A Check-In at the Midpoint

The Great Pause is long gone, that beautiful, restorative, slower pace my family enjoyed throughout April and May. I can’t even count the number of hours Chuck and I spent on the front porch together. Those afternoons and evenings are my absolute favorite memories so far from the upside-down year we’ve had.

June brought a return to semi-normal, though we barely participated. We enjoyed another boat day and had a steady stream of houseguests, whom I was happy to host. We are still wearing masks to the grocery store, still opting out of restaurant dining, and doing just fine with that six-foot distance. I don’t know what to make of COVID-19 anymore, but the very low death rate in Tennessee does encourage me, albeit slightly.

We are halfway through the calendar year, which is something I feel both grateful for and in denial about. How are we only in July? My mental exhaustion level is at least in October or November. I could’ve sworn we were nearly to Christmas.

Our upcoming academic year, so far, is still on its original path. We will meet in person (our once-a-week co-op) until the state says we should close. Area COVID-19 numbers are rising steadily, so I will hold my breath on this plan until the moment we walk in the classroom. My hope is that we can meet the entire year, but I’m mentally prepared to be sent home at any point to teach/learn online. I am preparing for all of my English classes to go online at any point, but as I said, I hope we never have to. 

There are still good things happening here. After four long-suffering years, Jackson finally got his braces off. He would literally shed a tear at the thought of getting his braces off, and now he is free. He enjoyed an entire pack of gummy bears on the way home from the orthodontist. Look at that smile! He is still our Happy Jack.

Jeremy is on track to get his driver’s license in a few weeks, which I can hardly wrap my mind around. He’ll be 17 in September (WHAT?) and is about to embark on his hardest academic year. Soccer conditioning has already resumed, and we are all hoping another season won’t be canceled. 

The remainder of my 10K medals came in the mail, so now I have a sweet reminder of all that running I did in March, April, and May. If I run another virtual race, I’ll run a half marathon this fall. I’m totally sold on the virtual race process – no travel and my own timeline. Can’t beat it. 

In addition to porch sitting, Chuck and I have been quite the fishing pair. I am happy to report that I have officially caught TWO whole fish in my adult life. (I have a memory of catching ONE fish when I was a little girl.) I am not so sophisticated as to remove the fish from their hooks, so I need Chuck for that. I have a bit of a panic if it takes too long. I want them back in the water and breathing normally as quickly as possible.

But, I am learning how to work the fishing line, how to navigate pesky underwater logs, and how to be patient. Whether I catch anything or not, I’ve loved those slow, quiet mornings accompanied by vibrant sunrises. I absolutely, utterly, no question love where we live.

Summer break so far

The moment we finished our last day at the homeschool co-op where the boys attend and I teach, my brain slipped into something more comfortable. It shrunk and turned on its back, like a cat stretched out on a warm patio. Done and done.

One might think this means I’ve spent the last two weeks with my feet up, but that’s not been the case. Freelance writing has kept me busy, along with a couple of photo sessions and deep cleaning parts of the house that have been neglected since the holidays.

It won’t be a slow summer, but it will be less busy to a degree. Jeremy is working more, plus he’ll have three soccer camps and a sleep-away church camp to enjoy in June. Jackson has a sports camp and, on account of Jeremy’s outside work, will pick up more chores at home. (We are currently on a waiting list for equine therapy for him. Fingers crossed they call soon!) My non-teaching workload has increased, and Chuck continues to knock it out of the park at work, too.

So that we aren’t all business and no play, we took the boys to the mountains over the weekend to play in the river and also enjoy the sweetest teacher gift I’ve received yet – four passes to ride The Wheel at the Island. I couldn’t believe such a generous gift came my way! (Thanks, girls!)

The view was beautiful from above!

We eventually made our way to the river, where the banks were lush green.

The water was mountain-level cold, which the boys were shocked to discover. They did more wading than swimming, but we still enjoyed the brief retreat anyway.

In other news, we went strawberry picking for the first time ever, and it was with a goal in mind: to recreate the homemade strawberry jelly Chuck’s parents used to make.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a recipe to pull from, so I followed the directions on the back of the Sure-Jell box and crossed my fingers that it would resemble the homemade jelly we remember.

It tastes nearly the same, though it’s not quite as thick as I’d prefer. Still, it’s HANDS DOWN better than anything store-bought. I’d never eat a spoonful of store-bought jam or jelly, but that isn’t the case with this stuff. Come visit and I’ll hand you a spoon.

I’m darn proud.

Finally, here is Salem napping and setting a good example for all of us.

Miller Camp for Boys 2017

Last summer Jake came to stay with us, and this summer it only felt right to have him here again. Jake belongs to Matt and Amy, our besties from Chattanooga, whom we’ve parented alongside from the beginning. Jeremy and Grace were born two months apart,  then came Jake two years later and Jackson a year after that. These kiddos don’t see each other often, but you wouldn’t know it. As soon as we’re together, it’s like we never moved away.

We picked up Jake on a Tuesday night and returned him Friday, but in those four short days, they accomplished a lot. It all started Tuesday evening with Jake introducing us to the strangest movie I’ve seen in a long time: Trolls.

I don’t know what to say about Trolls other than it’s completely weird. The music was fun, and the cloud guy was funny, but otherwise, I’m at a loss. The kids enjoyed it, which is all that matters!

Wednesday brought a few hours of pool time with another favorite family of ours. The weather was perfect!

We brought home with us another of Jeremy’s friends, which meant I was outnumbered four to one. The boys exhausted themselves in the heat outside, cooled off inside with video games, and stayed up late that night with a board game marathon. The next morning, they made themselves breakfast and cleaned up afterward.

On Thursday Jake was a good sport and suffered alongside me at the boys’ orthodontic appointments. He and Jeremy worked on card tricks in the waiting room.

We wrapped up Jake’s visit with more board games. This time, I joined them in a two-hour Monopoly session.

We should’ve planned for a longer stay, and honestly, we should’ve had Grace with us. When I look at this photo, she is glaringly absent.

I continue to be thankful for the friendships we’ve maintained since our earliest days as a couple. It means our kids are growing up with friends who are more like family. It means our tribe of people is rooted in loyalty and love. I will never forget when Matt and Amy told us they were pregnant with Grace, and then came Jake, and soon we had this squad of four beautiful children who played together seamlessly.

These two were the sweet pair from birth to Kindergarten.

Excuse me while I go mourn the early years.

Oh, and the Miller Camp for Boys 2017 continues next week when my nephews arrive. Woohoo!

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.

Nature Love

We’ve settled into a summer routine of sorts. Math drills in the morning, then chores, then sporadic times of electronics and playing outside. Meals whenever. I’m saying yes more than I’m saying no, which seems like a fair deal for summer break.

I woke up yesterday morning itching to go outside, so we loaded up and drove to a nearby nature center for hiking and exploring.

nature hike

Bertha Elizabeth

cemetery from the 1800s

paddle boarding

Whenever we reached an overlook, even Major was curious.

over the edge

taking his dog for a walk

quarry reflection

Cooling off

The hike was longer than the boys expected, but reaching the quarry at the end was worth it. Major especially enjoyed the water break.

I call summer break!

It’s been a tough semester, particularly for Jeremy. While he’s sharp, curious, and extremely intuitive, he has to work extra hard in certain subjects and fifth grade was a difficult year. He finished all of his subjects this week except math and we agreed (it was more like a truce) that he would continue working on math throughout the summer. One page per day, every weekday. All summer privileges still apply – swimming, video games, sleeping in, and so on. But first, math.

In the end, I think it’s better this way. Without a lull between academic years there won’t be a week or two of refresher. No digging up old worksheets or playing “let’s remember everything you did three months ago.”

Once we came to the agreement, he looked relieved. The pressure was off and he didn’t feel like his school year was going to extend into July. Math continues even with summer at our door step.

It's summer 2015

In addition to math, both boys will be reading, but that goes without saying, right?

Hello Summer! Let’s have some fun.