A Hike in the Woods

Almost daily I feel overwhelming gratitude for where we live. Not just America, not just East Tennessee. I love our little town, our corner of the county, our neighborhood, and our home. I recognize this is a huge blessing, as many people wish they lived elsewhere in the country, elsewhere in their city, elsewhere in their county.

We are doing what we’ve been told to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission: We are keeping to ourselves unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out. Obviously, I’m still accompanying Dad to radiation (today begins Week 4 of 6). We have made quick trips to the store, and we’ve ordered take-out from our favorite Mexican restaurant. Otherwise, we’re laying low.

Yesterday we had a break in the rain, so we took the opportunity to surgically remove the boys from electronics and go for a hike. Jeremy drove us!

This was my first time riding with him other than a quick spin around the mall parking lot months ago. Chuck has been handling all the instruction, and I’m happy to report that I felt safe and secure in the back seat with my seatbelt on. It helped that the roads were mostly empty.

The trail we walked is a 13-mile drive from our house.

When Major was younger, we’d let him run off the leash and wear out his energy on trails like these. He’d never go too far ahead of us or stay too far behind, but with his nose to the ground, he’d enjoy the adventure. Now, at almost seven and a half, Major’s energy wanes more quickly. Yet, he’s still an explorer and always plays around in the water if he can get to it.

Thankfully, the boys didn’t resist the hike. They didn’t even complain. Perhaps they too realized the air in our house had become stale and a walk in the fresh air would do them some good.

It still looks like winter in places where we live, but spring is poking through. There were little tufts of green scattered throughout the forest. In a matter of weeks, green will replace all the brown and create a canopy of shade over the trails.

I thought this felled tree looked like a dragon’s head.

A quick song for the forest animals:

We went roughly three miles, and honestly, we could’ve stayed out longer. We have all kinds of time on the weekends since we can’t visit my dad and everything is closed (rightfully so).

Today we get back to homeschooling, working from home, and taking almost-daily trips to the UT Cancer Institute. I have no idea how long this quarantine will continue, but I have a sneaking suspicion that our spring semester will end like this – communicating online and participating in virtual classrooms. It’s not a huge adjustment for us since we’ve been homeschooling since 2012, but it’s not what we prefer.

If you’d told me 2020 was going to look like this, I never would’ve believed you. How is it only March?

August 2019

We’re only halfway through the month, but the momentum of the new school is already giving me whiplash. Is summer really over? For real?

At the tail end of July, we celebrated my Mom’s birthday with dinner on the river, then presents and homemade carrot cake back at our house.

The following week was MY birthday, and we were together again on the river since Chuck rented a boat for the day and the weather was completely perfect.

Corey came up to spend the weekend with me too, so we spent my actual birthday lounging with mimosas and doing a little shopping. We became best friends at 14, but I gotta say we look better now at 41.

But back to the river. We keep daydreaming about getting a boat, but honestly, we think renting a few times each summer is the way to go for now. We’re too busy and we want to keep traveling as much as possible. Perhaps owning a boat will be part of our retirement plan, or at least a “The boys moved out! Let’s celebrate!” plan.

We officially started our ninth year of homeschooling on Monday, August 12, and I swear I’m going to take professional photos of the boys. I used to be good about that, but if you know what it’s like to have teenagers, then you understand that taking pictures of them is a crapshoot. Sometimes they’re down for it, but most of the time they’re not.

Our first day of school at home was complete with Salem laying on top of their French work. It reminded me of Henri, le Chat Noir.

Jeremy is in 10th grade and taking the usual suspects: Chemistry, Geometry, English, and American History. He also has French, a Bible class, and chess. Jackson is in 8th grade, also taking French, English, and American History. He’s doing Algebra at home, and Life Science with Dissection at our co-op. We’re only a week in, so no casualties yet.

The weekend before we started school was a complete joy from beginning to end. It was our second Girls Weekend of the year, so hopefully, we’ll grab one more before the close of 2019.

The summer was lovely, a perfect mixture of busy and still. There were a few steaming, hot weeks, as well as that fall-like weather in July (wasn’t it divine?). I kept busy with freelance work, prepping for the school year (I teach four classes), and catching up on reading fiction.

I have to admit – I’m still thinking about our European vacation in May, and sometimes I catch myself wondering if it was real. We are dedicated low-fare hunters now, TRAVELERS ON THE CHEAP. We are looking and booking and daydreaming about what’s to come. And, since I never shared the video I made from our trip to England, Italy, France, and Monaco, here is it for you to enjoy:

Summer is in the rearview

We are fully immersed in the fall schedule – homeschool co-op classes, soccer for Jeremy, another round of equine therapy for Jack, and other extracurriculars that give us little breathing room. Jeremy worked about 20 to 25 hours a week during the summer months, but he’s back down to 10 or 12, a more manageable number. Now that he’s in high school and the demands on him are greater, time management will be the ultimate task this year. Fingers crossed. These are necessary growing pains.

Jeremy’s two greatest loves are soccer and LEGO, so he’s entirely consistent with the person he’s been from the start. He plays for a local private school along with a smattering of other homeschooled kids, including one of his best friends, which means Chuck and I are officially soccer parents. I still don’t recognize fouls, and I can’t tell you a lot about certain positions, but I’m paying attention and learning. 

Jackson will be back in the saddle this week for equine therapy, or Horse Hangout Hour, as he calls it, and we couldn’t be more pleased with our experience in the program. 

Before the summer wound down for good, we took the boys and their friends to Brickmania, a LEGO convention, in August. Jeremy and Foster melted into the crowd immediately, plenty old enough to explore and walk around on their own. Jackson and Libby stayed with Chuck and me, as they are not quite old enough to maneuver the convention center without help. (They are two peas in a pod though!) 

I love the LEGO convention, but this year’s exhibits weren’t nearly as impressive as last year’s. 

There were also fewer vendors, to Jeremy’s dismay, though that didn’t keep him from spending more than $100 on mini-figures and whatever else he bought. (This is where the part-time job comes in handy!)

I don’t have a single photo of Jeremy from the LEGO convention because, at almost 15, he’s over it. I could press him to stand and smile for me, but the sheer panic and embarrassment is ever-present on his face. I’m learning to leave him be and not succumb to the pressure to document everything.

This guy still poses with Mom though: 

I am busier than ever, and I’m trying to figure out whether I’m over-committed or still trying to hone my own time management skills. I wrote a ton over the summer – editing the novel and freelance writing, along with settling into a position I accepted in May as editorial coordinator of a new local magazine. Now I’m in the classroom teaching four English classes at our co-op – English for 9th and 10th grade, Composition for middle grades, Literature and Creative Writing for middle grades, and Grammar/Mechanics of Writing for upper elementary/lower middle grades. It is true when I say I love everything I’m doing, but it is also true that my brain has little down time. Gosh, has it ever? 

For the curious, the works I’m teaching this year are We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Fahrenheit 451, Frankenstein, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Great Divorce, The Giver, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Wonderstruck, Black Beauty, I am Malala, A Study in Scarlet, and a hefty collection of short stories from various eras, ethnicities, and genres. 

There is reprieve coming soon though. Chuck and I finally booked the trip we’ve been wanting to take for well more than a decade. No more waiting. Time, for all we know, is short. 

In the meantime, FOOTBALL SEASON IS BACK and the Packers play the Bears on Sunday. I am ready. 

Let’s hope this guy is ready too: 

A Midday Escape

Yesterday was a bad day of school. Those days happen. Sometimes it’s on account of bad moods, other times it’s that the level of exhaustion is so high that we just can’t get it together. Yesterday was a perfect mixture of poor attitude, fatigue, and being so done with the school year that the finish line is close but not close enough.

So today, after math and French, we ran off to the mountains. Everything else could wait.

The mountains were particularly tempting to visit because it’s FINALLY warm. Maybe our month of cold snaps has passed.

Days like this are valuable to me. It’s partly why I love homeschooling — the freedom to GO and DO is too hard to resist.

After our hike we visited the Townsend Wye so the boys could skip rocks and I could sit still for a while and listen to the rushing water.

I love this place, particularly when it’s not swarming with tourists. Come late-May, this river will be full of swimmers, tubers, and kayakers and we’ll have to run off to a lesser-known spot.

But today? It was all ours.

We shared our space with the butterflies.

We lingered for a while longer, until hunger set in and everything had been explored.

We have about four more weeks of school and today seemed like exactly what we needed to re-energize our efforts. It’s the same story every April, and running off to the mountains seems to do the trick.

We also visited my father in law today, both on our way in and out of the national park since his house is on the way. If you are praying for him, please continue to do so. We are grateful for the time we have left to spend with him.

A second spring break

As homeschoolers, we do what we want. It’s glorious. It’s magnificent.

Our first spring break was spent at home, and truth be told, we still did math and reading while on hiatus from our homeschool cooperative. It wasn’t a full respite because we knew we had a second break coming – one that involved travel and excitement beyond compare.

Several years ago my sweet sister decided that she needed to take my children to Disney World since we weren’t going to. NO PROBLEM, I said, and threw some money her way. In 2015, Jeremy joined her family at Disney, and eventually, it would be Jackson’s turn.

This was his year.

On top of the Disney adventure, we decided it was also time to fork over the cash and visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since it was built. Both Jeremy and Jackson are fans of the books and movies, so we’ve been counting the days until we could finally head to Orlando.

There is much to say about the experience, but in this particular post, I’ll be brief. I was overwhelmed to the point of tears, and not I’m not exaggerating. (Chuck has photographic proof, which I won’t be sharing publicly.) Since reading the first book in 2001 and seeing the final film in 2011, to watching both of my children fall in love with the series and love it as I do, going to Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley was an experience that spotlighted nearly two decades fandom. 

The impeccable detail of these two scenes left me fully satisfied, feeling like I’d actually walked into a magical world and lived there for one full day. YES, I bought a wand (Professor McGonagall’s). YES, I bought a Chocolate Frog. YES, we rode the Hogwarts Express. YES, we tried Butterbeer.

There is much to say about how it all felt, but I know what you really want is to see photos. They’re coming. I’ve got a few things to check off my to-do list before I tackle editing them.

Chuck, Jeremy, and I returned home late Wednesday night, leaving Jackson in Orlando with my sister and her family. He still had Disney World to experience, after all. From what I’ve seen in texts and Snaps, he’s living his best life. He’s loving every minute. Two magical experiences in one week is too good to be true for an 11-year-old. 

And yet, it’s all real. 

Answering your [very personal] questions about homeschooling

When we made the decision to homeschool during the summer of 2011, it came at the tail end of a difficult time. We’d just moved back to Tennessee after a tumultuous three years in Texas. Chuck’s mother passed away, and so did our family dog, and no one seemed able to adjust to the new normal, including Jeremy, who’d been uprooted in the second half of first grade and still wasn’t able to read and write on grade level. By June, Chuck’s aunt passed away and left in our care her 50-year-old son who is physically and mentally disabled. Again, as if on cue, our lives looked very different from what we expected.

By July 2011, we were all exhausted.

We all needed the sort of rest that couldn’t be recouped on a long weekend. Public school registration was right around the corner and, by all accounts, I should’ve been preparing to send my boys to second grade and Kindergarten. Until that summer, I never considered homeschooling. In fact, when our boys were babies we lived down the street from a large homeschooling family and as much as I loved and admired them, I didn’t think homeschooling was for us. We went to church with several homeschooling families, but they didn’t influence me. It didn’t capture my appeal. Homeschooling wasn’t on the radar.

But then, in 2011, with a hearing-impaired second grader who couldn’t read and a Kindergartener on the Autism Spectrum who just started speaking full sentences, I couldn’t imagine sending them to traditional school. After talking to a local homeschooling family and doing mounds of research, we decided the 2011-2012 school year was going to happen at home. We needed the world to stop spinning and I had the power to stop it.

So, we hopped off the traditional school train and, frankly, we never hopped back on.

Here we are, entering our seventh year of homeschooling, and I remain grateful for the privilege we have to educate our boys both at home and in the world. Our co-op adds to our experience tenfold, and the freedom we have to GO and DO is something I never want to surrender.

And yet, with all of these GOOD THINGS, I am still gobsmacked at the questions and comments I get both from strangers and people who know and love us. Sometimes the remarks are bold and insensitive, and sometimes they are veiled with genuine concern.

Still, it surprises me, so this post is designed to address your concerns and hopefully settle your mind about what I’m doing with my kids.

The following questions are real questions I’ve gotten from family members, friends, church members, and total strangers we encounter in the world. My answers are the real answers I gave in the moment:

“Do they get to see other kids?”

Yes, and often. Our co-op, which is made up of hundreds of families, meets weekly. They have friends in the neighborhood and friends across town, plus sports seasons each spring and fall and weekly volunteer work. I swear they are social.

Actually, they are tired of hearing this sort of question. When our family physician asked if I’d considered sending them back to school for socialization, before I could answer him Jeremy flung his hands in the air and said, “WHY DO PEOPLE THINK WE DON’T HAVE FRIENDS?” I laughed and shook my head.

“How will they learn to get up for work if they don’t get up for school each day?”

They do get up for school each day, but it’s at 8:30 a.m. instead of 6 a.m. Also, Jeremy just started a part-time job, and what do you know? He wakes up for it!

Furthermore, the rat race of the morning commute is something people adjust to all the time, not because they got up for school for 12 or 16 years, but because that’s what adults do. They adjust to dozens of requirements throughout their lives at any given point. Homeschooling has allowed our boys to get good rest and still adhere to general standard of daily living – get up, get dressed, and tend to your responsibilities. For what it’s worth, I think kids, in general, would benefit from a shorter school day and more time to play and rest.

“How will they learn about competition if they aren’t on a sports team?”

They’ve both played on sports teams since they were very young, though it’s been through local parks and recreation instead of the school system. Also, they’ll have the opportunity to play on local high school teams if they choose, but even still – competition isn’t solely reserved for sports. There’s competition of ideas and other achievements that are just as worthwhile. Competition happens in the co-op classroom and within their personal goal-setting. There are loads of kids in traditional school who don’t play sports, but I’m sure they experience competition in other ways.

“You’ll have to cut the apron strings sometime.”

I agree, but homeschooling doesn’t mean our apron strings are any tighter than those who send their kids to traditional school. More times than not, high schoolers who are homeschooled have more opportunity to work while in school because their hours are flexible. Additionally, homeschooling during the high school years is, in large part, self-led, so they don’t rely on Mom and Dad as much as you’d think. I’ve seen plenty of traditional high school graduates go off to college and fail miserably because they weren’t prepared on a basic level to be on their own. I won’t speak for other homeschooling families, but in our house we’ve been open and honest from the very beginning – we love you, but you can’t live here forever.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

I don’t know how I do it either, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I couldn’t be around my kids all day.”

I’m sorry to hear that. The boys get on my nerves too sometimes, but in homeschooling attitude is everything. As long as our attitudes are good, homeschooling is a breeze. Plus, I’ve noticed that all the moms who say this to me are the same moms who say they’re kids are growing up too fast. That’s not a feeling I’ve experienced, and I think it’s because I’ve been alongside them at every stage.

“Do you ever test them?”

Yes and no. Yes, they take weekly math and vocabulary tests. No, they don’t take standardized testing. Yes, they have quizzes and tests in some of their co-op classes. No, we don’t make up grades based on our love for our kids. Yes, they’ll take SAT and ACT prep courses just like every other high schooler, but no, we aren’t worrying about those things right now. I’m required to turn in grades to our umbrella school so they have official transcripts, and testing helps procure those grades.

“Are you going really going to homeschool them in high school?”

Yes, I really am. At least, that’s the plan. Anything can happen to alter the plan, but barring no major life changes, yes, we’ll continue homeschooling throughout high school. I can’t imagine sending them to traditional school at this point, particularly since many of the hard classes that I don’t want to teach are available at the co-op. For example, last year Jeremy took Life Science with Dissection. I was so pleased that he was able to dissect sharks and snakes and whatnot at the co-op and not in my kitchen. Also at co-op is Calculus, Biology, and dual enrollment courses with one of our local community college. So yeah, we’re good to go.

I appreciate your concern. Really, I do. But think about it – what if I asked you, “Are you really going to send your kids to public school?”  How would you respond?

Wait, never mind. I’d never ask you a question like that.

In the path of totality

We were some of the lucky ones whose house was situated in the path of totality, so a handful of friends from Knoxville and Chattanooga joined us for the eclipse yesterday. Before the solar party got started, the boys played outside and got all hot and sweaty. We had plenty of water and pizza to keep everyone hydrated and happy.

They each had glasses, so occasionally they’d stop to check the status of the moon’s progress.

Before totality hit, our neighbor rode over on her horse, which was a huge treat for all of us.

You don’t go into a total eclipse thinking you’ll also get to pet a horse!

Catherine was excited to feed Shera some clover.

As the time neared for totality, we all gathered on the back patio for a good view.

Right before the moon fully covered the sun, all the kids jumped on the retaining wall.

We reached totality! I wish I’d had the forethought to videotape everyone’s reactions. All the “oohs” and “ahhs” from kids and adults alike…

Glasses off! I didn’t want to use a flash and ruin the view, so this photo was taken with only the dimmest light from the dark sky:

What a treat! We witnessed something that can’t be described with ordinary words. While science explains a total eclipse with accuracy, I felt we experienced God’s creativity at its finest.

And since I never make it into these photos, thank you, Karin, for capturing this one!

Catherine was less interested in the eclipse and more interested in exploring my house and enjoying snacks. I didn’t mind one bit! Love her!

Thanks to everyone who joined us! We were happy to have you!

Sixth and Eighth Grade

Here we go – our seventh year of homeschooling, navigating this crazy path I never imagined. Again, I am shocked that this is what we do, and yet I cannot imagine doing it any other way. We are the luckiest ducks I know.

Lest you think we’re holding our children captive behind the bars of homeschooling, I assure you they love it.

Jeremy is a month away from turning 14 and told me multiple times that he has “a good feeling about this year.” Be it his co-op classes or his new job or feeling confident about his soccer skills, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s all of the above.

Though much has changed with this boy in the last year in regards to maturity and responsibility, he is consistent in his love for Legos, Harry Potter, animals and sea life, soccer, and spending time with friends.

We are immensely proud of him. Jeremy consistently shows a desire to be challenged and trusted. Even when he fails, the turnaround time to correction is quick. Jeremy is intuitive and sharp, and his sense of humor gets better every day.

Jackson starts sixth grade today, which means we have two middle schoolers in the house at the same time!

Jackson continues to be our happy, spunky sports-loving kiddo who always brings light to a room. He is crazy smart in math, which is why he’s a grade ahead in that department. We continue to encourage his interest in becoming a statistician. He still reads a ton, sleeps a ton, and loves his stuffed animals as if they are real. (I was the same way.)

While he loves watching sports of all kinds, Jackson continues to struggle with balance and spatial awareness, so he recently started occupational therapy to help sort those things out. I’m excited to see his handwriting improve!

Seriously, his smile is the best.

We’re all excited for this school year. We’ve settled in nicely at our co-op and the boys are thrilled with the classes they’re taking. I’m teaching three courses, which I confess makes me a touch nervous. The workload feels heavy, but hopefully I’ve prepared well enough to manage accordingly.

Cheers to a good year. May we all make it out unscathed.

Crawling to summer

This is how the school day begins:

Crawling from the bed to the floor in the school room. Lounging until the last minute. Taking advantage of Mom’s fatigue because I don’t want to start school either.

Let’s start at 9. No, 9:30. Okay, 10.

How many more pages in math? Okay, just do two. Take your time. Yes, go on the front porch. It’s a beautiful morning. Yes, you can finish that later. Go play basketball and listen to your audiobook. I’ll be in the garden.

The day is so lovely! Go play outside.

We’re in the hardest part of the school year. Summer is RIGHT THERE. We can almost touch it. Lazy days of sleeping in and goofing off are within arm’s reach. It’s immensely difficult to stay focused, and while I grant the boys (and myself) a lot of slack, I can’t let us slip too far because we’ll only regret it in August.

But man oh man, how I’d love to just slack… slack like Salem on an afternoon nap.

We will finish the school year in two weeks and check the boxes for fifth and seventh grade. I will wrap up my first year of teaching at our co-op, which has been light years better than I anticipated. (I prepared to struggle. I did not prepare to love these kids as much as I do.)

Our plans for the summer are minimal since I am fiercely protective of our time. With school on hiatus, I’ll have more time to devote to writing fiction, which I’ve missed. There’s soccer camp and a wedding to photograph and time with my nephews. I’m crossing my fingers for a trip to Amarillo to see Michele. There are other things I’d like to do or the boys want to do, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

For now, though, we are crawling. Inching. Looking into the bright light at the end of this short tunnel.

See you soon, summer. We’ve missed you.

 

Jackson + ESPN Encyclopedias

If you know Jackson, then you know he’s a ferocious reader. This fact alone is a sentence I wasn’t sure I’d type eight years ago when our toddler screamed instead of talked, or even six years ago when our four year old spoke gibberish. Early intervention and a couple of fabulous teachers in Amarillo, Texas, were life changers. (Thank you Mrs. Manley and Mrs. Kathy!)

Jackson learned to talk and eventually read, two skills in which he continues to excel. Add in his love of sports and ease at which he understands math and we may have a budding statistician in our midst. (One can hope and encourage!)

Two years ago, Jackson and I went to the library, a favorite hobby we share, and wandered to the back rows where the oversized books are shelved. There we found the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.

Mind blown. At least, for Jackson it was mind-blowing. It is a five-pound, 1600-page book of numbers and historical stories from every college football program in the country. We checked it out and he spent hours each day poring over the text. When it was time to return the book, we renewed it. This went on for a year.

Then last year, for his tenth birthday, I bought him his own copy. I also found the college basketball encyclopedia, giving him more than 3,500 pages of stats to memorize.

Yesterday, as I sat on the orange couch in my purple library, where he sits each day for school and to read, I noticed the basketball encyclopedia opened to the Virginia Military Institute. This is where he left off the day before.

Gosh. So boring, right? I mean. GEEZ.

But look at how loved those pages are? So worn and soft. He’s been reading these books for months and months, always sharing random facts that he learns, information from colleges I’ve never heard of, stats from fifty years ago or more. Last night we went on a walk while Jeremy was at soccer practice and he rattled off a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (and their subsequent stats), which I didn’t even realize he knew existed. 

I don’t get it, but I love that he loves it. I love that he’s fixated on the details because it shows a great capacity for interpreting information. I love that he takes these books anywhere he knows he’ll be bored, such as a waiting room or at church.

Jackson is my misunderstood child, the one with quirks and curious habits. He flaps his arms and snaps his fingers, and his brain gets stuck on something to the point of obsession. But, he’s sharp and bright. He’s affectionate and tender. His smile and laugh are infectious. He excels in ways I didn’t think were possible, which makes the ways he struggles easier to endure. I don’t know where Jackson will end up in life, but we’ll continue to nurture this interest he has. We’re nearly two years in, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Signs of Life Day Twenty-One

I love the comfort and calm of our routine. It grounds me, rejuvenates me, and reminds me that the life we’ve chosen is right for us. What we do is not always what others would do, and yet, that’s the beauty of it. We’ve crafted a specific style of life that isn’t for everyone, but it’s for us.

It is a blessing to say, “This wasn’t what I’ve resorted to. This isn’t what I’ve been told to do. This isn’t what I was given. I choose it every day in its entirety.” 

And what is it, exactly? What’s this thing we’ve created?

It’s not just homeschooling, because that can look a thousand different ways depending on the household. It’s not just our family rules about electronics or the internet, or our standards about what food we eat and beverages we drink. It’s not that we put our marriage before the kids or that we put a high emphasis on balanced wellness. It’s not where we live or don’t live. It isn’t our involvement in church, or that we go to church at all. It isn’t about what we believe politically or socially, or what we’re involved in or not involved in.

It’s ALL OF IT. It’s every decision we make each day that pushes us towards the goal of making this the best life possible.

Sometimes it’s the tiniest decision – like separating the boys while the do school work. They have their individual spaces with little distraction. I can talk to them singly rather than making everything a group conversation. The house is quieter this way, so they can concentrate. Also, we all need some space from one another once in a while. This seemingly insignificant decision makes for a smoother morning, which helps create a more amiable afternoon, and if I’m lucky, it might even overflow into a peaceable evening. 

Sometimes the decision is big, like saying no to something one of the boys wants to be involved in because the time commitment is too much. Or the cost is too high, or the schedule is unreasonable, or one boy is already involved in something and we prefer they take turns so the family isn’t pulled in two directions. It’s hard saying no, but sometimes saying no to one child means saying yes to the entire family.

Several years ago Chuck and I agreed we wouldn’t run circles around the schedule, and we’ve done well to stick to it. After all, we can’t be together all the time, all four of us, so making the family a priority is, well, a priority.

Today we learned that a soccer opportunity won’t pan out for Jeremy this season, so it’s back to Parks and Rec for him. This isn’t bad news, but it’s disappointing, especially to him. It was enough of a disappointment for me to consider whether or not there is a reason to rearrange everything:

If he was in traditional public school, he could just join the soccer team there…

But if he was in traditional public school, our entire life would upend…

He could still try out for the local county team we’re zoned for as a homeschooler, but that’s a can of worms I’m not ready to open yet…  

So, it looks like we’ll just sit in this disappointment for a moment and then point to all the reasons why it’s okay. Other opportunities will come along, so let’s be optimistic. We can’t control everything, but for the things we can control, we do so diligently and with intention.

Because this is the only life we have, we can’t waste it on being too busy.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Ten

I’m currently working on class descriptions for next year, which means I’m knee-deep in book selections for middle schoolers. Such freedom! Such creativity! This is truly a joyful task and one of the best perks of the job.

In my effort to find a free copy of a certain book, I re-stumbled up Project Gutenberg, an online resource for free books. FREE BOOKS. They are primarily classics (Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Emma, War and Peace, The Jungle Book, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet), but there is also a collection of educational books that range from music and language to history and science.

Granted, these are eBooks, so you’ll need a Kindle or an iPad or something that accommodates the book, but still. They are free. FREE. More than 53,000 free books.

If you’re especially interested in books with an audible companion, there’s also Lit2Go, another FREE source for great literature.

Bookworms, this is your official Welcome to the Weekend post. Enjoy!

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

Signs of Life Day Two

Teaching children (other than my own) has been a bigger blessing than I ever imagined it would be, and it all started as a total leap of faith. I’m in the second semester of teaching at our homeschool co-op and each week has been a blessing to me. Sometimes it’s the basic interaction I enjoy, and sometimes it’s seeing students connect the dots when something new is learned.

This afternoon I had my first teacher conference with the directors of the co-op where we discussed how the classes are going and our expectations for next year. I also received a copy of the review I had last semester when a board member observed one of our class meetings. The board member already told me she enjoyed the class, but I never knew what her official report entailed. Today I learned that it was a glowing affirmation that I am doing a good job. 

Does the teacher convey passion and/or excitement for the subject matter? Yes!! The class had an engaging discussion about the chapter they read… She made the environment an atmosphere in which students want to share and discuss.

My number one goal was to create a space where students felt inspired to share their ideas and opinions about the works we’re reading, and it seems I’ve done exactly that. Today we discussed The Lottery, undoubtedly a controversial short story, and I got some flak (playfully) from the students for choosing such a piece, but you should’ve seen the participation! All that conversation and swapping of ideas was exactly what I hoped for when I crafted this class. 

All this is to say – I’m doing what I love. I’m sharing what I love. I’m making little literary deposits in the minds of young people, and for some, those seeds will grow into something lovely. There are teachers who did this for me, and now I’m returning the favor.

Signs of Life is a blog series I’m writing for February 2017. It was born out of desire to replace the negativity and despair that’s been bogging down our friendships, families, and communities after a tumultuous election season. This series won’t solve the world’s problems, but I hope it will create a speck of light and positivity when and where it is needed. 

A letter to my boys on Inauguration Day

Dear Jeremy and Jackson,

This morning, after your math tests and vocabulary tests, and a quick lecture about staying organized, the three of us sat down to watch Donald Trump’s inauguration. You have been listening to your dad and me talk about the election for so long now, and then the three of us laid in our bed the day after the election trying to figure out how Donald Trump got elected.

I had few answers for you then, and though I found answers for you over the last few months and I now understand why so many Americans wanted a significant change in governing, I was still an anxious pacer this morning as we awaited the inauguration to begin.

Even though Donald Trump did not earn my vote, he earned the votes of people you know and love. Hillary Clinton did not earn my vote either, but she earned the votes of people you know and love. I tell you this because America is a country sprinkled with diversity, and we are blessed to have folks in our circle of influence who possess a wide range of beliefs, traditions, and cultures. This is a good thing. I hope you surround yourselves with the same diversity throughout your adult life.

I kept looking at you both as we listened to the singing of “America the Beautiful” and as various people of faith prayed at the podium. Oh how I long for you to know how truly blessed you are to live in a country with so much liberty at your fingertips. Life is hard, and it is often unfair in so many ways, but do not let those truths discourage you from always choosing what is right and just. May you not be cowards who are all talk and no action. Rather, be honorable men of action and precious little talk.

You will get angry, but you will not win over anyone with your anger. I promise you that.

You will get bitter, but you will not win over anyone with your bitterness. Trust me.

When previous presidents and their spouses took the stage, I told you who each one of them was and explained how mature and respectful it was to attend. There are many congressmen and women who did not attend as an act of protest, and they are within their right to do so. This is freedom in action. But my hope for you is that you go on to recognize this occasion as historical rather than political. Two people who disagree can still be polite to one another and honor the traditions of our country. There will be plenty of time and occasions for debate. Today was not that day.

We watched Mike Pence take the oath as Vice President, and I held my breath. Then Donald Trump stood up and walked forward for his turn. I began to cry just a little, but then as he repeated the words of promise to our nation, I wept openly. I didn’t hide my emotions from you.

Jackson, you asked me why I was crying, and I know it was because you are the epitome of a Mama’s boy. You don’t like it when I’m unhappy. Bless you! When President Trump was finished, I wiped my eyes and told you, “This is not what I wanted, but it will be fine.”

You probably don’t know what I meant, but you will understand when you are older.  Simply, our president is not God and the government is not our religion. As soon as another person, be it a movie star or a politician, or even your future spouse, takes that space on the pedestal in the deepest part of your heart, there is little room for God.

Root for people, but do not worship them. 

Jeremy, you asked why there was so much prayer, which is hard to answer because I don’t see President Trump as a particularly religious person. I told you that there are diverse faiths in this country and it is good to provide several voices on the matter, particularly when faith and politics so often become intertwined.

Please hear my heart: When people of faith speak on politics, listen to them respectfully, but consider their words carefully before you accept them as more true or less true. They are human just like you and me. You have the right to your own beliefs, which will develop as time and life experience influence you.

Speaking of, your belief system and political persuasions will likely change from one decade to the next, and that is perfectly fine. We are not meant to be the same person at 20, 30, 40, and 50.

Yet, there are a few things I believe to be true and unchanging at every moment of your lives:

First, God made you, carefully and intentionally. He loves you more than even I could hope to. I pray you never lose that knowledge.

Second, your dad and I love you. It isn’t a perfect love like God’s, but it’s an honest, unfailing love that has no conditions.

Lastly, your liberty in this country is a precious gift. It is enjoyable among those who agree with you and challenging when you’re among those who oppose you. Regardless, every American has the freedom to believe however he or she chooses, and even when the differences seem too great to bridge, I pray you will not let spite or prejudice take up root in your heart. God made you, but He made everyone else too.

As I type this we’ve each gone back to our regular life. School is over for the week and you’ll be asking me to watch television or play video games soon. Boys, whether this election cycle had any impact on you at all, I hope you will remember this day as significant because it’s the day your homeschooling mother made you watch a boring inauguration because she believed it was the right thing to do. 

With hope and love,
Your mother

New Semester, New Routine

I was tempted to start school next Monday because Monday is such a round, whole number of a day to start something, but the boys’ brains are fried from too many screens, games, flashing lights, and annoying sounds. Since their brains were fried, so were their attitudes.

So we returned to school today at the crack of 9:30 a.m.

With the new semester comes a new routine. My goals are to streamline their curriculum into unit studies, connect lessons with lots of overlapping, and get them on the computer more. I know, I know – the computer is a screen, BUT there are worthy programs online that serve as companion pieces to what we’re doing book-wise. I’ve unearthed usernames and passwords to math and vocabulary websites, and I’ve vowed to use Khan Academy on a daily basis. To assist with French, both boys have a Duolingo account. Jackson is very excited to start dabbling in a second language.

Their schedule at the co-op will be the same as last semester, but I’m adding a second class to my duties. In addition to teaching Literature and Creative Writing, I’m taking over a composition class for middle grades. The ultimate challenge is to find the fun in writing papers. I welcome your tips and suggestions!

The last aspect of our spring semester that is still in the works is relevant civics. One could argue that all civics lessons are relevant, whether they are history lessons or analysis of current events, but I’m looking specifically at teaching the three branches of government, the Constitution, and our basic rights as a people. After watching the dumpster fire that was the 2016 election, I want to make sure the boys understand that the United States is a Republic, or representative democracy, not a pure democracy, as so many voters were unaware. I want them to understand the language of government, the process of it, and why their own participation will be a worthy effort when they’re of age. Jeremy is in a Mock Congress class at the co-op, so he’s already experienced the frustration of writing a bill and having it be rejected and rewritten multiple times.

My goal is to have this curriculum in place by the inauguration. Speaking of, I’m doing my own studies in preparation for a Trump presidency, but more on that later.

Escape after the 2016 Election

I spent Tuesday binging on Netflix (“River” is an excellent show). After seeing Tweets and texts that told me Trump might win, I turned on the television a little before midnight. By 4 a.m., I forced myself to go to sleep.

That’s hard to do when you’re in shock.

The shock wasn’t because I wanted Hillary to win, but rather, I’d resigned to the fact that she would win. I’d been preparing for it because there was no way Trump, or the candidate I wrote in, would win. Like so many others, I believed the media.

This is how we started homeschooling on Wednesday morning – watching the news and answering questions.

homeschooling-after-the-election

By Wednesday afternoon I’d already cried, gotten angry, gotten sad, and read dozens of articles. I processed.

By Thursday I’d centered my brain enough to meet a friend for coffee to talk about this stuff and teach my class at the homeschool co-op.

By Friday I was back to feeling like we were in an alternate reality, as well as being irritated by the violent protests that were being covered ad nauseam on the news. I texted Chuck, who was out of town, that I wanted to unplug on Saturday. Forget football (gasp!) and escape.

So we did.

We drove to the North Carolina/Tennessee state line near Erwin, TN, where the Appalachian Trails crosses Unaka Mountain. Chuck’s been here before and had been wanting to take us there. Though we’d missed the peak colors, and much of East Tennessee is under a cloud of smoke from wildfires, the scenery was just what my soul needed.

beauty-spot

shadows-on-the-at

Not a cloud in the sky means lots of sun in the eyes:

sunny-face

three-favorite-men

home-base

throwing-rocks

The non-fishermen:

me-and-jackrabbit

traipse

Chuck in his happy place:

chuck-in-his-happy-place

autumn-burst autumn-yellow fungi evergreen

heads-up

Protecting us from wild animals who want to eat us:

jack-the-protector

collection-of-trees

Creepers gonna creep…

creepers-gonna-creep

This smile tells me we made the right call.

pure-happy

When people ask, “What am I supposed to tell my kids?” you tell them that they are loved, that family is first, and that life will go on. Sometimes that’s all you can say and it’s enough.

First Week of School

The first week of school was near perfect – great attitudes, excitement over co-op classes, the blissful return to routine. We were all smiles last week.

First day of co-op

Today is a different story though. I don’t feel well, and neither does Jackson, and Jeremy has been reminded just how hard math can be. He also doesn’t love that middle school has more required work than elementary school. When Jackson wraps up for the day, Jeremy still has a few more subjects to go.

Man, life is hard.

With sports and activities at church picking up, it is more apparent than ever the need to encourage stillness in our home. We need time away from screens and people and noise. We need to close our eyes and rest so that we’re prepared for the next big thing. We must say no to things so we can do our best with what we’ve said yes to, an exceptionally hard lesson to teach two busy boys.

Can you tell that I’ve been missing the abbey? Because I am.

The Start of Fifth and Seventh Grade

We started school today, and afterward I took a two-hour nap. I love homeschooling.

Fifth and Seventh Grade

The boys are in fifth and seventh grade at The Miller School for Boys, which means this is our sixth year of homeschooling. NEVER EVER DID I THINK we’d be a homeschooling family. Sometimes, I’m still surprised that this is what we’re doing.

Brothers August 2016

Jackson, Age 10

Jackson age 10

Our fifth grader is all sports, all the time. He loves wearing football jerseys and reading his ESPN Encyclopedias.

ESPN encyclopedia reader

Football loverAn avid reader of all things, he spends a lot of his free time on the couch or front porch with a book. This year he’ll play flag football and participate in a younger youth group at church that uses Harry Potter-inspired curriculum. Jackson hopes he’ll be sorted into the Hufflepuff House.

Jackson August 2016

He’s still as cheerful and smiley as ever, always happy to chat with anyone about sports and share his random bits of statistical knowledge.

Jackson fifth grade

This year Jackson is taking Geography, Science Survey, Language Arts, Reading Comprehension, P.E., and Bible. Today he started fractions and reading The One and Only Ivan.

Jeremy, Age Almost 13

Jeremy August 2016

Our middle schooler wakes up every morning hoping he’s actually 30 years old and living either in a big city as a head chef or on the pacific coast as a marine biologist. When he realizes he’s still a kid who lives with his parents, he forges ahead with anticipation. Super mature and thoughtful, Jeremy is an old soul who loves to be with people. He’s in youth at church, still enjoying soccer, and carries a very heavy backpack to co-op.

Jeremy age almost-13

Be still my heart, he still loves to play with Legos. 

Still loves legos

This will likely be his last year playing soccer with Parks and Rec. He’s ready for stiffer competition.

Soccer lover

Jeremy seventh grade

Jeremy has a heart for animals, something he and I share, as well as a deep curiosity and desire to understand God. Sometimes I want to peek into the future to see where this guy ends up because he could go ten different directions and succeed.

Forever competitive

This year Jeremy is taking pre-algebra, French, Physical Science, Mock Congress, World History (specifically the Middle Ages), and the MARS Project. He’s also in my Literature and Creative Writing class at co-op. (We’ll see how that goes!) Today he started reading Wonder.

I feel like we hit the jackpot with these two.

Love them

Finally, a word from our mascot, who didn’t care that we were trying to take photos…

Salem interrupts

Cheers to a productive school year and happy attitudes every morning!

The Last Week of Summer (plus new headshots)

Corey and Alex joined us for my birthday week, which meant I had the best company for a hair appointment, a little shopping, and seeing Suicide Squad on opening night.

Jeremy and Alex August 2016

Shoulda used a flash in the theater…

Suicide Squad with Corey

I also had someone to help me take new head shots (thanks, Corey!).

JEM_3210 bw

Headshot5Aug2016

You can see a bit of purple on the ends of my hair. I originally went in for a touch-up on the ombre but was convinced to go a little lavender instead.

Headshot1Aug2016

Life is short, and it washes out after a while. You can really see it here:

Headshot2Aug2016

One more photo – big thanks to my sister for the Federalist t-shirt! Woo-hoo!

New Federalist shirt

It was a wonderful birthday week overall, made even more special by all the warm wishes and love sent my way. THANK YOU ALL! Year 38 is off to a lovely start.

Today starts the last week of our summer break, and that means it’s time to rearrange the library for doing school work, sort through curriculum one last time, and mentally prepare for the semester. I’m teaching at the co-op this year and the nerves are starting to set in. Fingers crossed it goes smoothly.

And if it doesn’t go smoothly, fingers crossed I can fake it ’til I make it.

The last thing on my checklist is to edit the second book per Corey’s corrections, send it off to a third person to read it, and begin the hard labor of writing query letters. I’m crossing all the fingers for that one.

Getting Summer Ready

We are at the point now that we’re peeling ourselves out of bed, schlepping to the school room, and willing ourselves to do the minimum. We are done, done, done. Summer is officially now less than two weeks away. As a gift to myself, I decided that summer will start with Mother’s Day. Though Jeremy will continue with math until early July and Jackson will have weekly review sheets on myriad subjects, the blessed summer schedule will come into effect shortly. Lazy days are ahead, and thank the sweet Lord, because I’m done.

Yesterday the boys and I cleaned out the big toy box in the garage, discarding broken light sabers and cracked Frisbees. We purchased two new basketballs and a kickball and unearthed some outdoor toys they forgot they had. Though we allow video games (which we all enjoy), we place a lot of emphasis on going outside to play. Imagination, competition, creativity, all of it. Go outside, get sweaty. Thirsty? Get a drink from the hose. 

Getting summer ready1

This is my view from the kitchen sink. In this space, as well as in the front yard, summer happens. Neighborhood kids congregate here, and I love it. They are welcome to drink out of the hose too.

I finally, FINALLY got the garden prepped and planted. There were a few threats of freezing temps in early April, and then we got busy, but I got everything in the ground this morning. Special thanks to my husband with super-human strength for helping with the new soil. I’d like to think I could do this without him, but no.

Garden 2016

New this year is okra. I’ve never grown it before, so I don’t know what to expect. Also, artichoke. No clue there. The rest is old standbys – pickling cucumbers, zucchini, big fat sweet Georgia onions, basil, tomatoes, and so on. Here’s hoping the new soil makes a difference because last year’s garden was low yield and near flavorless.

So yeah. I’m counting the days, as are the boys. We’re making mental lists of things we want to do this summer, and aside from one out-of-town trip, the time off will be spent tooling around in town, having friends come to visit, and enjoying the freedom to do whatever comes to mind.

OMG IS IT SUMMER YET

Oh, if life had a fast forward button. I wouldn’t press it often, but I bet I’d fast forward school every year starting on April 1. Fast forwarding the last month of school sounds like a good plan to me.

Why? Because we are emotionally and mentally exhausted. We’re tired of each other. We’re bored of the schedule and routine. We don’t want to start the next unit in math or be tested on another list of vocabulary words. We certainly don’t want start the day off with negotiating terms of school work and behavior.

I’m confident every teacher and parent knows what I’m talking about here. Even though we’re mostly fresh off of spring break, our hearts aren’t in it. We’re over it, cooked and done.

I recently bought a hammock and Chuck strung it up between two trees in our back yard. Within minutes of settling inside the nylon pouch, I decided that I greatly preferred laying in the hammock over homeschooling in April. (By the way, I’m listening to season two of Serial. Are YOU?)

Hammock time

Even when the first week of May rolls around and we finish our last week of co-op, homeschooling won’t be completely over. Like last year, Jeremy will continue with math throughout the summer. There’s no way around it because he needs the extra time. Jackson will have a hefty summer reading list and I’ll likely have weekly math worksheets for him too. It won’t be a full-on break, but the daily routine will be upended and we won’t be in each other’s faces all day.

Speaking of faces, how cute is this one?

Salem in the hammock

Salem likes the hammock too.

Hurry, summer. We’re fading fast.