather have my precious 6 year old alive, here, with me---no matter how glorious an angel he might be now, or how he is with the Lord.  I would imagine most of those families have, at this point, found little comfort—zero solace---in politics, jokes, in well intentioned comments about their angel-children and hero women. 
A truly compassionate person would weep.  Would mourn with those who mourn.  Even Jesus did this—and he knows perfectly how much better heaven is than earth.  Jesus groaned in his spirit and was troubled before he was even taken to Lazarus’ body.  He wept when he saw his dead friend.  The Bible said “he groaned within himself.” 
It wasn’t until after he had groaned, been troubled, wept—mourned again—that he reminded Mary and everyone watching, that if they had faith, they would see the glory of God. It wasn’t until Jesus had shared in his loved ones’ grief that he raised Lazarus.  He showed Mary and Martha how much he cared for them, and for their brother, by sharing in their grief—allowing them to grieve without glossing over it, or waxing poetic about Lazarus’ eternal soul. Jesus did not will Mary to feel better. He didn’t hurry her to the resolution of her sorrow.  He gave her time to grieve.  He grieved.
Like Jesus, we must mourn with those who mourn.  The time will come for talking of hope, of changing legislation, of laughing.  But we must first mourn, and allow others to do so as well—in their time and in their way.  The time will come for comfort, for talk of angel children and hero women, of beauty and jokes and how to make the world a better, safer place.  But we must allow for that time to come at it’s own pace.
For now, we weep.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Notes from “Professor McGonagall’s” Journal: Harry Potter Month 2012

My kids and I are avid Harry Potter fans. J. K. Rowling’s series about a downtrodden orphan who discovers he has magical powers is chock full of things a family can learn about or talk about—Greek myths, botany, astronomy, Latin, friendship, integrity, loneliness, overcoming or succumbing to pride, the hero’s journey, hero and villain archetypes, good vs. evil, how to handle handicaps and prejudices, social justice, politics, setting goals, sports, animal biology, and even knitting!  And that’s just the CONTENT of the books.  There are so many things you could pursue in language arts by just looking at how the  books are structured---grammar, formula, literary style, symbolism as a device in literature--I could keep going!
A couple of years ago, I read the Harry Potter series to my oldest two kids and they fell in love with the series as much as I did. We were feeling a little burnt out in school and decided to shake things up a bit with a Harry Potter Week, wherein we would turn our house into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and incorporate some Harry Potter themed activities into our days. We started small (really small) and renamed our classes and chores:
World History became Muggle Studies
Math became Ancient Runes
Gardening became Herbology
Taking care of pets became Care of Magical Creatures
Cooking became Transfiguration
and so on. 
We decorated the house.  We turned the TV into the Mirror of Erised and hung paper stars from blue yarn in the kitchen to create the ceiling of the Great Hall.  The kids had a few stuffed toy owls, so we perched them on top of the piano and called it The Owlery.  It was fun, and silly, and the kids wanted to do more—after that first Harry Potter Week, we decided that next time, we’d do a Harry Potter Month—full of Harry Potter themed activities and foods and d├ęcor!   October seemed to be a good time to do this, what with Halloween and all it’s attendant costuming and decorations.
We haven’t yet managed to make it a full month, because we’re still figuring things out and I’m trying to decide how much Harry Potter we can actually handle and still accomplish schoolwork and the rest of real life, but we’re getting there.  This year was the grandest of Harry Potter Months so far, and we anticipate next year being bigger (and more organized!) and even more fun.
Here’s a sampling of what we did this year (and my thoughts for next year, so I don’t FORGET!)
This year, the kids wanted to dress up. I rifled through the Halloween costume racks at thrift stores in search of things to use as the Hogwarts school uniform. I think my favorite finds were the graduation gown  that Gloria is wearing and the black “crushed velvet” robe that Ellen is wearing.  I had the kids put on white dress shirts and dark pants, and put the “robes” over top.  One of these days, I’ll get ties in the appropriate “house” colors.  Ellen and I originally intended to crochet scarves and hats, but both times we tried that, it just didn’t work out.  I anticipate Harry Potter Month becoming a longstanding tradition—so I’ll probably just break down and buy suitable items rather than make them.

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We surprised the kids with “official” Hogwarts acceptance letters.  I found a Hogwarts School Crest online and we copied it.  Then, I typed up Harry’s acceptance letter, including his school supply list, and addressed one to each of the kids.  Notice it’s in green ink—just like in the first book!  The letters were then delivered by "owls” made from helium balloons.  (Thank you, Pinterest, for the idea!) I bought the balloons at the local party supply store, and used sharpies to create a Snowy Owl, Barn Owls, and a Great Horned Owl.

I am ridiculously pleased by the Snowy Owl (and the girl holding it!)
I also made House “hour glasses” that we filled with glass “gems” when the kids did something to merit praise or a reward. The idea was to fill the hour glass to the top with the gems and the first student with a filled jar got a prize.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos of this project—but we used standard size quart jars for the “hour glasses” and I bought colored glass gems from the craft store—red for Gryffindor House, green for Slytherin, blue for Ravenclaw, and Gold for Hufflepuff.  (Hufflepuff really should have been yellow, or even black—but those were ugly—the gold glass was much more striking.)
Last year, we filled the mason jars with colored candies, but it only provided even more of a sugar overload, considering Halloween was around the corner.  We decided this year to go with something we could use over and over again.  I had the jars on hand already and used craft store coupons coupons to get the colored glass. (Love those Michaels and JoAnn’s 40% off coupons!)  Next year I’ll take pictures.
We made wands this year.  I bought a couple of wooden dowels, cut them to size, and spray painted them brown. I had big plans to decorate them with swirls of hot glue and plastic gemstones the way it's done here, but I couldn’t find my stupid glue gun and decided to just press ahead. The kids didn’t care, and in truth, I was relieved I didn’t have to worry about someone’s wand bling falling off if the glue relaxed or got brittle.
A few weeks ago, I was going through a container of my grandma’s old art magazines and discovered that many of them were wildlife magazines with pictures or paintings of different kinds of owls.  I let the kids cut out the owl pictures and paste them onto poster board—this became our Owlery (where Harry and his friends go to post their letters) and we hung it on the wall upstairs over a weird shaped ledge that was perfect for the kids to line up their toy owls on!

Some of our activities this year included:
Making popcorn as part of a “transfiguration class.”  We made it on the stove after reading the book Popcorn by Tomie de Paola.  There is a killer recipe in the back of the book for stovetop popcorn.  My kids have only experienced the microwave and air popper kind—so, making popcorn on the stove was a blast. Literally.  I was pretty liberal in adding the corn to the sizzling pan—and the popping kernels lifted the lid as they popped and sent popcorn flying everywhere.  It was awesome.  Calvin thought it was so funny he couldn’t stop laughing and jumping around.
Holding a Tri-Wizard Tournament.  In the book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry is entered in a competition called the Tri-Wizard Tournament, wherein three wizards/witches are each expected to complete three dangerous tasks.  They are judged on performance (and their success at staying alive!) and the winner receives the Tri-Wizard Cup—a high and historical honor in the “Magical World.”  The tasks include fighting dragons, solving riddles, retrieving lost or stolen items from the depths of an enchanted lake, and navigating a labyrinth full of dangerous creatures.
In our Tri-Wizard Tournament, we made dragons out of air-dry clay, with the intent to paint them once they had cured for a few days. (Unfortunately, the dragons all fell apart, much to the kids’ dismay.  Next year, we’ll have to come up with a better medium—papier mache, maybe?)  I let the kids take turns having a bath in the soaker tub (which we otherwise rarely use), so that was a real treat.  The final task—the labyrinth—was a trip through the corn maze—which we would have normally done at this time of year anyway, but it was fun to add a Harry Potter twist to that tradition.  Fortunately, we didn’t encounter anything more dangerous than shoe-sucking mud.
We spent a couple of evenings outside looking at the stars.  I had every intention of getting hold of a telescope for these nights, but it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the kids were happy to just get to stay up late with mom and dad, outside.  Earlier in the month, we had gone to a local-ish planetarium and the kids had learned about what constellations are in the sky at this time of the year in our end of the world, so they had fun looking for those.
We made a few Harry Potter-esque treats, too.  I had way more recipes than I had time to try.  I tried a recipe for apple muffins, which I had decided to call Cauldron Cakes, after a confection from the books—but the muffins turned out so badly that we decided not to eat them.  I wanted to make Pumpkin Pasties, which I interpreted to be like an empanada, filled with pumpkin pie filling—but ran out of time.  We substituted Starbucks Pumpkin Scones, which no one seemed to mind!  I have a couple of large stock pots that are wider at the bottom than at the top—one is shaped like almost like a cauldron—I made chili in it one night—and the kids thought it was hilarious.
I had many, many big plans for other activities, but we didn’t get to most of them.  At first, I was feeling frustrated and discouraged that my vision for our Harry Potter month wasn’t coming together exactly as I had hoped—but the kids didn’t even notice. I was basing MY expectations not only on what I’d read in the books, but what I’d seen in the Harry Potter movies.  I wanted to really decorate the place based on what I’d seen in the movies, but I didn’t have the time, and in some cases didn’t have the knowledge of how to do it---so I was frustrated that the place didn’t look (and therefore feel—to me, anyway) more “magical.”  For instance:
In the movie, the sign for the train platform that Harry goes to to take the train to Hogwarts looked like this:

Or at least like this:
I kept meaning to make a sign like one of those, but it was one of those projects that got shunted aside for other things (like laundry) so the kids took over and Calvin made these signs and hung them up:
This was not at all what I had in mind, but Calvin was thrilled at his own handiwork.  Here are the other nearby platform signs he put up.  Notice all destinations are in North America rather than England, where the series takes place:

Seeing Calvin excited about his train platform signs made me realize that I could take a step back and let the kids sort of run the show—they didn’t need everything to be movie-set perfect.  This made me relax a little, because as much fun as Harry Potter Month was, I was starting to stress out about making it “perfect” as I saw it.  I was getting carried away with what my vision for the event was, rather than letting the kids just do their thing.  Once I realized the kids were much happier running on their own imagination than on what I thought they should be doing, things got really fun.
In order for Harry to get to Hogwarts, he had to go to King’s Cross Station in London and walk through a brick wall barrier to the proper train platform to take the train.  The barrier only allowed “magic folk” to pass through—regular people (known as Muggles in the books) couldn’t get through.  We made our own “brick barrier” by hanging a red block-weave shower curtain in the hallway on the way to the garage.  Anytime we needed to take the “train” (our car) to go somewhere, we had to walk through our barrier. 
There were several regular school related things we did that I decided to assign “Harry Potter” names to, so I wouldn’t have to re-invent activities—in our homeschool co-op, we were studying desert ecosystems and made a desert terrarium with cacti and succulent plants.  Prior to doing this activity, I told the kids we were going to have “herbology class.”  They just used their imaginations and started calling the cacti and aloe vera plants by the plant names in the series---Venemous Tentacula, Mandrakes, Gillyweed, etc.  We had a good laugh over it.  They also insisted we purchase a carnivorous plant in honor of the herbology class—I’m such a sucker---I did it.  We are now the proud owners of a baby Pitcher Plant.  I don’t have a terribly green thumb, so we’ll see how it does.  Maybe next year we can try a Venus Fly Trap!
All in all, the kids and I had a lot of fun, and we are already planning for next year.  The kids wanted each day to be entirely devoted to Harry Potter stuff, and while I would LOVE it, that is unrealistic, so I told them perhaps we could do ONE Harry Potter thing a day (some things are merely a matter of re-naming a regular activity, and others will require more planning.)  We ended on a high note this year with the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  And after Halloween, we hit the Halloween clearance at a few stores and picked up some fun things for next year (like a trio of Gargoyles for Hogwarts Castle!)
The kids did some brainstorming for activities for next year.  They are included here:
Harry Potter Month Ideas:
  • Acceptance letters (delivered by helium balloon owls)
  • Decorate “Hogwarts” with the owlery poster and toys, house color crepe paper streamers, hang stars from the kitchen ceiling, candelabra on the kitchen table, train platform signs and shower curtain “brick barrier”
  • Draw Moaning Myrtle on the bathroom mirror with soap (Calvin did it this year, but she was steamed off from of a month of showers before I thought to take a picture!)
  • make book covers for school books---with the proper subject titles on each
  • have a Potions Class (science experiements with goopy stuff)
  • Have a House Sorting Ceremony—get a hat for this!
  • Game of Quidditch! (need multiple brooms and hula hoops and balls!)
  • Make Honeydukes candies: chocolate and peppermint frogs, butterbeer, etc.
  • have a feast in the Great Hall
  • Transfiguration Class (make popcorn or popovers or some other recipe where the initial ingredients radically transform!)
  • Tri-Wizard Tournament (find different stuff to make dragons…) include going swimming and a trip to the corn maze
  • Herbology—make an ivy topiary
  • Care of Magical Creatures Class—go to Boo at the Zoo—a great excuse to wear the Harry Potter school uniform costumes!
  • “Spell”ing---(which is really just studying Latin roots.)
  • Herbology—plant a terrarium
  • Have a dance party
  • Read favorite passages from the books by the fireplace
  • learn to knit or crochet something (can use this as a service project, too!)
  • Read some Greek myths
  • Play chess

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Priorities (Applied)

For now, I’m just making a list of what I’m doing to make sure I keep my priorities straight.
Priority # 1: God.
If I’m not paying attention to my relationship with my Savior, everything else seems to fall apart---so my biggest two actions to make sure I’m staying in touch are:
Reading my scriptures BEFORE I get out of bed.  My phone is my alarm clock in the mornings and I have the Old and New Testaments as well as The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price on the phone as well, so it’s super easy to pick it up and read after I’ve turned the alarm off.  I can just flick through, find wherever it was I left off the last time, and keep reading.  Even if I only read a verse a day, I feel I’ve accomplished something. I have more energy during the day and I am more patient and optimistic.
Morning prayers. I’m pretty good about remembering to get on my knees before bed and offer a prayer, but I’m not so good about starting the day with prayer—but I’ve found that when I do, my days go better.  I’m more patient, I have more energy.  Huh.  That sounds like what happens when I read my scriptures…and I’m all for a double dose of patience and energy!
Priority # 2: Husband.
Right now, I think the best thing I can do to nurture my husband is to go to bed at the same time my he does.  It’s a simple thing, really, but it’s one way to avoid living completely separate lives—and going to bed at the same time gives us a great chance to wind down together, talk, or…well, do other stuff….
Also, taking ten minutes to tidy up the house before Julio gets home, and making sure dinner is ready to eat when he walks in is a good thing for my marriage.  I recently implemented a ten minute cleaning blitz about half an hour before I expect Julio home.  It’s pretty simple, and so basic, I wonder why I didn’t think of it sooner.  A tidy house makes for happy people—and who doesn’t love to come home to a neat space? It sets a good tone for the evening. 
Meal planning—or at least dinner planning is a good thing too.  It takes the stress out of trying to figure out what we’re going to eat and gives me a chance to plan for the evenings when we’ll be gone all day (crock pot!) or gone in the evenings (picnic style!)  Julio always comes home hungry, so having dinner ready to go as soon as he walks in makes for a smooth transition from work to home!  Last Sunday evening, I sat down with Ellen (who was in charge of kitchen chores for the week) and we planned dinners together.  She wrote down our menu for the week and posted it on the fridge.  It was wonderful.  Everyone knew what to expect, and I had a visual reminder about what I’d need to prepare on any given day. 
How does cooking and cleaning nurture my marriage? It makes me a nicer person to be around, and frankly, it just makes Julio happy.  I like to make him happy.
Priority # 3: Kids.
I need to spend more face time with each of my kids.  It’s so easy to treat them as a herd.  It’s easy to ignore them or push them away with schoolwork or chores or TV and computer time.  We’re in the car a lot and it’s easy to tune them out via the radio or an audio book or CD. I need to be more intentional in my time with my kids.  They love to be read to—even the big kids.  We need to sing together more—doing it in the car would be great---but of course, I’ll have to start with goofy kid songs to ensure participation!  I definitely need to hug and cuddle my kids more.  I’d like to be the kind of mom that just randomly hugs a kid, but I have to really make an effort to remember to do that.  And when I tell myself “I need to give each kid five hugs today” it gets done.  If I don’t tell myself things like that, it’s easy for me to go all day without really connecting physically—and kids NEED that. My kids love it when I hug them, and they behave better and act happier when I “randomly” grab one of them and hug them and say, “You know, I think you’re a great kid and I’m glad you’re mine.”  I mean it when I say it, too—even if only ten minutes ago I was harping on someone to get their room clean or quit dawdling over the math assignment.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


One of the reasons I chose to homeschool my kids was because I was sure it would make me a better mother—not a “better-than-you” mother, but a “better-more-engaged-person-with-my-kids” mother.
In some ways, I think I have accomplished this—I, with my temper so bad my siblings actually refer to anyone having a hissy fit as “pulling a Marissa,” complete with claw-fingered hand gesture—have learned quite a bit of patience.  I admit, I still pull an occasional “Marissa,” but I have mellowed a LOT.
I have let go of a lot of my tendency to want to control every. single. aspect of the kids’ schooling.  They are allowed a lot of freedom and creativity and they are allowed the responsibility of cleaning up after said freedom and creativity.
I have learned to laugh.  This one came a little slower than the other two—but I’m much better now at finding the humor in less-than-humorous situations. (After I pull a Marissa.)
In other ways, though, I’ve realized I need some crucial work.  We are always on the go---I feel pulled in so many different directions.  I am so BUSY.  And I’ve had a few experiences of late that have combined to make me realize that “busy” doesn’t equal “important.”  I have a tendency to think it does.  When people ask me what’s going on in my life or what I’ve got going on for the week, I rattle off my list of “to-do’s” and “to-go’s” and I FEEL important---and that feeling carries me for awhile through my days.
But here are my recent experiences that made me realize that busyness does not equal importance:
It is fairly normal for me to try to cram my preparations for my Sunday School class into a Saturday night or even a Sunday morning before church. I skim the lesson, look for the main points and main scriptures and wing it in class.  Sometimes this works fine.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  But—I’ve had enough “works fine” classes to keep me going with what I know are lousy preparation techniques.  So, in cramming on Saturday night to prepare for my Sunday School lesson, I read 3 Nephi 11 in the Book of Mormon.  In this chapter, Jesus comes to the people in the Americas and begins to teach them.  He explains who He is, why He is come, and lays out the basic principles of His gospel—faith, baptism, repentance, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. As I was skimming, it hit me that this is probably THE most significant thing I’ve EVER read.  I went back and really read the chapter.  And I was overwhelmed with the love Jesus has for me. And then I realized how precious the scriptures are—how much hope and love and peace are in them, and how now I just didn’t have time to really dive into the scriptures for myself in time for class, much less for the teens in my class.  Why had I not soaked this up sooner?  Why hadn’t I been reading and learning and absorbing the scriptures every day?
Last week, I spent a few minutes with an elderly couple that I just adore.  I hadn’t seen them in a while and just dropped in between the kids’ lessons and dance class.  We had a nice visit, but I kept sneaking peeks at my watch. My friends noticed and commented on how busy I am.  I agreed and launched into my list of things going on that day.  They listened quietly until I’d finished, and then my friends spoke, “Well, we sure miss seeing you and the kids.  But we understand, you’re busy.”  There was sadness in their tone.  I didn’t know how to address their comments, and it was time to go pick up my big kids from their piano lesson.  So, I hugged my friends and headed out.  But their words—and their tone---stayed with me. Why did they make me so sad? 
My five year old has been asking me every day for the last week for cuddle time. But every time he asked, I was in the middle of something important—I was wrist deep in pizza dough, or updating the announcements for a homeschool group I’m a part of, or trying to read through my Sunday School lesson.  My boy made himself a nest of blankets in his room, where he likes to sleep (why he won’t sleep on the brand new, awesome double bed mattress we just bought is beyond me.) Anyway, he wanted me to come snuggle with him in his nest.  He had arranged his pillow and his collection of blankets just-so for me.  After days of him pestering me, I finally went to cuddle with him in the nest. I admit, I went more to get him off my case than because I was looking forward to laying on a lumpy bunch of blankets with a wiggly little boy.  But as I angled myself down next to him, he looked me in the eyes, and said through his thumb in his mouth, “I love you mommy, thank you for cuddling with me.”  I melted.   We had a nice long snuggle and we both fell asleep, my littlest boy curled up against me, with his head on my arm. How could I have put this sweet little guy off for days?
Last Friday was the first day in a long time that we haven’t had somewhere we had to be—there was NOTHING going on—no classes, no shopping to do, no errands to run.  And it was WONDERFUL.  I spent the day with the kids reading to them, taking a walk, hanging out on the couch with the big kids while the little ones played with blocks and Barbies and Spider Man toys.  I rocked the baby.  I haven’t rocked her since I quit nursing (don’t get me wrong, I’ve held her lots and lots, but not sat down in the rocking chair and just—rocked.) Usually, she naps in the car as we’re running around town.   She was dozy---her eyes were fluttering, she was sucking her bottom lip, and she was twirling the hair on top of her head with her fingers.    As soon as she was in my arms, she konked out. At first, I was tempted to just take her to her crib, so I could get something else done—but on the way to her room, I realized I didn’t want to put her down.  I walked over to the rocking chair, sat down, and began rocking her.  I was flooded with love for her—and for all my kids—and for all the time I spent rocking them—before life got so busy.  How did I let this sweet, tender activity with my baby girl get away from me?
Last night, after the kids were in bed, I sat down with Julio while we ate a late night meal together.  We were catching up with each other, and I told him about all the projects I had going on, all the places and classes the kids had to be at, all the things that were making me feel a little crazy and that were stacking up.  He got this look on his face---the one where he wants to say something that he’s pretty sure is going to upset me, but that we both know I need to hear.  (I HATE that look.)  Then he says:
“I’m worried that you’re spreading yourself too thin.  I’m afraid you’re getting so busy that the most important things are starting to be neglected.”
I couldn’t even disagree with him.  Had I not just been complaining that we weren’t getting through all the schoolwork and the house was a mess and I felt like I was hardly even making eye contact with the kids each day?
He gave me that look again, briefly surveyed the kitchen.  “That, too, I guess, but I don’t mean that stuff.”
I thought back to cuddling Blythe and rocking Evelyn.  “I know,” I said.  “I’m with the kids all the time, but I’m not really present with them!”
Julio smiled a sad little smile at the tabletop.  He wasn’t talking about the state of the house, the kids’ education, or even the kids themselves. 
I am so stupid. He meant him.  He meant US.  I was starting to neglect him.  I was starting to neglect us.
I can’t even express the sorrow I felt, realizing I was leaving my husband, my best friend!  out of my life.  My busy, busy, stupid-busy life.
We had a pretty significant heart-to-heart talk that reminded me what an amazing, long-suffering, good-humored, kind, affectionate, intelligent, astute, compassionate man I had the good fortune to marry.
How do you know when your priorities are out of order? When you start thinking “busy” means “important.” 
Well, I’m taking back what is truly important. My God.  My husband.  My kids.  These are what matter most.  These are the most important things.  THESE are the most important things.
Tomorrow, I’ll post what I’m doing to reorder my priorities from the “busy” things to my most important things.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Way to Go, Idaho: Archaeological Dig at the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House

Okay, how cool is this? Boise, the biggest city for 300 miles around, just had it’s own archaeological dig at a former boarding house downtown. The house was built in 1864 and was owned by Cyrus and Mary Jacobs (who died in 1900 and 1907, respectively.)  By 1910, a Basque family by the name of Uberuaga had moved in and opened it as a boarding house.  The Uberuagas bought the house in 1928 from the Jacobs family, and ran the boarding house until 1969. jacobshouseIn May of this year, a well, three feet in diameter and about four feet deep, was discovered under the house.  No one in recent history had even known the well was there!  The staffers at the Basque Museum and Cultural Center put together an archaeological team in under two months, and in August, they began excavating.
I learned about this dig through an article in the Idaho Statesman and saw that it was open for public viewing, with a special, hands-on archaeology session for kids.  Archaeologists would be on hand to give a basic introduction to their work. 
Cool, right?  So, of course, we had to go.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there—but our visit started with a lot of paperwork---safety waivers and whatnot.  I had to fill out forms for each kid before we did anything else.  While signing our lives away, I met a bubbly, enthusiastic woman by the name of Stacey Camp, who I learned later is a professor of anthropology at the U of I, and was one of the leaders of the work on the well.  Stacey was excited to have kids arrive, and told us all about her work there and at another dig north of Kooskia, Idaho in a former WWII Japanese Internment camp.  She told us how much she enjoyed having her own kids on site with her, and she invited us up to get involved in that dig as well, if we were interested in making the long trip up past Kooskia. (Um, YES!)
After the paperwork, we were given a brief history of the house, and taken to the dig site.  We got to watch the workers in action!
We got to see bits of dishes, pieces of mortar from the house, and a couple of ink pots that had been dug up.  We got to handle the inkpots (one of which was stoppered and still had ink residue in it!) and the broken crockery.  Calvin really wanted to get down in the well and really do some digging—but--- “authorized personnel only!” He was disappointed, but---
fortunately, they weren’t kidding when they said it was a “hands-on” activity. We moved on to these giant screens that are used as dirt sifters.  After a demonstration, the kids each got to put on gloves and give the sifters a few shakes.  The kids “found” buttons, mortar, and pieces of glass.  They were all pretty excited at what they found and wanted to know if they could keep it.  (No.)
After sifting, we were led to a table of artifacts and we learned about how the items are catalogued and cleaned. 
Look at the porcelain doll head in this gentleman’s right hand! The doll head was featured in the newspaper article about the dig.  I think that MADE the experience for me—seeing this cast-off part of a child’s toy—something a little girl had played with, and perhaps lost.  I wondered what the doll had looked like when it was new, and I wondered who had owned it. What was her name? How old was she when she received the doll—did she play with it? What was her childhood like?  It was fun to contemplate, and made me think about the toys I kept from my childhood for my kids to play with (an embarrassing number of them, actually) and what they might look like, dug up a hundred years from now!
We even got in on some of the cleaning action—with toothbrushes, and a bowls and buckets of water.  The kids actually spent a LOT of time at this station. Gloria was especially thorough---and I couldn’t help observing that each of the kids’ time and focus cleaning the artifacts correlated to their individual attention to their own oral hygiene! (Gloria’s my most dedicated brusher.)
When the kids had finished cleaning their “artifacts,” we were at the end of the session and it was time to go home. On our way out, Stacey Camp gave the kids some cookies and cups of water—a reward for all their hard work unearthing all that history!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

And So We Begin….Again!

I had originally planned to homeschool year round—it seemed more organic that way, or something.  Maybe I thought I would need to teach year round so my kids wouldn’t get “behind.”  But alas, I have taken to a pretty traditional school year schedule. 
Frankly, it’s hard to “do school” when all the neighbor kids are out for the summer and knocking on your door/peering in your window/laughing and squealing as they run through the sprinklers and play on the trampoline and eat popsicles.  My kids just cannot focus through that!  So---we bagged school for the summer.
What I love about starting up in the fall, is that because “everyone else” is also going back to school, there’s a thrum of energy in the air---a sense of new beginnings---and new school supplies!  I like to capitalize on that energy---we hit the school supply sales, replace back packs (yes, homeschoolers need them, too,) pick up dozens of packages of paper, crayons, colored pencils, etc.  We stock the school room (I have a school room this year!  Woohoo!) and I spend a couple of weeks in panic mode planning lessons and going through our curricula.
This year, I have four kids “in” school.  Last year, I was still trying to figure out how to do THREE, so I knew I’d have to be really on the ball this year.  We’ve just completed our first week and a half and I have to admit, it’s going pretty well.
The hardest part so far has been figuring out our dynamics. Gloria (7) and Blythe (5) are NOT keen on doing anything academic—they’d rather play with toys and bicker with each other.  I was totally stressed about how to get them to do anything remotely academic---but we discovered over the summer that reading together is FUN (it helps to have the prizes and treats from the library’s summer reading program to dangle in front of them!) so I thought when school-time came, I’d start there—with reading to the “middles.” 
So far, so good.  Even the baby gets in on the action.  After we’ve read, I take Blythe upstairs to work on handwriting, math, and grammar.  This takes about forty-five minutes—then he’s free to play with the math manipulatives or look at books. 
On to Gloria’s turn---  We do math, spelling, and grammar (which includes a lot of handwriting practice.)
While all this is going on, the baby is wandering around or I have one of the big kids tag-team keeping an eye on her while also working on their own projects---namely practicing the piano, or working on their assignments in math, Spanish, and writing. 
When Gloria is through, she’s free to go play and I bring the big kids up for grammar and spelling and to check their math and reading. 
We usually break for lunch between 12:30 and 1:00.  After lunch, we finish up anything that didn’t get done before lunch (including chores) and then head out for our extra-curricular activities (dance, karate, etc.)
This has worked out so far, but this week, we start back with our homeschool co-op. We meet with six other families twice a week for a “one room school house” approach to history (ancient history through the fall of Rome, this year,) geography, science, and math games.  And once a week at co-op, we’ll have an art class (I’m teaching that one.)
I’m excited about co-op.  Ours is really focused on academic subjects, and the moms take turns teaching the classes. (I’m helping with science this year.)  It’s nice to be able to “share the burden” of teaching with other moms—it adds some variety to the kids’ school experience, and co-op offers them a chance to spend time with their friends. 
But, since co-op will take up two days out of our week, I need to figure out how to fit the other stuff we need to get done (namely, piano, Spanish, and their regular math assignments, and for my little kids—handwriting and reading.)  That’s where the “how do I figure the dynamics?” comes into play.  Co-op will go from 11 AM to maybe 1:30, 2:00-ish—not including the once a week art class.  By the time we get home—it will be about 3:00—just enough time to grab a snack, change clothes, and head out to whatever activity is going on (dance, karate, choir, etc.)
I’m thinking we’ll have to get up earlier in the morning—and by “we,” I mean “me,” because my kids are all up by 7 AM in order to watch PBS until Mom gets up between 8:30 and 9.  I expect my kids to be dressed, combed, fed, and have their chores done by 9:30 AM, so we can start school.  I like this arrangement, because then I can be leisurely about getting up and getting ready.  Or, when I’m feeling ambitious, I can get a half-decent jog in before my shower. 
Getting up earlier does not thrill me—but neither does allowing the kids to stay up later to get their work done.  I love my kids and I love homeschooling, but by 9:30 PM my brain shuts down and the only noise it can tolerate is whatever TV show my husband and I have decided to watch.
I’m also trying to figure out how to deal with the inordinate amount of time we’ll spend on the road in the afternoons and evenings.  We live on the outskirts of a tiny town in the boonies now, and while I LOVE my house and my neighborhood, we are at least 30 minutes away from civilization.  I realize that some readers may be playing the world’s tiniest violins at that statement, but when you consider I moved from town, where everything was literally within ten minutes—that extra 20 on either end of a drive adds up.  I need to find a way to occupy that time—besides mindlessly listening to the radio and making threats to the kids about “If you don’t stop fighting back there…!”
Also—food.  Mealtimes and snacks---hmmm.  On co-op days, we’ll need to bring lunch—the idea of packing a lunch for six people twice a week makes me shudder.  It’s not so much the packing of the lunches, but trying to decide what to put IN the lunches.  My kids have this crazy notion that they CAN’T eat PBJs every. single. day.  Life would be so much easier if they did.  Of course, I would hate to eat PBJs every day, too—but I’m not very original or creative, so I will have to do some research to find easily packable, varied items for lunches.  I'm sure this is probably the great dilemma for anyone in school.
Another dilemma is what to do for dinner each night.  Except for Monday nights and weekends, we are on the go from about 4:00 to 8:00.  I don’t love this—but I think it’s just the stage we’re in.  I need to figure out how to feed everyone---either on the road, or at home (but if we eat at home, which is preferable, it needs to food that is already cooked and ready to go---so the house can be tidied and kids in bed before my brain turns to mush at 9:30.)  I suppose I’ll have to look into crockpot stuff and freezer meals. And I’ll have to do it quick, because those run-around evenings are HERE!
Okay—so this was more rambly than I thought—but whatever—I think better when I write stuff down.  I’ll update as we go along.  My goal is to function with more structure and purpose this school year—and I think so far, so good.  (But does anyone want to be my personal chef?)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Tea in the time of, well---TIME.

Ever have one of those days where you’re mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest so busy you are nearly flattened by the fact that you are missing out on the most precious moments of your life?
Last week, Gloria kept pestering me about playing with the little ceramic tea set we have, which I had purchased a couple of years go with the vision of enjoying many cozy tea parties with my girls.  I was doing something on the computer (I’m sure it was hugely important…) and I kept brushing the kid off.
“Not now, babe. In a while.”
“Later on, okay?”
“In a bit, kiddo, in a little bit.”
Well, Gloria finally got tired of waiting and got the set down.  I heard the clinking of the dishes and went to investigate.  My first inclination was to scold the kid for getting into the tea set without permission. But when I saw her dressed in her finest, with a giant, floppy ribbon carefully tied in her hair, and setting the table with a flowered hankie as a table cloth for the tea set, I melted.
This wasn’t going to be any old tea party, casually slopping water from tea pot to cup.  This was going to be the REAL DEAL.
I don’t even remember what I was doing before, or what I did after—but right then, I realized this was an opportunity to make some sweet memories.  We made biscuits.  We made herbal tea.  We set the table. We broke out the freezer jam.  We invited the other kids.  We added insane amounts of sugar AND honey to our drinks.  And we had a blast.
Isn’t she adorable?

Of course, things got a little less dainty and refined when the siblings joined us, but hey---good company is good company.

We decided to skip having a real lunch and just gorge ourselves on biscuits and jam and sugar loaded lemon herbal.

I love that the baby has a tea cup AND a sippy.  She’ll have her tea, and drink it, too!
I love her pinky in this last picture—it appears Gloria is trying to be dainty, but the reality is that as I took the picture, I asked her a question, but she was focusing on drinking the tea—the uplifted pinky was a signal that she couldn’t respond right then and would have to wait until she finished.

Say Cheese (and don’t forget a jar of money.)

After several failed attempts at arranging family/kid portraits with various photographers (I know I’m sabotaging it all myself, that that’s another post) this is as good as we’re going to get:
The baby had crawled up on top of a box and we hurried to cluster the other kids around her for a photo—which of course, made her want to get off the box and toddle away—so we grabbed the closest “prop” we could find to keep her interested in sitting still—the “swear jar.”  (If anyone is doing the swearing in our household, it’s me, and this photo clearly explains why I’m always broke.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Courses of Study for 2012-13 (or Ooh, That Sounds So High-Falutin’!)

We are a “freestyle” homeschooling family, meaning we are unaffiliated with the local school district or any online charter schools.  Thanks to very liberal homeschool laws in the great state of Idaho, (God bless Idaho!) we are free to teach our children anything we choose.
Last year, we continued with the Writing With Ease series, Spelling Workout workbooks, and the First Language Lessons series for language arts. These are all heavy on narration, recitation, memorization, and worksheets, which my kids love doing. (Who ARE these people?)
We also relied heavily on online resources for many of our classes.  We used ALEKS for math and BrainPOP for social studies and science.  We also began using the Rosetta Stone Spanish program (which is AWESOME, by the way.)
This year, my goal is to get the kids off the screens so much (their choir homework is also done online), so we have joined a local co-op that promises to be very hands-on.  Through the co-op, we will be using The Story of the World Vol. 1 (Ancient Times through the Fall of Rome) as a basis for our history and science courses. (I’m co-teaching science and we’re going to mummify a couple of chickens while we’re studying Ancient Egypt!)
Outside of co-op, my middle and little kids will be focusing on handwriting, using the Zaner-Blozer model for both manuscript and cursive (merely because that’s what I was taught and what I prefer to teach.)
I recently invested in Saxon Math, after finding the the ALEKS program was just not enough even when using the core curriculum program (as opposed to the supplemental version available at most public schools.)  I have started my two little kids in the K and 1 Saxon books and they are clipping along. In fact, I’m wondering if my 7 year old is ready for Book 2.  My older kids are using Saxon 54 and 65 books.  I started them a couple of weeks ago.  At this point, the lessons are merely review for the big kids—which was what I wanted---they really need to cement the basics—especially as far as defining mathematical terms.  Saxon is very teaching intensive, meaning unlike ALEKS, Saxon requires ME to really do the teaching.  So far, I am enjoying it—I’m learning and “cementing” concepts right along with the kids.  The kids are a little less than impressed with the drills, but we make it fun by turning the drills into games and even making goofy flash cards.  At this point, my kids would technically be considered “behind” in math if they were in a public school, but they are progressing nicely since we switched to Saxon and they are liking math a whole lot more.  (And I am liking math a whole lot more!)  I have no doubt they will catch up with their public school peers within the next few months.  My goal is to have them into the next books by January, putting them “at grade level” by the end of the year.
Outside of the core classes, our kids will continue with Rosetta Stone Spanish, use BrainPOP as a supplement for science and history, and they’ll also be involved in extra-curriculars.  They are currently lined up for tae kwon do, Cantus Youth Choirs, Boy Scouts, and various church youth development programs.  Ellen is now old enough for volunteer work at the local library and humane society, and she’s expressed a strong desire to do both.  The challenge with that will be trying to find time to serve in an already busy schedule---we want to make sure we prioritize non-school related family time.
An important component of family time is our religious devotions and study.  I admit, we really still are “fly by the seat of your pants” in this area.  We have gotten very good at having a Monday night devotional, which in LDS lingo is formally called Family Home Evening, but other study and devotions, including scripture study, have been hit or miss.
In an effort to bring our spiritual development to the forefront this year, I have created Personal Prayer/Personal Scripture Study, and Family Prayer/Family Scripture Study cards to use in our Visual Schedule each day.  Since I implemented the schedule and these cards, we’ve seen steady improvement from each child and as a family.  Of course, the average family scripture study period consists of reading a verse or two, and asking the kids to sum up the principle taught in that verse, or summarizing a favorite scripture story (Daniel in the Lion’s Den is my personal favorite, as is the Nativity story.)  It’s not long and it’s not particularly deep, but it’s a start.  I would like to get us singing hymns (which means we need to memorize them, which means we need to practice them—but I haven’t figured out how to get the kids excited about that yet.)
I am really looking forward to the “official” school year—so far, we’ve been taking a relaxed approach to the curriculum for this coming year—easing into it, if you will.  I plan to ramp it up come August 21.  This is the day that the local kids go back to school and there’s a great energy that just comes with that “back to school” atmosphere—even though my kids aren’t hopping on the big yellow bus.  We’ll take advantage of everyone else’s excitement and get rolling right along with them! 

Planning for Fall 2012

I’m going to hit the ground running at the end of August with some new ideas to start off the new “school year.”  The last couple of years have been rather chaotic due to some family drama, birth of a baby, and moving a number of reasons, and while we still managed to get school stuff done, I wasn’t nearly as organized as the kids needed me to be.
I admit, I am NOT a structure person—the thought of keeping to a calendar or committing to regularly scheduled ANYTHING makes me hyperventilate.  I blame it on an artistic disposition—but my children all inherited their father’s need for routine, and frankly, I’m tired of hearing:
“What are we going to do today?”
or more likely: “Can we watch Netflix?”
or more likely: “Can I play games on the computer/Wii/phone?”
or most likely: “I’ve done my morning chores and the other kids aren’t done with theirs and haven’t even eaten breakfast, and it’s not time to do school yet, so can I play games on the computer/Wii/phone?”
I’m tired of telling them no (and feeling guilty when telling them yes) and I realized that despite the copious amount of reading the kids all do—they are BORED OUT OF THEIR MINDS!
Now, I realize it’s summer time, and that a little boredom is a good thing—it forces the kids to use their imagination (or get chores done on the off chance Mom catches them moaning about their lack of activities/entertainment.)  But that’s a different post.  My point here is—we gotta change this up for the school year, or we’re going to go out of our ever-loving minds.
Enter The Visual Schedule!
One day, while scrolling through friends’ statuses on Facebook, I noticed a buddy had commented on this post over at Simple Homeschool.  Normally, I avoid anything that even remotely resembles a formal schedule, but for some reason, I latched onto the idea and became obsessed with creating my own visual schedule—one I could point at when the kids ask “What are we going to do today?” and they don’t buy my default answer: We’re going to try to take over the world.”
I won’t go into the nitty gritties of explaining how I put it together, it’s beautifully done here, in a post by Stephanie at Keeper of the Home and is the model I used to create our own.  The only difference between Stephanie’s set up and mine is that I opted to arrange our schedule on the fridge using magnets I bought at the dollar store, rather than using a teacher’s pocket wall chart.  I’m cheap, what can I say?
Each night, I (or one of the kids, under my direction) put together the next day’s schedule.  The kids love this because they get to see what’s coming up and can anticipate how things are going to roll once they crawl out of bed toward the Fruit Loops.  I love this because the kids know what I expect them to get done before we start school, and it helps keep me focused and on task in making sure the kids are getting in the work (house and school) that needs to be done.
Of course, most days don’t go EXACTLY as planned.  We change things around if the flow of our day needs some tweaking.  We occasionally add or subtract activities if needed.  So, the schedule is flexible, which keeps me from having to breathe into a paper bag while bringing a bit of order to the place!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Of Bugs and Boys

  I took the kids to the nature park yesterday and we wandered around on the little trails that meander through some woods and over streams and ponds. The kids were pretty excited about the wildlife they saw—which consisted mostly of song birds and bugs.

Blythe had a sad incident with a roly poly---he found one on the trail and after showing it to Evelyn, announced “Roly polies live in the dirt. I am going to help him find a new home.” 

He spent a couple of minutes searching and found a nice patch of dirt at the edge of the trail. Gently, and with great ceremony, he placed the bug in the dirt. It started rolling back towards the path so Blythe pressed it with a finger in an effort to sink it into the dirt. I got distracted by the baby about then and only looked up when Blythe let out a bloodcurdling shriek. I thought maybe he’d been stung by something. I tried to get Blythe to use words rather than wail, and we came to a compromise.

He wailed in plain English, “I crushed the roly poly!”

He followed this unfortunate declaration by falling to his knees with anguished sobs. It was melodramatic, but he was in earnest. He flung his hands heavenward and cried, “I didn’t MEAN to squish him! I was only trying to help him find a comfy home in the dirt!” (the last word was drawn out to the point of unintelligibility.)
It was all I could do to NOT LAUGH at the kid. He was so sad. He carried on for quite awhile, even after Calvin had picked up the semi-squished roly poly and declared it “nope, not dead.” (It was in a bad way, however, and I put it out of it’s misery as soon as Blythe was facing the trail again.)

Blythe continued to lament until we were about halfway through our walk.  At that point, Gloria found another roly poly and there was a tussle over who got to hold it. Eventually, Blythe convinced Gloria to let him carry it. He found another patch of dirt, and (with extra gentleness but less pomp than the last time) deposited the bug. After watching to make sure it stayed put, he exulted. “Mom! I didn’t squish THIS roly poly!”

And thus, Blythe was absolved from involuntary bug-slaughter.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dress Code: Clothing Optional

I don’t know why, but all my kids have gone through what we affectionately call “The Nudie Phase.” From about age two to age five, none of my children would wear clothes. And unless we were going grocery shopping or to church, I was pretty much okay with that…

But then, I ended up with a kid who wanted to be naked even in the winter. Of course, I would insist that he wear clothes to go outside, but then I would find him like this:

At least he was willing to wear gloves...

This is Why We Do What We Do: Sibling Bonding Edition

One of the joys of homeschooling is watching my kids interacting and watching them grow closer together as siblings and friends.  Ellen, age 11, LOVES to cart around Baby Evelyn, and is a huge help to me when I’m working with the other kids. And Evelyn LOVES being with Ellen. One day, while I was working on spelling with the younger kids, I noticed the house was very quiet.  Too quiet.  I got up to investigate and discovered the girls, snuggled up together on my bed, completely zonked out.

The Ultimate Field Trip: PE in Winter Edition

Once or twice a year, our dear friends from DC come to Utah to visit family.  We try to meet up with them for at least a day.  This time, we met up to go skiing at Snow Basin:
Okay, so we’re not skiing here, we’re picnicking. In 28 degree weather.  It was actually pretty cozy, thanks to the heaters we dragged over to our table and turned on full blast.  We weren’t allowed to bring our wheelbarrow full of food into the lodge, so we had to eat outside.

Now we’re skiing. Snow Basin actually has an awesome Learn It to Earn It program, wherein you pay for three or four ski lessons and once you’ve completed them, you get a season pass. The lessons were pretty reasonably priced for cheapskates like us—I think Blythe’s lesson cost the most at 65 bucks, even though he was the youngest—or perhaps BECAUSE he was the youngest.
  He had to be brought out to the slopes as follows:
I think his teacher stuck him here so she could keep tabs on him until he had his skis on. He kept running off before the lesson—he was told to go use the bathroom and didn’t want to, but then he decided he DID want to and barricaded himself inside the men’s bathroom.  The other kids and Julio were already on the slopes, so guess who had to go in after him?  (It’s a good thing I don’t spook easily.)

The kid turned out to be a pretty quick learner and was taking the little bumps and obstacle course on the bunny hill on his own in no time.  He even learned how to bring himself to a stop, without running into other people.  He perfected the fall-on-your-side method of stopping.
The other kids enjoyed their lessons—they seemed to like crash landing as much as the actual skiing.
We had a great day—the kids and our friends on the slopes, me and the baby taking pictures from the lodge.  By the time the resort closed, it was time for a nap….
and a bath back at the hotel.

We had so much fun on this trip—even had time to grab dinner at a Mexican joint with another friend before heading home for Idaho (but I failed to take pictures of that event. Darn it! Oh well, next time!)

Assumptions and Awesomeness, or, It’s Not You, it’s Me….ALLLLLLLL ME!

WARNING: Late night rant. Proceed at your own risk.
What is up with people feeling the need to volunteer why they could NEVER homeschool their children when they learn that I homeschool mine? Almost without fail, upon learning I’m a homeschooler, people IMMEDIATELY launch into all the reasons why they CAN’T or WON’T homeschool. Rarely am I ever asked why I chose to homeschool or what prompted me to make the decision to teach my tribe at home.  A typical introductory conversation goes like this:
Person: So, where do your kids go to school?
Me: We homeschool.
Person: Oh, Lord. I could NEVER homeschool. Ijustdon’thavethepatienceIneedneedabreakfrommykidsI’mnothatorganizedIcouldn’tstandthemessIcan’tdealwithmykidsoverjustthesummermuchlesslongerthanthatWebuttheadsoverhomeworkwhywouldIwantodothat24/7I’mnotthatselfdisciplineddidImentionIdon’thavethepatienceforsomethinglikethat?
Me, mentally: Holy crap, you didn’t even take a breath!

Then, after being assaulted by this litany, I’m always left feeling I have to say something to reassure the person that they are perfectly normal and I’m a nut job or to try to convince them that:
I very often want to scream
I want to flee to Vegas
I desperately crave some alone time
I made the kids use the neighbor’s toilet because someone clogged ours with a stuffed animal and a plastic bag
I’m not a disciple of Martha Stewart
I’d much rather sleep or read a good book than make sure the kids are practicing their times tables. 
But what I want to do is ask:
Why do you feel the need to hurry and tell me why you’re incapable of homeschooling?
Do you think I’m judging you?
Do you think I’m going to try to convert you?
What exactly do you think homeschooling involves?
When people launch unasked or unprovoked into their reasons for why they won’t/can’t homeschool, they are being defensive—which means they feel threatened…but why do they feel threatened?  I’m actually a fervent supporter of good public schools and of making good education available free of charge to the masses.  I don’t think homeschooling and public schooling should be an either/or issue.  I think homeschooling should just be one of the many viable educational options.  But no one really knows that because I can’t get a word in edgewise to even reassure them that IT’S OKAY NOT TO HOMESCHOOL!
So ease up, folks.  You don’t have to defend yourself to me. Live and let live. And BREATHE.  Please BREATHE. 
But, just soze ya know, I’m tired of trying to be relatable and convince you that I’m just like you. If you’re determined to believe that I am such a saint, so be it. Put me on that pedestal.  I’ve decided I’m pretty damn awesome after all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

And Where Have YOU Been?!?

Okay, so I haven't written anything since I started my travelogue.  To be honest, I've been too "close" to the experience to want to relive it right away---and I stayed away from blogging anything because I felt like I had to FINISH the travelogue.  And I will finish it.  Just not today...and probably not tomorrow, either.  But, I"m back, committed to writing regularly ("regularly" being defined as "whenever I feel like it.")  And here are the two biggest reasons I'm back: and These two blogs are completely different and yet both of them speak to me and inspire me. 
The first of the pair is written by Stacey Lytle, a fellow homeschooling mom and personal friend.  She's also a small business owner, an event planner, a motivational speaker, and aspiring author. She's been one of my mentors since I started this homeschooling gig and I've learned significant lessons from her, like how to look on the positive side of any situation, how important it is to be inclusive and loving, how to be a cheerleader for my kids and everyone else, how to ask the right questions, how to plan social events, how to laugh at myself, how to muster enthusiasm and interest when I'd rather be sleeping or crying or running screaming from the room.  Stacey is positive, insightful, spiritually-minded, loving, and a lot of fun--all the things I wish I was. I get a kick out of reading her blog because it's so HER...she makes me feel like I can accomplish ANYTHING. She writes about her own homeschooling and life experiences and her spiritual journey. Oh, and if you thought it couldn't get any better, every now and then she tucks recipes into her posts.  Ain't nothin' better than Momma's Waffles. (Just ask my kids.)
The second blog is technically a website, with a blog thrown in...or something.  I don't really know how it all breaks down in tech-lingo.  Anyway, the writer of Rage Against the Mini-van is Kristen Howerton, who is not a homeschool mom and not a personal friend (but I wish she was.)  Kristen is the mother of four kids. She's also a Marriage and Family Therapist and freelance writer. She writes about all kinds of things, from the quotidian aspects of parenthood, to issues of race, politics, religion, social justice, adoption, and pop culture.  She also has a guest post series called "What I Want You to Know" wherein folks can write about what they want the world to know about their particular life experiences.  Kristen is fascinating, thought provoking, and funny--in a wry, tell-it-as-it-is kind of way.
These women feed my heart and mind and make me want to write all kinds of stuff---tomorrow.  Right now I need to catch some zzz's while the baby is sleeping.  I"m hoping for a solid four hours tonight.  Wish me luck.