Why Do I Blog?

I sometimes ask myself this question. There is no reward in blogging except for the infrequent but kind remarks left in the comments. There is even less reward in writing a newspaper column. (I will comment no further on that.)

Sometimes I get tired of writing about myself because I wonder who really cares? There are millions of mommy blogs, and only a few people land on my site. I don’t expect them to stay or leave comments, though I would love for them to. I rarely have time to read the blogs I enjoy, so how can I expect others to keep up with mine? Unless it’s a relative of mine, I don’t expect people to care. I’m not being callous or negative…honest! I’m just stating a fact.

Sometimes I think it’s kind of silly that I blog or write anything publicly, but it also seems a natural transition from those days I used to fill notebooks with my thoughts and daily activities. If the technology was available back then, I probably would have blogged.

Blogging is like keeping a journal except that it’s more focused and more well-written than the scribbles in a diary. It is a practice. It is a meditation. It’s how I process my thoughts. It’s how I unwind. It’s how I make sense of the world.

Because I focus this blog on homeschooling (mostly), that shows that this is my main work. As I write out what my kids are doing, what resources they use, and how we structure our days, I’m able to see the big picture more clearly and understand if it makes sense or if we need to change something. How many times have I gotten an idea while I’m planning my blog posts? Many.

I have gone long spells without writing anything, and I’ve noticed that my mind starts to get a little muddled, and I feel less organized. Do other writers experience this?

I have noticed that when I blog like this — simple reflections on my life — I have more mental energy to put into my freelance writing.

I also think that writing helps me remember things. Sorting photographs, putting words to them, and recounting experiences helps solidify them in my memory. I have a pretty bad memory in general, so maybe this is why I feel the need to write everything down. (Or maybe I have a bad memory because I write everything down, and my mind doesn’t need to remember it.)

Writing in general is a very lonely process, and being a stay-at-home mom can be very lonely too. I suppose I blog for those infrequent but kind comments that occasionally connect me with another human being, someone who is going through a similar situation, someone I can reach out to and say, “Hello. Do you see/feel/do this too?”

Thank you to those who take the time to read my blog, and double thanks to those who leave comments as well. I really appreciate you.

 

Is Homeschooling Hard?

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on November 11, 2015.

While I was running errands in Winder recently, someone asked me if homeschooling is hard. Since I was having a good day, I said, “Not really. Not if you like learning and don’t mind doing some research.” By that I meant that if you don’t mind engaging in the learning yourself, and if you’re willing to search for the right materials and activities, it’s not that hard to teach your kids. But that doesn’t mean that homeschooling isn’t hard sometimes

I’m sure different moms would have different answers to that question, but I don’t believe the challenges I face are any different than what is hard for any parent. Raising kids is difficult no matter how you decide to educate them, and everybody has different opinions on how to do it.

Knowing what is best for any child is always difficult because every child is different. What worked for one of my boys may not work for the other whether I’m teaching him how to read or teaching him how to behave at the dinner table. We have bad days just like everyone else, but they come and go. Children go through phases, present different challenges, and parents get frustrated and impatient all the while searching for the right solution, even if there isn’t one. Fortunately, most struggles are worked out over time.

Just like any parent, the most difficult thing for me is that there aren’t enough hours in the day. On three week days, one or both boys have outside classes and activities that I drive them to, so I do most of our “formal” lessons with them on three other days (including Saturday) from about 9-2pm. I usually prepare and go over my lesson plans the night before.

In the afternoons and evenings, I am “free,” but of course, there are several things I “should” be doing. 1) Cooking a nutritious meal for my family. (This usually turns into “what can I cook in 20 minutes or less?”) 2) Cleaning. (This gets partially done.) 3) Exercising. (Not just for pleasure anymore. During the past few years when I put off exercising, I developed bursitis in my right hip, and exercising helps to relieve the pain.)

4) Writing. (Again, not for pleasure. We need the extra money. I already wrote a column about the difficulties of a family trying to live on one income, and that remains high as one of our challenges.) 5) Take care of all the other things that come up in a family of four. (i.e. enduring endless interruptions in my work.) Clearly, I can’t do all of this in a short afternoon or evening, so a lot doesn’t get done, or I do a sloppy job of doing a little bit of everything.

A lot of people think that homeschoolers aren’t socialized properly, and I’ve learned that those people are quite ignorant of what homeschooling is about. My boys’ social life is not the problem – it’s mine! My boys enjoy long play dates with friends, classes and camps with kids of different ages, and visiting museums where interesting adults talk to them. All the while, I am busy driving them places and missing the time and energy I once had to join groups with common interests such as the photography guild and writing groups.

Don’t get me wrong – I have some wonderful friends who I have met through homeschooling. I enjoy talking to these other moms about homeschooling and motherhood. But I am not just a homeschooling mom, and I miss meeting people who share creative goals.

Equally difficult is meeting moms who don’t homeschool or working moms. They have different schedules, and sometimes they look at me strangely. Either they think I’m crazy or they wonder if I’m judging them for not homeschooling, which couldn’t be further from my mind. Once a couple rolled their eyes when I said I homeschooled. As a homeschooling mom, I am subjected to all kinds of stereotypes, and this can be frustrating, and at times, painful.

But as I said before, most of these are challenges that a lot of parents face, and every parent has endured the “opinions” of other well-meaning parents. So homeschooling usually is not “hard” for me. When I love what I do most of the time, it’s enjoyable, and I accept the sacrifices. I wouldn’t expect everyone to feel this way because just like children, adults are all different too.

 

Paying Attention to Mama

I have been holding out on you. I have many photos I want to share under my Nature Watch tag. Many of them I took last spring when we went to Cloudland Canyon State Park on vacation. I just haven’t had time to post them, but I’m going to remedy that.

The photos on this page were taken at the front fountain at the state botanical garden. These are pitcher plants, which as you know, we’re very fond of.

The reason I’m making a point to renew my commitment to do Nature Watch posts is that lately, I have been in a sort of funk. Not a Whole Life Funk. I have a good life, which I love, and I have no right to complain about. But I’m having a What-Do-I-Want-To-Do-Professionally-Funk. Though I’m still writing and editing, I’m having a writer’s block. That probably doesn’t make sense, so I’ll explain. I feel there’s something I really want to work on, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s something else I want to do besides writing the same ol’ columns, but I can’t quite figure it out. I am restricted by time, money, and well, I need to make money, so that’s a restriction too. I can’t just go back to journal-keeping and be happy with it. I also want something I can build upon once my children are grown.

So I’m wondering what I want to do. Write a book? Actually, I already started one, but I’m losing confidence in it. Does the world really need another book by a homeschooling mom telling about her experience which may or may not help the experience of other mothers with very different children? Sigh. Should I try writing a column for another venue? Should I try cracking into more freelance writer markets? I can’t decide what I want to spend my limited time doing. Because when I do decide, I put my 100% into it, so I want it to be worth it.

I am really stuck.

I was really feeling down about this, but today I realize that while I’ve been “stuck,” I’ve started taking the time to pay more attention to the things I really love. (I’m talking about things besides family-children-homeschooling.)

One of those things is nature. Even though I don’t have much time or the proper equipment, I can take some pretty nature photos, and I’m going to try to share my work when I find the time. On Twitter, I made a “nature” list, and I’m adding people there who do wildlife photography. Whenever my boys and I spot some wildlife, I’m going to tweet about it (I also keep a hand written journal) whether or not I have a photo. This is transforming how I use Twitter, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I am also promising to start posting my “Nature Watch” photos that I’ve been holding onto with good intentions these past few months. If you enjoy nature photography, you can also follow my photography blog. Doing these things also helps me when we don’t find the time to get out to the local parks and go hiking, especially during this unusually long rainy season we’re having.

I have never written about this before, but I’m also doing yoga regularly. I started about a year and a half ago, but it took awhile to commit to a regular practice. I love it. I want to keep learning about and doing yoga even though right now that means learning through books/online tutorials and doing a 15 minute (sometimes interrupted) practice 4-5 times a week.

I also want to learn how to use some software on my computer. This means taking the time to do some online tutorials. I have no idea when I’ll find the time for this, but it’s on my “list.”

I’m also paying attention to the fact that I have felt lonely for quite a while. It seems strange to say that when I have some great friends, and I have a husband and two boys I love being with and talking to. No, this kind of loneliness is for something else. I miss knowing people who are driven to create. Writers. Artists. Or even nature lovers who like to take long walks and muse about the mysteries of the universe. I used to facilitate writing groups. I used to having walking buddies, but they moved away. Others have very different life situations. It’s hard for me to make time for people when I can’t bring my children with me, and then find something to occupy them with. I don’t think I can remedy this problem until my kids are a little older, but it’s still there. At least recognizing it helps me with some goal setting.

I’m hoping nature, yoga and gaining some other skills will help unstick me and eventually lead me to new people I have other things in common with. What do you do when you feel stuck?

Not All Clutter Is Equal

Note: This column appeared in the Barrow Journal on March 25, 2015.

I hear a lot about clutter. It’s a buzzword for stay-at-home moms and probably any parent my age. Kids come with a lot of clutter, and shucks, if you’ve lived in the same place for long enough, you’ll accumulate plenty of clutter with or without kids.

Most of the time, clutter is spoken like a dirty word. “I hate this clutter.” “I can’t get rid of all this clutter.” “What I am going to do with this clutter?” “I’m drowning in clutter!”

I admit, I’ve said all that too. I whittle away at our clutter whenever I get the chance, which isn’t often, but now that the boys are older, it is not as insurmountable of a task as it used to be. I recently went through one of my son’s closets and my own closet. I have a bunch of boxes in the back of my van and ready to donate next time we go into town.

For the past two years before Christmas, I have convinced the boys to pick out whatever they are willing to part with to donate. I tell them that they have to make space for the new toys that are coming. The first year they put together one good-sized box. This year, we had several boxes, and I was proud of them. Despite this, however, we still have clutter everywhere.

But not all clutter is equal, and I have learned to live with a certain amount of clutter, mostly out of necessity. For example, there’s no way I’m going to convince my husband to clean up the clutter on his dresser or bathroom counter. (If I do it, I get fussed at for throwing out some important piece of information.) And since I keep my fare share of clutter, I don’t have a leg to stand on anyway. (But at least I clean mine up sometimes.)

As I said before, kids come with a lot of clutter, and I don’t mind the toys on the living room floor. We clear it out and sweep and mop when we have time, but I don’t try to do that everyday. What is the point when everything will be put right back on the floor the next day? Instead of making them clean everything everyday, I have the kids clean up their dishes and sweep the floor after meals. They also have to make sure the walkways are clear so that no one will trip during the night. In the event that they make an unreasonable mess, they are ordered to clean it right away.

Perhaps the biggest clutter control that I have to deal with is my kid’s projects. My sons are always making something. My five-year-old likes to draw, and stacks of artwork emerge out of nowhere. My eight-year-old likes to make things out of cardboard or paper or any of a number of craft supplies that are spilling out of an old dresser I use to keep this stuff.

Currently our activity room (the former dining room) has a box of paper dinosaurs (origami style) in one corner, and a desk filled with clay artwork, a cardboard ship, mechanical hands made from old cereal boxes and string, and my son’s unfinished Jabba the Hut puppet. There are homemade (and store bought) posters squished between the wall and bookshelf, and my son’s robotics kit sits up on that old dresser along with a globe. On the floor are newspapers spread out with Styrofoam balls and paint because my son is making models of the planets. (His idea.) Add to this all our books and other homeschooling supplies, and you have one cluttered room.

I’m sure this clutter would make most mothers feel insane, and I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me a bit loopy sometimes, but mostly, I don’t mind. When I look at it, I don’t see a mess. I see time well spent. I have chosen, in this era of my life, to make fostering my kid’s imaginations a priority over clutter. I spend a little less time cleaning the house so that I can do more projects with them. I let them decide what to keep and throw away (usually) because I want to show them I care about their work. I have always told them not to do any damage to anyone else’s work, and I abide by that rule too. When I do that, they feel respected, and they do more good work.

The thing is, these boys are going to outgrow these toys and projects quickly. There will come a day when I can clear most of it out, and later a day will come when the boys move out of the house and take more with them. At that time, I can declutter to my heart’s content. And I know I will sorely miss the days that projects were strewn all over the shelves and floors.

The Joy of Salamanders and Other Natural Things

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.

Robot Mom

The only photo of me taken on our vacation – taken on our first night in the condo by daddy with his tablet. (Because I’m usually taking all the photos.)

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.

An Interview on Days With The Grays

If you’d like to learn more about me and my creative work, you can head over to Days With The Grays where I participated in a Creative Mothers interview. All the interviews in that series are inspiring to read! I hope you’ll read them and then find the creative spark within yourself. You can do it!!

Thank you, Megan, for letting me participate. Click here to read the interview.