Saturday, November 2, 2013

A Happier Halloween

I've made no secret of the fact that I don't like Halloween.  Of course I did when I was a kid because who doesn't want to dress up and get lots of candy?  In those days Halloween was just a night in October where we dressed up in our costume pj's - yes, Sears used to sell costumes that doubled as pj's - and we drove around to a few houses that we knew and got a small amount of candy. Here are some pictures of my sister and I.

As we got older we would go to a family friend's neighborhood, which was much better suited for walking, and stock up on treats there.  Either way, the holiday was a minor event. The scariest costumes were that of a witch with a pointy hat or possibly a kid dressed up as a ghost with a sheet over his head.  This is not true today.

My true dislike for Halloween began a few years after Emily and James were born.  They were about 3 and 2 respectively and we were on our usual morning trip to our local grocery store in early October when all of a sudden both of the kids started crying and cowering in the grocery cart.  I looked over to see one of the creepiest scariest Halloween displays on the aisle next to the baby food and diapers.  Seriously??  Halloween wasn't for several weeks and this display was something I would expect to see in a horror movie, not a grocery store.  For the rest of the month I had to find ways to avoid several stores, displays, and even decorated houses.  I know some people love the "scary stuff" but my kids did not and neither did I. 

The above was taken before the grocery store experience, but you can see on James's face he was having none of it!

As the years past we found several church functions to attend and the kids dressed up in many adorable costumes.  We tried to avoid the objectionable aspects to the holiday and found clever ways to thin-out their candy loot so they wouldn't eat too much junk. 

Once they started elementary school it was even more difficult to shelter them from what was now clearly the "Season of Halloween".  Starting on October 1st the teachers decorated the classroom and bulletin boards with witches and ghosts, read scary themed books, and planned parties and costume parades.  While Christmas displays became more and more controversial, Halloween displays became something to truly celebrate.  When the kids asked about the origins of Halloween, my husband and I started reading up on it. Nothing we read about brought honor and glory to God.  I knew we weren't practicing paganism, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't right either.  From that point forward we started to differentiate Christmas and Easter, which are holidays that our family celebrates to honor God, from Halloween, which although has pagan roots that we don't celebrate, we do participate in some of the harmless traditions like dressing up and Trick or Treating. 

Now that we homeschool and the kids are older, they really seem to understand that there is an ugly side to Halloween that we shun but also a redeeming side where we can outreach to the community through church events as well as on our own by meeting neighbors and fellowshipping with friends.

I haven't always felt this way, but thanks to a reminder from one of my good friends who invited us to Trick or Treat with them this year, I realize that the holiday is what you make of it which can be either good or bad. Having said that... it didn't start out so well.

Costume + teen = drama.  This year I was adamant about not spending a lot of money on store bought costumes.  My youngest had several choices of previously worn costumes (never seen by this group), but those weren't good enough. "Who wants to dress up as the same thing twice?" she argues. " I want to be Little Red Riding Hood," she declares.  My son had a very reasonable suggestion of being a cowboy this year. He doesn't have a hat or boots, but I didn't think that would be too hard to get.  My oldest wanted to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.  She had a blue dress that with some tweaking would work.  All we needed was some shoes and a few accessories.  Off we went to our local Halloween store. 

Spirit: nothing. Goodwill: nothing.   Target: nothing but an expensive red cape that was too big.  Walmart: nothing. So we drove 20 minutes to another area.  Party City: a few items, but expensive.  Halloween City:  a cowboy hat for $20. Not happening. Salvation Army: nothing.  Out of desperation we went to Hobby Lobby for fabric. I figured maybe I could make something, but there were two problems. First, I don't sew all that well and second, fabric is expensive.  I left the store with the girls in tears, James exhausted (although a good sport), and me fuming mad because I had wasted several hours and we had nothing to show for it.

The girls, recognizing my disgust and realizing they weren't going to get what they want this year, quickly became creative and starting putting together 50's outfits from clothes they already had.  Brilliant!  Use stuff we have and make the best of it!  What a novel idea!  Soon we had James on board and eventually they convinced Dennis and I to join in the fun.  We didn't have the best costumes this year, but it was good enough and we spent very little.

We met up with our friends at a local park and we took so many pictures you might think we were photographing famous kids. The girls had no problem striking poses, but the boys just stood there biding their time.

Of course us moms got in on the action too.

The rest of the evening was really quite nice. The kids ran from house to house while us adults got to hang back and socialize.  Aside from a swarm of mosquitos at dusk and a few wrong turns it was truly a wonderful evening.  I think the kids had a great time too. They definitely landed a lot of candy which a large portion of will be "bought back" by us and then donated to the troops overseas. 

All in all, this was a much Happier Halloween!!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Holy Land "Experience"

This week's homeschool field trip took us to Orlando's Holy Land Experience... and "experience" it was. I want to be careful here lest I sound blasphemous, but never before have I treaded so closely to a line while meandering through this Bible themed tourist attraction.  Here's what I mean...

We waited outside the main entrance which was modeled after the Damascus and Jaffa Gates of Jerusalem. This was pretty neat.

Once inside we made our first stop the restroom.  This photo was taken inside the Ladies Room. Strange, but okaaay. I was puzzled by the chairs and not sure if the intention was to make us feel like queens or to be a preview of restrooms in heaven?  See... I'm close to the line.

Inside the "Jerusalem Street Market" there were vendors dressed up in beautiful costumes. I really don't know if they were authentic or not.  The women actually looked a little more Hindu than Israeli to me.  Either way we proceeded on to find this...

I don't know what to say. It's a Tammy Faye Bakker full life-size cardboard cutout... and my husband posing with her.  The kids, who naturally don't know who she is, inquired if she was someone from the Jersey Shore show. We laughed and moved on before anyone could see the expressions on our faces.

Next up was a rock structure which Kat started climbing on and asked to have her picture taken. She did not notice what was behind her nor did I as I was just 'taking the picture'. Once the photo was snapped and I looked more closely to see that it was a whipping post similar to what Jesus might have endured. Understanding the gravity, I felt bad for taking such a frivolous shot. 

Moving on quickly... we entered the Temple Plaza which featured a replica of the Temple of Jerusalem during the reign of Harod, 66 A.D.  It was majestic for sure and really quite amazing to think that it might have looked similar in those days. 

Inside the temple is a room housing some replicas which were truly fascinating. Here's one of the Ark of the Covenant.  This room afforded many historical conversations.

Just when we started to get excited about the content of this field trip, we then wondered into a room of wax figures which were bedazzled, bejeweled, and basically over-the-top decked out. They were posed to depict several of the stories of Jesus.

On one hand they were beautiful... like pieces of art. On the other hand, there was something "over-the-top" about the whole thing. Here's James checking it out.

The wax figure room (as many of the other areas) always ends in a gift shop.  The kids and I were drawn to the merchandise and started browsing around.  After a few minutes of surveying the room, it became apparent that there might be something wrong.  I'm not saying there was, I'm just saying that I didn't feel right about the "branding" of Jesus merchandise.  Bedazzled cross shirts and handbags, pens, pencils, magnets, hats... anything you want with either the Holy Land logo or something 'religious' on it. I know it's the world we live in... and in some ways I really liked the stuff, but in others it just felt like it cheapened the experience.  Inside the shop were these chairs.  Again, is this what shopping will be like in heaven?

Also inside the shop was a miniature replica of Jerusalem.  This was an excellent display allowing us to get a real feel for the layout, size, and scope of the city.  I had always wondered in my mind what they meant by inner and outer walls.  This display really helped us understand how the city was organized. From there we headed out the door and happened upon this scene...

This is a full water fountain show set to a very loud rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus blaring from the speakers above. If you are wondering what it is in front of Kat, it's a life size cardboard cutout of Jesus walking on water.  Yup. Jesus. Cardboard. Water.  If you think that might be a bit tacky, you should know that we saw the real Jesus (well, a man dressed up as Jesus) walking along the path complete with people following him and a young child walking by his side.  If you could suspend reality there's something inside that stirs you up and makes you wish you could join them. But being a practical person, I know this is just an actor playing a part and for some reason it kind of creeps me out seeing him followed as if he really is Jesus.

It's hard to see in this picture, but the people on the left are listening to him give the Sermon on the Mount speech.

Our next (and final) stop was the Scriptorium. This was worth the price of admission! It is a narrated 55 minute long tour explaining how we got the Bible. It included authentic and ancient artifacts from around the world. We saw tablets, scrolls, and very old bibles.  There were a few wax animated figures such as Tyndale, Wycliffe, and Gutenberg, but most of the focus was on the texts themselves.  We really appreciated the historical significance of the works on display and learned a lot about the history of the Bible.  I would highly recommend this exhibit to anyone.  (Cameras and Video are not allowed in the Scriptorium or else I would have taken plenty!)

The Holy Land Experience offers many live shows and performances which we did not take advantage of. I'm sure you would need an entire day or two to see everything. After a few hours we felt like we had had our fill so we headed to the parking to devour our P.B. & J sandwiches we packed for lunch.

As to my overall impression... like I said... it was a fine line between being respectful of the seriousness of what was being portrayed and being in awe of the authenticity in some areas, and yet also poking fun at the hokeyness [a new word I just made up] of mass marketed Jesus merchandise, cardboard cutouts, bedazzled costumes, and a real-life person walking around as Jesus.  I kind of wish they would have stuck to a more historical "real" feel to the whole thing. 

Bottom line, I'm glad we went. We learned a lot. We had a great time, but no... we won't be going back. Once in a lifetime is probably enough for this attraction.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Picture [not so] Perfect

What is it about professional picture taking that sends shivers up my spine? Well, if you're a mom of more than one child you probably already know. As a matter of fact, you could probably write this blog for me.  You've been there, done that.  I have too, yet I choose to do this to myself once or twice a year. This year was no different.

Since the birth of my first child, I've been on a quest to have her picture professionally taken every few months and then later once a year.  I don't really know why I do this because with today's technology her every move has been documented in multiple formats. Trust me, if you want to know what she looked like at 16 months and 3 days, I have pictures.  It all started so innocently... a coupon to Sears (our closest portrait studio at the time) for a baby picture.  How could I say no? I bought a really cute outfit for her and made an appointment. During this experience I learned some things I never considered.

1. Babies puke (a lot). Outfits don't look so cute when they are stained with wet milk, so multiple outfits will be required and they can not be dressed until the last second.

2. Babies sleep (a lot). Waking up a sleepy baby is not good so from now on appointments would have to been timed very carefully.

3. Babies cry (a lot). They do not smile on cue no matter what faces you make or how much you plead.  They don't care how much effort you made to get there or how many people are waiting in line behind you. Speaking of that, even the most carefully timed appointment will never start on time chiefly because of the reasons stated above. 

All experienced mothers know these things yet something inside us [or maybe it's a grandparent's urging] compels us to seek out professional photography.  In a portrait studio the lighting is just right (no red eyes), the background is carefully chosen (no toys on the floor), the outfits are coordinated (no stains), and the hair is styled complete with curls, bows, etc. (rather than unkempt). We can attempt to control the environment, but the one thing we can not control is the image that gets captured on the screen.  That's the part which feels more like rolling the dice.  Will they smile naturally or will we get one of those 'forced' grins?  Will their personality shine through or will it look like someone we hardly recognize?  And that's the crux of it isn't it?  We want their pictures to genuinely reflect how we perceive our kids looking. I made several photographers cry when I've said, "No, that really doesn't look like them. Can we try it again?"

Emily's first professional picture. She set the bar high. This remains one of my all time favorite pictures.  What you don't see is how covered with spit up I was while getting ready for our turn.

As we moved through toddlerhood and then on to school-age, the photography events got easier in some ways (no more spitting up and napping) but much harder in others. I remember chasing Emily around the studio trying to get her to stand in one place, pleading with James to wear a nice shirt (and not use it as a napkin), and bribing Kat with ice cream, toys and many other things.

The top picture is Emily and bottom one is Kat.  Just to make things more difficult, I dressed them in the same dress. What you may not notice is that Emily would not stand still. This is the only picture actually in focus.

Complicating matters, now there was not only individual pictures but group photos as well.

In this picture James' sensitive area was literally being crushed. I had no idea until they stood up and he burst into tears. I can't even look at this picture without thinking of how much pain he was in. Poor boy!

Add in Christmas family pictures, cousins' pictures, and the ever dreaded school pictures (which we rarely purchased since there were too many variables out of my control - think closed eyes, goofy grins, hair standing up, etc.) and you have an event worth sheer dread/loathing/distain... take your pick.

I have no idea what James was thinking here, but clearly "say cheese" did not motive him to smile. The rest of us look decent, so this is the one we went with. Makes me laugh when I see it though.

A few weeks ago I purchased a Groupon to JC Penny's for one of their photo packages. I knew it'd be time for school pictures soon and given that at least two of my kids are teens now, I thought it would probably be easier than ever.  Wrong.  So wrong.  My first mistake was waiting till the day of to get my 14 year old's hair cut. Drama.  Mistake number two was not planning coordinating outfits (not matching... those days are long over). Drama.  Mistake number three was assuming I could just find something quickly at the store where the pictures were being taken. More drama. The studio kindly pushed my appointment time back so we could shop a little longer but that did not help at all. That just allowed time for more stress, a few tears (Emily's mascara running), hungry stomachs (James and I didn't eat lunch), and pouting about not having the right shoes (Kat wearing boots and Emily in sandals).  Ugggh!

In the end we did find something to wear and I must say the kids were very cooperative during the picture taking part.  Praise God for that!  They even waited patiently while the pictures uploaded and were also easy going about the selections.  That part is always harder for me.  The coupons never really give you exactly what you want.  Plus they're always so sneaky about putting collages together that look adorable but aren't part of the package.  And still a concern is whether the expression captured really reflects your child as you see them.  Add in a husband or grandparents' opinion and it really gets complicated.  I've been known to either walk away from pictures I wish I had purchased as well as purchased some I really shouldn't have.  It's not an easy task, at least for this mama. I've said "never again" more than once, but when I look back at each picture I'm not just remembering a moment in time, I'm really remembering an experience. Some of them more difficult than others, but definitely all worth while.

These pictures will represent their 9th, 8th, and 5th grade year. You may see typical kid smiles, but I see a whole afternoon worth of drama.  I wonder what they'll remember of this day when they grow up. My meltdown? Their new clothes? Being really hungry?


Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Power of Friendship

When you think of things you hope for you kids during childhood at least one of them is probably good friends.  Friends can lift us up when we're feeling blue, they can entertain us when we're bored or alone, and they can challenge us to be gracious, charitable, and forgiving.  Just as this is all true, the wrong kind of friends can do just the opposite.  It's no wonder we've kept a close eye on our kids' friendships almost to the point of keep them from becoming too close to certain kids. 

Of course we've moved a few times which doesn't help the cause. The girls have a few close childhood friends back in Chicago and James has at least one friend he reconnected with last time we visited. As for local friendships, that's been a little tougher.  Well, maybe not for Katherine. She's my out-going personable fun-loving girl.  Kat makes friends wherever she goes and has a few nice girls she can hang out with that live close by. Emily has also connected with at least one other girl, and I'm so thankful because that has been a blessing.  James on the other hand has been a bit of a loner.  Although he attended public school for 6th grade, no real friendships developed out of that experience. As a matter of fact, after meeting some of the kids and hearing stories he's shared with me, I'm really glad he had the good sense not to become close with anyone from there. 

We thought getting him plugged into youth group at church would really help expose him to some quality guys, but that presented challenges too because even though the kids were nice they seem to have very different interests than James.  We've tried getting together with other homeschoolers as well, but that hasn't worked because they either live far away or the contact has been sporadic.  In addition to this, there is one factor we didn't consider... chemistry.  Having common interests and being of the same age is not enough to form a good friendship.  Simply put, they must like each other.  The quality that attracts one person to another whether it's in friendship or in a spouse is virtually undefinable.  Why do we prefer some people over others? I don't know, we just do.

Not too long ago our church hired a new children's pastor. The family has six kids, with four of them still at home.  They live very close by and they are homeschoolers. Their kids are slightly different ages from our kids, but they are very close.  Our family values line up and we genuinely like their kids.  And perhaps for the first time ever... there is chemistry with all three of our kids.

Last night all four of their kids came over to spend the night.  Normally having extra kids around would increase my stress level, but this time it was easier than if I had been alone with only my three.  They danced, swam, played Minecraft, painted pictures, played tag, and watched a Rated G movie. They laughed, told stories, and played harmless pranks.  Most importantly, they all got along and they all prayed together in the evening.  These are the kind of kids I want my kids to hang out with.  These are the kinds of friendships we've been praying for.  It does this mama's heart good to hear the laughter and see the smiles. I hope this will be the beginning of a beautiful friendship for all the kids.



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Summer Wrap-Up

Summer break is just about over for us; however, living in Florida means that 'summer' will keep on going for several more months. Whew, it's hot here!  Thankfully we get a breeze off the Atlantic which helps quite a bit as does air conditioning and a swimming pool. 

July was very busy. We started the month celebrating the 4th with a new homeschool family we met earlier in the year.  It's always great when the kids hit it off allowing the grown-ups time to compare notes on topics of all kinds. Best part of the night was watching the firework display set off courtesy of the young men in the house. Thanks James and Joey!

Next on the docket was a trip to Nashville to see the cousins.  This was the first time the kids got on a plane together and spent a week somewhere without us.  We knew they were in excellent hands, but you never know exactly how it's going to go. Turns out we did have one hiccup with Emily catching a cold. It's never fun to be sick especially when you're away from home. Aside from this, it sounds like the kids had a marvelous time. 

Not only was it a first for the kids to travel and vacation alone, it was a first for Dennis and I to be alone in the house together. I've often poked fun at the idea of a "stay-cation" but honestly that's exactly what it was. We went for walks on the beach, played a lot of golf, watched movies, read a book, and went out for dinner almost every night.  I didn't grocery shop, makes meals, clean the house (well, maybe a little), or plan lessons.  It was a luxury I had not experienced since back when we were dating.  Don't get me wrong, life wouldn't be the same without the kids, but for a few days, it was very refreshing.

A few days after the kids got back it was time for another first: sending Emily off to camp.  Emily attended Student Life church camp in Toccoa, GA for 5 days. We put her on the bus at 12:30am Monday morning where they drove for 9+ hours to get to their destination. We had phone contact in the evenings, but other than that she was on her own.  It sounds like she had a blast and really enjoyed being with her friends. I think it was a really good experience although going away from your family for the first time is always a little hard - and not just for her! It was like a mini preview of what the future holds. I know there will be many more good-byes up ahead and I just had to keep reminding myself that she is always in God's hands. Thankfully she returned safe and sound late Friday night.

The following week was spent at my folk's house working on some landscaping projects. My parents, who are in their early 70's, are both very active but handling yard work in Florida - in the middle of the summer - is enough to make anyone wilt so we were glad to help.  The first day started out with renting a chipper and cleaning up palm branches around the yard. We all worked at a fast and furious pace to get the job done. A few hours into it, my dad lifted a heavy stone resulting in becoming light-headed and eventually going in and out of consciousness. Although I immediately suspected dehydration and ran to get some water, the sight of him continuing to deteriate convinced me to call 911. The paramedics recommended a quick trip to the hospital and get an IV which thankfully he did. With plenty of fluids back in his body, he was as good as new. It was a scary reminder to drink lots of water when working in the heat. The next few mornings continued with more jobs around the house. It was good to see the kids working and it was nice to see the improvements they made.

So here we are with just a week before we officially start back to a more structured learning schedule. (I've learned to NOT refer to it as "school").  In some ways I feel very ready and excited to get started, in other ways I'm not sure if I have everything we need and have it planned out effectively.  The big things (math, science, history, and grammar) are ready to go. It's the electives (art, gym, computer science) that I'm still trying to figure out.  I know we don't have to start everything at the same time so I'm continuing to research what might work best. And speaking of best, I've been reading more and more about unschooling and it still holds a huge appeal to me.  I know that it works because I've seen my kids learn a lot by themselves this summer yet I still can't quite let go of organized structure (force-fed) learning. Ugghh!  I'm going to keep praying about it, focus on things the kids are interested in, and take lots of field trips. Maybe we'll segue into it someday or maybe we'll keep doing what's working for us. I guess that's the beauty of homeschooling... you're never really locked into one thing. Praise God for that!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Check-In

We're about half way into the summer break so I thought I'd give a quick update on the happenings around the LeRoy household.  First we started the summer off with lots of visitors.  My niece, my parents, and Denny's sister and family all came to visit between late May and mid-June.  Sometimes it was difficult to prepare meals and be the 'cruise director' for the group, but when all was said and done I really enjoyed all the company, and I was actually sad when they were all gone. 

Once the house was quiet we started filling our time with various activities. Kat started an acting class, James attended a sports camp, guitar lessons resumed, and youth group moved to Wednesday nights.  We've had kids come over and hang out, we've been to the beach a few times, and we're considering taking a few day trips around Florida.

As for me, summer is a great time to do research and plan for the upcoming year.  I wish the kids would be as excited as I am about new curriculum and choosing study subjects.  When I ask their opinions I usually get some mumbling about it being "summer time".   Even more horrifying for the kids is that I am insisting they do a little reading and math over the summer.  I decided to give "The Life of Fred" a chance.  It's the perfect way to combine the two subjects. It's funny, short, and something they can do on their own.  I wish I could say they are loving it, but because it's being introduced during June and July it's an automatic "hassle", "bummer", "insert your own word here_____". 

The real gems during the summer are when the kids get bored enough to come up with something interesting to do on their own.  Currently James is in his room taking apart an old computer.  Kat announced that she wants to learn German.  Emily is spending a lot of time working on a story she is writing based on The Warriors series (her favorite books.)   This is when the REAL learning takes place.  There's nothing that compares to be internally motivated.  Most likely none of these things will come to much but you never know when something might stick. 

I wish I could say that every moment is filled with such edification, but like most households we've had our share of bickering, TV watching, and video game playing.  In my case I've been able to get out and play golf, go for walks, and even exercise in the pool, but truth be told, I've also spent my fair share of time watching movies, surfing the net, and sitting with my feet up thinking of what to do next. As for Dennis, summer is his busy time of year.  All those vacations that other people take require pilots to take them to their destinations.  He's flying more than ever although with the blessing of living in base, we still see him every night.

That wraps up Part 1 of summer break 2013. Next month we've got a few things lined up so check back in a few weeks.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Wrapping up the School Year

This past week we wrapped up our studies for 4th, 7th and 8th grade.  We still have a few things to finish on Monday, but generally speaking we are done.  [Insert audible exhale]  It's a been a good year.  Of course ever present is that little voice that wonders if we did 'enough', but other than that, I feel like we accomplished quite a bit.

There are so many highlights of the year, but I've narrowed it down to my top ten (in no particular order).

10. Finger boarding trip to Boston. Watching James in his element.
9.   Skiing in UT. Seeing James and Emily go from green runs to black runs in just a few hours.
8.   Epcot field trip. Watching kids discover the park as I did so many years ago.
7.   Operation Christmas Child. Kids eagerly working for a good cause.
6.   Visit to Naperville, IL for Kat's birthday. Seeing her reconnect with old friends.
5.   Yellowstone RV trip. Lots of questions about science and the world around us.
4.   Taking JetBlue ferry flight to Tampa with Dennis as pilot and kids as flight attendants.
3.   Visiting cousins in Nashville. Picnic at park and walk through Franklin.
2.   SeaWorld trip. Kat making self-motivated dolphin and whale presentation for family.
1.   Receiving the results to the Iowa Basics tests and realizing the kids are progressing just fine.

Another positive mention is the implementation of weekly blogs by each of the kids. I'd like to say that their final entry for the school year was an accurate demonstration of how far their writing skills have progressed, but I think rather it was an example of how little they could write to be done with the assignment on a Friday afternoon. That aside, I have seen progress through the year and I know that when they have something they feel passionate about, they can write reasonably well. 

So what's up ahead for us?  We'll first we all need a good long break. After a few weeks of visitors, vacations, and unstructured time, I'll start working on plans for next year.  I have a few ideas but need some more time to research.  Kat and James are certain they want to homeschool next year but Emily is considering going to high school. I think she likes the idea of having the high school 'experience', but doesn't want any part of school work or homework. I'm keeping an open mind, but of course would prefer her home. At the conclusion of this year, I am more than ever convinced that learning at home has far more benefits than the confines of the public school system.

All praise and glory to our Lord who gives Dennis and I the strength and ability to teach our kids at home. If it wasn't for His calling, I would never be able to do this. If it wasn't for Dennis's flexible work schedule and math and science skills it would be near impossible.  I'm so blessed that I get to spend so much time with the kids and watch them grow not only as individuals but also academically and spiritually.  [Insert warm fuzzy smiley face.]

Monday, April 29, 2013

Call in the Cavalry

It's hard to believe it's already been a week.  At this moment, seven days ago, I was recovery from knee surgery.  I didn't have a particular injury but rather a nagging dull knee pain that seemed to creep up every time I tried to do something remotely physical. It started in my twenties when I went hiking for a full day and then progressed into my thirties flaring up only when I pushed it hard.  By the time I was in my forties I noticed it came on more frequently and seemed to occur even after moderate to light use.  I tried physical therapy which helped greatly with the day to day stuff, but the following year when we went skiing it was back again.  After watching a bus load of senior citizens take in a full day of skiing while I sat on the sidelines reading a book, I decided that it might be time to try a more permanent solution. So last week my surgeon performed a lateral release and cleaned up the area under my right knee cap. My knees won't ever be perfect, but hopefully between the surgery and more physical therapy at least one of them should be in better shape.

Taking a homeschooling mom of three out of commission for potentially a couple days if not an entire week seemed like an impossible mission. My kids are old enough to fend for themselves but they're not at driving age yet so I knew we'd need help.  My husband is excellent with domestic duties but he was on call and could potentially be out of the picture at a moment's notice. So what's a busy mom to do? Send in the cavalry grandparents!

My parents arrived Sunday afternoon just in time to go over the schedule and other details.  After surgery on Monday they were there to check in on me as I drifted in and out of sleep.

Friends provided by Kat.

Dennis took the kids to the beach so the house was really quiet.  I know they don't think they did much, but having them in the house those first few hours was very comforting. The next few days I was up and around with very limited mobility and still a somewhat sleepy temperament. My parents facilitated the kids' studies and Dennis drove me to and from appointments.  In the afternoons, my dad took the kids out to various fun activities leaving my mom and I to catch up on movies.  I couldn't be more appreciative for the help they provided for me and my family during this time of recovery.  

On the day they left I was sad to see them go. Dennis also left on a trip so I was once again alone with the kids. I was able to drive and could now get around the house pretty easily. The difficultly came not with the usual house activities but rather the mental stamina required to be around kids all day.  Don't get me wrong, my kids are great, it's just that when you are alone with them you are fielding every request, concern, question, conversation, argument, explanation, etc.  It can be exhausting to be the only adult in the room handling everything from each kid.  So when my folks say, "We didn't really do that much," they are failing to realize that just their very presences in the room was a huge blessing.  I can't thank them enough for their support, love, encouragement, and most definitely their time in our home.  It really made all the difference!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Testing... one, two, three

I don't think testing is ever really a positive experience - or should I say "enjoyable" experience - for the one being tested.  Sure if you know the material really well or maybe if you score above average you might be able to look at it as a positive experience but it is doubtful that most will look forward to it much less 'enjoy' it. However, it is a necessary evil... at least so I'm told.

Next week child one, two, and three will spend a week enduring the Iowa Assessment of Basics Skills standardize test.  Why this particular one? I don't have a good reason other than it's NOT the FCAT's (Florida's standardize test which does not have a good reputation in our state).  I know there are other similar tests out there but this one seems to be well respected by the homeschool community and it is also the only one being offered at this time.  Two reasons good enough for me. 

Why test? I've been asking myself this very question especially in light of a difficult two weeks preparing for it.  Generally speaking, I don't like the idea of standardize tests for many reasons most of which are obvious to those who oppose them. One of my favorite quotes goes something like, "You can't judge October apples in June."  In some ways, taking this kind of test in 4th, 7th and 8th grade seems exactly like that.  My kids are not done learning what they need to know, so why test them now?  As homeschoolers, we are definitely NOT doing things the way they are in public school so I'm fighting my own self on whether it has any value to see how they stack up against other kids their age.  Even more of a curiosity to me is whether any of them have a particular talent in one area or another which we have not picked up upon yet.

I'm guessing some subjects, like math for my older two, will reflect fairly accurately how much they have learned and remembered over the years. For my youngest it will be less accurate because we have not covered some of the math that I know other 4th graders may have already learned. Social Studies and Science will mean almost nothing as clearly these can be taught in any order.  Language Arts will be interesting because even if they have been taught to the student, it takes a while for all the rules to be internalized and truly become part of the person's body of knowledge. Reading and Spelling are anyone's guess. We all know that getting A's on spelling tests does not always translate into being a good speller just as people who love to read aren't always good at reading comprehension. 

Even though I'm expecting somewhat flawed results, I'm still going to have them take the test for the same reason we do anything that we do as homeschoolers....for the experience of it.  Sitting in a desk for more minutes than you'd prefer, feeling a little pressure, having to recall information, having to solve problems, bubbling in answers, checking and re-checking your work... these are all things they will encounter at other times during their life.  Whether it be a driver's license exam, the SAT's, a pilot's license, or maybe a hair dresser's exam... they all have one thing in common - a test.  No one becomes "certified" without taking a test.  For that reason, I have no doubt that this will be a worthwhile event. It might not rank up there with their latest visit to SeaWorld, but I know it's part of their education experience that will hopefully serve them well in the years ahead.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Where did March go?

Did I really do this again? Did I really go another month without posting?  I think it's been a little under a month but clearly I've written nothing about March and it's already April. Impossible.  My excuse this time?  And I actually have one...  my computer got a virus the week before spring break and then with family visiting over spring break, there was little or no time to write. Anyone buying that?  Well that's my story.

March was a month of appointments. As I glanced through my planner I see that we practically spent more time at doctor, dentist, orthodontist, etc. offices than at home.  This is something I never realized would be a major part of parenting and life in general and we're not even a sick family!  I had no idea how much of my time would be devoted to waiting rooms.  I could never have guessed how many $35 co-pays I'd shell out.  Never before have I become so acquainted with the concept of "deductibles".   Most of our visits were standard well check-ups, braces adjustments, and vision therapy, but two of them were somewhat important.  I had a brief arthritis flare up in January which could have meant trouble, but thankfully all my blood work was just fine.  Then I had my knees re-evaluated and we've made the decision to get some minor surgery on my right one. That of course will bring more appointments and more co-pays in April. Oh joy. I really don't know how families with two working parents and kids in school ever find the time to fit in their appointments.  I supposed that's why I usually have no trouble getting morning ones. Thank goodness for homeschooling!

The other highlight in March was spring break followed by Easter Sunday.  This year the Nesbitt family came down to visit the parents and the cousins.  We had such a nice time together at my in-laws house. It was so fun in fact that we made a spontaneous decision to sleep over for the night.  I'm glad we did because it allowed more time to visit.  The second half of spring break was at our house.  The kids played around the yard while the grown-ups sat poolside catching up.  The weather could have been a little warmer, but all things considered it was really quite pleasant. 

Easter Sunday was a little anti-climatic as the Nesbitt's had left on Friday.  With no family around and Dennis having to work in the afternoon, there seemed no reason to make a big meal. As a matter of fact, since our week was filled with so much other stuff, I found it really hard to focus on the true meaning of Easter.  Our church service was very nice though and as always, by the time it was over I found my heart back in the right place.


And now we're into April.  More on that next week... I hope.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Where did February go?

Back in September when I decided to have the kids write a weekly blog about their homeschool experiences, it occurred to me that while the idea was nice in theory, it would probably be difficult to maintain over the whole year. I figured that at least one or two of the kids would slack off and we might realistically go months without a blog.  I did not however predict that it would be me that would be the slacker in question.  Today I picked up my computer to check out my blog and I can see that a whole month has past since my last post. Whoops! How did that happen?

February was not a dull month around our house so perhaps that might serve as my official excuse for not writing sooner.  Each week I've been on the kids about writing, editing, and posting their entries. Since I serve as their final editor and photo-supplier, I can not claim that the Blogger website has been off my radar.  Quite the opposite is true; I'm on here all the time.  My only failure has been not taking the time to visit my own page. So in light of this... I am back.

February always begins with Dennis and me celebrating our anniversary.  This year we celebrated 15 years of marriage. The week seemed a little hectic, so we choose to celebrate at home with a private meal in our bedroom. Emily helped style the event and even took care of our wardrobe.  It was a lovely evening.

A week later was of course Valentine's Day.  I usually try to get something nice for each of the kids.  This year Kat got two stuffed animals which she is writing a full-length story about.  Stay tuned.  Emily got an pinkish purple orchid, and James got a venus fly-trap plant.  Or course everyone got plenty of chocolate too. 

The following week we used up a Groupon I had purchased a few months before for a motor boat rental.  We picked up our rental boat in Melbourne and headed down towards Palm Bay for some fishing. Everything went very smoothly minus forgetting our bait which we had to drive back for and the fact that we didn't catch anything at all. Other than those two things, it was a lot of fun.

The next day we headed back to the water but this time for a little surfing.  Well, that's what Dennis did. The kids thought the water was much too cold.  Truthfully it was very cold. The only one who didn't see to mind too much was Katherine. She of course got a surf lesson from her father. Emily and James stood around having no fun and wanted to be anywhere but there.  I manned the camera from a beach chair wearing a sweatshirt and draping a towel over my legs to stay warm.

The last week in February was reserved for skiing in Utah.  The kids and I hadn't been skiing in three years so we were all really looking forward to it. Emily and James were a little shaky on the first run down but quickly resumed semi-pro status.  I felt a little shaky myself but also regained confidence quickly. My main concern was my knees which held up nicely for the first day or two. By the third day I notice a lot of discomfort in my right knee and decide not to ski the fourth day. Thankfully this did not interfer with my ability to go shopping. Dennis, who had already been skiing at least once this year and a few times the year before looked more like a pro than ever.  I'm not sure whether to rejoice or be bitter at his newly gained skillfulness.  The trip in all was absolutely fabulous minus the difficulty with non-rev travel home which these days is almost a given.

You may have noticed that there was no mention of Kat on this vacation. This is because Kat hasn't decided whether or not skiing is really something she wants to do.  She's tried skiing a few times in IL when she was much younger but has never been on a trip out West with us. In the past she's always choose to spend a week in Florida with her grandparents.  Now that we live in Florida, we thought she'd might like to go with us, but in the end she choose to stay to home.  After hearing about the fun things they did while we were gone, I can see why she'd rather stay with them. 

So February really was busy with so many good things to see, do, and celebrate.  I can see now why I got a little behind.  I'm glad I took some time to write a few things about each event.  Everyday is a gift from God, and I'm enjoying unwrapping each and every one of them!