Thursday, January 23, 2014

Checking the Boxes: My Love/Hate Relationship with Lists



There is something about that little square with words next to it that just begs for action. It literally cries out for me to grab a pen and make that check mark inside it's precise lines.

I love it and I loathe it.

I love the feeling of checking off tasks. It makes me feel accomplished...that I can look back on my day and see that I was able to some things.

But it also makes me feel that pressure...you know that kind. That mommy pressure we all feel to be/do/achieve more.

If I'm not careful that box can do more damage than good in my heart and maybe this is another reason why lists with boxes have somewhat gone the way of the new year's resolution for me the past few years.

So, considering all that...I'm not sure what happened, but I'm feeling pretty industrious this week. 

--

A few weeks ago as the calendar turned over from 2013 to 2014, I decided that I would once again make resolutions for the new year after many years of avoiding them.  

I called that blog post, Be Resolute, because I was determined this year to do things differently.

I pinned a flurry of things to my Pinterest -- recipes, organizational tips, and yes, some worksheets and goals for 2014 on a board.

The truth is that I have not touched a single worksheet. I have printed them out, sure. But I have yet to put pen to paper. For some reason, I keep avoiding it. And it's not that I don't want to do it, I do. I just don't feel like I have the mental energy or space to do it quite yet. And I want it to be God-directed and not me-directed. 

So, what am I doing about that? Well, I am in the midst of planning a Be Resolute getaway, but that's perhaps another post for another day.

I have put some of those other pins to use, however. 

This week, I cooked an entire free-range chicken in my dutch oven to rave reviews from the family.




I then took the drippings and bones and simmered up some bone broth for 24-hours in my crock pot.



Then, I put my dutch oven into service again and baked this amazing artisan bread and was amazed how well it came out for my first time -- and with regular flour (not bread flour) too.



Calgon has nothing on Devonshire cream and lemon curd!


I even received my second eldest's new "task boards" from our education coordinator at the homeschool charter. This was an idea by the special ed. coordinator to assist her in completing tasks -- which is challenging with ADHD. This way, she knows exactly what needs to be done and when. As long as she remembers to check the chart, that is!



In the same vein, I also received our Chore Board that I ordered in 2013. Since I had just introduced the topic of resolutions and starting new habits with the kids this week, it has come in handy.

Basically, I hang a wooden token that has their assigned chore on it. Once they complete it, then can remove it and put it in the container for the tokens.

Thanks Jennifer from JRT Creations!


The get a mark for each chore they complete that they are recording here.




(Yeah...I know that this board isn't so fabulous. I'll have to think about something a bit more fun than masking tape and dry erase.)

Each hash mark earns them $.25. At the end of the day, if their tokens are still hanging on the board, then we get to take away $.25 for each chore not completed.

So far (two days in), it seems to be working pretty well!

It might help that we have been utilizing dry erase boards for school work/assignments for a few weeks now (which has also saved all of our sanity and some trees too).



And my happiest project that I did this week? By far it was the #MemoryProject2014 from Ann Voskamp's blog. I have been wanting to memorize scripture with the kids, and she has made it so easy and beautiful!


This was a step above taping it to the sliding glass door (which is totally what I would have done, but then thought of doing this at the last minute) and we have enjoyed having it be visual art.

I realize that this post could come off sounding like I am Super Mom or that this is the way that things always go in my household.

Ha. Ha. haaaaaaa!

Nothing could be further from the truth.


But a week like this gives me hope that....

a.) I/we are capable of change -- of doing things more efficiently and doing them better

b.) If I put the time and planning in, then we can accomplish more than we have been and we can accomplish what we need to do.


I am not naive enough to believe that this will happen every week because...

a.) Life happens

b.) I'm/we're not perfect

c.) I really like staying up late and sleeping in


However, I am encouraged. 

One could say, I am Resolute in my pursuit of a more organized 2014.


Monday, January 20, 2014

So You Think You Might Want to Homeschool


I'm an Admin for a Facebook Group for homeschooling in my area of central California. It's a group I started two years ago when we made the leap into it ourselves.

I was so freaked about it, I created a group of about six people -- half were already homeschooling (people I had thought were "crazy" before and now relied on like a well-loved teddy bear) and half were newbies like me.

That group of six has now grown to almost 230 people and more are adding by the day as "home educating" is becoming more of an option for many families.

And they have the same burning questions that I once did. So I decided to write a FAQ for them. And since I posted it there, I thought, why not post it here?

(Keep in mind that this is through the lens of someone homeschooling in California. Some information may be different for different states.)

So without further ado:


1.) I'm considering homeschooling my children. What are my options?

There are so many ways to homeschool and no "right way" except what works for your family and saves your sanity and your children's relationship.

For some, that is doing "school at home" through a K12 program where you do the same coursework done in public school, but just at home.

For others, it's going through a homeschool charter (many have cropped up over the last few years) where you use their curricula (or not -- depending on the charter), and you do what works best for the way your children learn or where they are developmentally.

Then there are those who go independent and file an affidavit with state and do their own thing completely.

There are benefits to each way of homeschooling. If you are new to homeschooling and nervous (the way many of us were), you might want to go the charter route at least at first to "get your feet wet." Changing from that to independent or even putting your kids back into regular school is not as difficult as you would think.

Definitely research all your options, figure our your educational philosophy and goals for your children, consider their learning strengths and weaknesses and any other family factors, and that will help you to decide.


2.) What is an "educational philosophy"?

An educational philosophy is something I had not actively thought through until my children reached a crisis point in public school. Mine started with figuring out what I didn't believe should happen in my children's education and then formed from there. I read several books on homeschooling ("Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything" and "The Well-Trained Mind" as well as countless others from the public library). 

I talked with several families who homeschooled to get their viewpoints and how they "did it." I read blogs and websites about learning and articles and posts about how our public school system was failing our kids. I watched a bunch of TedTalks, starting with Sir Ted Robison's famous, "How Schools Kill Creativity" with 21 million views and some change and 13-year-old Logan Laplante's, "Hackschooling Makes Me Happy."

And I considered my children -- the way they learned best. Their strengths and weaknesses. Their diagnosis (or suspected diagnosis at that point) and the things they loved and were intrigued by.


3.) What does a day in the life of homeschooling look like?

This is different for every family. Some wake with the sun and start their day and end in the middle afternoon. They take lunch breaks and recesses. They have a strict schedule of things they are doing for that day/week/month. They might study Latin, Greek. They might be learning the violin or cello or another instrument. They read classics and read, and read and read.

Some other families may have a handful of books or curriculum and start their day when they are ready (some may not even touch a book until the afternoon and homeschool into the evening). Each day looks different. Sometimes, schooling happens organically. Sometimes, it's planned. Most school happens 2-4 hours and then it's done for the day.

Another family may do what's called "unschooling" where there is no curricula or no schedule or plan. The child does what interests him/her and learns in this way. And still other families pull from each of these models and make their own way. There is no right or wrong way to do it and there are scads of publications and blogs that hold that their way is the "best way."

The truth is that this is a personal choice each family makes when they consider all the factors mentioned in #2. And I would guess that many families are growing and changing how they do things from month to month and year to year.


4.) How do I begin Homeschooling?

Often, the hardest part is making the decision to do it. Once you've done that, everything is easier. If you are going with a charter in the state of California, then it's actually a "transfer" since charters are technically a California public school but just set up differently. You would need to be "accepted" into one of the charters first (don't dis-enroll your child without being accepted or you'll be considered truant!) and then follow their recommendations of how to transfer your student(s) over. It's always good to write a formal letter to go in the file at their current school -- again so that you aren't considered truant. However, the transfer paperwork/request should suffice.

If you are not going with a charter, but pulling out to independently homeschool, then you will need to draft a letter to the school/school district informing them of your decision to pull your child out of school to educate him/her at home. It might also be a good idea to pay the minimal fee to join a homeschool advocacy group called HSLDA to make sure that you are covered legally.

They also have samples of letters to send to the school district you can use. You will also need to file an affidavit with the state which clears you from your student being considered "truant". (This is true for California, but make sure you check with your own state's rules/laws about homeschooling, etc.)  There will be documents you will need to keep in case anyone from the state comes to check. Also, you will need to keep some sort of grades in the upper levels of school as your child get ready to graduate, etc.


5.) What curriculum do I use?

If you are not going through a charter and not getting your curricula through them, there are literally a million options. Some like to use an all-in-one curriculum that has every subject within one set of books. Some like to use different curricula for different subjects. Some use online programs or apps. Some choose to use no curriculum at all and to read books and do hands on intuitive things. Many do a smattering of each.

There are a ton of free and paid worksheets and resources online -- it can be overwhelming really, how much out there is out there.  Many cities have curriculum libraries where you can borrow items to try. I also would recommend reading up on reviews, asking other homeschool families. Borrowing and looking through curriculum before spending hundreds of dollars. Going to homeschool conventions and checking it out there, etc.


6.) Is there anything else I should know?

Don't panic. You will have good days that make you wonder why you ever hesitated. You will have days where you question your decision to homeschool. That is completely normal. Most have a period of a few months where you "de-school" and get used to being home and a different schedule after being in public school for so long. If you were a product of public school, it is often just as important for you to "de-school" your ideas of what school "has to be" as well.

This is a good time to spend time playing together, going to the library, going on field trips, hanging out in your pajamas, cooking together, etc. It may feel a bit scary -- like you are falling behind or failing your children, but it's an important part of the process. And remember, your kids are still learning -- they are just doing it differently.

I would recommend meeting up with other homeschool families for field trips and park play dates. It's great to be connected with other homeschool families and share your fears, frustrations, and joys. It's good for all of you -- teacher-parents and students alike. There are infinite number of Facebook groups, Yahoo Groups, etc. All you need is a computer and a search engine. 

Some public libraries may also have classes catered to homeschoolers. Many of them have websites with databases and online resources (such as BookFlix) that are available to library patrons.

There are a ton of places that offer homeschool rates, incentive programs and special field trips -- including Disneyland/Disney World, Legoland, Six Flags, Sea World, aquariums, museums and more!

Check those out.

Breathe.

You are not alone...and you are going to be just fine!

--

For more posts about our homeschool journey, click here. The oldest are at the bottom.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

School at Home: Celebrating Two Years




I was driving the kids around the other day.

It was just another day.

Another trip across town for a lesson, tutoring appointment, or field trip. I don't really recall where were were going.

And it hit me.

It's January.

More specifically, it's mid-January.

Meaning...it's been two years since we embarked on our homeschooling journey.

It hardly seems possible.

Yet it does when I think back to those early days.

Slow mornings filled with zero alarm clocks, an abundance of pajamas and yoga pants, hot, cooked breakfasts (as opposed to cereal) and an ever-present sense of unease because I didn't feel like I knew what the heck what I was doing.

That first month as we adjusted to our new "educational experience" was less about delving in to a bunch of curriculum and more about getting used to spending so much more time together, finding out how each child learned best, and asking what they were interested in learning (novel idea, I know).

Despite my own personal sense of terror at now being "responsible" for my children's education, I started to understand another emotion I was feeling.

Relief.

The growing list of things that I found dissatisfying about my children's public school education was no longer of concern. We had a clean slate. A do-over.

So as I was driving around the other day, it was good to reflect on those early days and both the sudden and gradual changes we experienced together and as individuals.

Because I would be lying if I said that it has always been so warm and fuzzy.

I've had my doubts from time to time that we made the right choice. I worry that I am not qualified enough to teach and guide my children in their educational quest. And frankly, some days it's really, really hard.

There are days that I am tempted to chuck it all and re-enroll my kids in public school or one of the progressive charters that are popping up. In many ways it would be easier. I would have more time for myself. I could make it to the gym more. I could even re-join the workforce and bring in more money for our family.

But then I see my eldest daughter who had lost her love of reading for pleasure and learning in general choosing to read, write, and draw without being told and required to do so - -gaining more and more confidence in her abilities.

I see my second eldest daughter who was constantly in trouble for leaving her seat in class voluntarily transcribing from a book (something I would have begged her to do in the past and she would cried and fussed over doing) and bouncing away on her red exercise ball -- accomplishing her work and managing her ADHD at the same time.

I look over and see my third child (who has been home-schooled from the start) whipping through his checklist of things to do, right on track for his grade level.

And I look over and my fourth child who is excited to do school with us even though he is only four, and the thought that come August, I will be homeschooling all four doesn't completely terrify me the way I thought it might.

And who knew that I would actually be learning in the process too! For example, this math-o-phobe now knows that the number 2 is "the smallest and the first prime number, and the only even prime number (for this reason, it is sometimes called "the oddest prime)."

I still don't know if we will be homeschooling in another two years or ten. But, more and more, I am grateful for the ability to choose.

I can't deny that some recent state legislation and a seeming dissatisfaction on the part of many of my friends with children in public school makes our decision to homeschool easier to stand behind.

However, I never want to come across as smug or superior to anyone who makes the choice to have their children educated via our public school system.

It's human nature to look at the grass on the other side and compare the quality and color. I think that no matter what we were doing at this point educationally, we'd probably be looking over that fence to the other side.

There is no perfect education.

There is just what works best for your family.

And for now, it's this.

School at home.

--

To read more about our homeschooling journey, click here.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

So Much More Than Just Running




In my quest to "Be Resolute" in 2014, I am trying to be more intentional in writing about major life events and goals achieved. As I looked through drafts in my blog list, I realized I had never finished writing the one about my experience in running a half-marathon in November. It is a huge milestone in my Fab4D quest, so if you will indulge me, I will resolutely post it now!

--

On November 3rd, I ran my sixth half-marathon. It had almost been two years since I had run the last one and that particular one didn't go well. I will admit to a few nerves as I walked to the starting line. I wasn't really nervous about the race as much as I was with the notion of not beating my personal best time to date.

That number loomed over my head in a BIG way.

2:38

....and some change. I don't even remember the seconds involved in my finish time. I just knew that I had to beat that infernal 2:38.

No matter what.

No matter that I had dubbed this race the "fun edition" with my co-runners.

No matter that this was part of my "Fab 4D" year of awesome events.

No matter that I was positioned to get that PR with all the training we had done.

No matter that if I didn't get that PR the world would continue to spin along and I would be just fine.

I just wanted to do better than my best.

The road to this race is a bit unusual.

I started my "running career" a bit late in life. I had good training moments and seasons and some abysmal ones. I literally decided to run this half-marathon at the 10th hour -- meaning instead of starting to train in June, I started in August.

I also roped in some friends whom I thought would accept the challenge. And yes, I did visit my running buddy, Gina, in the hospital with her newborn son and throw down the gauntlet.



Oh yes, I did.

And, amazingly, she didn't laugh..too hard anyway.

She likes a good challenge like I do.

And so we began. But because of the time we had available, we decided to try out The Galloway Method -- walking/running intervals -- as a method of maximizing our training time and minimizing injuries. (You can read my thoughts about the paradoxical nature of allowing for walking in order to run faster here.)

I even got to do some of my training in Fort Collins on a girls' weekend and had two lovely running excursions with Carmita and Tamara in some beautiful scenery. The company was not too shabby either.




A few short weeks later, Gina and I drove down to the expo to pick up our packets. Another friend (who also turned 40 in the fall) had decided to have "Fab 40!" on our racing bibs, rather than our names. (This was before I thought up the catchier title, "Fab4D".)

It was a pleasant surprise to discover that my bib number ended in 40.


The chances of this randomly happening was pretty slim, so somewhere out there a race registrar who has my undying gratitude that they took the time to read my bib name, age and make the connection that this was a special race for me. Thank you random registration worker!!

And then it was finally race day!

We ran into some friends from church who just got out of bed and decided to run 13.1 that morning!

The morning was crisp and cool. A runner's dream. Almost too chilly to stand at the start without a jacket, but warm enough to know that I could run well and comfortably in my short-sleeved shirt.

I can't even begin to describe what it felt like to look at my friends and realize what we were doing together that day.



There was Jenny, who signed up to run the half-marathon through the fear of not finishing. Up to that point, she had only run 5ks and she did great adding on the miles until she got injured only two weeks before the race. She ran anyway. And she already signed up for her next half.

Then there was Melanie. Ah Melanie. Melanie had joined our church's running time several years ago. She was amazing. Perserving. Pushing. Determined. But then she hurt her back. She had to have surgery and running was out. She healed. She started walking. Her walking pace is now faster than her former running pace. She has walked numerous half-marathons and even a marathon!

Then there is Robin. Robin was my first running partner. I was trying to get into shape after my baby turned one. She was literally only a few weeks postpartum. But we started together slowly. And after a few month, I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. But we ran the race and we finished together. That finish is my favorite of all time!



And of course, Gina. Only a few weeks post partum and getting the "you're crazy-town" comments from other friends. But, I think she knew that I needed her and even though she ended up catching up to my pace and then surpassing me during our training, she said her only goal was to stay with me.

So, back to race day morning.

The national anthem played.

The gun went off, the cheers erupted and we were off.

I felt great. I had all that euphoria from doing something that few people ever do -- although it doesn't seem that way when you are elbow to elbow with other runners for the first several miles.

Photo Credit: Keith Hartman Photography

This was the first time that I ran the entire time with someone else. Two someone else's actually. Although they probably could have gone a bit faster, they stayed with me. And it was so fun to experience it all together.

To cross the line together.

And cross it we did....our hands clasped together overhead in triumph.



I got my PR.

2:30:57

And my new favorite finisher's photo.

And the world continued spinning on regardless, but my world was different.

I thought that this goal of running a half-marathon "one more time" was just about time. But I think you can tell from the photos that it was so much more.

Much. Much. More.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Be Resolute

Photo credit: www.health.com


For the last several years, I have shied away from making New Year's resolutions.

To be honest, I think that I was tired of all the resolutions I have made over the years and then failed to keep. And worse, when I have actually writen them down (gasp!) and then failed to achieve a single one, I then have a permanent record of said failure.

Hmmm..maybe that's also why I stopped journaling somewhere along the way.

It can be tiring battling against habits that have been firmly entrenched in our daily lives. All too often, it is simply easier to stop fighting and just "go with the flow."

Even if that flow is leading us to a Niagara-sized waterfall drop. Turning and trying to paddle upstream or over to another tributary feels like it will just take too much sustained energy.

And so we just give up.

Maybe it's my year of "Fab4D" that gotten me excited and motivated again about setting goals. After all, I have come up with quite the list and in a few short months, I have powered through half of them.

Maybe it has something to do with creating goals and resolutions in September rather than the daunting date of January 1st that often creates so much anxiety.

Maybe it's less to do with willpower and more about resetting and reshaping that will.

If there is anything that I have discovered over the last few years about myself is that if I am truly determined to do something, I will pretty much die trying to get it done.

There is a word for this phenomena.

res·o·lute
rezÉ™-loot
adjective
  1. 1.
    admirably purposeful, determined, and unwavering."she was resolute and unswerving"
    single-minded, firm, unswerving, unwavering, steadfast, staunch
    stalwart, unfaltering, unhesitating, persistent, indefatigable,
    tenacious, strong-willed, unshakable, stubborn, dogged
    obstinate, obdurate, inflexible, intransigent, implacable,
    unyielding, unrelenting; spirited, brave, bold, courageous
  2.      plucky, indomitable; informal, gutsy, spunky, feisty


As I read the definition above, my smile got bigger and bigger with each synonym.

Plucky. Dogged. Stalwart. Unwavering. Stubborn.

Resolute.

This word doesn't get much use in our day to day life, but it has christened a ship, a bay in the Arctic and a famous White House desk.



I like the word. A lot.

I like the way it rolls on my tongue and ends in a firm uncompromising ending.

Res-o-lute.

I like it in the way that I like how the activity of running demonstrates my ability to be disciplined in its best state. 

I tell my body what to do, not the other way around. When I recently trained for a half-marathon, I was resolute in my pursuit for a new personal record.

And I got that PR!

Maybe it's not so much about the list of "personal improvements" that we feel compelled to make every year (or not). Maybe it's more about taking that list to God and asking for His input. Who knows, He may cross off number two and move number six to the number one position. 

And maybe, just maybe He might say, "I love you whether you achieve this list or not. In fact, I love you as much as I ever will in this very moment of your fear of failure."

I'm pretty convinced that He will say, "My child, remember that you can do all things through Me, who is the one who gives you the strength." (Phil 4:13)

And I think that's the key. 

All those years, I tried to cross things off of list in my own strength. Not His strength. And I am not sure I consulted Him on that list in the first place.

This year is going to be different.

I am going to actually put pen to paper once again and dream and make it official. But I am going to do less of the goals that have to do with me and my needs/wants/dreams, and more that have to do with helping and serving others. (Here are some tools that I am planning to use.)

As I look through the list of synonyms again, I am reminded that none of them promise an outcome. None of them guarantee that if you are tenaciousimplacable, firm and persistent, that you will get everything you set out to achieve.

The truth is that the outcome is out of our hands. 

We cannot control fiscal failures, health crises, natural disasters and so much more more about this life.

But we can firmly and resolutely take control of our hearts and minds and point them towards the direction that brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness. (Galatians 5:22-23)

These are resolutions that God can and will get behind. And with Him, all things (even losing those stubborn 10 lbs, and forgiving that one family member, and learning that new skill) are completely and entirely possible.

Be Resolute.
Image credit: inbythroughhim.blogspot.com