Turning A Page

Our trip to Paraguay was relentless, hot and wonderful.  We were able to accomplish more than we’d hoped, thank God, and our flights and connections remained smooth (no small thing considering we flew over the Amazon Basin twice and there are, let’s just say, bumps in that ride).  The whole experience was life-altering, as trips like these often are.

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In our Paraguayan hotel room.  It was 99 degrees and humid outside but at night our AC wall unit worked overtime.  It reminded us of the good old days in India. 

Predictably, I arrived home with a sore throat and fluid packed ears, so I spent last week trying to recover and getting the kids back on track in their regular routines while hoping my exhausted husband was somehow making it at work.  My work in progress (affectionately known in writer world as WIP) remained mostly untouched, save for a little fiddling here, a few hundred words there.  I kept telling myself that it’s insane to spend a grueling, love-filled week in South America and then expect for things to immediately fall back into place just because the plane touched back down at home.  Still, I fretted.

And now it’s Monday again, come what may.  Things are slowly coming together.  I signed up for the ACFW conference last week, which is in August this year.  It’s terrifying to have a real deadline by which I should have my manuscript ready (or ready-ish) in order to receive helpful feedback.

It’s also clarifying–meaning I will, once again, have to trim the fat from my life in order to meet my goal.

For the next several weeks I’ll have my head down in an attempt to finish and polish the manuscript I’m working on while also helping my kids wrap up their school year and keep the home fires burning in my marriage.  If all of that seems reasonable to you, I’d love to take your productivity course.

So I’ll be scarce on the old blog. I won’t even be writing much poetry, for heaven’s sake.  I’ll miss you all.  In the meantime, feel free to drop in here and comment, look around, or email me if the mood strikes you.

Until I emerge on the other side,

Hannah

 

 

A War for Peace

It’s here: The Season.  I swore I’d never be one of those people who got caught up in all the mindless busyness of modern American holidays, the hand-wringing over recycled wrapping paper, gluten-free finger foods, and gargantuan expectations.

I wasn’t during our years in India.  And I wasn’t before that, when my kids were very small.  But since we’ve been back in the U.S. (three years now), I’ve felt holiday insanity sneaking up on me.

Have you seen the movie Alien?  I don’t recommend it, but I’ll just say that the raging fever of consumerism and ubiquitous Pinterest Faerie Land Photos feel to me like the hideous thing that attaches itself to the guy’s face in order to lay its eggs in him at the beginning of that movie.  (Since I’ll  never be able to un-see that particular scene, you might as well see it, too).

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And just like in the movie, this craziness means war. A war for peace. And I’m gearing up.

I just got done cancelling the kids’ jujitsu for the entire month of December (boom).  And we only have one more piano lesson before we shut down the semester (hooah!).  I’m saying no to math.

And you know what else?

I’m saying no to perfect because it doesn’t exist (except in the Person for whom all the fuss exists).

But I’m saying yes to our Advent readings, to my sister and her family staying with us for a week, to a Christmas concert with friends, to fires in the fireplace, to Crock Pot chili.

I’m saying yes to shopping on Amazon and wrapping the boxes as they get here and sticking to the budget as much as possible.

I’m saying yes to donating to our favorite causes, even if it’s only a little bit, and to sharing coffee with our neighbor whose husband died a month ago.

In short, we’re going to have a White Space Christmas season, if not a White Christmas, exactly.  I’m finding that it takes guts to carve out time for nothing, but I just strapped on my flak vest.

I dare you to join me.

 

How to Become a Better Reader

I ran across this short article from Publisher’s Weekly by author Gretchen Rubin, and wanted to pass it along.  In it Rubin explains how to become a better reader by letting go of perfectionism and focusing only on those books that are truly interesting to you.  Seems like a no-brainer unless you’re one of those *cough* who feel you must finish a book once you’ve started it.

These ten tips may change the way I read.

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Surviving December

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I love this month we’re in.

I love looking for beauty and meaning in life, and I can find a lot of both in December.  I love the snow, the ubiquitous sparkles, the fuzzy cardigans. I love peppermint mochas and peanut butter balls.  I love Christmas contatas and casseroles and Nativity scenes.  I love to remember why we celebrate: Jesus.

What I don’t love is all the shopping, the feeling that there’s not enough time, ever, ever to finish all the tasks on my list, the huge holiday expectations of basically everyone, and the feeling that the kids and I are getting behind in our academic goals.

And while I can’t really get out of shopping (no, I can’t. I’ve kind-of tried for years), or create extra time where there isn’t any, or make my entire circle of family, friends, and acquaintances expect less from the season, and from me, I’ve learned that I can manage our homeschool goals for the month of December so that we end up feeling like we spent our time the way we meant to.

Here’s how I do it:

I set the bar low for academic work.  This means we don’t do math, basically, or Latin.  Instead, we gather together at some point during every day to read an Advent-related portion of Scripture and an accompanying devotional, plus a chapter of whatever novel we’re working through, and a couple of poems.  We talk about the day, pray, discuss what’s coming up tomorrow, etc.  That’s it.  For the whole month of December.

I set the bar high for sleep.  We love our sleep around here (and by ‘we’ I mean me).  And, of course, all the holiday merry-making of December is completely exhausting, especially if you host parties or have overnight guests.  Since I don’t want us to give less time to the people we care about, and I also don’t want the kids to be sick and good-for-nothing when we start a new semester come January 1st, I try to have everyone in bed on the early side.  We’re better able to avoid illness and crankiness this way, and, as an added bonus, waking up at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning doesn’t hurt quite so bad.

I carve out big chunks of “white space” in the day.  This is not so that I can stare off into the middle distance and drool, though that would be so nice, wouldn’t it?  It’s because I know that things will come up every day of this month, things that we’ll need to do, or want to do, things that teach us, things we couldn’t have planned.  I want to be able to seize special moments without freaking out about not having enough time in an already over-packed academic or social calendar.  So I build in downtime each day, as much as I can, knowing full-well that it will get filled in some way, and that there will learning opportunities I didn’t know we needed.

The upshot of all of this is that when we look back on the month of December, we’re able to see all the things we were able to experience–people we got to visit, chapters we got to read in front of the fire–instead of all of the things we weren’t able to get done.  Not only does this make for a sweet holiday season, but it also sets us up for a productive, fresh start in January.

And that’s a Christmas present this homeschooling mom wishes for every year.

Winter Feet

The current state of this blog reminds me of an ongoing predicament I have around this time of year, a little something I call Winter FeetWinter Feet are those that go from early morning thermal socks (because it’s cold), to black dress socks (because, black boots), to gym socks (because you can’t exercise barefoot, I don’t think.  Can you?), back to thermal socks (because, cold).  And since WF aren’t regularly viewed by people other than one’s (unfortunate) spouse and oneself, they get neglected.  And by neglected I mean this.

Anyway, the thing about Winter Feet is that, if you pull off your socks and really look at them, they make you feel like something has gone deeply wrong with your self-care.  And while that might be true, it could just mean that you’re working on other things, things that seem more important (although I submit that something needs to change if, when tugging on tights, your heels and/or toenails end up ripping them.  In that case, intervention time).

But about this blog.  I realized the other day that this blog is like WF.  It’s getting neglected in favor of other things because, right now, those things seem more important.  However, like my poor WF, I can’t just keep ignoring it or I’m going to have to deal with ingrown toenails.  Or, you know, something.

So while I will be holidaying my little heart out in the next couple of months, and eating, and writing tons of other things, and sitting too close to the fire, I’m also going to try to keep up around here.  Consider this post as me trimming my toenails so things don’t get gross.

Our Bare (Educational) Bones

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A lot of people ask me what curricula I use  in our homeschool.  With so many educational philosophies, co-ops, and methods out there many would-be home educators feel overwhelmed when trying to decide on what they should emphasize with their own kids.  I get it.  It’s taken me a long time to come to what I feel are the right educational priorities for our family.  And the truth is, our path has as much to do with my strengths and preferences (since I’m steering this ship) as it does with our kids’ individual proclivities.

The thing that scares people about home education is the same thing that makes it so great:  It’s the wild, wild West of learning.  There are no one-size-fits-all rules or methods that are guaranteed to help you crank out superstar kids, or your money back.  Home education happens, well, in the home.  I suspect your home is somewhat different from your neighbor’s in terms of decor, food offerings, movies watched, tears cried, arguments had, memories made.  It only makes sense that each homeschooler’s way of educating is as unique as the home they’ve created and the children they’re rearing.

Still, none of the above answers the question my friends ask me:  But what do you do in your homeschool?  I usually resist going into specifics because I’m afraid that offering up details sounds like a prescription for Doing It Right.  I have no desire to do that as I don’t believe there’s just one way to stoke a love of learning in children.  I am a big believer in sticking to, and emphasizing, what I define as the basics, however.  What follows is a little outline of what we’ve judged to be non-negotiables in our homeschool.

Reading:  We read every day.  I read aloud to the kids from the Bible and I read from a poetry book I really like.  We have discussions that range from the banal to the sublime.  I have middle school boys, I remind you.  Sometimes I have to cut the discussions short as they skid into the embankments of the ridiculous.

My kids are always working on a book of their choice as well.  I assign reading occasionally and they are faithful to read the books I press on them.  However, if I sense a real reluctance about a book from any one of them I usually end up reading it to them instead.  This is because I do not want reading to be compulsory and therefore odious.  (This is a huge thing for me).

Writing:  The kids have notebooks that they fill with everything from doodling and idea snippets to poems and short narratives.  I don’t force them to write in these journals but I do tell them to leave off describing things to me and to “share it with your notebook” from time-to-time.  They each have blogs to which they are semi-faithful to post.  Their posts are, you know, kind-of meh.  But I don’t care.  They’re kids.  Now, in case you think I’m a pretty hands-free mom, I hasten to add that I do utilize a formal writing program that I love.  We go to a little class with other writers, in fact.  This program teaches grammar as well as the elements and style of writing.  This is a non-negotiable in our house.  The backbone of our bare bones, you might say.

Math:  We love this program.  We use it every day.  My motto with math is, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  That’s all I’ve got to say.

And that’s it, folks.  Those are our main things.  We play music, do Latin worksheets, take jujitsu, wade in the creek, think thoughts, read science books, listen to audiobooks, work on our history timeline, go to the library, work on our table manners, feed the pets, do chores, go to church, make friends, travel, dream and pray.  But I don’t count these things as school, really.  They’re just life.

What things do you emphasize in your homeschool, if you have one?  On what would you like to focus more?

 

How To Homeschool When You’re Overwhelmed

It’s a strange time of year, isn’t it?  I mean, it’s almost summer but, just kidding, it’s not.  It’s a holiday season but it’s not cold enough to snow (where we live) or warm enough to bask in the sun.  There are things to wrap up, semesters to close out, Easter plans to solidify.  The kids sense the pool’s faint siren call from the backyard, never mind the fact that it’s covered in leaves and looks like a bog.

I am still reeling from jet lag and my responsibilities feel epic.  But we are not finished with our school year.  This is a dangerous time for Mom and the kids.  Though I have a lot to learn about how to deal with stress, and I still blow it, ahem, occasionally, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for how to homeschool when you’re overwhelmed and under-motivated.

  • Make a list.  Write down all the things that you need to accomplish and all things you’d like to see done.  No one can tell you what those things are.  Only you know.  But go ahead and put down all the to-do’s that jockey for space in your brain.  You can sort them out later.  Or sooner.
  • Sort that list.  Decide which things are life-and-death, or feel almost that serious.  Place less important items further down on the list.  Round out your list with things you’d like to accomplish but that are not make-or-break items.  Ex.  I would like to clean my bathroom today because it’s gross, but I can technically continue to live if I don’t get to it.
  • Focus on the top of the list.  This is hard for me.  I’m not going to lie.  I dearly love to see lots of little tick marks inside the neat list boxes I created.  But when I have too much to do, I have long since realized that I have to let less-important-but-still-important things go temporarily.  This means that we eat, have a devotional time together as a family, and do math.  We might drag ourselves to jujitsu because we’re paying for it.  The pets get fed and we try to tidy up our space.  The kids’ dirty clothes usually make it to the laundry basket.  But a lot of other things do not get accomplished.  In this mode, we don’t do science experiments, or lots of (any) play dates.  I don’t read aloud to the kids.  I don’t get as much exercise as I should.  The house looks dusty because…it is.  This is life, and after eight years of homeschooling, I know that these seasons come and go.  There are times where we get more done and I love those.  But in times when we don’t I try not to feel bad.  Guilt and stress do not make good teacher’s aides.

Of course, when things get really crazy, it’s appropriate to stop everything and hunker down.  Sometimes it’s good to just let your kids read books from the library and listen to quality music while you address the urgent in your life.  Multitask.  (You know you can do it.  A deep conversation with your son while unloading the dishwasher counts as philosophy class, I always say).  Or insist that your kids help you accomplish some of the things you have to do.  They like to be needed.  In the end, it’s important to remember that homeschooling is really just life, with kids, everyday.  There will be fruitful, high-impact seasons.  There will be boring, sloggy times.  But when things get nutty, decide in advance what you’ll focus on.  This way you’ll maintain more reasonable expectations and protect a sense of peace in your home.

And peace is at the top of my list.