Friday, January 27, 2012

What in the...




You know you've said it.  One day, you're moving through life as your normally do, when all of a sudden something come flying out of nowhere  -- could be an unforeseen occurrence, unexpected idea, or an actual object -- and your immediate reaction is,

"What in the world???"

This frequently happens to me. And I know that I have been known to cause others to exclaim this question...and recently.

Our seemingly "out of the blue" transition to home school has left many of our family and friends scratching their heads and saying, "what just happened?"

We've maybe not done the best job of laying the groundwork to guide everyone through our thought process over the last few months (and some of you are maybe raising an eyebrow and saying, "months?? How come we haven't heard a thing about this then if it's been months??") and making the journey of how we got here more public or understood.

The answer is, that it happened a lot quicker than we anticipated (I'm still a little stunned muttering, "what in the world?" under my breath!). And for those of you who are interested, here is the how and why...

We ended the summer on a high note and for the first time...in maybe forever...I didn't exhale a sigh of relief as the first day of school arrived. Truthfully, I was a bit nervous for our 1st grader. She didn't do so well last year in kindergarten. Many days she was "on red" for behavioral issues or not finishing her seat work. I cringed at the thought of going through that again.

But, she happily went to her new class, the 4th grader went to hers and I took the 4-year-old to year two of preschool enrichment on Tuesdays/Thursday.

By November, everything had changed. We withdrew our son from preschool for financial reasons -- which broke my heart (I cried). But that wasn't that toughest issue at that time for us.

Both of our girls were struggling. The first-grader did well initially. Her teacher is a gem and a veteran teacher. But by October, in our parent-teacher conference, she shared that although Hadley was squirmy and didn't want to do the seat work, she was able to give her some extra attention/incentive to get things done. However, she did broach the topic of having her tested for possible ADHD or the like because of "inability to focus."

My heart sank at that news. It didn't help that we were continuing to experience "Homework Hell" with the fourth-grader. Frequently, we she brought home 1-2 hours worth of homework -- mostly the latter. It drove us both crazy...poor Hayden having to sit and do seat work for so long after such a long school day already...and me -- trying to help her and make dinner, take care of the youngers, pick up the house, etc.

It was miserable all around.

About this time, the kids and I went down and visited a good friend of mine named Sarah, who lives in another city about 45 minutes south of us. A home school mom of 5 years+, Sarah is a wonderful person, artist, mom, wife, musician...I love her to pieces. I've watched her home school her boys and seen them grow up to be amazingly intelligent, gifted and out-of-the-box young men (aged 7 & 10). Because she home schools, I guess I have felt bold enough to ask if they would mind having us for company on the odd school holiday -- with the assumption that they might be having a holiday as well -- or could maybe move things around to accommodate our visit (not sure if that last part was overly-assumptive on my part....sorry, Sarah!).

Over the years, Sarah has shared some about home schooling, but she's never been zealous about it where she's tried to "convert me."  She's been kind to share what she's doing with complete respect and acceptance for what other moms choose to do. I love that about her.

However, that day was different for me. Instead of politely inquiring about how the "home schooling thing" was going (because really...I do care because she's a dear friend), I actually asked more probing, deeper, far-reaching questions about how it worked, what their day looked like, how closely the boys were on track to their public school peers.

What about homework?
No homework.

How long is a home school day on average?
2-3 hours.

I was interested.

I think I shocked us both. But, maybe down deep I knew that we were reaching a boiling point in our current situation and I was looking for a way to escape the madness.

Sarah answered all my questions and even showed me some of their curriculum and set up. She explained to me how the boys were actually enrolled in a public charter school set up for home school families. Tax money is paid out "per child" at the school to hire "educational coordinators" that oversee the children enrolled and help the parents pick curriculum (given/checked out for free), provide services for special needs/issue, and offer extra-curricular classes during the week like art, music, science, P.E. and more.

All things that have either left public schools here in California, or have been pared down to a ridiculous minimum.

I left that meeting feeling like maybe home schooling could be an option. I had never, ever considered it before -- truthfully. And actually, I had strong feelings against it. I came home and talked to my husband and I think we were both surprised to realize we both didn't hate the idea.

As I processed through and chatted with some of my friends, I was surprised to hear that a few of them were also considering home school. So, within a few weeks, Sarah graciously drove up with a box of info and curriculum and joined another home schooling mom and four of us "interested parties" to have an informational meeting/Q&A.

As both Sarah and the other mom, Teresa, shared about home schooling and their experience with it, as well as resources, and helpful info, I became more and more intrigued. All of a sudden sitting there with my 3 friends (all of whom had their teaching credentials, but were severely disenchanted with the school system as it is and worried for the welfare of their children both educationally and emotionally), it seemed possible.

A few weeks later, we attended a info meeting for that public charter school that Sarah's boys attend (oh, and that she is also the art teacher at). They are working on securing a site to start a satellite campus up in my area. It seemed even more feasible -- inevitable almost.

However, I was fearful. I had (and have) some confidence issues in my abilities to be the sole teacher for my children. Being a product of public schools and then having children for multiple years in public school, it felt like I was suddenly trying to turn and swim upstream...or maybe out of the stream altogether.

By then, it was Christmas break, and I was gripped by indecision. We had pretty much decided to pursue enrolling both girls in the Fall at the new satellite campus (and by then, our eldest son, Declan, would be in kindergarten too), but I was nervous about how to prepare and get there in the months ahead.

But slowly, as the girls went back to school in January, that decision became more immediate.

We started getting more and  more communication from the first-grader's teacher about her inability to sit still and do her seat work and the teacher's concern that she wouldn't be ready for the STAR test and the rigors of 2nd grade.

It felt terrible to continually chastise her to "pay attention" and "focus" when at this point, I had became completely disenchanted with the entire school system and their driving force to cram the answers to the STAR test in the children's head so that they pass it and well so that the school district's will continue to be funded and not get on "watch lists."

We felt like that was a game we didn't want to play.

Plus, although I believe in teaching my children to respect authority and submit to requests to sit down and focus and be still (all important), I wasn't so sure that requiring children to do that while learning for great expanses of time was in Hadley's best interest.

We also discovered about this time that although Hadley loathes math worksheets, we could goad her into doing them easier and quicker if we played music for her. I knew that a teacher of 24 could not be expected to bump the song, "Pumped Up Kicks" every time my child had to do a worksheet.

Something had to change.

Meanwhile, the 4th grader was starting to share about some emotional bullying that she was experiencing at school by classmates and feelings of isolation and being "hated." The homework issue had gone a little bit better, but I wondered if perhaps her teacher had backed off on giving so much work after numerous parental complaints of excessive work (not just us).

Plus, I started to hear about all the subjects and units of study that had been and were going to be dropped out of the curriculum "because it wasn't on the STAR test."

I really started to dislike that test and the power it has over our schools, teachers and administrators. It's not their fault that things are set up this way. It's a broken system when funding relies on test scores. Everyone loses. But, the biggest losers are the students.

It's terrible when a veteran teacher who has taught for 25+ years tells you that they have to sneak their class out to their garden to do some weeding and gardening because they will get busted by the principal for doing things that are not about the STAR test. (I'm using "they" to protect the innocent) Also, that they are getting flack for trying to fit in extra science units and more P.E. because those two things are rapidly going bye-bye and they can't bear to see it happen. And yes, that teacher got flack for doing that too.

Every morning when the alarm went off before 7 a.m. and I struggled through the difficult routine of motivating both girls to get dressed, brush their teeth, eat breakfast and get out the door by 7:35 to get the first bell at 7:40 a.m. (yes, you read that right....add that in as another reason that school can be ridiculous. I can't even think straight at 7:45...so how can a child be expected to think when she still has sleep crusties in her eyes?).

It all seemed to be so futile. So, I contacted the charter school. They told me that if I wanted to enroll in the Fall, I needed to get my application in to reserve my spot. They told me that they currently had space for the girls for the Spring semester as well, if I were interested in that.

So, I sent in an application. They accepted it. They had room for both girls.

It was time to make a decision.

For the 4th-grader, it was easy. She had been bugging me to home school her since early December when we started talking about it. She was tired of feeling picked on and harrased. She ended up in the nurse's office enough time post-Christmas break with headaches and stomach aches to warrant a referral home from the nurse requesting us to have her taken in to see her doctor to see if something was wrong with her.

I knew what was wrong with her.

Her spirit was crushed. The stress of school was making her sick.

I hated to see it.

The last straw was her coming home and telling me about another classmate (a "frenemy" of sorts) had pulled down her shirt in line for lunch to see if Hayden was wearing a training bra (as she suspected) -- leaving Hayden mortified as she announced to the class and everyone else that yes she was. My poor daughter cried so hard that her teacher sent her and the other girl to the principal's office where they both wrote out "incident reports" and supposedly made up.

Hayden was devastated. And, I never heard one word about it from either her teacher or the school. No one called to tell me about it. My poor girl was harassed and I never knew or could do anything to protect her.

We were done.

The first-grader was a tougher choice. We had decided to leave her in school through the Spring and then pull her in the Fall. But, things continued to deteriorate. She didn't do her seat work. She didn't want to do her worksheets at home. Being a strong-willed, "precocious child," it felt like she was always "getting it" for either not doing well at school or not doing well at home.

And by then, she had caught on and was asking to be home schooled. When we went to see the campus on Monday, she insisted she get to go there too.

So we withdrew both of the girls. Hayden's last day was a week ago Friday, and Hadley's was Tuesday -- the day after we visited the charter school and enrolled them both.

Tuesday was rough. I truly love her teacher and absolutely believe she did her best by Hadley and did so much to help her improve, focus and achieve. However, I couldn't get beyond the impetus and push to get the students ready for that darn, STAR test.

In the end, that's not what I value when it comes to my children's education. I want them to be creative, critical-thinkers who are curious enough to seek out the answers why, who read for pleasure and knowledge -- not just because it's required.

So, we were all greatly anticipating Thursday -- our first day of "classes" at the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center.


They have them on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However, it's an hour drive one-way, so my friend, Ninon, who is also on this journey with 3 of her 4 kids, and I decided to carpool and split gas money to make the trip down once a week to give our kids some value-added classes and a chance to hang out with other kids.

It was a pretty amazing day.

The back side of the school (the old school house is in the middle).

We arrived at 9 a.m. and the kids split up into different classes. Art for two, science for another two and then P.E/Gardening for another. Then at 10 a.m., they went to a different class. Then lunch and then two more sets of classes. The kids ran, played, ate, worked with their brains and their hands, met a variety of children from a variety of different family backgrounds.

One of the kids was even asked by a fellow home schooler (after she looked him up and down), "you were public schooled before, right?" When he said he had been, she pronounced, "yeah...I could tell."

Ninon and I had a good laugh over that one and joked that reverse discrimination exists in the homeschooling community too.

Younger siblings are encouraged to participate and play. 

Declan loooves playing on the playground and with his friend, Jack!

The pack o' kids (6 in all) were filthy, a little loamy, amped up and ravenous when we headed home at 2 p.m. -- toting all of the snacks and the kids' handicraft and art projects (Hadley made origami!). All of them were excited to return the following Thursday (and were sad we couldn't come back on Tuesdays!)

To be honest, it hasn't all been as effortless as it was on Thursday. We're still figuring this all out. There is a box of curriculum that I am going through to figure out what I'm going to do and when and how. It's a bit overwhelming.

But I have a lot of support from the girls' Educational Coordinator, Jeri, and a varied group of home schooling friends. They are have encouraged me to take it slow and take it easy. That the girls won't "lose information" if I don't have it all together in my first week -- that studies actually show that a period of "transition" from public school to home schooling is healthy for both parent and child. -- that they will continue to learn and absorb, but intuitively.

I was fascinated to read in one of the Home schooling "How to" books that some studies show that "chronic exposure to stress inhibits full brain development. This can result in learning problems, such as ADD, ADHD or behavioral problems."

While I am not attributing all behavioral issues to stress, I can see the link. I know that I have seen the beginning of change in both of my girls now that the "pressure" is off. They are more serene, content. They are still full of activity, but it's just...different.

So, now we are on this journey.

Ultimately, we've walked into this home schooling thing more as a "lifestyle choice," rather than a mere educational choice. The hope is that we would be able to make every day life things "teachable moments," and experience these moments together as a family.

I am humbled to see this happening already -- the children are currently WILLINGLY watching a documentary on the Loggerhead sea turtle for the second time today with their dad. The first we did as a lesson combining science, nature and geography (we even got some math and English in). They loved it so much that after they talked their father's ear off about it and showed him their reports and maps, they put it again and begged him to watch it with them.

Wow!

Before, we would have been "too wiped out" from the day (both the kids from being at school all day and me, from my stuff) to want to "learn" something together. But the truth is, they don't even see it as learning. And that's amazing to me!

I have no idea how this is going to work, or where we're going to end up, but right now, I guess I don't need to know that. We're on the path that makes the most sense for our family and for our children.  As a parent, my children's emotional well-being and education is my responsibility. I need to do whatever it takes to protect that...to provide it in the best way I can.

So that's where we are. In a vastly different place than we were one week ago. So much has changed. But so much has not.

This is our family's journey. I would never assume that our choice to home school (wow...it's still so surreal to even say that) would be for everyone. I know that every child is different -- learns differently. Every family is different, does things differently.

I would never want anyone to feel "less than," or feel that I've implied that only parents who "truly love their children home school" them. That is the last thing I'd ever want to convey. Every family makes a decision on what works best for their child/ren. Period.

But this is our story...our path...at least for the foreseeable future. We'll keep you posted on how it unfolds.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The More Things Change...

The view from the school's playground...gorgeous rolling hill, cloud-puffed sky..


"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

This phrase has been running through and jumping over hurdles in my brain the last few weeks (and maybe months) as I've perceived a shift in our culture -- and particularly my own life and choices -- to re-learn and resurrect so many of the "old ways and traditions" of doing things...from cooking, "home-making," crafting, minding our finances, etc. (I blogged about this topic too -- if you are interested.)

I honestly do think that much of it can be attributed to the economic downturn and people needing to make some serious lifestyle changes. However, I really do think that there is a hunger for our history and collective past -- a nostalgia of sorts for another time where people were content with less and seemed to live fuller.

Sidenote: In case you've ever wondered, that quote is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a french writer of note.

Anyhow, back to my thought process of late...

On Monday, as my friend, Ninon, and I pulled up to the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Learning Center to enroll our children and start this crazy, "never say never" home school journey, I couldn't help but think of that phrase as we looked at the most prominent structures on the charter school's campus.



It's a beautiful building that used to be a one-room school house back in the day. Now serving as the school library, it has a solid, historic feel to it. Like it's seen some things in it's day and it's not sure we're up to the challenge. I like it.

After filling out paperwork to enroll the five children (two of mine, three of hers), we met with our Educational Coordinator to get some general information on the both the school and how their school/program works. It was a challenge to get all the pertinent information with my four children playing in the room; however, I was so very grateful that our coordinator, Jeri, was understanding and even encouraging in the children's play and interruptions.

After that, we walked over to that majestic library and started to pick out curriculum...lots and lots of curriculum, stacks and stacks of curriculum. And that was just for my two children.


Between the two families, we loaded up the cargo area of my van with piles and piles of books and resources.

Did I mention that we didn't have to pay a dime? Because it's a public charter, tax money is paid out to the school on a per child basis -- just like regular school.

By this time, our kids were a wreck. They had been fairly patient for the two hours that it took for all of this to be accomplished, so as promised, we headed out to the playground area to have lunch and let the children finally run and jump and go crazy.

And they did...they swung, they slid down slides, they ran, they did it all...and eventually we ended up here...a curious fun-looking playhouse.


As we walked up to it, I recognized the handiwork of this sign...


...a Sarah Geesey work of art, a dear friend, who has beautifully modeled homeschool for years and the one who first filled me in about Eleanor Roosevelt. She definitely has a style all her own that I think I would identify most anywhere (however, since she's the art teacher at the school, it makes perfect sense that her work would be represented out here).

One of the coordinators saw us looking and came over with a bucket of chalk. The kids shrieked with delight when they realized that the inside of the house was all chalkboard! They quickly went to work!

Ethan (Ninon's son) is a sweet little ham. My two girls are in the background.


My daughter Hayden thought this was the "best day ever."


The kids (minus McKenna): Ethan, Hayden, Camden, Ryan, Declan & Hadley

They played long and hard in this house and when they tired of it, it was time to go.


So, we loaded them up in van once again and headed to friend, Sarah's house, to get some more "insider information" from a home school mom that we both admire.

When we arrived at her lovely, homey, home that exudes charm, warmth and acceptance, Ryan and Ethan jumped out of the van, high-fived and cheered with glee, "we're home schoolers!"

After a lovely visit filled with affirmation, information given and questions answered, we piled back into the van to head north.

As we drove home from Sarah's back up to Fresno and our homes, we saw the most gorgeous double rainbow. I have never seen colors so vivid painted against a bruised-purple sky from the impending rain storm headed our way.

It was like a love note from God to cap off an exhausting, overwhelming and exciting day and the signal of a new fresh beginning.

I definitely don't have it all figured out yet -- not even close.  I've only read one "how to" home school book and I haven't even been able to attack that plastic bin full of curriculum.

But I'm hopeful.

My children are happy...relived. Confident. Content.

All things I wish for them in a "modern age," but so very grateful to be able to provide via a "days gone by" method of instruction.

We'll be back on Thursday for our first of many weekly trips down to take advantage of art, music, language and other hands-on, value-added classes. The kids can't wait!

And, so, the adventure begins...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Embark


Embark.

It's a word that never fails to thrill me.

For as long as I can remember, I have been afflicted with wanderlust.

Whenever I'm outdoors and a plane flies over head and contrails paint the sky, I cannot help but wonder where those lucky souls are bound for and wish that I were up there among them.

An explorer at heart, I long to take wing and fly to cities, states, and countries unknown. The world is a vast expanse to explore and get lost in. I have been blessed to have done a fair amount of traveling in my 38 years; I've even been able to put down stakes and live in two foreign countries for a significant amount of time.

I wouldn't trade these sights, smells, tastes for anything. They have made me a wiser, deeper, kinder person. I know that as long as our bank balance and my body and current stage allows, I will always say yes to Going.

To traveling.

But embarking on a new venture in my life? One fraught with unknowns and little people who will be looking at me for a whole new level of instruction.

Literal instruction.

Because, tomorrow is our first day of home school.

I'm scared to death -- of choosing the wrong curriculum, of screwing up our kids' education, of them "falling behind" -- and to be honest -- spending too much time in our pjs.

I never thought this is where I would end up. Where we would end up.

Yet, here we are.

A few months ago, I was at our church's sorta bi-weekly worship team meeting. As is our custom, we pray for each other and for the various needs that team members share. I didn't share anything. Everything was fine. Life was good...busy, but good.

However, our worship leader stopped his prayer and said he wanted to pray for me. And he did, but then he stopped and started to tell me how he believed that God was going to take me on a new journey beyond what I have been used to the past couple of years and beyond what I could ever imagine. And that He would be cutting through all of the busyness and projects and start something.....new. A new journey.

An embarkation.

Okay, he didn't say that word precisely, but that was the gist. And, when he said that, I was thinking, "oh, wouldn't that be nice to have maybe a new friendship, or maybe a writing gig, or some other opportunity."

I never, ever thought that the embarking would be into home school.

It's definitely "beyond what I could ever imagine" alright.

But, yet, He's called me to the journey. The plane is fueled up and on the tarmac. And while my luggage might not be fully or adequately packed -- and heck, I might only have the tinniest carry-on bag to take on board at this point -- the final call for boarding has gone out.

It's time for a new journey to a somewhat ambiguous destination.

Yet, I know the joy is in the journey and in trusting that the metal tube hurtling through the airspace -- defying the law of gravity and other physics -- is also a contained cocoon of God's graciousness. And that I will be okay -- we will be okay -- because we are in His hands and following the plan He has laid out for us.

No, I may not fully comprehend the destination...but I am fully choosing to embark.

I've handed over my boarding pass, taken my seat and kicked off my shoes. I've stowed all my baggage of worry and doubt away and now all that's left is my favorite part -- looking out the window as we power down the runway and build up airspeed to do what seems impossible.

And I hear my Father say, "Heather...prepare for take off."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Be still...


This verse splashed upon my mind today in a symphony of color.

Although I have yet to hear the audible voice of God, I feel like he painted this onto my brain today -- a little love message from Him to me.

See...this week is a tough one.

Every year I help organize an event that our church sponsors to provide young children with warm jackets, diaper, wipes, food and more. Every year I am so blessed to see that children and families so happy and grateful for such small gifts. But every year, I get so inundated with the process and all the event coordination leading up to the big day, that I feel overwhelmed, stressed and tired.

This year was no different. The event is Saturday, so yesterday as I started to look at the multitude of tasks ahead of me, I freaked out a little. Adding in some general busyness on our holiday day off, and it all led to a massive migraine by the afternoon.

Last night, I went to the church for our worship team practice and asked for prayer. I asked that not only would God ease the pounding in my head, but that he would orchestrate all the pieces that needed moving and putting into place. I didn't want to run around like a crazy person trying to "do it all" -- simply because there was just too much to be done to do it gracefully and in addition to all the "other stuff" I need to do in my daily life and a mother, wife, friend, etc.

So, I let it go. My migraine faded and as I went to sleep last night, I asked for a fresh new day of no migraine and a better attitude.

Today I woke up free of pain and ready to go. As the day has progressed, several "maybes" regarding whether something can be ready/available/handy for Saturday became "yes." Other worries and concerns I had were replaced with concrete information -- and of the positive variety. Basically...everything is "working out."

I had to laugh as I typed out a status update on Facebook to that effect and then my friend who works at our church and is helping me with some of the details posted that another maybe was a yes.

Amazing!

And then...that's when I heard God speak this verse found in Psalm 46:10 into my spirit...

"Be still and know that I am God."

Silly me...the God who spoke the universe into being can handle a few administrative tasks. He doesn't even need my help at all.

Sure...there are plenty of times that we need to do, to go, to be....we need to be active and pro-active.

But, strangely enough, when it defies all sense of what we should do, we are asked to stop the madness and...

just...be...still.

Step away from the hustle bustle, put down the spreadsheet, walk away from your To Do list and just be...

That's it.

I love the way The Message puts it:

"Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." 

And so, I choose to "step out of the traffic" of my busy life and the gridlock of my brain. I choose to quiet my busy mind and step aside and let God do what He does best -- clear a pathway that leads to Him.

I choose to know -- or remember -- who He is and who I am because of and through Him.

I choose to be....still....and let Him be God of my life.



Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Return of the Homemaker


There's something in the air....something that's been coming on slowly the last few years, but suddenly...it's existence is undeniable.

It's....the Return of the Homemaker!

Oh, the homemaker has always been around. But over the last thirty or more years, the occupational status has really taken a hit on the cool quotient. Once women were "liberated" from the home and entered the work place in droves, the notion of staying home to be a house wife and raise the children as a sole occupation suffered from the "lame factor." 

Women wanted "it all" -- a career/life outside of the tiny four walls of their home and escape from the drudgery and day to day of housework, meal planning, sewing, cooking, shopping and other "wifely duties."

However, "wifely duties" still needed to get done, so it became more about "the balancing act" and fulfilling all the various obligations that the average woman had on her respective plate.

And that can be exhausting....as I've experienced first hand....and somewhat unfulfilling and frustrating to never be able to fully "be" where you are -- home life constantly bleeds into the work world, and the work world constantly cuts into the home life.

When we made the decision that I would stay home solely as a "house wife" (such a funny term) in 2004 when we were getting ready to welcome our second child, it seemed somewhat like a "retro" idea. Sure, it wasn't completely unheard of, but the majority of people I knew chose to go back to work and go the daycare/school route after their babies were born, or after the first couple months (or even years) of their child's life.

I even remember thinking about a woman in our church who had two young teenagers and was a "stay at home mom" and thinking it was strange that she didn't choose to go back to work and "make some extra money" for the family. After all, what could a person do all day at home anyway with the kids at school all day?

Now that I am a mom of four, I can see how you can easily spend all day at home and get little accomplished -- or at best, get a bit more accomplished than the couple hours after work or on weekends. However, my point is that it's not easy either way. There is a plethora of things to do - cleaning bathrooms, vaccuming, laundry, organization, cooking, planning, teaching/playing with the kids, grocery shopping....the list goes on and on.

There is always something that needs to be done. And that will never change. However, the change I'm referring to is a sort of "Renaissance of the Home."

Maybe it's because many women have lost their jobs due to the current economic recession, or have chosen to stay home because the job they could get would not be worth all the other expenses of taking that job -- either way, there seems to be a lot more moms (and sometimes dads) who are stay at home parents.

This current trend has created a revival of sorts of some of the those time-honored traditions of the house wife - sewing, crafting, cooking, couponing, repurposing, etc. I've seen more pins on Pinterest about making your own laundry soap or turning a milk jug into functional items than I can believe. I've also read that the sale of sewing machines (and sign ups for lessons) is at a record high.

All this "extra time" has made home-making both hip and relevant again. No longer is it complete drudgery to create a hearty and delicious meal for your family with the existences of Allrecipes and other fun websites to help us make that happen. Dare I say, it's become even adventurous?

While I am not churning my own butter or darning socks, I feel like I have learned (or maybe learned to appreciate) some pretty amazing and practical housewifely things. I've mentioned in other posts about learning to sew and how that makes me feel both empowered and connected to women in ages past. The garden that we planted last Spring (our first ever) did the same.

In my suburban life, this as "Pioneer Woman" as I get. But, still...I like it!

Last night was another one of those moments for me.

I successfully made the best pork chops of my life....in a cast iron Dutch oven! 

Why is this significant, and a moment to revel in?

I am the granddaughter of a women who went to work during and after World War II. She was our family's "Rosie the Riveter." She went to work and she never stopped going. My mom and her sisters were one of the first wave of families to experience the "two parents working" phenomenon.

As a result, something had to give (as it always does) and no longer did my grandmother have the time (and really, I don't think she had the inclination either) to be Julia Child in the kitchen and produce dinners that took hours of preparation and attention. The advent of the microwave oven made it possible for time-strapped parents to get a hot dinner on the table faster and easier.

My mother learned the same style of cooking from her mother and I learned it from mine. I'm not bashing it, because there is a lot of good stuff in there to learn. However, I think my mom would agree (and not take it personally because I looove her and am grateful for my childhood upbringing) that our meals growing up were filling and good but simple fare of meat, potatoes, spaghetti, etc. 

It's stuff that I continue to cook for my little family -- because it's good and it works. However, in the last few years, I've tried to branch out to make other foods from other cultures. Being able to travel and live overseas has introduced my palate to other flavors and ways of doing things. It wasn't until I lived in Greece, that I realized that my mom didn't cook with garlic -- which upon investigation I learned was because of my dad's distaste for it. I didn't know it was missing until I "found it."

I'm no chef, but I figure since we have to eat, I might as well try to do it well -- as good as I can manage with the time I have allotted. And that has led me to the cast iron Dutch oven. I'm not sure how I decided I needed one...probably one too many magazine articles or t.v. cooking shows about them, but I did some research online and found the one I wanted on Amazon. It wasn't in our household budget, so, I asked for it for Christmas.



Since then, I've been getting used to it (how to season it, how to use it) and have made a few dinners in it. I also got a cookbook with it and have enjoyed reading about the history of cast iron and its benefits.

Did you know that cast iron ware made its big foray into modern day cooking in the 1800's as families trekked across America to homestead the Western part of the U.S.? No covered wagon was complete without a cast iron skillet and no 49-er panning for gold would be without a dutch oven hanging over their fire.

Cast iron pieces were passed down from generation to generation. Women would anticipate the day that their grandmother's iron skillet (perfectly seasoned after all those meals and all those years) would one day become theirs...it was a right of passage....an heirloom.

Did you know that there was relatively no anemia issues either? Enough trace amount of iron were added into the food that people didn't have that problem...scurvy...well, that is another story.

So...back to my pork chop victory...

I have never been able to make a successful pork chop. Whether I cook them in the oven, on the stove top, in the crock pot, they always turn out dry or fairly bland. One of the reasons that I decided to try the dutch oven was because of what I read about how it produces "tender and intensely flavored food."

Sign me up for that!

So, it was with great excitement that I thawed some pork chops last week and then found a recipe that sounded mouth-watering and got to work.

Braising the chops on the stove top

Adding more seasoning, onions and then bacon

An hour later, I opened the lid of the dutch oven and breathed in some kind of wonderful. As I cut into the chops to make smaller portions for the kids, I couldn't resist spearing a piece to sample.

Didn't get a good photo right when it finished.  Everyone was too hungry to wait!

....pure heaven!

I've NEVER tasted a pork chop so utterly tender, juicy and tasty. Succulent is the word to describe that party in my mouth. My husband took his plate gratefully and afterwards he told me, "that was the best pork chop I've had....ever!"

Plated and ready to serve...

My cast iron dutch oven dream came true that night....a dream I never thought I would have or ever want fulfilled. And even though my grandmother did not pass down a cast iron dutch oven to me, I can pass mine on to my grandchildren. And I really, truly love the idea of that.

Next up...making sourdough bread in my Black Beauty....yes, I named my dutch oven.

Now I can add cast iron cooking into my list of "throwbacks." Over the last couple of years, I've made a foray into these areas...

Sewing
Gardening
Couponing
Repurposing
Canning
Homeschooling

It just goes to show you that everything comes back around (although some would argue that they never truly "left"). I'm just glad I'm a part of this homemaking revival!

Who wants to join me?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Never Say Never



...okay...truthfully...does anyone not have that Justin Bieber song running through their head after reading that title?

We probably listened to it at least 20 times in a row when my girls first stumbled upon it. It may be a "tween song," but it may or may not have ended up on my running mix and may or may not have encouraged me to pick it up a few times when I got discouraged or wondered what I was doing out there on the trail.

Never say never.

It's a good thought...

Although, as a parody of "The Bieb's" smash hit would say,or sing), once you've sung that song in it's entirety, then...well, you've said the word "never" about 50 times!

I'd like to think that this credo is something that I hold to in my everyday life. However, I know full well that there are plenty of things I've been quick to say "never" about.

- Eating blow-fish, or any kind of fish
- Going on the show Wife Swap
- Touching a snake - or being in a room where a snake is not inside or behind glass on lock down
- Patronizing a strip club or any type of "Thunder from Down Under" extravaganza
- Divorcing my husband (had to throw that in there...as I'm sure he is relieved to read)
- Going back "and doing it all over again" in high school

And really, I racked my brain to come up with this list. I know that there are lines that I've drawn in my mind about moral issues. And there are things I might chalk up to "never," simply because they don't seem attainable in this lifetime. Mostly I feel like I'm open to things and experiences and willing to try pretty much anything.

But there is one that I left off of the list above...

...Never, ever, not ever would I EVER home school my children!

Why so vehement, you ask?

As a public school attender for all of my primary and secondary years, I was proud to say that I "made it through" the bumps and bruises and didn't need to be taken out and "coddled" at home or put into Christian school to "save my soul" or "chastity."

For some reason, I always viewed home school children as deserving my pity for not being able to "hang" with the "normal" kids. Granted, home schooling was a rare occurrence in my world many moons ago in the 80s and 90s, and some of the kids may have been a bit more "different" than myself and my peers.

I guess I really never considered it a truly viable way to be educated -- more of a cop out and less of a bold declaration of out-of-the-boxness.

So, I spouted out my "never" whenever I would talk with friends about the topic and especially when I had children, I many times declared the word in reference to their education.

However, because by then I was an adult and "mature," I added a caveat:

"I will never home school my children -- unless I feel like they are not getting a good education."

Which really didn't mean that much then as we made our home in an "award-winning" school district. One would think that would provide some measure of security.

Darn that caveat.

Because it's thrown me for a full loop this school year as my "excellent student" up through grade 3, has suddenly lost her love of reading and most of her curiosity of "why" about the world in grade 4. Instead, she seems to slog through her days uninterested, unfocused and bored. The sheer quantity of homework she has brought home (some attributed to work load, some attributed to her willingness to get it done in class) has brought us both to tears and utter frustration.

After a long day of school for her and housework and other running around for me, the last thing either of us wants to do at 3:30 is two hours of homework in between me making dinner and her listening to her younger siblings playing Wii and basically being free to do whatever they want.

I've almost pulled my hair out trying to run between burning food on the stove and a math problem that my 38-year-old, college-educated brain cannot seem to comprehend (who does their best thinking at 5:30 anyway?).

Add in little sister in first-grade who started the year with so much gusto and has proceeded to settle into a wheeze. She is my "busy" one -- the left-handed, precocious child who needs to be challenged and have her imagination ignited in order to get her want to engage and learn. Worksheets and writing spelling words over and over will never be easy with her.

I've had enough.

Adding in a few other things (such as discovering all that is being left out of curriculum due to state testing, and the dawning realization that basing funding on test scores is a terrible way to go about things), I began to realize that my caveat was waving the yellow flag.

So, I started checking it out. Home schooling has come a long way since I was a kid. I have several good friends whom I respect who home school their children. So, I started with my friend, Sarah, and tentatively asked a few questions that turned into a lengthy discussion...which turned into a lengthy meeting with her and a few other friends at my house a few weeks later...which turned into several of us attending a home school meeting for a local charter school for home schooling families.

At which a long-time friend who home schools her children, and who had heard me say "never," many times over the years way before either of us were married, saw me there and did a double take saying, "Sarah said Heather was coming, but I knew it couldn't be YOU!"

The meeting was great. It all sounded so good. The logic is there. I am on board with the intent of what home school parents want to do with education. I left that meeting excited about seeing my children engaging and loving learning once again. I vowed that we would produce critically-thinking children and not Scantron bubble-filling drones.

And then reality set in.

Or rather...my insecurities set in.

All the doubts of "can I do this?," and "can I teach two children with two preschool aged children running around?," and "am I qualified enough?," and of course, "will we all drive each other mad and have to put an emergency call into Daddy so he can come home and get the house off of lock down?"

It's unknown.

It's scary.

I think that fear is at the center of every "never" -- whether it be fear of what that something looks like, or fear of where it might take us and who it might cause us to become.

I have pinged and ponged back and forth until I've made myself sick and dizzy with the decision of whether we should take the home school plunge or stick with where we are at public school. I can lay out pros and cons for both. I can fully talk myself into home schooling one day and then talk myself out of it the next.

Last week, I ran into my eldest daughter's favorite teacher, Mrs. E. My daughter was blessed to have this seasoned, caring, Christian teacher for two years (1st and 3rd grade) and adores her completely. I trust her opinion about education.

When I shared with her my thoughts on homeschooling and whether I should do it, she jumped in and said, "Do it! Do it tomorrow!" And then, she proceeded to tell me why (which I won't go into here because that's another post).

I followed up with her today via email and thanked her for her candor and what she shared and then I told her about my insecurities and my wavering about what I should do and what would be best for our children and for our family.

I love what she wrote in return:
"I think of the 'faithful spies,' Joshua and Caleb's, "We are well able to take the land..." If you decide to go for it, God will be with you. If you decide to wait for now, God will not abandon your children. You are in a win-win situation. Both require a great deal of faith, and even home schooling is not the 'salvation' of our children. Take the anxiety off your plate and out of your head and listen to the Educational Coordinator [at the home school charter school]. He/she will help you sort out your concerns and decide. It's an adventure! Your kids will absorb your enthusiasm! 
Happy choosing, and you ARE well able to take the land."
And, you know...Mrs. E. is completely right. There were other 'spies' who went on that same expedition who came back and said, "we will surely never be able to take the land."

What was the difference?

Trust.

Trust that if God is calling me to do this, He will surely equip me to do it. Trust that if I go out to conquer the landscape of my children's education, He will meet me there and guide me. I will not be alone.

Trust.

Because most of the time, we believe God is for us and want to help us "in the land." But oftentimes, we wonder if he is actually watching us take that leap of faith......right.....at.....that.....very.....moment. As if he was "sleeping on the job," or "turned His head for a minute and missed our jump," and then had to hustle to get to us flailing out in the deep.

So, my never has turned into maybe, which turned into probably and is headed towards yes -- even if I'm not ready to take that leap yet.

But I have learned a good lesson about putting limits on myself and ultimately on God. I'm so very grateful that when he looks at me, he doesn't mutter, "never."

Instead he gazes at me and whispers, "forever..."