January 19, 2015

Life’s Bumps

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If nothing else, I can say that, so far, 2015 has been anything but boring for my husband and me. Where do I begin?

Two days before Christmas, my husband tripped on a heavy box, and he caught himself before he fell, but he must have twisted something pretty bad. At first, he was just sore, but by the end of a week’s time, he could barely walk. We spent the 30th going to doctors and the orthopedic urgent care clinic to get x-rays. Luckily, he had no broken bones.

Despite all the medication he received, including pain and muscle relaxers, the next day his leg locked up on him when he sat down in a kitchen chair. He couldn’t move, and he was howling in pain. After spending time on the phone with our doctor, taking more pain meds, and waiting a while, he still couldn’t move, and he was in excruciating pain. I had to call 911.

I will digress here to say that while the Barrow Emergency guys who came to get my husband were awesome, I was quite unnerved that during my first phone call, the dispatcher could not hear me. I could hear him, but after yelling into the phone, I realized we had a bad connection. On my second call, he could hear me, but another emergency call interfered with my call, and I couldn’t hear him because I could hear another voice – in another call – loud and clear. What the? Fortunately, that passed, and I was able to talk and hear clearly. But I wondered how I would feel if I had been calling because an intruder was in my house? Geez.

So, we spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in the ER of Athens Regional Hospital. The experience was not good for my husband, who was hoping for the doctor to find out what was causing the pain. Instead, he had a doctor who didn’t actually visit him until she was ready to send him home, and her bedside manner was lacking greatly. He told me she said that pain wasn’t a reason to admit someone to the hospital (he wasn’t dying, that is), and he needed to go home and deal with it.

Since I was in the cafeteria getting my boys some food, I wasn’t privy to that conversation, but I was surprised they were sending him home in so much pain too, especially after our doctor said he would probably need an MRI. Apparently they don’t do that in the ER. Instead, they gave him stronger pain medication and muscle relaxers, and he was able to walk again, though stooped over and limping.

To make matters more complicated, we had to switch health insurance this year, and that kicked in at midnight on January 1st. We could no longer see the doctor we have been seeing for years, but we felt that maybe the change would be good. So far, it has. We can get our new insurance – Kaiser Permanente – on the telephone so much faster than we could ever get Blue Cross Blue Shield on the phone.

We’ve been impressed so far with the Kaiser facilities and doctors. We got an appointment for my husband right away, and the doctor ordered him an MRI. He had that on Friday, and we’re awaiting the results. We also met our children’s new pediatrician, and I’m doubly impressed that I can actually e-mail him questions!

To add to all these changes and my husband’s pain that won’t go away, we also found out that the school he teaches at will be absorbed by another university. We are uncertain what the future holds for his job, and that stress is worse than the pain. The day after this announcement, my youngest son had a stomach bug, so I was dealing with a lot of throw up too. What a fun week!

But life goes on, and there are some good things that have happened. For example, my son recovered quickly from his bad stomach bug, and no one else in the family caught it. My eldest son has been taking full advantage of the robotics set that several family members pitched in to buy him for Christmas, and he’s been building robots and learning programming all by himself – that kid never ceases to amaze me. I have finally taken time off from freelance projects that kept me way too busy all last fall and before the holidays, and I feel more relaxed despite the problems we are having.

To say I’m worried about my husband is an understatement. He’s in a lot of pain, but I am hopeful that whatever it is, it will heal. I am hopeful that he will at least still have a job by next year when the merger is more complete. If not, we will adapt and change as necessary even though our prospects feel rather bleak right now.

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Since writing this column, we’ve had good news and bad news. The good news is that my husband’s job should be secure for the foreseeable future. The bad news is that his back is pretty damaged, and we will be seeing a neurosurgeon. I have also dealt with a bacteria infection of my own, though thankfully I’m feeling a little better. My spirits are okay, though, since I know this is just life’s bumps. I’m grateful that all of it should pass.

I will be writing some homeschool updates soon.  Meanwhile, I hope you are well.

January 4, 2015

Happy New Year

near Amicalola Falls, Georgia-6

I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying a bright new year! I had hoped to be writing some mid-year updates in this space by now, but life has thrown some bumps at us. As soon as things settle down, I’ll catch up here. Meanwhile, I hope your homeschool life is flourishing. You can always reach me by e-mail.

December 21, 2014

Happy Winter Solstice!

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My five-year-old and I made winter solstice trees today with branches, twigs and paper snowflakes. My eight-year-old decided to make a mossy swamp tree! There is moss on its bark and Spanish moss hanging from the limbs (the dried strings of glue were left there on purpose). It even has a dead branch underneath it with red mushrooms growing on it! I love how he gets these crazy ideas and just goes with it!

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Five-year-old’s tree is on the left. Mine on the right.

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Close up of eight-year-old’s “swamp solstice tree.” LOL

What are you doing to celebrate the winter solstice?

December 21, 2014

Gift Ideas for Young Kids

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Printmaking with good acrylic paints was fun!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 17, 2014.

I was at the hobby store with my boys last week to buy a birthday present for my son’s friend when a woman stopped us to ask advice on getting a gift for a seven-year-old boy. Her son was twenty-six, so she felt out of touch with the younger generation and thought my eight-year-old and five-year-old could help her. Indeed they could, and my eight-year-old was happy to tell her what he liked.

She was specifically asking about art supplies, so first we told her about air dry modeling clay. My boys love playing with this stuff, and I like it so much better than play-doh. My eight-year-old used to watch YouTube videos to learn how to sculpt small things, and later this led to him taking pottery classes, which he still enjoys. After drying this clay will get brittle, and small parts may break, but that hasn’t been a big deal to my kids. One big box of clay is about $8 and lasts a long time.

I also keep craft supplies on hand such as beads, feathers, popsicle sticks and whatnot because my boys love to build things with them, and for my younger son, he likes to take a hunk of clay and stick those things in it. Makes for an interesting decoration.

My eight-year-old’s favorite toy has been Legos, and over the past two years he has gotten all kinds of kits that he will spend hours putting together. Eventually these get taken apart and the pieces get mixed in with other Legos, but I think that’s okay because then my boys begin to use their imaginations and make creations of their own. I think Legos are awesome and educational, and I wish I owned stock in the company.

My five-year-old still plays with our dinosaurs and other animals almost everyday. I think it depends on the kid, if these plastic animals can hold their attention. We have hundreds of them (at least it feels that way), and my son will line them up on the floor as if they will fight each other, or either he’ll make a zoo by setting up our various blocks as pathways and cages for the animals. My favorite brand is Schleich because of the quality.

Another favorite toy are my boy’s remote control monster trucks. I’m not talking about a cheap one though. You need to spend at least $30 to get a good one, and be sure to buy extra batteries as part of your gift because these things suck battery life quickly. (You may need different kinds of batteries for the controller and the car.) However, these toys get my boys outside, and they build obstacle courses for them. Anything that gets them outside and using their brains and creativity is beneficial in my book.

Both my boys enjoy drawing and painting, but my five-year-old especially loves it. I bought him a sketchbook, and I’ve found that to be a great way to contain the hundreds of pages of drawings he can accumulate.

I’m also a fan of quality art supplies for kids because it makes a difference in the experience, and they are more likely to enjoy painting with good stuff. My eight-year-old even commented to me that he noticed a big difference between our acrylic paints and the Crayola washable ones. I think a great gift would be some good watercolor paper and watercolor pencils or quality paints. Good paintbrushes can offset the frustrations that cheap ones can give you when the bristles fall out while painting. You can also have more control over where you want the paint to go when you are using a nice brush instead of the cheap, bushy ones in kid’s sets.

Of course, some kids aren’t going to do anything with these kinds of gifts if they don’t know how to use them. The best way to get a child to be creative and try new things is to do it yourself – without the expectation that the child join you. That’s right. Children rarely want to do what you tell them to do, but they tend to follow you around and want to do what you are doing. So give yourself a gift of some new art supplies or a building set or even an obstacle course with a monster truck and don’t be surprised if a little person wants to join you.

I could have added many more things to this list that foster creativity. What would you add?!

December 13, 2014

Our Favorite Books

Holley Home, Twin City, Georgia

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 3, 2014. Also, unfortunately, the photo is not of my house.

I love to read, but I am the slowest reader you’ll ever meet. Couple that with very little free time, and I don’t have a very long reading list from my past year, but I thought I’d share a few titles I’ve enjoyed and a few of my boys’ favorites too.

“…And Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer – If you liked Gone with the Wind, you’ll enjoy And Ladies of the Club. It’s a story about several families in a small Ohio town right after the Civil War. It’s about their lives, their mistakes, and their triumphs. It’s a meandering novel that somehow kept my attention through its very human-like characters. It does have a very slow beginning, and I almost gave up on it, but I’m glad I kept reading because once I got used to its pace, I was lost in this little town and its inhabitants. It also delves into the politics of the day quite a bit, which got a little tedious for me, but it showed me that nothing has changed either.

Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson – I felt like I was reading a movie when I read this very light and fun book. It reminded me a little of Sweet Home Alabama, but it’s more intelligent than that. It’s about a woman growing up and making better decisions. It’s about two families who are in in feud, but the main character is an important link between them. It’ll give you a glimpse into what it’s like to live as a deaf and blind person as well as what it’s like for the family caring for that person. It’s very predictable, but if you just want to be entertained, that’s not a bad thing.

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – This was by far my favorite book I’ve read this past year. It’s been made into a movie, and I haven’t seen that yet. I want to savor the memory of the book before I watch it. This book is on one level about the immigrant experience, but it’s also a universal story about family and growing up. It spans two generations, but most of the book focuses on the son of two Indian immigrants who settle in America and how he spends most of his life trying to extract himself from his Indian heritage, but as an adult he begins to understand his parents and their experience better. It’s beautifully written, thought-provoking and not predictable. I think any adult could identify with some of these universal themes.

The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. – I’ve been reading this book for research on a magazine article I’m writing, and I have found it fascinating. Unlike other self-help or “how to be happy” books, Lyubomirsky has been studying what really makes people thrive for over twenty years. This book draws on real scientific evidence, and yes, some of it may seem like common sense, but much of it is enlightening. There is a quiz to help a person understand what might work and not work for him because, of course, there is no magic formula on how to be happy. There’s also an excellent chapter on depression and the best therapies that have proven to be the most beneficial for people. Whether or not you consider yourself a happy person, you’ll learn a lot from this book.

Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown – My eight-year-old is in love with all things Star Wars, and this book about a young boy entering Jedi Academy and facing many of the same problems any middle-school student would have has delighted my son. It’s written through the main character’s own comic strips, journal entries, letters and newspaper clippings, which makes it fun. We finished reading it together, and my son immediately asked me to start it again. (I’m happy to discover there is a sequel to this book, and I’ll be ordering it soon.)

My five-year-old doesn’t give me many breaks from reading books about dinosaurs, but thankfully he has a few other favorite books that we’ve read together, oh, 200 times? That’s not much of an exaggeration, and if you’re the parent of a small child, you’ll believe me.

He loves the three-book gift set that we received years ago. The books Little Pea, Little Hoot, and Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace take a spin on those things that all children hate to do such as eat their veggies, go to bed, and clean up their rooms. But in the case of Little Pea, she has to eat her candy, Little Hoot has to stay up all night, and if Little Oink wants to “grow up to be a respectable pig, he has to make a mess, mess, mess.” The illustrations are beautiful, and after reading these books so many times, I still enjoy them too.

I hope you get all the good reading material you want these holidays. Happy Reading.

December 10, 2014

Holiday Sale and Free Gift

w14saleI want to let you know that home / school / life magazine is on sale for the holidays. I think this is a great deal, and if you’ve been thinking about subscribing but haven’t, you won’t have anything to lose. (Current subscribers can also take advantage by renewing their subscription now.) A yearly digital subscription is just $10 from December 10-24th. That’s four issues filled with homeschooling how-to, family interviews, engaging features, unit studies, tons of book recommendations and much more. My feature for the upcoming January issue is on the science of happiness — such interesting stuff!

And what’s even better, if you subscribe, you’ll get a FREE issue of Art Together: Color, which is the e-zine I have blogged about in the past. I’ve found it very useful in my homeschool. Our art columnist, Amy Hood, does these e-zines, and she was kind enough to partner with us for this holiday deal.

Go to homeschoollifemag.com/elf to purchase your subscription, or just click the graphic on the left.

November 24, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Rube Goldberg Machine

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 19, 2014.

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A Rube Goldberg machine is a complicated machine that performs a simple task. Two years ago, I found a video of a very enthusiast little boy who made a Rube Goldberg machine and posted it online. I loved it so much, I shared it on my blog. My son and I watched it several times, and it never failed to delight us. Audri’s excitement is infectious.

At the time I thought my son would probably like making one himself, but he was only six-years-old, and I didn’t say anything. If it were my idea and not his, it would surely fall flat. Besides that, I wasn’t sure I could even make one – they seem complicated!

Fast forward to late last week when my five-year-old wanted to show me what he made. I went into the living room to find that he had set up several items, and he showed me how a ball would go from one item to another and knock them over. Nothing was actually attached to each other, so I knew it wouldn’t work. He was just pretending and walking the ball through the course.

After he demonstrated this to his brother and me a couple of times, I told him he might want to watch Audri’s video. My eight-year-old could remember the enthusiastic little boy and that machine, but my five-year-old did not. So I found the video, and they both watched it several times. It was just as exciting as the first time we saw it.

After that, my eight-year-old said he wanted to make a real Rube Goldberg machine. I said okay, and we dedicated this past weekend to making the contraption. I did my best to let my son make all the decisions. I kept my mouth shut even if I knew he would fail.

And fail he did. His first idea was to use his scribble bot (a lightweight robot that moves some pens around on a piece of paper) to knock a heavy ball off a table, and that was supposed to knock a bottle of water over and into a funnel. The funnel was attached to a pipe and the water was supposed to go through the pipe and eventually come out where a pinwheel (which was spinning because a fan was blowing on it) would carry that water over into a bowl.

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As you can imagine, there was a lot wrong with this machine, but my only request was that he do it in the kitchen where I knew the water wouldn’t hurt the floor.

There’s so much to be learned from failing, and my son was having fun. He was thinking, problem solving, and trying things out. It didn’t take him long to see that nothing quite worked right and using water wasn’t a good idea.

My husband suggested he use a ball and gravity, and my son agreed. At this point my son also wanted to look up some other videos of Rube Goldberg machines to get ideas, so we spent some time doing that.

While watching the videos, I told him to think about what those machines used that we also had on hand. We don’t have pulleys or dominoes or large equipment, but we do have toy tracks, lots of balls, blocks, pieces of wood, string, popsicle sticks and other small items. I suggested that we take all these materials upstairs to our big room and look at them and see if it inspired anything.

At this point, it was getting close to lunch, and my son’s patience was waning. He sat in the room and fumbled around, not accomplishing anything. As he gets older, he is getting more patient and realizes that it takes time to build things, but that doesn’t stop him from getting frustrated or fussy. He wanted more of my help, but I knew at this point I’d just be taking over, if I did that. Instead, we opted to have lunch and try again the next morning.

The next day after breakfast, we were both fresh and ready to build this machine. I reminded my son that using gravity – starting from a high point – would help a ball gain momentum, and I reminded him that whatever we put into motion had to hit something else and put it into motion. I reminded him how in the videos we watched, sometimes a ball would pull a string, which would release another ball, etc.

I got him started by putting a spiral racetrack up on a box and connecting that to a ramp. The little car hit a ball at the end of the track and sent it down a ramp.

That was enough to get my son’s own ideas going. By now I had more ideas of my own, and I think I could help set up a course that would have gone clear across the room. But I kept my mouth shut and let my son do his own thing. (That was so hard to do!)

It took a long time to set up his last three steps – the ball hit another ball tied to a string. That string pulled away a popsicle stick and released another ball down a slide. That ball hits another ball that then rolls across the floor to hit and ring a bell.

It’s not a long, complicated machine that you might find if you search for Rube Goldberg machines on YouTube, but it’s my eight-year-old’s first Rube Goldberg Machine. After much trial and error, he finally got it to work, and during the process I heard him say, “If it doesn’t work, just try again.” Yes! He may be happy with his machine, but I’m happy about what he’s learning through this whole process.

Here’s a video of his final machine. All pics & video taken with my new smart phone. ;)

November 16, 2014

New Smart Phone Convert

red maple treeNote: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 5, 2014. I don’t have a photo of my smart phone, so I’m sharing an unedited photo I took with my phone — some beautiful autumn foliage I found recently.

Last week I checked off another year and turned 43 years old. For my birthday, my husband bought me a smart phone, and he bought himself one too. Actually, my birthday was just an excuse to finally upgrade our “dinosaur” phones. That is, we’ve never had anything other than a basic, cheap cell phone that could only make phone calls.

Though we love all things tech, my husband and I could never see the benefit in paying high monthly phone prices or spending hundreds of dollars on a phone, but recently T-Mobile came out with some competitive pricing. Also, my husband has increasingly needed texting ability for his work, and he wanted me to have a more portable camera so that I wouldn’t have to lug my Nikon around anymore. (Although, I love my Nikon, and I will still lug it around sometimes.)

I knew this day was coming because my husband has been researching phones for, well, years, but recently the conversations about cell phones had been increasing. Since I had no interest in doing that kind of research, I usually just nodded and said, “Whatever you think, dear.” But even though a big part of me wanted a smart phone, another part of me didn’t.

I certainly didn’t want to become one of those people with their faces always buried in their phones. I was afraid it would be too tempting to always check my e-mail on the road, or see if anyone has tweeted me. When I’m outside, I don’t need to know those things.

Now that I have a smart phone, however, I understand why people’s faces are always buried in them. First, there’s a huge learning curve trying to figure out how to use one. I have spent the past few days with my face buried in my phone not because I’m wasting time on social media but because I’m trying to figure out how to make a phone call! And how to get to the things I’ll really use like the camera – which I found easily, but then where do the photos go? And how do I get them to my computer?

I’ve never had the ability to text someone before, and it is fun, but I also don’t see why it’s so popular. It takes so darn long to type out a message on that tiny keyboard that it would be much quicker to just call the person. But while I was typing, I discovered the emoticons available on my phone – those little smiley faces and pictures that you can insert into your text. There must be hundreds of them to choose from! No wonder people have their faces buried in their phones.

I’m still not sure how to use all the features on this phone, but now that I’ve had it a few days, I’m glad to discover that I check my e-mail and twitter about as much as I used to. But I’ve also discovered that it’s fun to have access to these things while I’m waiting in the car for my husband who is in the store, or I’m waiting at the doctor’s office. I’m a smart phone convert now.

I’ve also realized that when you look at someone with their nose buried in a smartphone, it may look like they aren’t connecting to the world around them, but actually, a big part of our world is online and we connect to each other on these devices. While sitting waiting somewhere, I have caught up on interesting articles and my friends’ lives…something I couldn’t do at home because there’s always more pressing things to do here.

This afternoon my husband and I were trying to make calling each other on our phone a little easier, and we played around with the ability to make a different ring tones depending on the person who is calling. We were sitting on our bed with our boys, and we were all laughing at the silly sounds the phones can make. My eight-year-old especially likes it when my phone croaks like a frog each time I get a text message.

Yes, we have finally joined the club of smart phone users.

October 28, 2014

mindful homeschooling

Well, I promised I was going to announce it whenever I published something in my mindful homeschooling series on the home / school / life blog, but I think I’ve failed to do that. I’m making up for it by giving you links to all my posts so far. The last one was posted today. :)

Mindful Homeschooling: Find the Beauty

Mindful Homeschooling: You Have All the Time You Need

Mindful Homeschooling: Find Peace In Your Home

Mindful Homeschooling: Let It Go

Mindful Homeschooling: What My Children Have Taught Me About Pursuing My Personal Goals

I hope you enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

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.

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