What’s working right now

It feels like most stuff isn’t working right now.  Both my girls have had varying degrees of sickness, ongoing, since February 4th.  I finally consented to doctor visits for both, and we now have two bottles of antibiotic in the fridge.  My youngest is especially temperamental when she doesn’t feel well, so random, surprise tears have been added to the mix.  The weather is less than cooperative here (especially according to the public school folk, who have just logged their 57th snow day…..approximately 😉 ).  We are full of snowed in, iced over, sick, cranky people in this house.

I thought I’d spend at least a little time focusing on what is working.  In no particular order:

Walks and talks with my oldest.  I don’t know if this will actually become a habit or not, but right now it looks promising.  The two of us, who hate anything even remotely close to exercise, are actually willing to leave the house after dinner and walk around the neighborhood for awhile.  We can’t possibly be burning calories, but it’s given him some much needed sister-free time and it’s also helped me realize how full his brain is of wonderful and amazing things.

Christmas lights in almost-March.  This is the second year where, after taking down the tree in mid-January, I kept out two strands of lights to hang over the curtain rod on our living room bay.  Two strands of tiny, multicolored lights are exactly the right amount of light to be cozy (and, surprisingly, functional–it’s enough to read by).  I keep them on the same timer I had for our Christmas tree, so every morning when I come downstairs they’re there to greet me.

My youngest and almost-reading.  My five-year-old isn’t reading yet, but she’s suddenly starting to make huge leaps in connections and understanding.  She spends large portions of her day thinking out loud:  “There’s Koda.  K-K-K-Koda starts with K.  She’s furry.  F-F-F-Furry.  F.  F is furry.  Hey, Mama, I can spell ‘run!’  R-U-N.”  I suspect it’s making her siblings crazy, but I love it.

My big kids reading.  My oldest–who will still insist that he doesn’t like to read–has been devouring books over here.  Apparently, the kid who sees absolutely no need or purpose for algebra has no similar concerns with the classic canon of literature, and has polished off The Grapes of Wrath and Brave New World for school while also reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and No Country for Old Men just for fun.  (Um….fun?!?)  That’s only a bit of the list that I’ve been keeping track of over these past six weeks.  After requesting to not have specific “reading for school,” my daughter has been polishing off books at the rate of one per day; some, yes, pretty light reading, but others not so much (she’s knocking out the Mary Poppins series right now).

Snow days on our side.  With both my daughters alternating between “just a cold” and “flattened” simultaneously, there’s been the potential for a lot of missed extracurriculars.  Somehow, the weather that everyone else has been cursing has come to our rescue almost every time, and classes have been cancelled on days (or nights) when my girls would have been too sick to attend.

And, finally….

My husband quitting his job.  Because when you’ve been planning something for six months, it feels good to finally pull it off.  The countdown to “last day” has begun.

 

It’s funny how if I just keep my eyes on the good, the bad stuff tends to fade into the background.

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But….math

When we started school back up after winter break, I talked to both my older kids about what they really wanted school to look like.

This is different than what I’ve always done before, which has consistently been some form of “what would you like to study for [insert subject here]?”  We’ve had a very check-the-box kind of school, and they’ve had lots of freedom inside that framework.  The framework has always existed, though.  For this round, I told both of them we were approaching our next six weeks like a zero-based budget:  if we started over, completely from scratch….what do YOU want school to look like?

My 15-year-old son’s response was immediate:  NO MATH.  All caps, at the top of the blank sheet of paper I’d set in front of him.

My daughter was less passionate as she spoke to me separately…..but sounded a bit defeated.  Well, I don’t like math, but I guess nobody likes math, right?  

So we dropped math for this six weeks.

Writing it sounds so simple, but this was hard, people.  It’s terrifying, even if I’m telling myself it’s only for this next little bit, reassuring myself we’re not necessarily committing for the long haul.

My son is currently glorying in his freedom and writing with pretty much every new spare moment he has (not that math took that much time, but still….).  Ironically, he uses math regularly as he compiles his rankings of all the things he ranks and reviews, but I’m not about to point that out.  (If I did, he’d just point out it’s not algebra.)

But my daughter…..

The 13-year-old lasted exactly one-and-a-half weeks before she looked at me and said, “I need to be doing math.”  Much to my relief, it turns out I have one kiddo who isn’t ready to buck the system quite so strongly.  We talked it over and came to a few conclusions:  No more Teaching Textbooks.  No video math curriculum.  Somehow, a book, with maybe a parent going through it with her if necessary.  I got online and looked at the Kansas math standards for 7th grade (yes, I know Common Core is the enemy, but sometimes you just need a list of “stuff they’re doing in X grade”).  Then I got on our library’s website and Amazon and just looked around awhile.

And now Winnie Cooper might be teaching my daughter math.

When she first looked at Danica McKellar’s Math Doesn’t Suck she literally made a face.  “It looks like a magazine!” she announced with disdain.  (A hardback, inch thick magazine, but…..you know.  Cover styling and such.)

I asked her to read just the intro and FAQ pages, and she was hooked.  Actually, I think she might have been hooked reading the chapter titles (“How to Entertain Yourself While Babysitting a Devil Child”).  But a few days in and this seems to be a very real possibility for getting us over the middle-school math hump.  And I am SO grateful.  It’d be nice to have at least one kiddo staying contentedly in a “check that box” mentality for high school.  It’s a heck of a lot easier.

Hope and Change

A little over a week ago I finally planted the crocus bulbs that I’d bought last fall.  Winter hit early here, and my ridiculous to-do list of “things to do before the first freeze” was pretty much thrown out the window–I was glad simply to have gotten the hoses disconnected before the temps dropped.  (I did also manage to plant six shrubs….and that was it.)

Then it was January and for nearly a week, we had fall again.

Temperatures started out in that “not too bad when it’s sunny” 40 degree range, then up into the 60’s, and suddenly it was genuinely warm.….and I realized that with the ground thawed, I might be able to get those two boxes of crocus in the ground.

That’s when I started plotting this blog post.  Thoughts of hope and spring were collecting in my head and knocking about; I knew I had to work in Anne Lamott’s quote about how

It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.

So that’s what we did, my five-year-old gardening partner and I, on a blustery 50 degree afternoon in January.  (50 degrees!  In January!!)

 

That was a Tuesday.  Then Saturday came, and the snow poured down…..this is Kansas, after all.

Honestly, even this weather makes me happy.  Nine inches of snow is more than that five-year-old has ever seen….this was the year she finally got to build her first snowman.  And this was decidedly the best kind of snow; the stuff that sticks to the trees and makes everything glorious, but melts on the still-warm streets.

So my thoughts shift to change.  Yes, hope and spring; but also, yes, change….things can go dark and silent quickly.  Those warm, sunny days can come crashing down days later, branches overwhelmed with heavy snow.  Bulbs planted in hope are now buried, a foot deep, under all that’s fallen.

Pay attention, though, to what that means.

If things can turn that quickly for the worse, they can also turn for the better.

Change works both ways.  For the bad…and for the good.

So this is still a post about hope.  Because it is January now.  But in time it will be April.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalms 30:5)

 

Christmas, slightly excessive

We’ve been watching The Great Christmas Light Fight on television this season.  It reminded me of this post, which I had to share again.

Originally published December 24, 2013:

Last night we drove around neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, something the kids ask to do every year. Over our five years in this house we’ve discovered a few good streets, a few great streets, and what my children refer to as “the inflatable house.” (Every time they say it, I have visions of a puffy home floating in the sky above their neighbors.) This is the place that has dozens upon dozens of inflatables in their yard, on their roof, in their driveway, and–the crowning glory–a perpetual DVD loop of the movie Happy Feet projected on the front of their house. You can actually get out and walk through their yard, though the weather has been so bad when we’ve gone we’ve never braved it.

In our last house, we lived next door to a couple who really decorated for Christmas. While they weren’t quite the place that people drove for miles to see each year, they did have a yard full of goodies. When my oldest was a toddler, he would plant himself at the dining room window, peering out across our dark lawn to all the lights next door; at that point, their light-up train (with “moving” wheels!) was a special draw. Once, when my older daughter was around two, I stood in the driveway with both my kiddos and watched them set up for awhile.

As I stood looking at their display I counted no fewer than twenty-one light-up objects in their yard, ranging from elves, polar bears, reindeer, and a toy soldier, to the aforementioned train. Also in this total count were inflatables, including a snow globe with actual blowing “snow.” Not included in this count were the dozens of strings of lights; some of which, as we watched, they were hanging in a tree.

The wife was standing on the ground, watching her husband perched atop a ladder; lights in one hand, pole in another. He was focused, working with great intensity on creating glowing perfection. She would occasionally call up helpful comments and observations. My absolute favorite (note: for full effect, this must be said with a slight southern drawl):

“Now, Rick, make sure none of the bulbs are burnt out…that’s just tacky.”

Years later, it still makes me laugh.

Before I forget…

I want to jot a few things down.*

Awhile back I decided to shift to a much looser style of schooling; enough of a change that we ended up getting labeled as unschoolers at one point.  I still don’t think it was quite enough to merit that name, but I had definitely lightened the load on my kids and was holding my breath to see what might happen.

Three days ago I went in to say goodnight to my twelve-year-old daughter.  She was sitting up in bed, alert and attentive, ready to Talk.  Like, Big Talk.

“So, you know how you asked us a few days ago if there was anything we’d change up in school?  I’m thinking I really want to do Seterra again.  I’m not very good at geography and I really need the practice.  Also, I want to start another typing program, because I’m really slow.”

I tried not to let my mouth hang open in shock as she rattled off a handful of other ideas.  Um, yes….of course, you can add all those things to your school.

Here’s the really funny part.

The next morning, older brother walks by and sees her on the computer.  “Whatcha doin’?”

“Seterra.”

“Fun!”

Now, this is the kid who used to curl up with our Rand McNally Road Atlas for leisure reading when he was seven, so the “fun!” didn’t really surprise me.  But later that morning, he asked me, “Hey–can I play on Seterra?”

Uh, yeah.

And so it goes.

The fourteen-year-old, still crawling out from the black abyss that is depression, has been spending his time writing, planning, and finally recording a podcast with his dad.  He’s diving into editing this thing while still creating plans for the next three they want to do–and sister has been invited as a guest host for one.  He’s actually attending a creative writing class led by another homeschool mom; he went twice (our agreed definition of “trying it out”) and decided he wanted to stay.

Oh, and the US map I bought, thinking it would be fun to mark where the cousins live, now that my sister and her family are back in the States.  Which quickly morphed into, “Let’s mark all the places we’ve been!,” an event that was so turbo-charged I couldn’t even get any good photos.  Then my son asked to play a game of Scrambled States of America, “to celebrate the new map.”  The next step was him mapping out his dream roller coaster road trip, drawing lines all over the eastern half of the states, hitting all the parks I’ve never heard of.

Yes, we’re still doing some “real” school in here, too.  But right now this is a pretty fun ride.

 

*I wrote this post back in January, when the bigs were still 14- and 12-years old.  I stumbled across it today, thankful for the reminder and grateful that I took the time to write this note to myself.  Because I DID forget.

Hello, Fall

We said good-bye to summer today.  Our temperamental weather took care of everything last night….no more mosquitoes, no more 90 degree days, no more air conditioning in October.  (October!  Gah!)

Thank goodness.

I will miss my flowers, though.  It was an exceptionally good year here for the garden…. so good I’m almost thinking I’m a gardener again.  (It helped that we didn’t have to take out any trees this year.)  I’m feeling the need to document what just ended.  It really was a beautiful summer.

As always, morning glories and moon flowers took over the deck railing.  My daughters have started helping me plant these every spring; the plants truly thrived this year.  It probably helped that I actually thinned them.  😉

The view out my kitchen door.  Even the houseplants were happy this year.

I took all three kids to pick out flowers this spring….every one of them chose petunias.  Oh, the petunias.  Those things I’d sworn I’d never grow again because they needed so much attention and upkeep….petunias do nothing to simplify your life lol.  But wow, were they lush over the summer.

And the Virginia Creeper I transplanted from my parents’ yard….the stuff I dug up and drove a half-hour away and dumped in the ground and promptly abandoned for a two- week-long trip….it took hold.  It’s happy.  Not huge yet, but it’s happy.

It was a good summer.  But I’m always ready for fall.

Do the hard thing

I feel like I’m hearing a strange mix of frustration and apathy from people lately.  We seem to want to fuss and complain, but then just shrug our shoulders and mutter something like “meh–what’re ya gonna do?”

How about, do something?  Anything?

But it’s hard.

My kids’ sports schedule is out of control–the six-year-old doesn’t need to be on the ball field at 10:00 at night!  Do the hard thing.  Pull him.

My five-year-old still isn’t sleeping through the night…. Do the hard thing.  Start actively trying to solve the problem.  Baby steps.

I never get to see my kids anymore….their schedules are so booked!  Do the hard thing.  Say no.  Claim some margin for your family.

My phone is a constant distraction.  So turn it off.  Find an hour (or fifteen minutes!) that you can live without it, and live without it.

Last year at this time we were struggling with staying at our church or finding a new one.  That was a hard thing, people–leaving what we’d known for nearly ten years to start over somewhere new.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (right up there with pulling my son from school mid-year to homeschool).  Seeing a connection between the two, a well-meaning friend reminded me that “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

Well, no, but life is too short to be miserable at church.  (And my kids are too important to be fed to the lions.)  And that idea is what I keep coming back to, when people hem and haw and fuss and complain about what they oughtta and what they shoulda…. Life is too short. 

Life is too short not to do what you can to fix a problem.

Life’s too short not to take a stand for your true priorities.

Even when it’s hard–and it IS HARD, y’all, I get it–life’s too short to live full of regrets.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Courage, friends.