On a Learning Curve

Life may not be easy, but it's always an adventure.


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Top 10 Reasons I Haven’t Been Writing

1. We’re buying a house.

It’s been 11+ years since we last purchased a house and another 5 years since we sold that house. In the meantime, all the rules for buying and selling a house seem to have changed. Our lender wants a ridiculous amount of paperwork and documents from us. By ridiculous, I mean that it would be easier to file all of our taxes for the next 10 years. Yikes! We’ve brought three children home from the hospital, and the nurses and doctors were far less concerned about our ability to support these small humans financially than our lender is.

2. We close on our new house next week.

That means that our mortgage broker and his assistant are two of our new best friends. We exchange all sorts of emails with them and with our realtor and her assistant. Also, I make weekly phone calls to our insurance company. USAA has long been one of my favorite companies; that is, until we tried to get them to agree to our closing date. The fact that they didn’t care what our contract said made us feel a little cooler towards them. And then one of their agents made a little typo. No, we are not moving to a street with the word Silly in it. Yes, it took a good hour to fix that error.

3. We’re packing up our house.

Actually Ryan is the only one packing up the house. He has successfully packed up the garage since that is his special manly place. I managed to secure about 20 pounds of clean packing paper, and I’ve cleaned out 3.5 closets. We’ve found a home for our microwave, but we still need to convince someone to take our 10-year-old television. It’s a flat screen and works beautifully; it just happens to weigh about 50 pounds. I’ve been listing clothing on ebay and sent off a bag to thredUP, but I refuse to start packing boxes until the calendar says it’s May.

4. I cleaned the house last week.

I mean I really cleaned the house last week, and it took the full week. Do you know how hard it is to clean a house when children live there? Especially when these children do not appreciate sparkling toilets, floors free of hamster shavings, folded laundry inside dresser drawers, and toiletries hidden in cabinets? In full disclosure, I only deep-cleaned the house because the owner needed to take pictures so that she can find a new set of renters. After she left, it took us a mere couple of hours to put everything back in its usual state.

5. We have to finish our school year in 6 weeks.

H has already finished her second grade math curriculum, so that’s one less subject I have to consider. (Now she’s happily working through the third grade book but confused over her second grade status.) S and H need to finish their science lessons, H has to finish the third volume of world history and The Twenty-One Balloons, and I still need to find a chapter book series that H will agree to read.

6. I’m teaching art classes.

That’s right. I have a degree in English, three credit hours of art history, and no claim to artistic brilliance. I do, however, have three children with a strong artistic bent, and I do know how to follow a curriculum that someone else has created. Fortunately, I only have to teach three times a month for the girls’ homeschool co-op. On the bright side, I’m taking a break from teaching PE classes, but those are still much easier to plan than art!

7. It’s spring soccer season.

Resigning twice from my coaching duties last fall apparently did not mean that I wouldn’t coach this spring. For the past month I’ve been navigating muddy fields with a troop of 12 girls who would see our practices as reasons to giggle and chatter with each other. My approach to coaching them goes something like this: If I can still do it, you’d better try it. Happily, I have two fantastic assistant coaches, which takes the pressure off me to do everything myself. This is especially helpful when I mistake the time I need to arrive before the game with the start of the game. Just like I did yesterday.

8. Ryan is traveling.

I should be used to his frequent comings and goings, but it only seems to get harder as the girls get older and are involved in more activities. Also, it’s really hard to carpool when your carpool expects you to do an equal amount of driving. I’m not complaining though; I just have another good reason to appreciate our upcoming move. For the first time in almost 20 years, we’ll be living in the same area as our extended family.

9. I forget.

When I get busy, I simply forget about writing. Sort of like I forgot to arrive early to my own soccer game. If I have to forget something, neglecting my writing takes precedence over forgetting to feed the kids.

10. My eyes are itchy.

Actually my seasonal allergies have absolutely nothing to do with this blog post. I just wanted to complain. Spring has arrived late, and we haven’t reached the point where a thin film of yellow pollen will cover every outdoor surface. Still I wake up every morning and contemplate scratching my eyes off my face. Allegra and Zaditor eye drops only go so far.

P.S.

Lest I end on a negative note, I need to add a thank-you note to my sweet husband. After following him around from state to state for nearly 17 years, he’s decided to make a sacrifice for me. He’s moving us to the Blue Ridge Mountains just so we can live near my sister’s family and my parents. His family lives on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, and he still hasn’t completely come to grips with being labeled an East Coaster.

We’re also buying a house that he’s never seen in person. While I gave in to his request for a garage, he let me pick out the rest of the house. He recognizes that he’s committing to an indefinite number of Sunday dinners and that we will never live in the same time zone as his parents. He is increasing his commuting time so I can decrease the stress that I’ve grown used to carrying.

And that’s just part of the reason that I love him. Thank you, Ryan.

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A Productive Week

Much to G’s disappointment, another polar vortex did not descend upon us this week. My snow-crazy child even lamented that other nearby counties got an ice storm, but we didn’t. I pointed out that we still had electricity, heat, and hot water. 11-year-olds just don’t care about these things!

Instead no lessons were canceled for bad weather, no one had any appointments, and we accomplished quite a bit of schoolwork. I thought I’d post photographic proof that we’ve been learning and creating this week.

In history, we’ve reached the 1400s and are trying to make sense of all the Richards, Edwards, and Henrys. We created our own banners for the Yorks and the Lancasters, and all three girls collaborated on a pop-out card of the Tower of London. H was only allowed to create the landscaping, and S and G fought over how many horses and guards were needed. Overall, it was a good way to learn some British history.

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Q: Where did Richard III hide King Edward V and his brother?

S used her artistic abilities to enhance her study of E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web. The supplies were simple: Sculpey, an empty Nuun box, some leftover Easter grass, and acrylic paint. Templeton the Rat is almost as big as Wilbur, but S insisted on hiding him in the crate. Charlotte is in the upper left-hand corner.

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Next we took a break from conducting a science experiment to create an anatomy review game. The girls are still arguing about the name of the game and all the specific rules of play, but they drew and laminated this game board themselves. S and H created the game pieces–out of more Sculpey–and G is trying to figure out how to turn the red and white blood cells into wild cards.

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Not pictured are the question cards that they wrote for the 8 different systems that we have studied so far this year. (Bonus points awarded to astute readers who can correctly identify the above organs.) The object is to collect one card of each color and reach the brain first.

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H and I also finished our winter nature study. The recent snow was well-timed for our unit on weather, birds, animals, music, and art. Today we made some bird feeders. Pine cones, peanut butter, and sunflower seeds were all it took.

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H was optimistic about the birds’ chances of eating the three treats that we hung along the side yard. She’s only 6, but I knew better. This little guy was happily munching his way through cone #1 when we returned from art lessons today.

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At least the bird feeder is squirrel-proof.

P.S. For those wondering, Ryan is safe, busy, and hard at work.


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I’ll Fly Away…

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Yesterday a small flock of goldfinches discovered that our porch feeder was full of sunflower seeds. Conveniently, H also started a winter nature study yesterday, and we were mesmerized by the pretty yellowish birds who decided to join the cardinals, titmice, and chickadees who live year-round in the adjacent woods.

I snapped this photo through the glass of our front door this morning. We awoke to another four inches of snow covering our world, and the goldfinches ate a noisy breakfast before disappearing for the day.

Today is also the day that my husband is flying far, far away to a land that is not covered in snow. Between the goldfinches’ visit and my love’s departure, I have the lyrics to “I’ll Fly Away” stuck in my head today–the Alison Krauss/Gillian Welch duet version. Sing with me:

Some glad morning when this life is o’er,
I’ll fly away;
To a home on God’s celestial shore,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).
When the shadows of this life have gone,
I’ll fly away;
Like a bird from prison bars has flown,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away).
Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)

I’ll fly away, Oh Glory
I’ll fly away; (in the morning)
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by,
I’ll fly away (I’ll fly away)


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Just what do you do with your day?

I get this question a lot. It’s sometimes phrased differently, and it often leads to additional questions: How long does your school day last? Do you give homework? Where do you do your work? Do you pick your own curriculum? How long are you going to home school? What about middle school? What about high school?!

I thought I’d share some pictures, minus the students themselves. Here is where we spend a good chunk of our day. This is supposed to be a formal living room,but we’ve re-purposed it to suit our needs.

A very clean--and rarely seen--table top and freshly vacuumed floor.

A very clean–and rarely seen–table top and freshly vacuumed floor.

It took us exactly one week to realize that we were not going to accomplish great things sitting at the kitchen counter. We bought this table from an unfinished furniture store when we were living in Corpus Christi. The benches are a recent addition, and their color still irks me. They are supposed to be a brick red, not a reddish brown.

If you’re wondering, it takes less than an hour to finish kindergarten each day. With each grade, the time increases. G, our 6th grader, usually spends 3-4 hours completing her daily work. H is halfway through 1st grade and finishes the core of her work in about an hour; however, she joins G and S for science and history in the afternoons.

I choose all of our curriculum instead of following a boxed program. (See this post on what we’re doing this year.) When we decided to teach G at home for kindergarten, I found Cathy Duffy’s 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum and studied it religiously. She has an updated version (101 Top Picks) and a fantastic web site, too. We store our workbooks and teacher guides in this little bookcase:

DSCN0295Our reading library, a selection of artwork and interesting finds, math supplies, and more are in this bookcase.

DSCN0285I’m not going to show you the section of my pantry where I keep the books and curricula that we are not currently using. If your children have ever been to our house, they know that this is also the place where I keep drawing paper and paints!

As for homework, the answer is nope. We do all of our school at home, so homework is what happens only if somebody refuses to complete an assignment.

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H colored these flags to represent the countries we’ve studied so far this year. The skeleton puzzle was a gift from the grandparents and fits in with our study of anatomy; and that’s Pepper, hiding in the far right corner of her cage.

I’ve made a conscious effort not to put too many things on the walls. After painting the common areas of our house this summer, I took down quite a bit from the schoolroom. (It’s distracting for G to have so many things on the wall, and there are already 2 windows to capture her attention.)

Our laminated wall map of the world. We learn geography with story disks and dry-erase markers!

Our laminated wall map of the world. We learn geography with story disks and dry-erase markers!

The girls are all artists with their own unique talents. G and S take weekly art lessons and are learning techniques that I cannot teach. H loves to color and draw and has not yet surpassed my ability. I recently changed out the wall display area.

Landscapes!

Landscapes!

Last month G finished an oil pastel of Paris and did a brilliant job of using color. If I remember correctly, this is a view of the Eiffel Tower from the Tuileries.

DSCN0275S completed her first oil pastel on Friday. It’s a scene that she copied from an ad for British Columbia, I think.

DSCN0277H drew this scene of an Italian countryside when we were reading The Clown of God. Her assignment was to draw in the style of children’s illustrator Tomie dePaola.

DSCN0269Just how long will we continue to home school our girls? The answer is, “I don’t know.” Our original plan was just for two years. Then we added a second student…and a third. Now we’ve had a middle schooler. At this point, high school no longer seems daunting, especially since I used to teach high school English. (Now ask me how much I remember from calculus….)


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Things I Am Learning This Week

It’s been a few days since I’ve written. Here’s what’s going on this week:

1. No more home school co-op for us. Yes, we’re going to take a bold step and actually educate the girls at home. Brilliant concept. In fact, it’s been about 5 years since we last tried this approach to schooling. Home schooling is a wonderful educational option, and there are so many ways to accomplish it; however, there is also a seemingly endless list of educational opportunities that keep us out of our house. And let’s just say that carving time out of our family’s schedule for unicycling just wasn’t something Ryan and I thought was a good idea.

2. Insulin pumps break when you are least expecting them to do so. Then again, I can’t think of any time that seems right for S’s pump to stop working. Yay for the loaner pump that is making its way to us. And boo for the two to three weeks that it will take for Tricare to approve our new purchase.

3. My littlest running partner, H, slows way down when it’s hot outside. To clarify, I’m the one running, and she’s the one pedaling the Cutie Cat pink and purple bike. At her fastest, we’re logging 9:30 miles; our slowest mile clocked in at 11:00 last Friday. The time spent with her is totally worth the slower pace.

4. The smallest accomplishments bring the greatest joy. S won her heat in her second freestyle race at yesterday’s swim meet. Her face was radiant when she held that blue ribbon in her hand. My face was radiant this morning when her endocrinologist’s secretary read me her latest a1c results: 7.1 for the second time in a row.

5. Life is a constant exchange of stresses. Now that I no longer have to design and plan a creative writing/public speaking course for middle school students, I have plenty of time to earn my E-level soccer coaching license. So far I have completed the online Level 8 referee course and the Heads Up concussion training. After I write a couple of papers and spend a weekend on the soccer field, I will be licensed. (Why, why, why did I not do this when I was younger and single???)

6. On a serious note, the gift of life is a beautiful thing. We attended a sweet memorial service for the tiny baby boy of some church friends of ours. Born at just 22 weeks, his little life has already made a permanent impact on his parents, big sister, and extended church family. To paraphrase our pastor’s words, we were confirming the choice his parents made to celebrate his brief life at a stage where the majority of Americans believe his existence is part of a woman’s choice. I shed a few tears, gave quite a few hugs, and took great comfort in knowing that little Walter is running around heaven with my Seth, Owen, and Lucy. I look forward to the day that I will join them.