Thursday, January 31, 2008


lackadaisical \lack-uh-DAY-zih-kuhl\, adjective:
Lacking spirit or liveliness; showing lack of interest; languid; listless.

That's me and school this week. And last week. But the week before that was pretty good...

My brain is an absolute mish-mosh brought on by:
  • the never-ending adoption
  • my husband's new and improved longer work day
  • continuing aggravation with my teeth and the entire field of dentistry
  • Atticus, who has rediscovered tattling as an art form
  • my own lack of fervor in regards to the period of history we are currently studying
  • too many outside, evening "events"
  • my own lack of self-discipline
  • too many fictional characters taking up residence in my head

Thankfully, my children don't seem to have caught the "who cares?" bug. I rotate through this general malaise often enough that they have learned to get their math and other non-negotiables done, then to explore their own interests in a relatively quiet manner. Since their interests lean towards the school-ish side, I am pretty blessed in this area. I laugh and say it is my version of unschooling.

Next week, we are set to dig into the topic of flight, most notably the achievements of the Wright Brothers. I know that this will be an area where I can't possibly slough off my homeschooling duties. I can tell you already that Jo, Atticus and Logan will be absolutely consumed by this area of study, and I will be burning the midnight oil piecing together extra resources in this area.

So I'm going to take it easy tomorrow, too. One last day of unschool-y bliss. Chalk it up to a brain that is overly full.

Monday, January 28, 2008


From my personal homeschooling journal, dated December 17, 2003. Logan is 19 months, Atticus is 3 and a half, and Jo is 6:

I think today was a total loss. I can't tell. Half of the time, I really couldn't tell you what I'm doing. Gosh, I hope my kids never read this. Talk about fodder for their future therapy sessions: "My mom homeschooled me, but even she admitted that she had no idea what she was doing."

Six months ago, I had this whole thing figured out. Logan was napping at the perfect times, for the perfect length of time. Atticus was so happy just sitting at the table playing with Wikki Stixx while I worked on math with Jo. We were all loving the Sonlight books and I thought I had this whole thing in the bag. Six months ago, homeschooling was so easy. And now I can't help but think that my kids would be better off in public school and/or daycare while I go out and get a "real" job.

Jo should have so much more. I can't give it to her, because I am spending all of my time trying to figure out how to keep Logan from tearing the house apart bolt by bolt. First time obedience? What a joke! I can put him in time out, swat his bottom, whatever. Nothing gets through. There is no way that I can possibly teach Jo what she wants to know (question from her today, "What kind of fabric do you think the Egyptians used in their clothing?"). She can't possibly be learning anything.

And I'm not sure I can help Atticus. I really don't know some times if I can do this. [OT] says I am doing great. People at church say he is getting so much better, I have so much patience, blah, blah, blah. I don't feel like I am doing anything for him. How much farther ahead would he be if he was in the hands of a professional for eight hours a day? And can I seriously teach this kid how to read someday???

Hope in hindsight for those who are walking just a step behind me:

  • Yes, homeschooling goes in waves. Sometimes it is very hard, and sometimes it is deceptively easy. My advice? Ride the waves. Another one will come along soon enough.
  • Never think that you are alone in doubting yourself, your curriculum choices, your ability to teach, your sanity. Ask the homeschoolers around you. If they are honest, they will admit to moments like the one I just posted.
  • Don't be afraid to change tactics mid-stream, because guess what? Your children will think nothing of treating you in kind. :-) Babies stop napping. Toddlers suddenly change habits. School-age children run the gamut of interests. Stay in step with the changes in your family, and you will be a happier homeschooling momma.
  • Homeschooling is a "real" job.
  • Babies grow up. Toddlers grow up. Be patient. To everything, there is a season. Logan did eventually surrender his title as "Master of Disaster." He also quit biting, praise God! Nowadays, he's a sensitive, well-adjusted five and a half year-old who adds far more to our educational journey than he ever took away.
  • Your older kids don't suffer half as much as we fear they will. Jo may not have learned about linen on that particular day, but I bet she learned something about grace.
  • Even the most difficult children are not, as my cousin reminds me, "junk." God simply doesn't make any! :-) Atticus, amazingly, was a very capable reader just four months after I wrote that desperate diatribe about how he needed professional help. Today, his reading level actually outpaces Jo's--and that's saying a lot. I say this in no way to brag (their gifting doesn't come from me, it comes straight from their loving Heavenly Father, so I have nothing to brag about) but to offer hope. In case you've missed the overarching theme, here it is:

Romans 15: 4
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Persevere. Endure. Have faith. Seek encouragement. Lean into the One who has led you on the path of educating your own.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I don't make resolutions just because the calendar says I now have 365 days to get it right. Something about the entire concept of waiting until January 1 has always made me cynical rather than optimistic; I guess I'm a "year is half-empty" rather than a "year is half-full" kind of gal.

In the past few weeks, though, I've been feeling a tug to set aside 2008 as the year that I re-establish my once blossoming writing career. Because I shrink from the notion of New Year's Resolutions, I am calling this a goal. And yes, I am hung up on semantics, thankyouverymuch.

'Twas a time, dear reader, when this homeschooling momma embraced not only the creative portion of being a writer, but the business end as well. I set aside time weekly to query and submit, and I even attended conferences so that I could hobnob with those who might just help me up the food chain of the publishing world. I had a few moderate successes in this area--things long since forgotten in an industry that moves at the speed of email. The most enduring piece from this era of my life is an essay that was published in an anthology entitled Lessons from Our Children approximately 8 years ago. I call this episode "enduring" because Jo treasures our sole remaining copy of the book primarily because it has her name in it.

Since then, I have published perhaps two dozen of nonfiction articles in rather small markets, two short stories and a couple of essays. Nothing that will set the world on fire, I assure you. Nothing, even, that gets me on

Usually, I am o.k. with this. I wake up in the morning, I look in the mirror and I wonder what I will make for breakfast, what chapter we'll be reading in our current read-aloud and whether or not I need to go to the library to pick up our holds. In other words, I am wearing my homeschooling mother hat, and it fits just fine.

Other mornings, I roll out of bed and wonder how my characters would handle the day I have planned ahead of me. I think their thoughts, listen to their voices and put them through the paces of a real life to see exactly how their skin fits. This is my writer hat. Oddly enough, it seems to fit right on top of that homeschooling mother hat--even though, for years, I was certain that the two were mutually exclusive.

Now that I've figured out that I can be both a mother and a writer, I have been slowly working towards blending the two elements that are ME into a recipe everyone under my roof can live by. I've managed the daily writing time with few exceptions for quite some time. Now, it's time to move forward. What's the use in writing all this stuff if I am only making occasional free-throws in an attempt to get it published? Talking with friend E. (also a writer) has given me new hope; I can do this. I
can do this.

I hereby decree 2008 as the year MG makes an effort to re-enter the world of publishing. Hold me to it, guys.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Adoption update, redux

I got our new social worker on the line. You know, the new social worker at the old licensing agency that is now our new placement agency if and when they place us with a child in which case we will no longer be affiliated with the old agency where our old social worker is employed?

((gasp, wheeze))

Still with me? :-)

Anyhow, I spoke to the new social worker. Turns out that she was actually one of the original gazillion social workers that paraded through our home this time last year as we scrambled to get our ducks in a row so that we could begin what we knew would be the world's record for the Shortest Wait for Adoptive Placement by a Foster/Adopt Agency. Funny we should come back around to her, here in the midst of our bid for the title of Longest Wait for Adoptive Placement by a Foster/Adopt Agency. God is quirky like that. Anyhow, the upside is that she remembers us well (was that because were memorable in a good way or a bad way, one must wonder) and therefore doesn't feel the need to come out and get acquainted with us. A simple phone call and refresher on our homestudy was enough to put us on her radar for placement.

We should be hearing from her soon, she assured me.

As if she knows that for certain. And no, that wasn't a cynical laugh you heard. That was a knowing laugh--less Sarah and more Hannah, I'd like to think. God's got this whole thing timed out to the minute, and He's not letting on as to what the end results looks like or when it'll come to pass.

So while I appreciate the confidence of this social worker, I'm not stocking up on sippy cups just yet. She may have a flood of siblings ages 3 and under suddenly in need of homes, but that doesn't mean that they're ours. She may think that we're easy as pie to place, that there's no reason we've been waiting this long.

But, oh, there is a reason. It's God. And His timing.

The sands are slipping through the hourglass, but He's the only one who has counted each and every grain that will lead us closer to our family's newest addition. So while I am glad to have her looking, and while I am buoyed by her enthusiasm, I am still clinging to this Truth: He is in control.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Curls where once there were none

I discovered two days ago that despite growing up with stick-straight hair, despite having invested plenty of hours in styling chairs enduring perms and other such tortures in my earlier days ... I now have curly hair.

Yeah, you could have knocked me over with a feather, too. Come to find out my hormone-ravaged, infertile self has begun to manifest symptoms of said hormone ravaging in my hair, of all places.

I discovered this while at a salon, having my bi-annual "I want to be s@xy!" trim. The stylist who gave me my new, shorter 'do was nice enough to blow my hair out on Monday. She also added a little of hair serum this, and a touch of hair putty that before grabbing a wicked-looking flattening iron and smacking my suddenly sproing-y locks into submission. Since I walked in with relatively straight, long, stringy-ish hair (thanks to it's length, weight and the nice blow-drying I'd given it an hour before hand), I was fine with walking out with hair that was lovely, flat, bobbed and sleek.

What I wasn't prepared for was the morning after. Unsuspecting (despite having seen the corkscrews that had covered my head after the trim), I climbed into the shower, shampooed and stepped out. It was only after giving my head a vigorous toweling that I looked in the mirror and well ... I'll be honest ... I freaked.

Completely unsure as to what I should do with this head full of twists and loops, I grabbed the can of mousse that I use on my kids for AWANA Crazy Hair Night each year and rubbed some in to my wet hair. Then I grabbed my trusty blow dryer and went to work.

Now, if you have had curly hair all of your life, you can go ahead and laugh and I will not hate you. If you have straight hair and know what happens, well ... just you remember: pride goeth before a fall. I guess I deserve the good mocking I'm going to get here, but---

The fact is, I had no idea what was about to happen. Within minutes, though, I saw my mistake. That funky, string-y look I'd been annoyed with for the past two years with my long hair was back, but in a shorter, frizzier version. And with more attitude.

I tried to straighten the end result with a cheap flattening iron I'd picked up at Target for $8. It was clearly not up to the task at hand. In desperation, I re-washed my hair, lightly toweled it and tucked the ends behind my ears. I walked around like this all day, occasionally spotting myself in a mirror and wondering who this curly-headed freak thought she was, wearing my new pink Old Navy shirt. The nerve on that girl!

I admit to obsessing over the whole thing yesterday. I called my mom--a lifelong hairdresser--and asked her opinion as to why it happened (confirmed via internet, see above) and how to handle it. I called my husband, whose hair is kinky curly. I called a good friend who has super-curly hair, as well as my cousin, whose curls I secretly coveted throughout childhood. Everyone had the same advice: embrace the curls. And for goodness sake, quit blow drying them!

This morning, acting on a tip from friend T., I skipped my morning shampoo and instead rubbed some de-frizzer into the ends of my hair before zapping them with the flat iron. While the effect is nowhere near as polished as the look my stylist whipped up on Monday, it's not bad. Time-wise, it evens out, I guess: I spent about ten minutes on my hair, which is about the length of a nice shower. That's doable.

I'm still trying to get used to the whole idea, though. To have spent your entire life knowing one thing about yourself, then suddenly having it changed, well ... it's an odd sensation. I guess it has me wondering what else I have missed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Dh and I find ourselves suddenly in a very awkward position in our church. It's a place that I am completely unprepared to be. I feel like I have no authority to stand on, but I know that's just because I am used to man's idea of authority. I grew up thinking that authority was only held by those elected to power, by people who have titles or specialized degrees, by the older and wiser, or by those whose experiences are so long-standing, thorough or extraordinary as to bestow upon them the term "expert." Dh and I have a suitcase full of that kind of authority ... but it's all useless when applied to theology. In the end, truth is truth. And the truth will triumph, if we stand tall and proclaim it.

So why do I feel so alone?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Review: Christian Writers' Market Guide 2008

The subtitle to Sally E. Stuart's infamous tome says it all: "The Essential Reference Tool for the Christian Writer." There's truth in advertising here; Christian Writers' Market Guide 2008 is all that and more.

This year's edition is cram-packed with even more contacts under even more headings in an even more manageable format. Not one to spend your free time leafing through a 628 page reference when you'd rather be writing? Try the included CD Rom, which includes 1,200 + markets.

Stuart's book lets writer's write, rather than focusing their precious time on culling contact info for submissions. It's an indispensable aid for those of us who hope to bring their written words to the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adoption Update


There. I'll just get that out of the way right off the bat so that we can get down to what's real. Wait ... I feel one more coming.


O.k., I'm good now.

This week's news is that our agency--which is not so much an agency, per se, as a ministry--is experiencing some major staffing shortages and growing pains. This has been ongoing, but has finally reached crisis proportions and is affecting their ability to make placements.

The good news is that, rather than shutting down the entire process and putting families in a holding pattern until they are fully staffed, they have made arrangements to transfer those that they can to a larger, established Christian agency.

We are, praise God, one of those families.

Some families will not be so fortunate; the ability to slide over to this other facilitator depends on whether your foster license was granted through the state or through this third-party Christian agency. Praise God, ours is privately issued. What seemed like a happy little convenience a year ago ("Oh, we don't have to work directly with the state at all? Yipee!") has clearly shown itself to be the fingerprint of Yahweh.

I don't know exactly what this will mean for us. The family advocate I spoke to through our original agency has suggested that seven months is a completely unacceptable wait time for a family open to siblings and feels that we will begin getting calls almost immediately. The placement coordinator at the new agency seems to be saying the same thing. I will call her Monday and play the "Getting to Know You" game, and pray that this woman is the person God has preordained to bring our child or children home to us.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Attempts at organization

I am not, by nature, a horribly organized person. I keep things "surface neat" (as my cousin calls it) for the most part. Lurking in any closed space, however, is a potential avalanche of stuff that I can not seem to keep in order. I'd like to think that this is entirely the result of many years spent learning poor housekeeping skills at the knee of my mother, who is one heck of a cook, but one terrible housekeeper. That woman can make a meal that will leave you gorged and delirious, but you'd have to settle in on a couch full of cat hair, twelve mismatched pillows and pile of overdue bills in order to sleep off the stupor.

Thankfully, I have risen above this standard.

For the most part, my lack of organization hasn't crippled me in any way. Sure, I spend more time than I should looking for certain things. But frankly, I bet I spend just about as much time as I would if I had some fancy organizational system that required a lot of upkeep. Friend J. and I have decided that those systems are useless, and were clearly not designed for anyone who lives in a house with other human beings--who may or may not--be on board with said organizational system.

I find, though, that areas in which I am solely responsible for the general upkeep stay fairly neat and orderly. This is evident mainly because the schoolroom, which functions as my library of resources, is probably the neatest room in my house on any given day. This means that there are no piles. Because in my house, even a tidy room has a pile somewhere. Dh is a piler. Jo is a piler. Atticus is a piler. Logan is a piler. So, by default, our home has piles.

Which means that it's not my fault, right?

Well, no. I'm still the only one who cares whether the piles exist, so I am still the only one who tries to get rid of them. I've developed a few winnowing techniques over the years, and on more than one occasion, I have simply trashed an entire stack of some seemingly-discarded stuff. This is usually met with howls of indignation, but hey ... I keep at it. Maybe someday the piles will all disappear simply out of fear, right?

In my continuing search for a way to at least make the piles more visually attractive to me, I've decided that a trip to the dollar store is in order. Our local huck-a-buck has a massive assortment of plastic bins, boxes and containers. I figure $10 ought to do it. One bin for each child's bed, where Bibles and devotionals seem to be multiplying at the foot of their beds like gremlins being spritzed with water. One each for the steps, where I continually dump the random books, Legos and Sunday School knick-knacks that also breed like bunnies around here. One each for the schoolroom, where they seem to forget items faster than they can haul them down. And one just for dad ... for that spot where he insists on piling the receipts he hasn't put in the checkbook yet.

Hopefully this system doesn't get too complicated. Hopefully I can get "buy in" (dh's new work phrase) from everyone. If not ... ((sigh)) I guess I'll have to join them Pile it on.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Letters to Mom, and back again

When we were fairly new to our homeschooling journey, a friend shared one of the best parenting/homeschooling tips I have ever gotten. As a mother of three girls who were then scattered on the elementary-through-junior-high-spectrum, she said that one way she had kept the lines of communication wide open was to write to each of her daughters in a special journal. She shared that this was not a place for correcting grammar, for pointing out behavior problems or even for laying out plans for the upcoming week. No--this was a special place, a sacred space for mother and child to connect without conventions, expectations or checklists.

Being a daughter who has a somewhat strained relationship with my own mother, I instantly fell in love with the idea. I walk around with a smidgen of fear in my head, you know, that somehow I will accidentally recreate the fissure that exists between my mother and I. I struggle and pray and strive, trying to knot those easily frayed cords of trust and respect as they threaten to come undone with ill-timed words or casual miscommunication. I realize, of course, that my bond with Jo is not so fragile as my own with my mother. For one thing, it is based on a firmer foundation (Christ), and for another, I am simply not my mother. Enough said.

I am always looking for ways, though, to share my heart with Jo. I decided early on to let her peek deeper into who I am so that as she approaches the day when we stand shoulder to shoulder, she will know that I am fallible, that I am flawed, but that I am real. What better way for a writer to connect with her daughter than through the written word?

We began our mother/daughter journal in the middle of Jo's first grade year. I opened the first page with a very simple outline of what this very fancy, very pink, very girly-looking journal was for:

Dear Jo,
This journal is going to be a special place for you and I to share our thoughts, hopes and prayers. You can ask me questions, share funny stories or tell me how you feel about things. I hope that this will be a spot where we can have fun, or be serious, or even laugh and cry.
I want you to know how very proud I am of the kind heart you show to others. You share very well, and think of others' feelings. Your gentle ways show everyone that Jesus is alive in you.
You are a beautiful girl inside, and I am honored to be your momma.
Love, Mommy

Jo was delighted to find the journal at the foot of her bed when she woke up that first morning. Since then, we have continued the "sneak attack" tradition of tucking our journal into a spot where only the recipient can stumble across it. This builds on the specialness of the whole idea for us.

Usually, our journal (we're now on version 3.0) exchanges hands about once a week. We have gone through periods where we don't write as often, and times when the letters are flying back and forth faster than a busy mom can seemingly handle. But I always make time to reply to my daughter's letters, even if it means sneaking in a twenty minute bathroom sabbatical to scrawl out a note before she catches me in the act.

Often, our letters to one another have been silly:

Mom, You have got to stop saying, "Anybody want a peanut?" It is not as funny as you think. As a matter of fact, if you say it again I will sprout an extra finger and pursue you with a sword. Love, Jo

Sometimes they are sad:

I am very sorry that you are so sad over the loss of our little baby. Thank you so much for sharing how hurt you are with me. I am hurting inside, too. I will pray for the Lord to bring you peace and comfort. Can you pray the same for me?
No, I don't think my mom ever had a miscarriage when I was your age so I can not understand how you feel. I don't think your feelings are unusual, though. Loss is loss, honey, no matter what it looks like or when it happens.
You are absolutely allowed to feel sad. Cry all you want. I'll even share my tissues with you.
Love, Your Momma

I have written pep talks ("You can do it! You've been working so hard!") and given redirection ("I think if you listen closely to what the Lord is saying ...") and more than once, I've congratulated her on her character and selflessness. In return, I have received more heartfelt thank yous, more words of encouragement and more reminders of how blessed I am than I can ever count.

As usual, this thing designed to strengthen my child has instead strengthened me.

Last week, on a whim, I offered Atticus the chance to begin a journal of letters. Of course, I offered a twist: he could write to his dad if he chose to, as he is, after all, a boy. It didn't take Atticus long to show how excited he was at the prospect of joining in on the fun he's been witnessing from the sidelines. He eagerly picked out a plain, lined journal, one that was as beautiful in his eyes as that first pink, flowery one was to Jo all those years ago.

Oh, yes, he picked one other thing. Me. :-)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Sensory Integration, revisited

Atticus has Sensory Integration Dysfunction. This is not earth-shattering new news to us; he was first diagnosed at age 3, when it became painfully apparent that many of the little tics and quirks that we associated with his personality were quickly spiraling into the category of crippling behaviors. Already somewhat familiar with what I was seeing in my lovely little boy thanks to a relative whose son struggled with the same issues, I was quick to find help. A full battery of tests performed by a handful of doctors and therapists revealed what we had begun to suspect: SID.

I can't tell you how grateful I am that this diagnosis was made so young, and was so thoroughly treated. For two solid years, Atticus met with his Occupational Therapist on a weekly basis. Together, the three of us slurped through straws, gliding on massive swings, rolled in shaving cream. Oh, and we brushed. We brushed, we brushed and we brushed. I am fairly certain that he has the best OT in the entire western hemisphere. This lovely young lady came to my son's first soccer games. She gave him cards to celebrate milestones. She cried with me in the harder moments, and rejoiced with us in brighter times. At the end of two years, she discharged him and promised to be an ongoing resource no matter where we found ourselves down the road.

Most people who meet Atticus now have no idea that when he was four, he would not play in a kiddie pool in the summer months because he hated splashing water. They might raise their eyebrows at his tightly-cinched belt and marvel at his ability to tolerate very low temperatures without a coat, but they'd never guess how walking barefoot on a carpet used to send him into meltdown mode. I credit his OT, our family's aggressive approach to treatment and lots of consistency with creating the adaptive skills that Atticus uses today to get by.

SI is an ongoing, management-type disorder. It is never truly "healed" or "outgrown" or "gone." We have known this, and yet are always amazed when we start to see relapses in Atticus' behavior.

Like right now.

I realized on Monday that I have been saying, "Son, get off the floor," far too often to my boy. For some reason, this didn't raise any red flags in my mind--you know, it never does. I guess I am so used to cruising through our days that I miss the subtle hints of trouble ahead until I smash into the roadblocks and have to stop and take stock of the whole mess. Thankfully, there was no catastrophic crash this time. It was just the budding of a mild annoyance that I was dangerously close to venting on a kid who kept purposely banging his shoulders on door frames every time he walked into a room. Warning sign, anyone? :-)

We started back on an aggressive sensory diet on Monday, and are seeing the results. This is a time consuming endeavor: once every two hours, I have to work in a twenty-minute brushing, jumping, crashing, lifting, splashing, rubbing session. The up-side is that Mr. Wiggles hasn't fallen out of a chair in three days and has finally stopped rolling on the floor every time he feels he needs a little neurological stimulation.

Usually, these retraining periods--which are literally like tune-ups for Atticus' neurological system--only last a few weeks. At the end of that time, I'll realize that he is becoming more irritated by the brushing, or doesn't quite throw himself into the crashing sensations with as much vigor as he had originally. That's when I know that he can resume life with his own toolbox of coping skills, sans my tweaking here and there.

I admit that I wonder from time to time at what point those coping skills will begin to outpace my intervention; when will he learn to see his own "flare-up" coming and head it off? Fifteen? Twenty? I really don't know.

Until then, SID is a part of life here. Jumping jacks and all.

Review: Happily Ever After

File this one under "guilty pleasure": Marilyn Griffith's latest installment in the Sassy Sisterhood series packs enough truth, humor and drama in its pages to satisfy anyone who likes to indulge in fiction that goes down as easily as hot chocolate on a cold winter day.

Set in an all-too-believable suburb where McMansions reign and Appearances Are Everything church-goers the norm, Happily Ever After revolves around a flawed young woman struggling to redefine her life as a wife and new mother. Part of her trouble is that she's already gone through the trouble of redefining herself ... and there are some people (like her aptly titled mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth) who just won't let her forget it.

As a main character, Tracy speaks with a voice that is pitch-perfect: unsteady, slightly unsure and always questioning. Griffith has nailed what it's like to be a new mom with a keen eye that leaves nothing to the imagination. You want insecurity? Pride? Faltering confidence? Joy? Love? It's all here, in abundance.

As Tracy surrounds herself with a crew of mentoring women, she begins to steady her own ship; her life, and her family have all suffered as she's turned inward. The cast of characters that pour into Tracy are as real as the folks who warm the pews each Sunday. Some are invaluable resources that water your soul. Others are unable to grasp the depth of the grace that our company of believers should lavish on one another.

Tracy finds herself in a very different place at the end of the book than she does at the beginning. Refreshingly, this character has grown in huge measures, and she has taken us along for the ride. What more can you ask from in a book?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Flirting with science

More today on the outlook for our continuing homeschool journey ...

When I started homeschooling, I will be honest and say that science was about the furthest thing from my mind. After all, I had to teach this child to read, by golly. So what if she was only four years old! There was work to be done! I concentrated on phonics and circling letters in workbooks and building words with neat little blocks. In other words, I wasted a whole lot of energy while Jo learned to read almost in spite of me. And there was no time for any "real" science.

As I have previously revealed, my husband and I chose Calvert homeschool materials for our daughter's first official year of "school." This program came complete with some of the most boring black and white line-drawing science worksheets that you can possibly imagine, as well as the exact same thin science textbook my husband used in 1977. I wish I were joking, but I'm not. Anyhow, that year Jo was subjected to an inane overview of how plants grew from seeds (she already knew this, as we had planted a flower garden earlier that year), a look at her five senses ("Yes, yes, I see with my eyes. Can we learn something I don't know?" I imagine her thinking) and a very rudimentary overview of the fact that we live on a planet. And oh, yes ... there are stars out there, kids.

Moving right along ...

By the next year, when we began using SL, I was casting around for something, anything, that would match up with the curiosity I saw in my daughter. I didn't bother with SL science, as my cousin had already test marketed it for me (the benefit of having a homeschooling mentor!) and rejected it for its dryness. In this vacuum, I decided to design my own science studies.

This was a marvelous success. I still look back in awe on the wonder of those early lessons; I continued to write our science curricula for three years. In that time, we did an outrageously in-depth study on the human body that left then-four year-old Atticus parroting the key components of the nervous system. We studied simple machines, plants and even some basics like the scientific method and beginning taxonomy.

While these studies lit a fire for learning under my children, the planning and culling of resources often left me breathless. Library books, videos, experiment ideas, internet resources, etc. ... all had to be reviewed and scheduled. Then there was the delicate balance between giving enough meat for Jo to chew on, but on a level that Atticus could also grab a few tidbits for his own repository of general knowledge.

My husband watched all of this, amused at my passion and somewhat in awe of the amount of energy I was willing to put forth to keep this science thing rolling. When he started asking me when I was going to throw Logan's needs into the homeschooling mix, I knew I was in trouble. Only so many balls can be kept in the air by any one homeschooling momma. One of them would have to be dropped.

Based on the time I invested as well as the number of ready resources available on the market, we decided together that it would be science. In truth, I can see now that I was reaching a burnout level of sorts. Keeping the ideas and topics flowing took a lot out of me, and while I was receiving kudos from every other homeschooling mom that I knew (including quite a few who asked if I would puh-leese take their kids for science), I have a feeling that my heavenly Father was using my husband to draw my attention to the fact that He had other jobs for me to tackle.

Not willing to take the complete textbook route, and unable to find a one-size fits all program for our children's ages, my husband and I decided to use Alpha Omega Lifepacs as a spine for Jo and Atticus, and to supplement with books and videos and experiments as needed. This worked quite well for me, but I will say that both children found the Lifepacs about as exciting as well, textbooks. And we never really figured out why they included random phonics instruction in the science lessons. Etymology I could understand. But looking for the silent "e"? Hmmmm .... We skipped over those little exercises in wasting time and got down to the real task at hand.

This all has, of course, been supplemented as well by Jo's involvement in 4-H. Lest you think this is some cutesy little social club where girls pet rabbits once a month, let me list a handful of the topics Jo, Atticus and Logan have been exposed to through 4-H: cancers and abnormal cell growth, reproductive biology, general biology, color genetics, first-aid, disease control and prevention, animal husbandry, life cycles and careers in the field of animal sciences.

This year, as my kids finally finished last year's Lifepacs (they have been known to jump off into major bunny trails in science), I realized that the whole concept of the Lifepacs just didn't fit us any more. The children--and I--are longing to be back on the same page, taking the active unit study, living book approach that we used to enjoy.

I've flirted around with this for a few months (remember my bee unit study?) and have found that yes, with my children at the ages they currently are, I can handle diving back into the world of scientific discovery again. The question is ... how?

For the time being, I will continue to cobble together my own little units. Right now we're in between topics, but I have been plotting out a way to turn a Christian Cottage Veterinary Science unit (thanks, cousin!) into a lapbooking project. I think that all three of my kids will eat that up, and I see this as an opportunity to take a pre-written curricula and make it our own.

In that vein, we're considering undertaking an Apologia co-op with friend E's family. Honestly, even if the co-op doesn't happen, I think that we're heading in that direction. Everything that I've seen (and read) about Apologia's younger program fits what I am looking for: real book, real facts, Christian worldview, activities. Apparently it's not too much to ask for. I just had to wait for someone else to write it all down for me. :-)

I'd love to hear from people who've used these programs. Which book did you choose, and why? What did you add to the program? What did you find the most helpful outside resources to be? And, of course, how old are your children?

All help gratefully accepted!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Thinking ahead

Gosh, I hate this whole planning thing. O.k., really I love it. But I hate that I love it. Does that make any sense?

I love daydreaming about who my children will grow up to be. As a homeschooler, that takes on an especially personal twist as I get to embark on the educational journey that will lead them into adulthood right alongside them. I think that's why I find myself thinking through my options each January, just like clockwork.

This current "school year" (2007-2008) will most likely be the last in which I combine all three children in the same SL Core. Try as I might, I just can't see how Logan is going to wade in the waters of Core 5 without major, major modification. While he's a far more avid fan of history than your average 5 year-old, I just can't see the use in spoon feeding him some of the topics I know we'll cover in Eastern Hemispheres--not when there's plenty he's glided right past way back in, oh, the general kindergarten arena.

Atticus could most likely keep lock-step with his sister and study Core 5 in his 3rd grade year. I don't doubt that one for a minute. But the question again is should he? At this rate, the kid will be ready for college at 13. Personally, I'd like to loop him back around and group him with his brother.

I have pondered and plotted and planned until I am blue in the face. Finally, I have come up with three potentially workable options for this fall:

  1. Jo studies SL Core 5, Atticus and Logan study WinterPromise Children Around the World.
  2. Jo studies SL Core 5, Atticus and Logan study SL Core C.
  3. Jo studies SL Core 5, Atticus and Logan study a cultural program that I make up on my own.

All three of these presuppose that Jo will be moving into Core 5 (a given) and that the following year, we will all meet back up for a combined SL Core 6 and Core 1 to study the first part of World History.

Of all of my ideas, I was most interested in option number 1. I have used several WP programs (Animals and Their Worlds, American Story 1 and Chess), though not always as scheduled. The AS1, for example, I pulled from as a way of making SL Core 3 workable for my family last year. Overall, I have been impressed with WP--especially their customer service. As a new company, though, I've seen that there are quite a few bugs that need to be worked out--not the least of which is a perpetual backorder on items and what I feel is a somewhat off-kilter rating scale for "grading" their programs and activities. Don't get me wrong, I like their stuff. In a few more years, I think they will be a great homeschooling curriculum supplier. Right now, they are still in the throes of growing pains.

Which brings me to the feedback I've been given on numerous homeschooling forums. Everyone says that Children Around the World is in need of some serious overhaul. As it's written, I'm told, the prep time is staggering, and the resources are not quite as self-explanatory as one might think in a pre-written curriculum. This sends the warning bells in my head clanging; this fall I will be teaching an 11 year-old with one program, my boys (who will be 8 and 6) with another and perhaps even juggling a toddler or two, God willing. Prep time? Huh-uh.

Option number 2 is to return to SL Core C. I have the old Core K, which I can upgrade at half price. I didn't buy the books way back when as we didn't have a pot to ... oh, you get the idea! :-) I used the library, and purchased only those items that I couldn't beg or borrow. It would be really nice to have those books and to go back over them with boys who haven't heard them. BUT ... Core C with Atticus, who was last tested at a 10th grade reading level? Even if I pull readers for Atticus from the library, would Logan even be interested in Core C? After all, this kid cut his teeth on Napoleon Bonaparte and Genghis Khan. Is he going to be satisfied with Living Long Ago?

All of which points to my third and final option ... the dreaded "do-it-yourself." Knowing me, what I would do is take the topics in Core 5 and water them down for my boys rather than take on the full-scale "Around the Globe" cultures program I was dreaming of for the year. I'm just an easy way out kind of gal, and that's the easiest way out, as I see it. :-) IF I start planning now and IF I plan out the whole year, then I could conceivably have a wonderful curriculum, geared specifically to my boys, on hand when we get to the end of SL Core 4. That's a lot of "ifs," isn't it?

So ... I don't know what to do. Keep looking and planning, I guess. Surely I'll figure something

Monday, January 7, 2008

Made it

January 6th could have been much, much worse. God is good.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The (not so) Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List

This has been making the homeschooling rounds. While I admit that it's laugh out loud funny as is, I thought I'd make a few comment of my own. :-)

1 Please stop asking us if it's legal. If it is — and it is — it's insulting to imply that we're criminals. And if we were criminals, would we admit it? (And really, if you don't know someone by now who is homeschooling, where. have. you. been. for the past decade?)

2 Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use
the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now.
Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both concepts.
(On second thought, why don't you tell me again about the bad habits your 5 year-old has picked up in his classroom?)

3 Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize. (Instead, why not ask her how she feels about all those poor children who sit in desks all day?)

4 Don't assume that every homeschooler you meet is homeschooling for the same reasons and in the same way as that one homeschooler you know. (That's pretty much the same as me assuming that you're a completely uninterested parent who never helps with their child's homework and wouldn't be caught dead at a PTA meeting. You know, like that other public school parent I know.)

5 If that homeschooler you "know" is actually someone you saw on TV, either on the news or on a "reality" show, the above goes double. (Amen.)

6 Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know, know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling. You're probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them every ghastly birth story you've ever heard. (Instead, can I enthrall you with stories from my own personal public high school drama?)

7 We don't look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear they're in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential oil fields to see if we're doing what you consider an adequate job of homeschooling. (On second thought, go ahead. Chances are, your idea of "grade level" and "age appropriate" are so tainted by the watered-down societal expectations that my children will stun you .)

8 Stop assuming all homeschoolers are religious. (And don't assume that all homeschoolers who profess to be Christians actually teach their children their faith.)

9 Stop assuming that if we're religious, we must be homeschooling for religious reasons. (Academic excellence, family togetherness, detestable school conditions, flexibility, character development, following a child's giftedness ... the list goes on and on.)

10 We didn't go through all the reading, learning, thinking, weighing of options, experimenting, and worrying that goes into homeschooling just to annoy you. Really. This was a deeply personal decision, tailored to the specifics of our family. Stop taking the bare fact of our being homeschoolers as either an affront or a judgment about your own educational decisions. (Ooooh, I want to say this to my mother-in-law so badly. But I won't. Instead, I will smile and thank her for her concern.)

11 Please stop questioning my competency and demanding to see my credentials. I didn't have to complete a course in catering to successfully cook dinner for my family; I don't need a degree in teaching to educate my children. If spending at least twelve years in the kind of chew-it-up-and-spit-it-out educational facility we call public school left me with so little information in my memory banks that I can't teach the basics of an elementary education to my nearest and dearest, maybe there's a reason I'm so reluctant to send my child to school. (Can you diagram a sentence? Well, can you? I rest my case.)

12 If my kid's only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can possibly teach him what he'd learn in school, please understand that you're calling me an idiot. Don't act shocked if I decide to respond in kind. (Well, in truth, I am doing my five year-old a disservice. After all, I've never given him a hall pass to go to the bathroom.)

13 Stop assuming that because the word "home" is right there in "homeschool," we never leave the house. We're the ones who go to the amusement parks, museums, and zoos in the middle of the week and in the off-season and laugh at you because you have to go on weekends
and holidays when it's crowded and icky.
(WDW in February, anyone?)

14 Stop assuming that because the word "school" is right there in homeschool, we must sit around at a desk for six or eight hours every day, just like your kid does. Even if we're into the "school" side of education — and many of us prefer a more organic approach — we can burn
through a lot of material a lot more efficiently, because we don't have to gear our lessons to the lowest common denominator.
(Speaking of lowest common denominator ... in homeschooling, there is no such thing. A child who needs more time gets more time. That's just the nature of the beast.)

15 Stop asking, "But what about the Prom?" Even if the idea that my kid might not be able to indulge in a night of over-hyped, over-priced revelry was enough to break my heart, plenty of kids who do go to school don't get to go to the Prom. For all you know, I'm one of them. I might still be bitter about it. So go be shallow somewhere else. (What about the Prom?!?!? Honey, I know what I did after Prom, and believe me when I say that the thought of my kids doing the same is the LAST thing that's going to motivate me to send them to public school!)

16 Don't ask my kid if she wouldn't rather go to school unless you don't mind if I ask your kid if he wouldn't rather stay home and get some sleep now and then. (Or if he'd like to come over and read a real book.)

17 Stop saying, "Oh, I could never homeschool!" Even if you think it's some kind ofcompliment, it sounds more like you're horrified. One of these days, I won't bother disagreeing with you any more. (Honestly, I don't think I could homeschool half the kids I see out in public, either.)

18 If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you're allowed to ask how we'll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can't, thank you for the reassurance that we couldn't possibly do a worse job than your teachers did, and might even do a better one. (Sing it, sister!!!)

19 Stop asking about how hard it must be to be my child's teacher as well as her parent. I don't see much difference between bossing my kid around academically and bossing him around the way I do about everything else. (It's called obedience. The applications are virtually endless!)

20 Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet, boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because he's homeschooled. It's not fair that all the kids who go to school can be as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of anything but childhood. (My children were born with specific personality traits. What you're seeing is simply the fact that they feel free to be who they are without conforming to a group of snarky little grade schoolers who must crush all individualism.)

21 Quit assuming that my kid must be some kind of prodigy because she's homeschooled. (We prefer to think it's because they have the time to engage in their own areas of interest.)

22 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of prodigy because I homeschool my kids. (Good research skills. That's what it's all about.)

23 Quit assuming that I must be some kind of saint because I homeschool my kids. (I'm a saint because of my faith in Christ.)

24 Stop talking about all the great childhood memories my kids won't get
because they don't go to school, unless you want me to start asking about all the not-so-great childhood memories you have because you went to school.
(Why don't you ask them about all the great memories they wouldn't have if they hadn't been homeschooled? )

25 Here's a thought: If you can't say something nice about homeschooling, don't say anything! (Or, if you have a genuine question, just ask me, already!)


Wednesday, January 2, 2008


When he was about five, Atticus was fascinated with hybrid vehicles. His father had pointed one out as we were driving to town one day. No big deal, just a simple, "That's a hybrid car. It runs on a battery and gas." To Atticus, who sees the world in very defined segments of black and white, this was a revelation. Two ways of making a motor run?

The idea was so intriguing to Atticus that it actually moved me to buy The New Way Things Work, a book that has saved me more research work in the areas of Atticus' interests than any other single resource. Unfortunately, our edition was printed before hybrid cars came into vogue, and I had to do some real digging in order to provide a user-friendly explanation to my kindergartner.

I'll spare you the details, because if you really wanted to know how a car can use two energy sources you'd be reading Popular Mechanics right now instead of a homeschooling blog. All you need to know is this: for a long time, no one bothered to try to marry the two options (battery-powered car to traditional engine car) because they just didn't see how it could be done. One energy source was good enough to get the job done, so by golly, one source it is!

It occurred to me today that the most miserable homeschooling families I know subscribe to this exact same theory in educating their children. Whether they have a single child that they are teaching at home or are schooling a brood of six, the families that refuse to step out of the box are the ones who find little joy in the journey of educating their own.

I have seen this often enough that I am willing to say it is the new epidemic among homeschoolers--A mother is frustrated, burned out and feels like she can't possibly go on laboring to cram information into her children's heads. After a few minutes of talking to her, it becomes quite clear why this is the case: she is teaching two children (4th grade and 1st) with two completely separate, completely workbook-based curricula that require her to popcorn between them at the kitchen table for four to five hours a day. Or a mom reveals that she is terrified to begin teaching her third child to read, since the phonics program she bought with her first child (who is quite visual) was a monumental flop with her second (who is a true kinesthetic leaner). However, she justified the expense of the $200 program because she knew she would use it for all three children, so she has no plans to make any changes.

A recipe for stagnation, isn't it? Makes you wish that someone would take a good look at that wheel and just reinvent it, right? To even attempt to homeschool requires a certain amount of out-of-the-box thinking. Where did that rebellious spirit get lost in these "by the book" families?

The opposite end of this conundrum is, of course, picking and choosing to the point of no cohesion whatsoever. I can say this because I walked the thin line between exploring and exploding for a little while. For every homeschooling mom I know who would rather be paraded naked through town than give up her scripted Saxon Meeting Book, I know another who has been unable to commit to any consistent curriculum choices at all. These women remind me of an entirely different kind of engine: the one in Willy Wonka's fabulous pop-powered contraption. Throw in a little of this. A lot of that. Double-Bubble, Double-Bubble-Burp-A-Cola ... the more fizz the better! Of course, we all know how that ended; after that ride, the poor passengers had to undergo a major clean-up. I sometimes wonder if the brains of some of my curriculum junkie friends' children will need a similar swabbing when they finally try to sort out the cobbled-together jumble of methods that their parents pumped into them with so many good intentions.

So how come a hybrid car works in the first place? Easy: balance. More than one fuel goes in, but the careful thought process that put them together in the first place allows for an almost ballet-like orchestration. For this job, you use this. For that one, use this. As the needs of the engine shift, so does the fuel intake and type. Clearly, you choose the energy sources with care--they must complement each other and be necessary to the task at hand. The end result in this delicate process is a vehicle that gets the job done in the most economical way possible.

Homeschooling should be like this. As parent/educators, we should be aware of the needs of our children, and should be flexible enough to meet their needs. We should be creative enough to fan the flames of imagination and passion that fuel their desire to learn. But we should be selective, not giving in to the latest newest and greatest just because it seems more exciting than what we already have, or promises perfect results.

I am not saying that I have always found this perfect balance in my own homeschooling career. As a matter of fact, I have exactly three different math programs sitting in a resale box downstairs right now--and I confess freely that I bought the first one because of a catalog's promises, the second one on a friend's recommendation and the third out of desperation. But maybe, just maybe, I've learned my lesson. While I continue to combine curriculum generously, I also see myself staying far more consistent than I had ever hoped to be.

So I've decided that I want our homeschool to be a hybrid car: running on a variety of well-chosen resources that get the job done, giving more joy to the gallon for the money spent.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Introducing ...

My cousin's blog ... Kindred Blessings. She is a fascinating lady with a lot to share on many, many life topics. She's also full of homeschooling wisdom earned through the school of trial and error. Check her out!