Bursting heart again. Right here. Today. Happy Birthday, Sweetie.
two boys, storytelling & project-based homeschooling
Bursting heart again. Right here. Today. Happy Birthday, Sweetie.
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 16, 2014.
Last summer flew by, and I hardly had time to stop and think about it. That was probably because it started out with a long emergency trip to Chicago to help my mother-in-law who had been in a car accident. (She’s okay now.) In addition to that, my son was in several summer camps, and while I enjoyed hanging out in town with my younger son, it just felt like the summer went by in a blink.
I’m happy this summer has been a little different. Though it’s been quite busy, and I’ve had work to do, and I’m driving my son to and from camps frequently, I’ve been a little more intentional about taking breaks too.
I’ve scheduled less play dates, I’m reading a good book, and I sit on the front porch sipping iced tea for a few minutes each day. I’ve even started sketching as I’ll explain in a moment. So we’re half way through summer now, and I feel like I’ve had a few chances to pause, look around, and enjoy it.
My seven-year-old attended three summer camps this year. It’s the first time he has been old enough to attend the full-day camps that go from about 9a.m. to 3:30 or 4. Last year he was in half-day camps. All of them have been great experiences for him.
It’s felt strange to be at home without him all day. As homeschoolers, we’re used to having our kids around all the time. It makes the day quieter to have just one boy at home, and it’s nice to give the four-year-old my full attention when he wants it, though he likes to play by himself too.
My seven-year-old’s favorite camps were the pottery camp at Good Dirt Studio in Athens, and the camp at the botanical garden.
Though he liked the camp at the nature center, he doesn’t care to go swimming, and he came home each day quiet and exhausted from not eating enough. I was happy that the folks at the botanical garden seemed to take a little better care of him by making sure he was eating and drinking. (Or maybe my reminders before camp finally got through to him.)
Each day after the botanical garden camp, he was full of energy and gave us a full account of his day, which, as he told me, was full of everything he liked to do, such as wading through streams to catch fish with a net, taking hikes, watching puppet shows, and touring the green houses. He even got to bring home a little plant.
We’ve had a few chances to go on family hikes, and we’ve hiked with just the four-year-old while his older brother was in camp. Because my four-year-old loves drawing so much, I got him a sketchbook and one for myself too. Even though I can’t draw worth a hoot, sitting down by some flowers to sketch them has been quite relaxing. It’s helped me slow down and enjoy the summer.
I have helped my older son create and build numerous things, but I was feeling like I was leaving his younger brother out. I love that our sketchbook habit encourages his interest and gives us something to do together. Though lately he has wanted me to sketch something for him so that he can color it – oh well. That’s good too. It’s his sketchbook, so he gets to choose what goes into it.
Now that camps are over, I’m glad to have half the summer before us to sketch and make things and take day trips. I will continue doing reading lessons with my oldest boy, and I plan to review this past year with him one day over a slideshow and give him a “certificate of completion” for the first grade. We also have birthdays in the August – I have no idea what we’ll do for that, but I know we’ll have fun.
I hope your summer is not too hot, just long enough, and full of relaxing moments.
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 4, 2014.
About three weeks ago my family was lucky enough to spend a week on beautiful Edisto Island, South Carolina thanks to my aunt who gave us a week in her timeshare. Unfortunately, right before we went, my family was suffering from a virus, and the weather forecast predicted a whole week of thunderstorms.
What could we do but laugh at our situation? This was the very first time we were ever going away on vacation with just the four of us – we decided we’d have to make the best of it. As my husband said, he would rather be sick at the beach than sick at home.
Despite feeling a little poorly, we had a good time and the weather turned out to be beautiful most of the time. Everyone felt well enough to enjoy the beach and other sights.
It has become my great joy in life to discover all the treasures of this earth with my little boys. On our very first walk on the beach that first night we arrived, we found jellyfish, a little squid, beautiful shells and two pairs of horseshoe crabs mating. We watched as the female almost buried herself in the sand, no doubt depositing eggs that were being fertilized.
On other walks on the beach, my son found a large whelk, and in a tidal pool that was almost dried up, he found thousands of fiddler crabs. (Fiddler crabs are tiny and have one long arm and one short.) On the last day when he was out with his dad, they even found a small, dead shark washed up on the beach.
We saw dozens of dolphins breaching the water about 150 yards away from the shore. They seemed to be entertaining the family who were kayaking in the bay. I also took photos of a hermit crab creeping out of its shell onto my son’s hand just before he freaked out and dropped it into the water!
We collected dozens of shells – the picking was tremendous. We found more horseshoe crabs, fiddler crabs, pelicans, and countless other birds I can’t identify.
The beach wasn’t the only place we were able to watch wildlife. Right outside our condo, there was a lagoon surrounded by large, gnarly oaks and palms draped with Spanish moss. On a tiny island inside the lagoon, there were two snowy egret nests, and with binoculars, we could watch the parents feeding the babies. One nest had very young chicks that were gray and wiggly. Another nest had larger offspring whose feathers had already turned white. They practiced stretching their wings, but they still cried for their mother to feed them.
We observed several nests of green herons in the lagoon too. The offspring were big enough to start fending on their own, but they stayed close to mama and practiced hunting in the shallow water near their nests.
We also saw hundreds of turtles, fish, a magnificent blue heron and one small alligator. He remained hidden the first few days we were there, but then almost everyday we watched him from our window as he would glide down the center of the lagoon.
The last time I got to visit the beach was on our visit to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. It’s well worth a visit, and we hope to explore it more in depth someday. What is unique about this place is that it has only been open to the public since 2008, and no one is allowed to take anything from it, including shells. Because of this, we were able to find a beautiful collection of large unspoiled shells on the beach. The remains of dead trees that once grew along the shoreline were fascinating and wonderful to photograph too.
I especially enjoyed walking on the path through the marsh to get to the beach on Botany Bay, and we took a driving tour through the rest of the 3,363 acres, reading about the old plantations and viewing some of the ruins on the site.
We returned home a day early, but despite some little challenges this trip contained, we still collected a lot of good memories from it too. My family’s general health seems to be improving, and you know what they say: there’s no place like home.
Are you taking any trips this summer? Please tell me about it.
I’m trying to remember when I first discovered that I’m a nature girl at heart. I’m lucky because my parents loved to travel and spend time in nature. We weren’t exactly roughing it because they owned a big RV, but we traveled through many national parks, and my dad loved boating, so I’ve spent time on different lakes and waterways.
I can remember taking long walks with my best friends during my late teens and early twenties. I loved being outside even if it meant walking along city streets. I always noticed the trees, flowers and birds. Whenever I traveled anywhere, I would seek out parks and other beautiful places. I’ve always loved hiking, and I have gravitated to friends who enjoy hiking too.
I met a friend in my late twenties who was a biologist, and she sparked a deep respect in me for the little critters of this earth. She loved frogs and snakes, and for a while she studied salamanders in the Smoky Mountains. I visited her once while she was doing some fieldwork. I thought she had an awesome job.
But I’m not sure I truly understood how much nature – and spending time in nature – meant to me until I became a mother of little boys. Seeing the world through their eyes makes me know on a deeper level how much all of this means to me.
Being in nature is something I crave, and I love learning more about it. Whether it’s learning how alligator moms carry their babies in their mouths or how to grow carnivorous plants, I find more joy in this – in making discoveries and feeling part of this mysterious and wondrous world – than anything else I’m part of. I am in awe of this planet and its place in the universe, and I believe that I’m very lucky to find joy in something so accessible to us all. I believe that finding joy in the simple process of observing and learning is what leads to lasting happiness.
On Mother’s Day, my family took me hiking in the North Georgia Mountains because they know that’s what I love most. First, we climbed the short trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. It’s a beautiful, paved path along Smith Creek, and on Mother’s Day, it was quite crowded, but we didn’t care. We were not there only to view the falls – we went to find the salamanders.
There’s a rocky, muddy wall along the path, and a natural spring drips down it constantly. Even in the coldest part of winter, the water there stays about fifty degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celcius). This is a perfect habitat for salamanders. They like to hide away in the rock crevices. We must have found a dozen of them.
While other tourists passed us by or lingered only for a few moments, we crowded around this wall for a long time (on the way up and on the way down). My seven-year-old said, “I could stay here forever!”
I was reminded of my old friend who studied salamanders, and I was reminded of all the times I’ve been hiking with family and friends, and the peaceful feeling that I get whenever I’m in the mountains, sitting by a gurgling stream. There’s no better place on earth, in my humble opinion.
I’m glad my son thought he could sit there by those salamanders forever. I hope that someday when he’s grown up and dealing with grown-up problems, he’ll remember the good times he had looking for salamanders by a mountain stream, and he’ll be able to go back there, seeking solace. A home for his heart.
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 21, 2014.
In the late 90s, I worked for US Airways at the Athens Ben Epps Airport. Truly, it was the best job I ever had for two reasons – the varied work suited me, and most importantly, I worked with some awesome people. It’s the only time I witnessed true teamwork despite working in offices where employers touted the term “teamwork” frequently.
Now that I look back, I realize that the work suited me because I’m not cut out for sitting in an office in front of a computer for eight hours. At the airport I got to work with people, work inside and outside, do physical work, and work on the computer. There were slow times between flights, and there were intense times while checking people in for the flight, loading their bags on the plane, running the security check point, and marshaling the plane in and out of its parking spot. Many times there were only two of us working, and since it was a small airport most of the passengers thought they could arrive five minutes before takeoff. (That wasn’t helpful.)
Once a passenger asked me, “Do you fly the airplane too?”
“Only in emergencies.” I joked.
My co-workers and I worked well together because everyone did exactly what was needed of them in any given moment. None of us favored one task over another, so we jumped in wherever we were needed. The only exception to this was our manager, and though that may sound like a criticism, I actually liked her. She was a nice woman, but when she was there she disrupted the flow of our work for various reasons. Later I learned the only reason she took the job as manager was because there was no else to do it, and she gladly gave it up when someone else wanted it.
The reason I’m telling this story is because I have a vivid memory of one day when a flight was cancelled, and twenty passengers stood before us in a panic because they were going to miss their connection in Charlotte, NC. One of my co-workers and I worked so smoothly and quickly helping each passenger in line that we deflated any quick-tempered passengers.
What I remember about that moment is my manager standing near us and exclaiming, “Look at them! They’re like robots!” It was always hard for her to understand how we could remain so unflustered during those stressful moments.
Now all these years later that memory keeps resurfacing because once again, I find myself in a situation that requires varied tasks. I get to work with awesome people, get outside, do physical work, and part of the day, I’m on my computer. But it’s even better because I get to do creative work and continually learn new things too.
The bad part is that I never get a day off, and I’m so busy going from task to another that I rarely get a chance to rest. I never get to cross everything off my to do list either. Indeed, this is the life of a mother, especially a homeschooling mom, and a freelance writer, and it’s not lost on me that sometimes I must look like a robot. That is, focused, hurried and unsmiling.
I’m trying to remember to smile more. I want my outward appearance to match how I’m feeling inside. I want my kids to know that I love my job, and I love them. Even when I’m tired, there’s nowhere I’d rather be but right here.
I have so many good memories from my time working at the small airport. I could write a book about all the characters I met there, and all the laughter and smiles. Did I appreciate it while I worked there? I think so, but I know there were days that it was just a job.
My current job is anything but “just a job,” so I hope I can remember that each moment is a memory in the making.
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 16, 2014.
Like everyone, I am so happy that spring is here. And Easter is
coming here. And summer is coming. And summer camps. And, oh my. Time has a way of just slipping by, especially when the breezes carry the sweet smells of flowering trees, phlox and tulips.
Usually this is the time of year I like to get my boys outside into our garden. We would clean it up, rake the winter leaves away and find some seeds to plant. I’m not saying that won’t happen, but right now as I write this, I’m too tired to think about gardening.
But I do love gardening, and if I had the time, I would putter in my yard and make it look pretty. Right now it doesn’t look very pretty at all, but at least spring sends up a few blooms that give it promise.
Today my seven-year-old spent half the day making a big robot out of cardboard, red construction paper, paper towel tubes, coat hangers, some little wheels for feet, and a big cooking pot for its head. (We had to discuss which pot could be used for its head. The original request was for something I use almost every day in the kitchen. He settled for a pot I rarely use.)
He said he got the idea from Curious George. (Don’t you love Curious George?) When he gets busy working on a project like this, I’m only too happy to postpone our lessons. I think he gets a lot more out of these projects than he would get out of anything I would do with him.
Meanwhile, my four-year-old was busy drawing on a piece of paper. His drawings are piling up as well as all the blocks and toys scattered over the living room floor. It may look like a mess, but no, many times he is carefully placing his toys and blocks in a pattern or making a “city.” Once he piled a bunch of things together and called it his “artwork.” That cracked me up.
Most days I wrangle my kids together to do our lessons. My seven-year-old reads from early readers now, and recently we started working in the Life of Fred books for our math lessons again. We watch Salsa on GPB.org to learn a little Spanish, and we have started reading Story of the World for history lessons. (My husband, a history professor, was impressed with this elementary age book that aims to tell world history as an engaging story for kids.)
In the late afternoons between dinner and bath time, my seven-year-old usually asks me to read to him from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We are on the third book, and he loves them. He loves to hear how Pa Ingalls built the log house, and once after we read that, he dug out our Lincoln Logs and made one of his own.
Both my sons are taking classes at the nature center, and my seven-year-old started a pottery class too. He loves it. Although he still says he wants to be a scientist when he grows up, I keep seeing this love of building and constructing things – out of any material, from cardboard to clay. I wonder where that will lead us?
Now the weather is good enough to meet our friends at the park. We particularly love Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville, and wow the boys slept well after hiking with their friends along the trail and playing by the shoals all afternoon!
Besides this, I’ve been working more, which I’m grateful for, but that means the garden may have to wait this year. In some ways, I’m tending another kind of garden, and it’s giving me just as much pleasure as digging my hands into the earth and smelling those spring blossoms.
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 12, 2014.
I love Georgia winters because the weather here always offers us a few “siestas” or breaks in the cold weather. This winter has been especially cold, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a few days of spring-like weather sprinkled here and there. I have even seen some trees blooming.
The blooms I’ve found always give me mixed emotions because I know a freeze may come and mess up the blooming cycle, but every spring Georgia seems to have plenty of beautiful blooms anyway. I can’t wait until the warm weather is here to stay, but I’m glad we’ve been taking advantage of the warm days in winter.
The boys are finally old enough to enjoy longer hikes, at least when the terrain isn’t too rugged. We usually go to Fort Yargo, and recently we were happy to discover that there is a trail that goes all the way around the lake – years ago when my husband and I hiked there while we were dating, the trail didn’t go all the way around.
We haven’t yet hiked the whole trail in one visit, but we’ve done parts of it, and my seven-year-old really wanted to see the dam, so we walked all the way from the parking lot near the beach to the dam and back. Ft. Yargo is a beautiful place, and if you live here in Barrow County, you’ll want to visit as often as you can.
Last week we went to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which has several miles of trails too. My boys love to hike on the trail that goes along the Middle Oconee River the best. Sometimes the river is high, but occasionally it’ll be low enough where they can venture down to a large sandbar and play by the water.
As soon as they saw the sandbar last week, there was no keeping them on the trail. My husband and I found a log to sit on, and we watched our boys build a “beaver dam” with driftwood and mud. Two little girls and their mother came out onto the sandy area, and we were delighted to watch our four-year-old chatter away with one of the girls who joined my boys in their pursuit to build a strong dam.
We were too far away to hear what our youngest son was saying, but later my seven-year-old told me that he was telling the girl what his favorite foods were, among other things. I guess for a four-year-old, there are only a few topics of conversation!
As for the cold days, they are perfect days to get more work done. More library books are read, math games are played, and of course, my son continues to work at this Legos and cardboard building projects. I recently introduced him to the game Minecraft, which is an app you can download on the iPad. It’s a popular game with kids, and it’s like building with blocks on the screen. He is hooked on that now too.
But I can’t wait until spring is here to stay. Park play dates, more hiking, and our annual attempts at gardening – while the gardening usually isn’t very fruitful, the attempts make me happy.
These hints of spring are full of promises. The birds are inspecting the birdhouses on our porch, and I’ve heard the frogs begin to sing. The budding plants and occasional warm days are just what I need to get me through the weeks of cold. May the true spring come quickly this year, and may it fill us all with a fresh, cheerful spirit!
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2014.
In the mornings I’m lucky if I wake up to a quiet house. Usually it’s the galloping of the dogs’ paws on the floors as the canines leap up at the slightest sound of movement from my husband. They follow him into the kitchen, eagerly waiting their breakfast.
Other mornings I may wake up hearing one of my boys calling me from their bed or the seven-year-old’s footsteps as he runs down the hall and jumps into bed with me. Sometimes I hear a bird singing outside my window. Every once in a while, I wake up and hear nothing, and I savor the quiet.
Today at the park I heard snatches of my children’s conversations with their friends. One boy was explaining to my four-year-old that they would pretend they were dinosaurs and chase each other. They were trying to decide which dinosaur they would be, and my four-year-old wanted to be an Argentinosaurus. “Okay,” said the other boy, “you chase me then.”
“Actually,” my son said in his four-year-old and still sometimes hard to understand speech, “the Argentinosaurus wasn’t very fast.” I smiled at his good attempt at trying to pronounce Argentinosaurus, and I told the other boy’s mother how the word “actually” has become very popular in our house lately. She said it was gaining momentum in her house too.
It’s fun to hear how children will learn a new word and then play with it often as if they are trying to get to know it better.
While we were at the park we walked down to the shoals, and the kids played near the water. Running water in a creek or river is my favorite sound in the world. I could sit beside a river all day and just listen, but kids don’t let me sit for long. We were walking down the trail, and I was too busy keeping an eye on the boys who were running far ahead of us to listen to the wildlife.
I was happy to hear them talking, chattering and laughing as they asserted their independence and tried to get away from their mamas. I did catch the loud sound of a frog croaking from somewhere in the marsh.
On the way home from the park, I wanted to listen to the news on the radio, but my boys kept interrupting the broadcast. Some days I make a point of turning off the radio and just listening to my son chatter about his observations or ask his complicated and often-times unanswerable questions.
“If we walked just one atom at a time, would it take a year for us to walk a foot?” He laughs at himself and I shake my head. I hope he’ll grow up and learn the answer for himself and then tell it to me.
Sometimes in the evenings while my boys are watching T.V. my husband will call me to his office to watch his latest find on YouTube. He listens to music to relax, and he’ll listen to anything from classical to folk to pop music. One of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos of auditions from the British X Factor talent show.
It’s not something you would ever find me doing on my own, but I’ll sit with him and soon be sucked into the inspiring stories of these talented young people who are finally being discovered. We’ll listen to their best songs and then watch whatever other talented musicians he may have found.
If it weren’t for my husband, I would be completely cut off from pop culture and sometimes even the latest news. That’s what happens when you keep turning off the radio to hear your kids chatter. But their young voices are only here for a brief period of time, and as much as I would like to listen to the news or even my own thoughts, I know I won’t regret spending a little time listening to them.
What have you heard lately?
Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 24, 2013.
This is a magical time of year for my boys, who are four and seven-years-old. That seems to be the perfect age for all this Christmas stuff, and I’m happy to be a witness to their pure joy. Luckily, their excitement is contagious, although I’ve been feeling the urge to hibernate.
It’s cold outside, and I’d like to huddle under the covers and read a good book. I avoid the malls by doing most of my shopping online. I’d like to turn off the computer, but it seems my life is too intertwined with it to shut it down completely. At least I can curl up in my bed with my laptop and avoid social media.
I get sad doing our annual Christmas cards. It reminds me of all my loved ones who live far away, and my failings in trying to keep in touch with them. Christmas is about connecting with people, yet we live so much these days through Facebook. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t feel real to me.
I am warmed by the thought that I can make connecting with those closest to me meaningful, and I can reach out to those who seem to like reaching back. I’m grateful for the distant friends who return e-mails and write letters. I’m grateful for the new friends I have found recently who are becoming so important to my boys and me.
My boys had their first Christmas surprise when my husband suggested we buy a real tree for the first time this year. At first my seven-year-old was upset because putting together the artificial tree with his mom had become a ritual he looked forward to! I wasn’t looking forward to it, though, so I agreed.
After my son realized a real tree was just as big as our artificial tree, he was happy, and both boys were thrilled to pick their own tree out of the hundreds available at the store. At home, after I put on the lights, they did a great job hanging most of the ornaments. I don’t mind the places where the ornaments are squished together. It adds character to the tree.
The boys made me pull out all of our Christmas decorations this year. They weren’t going to let me skimp, so now our mantel has nothing but Christmas cheer on it. Extra lights are strung around the door of our activity room, which used to be the dining room. Another little tree sits by the window in there.
Cooking has never been my forte, but I was determined to do some baking with the boys. We’ve been making apple pies, apple turnovers and homemade animal crackers, which my boys will actually eat!
We’re also reading books and talking about the meaning of Christmas, and we’ve discussed giving instead of receiving. This year, my boys bought a gift for each other with their own money, wrapped it and put it under the tree. But I know they are most excited about receiving their own presents, and what’s a Mama to do? I’m excited for them, and I can’t wait to see their faces on Christmas morning when they see their wishes fulfilled.
Wherever you are, I hope you’re warm, healthy and safe. I hope you’re able to connect with those around you in a meaningful way, and I wish you a Merry Christmas.