I am not much of an activist

I am not much of an activist. You will not find me writing about politics and whom I think you should vote for or what I think you should believe in. I am not going to promote many causes on my blog except for treating your children respectfully and supporting their ideas, and I may also urge you to respect wildlife. This isn’t to say I’m not going to ever share any of my other beliefs and ideals, but at the same time, I usually remain neutral on the big issues. This is because I choose to let this blog focus on my family and our daily life. The simple things.

If you like it this way, then I invite you to stop reading this post. It’s probably going to be the closest I ever get to writing about current affairs that isn’t about education or nature. But I am thinking about what I keep reading in the news and how that affects my children. I wonder what I have to teach my children now to help them navigate such a complicated and sometimes tragic world.

On the morning that I started writing this post, I read headlines telling me about many people who died in bombings overseas, and this made me sad and fearful….I don’t take for granted that I live in a relatively safe place. Not long before that we had a tragic event happen in Orlando, and while I let this post brew inside a folder for a while, we had even more tragic events occur last week. You know what they are. And now there’s Nice, France….I need to post it before I have to add more to this awful list!

I have a hard time following the news when these things happen. I cannot wrap my mind around it, and I feel so horrible for the loved ones who are still living and dealing with these tragic events. While I don’t want to read the news, I make myself read and look at photographs. I’m not in a position right now where I can do much to help other people, but I can try to understand what is happening. I can send out a prayer and hope it touches someone.

There is part of me that cannot understand why it’s not easy for other people to see that we are all connected and that all humans have similar needs and desires. Why do any of us feel the need to kill any other person or group? No matter what you believe in, what ethnic group you belong to, what your sexuality is, or who you want to vote for, you have to get up every morning, use the bathroom, eat, drink, find shelter, and figure out how to make a living. No matter who you are, you need love and companionship. No matter who you are, you will experience happiness, love, disappointment, failure, and sadness. Why can’t we help each other instead of making things harder?

We all have the same needs, but, of course, there are people and groups who experience extreme hardship while others don’t. For example, I can’t begin to understand the racism that black people deal with. (Though I got a tiny dose while I lived as a foreigner in Japan. That was good for me.)

For some reason humans insist on separating themselves from each other. To feel different, better, other than them. Does it really make us feel all that better? None of us can control what circumstances we are born under.

I see the great divides of culture and beliefs, and I understand how deep those currents run and how emotionally connected we are to them. I see how we set ourselves apart. I see how disappointment, anger and fear can rule our judgments. I understand that it can be very hard to put ourselves into someone else’s shoes. I cannot always do it either. I’m sure I say and do insensitive things without meaning to because I haven’t experienced another person’s pain. For all our similarities, we have vast differences too.

Sometimes I get angry. I cannot understand for the life of me why anyone would vote for a racist and misogynist or hold beliefs that uphold ignorance. Or, worse, supports selfish actions. People do not see or think clearly. They think with their emotions and imaginations. They believe what they want to believe. This burns me up.

But what tempers my anger and humbles me is that I know I’m human too. If any other person is capable of those things, I am too. Whatever another person is capable of doing, I am capable of doing that too. Sometimes it’s best to sit with that thought for a while.

As I navigate the headlines and realize that someday, somehow a tragic event may directly touch my family, I wonder what I want to teach my boys. I cannot control outside forces, but I hope, through my example, that my boys will never play a role in bigotry, terror, or wrong-doing. I hope that they will grow up to be kind, loving and gentle, yet I hope they can stand up to injustice, if they ever find themselves in a position where they can do something.

It may sound trite, but I will tell them that sometimes all you can do is the most loving action. Love needs to be their guide. What is the kindest thing you can do?

Understand that movements like Black Lives Matter does not mean anyone thinks any other life doesn’t matter. It just means that these people need to stand up for themselves, and we need to listen and try to understand why.

It means that if someone is different from you, or lives a different lifestyle, you can still be kind. You can still treat them like humans and understand that they want the right to form families and loving communities for themselves. Everyone deserves that.

It means if someone wants to vote for someone I can’t stand, then I need to understand that they have had life experiences that brought them to that decision. What do I not understand?

If another person is willing to live in peace, then live in peace with him. I truly believe that most people want to live in peace. Otherwise, the headlines hitting the news lately wouldn’t be so heart wrenching for us. It’s when people begin to hurt other people – physically or mentally – that we have to take action and stop them from hurting more people. How? I wish I knew the answer to that.

I am not much of an activist because right now my priority is raising my boys and creating a loving and safe home for them, and this takes all my time and energy. I want to give them opportunities in life so that they don’t have to struggle, and perhaps, by doing that, they will grow up to help others not have to struggle.

Perhaps, after all, that is my act.

Time to Say Good-bye (to the newspaper)

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A photo I took of my very first column in the newspaper seven years ago this month.

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 6, 2016. 

It is bittersweet for me, but after writing this column for seven years, I find it’s time to say good-bye.

I started this column when I was pregnant with my youngest son, who will turn seven-years-old this August. Unlike his older brother, he was a much more active baby and toddler. We had to build a cage around our television and speakers to keep him from knocking them over. Somehow I found time to write while he was taking a nap and his brother watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Word World.

Both boys have come a long way since then, and neither of them could bear to watch such childish shows as Mickey Mouse or Word World anymore. Changes happen so quickly that I can’t keep up with them. Luckily I have some of it recorded in my columns. Otherwise, I might only have photographs and a few sloppily written journal entries.

While writing these columns, my husband and I decided we wanted to homeschool our children, and I’ve shared our decision making process and the highlights of our experiences. My eldest son has gone from wanting to be a “snake scientist” to a roboticist and now that he’s almost ten-years-old, he’s considering the life of a classical pianist. (God help us!) It’s been a wonderful journey learning about these subjects with him and teaching other important subjects too.

My six-year-old has had only one interest for the last year and a half, and that’s birds. What fun we’ve had with that! I’m sure this will continue on, and I’m sure other interests will come and go. Though graduation is a long ways off, whatever qualms I had about homeschooling in the beginning have died. Keeping the family together and exploring the world together has been the best decision we ever made. Any other issues are minor and can be worked out over time.

For five of my seven years at the Barrow Journal, I wrote every single week (save one or two), and this proved to be a great learning experience for me. I know writers who sit on their work for years, never quite satisfied with it, and fear keeps them from sharing it with others. When you are forced to write something quickly and get it in on time, you let go of perfectionism. You learn to be happy with things that aren’t quite right because everyone will have forgotten about it the following week anyway.

Sitting down to write or create anything on a regular basis is a great discipline to acquire, and just by doing that, you will get better over time. Not everyone will like your work, but that’s not important. What is important is that you have created something of your own. You have used your time wisely instead of wasting it in front of the T.V. or on Facebook.

If it weren’t for writing this column, Amy Sharony, the owner and editor of home/school/life magazine would not have found me. I’ve been working part-time for her for the past few years, changing my role as my life’s needs have demanded.

I helped her launch the magazine, wrote countless articles, managed the social media, and now I’m pleased to see she’s creating so much more than a magazine. There are online classes for homeschoolers, a store, a blog, a podcast, and most of all, a community of like-minded people who offer support to new and seasoned homeschoolers. (homeschoollifemag.com) Because of the work I’m doing there, I have to prioritize my time, so I’m letting go of some things, including this column.

You can also find me on my personal blog, mamaofletters.com. I will continue to document our homeschooling journey there as well as all the different parks, towns and venues in Georgia we try to visit each year.

I am very grateful to the Barrow Journal, especially Chris Bridges, for allowing me to babble on for all these years. Chris is a kind person, and he has been great to work for, and it’s been a pleasure to be part of his team.

If you are one of the few readers who have enjoyed my column over the years, thank you so much. I hope you will reach out and find me in other places. I am not gone, just moving on. Have a wonderful summer.

 

Homeschooling 3rd Grade Math

Some of this comes from my larger post about our 3rd grade schedule and curriculum, but it goes more in depth on how we did math this year. I’m going to try to do at least one post each year on math and language arts because I know focusing on one subject can be helpful to some people, and it helps me think about how I want to move ahead in these areas.

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I am happy about how far we’ve come in math this year, but if you read my post over on the home/school/life blog, you’ll know it was my academic priority. In previous years, I was concentrating on helping my son learn how to read, and of course, that’s still important to keep up with, but this year, I wanted to ramp up on math.

I have tried various resources for math. With my younger son, I’m using Singapore math, and I really like it. But my nine-year-old son just isn’t into math. He can do it, but he isn’t eager about it. But he loves the Life of Fred math books. He’s told me it’s the only way he wants to learn math. So, okay, I decided that’s what we’d use as our main curriculum, and I’d find other ways of supplementing it.

This year we completed four Life of Fred books. (Yes, four! Which puts us at completing seven total.) This year we worked through Dogs, Edgewood, Farming and Goldfish. I have the next three books, which is suppose to take us through 4th grade, and I plan to start them in the fall.

{I should note that the author of the Life of Fred books suggests that you repeat the books 2~3 times until your child has a solid understanding of the material. But Life of Fred books, if you read all of them, does a good job of reviewing material from previous books, which I like, and my son would be bored, if we were to repeat anything he has done before. Second, he did have a good understanding of the math concepts after reading the books. What he needs practice with is memorizing the addition and subtraction facts and multiplication tables, so we continue to do that with games and apps. Also, I think it’s important to teach him how to take tests, and we would do those things in addition to any curriculum we used.}

I had him do some additional practice in a test prep book because this year I had to test him. You can read about our testing experience in My experience with the PASS standardized test for homeschoolers.

I have also begun to require that my son memorize the times tables, and we started with the three times tables. I put a little chart of “the threes” up on the wall, and I covered the answers. We go over it every time we do lessons. To make it fun, I began timing my son on how fast he could recite the 3 times table, and then he tries to beat his time. To my delight, my six-year-old wanted to join in on the fun. (Let me be clear: It’s fun for the six-year-old because he’s obsessed with numbers. Not so much for the nine-year-old, but he’s willing.)

Now that it’s summer and the testing is over, I’m taking a break from our curriculum, and I’m just having the boys practice their times tables. I’ve found some apps to help with this:

  • The first one I found on google play, and I use it on my android phone, but I think it’s also available on Apple products. It’s called DK Times Tables. It’s a very simple car race game where the player needs to answer the equations correctly to get their car to move forward. Players begin with the ones times table & progress through to the twelves and then a mix of numbers. (But you can pick any number to start with.) The game has the player do the times table in order, then randomly & then filling in a missing number, so it’s quite thorough.
  • The second app is on our iPad, and someday I’ll write a separate post about these apps because they are wonderful. It is 24×7 Digital Teach Me apps. Practicing math is just one component. In the 3rd grade edition, I have it set for my son to practice only the multiplication tables and spelling. He really likes it and even asks to play with it! (I had signed him up for Time4Learning, thinking it would make a nice review this summer, but we have been using this app more, so I cancelled Time4Learning.)

That’s the gist of how we’ve done math during my eldest son’s third grade year. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to answer them, and if you have some 3rd math materials that you love and want to share with others, please leave a comment!

The Story of Sophie

This last week was difficult for me. I made the decision to put my 15-year-old cat to sleep, and this wasn’t easy. She was the last “premarital” pet we owned. She was very social and liked being around the family, often positioning herself so that it was easy for us to pet her. My husband knew her for 13 years, and he loved her too. At the very end, he was running to the pet store (30 minutes away), trying to find food that she would like to eat. I appreciate that more than he’ll ever know.

I got Sophie in 2001, shortly after I moved into a rental house in Athens. It was the first time I was independent enough to rent a place by myself (aside from when I lived out of the country). It was a little mill house that had been built in the 1920s and renovated beautifully. I loved the hardwood floors and built-in bookshelves. I can’t think of that house without thinking about Sophie because she was such a part of it.

When I picked her out at the shelter, it wasn’t just because she was so beautiful. It was because she had the best personality of all the cats I met there. She was clearly affectionate and loyal, marking me as her territory right away. All the other cats seemed frantic and stressed. Later I learned that Siamese cats can become very attached to their owners. (Sophie was a Siamese mix.)

Every other cat I had in my life would always disappear if you brought them to a new home. They would have to explore the whole place, sniff every nook and cranny before you saw them again. But when I brought Sophie home for the first time, she stepped out of the cage, took a brief look around and then came right up to me, giving me a full body rub on the leg as if to say, “Thank you! Thank you!”

When I lived in that little mill house, I worked full-time at the university, and I would come home every day around 5:30pm. I left Sophie outside all day long, and everyday, she would run up to my car door as I got out, meowing a greeting. Some people say that cats only care about humans because we feed them, but I know this wasn’t true of Sophie. There were times she’d greet me, but she didn’t want to be fed. She just stopped by to say hello and then continue exploring the world outside.

My neighbors at that house was a young couple with two little girls, and they had two dogs and cat too. One time the mother told me that Sophie had been hanging out in their backyard with them and their dog, but suddenly Sophie swirled around and darted over the fence toward home. My neighbor said she looked in the direction of my house and saw that my car was pulling up in the driveway.

Sophie was with me during a time of my life that was sometimes lonely because a couple of dear friends moved away from town, and I had not met my husband yet. Although I liked my job okay, I was beginning to realize that working in an office was stifling, and it wasn’t what I was suited for. I would be so tired in the evenings and on the weekends, I couldn’t go out or do much else. But Sophie was my friend. I would sit outside with her and drag a stick through the dirt for her to chase, or I’d watch her climb the big pecan tree in front of the house. She slept with me every evening and greeted me with meows and purring every morning.

When she was little, she refused to leave the boundary of her territory, which comprised of the lot my house sat on plus our neighbor’s lot. So when I went for a walk, she would sit on the edge of that boundary and wait for me. She would howl her head off, if she could see me. Later, in the house where we now live, she began to follow my husband and me on our walks. If we were walking away from the house, she would continue to howl. If we were walking back toward it, she wouldn’t howl, content that we were going in the right direction.

Once she was frightened by some dogs that lived at a house on the other side of the subdivision. They couldn’t get to her, but they barked at her, so she decided to wait across the street from that house on the edge of some woods and wait for us. When we came back by, she was gone, and our neighbors with the dogs (who had been sitting out on their front porch) said that a huge deer stepped out of the woods behind Sophie and scared her, so she ran into the woods. I had to go find her. She had climbed a tree, and when she heard me calling, she ran toward me. I had to laugh, wondering what a little cat would think of a big deer.

Unfortunately, after I moved here with my husband, away from that little mill house and friendly neighborhood of people and animals, we didn’t know we’d move next to a very controlling person who wanted a perfect yard and absolutely no cats walking on his precious lawn. If I had known that, I’m not sure I would have moved here. But such is life, and Sophie had to become an indoor cat. He insisted she’d get used to it, but, of course, she didn’t. Until the day she died, she was trying to escape the house. She loved being outside.

Now that I have a new-found love of science, nature and especially birds, I understand why some people insist on keeping cats indoors. But I still think it’s cruel to keep a cat inside unless you keep her inside from the time she was born so she won’t know any better. That’s my 2 cents anyway.

Sophie was able to roam outside again earlier this year because our neighbor moved away. But because of her health, I later decided to keep her indoors again. I am so thankful for those few months when I could be outside with her again. Since I knew she had failing health, I spent a lot of time with her, loving her, appreciating her presence and how she’s been a great family pet. I couldn’t ask for a better cat, and I’m glad I was able to give her a long life.

Goodbye, Sophie. You’ll be missed.

Nature Watch: Canada Geese

One other Nature Watch from our day at Smithgall Woods State Park.

They wouldn’t let us get too close, but you can imagine our delight when we happened upon these beautiful Canada Geese swimming in a boggy area at the park.

As you may know if you read my blog, my six-year-old loves birds, but he doesn’t always like to go hiking or even outdoors. (Sigh.) It’s at these rare sightings that I get to tell him, “See?! You never would have seen those Canada geese, if we hadn’t gone hiking and exploring!”😉

What happy nature discovery have you made recently?

Nature Watch: Black Rat Snake

A month or so ago, we visited Smithgall Woods State Park, and while we were walking back to the parking lot, we came across this beautiful, medium-sized black rat snake. Black rat snakes are the most common snake in Georgia, so we’ve seen a few of them.

Snakes were my eldest son’s first love. When he was about four-years-old, he learned a lot about them by attending the knee-high naturalist program at the local nature center, and later I bought him a poster of Georgia snakes, which still hangs in his room. We started making a book about snakes too. Even though he’s decided he does not want to study snakes when he grows up anymore, he still loves snakes, and his younger brother thinks they are pretty cool too.

By studying snakes with my son, I learned quite a bit about them, and I know which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Black rat snakes are harmless, but, of course, any snake can bite, if you bother them, so you need to be respectful of them.

Snakes are very beneficial to the environment especially in that they help keep the rodent population in check, so you never want to harm one, if you find one. You might remember that many years ago, we watched a black rat snake eat a squirrel in our backyard, and I caught it on film! (So consider yourself warned, if you click on that link!)

My family has a deep appreciation for snakes, so finding this one was quite a treat!

Summer Day Camps

One morning late in the week I brought my laptop to the garden to get some writing done. I snapped this photo when the kids walked by. My eldest son is in the center, in the red shirt.

Last week my boys participated in a summer day camp at the botanical garden! It was so much fun!

My eldest son has participated in local summer and winter day camps since he was five-years-old. Last year, my six-year-old was five and could finally enroll in one of the summer camps at the botanical garden, which was a week-long half-day camp. He was very nervous about it,  but he ended up loving it. Then he got to attend the three-day spring camp there with his brother this year too.

When my eldest son was five, there were several mini-camps available at the nature center, and I’m sad those don’t seem to be available anymore. He participated in a lot of those, and I feel a little bad that my younger son doesn’t get to participate in as many programs as his older brother did, but I guess it all evens out when you consider all the extra things he does get to do because he has an older brother, and his older brother didn’t have those opportunities.

Getting ready to leave for camp in the a.m.

I think camps are especially useful for homeschoolers because the kids get to interact with regular school kids. There are tons of different summer day camps. Whatever your child is interested in, there is probably a camp for it. You just have to try them out and see what you like best.

My son is a big nature boy, so we tried a week-long camp at the nature center two years ago (which they still offer), but it was not a good fit after all. My son didn’t like it and said he’d never go back. We’ve also done pottery camps (very good!) and a robotics camp (mediocre), but we love the botanical garden camps the best. Usually we let him do two camps each year, but this year we needed to save money, so we let each boy pick one camp each. They wanted to go back to the botanical garden, and they also picked the same week, which helped cut down on driving for us.

My six-year-old performed in a skit with his group at the end of the week for the parents. He’s sitting down in the orange and white striped shirt.

Even though they took the camp together, they were separated into different groups by age, which I’m glad about. Sometimes the boys can use some time away from each other!

This year’s camp was titled Forest Explorers and Early Civilizations. The kids learned about ancient cultures and how they used the forests for survival. I also love the botanical garden camps because my boys get a good dose of nature while they attend, and since the garden limits how many kids can attend, it’s not an overwhelming experience. Plus, I think the garden staff takes care of the kids better than in other programs they’ve attended.

I love the orchids and always take photos of them whenever I’m at the garden.

This was the first time I was going to have a whole week without both boys to take care of, so I was planning to get so. much. done. I was so excited. Unfortunately, I got sick right before the camp, and all I wanted after that was for both boys to stay healthy so that they could complete the camp. So I took great pains to not expose my germs to them. It paid off because they made it through the whole camp. Yay!

But I got very little done.😦 Oh well. At least I was able to rest, and I can always look forward to next year.