December 2, 2009

School in December

Through the years we have done different things in December but rarely have we ever kept an entire regular schedule including all of our formal subjects. This year we are keeping several "core" subjects for daily school while adding in lots of holiday extras. Each day they must do math, spelling, writing, reading and their instrument practice. We are studying Christmas around the world together for geography and a little bit of history thrown in there as well through the Christmas studies. We increase our art and music time as well as we work on Christmas gifts and listen to Christmas carols.

Last year I made a caroling book of about 30 favorite Christmas songs and made photocopies of them for each of us to have. This year I went to and downloaded my favorite version of each song and made 2 cd's of the songs in the order of the carol book so now we can learn all the song lyrics and sing them in the proper tune :) So far this is a big hit with the kids and an easy way to incorporate music naturally into our month.

Christmas gifts offer us a time to be creative and just have some fun while we prepare gifts with love for family and friends. It also gives my kids a time to go through all their toys and belongings and decide what they are ready to pass on to others. We often listen to Christmas music while we do this. In addition we will soon begin the baking proccess and our service projects for the month. December is a great time to remind your family to give to others and serve from their abilities. Having more time for that this month is important to us and worth putting science off for a little longer.

We spend more time doing things together as a family as well. Visiting museums, seeing plays, taking walks around the mall, service projects. It is nice to just be together as a family. We do a bit more reading and sharing what we are thankful for. Also we have been trying to play a board game each day, either all together or just certain members of the family but trying to spend time together on our relationships, especially sibling to sibling relationships right now. These things offer learning unique learning environments in their own way.

One of my favorite parts of this season is how we celebrate Advent together. Each evening before bed we gather on the couches in our living room with only the Christmas tree and a small reading lamp lit and we read our Advent book. This year we are reading Jotham's Journey by Arnold Ytreeide. Fabulous book and series, can't recommend them enough for your whole family (though there are some scary parts for younger ones - it is possible to edit as you read aloud though). We light one candle for each week of advent. Some years we have had an advent wreath, this year we are just using 4 candles we have on hand. We read one chapter a night and then discuss. After our discussion we sing a Christmas carol or two around the tree and then say bedtime prayers together as a family. It really is a special time together and a great way to show our kids what we value and prioritize during this season. It also gives us a time to slow down and come together quietly as a family and it does feel like a special quiet set aside time of closeness that we don't get all the time in our busyness.

Each year I do my best to have majority of our Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving so that we can just enjoy the holiday season and not lose our focus. I have found that to being an important part of our Advent season. This year we have an extra treat that Serona will be staying home for a 2 week staycation this year in the middle of December which gives us more time all together.

Whatever your family traditions, old or new, enjoy this season and may it be a peaceful and joy-filled one for your family. A time to reflect and give generously out of the abundance of all you have been blessed with as a family. A time to be truly thankful and to instill these values in your kids and build family traditions focused on the important things of the Christmas season and Advent so they in turn can pass it on to the generations that follow.

Merry Christmas and God bless!

November 18, 2009

Creative Gift Giving

Well the gift giving season is fast approaching. Many of us will be trying to think of Christmas gift ideas. Through the years I have kept a list of some of the non-traditional kinds of gifts that my kids have loved receiving and we have enjoyed giving to our kids and other kids in our lives.

I thought I would take this opportunity to inject some more unusual gift ideas that our children have enjoyed over the years in case you are looking for some inspiration for your own children or the children in your life. These are some tried and true gifts that my kids or other kids we give gifts to have received and loved. Feel free to add more ideas in the comments.

Memberships: Family memberships make wonderful gifts that keep on giving through the year. Museums, zoos, art centers, amusement parks, arboretums, historical sites, etc almost all have family membership plans for anywhere from 40-100 for a year. If you are planning on spending 20 per person on a gift a membership might even be cheaper and gives the family the ability to enjoy your gift throughout the year and provide unique and fun experiences. My kids have found that because we have memberships mom and dad might actually purchase ice cream or lunch there because we did not just spend 100 to get in the door. It also encourages us to go more than we might have. Our memberships have been treasured and well used on the years we have received them. Some of our favorites have been the history center, arboretum, science museum, children's museum, aquarium and zoos.

Theater Tickets : We have purchased or had purchased for us nice seats to a great play in our area. Other years we have purchased tickets to several smaller shows. If you live near a big city. Dinner and a movie downtown for a family is a very special gift.

Inscribed BookEach year for birthday and christmas we give each child a special storybook we pick for them and write an inscription in it. the kids love and treasure these. A very simple and wonderful tradition.

Classes or Lessons This has been one of our kids favorite things to get from their grandparents. It helps it feel more special when it comes from grandparents. Maria is finishing up horseback riding lessons that she got for her birthday from us and her grandparents. In the past they have received ice skating and dance lessons as well. If you really want them to open something purchase the uniform/supply like helmet, skates, etc or a book with an inscription from you letting them know of the gift of lessons. This is especially appreciated in families where the child might not be granted the chance to do it for financial reasons.

Books on cdRead aloud a story or chapter book and record yourself doing it. For young children ring a bell as you turn pages so they know to turn pages. Then send the cd and book together. What a gift for the child to have a special person grandparent, parent, aunt, uncles, etc voice reading them their favorite stories.

Field Guides: My kids love these books. We use them all the time through school, nature walks and yes even just to read them. Sirah loves the bird book and Ciaran the amphibians book, Maria her minerals, rocks and gems. They will often pick them up just to look at the pictures. I really like the regional specific guides by Stan Tekeila. They are small, easy to transport, colorful, very easy to use and inexpensive. We have also purchased the bird identifier and the book that lets you hear each animals call along with their picture. Always a hit!

Binoculars, Compasses, Telescopes: These are both tools to use and fun to use. The kids enjoyed receiving them and being able to use them. they go hand and hand with the field guides. Alone both are great, together even better. This year a high grade microscope is in the coming. Also those little science kits sold at Michaels and Target (making your own crystals, volcanoes, candy, etc).

Magazine Subscriptions: Kids LOVE getting mail. A magazine subscription is a fun way for them to get mail that interests them throughout the year and it feels special to them and they enjoy them because they are specific to their age. Some of our recent favorites are Ranger Rick, Highlights, Boys Life and Horse. For an adult Serona really enjoys First Things and I receive and archaeology magazine I enjoy.

Collectors ItemsAlong with a field guide we bought Maria a bead container, think tupperware with lots of compartments. She put all her favorite rocks in their and started her own rock collection. We found this in the craft store. I know another parents who uses ball jars with labels to contain collections. One of our daughters has started an American girl doll collection and our son has quite a frog collection.

Family Fun Jar This costs you little to no money but some creative energy and time. Use a jar or vase you have around or buy a pretty one. Then fill it with slips of paper that have fun ideas you can do together as a family or individuals. Some people call it the I'm bored jar. Pull something out and do it together. Great idea to give a family with young preschoolers.

Art Supplies My kids walk through Michaels and ask for everything and have enjoyed receiving paints, colored pencils, clay, play dough, beads, etc through the years. They keep using those throughout the year and it is a perfect opportunity for them to receive a few of the special higher grade items. One favorite was when my 4 year old received her very own watercolor pad and special watercolor paints that no one else was allowed to use. She felt special having that and it encouraged her in her art.

Hobby Supplies It need not be just art receiving baseball equipment, swimming or horseback riding items and other hobby interests have also been favorites. One family we know purchased a baseball camp with a professional ball player as their sons Christmas present, he was still talking about it in June when he was playing 2 years later!

Personalized Stationary and other items Receiving something with their name on it is very special. Towels, mugs, stationary and other items have been received through the years and loved them. There is also no doubt about whose items are whose.

Oatmeal/Rice Box You might want to clear this with the parents first as it can be messy but it is self contained and easy to clean up and all our young children loved it. Purchase a shallow rubbermaid tub with a top that snaps on. You probably have some in your garage or storage unit collecting dust. Wash it and then fill it with either oatmeal or rice. Then throw in some measuring cups, sifters, sand toys, small trinkets, treasures little animals. Anything a child can do with oatmeal or rice, hide and move things. It all stays in the tub and cleans up easily with a broom or vaccuum if it spills.

Play Silks If you are a seamstress these are easy to make. If you aren't they are easy to buy. a good one will cost you between 8-12 per color. THEY ARE WORTH IT. The key is using actual silk and making them big enough. It moves different and kids love it. My kids have about a dozen and along with our blocks have been one of our most used and loved toys. They use them for costumes, for dancing, for blankets, picnics, tents, forts, I can't even come up with all the creative ways they have been used. We have had a dozen or so colors for about 7 years now, they are very well loved and have definitely gotten their use!

Candy, slinkies, nail polish, lip gloss and yoyos Yes those sound cheap but they are always very excited for these little things. They are small and easy to ship in an envelope and kids from 3-8 love them. Think about it these are the little things they buy themselves. How much bubble tape can a child want in their life?

Outdoor ToysOkay so most of us are not thinking about the sun and being outside in Minnesota Christmas but they enjoy getting them and then use them indoors when they can and as soon as they can get outside they are excited again and it is new twice.

Make a mini-gym Last year we hung a punching bag in our family room for Ciaran and another year he got a mini-trampoline. That is a gift that keeps on giving all year. One you find rewards from if you are blessed with a child who needs to release energy.

Christmas ornamentIn our family each year each child receives their own ornament - then when they move out on their own they can have all their ornaments and have a good start to their own tree.

Handmade GiftsI find my kids do love a special handknit hat, scarf or sweater especially if it is in their favorite colors or something bright.

Blocks, Legos, Knex, Lincoln LogsAll loved all used for many many years and will be saved and passed on. Also great gift for a family as you can purchase a bigger set for all of them together.

Board GamesWe are a board game family. There are never enough and they are always creating new ones not to mention all the classics. Puzzles are also a favorite.

Well their you go some traditional and some non-traditional ideas. Happy
shopping. And remember it is not always about having something big to open under the tree. Sometimes those unsual gifts get treasured long after a plastic toy has been broken and you don't need to find a place to store them :)

November 8, 2009

To all the wives of travelling husbands

You know who you are eating Cheerios or frozen waffles for dinner with the kids while your spouse is tasting expensive wines at a wonderful restaurant halfway around the country or sometimes the world. You smile and remind the kids "its just another 10 days till daddy gets home", or "this trip was shorter than the last" or whatever variation gets your kids through another stretch of their father's travel.

I just want to remind you that you are not alone, there are a lot of us out there. Other moms struggling to juggle the schedules, balance the kids needs and our own emotions, support our spouses from hundreds or thousands of miles away and who have suddenly developed a deeper appreciation than most for military wives and single moms. I also want to remind you it is not all that bad and there are many benefits that come from this lifestyle you are living right now, even if you can not see the forest while standing amongst the ominous trees.

We have lived this "road warrior" lifestyle in our family for the better part of the last 6 years. Some years or months have been better others feel like they are never going to end. This has been something I never really choose to blog about for fear I will have nothing positive to say. Still looking back on my blog I realize this part of our lives is very obviously missing from here and it is a big part of our lives. This season of our lives may be nearing an end and in reflection of these years I believe we have learned some things along the way that now make a post worthwhile.

We first moved to Minnesota so we would not have to deal with travel in our family and that worked for the first few years of Serona's career. It became quickly apparent to us that travel was going to need to be a central part of his career for awhile and we had some decisions to make, we went ahead and learned how to cope with the travel as a family. There were years he traveled as much as 75% of the time, being gone far more days per month than he was home. Other seasons the travel would slow to a trickle just a few short trips per month. Still our trickle would be considered a lot of travel for many other families. He has been platinum elite (highest level) in airfare miles and hotel loyalty points for awhile now.

At first I was pretty whiny about all the travel he did, I had a 4, 2 year old and newborn at home when we began and I had to learn how to manage everything on my own while feeling like my life was unfair. This phase was not a positive one for us and it took some time for me to realize that his travel was a necessary part of the lifestyle we had chosen (one income with a full SAHM parent yet two student loans and a mortgage to repay). I also had to come to understand that travel was not all rosy and happy for him, he missed us and would much rather be at home eating spaghetti again than traveling yet again even if he got nice meals and stays in exotic locations out of the deal.

Somewhere in our journey I came to a few realizations and lifestyle changes that made the "road warrior" life a lot easier and happier for all of us. These are in no particular order of importance just order they came to my mind tonight.

1. Life must stay consistent when he is here and when he is not for our family. When he first started traveling I found myself following advice to let everything go and almost live two different lives and routines. It started to feel like life with daddy and life without daddy for my kids and that was not a positive thing. Especially because some of my coping mechanisms meant we had fun and easy dinners, more screen time and sleepovers in moms room, which all in the immediate seem more fun to kids. In addition we were continually slipping in and out of different lifestyles and always adjusting expectations, it became confusing and frustrating for all of us. While the advice had been encouraging and supportive in nature trying to help me through a tough time I had to realize that works for the occasional travel situation but not for the consistent pattern of travel we would be living. Once I started keeping life more consistent across all situations we started to thrive and the transitions were more seamless. We still do have breakfast for dinner and let the cleaning go a little more, and may have a more flexible schedule as needed but these are the exceptions now not the general rule, just as they may be in a particularly crazy week while he is home. I find consistency is best for all of us and keeps us a family even when we are apart.

2. When he is home we are together and everything else can wait. I once read that Ruth Graham's friends called Billy "the plague" because when he was home it was as if everything stopped and went on hold and her and the family disappeared from the world for awhile. This is similar to how we are, especially during the busy travel seasons. Everything and everyone else can wait and we need to prioritize our family time and our couple time so we can fill up before the next time apart. This sometimes causes difficulties with other friends or family members as they may feel it is unfair or you come to them when he is away but not there for them when he is home. It is a delicate balance as I still need to be a good friend and I will be if needed but my good friends also understand our need to be together as a family and how fleeting those moments can sometimes be for us. I used to think when he came home it was "me time" or "I need a break" and when the kids were younger that was true I did need to get away or have some recharge time and he needed to help with the kids more. Yet as they have gotten older I have learned what we really need is time together. Even if it is just making pasta and watching movies all day long or playing a board game together or even just all being in the same room reading. My kids have learned their schedules are clear when dad is home and we really try to have a lot of family time then. Their friends will still be there next week when their dad is off to another location. Whenever possible spend time together as a family and have dates when he is home.

3. Eat out while he is away. When he first traveled I would never do this, who wants to take kids out to a restaurant alone and it can seem extravagant, especially if you don't often eat out as a family. I struggled and thought I should save those times for when we can do it all together as a family. Then I realized he never wants to eat out when he is home. Of course he doesn't he has just been eating at restaurants for the last x amount of days or weeks and just wants his favorite meals home cooked at in the peace and comfort of our home. If you have ever traveled for awhile you know the joy and mystery and fun of eating out wears off fairly quickly and you can't wait to get home to eat your favorite foods. This seems even more so when you are vegetarian and your food options are often very limited in parts of the world. Then I want to go out when he is home because I have been having very non exciting food while he is away and hearing/seeing all the wonderful things he has been eating. Not a good mix. So I started eating out with the kids while he travels. Gives me a break from meal prep and fills my desire to get out and have something different and then I am happy to eat at home too when he returns. We don't do this every time and some trips we will do it more often than others but it is a fairly consistent thing for us that I have found helps all of us.

4. Be supportive and not jealous.
Serona does a lot of world traveling and those trips can sometimes be long. Yet whenever possible I encourage him to stay a few extra days even though it makes it longer on all of us. Why would I do this? Because if he has flown halfway around the world I think he should take a day or two to experience the culture, recover from jetlag and yes have fun and sight see. Overseas trips often include weekends and I often encourage him to stay through an extra weekend or go a bit early so he can have more time in the country to enjoy and experience it. Really when is he ever going to have a chance to walk the Great Wall of China, dip his feet in the Indian ocean or walk the streets of London again? Sure I wish I was there with him but I have learned not to begrudge him or be jealous of what he has but rather to encourage and support him and let him experience and enjoy it. He returns more refreshed to us and has so much to share with all of us about his experiences. My kids are getting a unique view of the world through their father's eyes so I am glad he does more than just see the airport, hotel and the office. Yet I know in a heartbeat he would do just that to shorten his trips to get back to us sooner if I wanted or needed that. So I try to encourage him and really mean it and be thankful that he gets to enjoy the things that he does, this has made a big difference for him and for us.

5. Weekend Travel is the hardest, guard them whenever possible. With the exception of international travel as outlined above we try very hard to have him home on weekends. International trips I always know weekends are part of the deal and often encourage him to take extra weekend days for the reasons I listed above. However regular travel here in the US for business we protect our weekends pretty fiercely. Clients often want him to start Monday morning and fly out Sunday, then fly back late friday. While this may be okay (still not ideal) once in awhile it quickly adds up and takes its toll when you travel more than once a month. Serona learned to schedule business meetings on Tues- Thursday so Monday and Friday were his travel dates. If they insisted on Monday then he insisted on a later start time so he could take a 6am flight on Monday morning and wrapping up friday meetings early in the day so he could make a 6pm flight home. This has made a substantial difference for us as we miss him more on weekends as he is usually here and a big part of our lives during the weekend. Also he needs rest time between trips as do we and we can only give the company so much "free time" and Serona has worked hard to hold the no travel on weekends lines whenever possible.

6. Open Communication is essential. We communicate daily often throughout the day. We may do it with phone calls, text messages, emails or instant message but we try to make it a priority for him to communicate with the kids each day atleast once briefly and us as a couple more extensively. We try to continue our regular family business discussions while he is away so they don't pile up and became all we do when he is home. We also still make decisions together whenever possible even when we are apart. We keep up with each other and know the schedules for the day, and how we can best reach one another. Even when he is 17 hours off from us we still make communication a priority, sometimes that means one of us has to stay up very late or get up really early but we still make it happen. We also have an emergency signal that indicates no matter what you are doing you must stop and pick up the phone or call me back now. This was established after he was traveling on 9/11 and not answering his phone because he was unaware of what was going on. Another time he was in China when a bridge collapsed here in MN and he could not get in touch with us for a few hours and was very worried. Still being accessible and there for each other despite the travel is essential and for my kids it keeps them connected with their dad and confident he is still an important part of their lives and they of his even when he is around the world.

7. Take me time while he is away.
I have learned to use babysitters while he is away. At first this was hard to justify financially and I would feel I should "save" them for when he was here and the time we would need together. I have learned for all of our benefit I need to get out when he is traveling extensively even if it is to do the grocery shopping alone. Besides babysitters I will go to our gym and to other activities where I can have some built in me time while the kids are otherwise entertained and cared for. I also allow them to have more independent time or friend time and give me more break time or alone time. In addition one of my favorite things to do is to have my friends come visit me in the evenings at my house. Now that my kids are older I find this works well I can put them to bed or set them up with a movie or game they can play alone and then have alone adult time with a friend. Most of my friends are willing to come here and I try to have nice food and drink options for them here so it is still "getting out for them" and try my best to have very limited to no kid interruptions. Sometimes I will get a babysitter and go out with a girlfriend while he is away as well. I find taking care of me while he is gone helps me be a good mom while I am alone and keeps me calmer and saner. In addition I am more ready to be a good wife and not want to escape and be alone as soon as he comes home. One thing I had to admit to myself (and it was not pleasant) was in the early days I often looked to him upon arrival home from a business trip as "good now you are home and I can be free" here are the kids, chores, and everything else I am going out for some well deserved me time. Somehow I forgot he was just working the whole time and had very little him time either and he is especially looking forward to some us time both as a couple and as a family after being so lonely. One day I realized he has not touched a single person other than the occasional handshake for a long time. On the other hand I am often touched out by my more than usual needy touchy kids, it was like having infants and toddlers all over again.

8. My kids are good kids and they get stressed and act out when he travels. In general our kids are good kids they really are and sometimes I need to work hard at reminding myself that during a long travel stint. All of a sudden we wake up and no one gets along anymore, everyone is picky and prodding and poking each other, arguing over nothing and just plain irritating one another. It typically happens after about 5-7 days after their dad is gone with fairly regular consistency. I never realize it right away and I may lose my temper or my mind wondering what in the world is going on today. Then I have my "well duh" moment and I can find my sympathy again and give my kids the extra attention they need. Sometimes it needs to be one on one with me, sometimes we can do something as a family, sometimes I can get them a playdate with a good friend. Sometimes we just need a change of scenery. This is usually a good moment to go out to dinner as a family and have a movie night sleepover downstairs. Recognizing what is going on helps tremendously and usually that is enough to get us through. We also talk openly about how they are feeling and I let them express frustration, disappointment, hurt etc all while reminding them how much dad loves them and that it is because of this that I am able to stay home with them full time, etc. Honest emotions and taking the kids seriously and letting them feel what they feel and be who they are openly has helped a lot. Then we can start from there and generally come to a better place for them and us as a family.

9. Roles and responsibilities change from season to season and you have to adapt.
Things my husband typically does I have to do. More than once I forget to take the trash down to the curb on the right night, my dog has gone a night without food and we have had too long of grass. Occasionally that is okay to forget or decide not to do but other times you just have to do it. You take on his roles while he travels and yes sometimes he takes on your roles when he returns. More than once he has helped me plow through undone laundry, clean the house or get school stuff ready for the next week when he gets home. We have learned to just accept this as part of our life now and not judge or begrudge the other person for what they can or can't get done. I also try to limit my "request" for when he is home to what I really need done or can't do myself and we learn to let certain things slide during certain seasons. My kids also do more than many of their peers in areas like household chores, yard work and things like shoveling. We are a team and we need to work together and when one person can't be there the others pick up the slack. We have learned to do this with love and support rather than judgment and grudges.

10. I am my kids rock they cling to in the storm.
God is our families rock and my kids understand that and we pray and are people of faith and I am not taking that role from God. Yet in their every day tangible physical world I am that physical dependable force for them. They know I am there for them and they can count on me. This helps them get through the difficulties of his travel and it is an important role that I can not slack on even if I feel like it. I have to constantly remember that I am the steady in their lives and they need to have something like that. There are days I just want to cocoon and be alone and this is not really an option for me. I can have cocooning moments but I need to be there for my kids especially during their time of need. I need to remind myself of this and remind myself that it is a good thing and I am thankful for being able to be there for them. It sounds like it is not a big deal but I have learned maintaining this mentality when he travels (and when he doesn't) has been important and helpful to us all.

11. Your life looks different and is misunderstood from those who have no experience with this and that is ok. I have lost relationships over the lifestyle choices we make to survive and thrive as a road warrior family. Friends who think I am unreasonable to change plans or constantly put my families needs above my friends desires (note I did not say friends needs). People who think I am weak or not doing enough for me. People who think we made this bed and we need to lie in it and not complain or affect those around us, namely them. I used to get upset but I have learned to just let these people walk out of my life and not feel badly about it anymore. They just really do not understand where we are coming from, our motivations, the dynamics of our family and are unwilling to understand or accept that so we are better off to let it go. Also I have learned that unless you have lived this sort of a lifestyle you can not fully understand the challenges and emotions associated with it. Sometimes I feel like I still am whiny or complaining and other times I get stoic. My good friends have learned to get more concerned when I am stoic, quiet and dropping off their radar while he is traveling. It is hard to understand why we would choose this or need to be in this position and how we can manage it but I have found good friends who support and love me through it whether they have experienced it or not.

12. My friends are my support and I need to ask for and accept help. I am blessed with some really good friends and I have learned that sometimes I have to admit weakness or need and ask for help and I have also learned to always say yes when people offer help. This used to be hard for me until I had to live with the chronic pain then it became easier and at some points essential. I have learned to say yes when someone asks can I pick you up something from the store or take your kids for a few hours or run a carpool for you. I have also learned that I need to reach out and ask for help sometimes. This past trip I called a friend and said I just need you to come sit with me and listen to me work through some emotional crap I am struggling with. She came and I was a completely different person when she left a few hours later. Most often what I need is adult conversation with another adult when he travels and my friends are willing to provide that whether by phone, instant message or coming over to visit for a bit.

13. Music helps me. I have learned to keep positive music on nearly the entire time he travels. We often leave the local praise music station playing on the radio 24/7 so there is always a positive message filling the rooms of our homes and reaching our ears and hearts when we need to hear it. I will also put on some favorite music to motivate me to clean the house, or to just relax to.

14. Small kindnesses can make my day and others too.
Serona's parents recently sent me flowers while he was away, made my day. Another friend called just to see how I was doing, made my day. Another friend came over to sit with me while I folded laundry, made my day. The list goes on and on, small favors go a long way, from others to me and from me to my kids. Remembering to be extra gentle with a child, read them a story, cuddle with them or give them a massage all those things help them and take so little of my time and energy. We all need to remember to share the small and easy kindnesses with those around us who are hurting or in need and yes even with those who seem just fine.

15. It is what it is and wallowing is counter productive. I need to not wallow or compare myself to those around me. I have also learned to stop letting the "oh that must be so hard" or "I could never do that" or "I don't know how you do it" well intentioned commments get to me. I can't let them get me depressed or prideful and arrogant. Our life situation is what it is. Wallowing and being miserable doesn't help. Comparing myself to other traveling families doesn't help. Seeing who has it worse or better doesn't help. Being supportive and supported is what helps. Acceptance is what helps. Doing what you can to make it through each day, each trip, each time home is what helps.

16. Transitions are hard so work hard to make them smoother. It is hard to go in and out of traveling. Some of our hardest seasons are when he travels then is home for a few days then travels again, repeat. The constant coming and going is hard. Roles and responsibilities questions arise and tensions increase. Everyone is emotional and expectations are all different. These are some of the most challenging times. They are also some of the most important to get along and have things run smoothly. Do whatever you need to in order to make those transitions smooth. Have the house clean, have meals planned or prepped ahead, have the dry cleaning and packing done, plan to take a day off school or sports or life. Talk about expectations ahead of time and prepare everyone for what it will be like. Love each other through the transitions.

17. Love and grace wash over a multitude of flaws and failings. We all fall down and fail. We get short tempered, we don't hold up our end, we get jealous or frustrated. We mess up and make things worse for those around us. Having extra doses of grace and love seem to really be the answer to help see us through. Remember you are all sensitive and needy right now and remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and the grace and love you would want and you should give your family members and the friends and networks around you.

18. Thank your spouse for all they do. Thankfulness and appreciation go a long way as well. I will often thank Serona for what he is doing for our family even while I am in the throws of dealing with the hard parts at home while he is away. Thanking him for the life he is providing us, the sacrafices he is making and the love he is showing us. Reminding him how much I appreciate all he does. He does the same for me. Often our time apart makes us appreciate and thank one another even more as all we do for each other becomes more apparent. Always be thankful and vocal in your appreciation.

19. Realize and take advantage of the benefits. We have taken some great family and couple vacations thanks to all the miles we have piled up in frequent flyer points and hotel loyalty points. We have gone to Ireland, Hawaii, California, New York, and Florida for a very discounted rate and stayed in first class accommodations the entire time. This is a direct benefit of all the travel my husband does. In addition we have special gifts from around the world, our Christmas tree is filled with ornaments from countries around the world that he picked up in his travel. We have kimonos from Japan, jade from the Orient, a winnie the pooh from London, a didgeridoo from Australia and the list goes on. These are blessings and gifts that few people get to experience in their lives and they are a direct result of all the work we do as a family.

20. Everything has a season and it will pass and change.
6 years seems like a long season, but still it is a season and one that appears to be coming to a close for us for the time being. Even during that 6 year season there were seasons within seasons. Times he would be home for 6 weeks straight and then travel for 6 weeks with just a few days home in the middle. Other times the travel was constant or non existent. You learn to look at your situation with some distance with the end in mind realizing it will not always be like this and you can and will make it through. This can help you in the day to day as well as in your overall outlook.

Any readers out there who deal with these issues feel free to add the tips and suggestions you have found useful in the comments. We can all learn from each other and help support each other in our journeys. If you are entering this phase of your life for the first time or you have been living it for 20 years know you are not alone and be encouraged and supported by each other.

October 13, 2009

Snowy School Days

October 12th is too soon for snow. The trees have not started dropping their leaves, they are just changing color, but the weather did not care about that. 4 inches of snow fell today and it was the perfect snowman building snow. So that is what we did, we built snowman at a local park. We went for a hike in the snow, walked out on a dock at the lake

September 26, 2009

Finding Routine

I hate schedules and I always have but I am learning I need to follow one in order for us to be successful this year. My kids like schedules, they like knowing what's coming next and being able to set their expectations and when I look at it that way so do I.

We have been playing around with schedules this year to try to find one that works for us, however I have realized any schedule must be fluid as we really live fluid lives where things change often. One of the reasons for that is we are a one car family and some days we may not plan to have the car and realize we need it and need to change or adapt plans as when we want the car we need to drive Serona to work.

So how do we have a fluid routine? I have set the goal this year of being sitting down at the table at 9:30am and working until around noon before lunch. That happened one day this week, the other days we started at 10, 10:30, 11am and one day after lunch, so much for the first week of a schedule. The goal was to have a solid 2-3 hours of uninterrupted work time, then lunch, then finish up whatever work was not done before we have to get to evening activities and get dinner on the table. That goal we met though we never started at the same time each day.

The printed work assignments helped my kids have some structure to hold on to even when it seemed we were not following what we said we were going to. The accomplished everything on their assignment sheet this week except our science experiments because our kit never came. Most days they were close to following their schedule but on Thursday I added in a several hour video and discussion time about consumerism and advertising and how advertisers are gong after kids and what strategies they need to fight back. It was a great afternoon and I am glad we added it in but it basically became school all day Thursday.

I was thankful we use a 4 day schedule because that allowed for me to add in the extra advertising afternoon with no fear of falling behind since I knew we could make up the rest of Thursday's work on Friday which we did. I also made the choice this week to not to a field trip even though we have been doing one a week each week in September, we needed the time to get into routine instead. Also looking ahead to realize that next week we have a field trip, homeschool cooperative, and a swim meet, which typically means 4 practices during the week and then the meet on the weekend.

One of the flexibilities I love of homeschooling is being able to modify our school schedule as needed for my kids based on what is going on in their lives. Next week will be a busy week for my 10yo and so I can lighten her load a little by making this week and the week following a bit heavier. In the end the same amount of work will get done over 3 weeks as if I had not lightened her load but this way her swim meet week can be lighter on school so I can counterbalance some of the stress going on due to sports and free her up to focus on both.

That doesn't mean I place sports above school. She knows if she falls behind in school she will lose swim practice or even a meet and I still keep her doing school because that is the priority. However, she is an excellent student who can handle a busier week and appreciates a lighter week when other life responsibilities are bigger. I figure that is how smart adults manage their time, how good college students plan ahead and these are good habits and strategies to build in from a young age. So I am thankful that when someone is sick, has a big sports event, or just needs a rest that we can be flexible and take some of the school pressure off and then make up for it at a later time.

One of the things about homeschooling in our family that I have learned is September is not the most productive month overall. We typically start later and take more days off because the weather is beautiful here in Minnesota so we get outside more and the world is quiet as everyone else has gone back to school, it is some of our favorite homeschooling times. Sure we start all our textbooks and assignments, but we are also starting sports, fall activities, homeschool coop and the like so I find we ease into school, reviewing and building routines, habits and getting interested in the topics at hand, while also enjoying the last nice days for what will be awhile.

Yet January through March we are far more productive than many others, sometimes I think we get more than half our school work done in just those three months. January and February are pretty miserable in Minnesota, the weatherman always uses a positive or negative on the weather report, because we are just as often negative as positive, with stunning windchills and it is typically not even that fun to be outside in the snow/ice when it is that cold. There is little going on or planned because it snows often or you could have windchill warnings so I find we often make spontaneous field trips decisions rather than planned ones, because truthfully there are somedays we never really want to leave the house. This is a perfect time for our family to get a lot of school done and not drive anywhere.

There are subjects we do everyday: math, reading and writing. This is typical year round but we may cover half of our science, history and geography books during the cold months in comparison with the easing in of a chapter a week we are doing now. My daughters dream of a minute by minute schedule is not going to work in our lives but she too is coming to understand the beauty of a flexible schedule and I am coming to appreciate the need for more structure to meet her needs, we seem to be meeting somewhere in the middle and for now that is good.

September 14, 2009

5th Grade Schedule

I just finished up our template schedules for the year. Each year I plan out the weeks for the kids the Saturday or Sunday before the school week. I grid it out in a simple table with the subjects and days of the week. In each cell I write the assignment for the day. The kids receive the schedule on Monday morning and can plan out their week accordingly. Once I have the template and first week assignment done, it is easy for me to modify each week. I save each week under a different filename (typically the Monday date) and at the end of the year we have a complete record of the work they did, it is pretty handy for record keeping.

My kids like this system because it gives them some control and a visual depiction of where they are in their school week. I also add in sports, field trips and outside activities so they can plan accordingly. The younger ones like to color in the boxes they finish and I always let them work ahead if they want but not fall behind more than one subject per day (and it must come out even at the end of the week) I can easily check their schedules when they request play dates or special privelages and see where they are at.

This year I am adding in an extra step, I am going to place a check in the box after I have reviewed the work to try to keep my accountable and so I don't fall behind in checking their assignments either. It is very easy to do and I find my kids appreciate it and school runs smoother when we have it.

This is Maria's schedule for 5th grade. It looks neater in the actual format, with pretty boxes etc. I abbreviate the different textbooks and include page numbers or lesson numbers where needed. Also we typically work on a 4 day work week and leave friday for activities, field trips, coop and any leftover work they have not finished.

SUBJECT Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Bible devotional memory devotional memory coop
PE swim circuit jogging walking swim
Math lesson 7 lesson 8 lesson 9 review 1 lesson 10
Writing lesson 2 letter to family
Grammar lesson 14 lesson 15
Spelling 15 mins 15 mins
Science weather experiments
History lesson 46 lesson 46
Geography continents review mapping
Art art class picture study
Music mozart guitar guitar lesson guitar guitar
Foreign Language french latin
Blogging 3 posts this week
Logic lesson 2
Literature door in the wall
Activities swim swim church beekeeping field trip swim

That gives you a basic feel for a week of her schedule. Ciaran has a similar schedule with a few less subjects and some topics we only do once a week for him. In general all the kids do PE, math, reading, handwriting, and language arts every day and alternate all the rest of the subjects through the week.

September 11, 2009

First week of school and 9-11

On Tuesday we watched the buses go by starting at 7am and continuing until around 8:45am. We were in bed for the first bunch and in our pjs through the rest of them. It was a beautiful day so we decided to take a walk at the local arboretum. We brought along some books and I took some great first day of school pictures of my kids doing school up in a tree literally. They climbed their favorite trees and I handed them their math workbooks where they did one lesson and then went back to running around. A bit later we sat in the shade under some canopy trees and read for about a half hour until the bugs started to get annoying. That was enough school to call it our first day back to school right?

The next two days were also beautiful and our time was simply better spent outside. We took long walks in some of our favorite places and managed to get math and reading in each day, they even wrote a little bit. They played board games together, worked on a skit or two and spent a lot of time on the trampoline and swings. We had Starbucks and took a long drive.

Today, September 11th a day to remember for our family. A few years ago we started a tradition of baking and delivering home made cookies to our local firefighters, police officers, and emergency room workers on this day. The kids each make cards that we deliver along with the cookies. This year Maria made one for the hospital workers, Ciaran the police department and Sirah the fire station. They worked hard on them and together we baked a few dozen cookies to deliver.

While we were making the cookies we talked about September 11th and what happened on that day. We talked about our family and friends that were directly involved or affected by that day and pray for those families and all those affected and changed by the events of that day. We talk about why those emergency workers and first responders are so important to us and everyone and how thankful we are for them. Then we go out and deliver the cookies and cards.

Every year I tell myself I will make it through without crying and sometimes I manage through the police department our first stop but I never make it past the fire station. Knowing how many fire fighters died that day and how many went into the buildings knowing they were unlikely to return out alive yet still they went. I think of my relatives who were there and my cousin who died there fighting the fire and I think of the local men and women who would do the same for me and my family and the tears come. The fire fighters in many years have been the most affected or touched by the gesture coming on this day. One year we went in and saw the poster they keep on the inside of the station with all the fallen fire fighters from that day and I point out my cousin to them. This year the visit was more upbeat though the fire fighter we talked with lived in New York for many years and he and I were able to talk about that.

The hospital is where we all felt it the most this year. The nurses at the front counter were so moved by my kids and the card that Maria wrote. She drew wonderful pictures of nurses and doctors caring for patients and wrote touching words thanking them for all they do and the difference they make in all our lives. The kids did all the talking at the hospital, I am not sure I could have said much and it would have seem so inadequate next to my kids and their words even at the young ages of 10, 8 and 6. When Sirah shared that we did this today to remember and honor those who died and helped people 8 years ago when so many people died in the building and planes the nurse said she had goosebumps and looked up at me tears in her eyes and said you must be so proud of these children. I was.

I know all parents are proud of their kids and amazed by them but today I think anyone would have felt those things about our kids. I looked at them and their hearts and was so moved. Heading back to the car they talked about how good they felt and how we should not wait until next year to do this but we should do it once a week. How there are so many people we could bake for and say thank you too or just cheer up with a card and gift. I was amazed.

After our last delivery I was ready to just go home and pull my kids into my arms and hold them close and just be quiet and thankful with them. Instead we had plans to meet friends at a homeschool day at Fort Snelling and headed there. On arriving there I had quite an internal struggle going on within me. This particular family we were meeting was touched by September 11th in a most intimate way, the father was in the Marriott Hotel in the towers the day they fell and he survived and has shared his story with me. I actually just reread it this morning after watching some coverage with Serona. Part of his story talks about the fire fighters and one in particular that left an impression on him a fire fighter who kept saying the Hail Mary over and over again. My cousin was found in the hotel with a rosary in his hand. I have no way of knowing if they crossed paths but the similarities of the stories touched me in particular today. Walking around the military fort, hearing a cannon fired off, watching some sort of military exercise or flyover in the sky as 5 military ships circled and passed over the fort was nearly too much for me to take. Some years it does not affect me as much but today everything just swirled around and came together in a way that quieted me and led me to reflect.

Tonight at dinner the kids had lots of questions and Serona and I did our best to answer things like: Why would someone kill themselves to kill others? What makes someone hate our country so much? Why didn't they try to land the plane instead of crash it into a field? Do terrorists still live and try to do things like that? These are questions I wish I did not have to answer and when they were heading to bed I prayed for good thoughts to fill their heads and hearts and for them to remain innocent children for awhile longer.

Thank you to all who have sacrificed for me and my family. Thanks to all the heroes out there, to the military families who give so much and to those who gave all for others.

In the end I think we had an incredible first week of school and one that simply could not have been replicated in another setting. From long walks and math in the trees the first day to the service acts and life and history lessons of today I simply could not give our family a better first week.

August 31, 2009

Staying at Home

Choosing to stay at home was not in my plans for my life. A dozen years ago if you had me glimpse into my future I would not have pictured the life I lead today, nor would a single soul around me. I was a determined and motivated young woman with a lot of goals and grit to get there or so I thought. In 1996 if asked what will you be doing in 2009 my answer would likely have been working for an environmental law firm, or possibly coaching a college debate team, not the answer any of my regular readers who have likely guessed.

Not yet married and getting ready to start my masters program in Rhetoric and Argument I would not have guessed I would go on to spend the next dozen years at home raising young kids and eventually homeschooling them. I would not see the inside of an office building except to pick up my husband or sign some legal papers over the years. I would have very little need for any shoes other than my birkenstocks and tennis shoes. I would be happier and more content than I ever imagined.

Staying at home was not a choice that came naturally to me. When Serona and I first got married and talked about having kids I was sure I could not be the stay at home parent. We both agreed a stay at home parent was ideal if not necessary and would be an important goal of our family, we just expected it to be him and not me (or at least I did). I was not patient, I was not tender, patient, supportive or interested in spending a lot of time with young children so I thought. I planned to go on and work and when the time came he could stay home and I would continue to work. Obviously that has not been the case and it continued far longer than we ever expected.

When Maria was born something inside of me completely changed and I was able to make a transition to being a stay at home mom much easier than I ever anticipated and along the way the idea of going back to work started to disappear from my radar. There were things I missed, trade offs I knew I was making and days I thought I would go crazy from being alone all day in the house with a small helpless completely dependent and demanding human being who could not communicate other than by crying.

Moments of My Day

Today is one of those days that reminds me why we home school and that we really are just always learning, discussing and developing, even when it does not look like a traditional classroom and actually because of it.

This morning my day started with a cup of coffee and piece of crumb cake at the dinner table.  The kids had already had their breakfast but were not quite ready to start school.  Ciaran and Sirah were playing rounds of Guess Who in one of their bedrooms and temporarily getting along so I was enjoying letting that moment continue.  Maria decided to start an interesting conversation with me about science, religion, creationism, and evolution.  Yes she is 10 years old and I was taken aback by the length and depth of our conversation.

First subject for Sirah was math, we were learning division for the first time.  She tends to get scared off by what she thinks are big math terms and anything she has heard her siblings complain about.  Division sounded scary to her and her siblings complain often about long division, so math did not start on a good note.  I quickly showed her that she already does division all the time in her life, with treats and her siblings.  If I give you six cookies to split evenly how do you do that, how many do each you have?  Then we used real food to help demonstrate, that is always a highlight for the kids :)  I did not have chocolate chips so she had to settle for pretzel sticks, eating as many as she used for her examples.

August 28, 2009

Craving Quiet

It seems my life is always chaotic and loud. I know I will miss these days when my home is filled with silence unless I add something to it. I love the noises of kids and a very busy happy household. Still days like today I just crave the quiet even if just for a moment.

We are not quiet people, we don't use quiet voices, we listen to music, we talk, sing, play music, shout and generally all seem to be making noise at the same time. I think this is not uncommon for most families these days but every once in awhile I wonder how did we get this way? Why does it always have to be so loud.

Every once in awhile I try the whole "inside voices" and try to enforce quiet and it never seems to work or stick. Sometimes when reading they can all be quiet for just a few minutes. I love my kids and I love the sounds they make there are just days I wish I could turn down the volume some and this happens to be one of those days.

Enjoy your life whatever the level of noise it currently holds.

August 25, 2009

The Magic Dragon

The magic dragon visited our house today. Sirah, who just turned 6, received a special visit from this magical friend. She went into her bedroom to find the very messy bedroom had been transformed into an immaculately cleaned and vacuumed bedroom. Upon her bed she received a note from the magic dragon.

Dear Sirah

I was flying past your house and saw your messy room. I decided to stop by and clean it for you. Hope you have a great day and this makes you feel better.

Love the Magic Dragon

Every family member denied being the magic dragon to Sirah (yet I have my strong suspicion and possibly some insider knowledge that Maria was somehow involved.

What a special and wonderful blessing to give to a family member. How can you be a magic dragon today and how do you encourage your family members to have the hearts and actions of magic dragons as well?


August 19, 2009

Sirah turns 6 - her whole life blogged

Our youngest is turning 6 which is in some ways amazing to me. I don't feel the time has gone too fast but I am feeling the transition of not having real little ones in the house anymore.

Sirah is a sweet spirit and a tender young one so full of that youth that I think she will always keep a bit of that wonder and young spirit around our home. Yet we are done with slings, diapers, nursing, toddler things and have moved on to dolls, arts and crafts, reading and first grade. Yet she is still very snuggly and wanting thousands of kisses and hugs and snuggles. She would sit and just be with me all day if she could and her desires are simple and few.

Hard to believe on this night 6 years ago I had a 4 and 2 year old and was exhausted from several weeks of intense prodromal labor. Now as I type everyone is fast asleep in their own beds at the ages of 10, 8 and 6. I loved the early days and was a good mom to really young children but as they grow older I find I enjoy these ages even more and for that I am thankful. I was worried I was going to really miss those early days and think it all went by too fast yet I don't. I enjoy where we are at now as a family.

Yesterday I spent 2 hours playing Risk with Ciaran, today I had a bunch of Maria's friends over for movies, junk food and night games outsides, tomorrow we will spend the day doing whatever Sirah chooses all day long. I don't miss diapers, backpacks, and chasing after toddlers. I will always cherish the many years I spent breastfeeding and carrying the babies in a sling and the smell of newborn heads.

Along with celebrating 6 years of Sirah I realize I have been blogging for a little over 6 years having started this blog 2 months before she was born. Sometimes I look back at those early posts and years and think "What was I thinking?" othertimes I get great ideas to remember to take the time to do now again.

Recently I tried to use one of those self publish your blog websites and they told me my website was too big for their server to handle or the book to print. Amazing I have written that many words here over the years.

Anyway happy birthday Sirah and thanks for reading me all these years to my readers.

August 14, 2009

Maria's Top 50 Books and Series - 4th Grade

Maria decided to make a list of her favorite books from her 4th grade reading to share here. Often she included entire book series as a single entry.

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini
Eragon - Christopher Paolini
Eldest - Christopher Paolini
Princess Bride - William Goldman
Star Wars Saga - all 6 original movie books and the extended universe

The Warrior's Saga - Erin Hunter (20+ books
Guardians of Ga'hoole series - Kathryn Lasky (12 books)
Charlie Bone series - Jenny Nimmo
Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink
Spirit Flyer Series - John Bibee

The Royal Diaries Series - Scholastic Press
Harry Potter Series (1-3) - JK Rowling
The Fellowship of the Ring - JR Tolkein
The Hobbit - JR Tolkein
Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

Nancy Drew Series - Gertrude Chandler Warner
Peter and the Starcatchers Series - Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry
Samantha an American Girl Series - Susan Adler
Anne of Green Gables series - Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Sword Bearer - John White

Wizard of Oz series - L. Frank Baum
The Magic Thief - Sarah Prineas
Chronicles of Narnia series - CS Lewis
The Toothpaste Millionaire - Jean Merrill
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E. L. Konigsburg

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Ramona Quimby series - Beverly Cleary
Gold in the Water - PH Mullen
Spies: The Undercover World Of Secrets, Gadgets And Lies - David Owen
Island of Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell

The Black Pearl - Scott O'Dell
Mr Poppers Penguins - Richard & Florence Atwater
On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & The Sea - Peter Benchley
Andrew Clements Books (Frindle, Room One, School Story, Week in the Woods, etc)

Seekers series - Erin Hunter
Mandy - Julie Andrews Edwards
Dragon Rider - Cornelia Funke
InkHeart - Cornelia Funke
Daring Book for Girls - Andrea J. Buchanan

Bully Be Gone - Brian Tacang
The Kid Who Became President - D. Gutman
Animorphs series - KA
The Boxcar Children Series - Gertrude Chandler Warner
Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt
Marley: A Dog Like No Other - John Grogan
Indian in the Cupboard series - Lynne Reid Banks
Kaya an American girl series - Janet Shaw
Chrissa an American girl series - Mary Casanova

August 5, 2009

Swim Team

I love swimming, I always have and now it is fun to watch my kids swim competitively. The older two are both doing swim team, though Maria has decided it is definitely her sport, while Ciaran is still just trying it out. Tonight they both had a swim meet together and it was fun to be a part of.

Maria managed to shave seconds off each of her races, qualifying with a B time in backstroke and improving each of her times for each stroke. She is starting to gain confidence and is just beginning to understand how much seconds and all out effort make a difference in this sport.

Ciaran had his first races, just 25m in each stroke. However he asked his coach if he could sign up for the 100free and the 100IM at the last minute and she agreed. I have to admit my heart was in my throat for those two races as I was not sure he would even be able to finish them. However he pulled that strength out and not only finished both but came in 1st and 2nd in his heats! It was a very proud moment since he was not supposed to be doing any race more than a 25m for his first meet.

We are still new to swimming as a sport beyond recreation and we are enjoying it. I love the fact that with swimming you have both the team and the individual event combination much more than in many other sports. You really work to improve purely upon your own skills as you try to beat your last personal best time. Yet you work together in relays and cheer for your teammates in all the other races.

As a parent and a fairly competitive individual I also really appreciate the high level of objectivity that comes with swimming as a sport. Many sports rely much more heavily on the subjectivity of umpires, coaches and sometimes other players. In swimming things are generally clean and easy. The rules are very clear and fairly rigid and you get disqualified when you don't follow them. The timers are electronic and located on the wall so it is done by the time they touch the wall and removes some of the room for human error or misunderstanding. The standards are the same for everyone and while heats may vary in ability and skill in the end the time is the sole determiner of who wins, loses or qualifies. It is an objective standard and one that is hard to argue with.

I know it is not perfect. There can be arguments about swim suit material, whether a flag was legitimate etc but in generally it is far more reasonable than things I have seen on the Little League baseball field just this past year. I also think the objectivity makes everyone relax just a little and be more congenial with each other. It is far easier to explain to my son why he was Dq'ed than why the coaches of the other team allow their team to play 5 outfielders while his coach only allows them 4 or why it is "okay" even though yes the umpire does seem to favor the other team.

Swimming is such a wonderful and healthy life long sport as well and one they can do on their own time. Besides there are far worse places to spend my time then poolside watching my kids swim laps. I hope they stay with it for awhile and I will enjoy cheering them and their team mates on while they are there.

August 1, 2009

Looking Back Looking Forward

The summer is an excellent time for reflection for me. Having just spent a week on the beach always seems to put me in a pensive reflective mood. As I type this I am sitting in our family/school room. I look at the "school" side of our room and I think back to the evolutions it has gone through and this next year I think we will be going through yet another evolution.

When we started the one request I had was for really great kid type bookshelves. We looked at them in catalogs and could not believe the pricetags in the several hundreds of dollars and Serona agreed he could make them. Working off a picture and dimensions from a catalog he proceeded to make three wonderful bookshelves just like you would see in an elementary or preschool classroom. He bought really good wood to build childrens bookshelves and people thought he was crazy but truthfully it was the wisest decision he made. He took many many hours in the garage cutting, sanding and staining the wood and then assembling the shelves. He was trying to finish before our youngest was born and he did so that would have been 6 years ago when we were just starting our homeschool journey. Those bookshelves are still and always have been the center and heart of our school room through two homes and many other changes. They are 4 ft long and 31 inches tall, just two shelves each, plus the top which has nearly always been used as a shelf, it is amazing all the things that have fit on these 3 special bookshelves through the years.

When we started the kids were 4, 2 and a newborn, those shelves were filled with toys and Montessori type materials. Maybe one or two of the 9 shelves was covered with good kids books. We had playsilks, blocks, legos, many wooden puzzles, various wooden toys, puppets, various musical instruments, trains, coloring books and crayons, sandbox (in a rubbermaid tub), our soundbox (a cardboard box we would fill each week with items that started with a different letter of the week, huge plastic dinosaurs and various lifelike plastic animals, wooden food and kitchen, toy cars, balls, etc.

Through the years what has been on those shelves has ebbed and flowed, replacing some of the toys with more and more "school" like materials. If you looked at my shelves today you would discover that 4 of them are covered with books from edge to edge (our school books and kids books to read) 2 more of them are filled with board and educational games and only the tops still hold the toys of earlier years. We still have and use the play silks, musical instruments, lifelike animals, puzzles, trains, blocks, and legos. Some of the other toys have moved to the kids room or to storage for young children when they visit and some of it has been given away.

In addition we now have 3 several drawer high plastic storage containers filled to the brim with arts and craft type supplies. I am not a crafty person at all and I hate glue, paint, sparkles, spangles, etc but my youngest seems to live to craft and we learned long ago to go with the flow. I knew I had grown or given up the day I realized my 4 year old had put on a smock, set up her paints, painted, cleaned up her paints and the mess she left behind, all kids paint is easily reached in our house and if I am not involved I find I don't mind it so much. We can always replace the carpet and sink (stained with paint and nailpolish) when they grow up and move out right?

We have an entire wall in that room painted with chalkboard paint and the kids still use it. Sometimes still for drawing but as I look at it today I see a half erased multiplication table and spelling lists that were never completely erased or cleaned from back in April I am guessing. Guess they haven't felt the need to use it recently. There are big cardboard cut out letters that hang from the wall that have been painted and various images have been glued on as the youngest learned her sounds and alphabet. Big maps cover the wall, artwork is scattered about, and various oversized books and items seem to be stuffed or falling out of various corners of the room.

We have a big kidney shaped table and chairs (the kind you might find in a pod styled classroom) and exercise balls lie under the table as they often replace the chairs for the kids. This table replaced individual flip style desks we once had. I can't say we do a ton of school work here but it is nice to have this table and it is definitely our craft table and board game table. Every once in awhile when I get serious about routine or schedules we try to sit there more often but I find it never lasts as the kids prefer to be on the floor, at the kitchen table, on a couch, the deck or in our home library, still it looks well intentioned.

The other side of this room (separated artificially by our couch) is our family room where we have our monitor for movies, video games and the computer (a big screen TV that does not get any television channels). We decorate that room entirely with Target book shelves that are filled with Wii Games, XBox 360 games, board games, dvds and the like. All the walls in that room are decorated with various Star Wars Movie Posters and Puzzles we have done as a family. Pictures of our family in Star Wars Costumes from Conventions, Disney and the Science Museum round out the decor. Video game rocker chairs are nearly always in the middle of the floor and a punching bag hangs from the ceiling during the winter and a mini trampoline gets pulled out of the closet. Creates a wonderful enriching learning environment right? Well it suits our family personality at this phase of our lives just fine.

As I look around the room I realize this is the time of year where I need to clear out last years lesson books and piles of paper and find homes for them and throw the rest in the trash. I need to think through how we will use this room this year and try as best I can to prepare it ahead of time. I have no idea. I know have a 5th, 3rd and 1st grader and no little ones to keep occupied through the day. Yet they are not quite out of toys completely and I don't want to be overly serious. Then other days I look around and I want to rent a dumpster and just purge it all (except the books)and make that room have a clean feel. Then I realize our learning environment is not sterile, it is not clean, it is full of life, chaos and all the things we want to surrond ourselves with. Learning is not neat and tidy all the time and as much as I try to put things away, really where am I going to store that solar system they built? Have I left it out long enough, taken enough pictures, can I pitch it away in the darkness while no one is looking the night before the trash is picked up? Or will I regret it the moment I do, will I even be able to lift it off the table to do so?

Do I miss the toys of earlier years? Not really one bit. They were wonderful while they were there but the books and board games are wonderful now. They are growing up and I am comfortable with that. I will miss the snuggling and the sweetness of small children, but not the toys and the clutter. Yet somehow when I look around at what is here today these are the things I think I will miss. The board games piled high, the Wii games no one can seem to put in the right case, the picture books we have so few years left of, yes even the endless arts and crafts supplies. These are just as much clutter I know but somehow it feels different. Perhaps because that is just where I am right now.

Looking forward I have no idea what this room will look like this year, next year or in 5 years. I know that it will always be filled with love, learning and a desire to to have fun as a family. It will grow and change just as we do as a family and as my kids do as individuals and maybe that is what makes this room such a special room in our house, clutter, chaos and all.

July 30, 2009

Changing the Way We Read

Recently Serona and purchased Sony Ereader Books, he bought the 505 model and I bought the Sony 700. I have been following electronic book technology for a few years now, both excited and hesitant at the same time. I loved the concept, thought the price point was too high, and positive I would miss holding a physical book.

The Amazon Kindle has received most of the attention recently but I was much more impressed with Sony, especially by their lack of DRM (Digital Rights Management) and deal with Google Books. I received quite a bit of birthday money recently from family and decided it was time to give it a try and I have no regrets, I love my ebook reader.

I have had it for about 2 months now and have read 7 complete books and parts of another 8 books that are ongoing now. I have noticed some changes in the way I read and some overall advantages and uses I did not expect. During this time I also went on a 2 week vacation on which I brought the reader. The rest of my reading has been done at home, in the car, at my kids swim practice, at doctors offices and other various errand locations.

A few things I noticed right away. I did not miss holding a physical book at all. The Sony Reader has a nice cover that allows me to hold it in the same fashion as a book if I want to. I can also fold the cover back and have easy one handed reading. The ereader has solved two major issues I have had with reading for a long time: reading one handed and the unwieldy size of many of the books I read. After trying to carry and comfortably read Atlas Shrugged (my last read before this purchase) I found the form factor of the ereader to be delightful. I am currently reading another similarly sized book and find it no more challenging than a small paperback. Since I read often lying down I have always been seeking a one handed solution, trying book weights, stands, and everything of the like, never being satisfied. With the ereader I can easily accomplish both single handed and hands free reading with ease and comfort.

The way the reader has changed my reading style is the fact that I now carry so many books with me all the time. I read more and I read more variety and I rarely get bored of reading anymore because I can switch books instantly. My reader currently has 128 books on it, of those I have only purchased 12, the rest have been acquired legally through free means, mostly from Google books and the free promotions on Sony. This has expanded some of the reading choices I am making as well.

Before the reader I typically was always reading a fiction and non fiction book at the same time, a special book read aloud for each of my kids, a family read aloud and my bible. However I could not carry all of those books with me all the time so it would vary which I was reading and depending on the size of the book which I might bring with me on errands. Now I have all of them everywhere I go. I find my bible reading time has dramatically increased as I always have it with me and I love being able to highlight and save notations (side margin notes) I also can read my youngest a chapter from her special book while in a waiting room for the other children and then switch to my book when she is having her appointment. If I get tired of the fiction book I can switch to a chapter of my non fiction. It is wonderful. I always take the book with me because it fits easily into my purse and is so lightweight. It is easy to pull out for just a few minutes reading and the book knows right where I left off in every single book!

Perhaps the moment I realized how much I really loved my ereader was on vacation. I finished 2 different books on vacation and started several others with my kids. Contrast that with my husband who brought his one hardback book and finished it midway through the trip and had nothing left to read. His book was much larger in size and weight compared to my reader yet at the end of the trip he was carrying dead weight. He chose not to purchase another book on the trip but did start reading one of my books on my reader when I was not using it. When we returned we purchased him an ereader of his own.

Serona typically only reads one book at a time besides his Bible so I am curious to see if he loves his as much as I love mine. However he travels quite a bit more than me and I think will love the portability of the book and no longer worrying about finishing the last chapter of his book before he leaves for the airport. One thing is probably true the airport bookstores will be losing money from him :)

Our 10 year old daughter has been eyeing the ereader and as her birthday just passed she asked can I have one of those? She knew realistically she was not getting one as we had spent her birthday in Walt Disney World! They will need to come down quite a bit in pricepoint before I buy her one but she is someone who would also benefit from them and if they hit the $100 or less mark I could see us purchasing one for her. Of course then I have to feed her reading habit so maybe I will add when the device and book prices come down or when the library gets better about offering digital books for reading. Our local library is testing a digital book reader program now and the larger library near us has one in place, all in good time I suppose.

So would I recommend the Sony EReader? Yes but they are expensive and truthfully the technology is going to always be advancing and eventually the prices are going to drop more and more. I would without a doubt recommend it over the Amazon Kindle with its tight DRM restrictions and ability to remotely delete your books, which they recently used. For the run of the mill reader it might be better to wait another year or two until the market sorts itself out with more options and price competition. For the avid reader who is looking to read more, carry less and have multiple books available to them at a single time no matter where they are then I would say absolutely. These also really make sense to replace textbooks in the near future and save all our kids breaking backs, well maybe not the homeschoolers backs :0

July 29, 2009

Book Lists and Library Fees

Yesterday I wrote a $30 check to my local library for overdue fees. Since the fees are either .10 or .30 cents a day you can realize how many books we had out that we kept too long. I used to begrudge the fee and I will concede off the bat it would be better if I did not return the books late and was able to keep my library use free but in the end I am willing to joyfully pay my late fees because the library provides such a wonderful service to my family and our community at large. There have been times as a family we have had upwards of 100 books out at a time, we typically have about 30-40 out at a time. Our 10 year old daughter represents half of that total alone before the rest of us start, we had to impose a you can check out what you can carry in your arms no bag rule only to watch her still stack 17 books high and walk out the door!

Who am I to argue with a love of books and I am just so thankful the library provides me with a nearly endless supply of them for all the voracious readers in our household. I have had questions if I will be publishing my book lists and the answer is yes - now I only do them once a year, I used to do them monthly but it became too time consuming and I found a software program that keeps track of everything for me so I don't have as much work anymore. So yes the book lists for this past year 4th, 2nd and K will be forthcoming sometime in the next few weeks. Better get them up before I start next years lists right?

July 27, 2009

Phases of Life

Blogging had dropped lower on my priorities list in the past year or so but I realize how much I have missed it. I am hopeful I can now return to regular posts and keeping track of our homeschool adventures here.

Phases of life is an important thing for each of us to keep in mind and to be responsive to. As parents and educators we need to be flexible to make the needed changes to our schedules, habits and extras in order to fit in all the essentials of our lives at any given time.

When I reflect back on the year at times I wonder why this was the thing I had to let go of and I feel like there will be a void in our family and educational history because I took this year off more or less from blogging. I am hopeful that now this year as my kids head into 5th, 3rd and 1st grade I can resume. Looking back it is amazing to me that I started this blog before my oldest was in Kindergarten, now she is heading into 5th grade and my youngest who was not even born yet is now going into 1st grade!

I have used this blog through the year to keep track of some of our favorite lessons, books, and other fun ideas. We have revisited some of them and for that I am thankful I wrote them down. It has also been a family history of sorts and I hope one day my kids can look back on it and see glimpses of our lives during this time. Others have also found usefulness out of my blog which I sometimes find amazing.

To those who have been reading along for a long time, Thanks and I am back. To those new or casual readers welcome and it is nice to have you along. To my family and friends who are in no doubt frustrated with my lack of communication here in recent days hopefully you will still read on.

Here you find the adventures of one homeschool family in the middle of the midwest doing our best and learning along the way.


June 14, 2009

Swim Meet and Summer Update

Seems I have fallen into a slow pattern of just once a month updating here, I can't seem to let it completely go yet life has taken me in so many other busy directions. Right now it seems we are constantly in the car or at a sporting event of the kids, tis the season I suppose. Someday normalcy whatever that is will resume.

Tonight I write after a long weekend of early mornings and hours at a swim meet. It was Maria's first competitive swim meet against other swim squads in the state. She had a great first meet. She swam in 5 individual events and one relay. In her individual heats she placed 1 in the 50free, 2 in the backstroke and butterfly and 3rd in breaststroke in 100free, each race had 8 swimmers. We are still awaiting her overall placement after all the heats were added up for all 30 or so swimmers in her level. For a first meet she could not have done better or had a better experience. It was so great to be a part of. Even her grandfather from NY was in to watch her performance.

As a mom it was a bit nerve wracking for me to sit in the bleachers and wonder how it would all turn out. After her first race (2nd in her backstroke heat) she relaxed and was all smiles after being a ball of nerves and worries nearly all week. When the meet was over it was wonderful to see how pleased she was with her results and all the work she had put into this sport in the few months she has been swimming with a swim team. Her final results will not be as high as her heat scores as she was swimming in an easier heat than others at her level and their times were better than hers, still she set some great initial times for her to work from and move forward with swimming.

One thing was clear as we left the meet, she is now hooked and has felt a taste of competition and reward for all her hard work and she intends to build on this and work hard moving forward to improve. It will be great fun to be along for the ride.

In other kid news Ciaran is winding down a great baseball season, 3 games left this week and then playoffs while Grandma and Grandpa from Maine visit. It has been a great year of learning for him, the improvements from last year to this are remarkable. He hit into the outfield last game and was very excited, he plays infield more than outfield now even with the even rotations his coaches try to use and he can easily make the 3rd to first throw consistently and strongly. Considering last year he did not want to stand in the batters box for fear of getting hit and struck out almost as often as he grounded to the infield the improvements are amazing. He is older and more mature and also more interested in playing, but he is out there practicing every day with me, Serona, or anyone who will have a catch with him. I am glad he is loving baseball and has such a great coach and fun team this year.

Sirah is starting swimming lessons again. She is taking private lessons this time around and is loving her instructor. Our goal is to have her independently swimming by the end of the month so it will be a more relaxing summer for us all. She loves being in the water and is doing well but needs to gain more confidence. When asked about what sport she would like to do next she runs the gammet from karate to Irish step dancing to swim team or rock climbing. It will be fun to let her try out all the things that interest her and see what she settles into.

Life is very busy right now and I feel like we live at the pool, baseball field and in the minivan but I would not trade it for anything, life is wonderful and I love doing all these things with my kids. I am glad we have taken a break from school and can settle into relaxing this summer.

May 8, 2009

First Swim Meet

Maria had her first competitive swim meet tonight. It was an in house meet and she did great. She raced in three events 50 fly, 50 free and 50 backstroke. Her first event was the fly and her nerves got the better of her but she stuck out the event and finished last. The next two events saw her gain her confidence and she finished 3rd in both events.

She just just started training about 3 weeks ago so this was a great first step. It was fun for us all to be there along the side of the pool cheering her on. This was a fun day for her once she got over her initial nerves. It was rewarding to see her hard work and practice pay off.

She looks forward to competing in more meets and beginning to race against other squads as she grows as a swimmer. As her mom I am glad she finally found a sport or activity that she really enjoys and excels at.

I have to say a thank you to Michael Phelps for getting her interested in swimming and motivated to try competitive swimming herself. After watching the summer Olympics and all of his races she really became interested in swimming and has started her journey gradually but at a good pace for her. Here is to many more years hopefully of such a healthy sport.

I am proud of you and your hard work Maria.

March 30, 2009

Happy BIrthday Ciaran

Ciaran is 8 years old and we had a great birthday party! 8 little boys here for a baseball game, Mario Kart Wii, Star Wars Monopoly, Lightsaber battles, marshmallow spitting contests, and watching the Phantom Menace. They had such a great time and were so good!

For his birthday we bought him fire bellied toads - he has wanted a frog or toad since he was 3 years old. We told him he could have them when he was 8 honestly thinking he would no longer want them. Well here we are with 2 fire bellied toads added to our family number. He was so excited he could not stop hugging us. He literally ran from one to the other back and forth for a few minutes just so very thankful. He also received a lot of great little boy gifts that he can hardly wait to use, water guns, scooter, legos, skateboard and an eyeclops among others, he was so blessed and so very thankful.

For the first time ever one of my kids seemed sad to be getting older. He just kept telling us "I will never be 7 again" on the verge of tears. We were baffled by this reaction but he simply loved being 7, it was his favorite age and a great year and he will miss it. Interesting guy my Ciaran.

Baseball is around the corner, he can hardly wait to find out his team and start practice. Of course we are expecting a snowstorm tonight so the white stuff may be on the ground again, last year it cancelled opening day once and then snowed on our second opening day. Only in Minnesota does baseball range from 20 degrees to 98 degrees. I don't know which is worse, but I will vote for the cold, snow and freezing rain. Why we don't wait to start until late May is beyond me.

Ciaran is a sweet boy, he has such a generous heart and spirit and is so giving and loving. He is especially tender with me and for the past few months just runs up to me to give me big hugs and climbs on my lap to snuggle still. Of course he also enjoys playing Monopoly, Risk, Wii games and doing anything outdoors. He really is going through the growing out of a little boy stage but I love where he is right now and will hold on to it as long as it lasts. Enjoying his hugs and tenderness and desire to simply be near to me.

He is looking forward to summer when the frogs return, he can swim all day, skate, scoot, bike, play ball and have water fights. I am looking forward to the freedom of those days too. We are hard at work here now trying to finish up school so we have the freedom to start our summer earlier. We typically finish school in early May enjoying one of our favorite months in MN school free, May and September are hands down the best time to be in MN, no bugs, perfect weather just wonderful days for being outside and hiking and loving God's creation.

Ciaran had a great year - he became a proficient swimmer, learned baseball for real and found a passion for it, he got better at biking, scooting, skateboarding and roller blading, he became very creative with Lego's and K'nex and he still loved frog hunting, and geocaching. He improved in school and really advanced in his reading, books he recently read include: Prince Caspian by CS Lewis and Coraline by Neil Gaiman. We have watched his faith develop and him flourish in his bible verse memory. He grew more protective of his sisters and even took a punch in the nose for one of them as he defended her. Mostly though he had a wonderful fun and busy year filled with all the things that make a little boy's life fun and interesting.

I am thankful to be his mother and even though some days I am exhausted from his nearly endless energy he fills my days with joy and laughter, smiles and tenderness and that more than makes up for the challenges along the way. I love you Ciaran thanks for being such a special little boy.

March 24, 2009

Time to Be Mom

One of the unique struggles of a homeschool parent is finding time to just be mom or dad as well as teacher. In my mind after I have spent the better part of my day with my kids doing things like reading, math, science, history, art projects, home economics, PE and handwriting I am ready for a break. The thing is my kids are not ready for a break from me, they are in fact ready to spend time with their mom and have simply felt they have been with their teacher for the past few hours.

This took me a little while to figure out and I am still trying to figure out how best to meet their needs without overstretching myself as well. Realizing that they do need to just cuddle on the couch with me, play a board game, bake cookies or simply talk and spend time with me is important. I have to learn to build in times for this in our daily life. In addition it is true that I need some down time and alone time to recharge myself and also get done the work and responsibilities like house cleaning, cooking, laundry, bill paying, volunteer work, writing, appointments and the small details that make our household run.

Lately while acutely aware of my need to balance these roles I find myself at a loss for a successful method to do so with. How do I be homeschool teacher, household COO, wife, mom and keep my sanity? For many years now I have just been juggling all the balls in the air and living according to the tyranny of the urgent, dealing with what needs to be done as it arises. But as my laundry piles into 12 loads, packages go unmailed for several weeks, I can't find time to call loved ones on the phone, I have not taken sanity time for myself, and my kids and husband feel like they never spend time with with just me I am realizing there must be a saner way. There must be a way to better manage and balance all of these roles and still be just one person.

I have significantly cut back on my computer time which has helped. I put an internet timer on each computer I use and it tracks my minutes online. This has been a good reminder and accountability tool for me. I try to avoid using the computer as much as possible during school time. Allowing myself a short time in the morning before school, some at lunchtime and then after all our other responsibilities are done. Yet many of my jobs use the computer too so I am also trying to limit my free or fun time on the computer since my kids see me use it so much already for things I need to do as part of my job of household COO and homeschool mom, not to mention volunteer work I do. While this helps it also leads me to feel like I am limiting myself so much that I am not meeting my needs either.

Some of this is because we are coming out of a long cooped up winter here in Minnesota and everything gets better as the sun comes out and the weather warms up. Still it is reality right now and for my kids sake I need to make time to just be mom. To cuddle and love them, to listen to and encourage them, to play games and be silly with them, to have time that is not about me telling them what to do next whether it be school, chores, sports practice, or enforcing reading times. My kids need to be able to remember that part of me too. I worry that they are going to grow up and just think of me as a drill sergeant or a teacher they either loved or hated. How do veteran moms balance this? How do you still be mom, and how do you enjoy that time without thinking about all the other things that need to get done?

Off to be mom, read some books and play some Wii.