Happy New Year

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High five if you can guess what restaurant we’re at here. 🙂

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, January 6, 2015.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already 2016. It seems like yesterday when I wrote a column about the beginning of 2015 – we had a rough start to that year. My husband spent New Year’s Eve in the ER and later had to follow up with several doctor’s appointments, and he almost needed surgery. We had to change health insurance, lose our beloved doctor of many years, and my husband learned about many stressful changes happening at his workplace (and those are still happening).

Later still, I ended up in the ER one night, and at another time, I had to get to urgent care quickly. All this plus my kid’s routine check-ups, and I felt like the beginning of 2015 was nothing but doctor’s appointments. But all that passed, thankfully.

Then, of course, came the home repair. Yes, 2015 was not only about health issues, but some serious home improvement projects…many more than we had anticipated. (This is what happens when you’ve lived in your house for 12 years!) Thankfully my father-in-law visited just in time to help us out with some of the work, and eventually, all that stress passed too.

If nothing else, 2015 reminded me that bad things happen to us, but 95% of the daily stresses we endure are washed away in time. Whatever I am worried about today, by next year, it’ll probably be forgotten. Sometimes all it takes is a week, or even a good night’s sleep. As long as we and our loved ones are healthy, fed and making the best choices we can, things usually work out.

So now I can look back on all the good things that 2015 had to offer, and the first thing that comes to mind is our short trip to see Cloudland Canyon in May. We stayed in a near-by cabin, and the area was so beautiful that I still long to go back. We also took many day trips this year. We went to Greenville, SC; Macon, GA; Milledgeville; Dahlonega and more. Nothing we did was very expensive, but it still gave us many good memories.

In 2015, our nine-year-old surprised us by wanting to take piano lessons, and he’s proving to have a natural talent at it. My husband and I enjoy the twice-daily concerts! My six-year-old continues to love drawing (mostly prehistoric creatures), and he also loves birds. He’s making us all into “birders.” Having a cardinal family nest right outside our living room window this summer was a delight to all of us.

The boys went to a variety of camps and classes this year, and we continued to meet with friends who become dearer as each year passes. No matter what kind of stress we faced, nothing dampened the joy of educating and spending every day with these curious, imaginative kids.

Now I am looking forward to 2016, which will hopefully have less health and home improvement projects, but will continue to enrich us with more day trips, good music, secure work, enough work, a warm home, good friends, and quiet days to play and reflect on how lucky we are.

I hope 2016 will give you the best of new beginnings or the continuation of peace and security. Happy New Year!

My Favorite Posts of 2015

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For the first time, we stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Of course, we had to take some silly selfies in the dark while we waited for the ball to drop.

I hope that 2016 is a wonderful year for you and your family! I want to thank all of you for reading my blog, “liking,” commenting and occasionally e-mailing me. Connecting with other people, especially about homeschooling and parenting is what brings joy to my life, and I hope you will continue to reach out. Thank you so much for taking the time to read whether it was one post or many. I hope what I offer helps you even a little bit!

I thought I would take a look back at some of my favorite posts from 2015. I tend to like the ones that are about my kids and their projects the best because, as you know, they’re my favorite people, and they inspire me to be the best I can be.

Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

Art Fridays: Homeschool Art Lessons — I’m looking forward to getting back to this in the new year!

Piano Lessons

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

I’m also pretty proud of How to Make a Big History Timeline for Your Wall.

In addition to this, I have many great memories from our trip to Cloudland Canyon this year as well as our other day trips, which we take as often as we can.

Finally, this is the year that my husband launched his History for Homeschoolers — all his college history lectures online for free!

I also decided to offer Free Homeschool Coaching, and I hope you’ll take me up on it!

Happy New Year!

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Counting My Blessings at Christmastime

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Artwork I commissioned my six-year-old to do. “A T-Rex eating a Christmas tree.”

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on December 23, 2015.

As I write this, my nine-year-old is completing the last class of his homeschool chemical engineering class, and there are many blessings in that. 1) He enjoyed the class and learned a few things, which I’m glad about. 2) It’s the last day I have to drive him to this class, and I’m probably gladder about that. In fact, I’ll have a couple of weeks when I don’t have to drive my kids to four different appointments. It’s a small blessing, but I welcome it.

I feel extremely blessed that, for the most part, I am in charge of our schedule. We already took a break from spelling, handwriting, math etc. so that we can prepare for the holidays. Our tree is decorated with lights and ornaments, many of them hand-made, and lights are draped along the wall. Another small-lighted tree sits in the front window. The boys are bubbling with excitement as Christmas day approaches.

The Christmas books have been pulled from their storage place, and we’re reading about the true meaning of Christmas as well as the trouble Curious George causes this time of year. One day my six-year-old told me he had an idea for how to make some Christmas ornaments, so we got out the cardboard, scissors, glue and paints, and he’s been working on those. Both boys make a good supply of paper snowflakes each year too.

Despite the challenges and financial stress homeschooling comes with, I feel blessed to see the boys grow and have the time to pursue their interests. My nine-year-old was in his first piano recital this month – a Christmas recital – and my husband commented on the fact that if he were going to school, he wouldn’t have much time to practice. I doubt he’d be taking lessons at all considering homework and the downtime he would need.

We took advantage of one of the warmer days recently to visit Dauset Trails nature center near Jackson, Georgia, and we were delighted with the small zoo and trails they have there. We’ll go back again to explore. I feel blessed to live in a state with such a rich assortment of national, state and private parks and other sites to visit. We never run out of places to explore. On top of that, we never run out of things to learn about. Our whole world is fascinating and beautiful, if you know the right things to put your attention on.

I enjoy Christmas and the holidays, and this year is promising to be a good one, but I know many people have a hard time at the holidays, and I know I’ve had some sad ones too. If nothing else, this time of year always reminds me that I don’t have the close, extended family I would like to have. Divorce, lifestyle, beliefs, politics…you name it, and there are more reasons for why my family members each stay in their corner of the United States at this time of year.

But the blessing here is that as we grow older and become more independent, we have the power to begin anew with our own families, start our own traditions, and try to do better. We can put our attention on the people who do make our world a better place, and even though it can be very hard sometimes, we can work toward our own goals. And as we get even older, we’ll continue to meet and greet new people into our lives who make this world a better place. Cultivate love, and your life will bloom.

As I wrap up this column, I can see my son in his classroom, shaking some kind of chemical concoction in a plastic bag and laughing with his classmates. I know that on the way home, he’ll tell me what he was making in the class, and he’ll tell me the odd thing or two he learned today. That is always my favorite time of day. It’s a big blessing.

I hope that your holidays are a blessing to you. I hope you are warm, healthy and with the people you love. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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?

The Day of the Dead

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.

Since my son and I are learning Spanish together, I decided to celebrate the Day of the Dead or “Dia de los Muertos,” which is celebrated over two days, November 1st and 2nd.  The purpose of Dia de los Muertos is to remember and honor friends and relatives who have passed away. It’s not supposed to be scary or morbid. Instead, it’s a celebration of their lives and a way to remember that death is a part of life for everyone.

The roots of this ancient holiday can be traced back thousands of years to the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. After the Spanish conquest, the festival blended with Spanish customs, and eventually became Dia de los Muertos. It’s celebrated throughout Mexico, and Mexican Americans and other people around the world celebrate it too. The holiday continues to evolve as each culture puts its special spin on it.

I like the holiday because it is another way for me to teach my boys about their ancestors and the people who were once an important part of my life. Sharing family history and stories is important for children because it teaches them where they come from and gives them a sense of belonging.

Honoring the dead is a tradition from my husband’s family, and each Memorial Day we visit the cemeteries where some of my ancestors are buried. Those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos may visit cemeteries now and clean the gravesites and decorate them with flowers and other memorabilia, but since we visit cemeteries on Memorial Day, I decided we would celebrate Dia de los Muertos in a more simple fashion at home.

I chose to make a “shoebox altar” to honor my grandmothers and our more recent animal friends who died in the past few years.  My boys can remember Millie, our dog who died over a year ago, so I thought the celebration might have more meaning for them by including a friend they remember.

Altars are decorated in bright colors. Flowers, particularly marigolds, toys, photographs, bread and other foods are all traditional items that may be placed on an altar. The idea is to invite the spirits of the deceased to come back and celebrate the day with you.

I remember that both my grandmothers had plenty of sweets on hand whenever I visited them, so I put some candy under their photos. They also loved flowers and gardening, so my boys and I made some flowers out of tissue paper to add to the altar. For the dogs, my son put out a little dog food, and since Millie loved to steal our socks, we put a sock out for her as well.

The most common symbol of Dia de los Muertos is the calacas or skeleton.  Again, it’s not supposed to be scary. Calacas may be dressed in colorful clothes or painted with flowers and religious symbols.  I made a skull out of paper mache, and I decorated it with flowers and my favorite colors. My boys laughed at it, which was the reaction I was hoping for.

Every evening I make up a story for my seven-year-old, but on these two nights, I retold him the stories I remember my grandmothers telling me about their childhoods. I don’t know if their spirits actually visited our house those days, but by making the altar, looking at photos, and reminiscing, I felt the spirit of their lives and how they helped shape me as a person. It felt good to honor and remember them.

Merry Christmas and My Gift to You

the three-year-old's handiwork

Merry Christmas. Wherever you are, or whatever you are celebrating today, I hope you are warm, healthy, and well-loved.

And now is as good of a time as any to start what I hope will be a new tradition on this blog….my sharing stories with you.  I’ve been thinking about it for awhile, and I don’t know if you will care to read the stories I tell my son in the evenings, but every once in a while I happen to tell a good one – not a perfect story or publishable story but a story that I like – and I’m hoping that by sharing a few with you, you might be encouraged to tell stories to your own children.  Unfortunately, it’s not the same when I write them down as when I tell them off the top of my head. Clearly I am editing and polishing as I write, adding a detail that makes more sense, or eliminating the pauses, the “oh wait…I forgot to say,” and the “uuuummmms.”  And I never remember it exactly as I told it even though I try to type it right after the telling.  

I told the story below to my six-year-old the night before Christmas Eve, and I surprised myself with it because it came so effortlessly, although I had no idea how it would end when I started it! That doesn’t always happen!

You don’t have to tell a perfect story to your children. You are not trying to get published. Anything you have to say, anything you make up that is for them and only them will be treasured by your children. And the more you tell, the better you’ll get at it. I hope you’ll start a ritual tonight. If you want, borrow my story or part of it. Whatever you do, trust yourself that you know how to tell stories.

A Christmas Story by Shelli Bond Pabis

Once upon a time there were some children who lived with an old man and woman. The children weren’t siblings, and they didn’t have any parents, which is why the old man and woman were taking care of them.

Christmas was coming, and the old man and woman didn’t have much money.  The children each had something they were wishing for though.

The first little girl wanted a doll she had seen in a store window.  It was a fabulous doll with shiny, blond hair, blue eyes and a beautiful dress.  She wanted it more than anything in the world.

The little boy was hoping to get a book he had seen in a shop.  It was a book of adventure stories!  He loved adventure stories, and he wanted to read all the stories in this big book.

The last little girl wanted a puppy more than anything else. Unfortunately, the old man and woman didn’t have enough money to buy a puppy, and they had even less time to take care of one!

When Christmas arrived, the children were excited and had great hopes that morning!  The first little girl found one package under the tree, but when she opened it, she didn’t find a doll.  Instead, there was some pretty cloth and blue yarn. Blue was her favorite color.  She was very disappointed, but she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The little boy noticed there was something in his stocking!  It felt like a book! But when he reached inside, he found a crisp new notebook, and nice new pen.  He was very disappointed, but he was a good little boy, so all he said was “thank you.”

The last little girl found her present under the tree.  It was a little box, so she knew a puppy wasn’t inside.  She very disappointed, and when she opened it, she found it was full of seeds!  Seeds?!  But she was a good little girl, so all she said was “thank you.”

The boy took his pen and notebook to his room and stashed them under his bed, and then he forgot about them and went outside to play.  The little girl with the seeds took them to her room and placed them on her dresser because there wasn’t much she could do with seeds in the winter.

The old woman told the first little girl that they would make her a new dress with the pretty cloth because the little girl really needed a new dress.  Together they worked on it in the evenings, and girl learned a lot about sewing.  When it was finished, she did love the new dress, especially since her old one was looking very drab. There was some cloth left over, and the old woman said perhaps they could also make something else.

“There’s not enough cloth here for another dress,” the little girl said.

“But there’s enough for a doll’s dress,” the old woman said.

The little girl’s eyes brightened, and together the old woman and she worked on making a doll!  They used the leftover cloth and yarn and some scraps from the old’s woman’s sewing basket.  When they were finished, the little girl thought this doll was even better than the one she had seen in the store window!  She was very happy!

Meanwhile, the little boy had been playing and pretending outside in the snow!  He came up with all kinds of adventures, and sometimes he played with some neighbor boys down the road.  One night after a full day and some grand adventures, he went to his room to rest, and he saw something poking out from under his bed.  It was the notebook and pen. 

‘I should write down what I did today,’ he thought.  So he did.  He wrote all about the adventure, and it was fun!  Then he began to write down all the adventure stories that he came up with in his head.  By the time spring came, he had filled his notebook, and when he read it over, he thought his stories were quite good!  He let his friends read the stories, and they laughed and had fun remembering their adventures that winter.  The boy was very happy, and he continued to write stories and share them for the rest of his life!

Finally when the frost had past, the last little girl took her seeds to the back of the yard and found a sunny place to plant them.  She didn’t know what they were, and she wondered what they would grow into, so she took good care of them.  She watered them, weeded the bed and fertilized them.  They grew into tall bright pink and red flowers!  They were quite beautiful, and she was proud that she had managed to grow them!

There was a farm next door with some animals, and that spring, the farm dog had a litter of puppies.  When they got big enough, one of the puppies started to explore the yard, and he saw something bright red and pink that he wanted to investigate!  When he found the flowers, he also found the little girl, and she was delighted with the puppy.  He licked her face, and she carried him to the old man and woman.

“I think our neighbor’s dog just had some puppies.  Let’s go see if this puppy belongs to him.”  They put the puppy in a little cart and walked over to the next farm.

Sure enough, the puppy belonged to the farmer who could clearly see that the little girl was already in love the dog. 

“I was going to take this litter of puppies to town to see if I could sell them, but it looks like this one has already found a home.”

“Really?” the little girl asked.

“If you can prove to me that you can take good care of him, I’ll let you have him.”

“I’ll take good care of him!  I promise,” she said.

The old man agreed.  He told the farmer how the little girl had planted her seeds, watered and tended them and helped them grow.  “I think she’ll make a good mother to this little puppy.”

“In that case, he’s yours,” said the farmer.

The little girl was very happy!

Tell me some of your favorite Christmas tales!