In which I remember what I forgot

We had an 18-hour turnaround time between coming home from the beach and leaving for the mountains for a weekend with friends. It would have felt like more time except that my Instant Pot (which I bought on Prime Day) had arrived, and I used six of those precious hours making Roast Potatoes, Pork Carnitas, and Beets. (For the record, they were all delicious, but the time it takes the pot to decompress at the end of the cooking time needs to be written down for all recipes, instead of a vague and nebulous “allow a natural release to occur.”)

Here are my daughters in our boat. Can you spot what’s unusual about this photo? (Answer below*.)

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The weather forecast for hours and hours of rain. We were grateful that our friends loaned us their house for the weekend. Sleeping in a beautiful, dry house is much better than sleeping in a wet tent.

Saturday morning, we laid around for a long time before we finally drove five minutes to the lake and the boat launch by our (dry) campsite.

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We unpacked the boats and realized I had forgotten to bring the sail*. This isn’t the first year I’ve forgotten a key piece of sailing paraphernalia. From past years, I have learned that the blue sailboat works as a canoe if I leave the tiller in it, so the girls were still able to paddle across the lagoon to “discover” the peninsula. That seemed really cool until we let the boys paddle significantly further to an island, but I promised that when they are 14 and 17, they will be allowed to go to the island, too.

Again, their competence was a shock to me. I know that coaching my children into competence is my job, and I spend a significant portion of my life doing just that. But their growing abilities still catch me off guard.

Sunday morning, I took advantage of the amazing weather (not a raindrop in sight, either day!) to take a run.  The path headed down from our friends’ house, across the road, and then along the lake. Again, I let myself stop whenever I wanted to admire the view (with or without the camera).

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The farther I ran, the better it got. Until I turned around and realized that now I had to run the same distance uphill. The view was still incredible, if lacking in oxygen.

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And now I’m home. Ten days away served their purpose to help me see home- with all its joys and responsibilities- with fresh eyes.

But next time I’m running uphill first.

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Hello, friends. I’m back.

Well, hello there.  I’m glad to see you.  It’s been awhile.

You may have gathered from the sporadic nature of my posts in May and June that I was drowning a little bit. Drowning is too strong a word, but I was definitely treading water as fast as I could and couldn’t stop to write about it.

Now I’m back from a week on the beach and a weekend in the mountains, and I feel more like myself. Hopeful. Mostly content. Like tackling the mountain of laundry won’t quite do me in.

I’m here to ramble a bit about our vacations and how good it is to be home. Will you have a cup of tea with me?

Our beach trip was preceded by a panicked email from our rental company. Repairs on our unit (from last fall’s hurricane) weren’t finished, and they needed to move us to a different house. I spent a few days mad that they were moving us half a mile from the rest of Sam’s family and further from the beach… and then I got over it. The space worked well (good beds!) and we still were able to spend every day on the beach in way form or another. What was I all worked up about?

We spent the week:

feeding seagulls…
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burying cousins…
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walking at night…
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with the kids…
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and without…
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It had been 2 years since our last trip to the beach, and the kids were so much more independent than before.  It made for a much more relaxed week. I tried a few new things this year:

I bought flowers for our house. Every day I looked at them on the table and felt happy.

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I ran more.  And instead of focusing on how far or fast I was running, I stopped and took photos.

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I worried less about how many episodes of Friends the kids watched, and spent my time reading instead.

I polled everyone in our family before we went about what they wanted to do while we were there, and then we made (most) of those things happen early on. The only thing on the list we couldn’t do was spend a day at the National Seashore, which was my item. And you know what? That was okay, too. I allowed myself a little time to grieve it, and then I enjoyed what I had, which was pretty incredible.

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Next time we go- whenever that is- I plan to rent this bike and ride around town all week, except for when I’m reading books or walking on the beach.

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I’ll be back tomorrow with the final weekend of our trip, which we spent two thousand miles further west with more water.

Ahhhhh… summer

Perhaps I am incorrectly recalling the last few summers, but this is the first summer in a long time that has felt like a deep breath. What is different this year?  Certainly a piece has been not traveling right when school finished, and being settled in our home, neither trying to pack for a move or settle in after a move.  But I think there’s more to it than that.

1. We made it to the mountains early.  Often I will save our camping trip for August because of other things we have to schedule, but this summer we managed to make the trip happen before anything else could preempt it.  The mountains always help me take a deep breath.

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2. I didn’t make a list of 20 (or 200) things that had to get done. This summer’s to-do list included a lot of self-care: keeping flowers from the garden in the kitchen and spending time every day in prayer, instead of make it to every park in the neighborhood and clean out the garage.

3. The kids spent 3 weeks in camps. Without me.  While the driving (especially the week that Owen and Momo’s camps overlapped) was annoying, the fact that I couldn’t plan a big weekday hike or whole-family project left smaller snatches of time for me to relax.

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4. My kids are bigger.  We’re no longer in the raccoon phase, where every time I turn my back, someone has dumped keys in the toilet or conditioner in the carpet.  No one is going to die if take a nap in the afternoon.

5. I am taking naps in the afternoons.

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sparrow’s nest in my flower-pot

6. I haven’t started planning for next school year.  Normally by the end of June, I have planned at least several subjects and amassed a room full of curriculum.  Not this year.  We’ll see how I feel come August, but so far I am confident that our routine will smooth over any gaps in my planning.

7. I’ve said No.  I hate saying No, but it turns out a No here and there is essential to my sanity.

How is your summer going?  Have you said, “Ahhhhhh…” yet, or are you still running on full speed ahead?

Homeschooling FAQ: What about Vacation?

What do homeschoolers do about vacation?

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This question pops up in my email with some regularity, in various forms.

“You wear your pajamas all the time. How is vacation any different?”

“Do you school year round?”

“Do you take ‘normal’ breaks?”

The answer is yes, and no.  And as you make this decision, I say, do what works for you.

We have several guiding principles regarding vacations.

1.   When Daddy works, we work.

What good is a vacation to me if Sam is working?  So for those smaller federal or state holidays that Sam doesn’t have off, we school formally.  Even if we’re still in our pajamas.  The museums are too crowded those days anyway.  It’s easier for us to stay home.

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2.   Sometimes a change is as good as a rest.

Sometimes we need a break, but an all-out vacation isn’t in the cards.  This is where a week “off” visiting museums or taking a field trip or two is just enough to recharge the batteries.  If friends have a teacher in-service day and can join us, all the better. These days I still count on the school log.

For Christmas break (and I can still call it that because it’s my school), we are taking two weeks off.  This is a concentrated time of seeing friends and lying around… although we still made a big library trip so I would know they had something to read when I say “Turn off the computer and go read a book.”

For the summer, though, we still have very light daily expectations in math and our foreign languages, just so we don’t lose all the ground we gained during the year.

3.   We like to hit Disneyworld in the off season.

Okay, maybe not Disneyworld.  But somewhere else crowded.  A year and a half ago we took a week in May, while everyone was still in school, to visit the Grand Canyon.  Two years earlier, it was Yellowstone. Rates were lower, crowds were smaller, and the mosquitoes hadn’t woken up yet.

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What is your best vacation strategy?  Please share in the comments!

Anybody else feeling the crush?

Last week I was a crazy woman. So crazy that Sam asked me if he should cancel his trip.

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Does a bowl of cherries count as dinner?

There wasn’t any one thing that was too much, but the sum of my commitments was crushing me. I got back from a quick and excellent weekend trip on Monday night. Then swim team + work + an extra night working the hospital + a swim meet + dinner guests + editing deadlines + tae kwon do + grocery shopping + prep for children’s church + practicing three songs for worship = too much. Not to mention the extra work a girl in a long arm cast requires and all the World Cup games I wanted to watch. Paralyzed by the weight of it all, I curled up on the porch and read books instead of making dinner.

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Owen’s 100 frestyle

Every summer I commit to doing the good things I say no to during the school year (because during the year I can admit that they’re too much to add to my daily life). Even if I’m not teaching every day, I’m still creating next year’s lesson plans and tending to four children whose needs don’t stop just because it’s summer.

Next May, when I look at a seeming my open calendar in June, I need to remember that what I really want is a few hikes and a day or two sailing. I want to remember that in order to make that happen, I need to use the word No more often.

Summer School

Do you school year-round?  Do you take summers off?

We do a sort-of hybrid model.  To meet Colorado’s requirements, we “school” 176-180 days per year with an average of 6 hours of instruction per day.  I count those days beginning in August and concluding in May (or June, depending on the year).  But once those days are done, we keep a trickle of school going for several reasons.

First, the discipline of daily work is good for all of us, all the time.  We need breaks, and we take mental health days when we need them, but most days we all need some responsibility.  In years past when we took the summer off completely, restarting in the fall was agony.  The daily work muscles were gone.  It took us several weeks to build up to be able to sustain even four hours of good work.

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Second, the kids lose skills when those skills aren’t practiced.  We noticed this most in math and foreign language.  These skill areas build on themselves, and taking two or three months off can really set us back.  (Here’s a link to a news story about how much kids actually lose in a traditional summer off: 22% of what they’ve learned.)  We don’t do a lot— just 20-30 minutes a day of piano practice and foreign language or math (we alternate).  Also, we keep reading scripture and good books aloud, but it’s usually one family book before bed each night instead of 1-2 hours a day during the morning.

Third, a little bit of work gives structure to our days.  If we believe that learning is an integral part of our life, then why should that stop for the summer?  We fit exploration into our summer in other ways, too– new hikes, camping, trying new projects or learning about new things.  Continuing daily education is a part of cultivating an atmosphere of education.

Charlotte Mason wrote, “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”   That’s why we school in the summer.

Share how your family lives summer in the comments.

Reading Club Prizes

A few of you have asked what we’re doing for our reading club and exercise club prizes.  My friend Lori had great suggestions from what they’ve done, and we added a few that were important to our kids (like bookmarks).
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Our list of “small prizes” includes:

  • watch a movie on the DVD player in your bed
  • stay up 45 minutes past bedtime with Mommy & Daddy
  • 1 hour free computer time
  • a free item at Sonic (regular menu)
  • breakfast out with Mommy or Daddy
  • a snack from the vending machine at the pool
  • your choice for family movie night
  • your choice for family game night
  • a movie choice from the Red Box
  • a free book (up to $10 value)
  • a new bookmark

Our list of “big prizes” includes:

  • a trip to the water park
  • dinner at one of our two favorite restaurants
  • a bucket of Lego bricks ($15)

We have different scales.  For M & O: we started with a prize for the first novel, then the third, fifth, tenth… and up by 5’s.  At 25 they can participate in the “big” prize.  For J: we started with 5, then 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50, with the prize at the 50 and 100.  J’s additional requirement for prizes is that 1 of every 3 books on his list for prizes needs to come from a list of book I have chosen.  (Mostly Newbery and ALA award winners and classics.)   The exercise scale will be the same for everyone: a prize at every 20 sessions of exercise (park play, pool time, swim team, bike ride…)

So far, they have redeemed:

  • breakfast at IHOP (M)
  • a free book (O and M)
  • pool snacks (everyone)

And I have to say: so far my devious plan is working.  J is trying books on a broad range of subjects and– for the most part– is enjoying them.  M and O are picking up longer books by choice and are loving reading.  SweetP and I are spending significant time together on the couch reading.  And we are all getting out regularly to enjoy being active together.