October 15, 2014

a few small things

I think the last few months have surely been the busiest of my life. Fortunately, I love everything I’m doing, or I would be a little more batty than I am right now.

First, I’m happy to tell you that the fall issue of home / school / life magazine was released yesterday, and I think it’s excellent. Of course, I’m biased, but I’ve heard from a few other people who aren’t biased, and they think so too, and that makes me happy. I wish I could take credit for the wonderfulness of this issue, but my editor-in-chief did most of the magic with two fabulous articles — one is about the 10 best cities in the U.S. to homeschool in. She set certain criteria, did tons of research, compiled it together and scrutinized the data to come up with this list. Though we’re not planning to move, I now have some town envy for sure! She also wrote a great piece about asking yourself important questions that will be helpful to you as you enter and navigate this homeschool journey. I’m pulling out my journal one night with that one!

I also love all the columns in this issue, especially Amy Hood’s tips on visiting an art museum with kids and Patricia Zaballos’ letter to her beginning-to-homeschool self. She sure knows how to comfort the frazzled homeschooling mom!

As for me, I wrote an article about how to become a better family photographer. If you’re a novice behind the lens, you may enjoy it! And something about writing this feature stirred up photography in my life (before-hand I had pretty much put it to rest for awhile) because suddenly I found myself with three photography clients. What fun it was to take photographs beyond the family snapshots I had been taking! You can see my work on my photography website.

And this brings me to my next piece of news: I started a Facebook page for my photography. It will probably remain mostly personal work, which is what I intended my photo website to be, but I also wanted a way to connect more easily with my clients and share their photos. If you are interested, I’d love for you to follow me there.

Between all this busy-ness, I have not neglected my homeschooling duties, and my eight-year-old has been delving into some new interests. I already told you about our adventures with tardigrades. We also recently had the opportunity to visit a Makers Faire near Atlanta, and I wanted to go to that because I knew there would be a lot of robotics groups there showing off their latest creations. That’s because my eight-year-old has been interested in robots lately! I wish it were easier to support this interest faster, but since good robotics kits aren’t cheap, he’s going to have to wait a little while for his wish to come true on this one. Anyway, I’ll be sure to write about an easy scribble bot we assembled with a kit from the faire, and I also have a surprise continuation of a project that I thought was finished: growing mushrooms. You can read about part 1 here, and I’ll fill you in on part 2 soon. (Of course, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you already know all this.)

I’ve been trying to support my five-year-old a little more with his drawing interest by displaying his work and also creating a corner in his room with art supplies and space to work! I’ll write about that, eventually.

Meanwhile, I’m getting ready for out-of-town guests. (I told you I’ve been busy, right?) So if you don’t hear from me for awhile, that’s why.

I hope you are having a wonderful fall season! Please write me and tell me what you’ve been up to.

October 10, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Tardigrades

photo courtesy of Don Loarie via flickr creative commons https://flic.kr/p/kbHNe3

photo courtesy of Don Loarie via https://flic.kr/p/kbHNe3 This image is the closest to what we saw through our microscope.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, October 8, 2014.

My family and I have been enjoying watching the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which is a documentary series that explains the principles upon which science is based. It’s a follow-up to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. It uses storytelling and special effects such as Sagan did in the first series, but it’s all updated, and it’s a beautiful show.

In the second episode my family learned about tardigrades, and my eight-year-old became very excited. Tardigrades, or “water bears,” have to be one of the most amazing creatures on earth, and they are everywhere, but my family had no knowledge of them until now. This is because they are only .5mm – 1.2mm in length. They are big enough to see under a low-power microscope, but not big enough to notice when we’re walking through the woods on one of our hikes.

What is amazing about tardigrades is that they can live in conditions that would kill most other living creatures on earth. They can live in freezing temperatures (just above absolute zero) or in boiling water. They can withstand pressures that are far greater than that of the deepest trenches in the ocean. They can go up to ten years without food or water, and they have survived the vacuum of outer space. Because of these abilities, they have survived all five of Earth’s mass extinctions.

Their secret is cryptobiosis, which slows down the tardigrade’s metabolic processes. Without water, according to wired.com, “it can dehydrate to 3 percent of its normal water content in what is called desiccation, becoming a husk of its former self.” When you add water, they come back to life.

See why we were amazed to learn about these tiny creatures? My eight-year-old looked them up online, so we were able to view some photos and film taken of them under high-powered microscopes. We read more about them, and we also learned that it’s easy to find tardigrades in our backyard, so my son wanted to do that too.

We learned in Cosmos that they live in moss or lichen, but according to the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College (SERC), tardigrades can be found almost everywhere. The center also said there are over 900 described species (though I have read over 1,500 species on another site), and they have been found in the mountains, ocean, rain forests and the Antarctic. That site also mentions that “Live tardigrades have been regenerated from dried moss kept in a museum for over 100 years!”

First my son wanted to gather some moss in the backyard, which we did, and we looked at it under our microscope – no tardigrades. So then he wanted to look up “what is the best kind of moss to find tardigrades in.” We tried that and found something more helpful – complete instructions on how to find and care for tardigrades.

We learned that we would probably have a better chance of finding tardigrades in lichen and that once you get a sample, you need to soak it in distilled or rain water for several hours or overnight. My son gathered some moss and two small containers of lichen and let it soak in rainwater for 24 hours.

The next day my eight-year-old wanted to look at the moss water first. You’re supposed to squeeze out the moss and then put the water in a shallow dish such as a petri dish and then spend about 15 minutes looking at it under the microscope.

We found nothing in the water with the moss, but when we looked at the water with the lichen, we found some tardigrades almost immediately.

We were surprised to see that they are translucent. What we saw was a reddish outline around their body. We could make out their eight legs, but we couldn’t see the claws. We also saw their tubular mouth. My son said they looked like little, chubby caterpillars to him.

We also found all sorts of other wiggly things in there too! We haven’t identified those other creatures yet, but I think one is a nematode, which looks like a worm, and tardigrades prey on them.

I left the microscope and the tardigrades on our table so that my son can observe them for a few days before we release them back into the yard. My son is fascinated with the microscopic life in this tiny dish, and now he says he wants to learn more about bacteria. You never know where this might lead.

September 30, 2014

Nature Watch: Fowler’s Toad

We feel very lucky to get a lot of toads in our yard, and we see these fowler toads quite often. My eight-year-old doesn’t hesitate to catch them, but I’ve taught him to be very gentle, and since he loves animals, he doesn’t want to hurt them.

Nevertheless, he learned a good lesson when he turned the poor toad over to look at its belly. As a defense, some small animals will pee on predators, and sure enough, that toad peed on my son, and it worked! My son let him go right away after that!

What backyard discoveries have you made lately?

September 29, 2014

Georgia Food Tours: Agro Cycle Tour

Agro Cycle Tour-4

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 24, 2014. I think these tours would be awesome for older homeschooled students who are interested in farming, food and/or bicycling. If you’d like to see all the images I took on this tour, click here.

Last week I had the pleasure of tagging along and photographing an Agro Cycle Tour in Monroe, Georgia. Mary Charles, the owner of Georgia Food Tours, organizes these cycle tours three times a year, and she’s been coordinating walking food tours of downtown Athens for several years. She has also expanded the tours to Roswell as well.

Mary Charles hired me to photograph the cycle event, and though I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, I knew it would probably be fun – as long as I didn’t have to ride a bicycle. Lucky for me, they were kind enough to drive me to the different stops on the tour.

I met Mary Charles and her crew in the Windstream parking lot early one rainy morning. There were quite a few people signing up for the tour, getting their bicycles checked by the mechanic, and listening to Mary’s brief orientation. The rain didn’t seem to bother too many of the bicyclists, but I was glad that I thrown my rain jacket in my bag at the last minute.

Agro Cycle Tour-14

The first stop on the tour was Foster-Brady Farm, which I had never been to, but I was delighted to learn about. Since I arrived before the cyclists, I had a few minutes to wander around its historic buildings, including a beautiful little church. According to its website at foster-bradyfarm.com, this is a popular venue for small weddings and photo shoots.

Agro Cycle Tour-36

The farm used to grow cotton, wheat and other cash crops, but now it’s a Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) farm for produce, timber and wildlife habitat. They sell their produce to local restaurants and markets. In 2003 Foster-Brady Farm was honored with a Centennial Family Farm Award, and the Georgia Association of Conservation District Supervisors honored it as a Conservationist of the Year in 2013.

Agro Cycle Tour-51

The next stop was Darby Farms, and though I was too busy taking photos to listen to very much of the farmer’s talk, I did catch that owner Daniel Dover was once a computer scientist, and he turned to farming after years of struggling to find a diet that didn’t hurt his body or mental health.

Agro Cycle Tour-80

Dover raises poultry, pork and beef, and all his animals are fed a non-GMO, corn/soy free diet, and they rotate the animals every few days to a new area on their 50+ acres of pasture and mixed hard wood/pine land. This allows the land to heal as well as gives the animals a healthier way to forage. Dover said all his Thanksgiving turkeys were sold, but you can buy other poultry and meat from him by checking out his website at darbyfarmsga.com.

Agro Cycle Tour-100

The third stop on the tour, which was optional for bicyclists who were ready to head back to their cars and lunch, was Down to Earth Energy, LLC. According to it’s website at downtoearthenergy.net, they are a “Georgia-based biodiesel research and batch continuous production facility serving the southeast region of the United States with clean, safe and cost-effective fuel for commercial fleets and the agriculture industry.” If you have bought Smarter Starter Fluid at Home Depot, you’ll be happy to know that you’re supporting this up-and-coming local company.

After all this, the bicyclists ended up at the beautiful William Harris Homestead for a festival with great food, bluegrass music, shopping, sheep herding demonstrations and more.

You never realize just how beautiful Georgia is until you get lost on its country roads while someone else is driving. I love taking photographs, the countryside, and good food, so this was great fun for me, although it was a tiring workday too. If it sounds fun to you, be sure to check out the Georgia Food Tours website at www.georgiafoodtours.com. And rest assured, you could join the bicycling tour by car too.

September 25, 2014

Nature Watch: Praying Mantis

One thing I love about homeschooling is the ability to cut our lessons short and let my kids explore the yard, especially when I feel like they’re getting more learning out of that than they could any other way.  The other day I did just that, and it was lucky I did. Look what my eight-year-old found. There were actually two beautiful praying mantises in the yard that day. This is one of them.

My son watched it a long time. Finally he did a little experiment without me knowing! He dangled a daddy longlegs in front of the praying mantis, and he watched it lunge for it and then eat it!

Poor daddy longlegs. Lucky praying mantis.

September 16, 2014

Our 2nd Grade Homeschool Schedule and Curriculum (with Pre-K too!)

I love new school years! It’s an accomplishment to close out the previous year and plan a new one, and in the beginning of the year, everything feels so tidy and structured. I like structure, but I try to remain flexible about our schedule as the year goes on. It’s inevitable that new priorities will pop up, and some of what we do will fall to the wayside. But I think that is what is awesome about homeschooling – you get to be flexible. You get to follow your instincts about what is best for your kids on any given day. Just do that, and you’ll do great.

The five-year-old joins us.

My boys just turned eight and five! I am considering them in 2nd grade and Pre-K. This is the first time I’ve attempted to do any formal work with my five-year-old, and that’s because I can tell he’s ready for it. Earlier last year he would play while my older son did his lessons, but later in the year I noticed he would hang out at the table and watch/listen as his brother would practice reading. So earlier this summer I offered him a little ABC workbook, and he gleefully cheered “yes! yes!” After that he demanded what he termed his “reading lesson” everyday, even when I wasn’t planning to do it. Now he’s happy to take a day off, but he still likes doing his reading lessons alongside his brother.

What has changed since last year.

I have a popular post from last year about our first grade schedule and curriculum, and I always worry when a post becomes popular because we remain in flux, and while I try to write the truth of any given moment, the next month we might change what we’re doing! But I’m relieved that as I look back over last year’s schedule, not too much changed. But a little did:

  • I nixed the stretching fairly quickly. My boys just hated it. It felt useless to keep trying even though I still think they could use it.
  • When I wrote that post, we had a Friday morning bi-weekly class, and I thought we might have the occasional play date then too. Well, the class didn’t go, and neither did the play date, but later we enrolled my son in his pottery class, which was on Friday mornings for eight weeks, so the schedule didn’t really change after all.
  • Other than this, we kept that schedule fairly well, although we definitely had days when we didn’t do our lessons because other things took priority. I used it as a compass to get back into a routine when I felt we needed it. (Mostly I need it to stay sane. The boys would be fine with just playing everyday.)

So below is our weekly plan this year. It’s not too different from last year.

2nd grade MOL Weekly HS Schedule  copy

What this doesn’t reflect: It doesn’t reflect all the little things that pop up like play dates that I don’t have a regular date for on my calendar and all the outings we do as a family, which could be considered field trips. We like to go hiking and to museums and other places of interest whenever we get the chance. Some days we may just go shopping. It also does not reflect my son’s project time.

Project Time

Last year our lessons were shorter, so we had an hour or more for projects in the mornings before lunch. This year, our lessons are taking us right up until lunch, so here is what I’m going to experiment with this year:

Since I want my son’s projects to have priority, every Monday morning I get our project notebook and go over what he’s told me he wants to do. He gets a lot of ideas that he doesn’t follow through with, and that’s okay. He’s in charge of his education. He knows that if he wants to build something or learn about something, we will make time for it. I’ve told him I’m willing to skip our lessons completely, if needed. So far this year, however, he hasn’t been doing anything that he needs me for, or either he seems to make small inquires at other times of the day. He does have one thing he wants to make that we don’t have the materials for yet, so when we get everything, we’ll do that. I’m also wondering how I can spur him on to dig deeper into his latest interest – Star Wars. I’ll write about how all this goes in the future.

Curriculum

Our curriculum is very eclectic. I choose our curriculum based on 1) what I think my kids will actually like and 2) what we have on hand or can find conveniently and/or cheap. I get a lot of resources from teacher-friends, though I don’t use a lot of that stuff. I have bought little workbooks and things on sale over the years and saved them. I have bought some things full price because I thought they were perfect for my boys. Buying a full curriculum that would cover everything has never seemed prudent when each subject requires its own strategy for my boys’ particular needs.

The weekly plan.

I have told my eight-year-old that he has to learn reading, writing, math, etc. The law requires them, and he understands that. But I also tell him we’ll go slow, at his pace, and we’ll try to use books and resources that he likes. This is not always easy, and I’m always wondering when I should nudge or pull back. This is just an ongoing part of homeschooling, I think, and I try to use my good instincts, though they fail me at times.

I am still not completely comfortable with unschooling my eight-year-old or using project-based homeschooling as our sole means of education, though a big part of me wants to do just that. I have opted instead to require him to do just one page in a workbook (to help build his handwriting and reading skills) and read just one or two pages in a book. If it gets hard for him, I usually make him finish at least part of what we’re working on, and then I take a break from it the next day or use a different resource. As I said before, I am willing to take long breaks from our lessons and work on his projects too. But I feel a slow progression in the fundamentals is important, and he is progressing, and I’m happy with that.

This is my order of things that happens between breakfast and lunch unless we have an appointment outside the house or a project to work on. Sometimes we don’t finish before lunch, but we usually do.

Read aloud – This is new. I have sorely missed book time, which is what I did when my son was little. Now we don’t have time in the a.m. for everyone to pick one or more books of their choice, so I’ve decided this is the time I get to pick one book of my choice. I can cover a lot of different subjects this way. (In the evenings before bed, my husband and I read to the boys, and they get to pick the books they want.)

1 Page Workbook – I have purchased simple workbooks (the kind you can get at Walmart or Target or teacher’s stores), and this year I’m having them each do one page each in a workbook. My eight-year-old hates the physical act of writing, so this is kind of an experiment, but also a slow way to build up his muscles and just get him used to writing a little bit. Below are listed the workbooks my boys have completed or are working on. (We started this during the summer, btw!)

The eight-year-old

–I started him out in an easy kindergarten workbook in which he only had to trace and write letters. This is because, as I said, he hates the physical act of writing, and I just wanted him to get used to having to write a little.

–I was not in the market to buy more workbooks, but we were in Barnes and Noble one day, and I happened to find Brainquest’s Star Wars workbooks. I picked them up because both my sons love Star Wars. I’m not so dumb as to think my eight-year-old will also love the workbooks, but if I can make doing what he dislikes a little more fun, I’ll try it. And the reading workbook happened to cover just the things I want him to work on. So we’re just now starting Star Wars 2nd Grade Reading. This is already proving to be difficult, and he’s in tears over it. It’s not that he’s not smart enough to complete the work, he just hates doing it. I may have him do only 1/2 a page at a time or pick and choose the pages. Part of me would like to nix it. Not sure what to do yet.

The five-year-old is my easy kid! He likes doing these workbooks! (I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that he loves drawing too.)

–Stick Kids Workbooks: Amazing Mazes

–A+ Alphabet Workbook

–A+ Numbers 1-12 (He’s almost finished with this.)

After this, I’m going to have him start:

Brainquest’s Star Wars Workbooks: Kindergarten Writing & ABCS

Brainquest’s Star Wars Workbooks: Preschool Number Fun

Reading Lesson – This is for the eight-year-old, but the five-year-old usually listens. I have him read 1-2 pages in a book. We have worked through most of the follow-up books recommended at the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We have two more to go on that list, and I’m hoping he’ll be willing to finish those books, but I’m not going to push him. I’ve had great success at letting him read books about the things he loves most, which are Legos’ characters and Superheros. We just finished Scholastic’s Super Heroes Save the Day! It makes a huge difference when he can read something like this versus any other book. I will probably alternate this will the workbook because doing both in one day proves to be too difficult.

Starfall – This is for both boys, although I didn’t tell my eight-year-old that. I asked him if he would sit with his younger brother and go over all the phonic reading lessons, games, books, and videos on Starfall.com.  They do about two rows every time they sit down to do this. I knew my five-year-old could benefit from it, but I wanted my eight-year-old to get the review as well as gain confidence in his reading ability. It’s working well, and my eight-year-old is shining as “teacher.” They don’t do this everyday, but they are almost finished with all fifteen rows on the website. I’m not sure if we’ll continue this, or go to other sections on that site.

Math – This is for the eight-year-old, but the five-year-old usually listens. We started right in on the next Life of Fred book this year! We are working on Life of Fred: Dogs, which is the fourth book in the series. I have considered changing our math curriculum in the past, but now I feel confident that the quirky story format of Life of Fred is perfect for my eight-year-old. (We are story lovers around here, after all.) I think Life of Fred does a great job teaching him what he needs to know, and when I feel it’s getting a little above his level, we just stop and practice math in other ways until I feel he’s ready to move on. Doing math twice a week still feels just right. If this book starts to get too hard, we’ll pause it awhile and practice math with other resources for awhile.

Science – This is new, although science has always been a huge part of our homeschool. I’ve never made time for it during our lesson time because my son’s projects, the homeschool science classes, the books he picks to read, and all the documentaries we watch daily have skyrocketed him well beyond 2nd grade science! Despite all this, I have a goal to study science in a more systematic way, especially when he gets older. And, this year, his pottery class conflicts with homeschool science, so we’ll have to miss out on those for the first time. (I’m really sad about that, although a little relieved to have a lighter class schedule.) Each year, I seem to be able to weave one more thing into our homeschool. Last year, it was art. This year, it’s science. (I hope by next year, I’ll find a way to take our Spanish lessons to a higher level.) We’re starting with something simple. I happened to have DK’s 101 Great Science Experiments, so we are working through this book and doing 1~2 science experiments a week. By the way, the first time I asked my son if he had a project he wanted to work on, he said, “Can’t we just do the experiments?” So, in a way, this is still his project.

Spanish – I wanted to find a better program to work on, but in some ways, I think watching Salsa is still the best bet for my boys so that they don’t lose interest in Spanish. I still write down the vocabulary, and I watch every episode with them – because I want to learn Spanish too!

Art – Last year at this time, I felt like we didn’t have enough art in our homeschool (despite all the craft and building projects that my son initiated on his own). I wanted to be able to teach a little bit about different artists and techniques. It’s also a part of project-based homeschooling to introduce children to new tools and techniques so that they’ll have a variety of mediums they can choose from when working on their own projects. I’m proud of myself for working in several art lessons last year and establishing a sketchbook habit with my younger son, who loves to draw. This year, we’re going to make Fridays our art days, and I’m using Amy Hood’s fun Art Together e-zines as my guide. Right now we’re learning about printmaking techniques and the artist Hokusai. When my son begins his pottery class, I’m planning to use that time for sketch booking with my five-year-old.

This is probably the longest post I’ve ever written, and it may seem like a lot on the page, but it only encompasses about 1~2 hours of our day. If you have been following my blog, you know that we do a lot of other things, and we have certain priorities for our boys that haven’t change. In brief:

  • We want them to have time to move, play and explore the things they love. In the afternoons and early evenings, they have lots of time to do the things they love the best, including playing with Legos and a variety of other toys, playing games on their tablets, and watching T.V. Sometimes we go to play dates, sometimes we cook together, and sometimes we play games together. But this is also the time I have to work and get my chores done. I feel grateful for homeschooling because I feel it is creating a strong bond between my boys, and they are learning to be independent doers!
  • We want them to love nature, and they do. But we make a point of getting out into nature a lot by visiting parks and going hiking. My son will slowly be working toward earning the third junior ranger badge this year too.
  • We also keep a garden, and in the evenings after dinner, you might find the boys and me outside watering it and picking ripe tomatoes. I find that by late August and September, the boys are less interested in this though. But I don’t mind having a few minutes alone outside!
September 13, 2014

Nature Watch: Luna Moth

A few weeks ago we had a very exciting visitor in our garden! This was serendipitous because my eight-year-old has recently become enamored with moths — ever since we found that polyphemus moth in our yard! I spotted this incredible luna moth on our corn, and I was literally speechless! My son only knew something was going on because of my loud gasps for air and where I was looking! lol

What backyard discoveries have you made?

September 12, 2014

New School Year

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on September 10, 2014.

September always feels like the real new year to me. It’s a time to regroup, plan a new schedule, and there’s that refreshing feeling that comes with the anticipation of cooler weather. Now that I have kids, and by coincidence both their birthdays are in late August, this time of year definitely feels like a walk around a new corner.

My boys just turned five and eight, and I know I say this every year, but I can hardly believe how fast they are growing. They are at fantastic ages. They are interested in the world and learning new things. My older boy is slowly catching on to the fact that not all of life is a bowl of cherries, and we have to contend with his bad attitude about certain things, especially when he’s helping to clean the house, but none of that surprises me. I will not take for granted these easier days of rearing young children because I know it’ll only get more challenging the older they get.

One of the things I love about homeschooling is that we can start school whenever we want, and I choose to start after Labor Day. Since my eight-year-old is starting 2nd grade and my five-year-old pre-K, we have a lot more to do this year, but none of it is a drastic change. I had been doing reading lessons throughout the summer and a little math, and we already started working through a book of science experiments, which is a huge interest of my older son. Add to that a little more math, handwriting, a readaloud, art projects, and my son’s own projects, and you’ve 2nd grade.

So far my five-year-old has made school easy for me. He demands his “reading lessons,” which is only two pages in some workbooks while his brother works on the older version workbooks. I am sure his eagerness has a lot to do with sitting and watching his older brother do his lessons these past few years. I am glad I haven’t pushed him to start earlier, but instead I watched for clues that he was ready.

I also asked my eight-year-old to sit with his younger brother and take him through all the lessons on starfall.com. If you aren’t familiar with this website, it’s a wonderful tool for teaching younger kids to read, and a lot of it is free. The learn to read section has 15 rows of phonic lessons, and it uses little games, interactive books and videos to teach the letter sounds and decoding techniques.

I went through all these starfall lessons with my eight-year-old when he was four, and now I think his younger brother could learn from them, but my main purpose in asking him to teach his younger brother was to give him a little review. And it’s working. He even told me the other day that it’s been helping him. (Sneaky Mama.) And it’s been fun to watch him in the role of teacher. He’s a natural at it, and so patient!

My eight-year-old will be starting a new pottery class soon, and more play dates will be added to the calendar when the weather cools off. I want my five-year-old to take a class too, but I haven’t quite decided what yet. I am somewhat mourning the end of the more laid back days of summer while at the same time looking forward to seeing people and doing more intentional learning with the kids.

I always think to myself that we will have to take homeschooling year by year. We will have to assess what seems good for the kids each year. I’m glad that so far they seem to be thriving in this atmosphere. I’m grateful for the friends we’ve made, and I’m grateful for the chance to tailor my kid’s educations to their abilities and needs. As I watch their imaginations flourish, and they get a chance to do things we wouldn’t have time for if they were in school, I’m grateful we can do this another year. If we’re lucky, we can continue for many more years to come.

September 8, 2014

home / school / life free issue give-away

home-school-life promotion-3

I was very excited this past weekend to finally meet my “boss,” Amy Sharony, and her husband, Jason, at the National Alliance for Secular Homeschooler’s inaugural conference in Atlanta, Georgia. We met there to help promote the magazine, but I was more excited about meeting them in person for the first time!  They are the sweetest couple ever! It was nice to see how enthusiastic they are about the magazine (because I am too!) and how they plan to keep it going. It takes time to build up everything we envision for home / school / life, and it can be frustrating when it’s basically just three people working on the major parts of the operation, but hey — we’ll keep working slow but sure and get it all done somehow!

I wrote about our meeting and what we talked about, especially some of our plans for the future of the magazine on the home / school / life blog, and I hope you’ll read about that by clicking here.

THIS GIVE-AWAY HAS OFFICIALLY ENDED. THANK YOU TO ALL WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE!

But I saved something more fun for my blog readers! ;) Amy and Jason had these little coupons made up for people at the conference that allows them to download the summer issue for free. I grabbed 10 of them, and I thought I would share them with you. So, if you haven’t subscribed to the magazine yet – maybe you’re not sure about it and you’d like to check it out first – send me an e-mail at shelli@homeschoollifemag.com. I’ll give the code for the free issue to the first TEN people who e-mail me before midnight on Wednesday night. So send me that e-mail now! If you know someone who you’d like to give the magazine to, send me an e-mail and copy them, and I will send them the code too.

September 4, 2014

Anniversary in Blairsville

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on August 13, 2014. Our anniversary was in July. Yep, I’m that far behind.

Somehow, my 10th wedding anniversary snuck up on me. My husband and I are both looking at each other and saying, “10 years?” It’s gone so fast, yet in other ways, it seems like it’s been much longer. Though we’ve had our ups and downs, I’m thankful I married him, and I feel lucky to say that.

My husband says our boys are getting older, and it’s time to make some memories. So at the last minute, we decided to go on a short trip to the mountains to celebrate our 10th year.

We found a sweet cabin near Blairsville, which is only two hours away, but neither of us had been to that town before. It’s small but big enough to have everything you need, and it’s a great central location for exploring the sites and trails of the mountains.

Our first stop was Brasstown Bald. If you have never been there, you have to go. It’s the highest mountain in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. From the observation deck, you have a 360-degree stunning view of four states: Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina. You can see part of the Smoky Mountains from there.

view from observation deck and Brasstown Bald

There’s a short .06 mile paved trail from the parking lot, but it feels much longer going up because it’s very steep. If you can do it, it’s a beautiful trail with lovely foliage. For those who can’t handle the trail, there’s a shuttle that will take people to the top, and there are elevators to the top of the observation deck. There’s also a very nice museum at the top. It’s a federal site, and the cost to enter is $5 per person 16 years and older.

Vogel State Park

We all wanted to see some waterfalls, so our first stop was at Vogel State Park to see Trahlyta Falls. While the park is located in a gorgeous setting with a small, pretty lake, we were not impressed with it. It was too crowded, and the infrastructure needs to be updated. It’s one of Georgia’s oldest and smallest state parks. It is a good base for those going on some of the longer hikes though.

Trahlyta Falls

I read online about a longer but easy trail I wanted to take with the boys, but once we got to the park, there were no signs pointing us to the trailhead, and the map didn’t help – at least for this impatient family. So we took a short trail around the lake and down a path to the falls. Trahlyta Falls, which you can actually see from the highway, was not a disappointment. Really, how could any waterfall be disappointing?

Helton Creek Falls

We also went hunting for Helton Creek Falls, and we finally found it, although we got a little worried along the way. There is one sign on Highway 129 directing you to turn onto Helton Creek Road, which will take you to the falls. This is a narrow road through a heavily wooded, residential area, and once the neighborhood ends, it becomes a windy dirt road that seems to have no end in sight. At one point, it forks, and there’s no sign, but if you go, stay on your right, and you’ll finally find a sign and parking area for the falls.

The first falls you come to at Helton Creek.

Counting tree rings.

There’s a short, easy trail down to the falls, and you’ll actually find two falls. Keep going after the first one because the second one is bigger – about a fifty-foot vertical drop. The trail and both falls are stunning and worth the hassle of finding the place. We found lots of salamanders here! This was my favorite place we went during our brief stay in the mountains.

Can you find the salamander?

Since we were so close to Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, we thought it would be fun checking it out too. Creek and Cherokee people from at least 1,000 years ago but possibly as far back as 3,600 years ago carved art and symbols into these boulders that you can view a short distance from the road.

There are over a 100 carvings in these rocks, but most of it was very difficult for us to see. Still, it was worth going because according to the Forest Service’s website, “It’s one of the most significant rock art sites in the Southeastern United States and the only such site located on public land in Georgia.” If you go, I suggest reading about it online first so that you’ll understand what you are looking at.

I thought we would do more hiking while we were in the mountains, but I learned quickly that the steep trails are much more difficult for my boys’ little legs than the flat trails at Ft. Yargo. Since it’s so close to home, however, we know we’ll be able to take many more trips back there and collect even more good memories.

We found this luna moth at Vogel State Park. A nice bonus.

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