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.

 

The Ebb and Flow of a Homeschooling Mom’s Life

My azaleas are blooming beautifully this year.

The other day I was browsing the photos I have taken this year. I did that to refresh my memory of what we’ve accomplished this year. The end of the year is fast approaching, and there are several tasks I need to get done. One, I like to update my blog about what we’ve done. Two, I like to create a slideshow every year because it’s so fun for my family to look back on what we’ve accomplished. (I’m really in trouble this year since I’ve taken most of the photos with my phone camera, and those don’t get organized like the ones that go directly into Lightroom. Sigh.)

Three, I have to test my third grader for the first time. Figuring out which test I want to use has been a pain. I have found no detailed information about what each test is like, though I’ve gotten lots of anecdotal bits and pieces from different people who have tried one or the other. I have come to resent the fact that I need to test my child at all. We could spend our time actually learning and doing something useful, but I digress… I know I have no right to complain when teachers have to deal with this practically every month of the school year, and I only have to do it once every three years!

Anyway, when I was browsing those photos we took this past fall, I felt like I was looking at photos I took the PREVIOUS fall. Usually time is going so fast that I look at photos and feel it happened yesterday, so this was an unusual sensation. It felt longer since my in-laws had visited us. It felt longer since we bought that storm trooper Halloween costume. And it felt much longer since my son attended his pottery class and chemical engineering class. But it was this school year that all that happened!

I’m not sure why. Has this ever happened to you?

My guess is that it has something to do with how the rhythm of my day has changed since the winter break. We have less appointments, so I’m not driving as much, though we’re still quite busy. I spend a lot of time planning lessons, executing them, and most of all, my son is playing piano 1-2 hours a day, and we (my husband and I) usually sit to listen. (He needs/wants a bit of coaching.) This makes for a full but relaxing day! I’m not used to relaxing that much, but I like it! And actually, I’m relaxing in other ways too. I exercise more, cook more (I’m on a quest to learn how to bake bread!) and sometimes I watch a television program (by myself!) in the evenings. A year ago if I wasn’t doing something for the boys, I was writing or editing. Every minute of the day I was doing something that needed to get done. My new schedule is making me feel a bit self-indulgent, but I don’t want to give it up!

I also realize that I have not written many blog posts lately, and that makes me sad. I do love blogging. But life ebbs and flows. We have busy seasons, quiet seasons, shifting seasons. I have been ebbing more than flowing, I think, but soon, I am sure words will start to flow again. In fact, they already have, so you can expect more posts from me in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, I hope you’re doing well and enjoying spring. If you have a moment, leave me a comment and tell me what you’re up to.

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?

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.

The Non-Garden

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.

Happy Easter!

Winter Siestas

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!

Life’s Unexpected Twists and Turns

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on July 3, 2013.

We weren’t planning to make any trips this summer, but life threw us a curveball recently when my mother-in-law got into a very bad car accident. Thankfully she’s okay, but my in-laws needed a little help and a lot of cheering up, so one morning we decided we needed to come to Chicago, and the next morning we left for our all-day journey to the Windy City.

I’m still waiting for the day when my husband will decide we’re too old to make the trip in one day, but I realize that day will probably never come. We had such a short time to get ready that we decided to take not only our dogs, which we always take, but our cat too. Yes, you can call us crazy. Besides not wanting to inconvenience anyone, she’s a sociable cat who hates being left alone. At least that’s what I’m telling myself as she sleeps contentedly beside me in Chicago.

Our boys travel like angels and only whine if they get too hungry, so we do our best to avoid that. We let them watch DVDs on the drive up, but one movie and a few shows doesn’t pass a 15 hour drive quickly enough. We were all exhausted and ready for bed when we arrived.

Luckily my husband works from home, so he was able to bring his office with him. He’s been busy dealing with work matters as well as helping his parents with insurance matters, purchasing a car and doctor’s appointments.

My poor father-in-law was given another blow tonight when his water boiler broke and spilled water all over the basement floor. As the darkness covers the sky, two neighbors and my husband are helping him try to solve that problem. Sometimes when it rains it pours.

Though my boys may be too little to fully understand what’s happening – for them it’s all adventure – I’m glad they’re here as we act out some of the family values we’re trying to teach them. It’s our job to help each other when we’re able to. Families need to stick together.

It’s something I value very much about my Polish in-laws and extended family. When push comes to shove, they all stick together. It doesn’t mean everyone always gets along perfectly, but no one ever shuts anyone else out.

While we can’t exactly call this a vacation, we decided we would have some fun too. Since we live in rural Barrow County, it’s a big treat for me to be here awhile with the grocery stores, fruit market and other amenities within a five-minute drive.

In fact, I can’t get used to it, and while shopping with my mother-in-law, I rushed her through it because we forgot a cooler and “oh the ice cream is going to melt on the way home!” When I remembered that we were five minutes from home, I understood the strange look I got for that!

There are two parks within walking distance to my in-laws house, and I’m not sure who enjoys walking to them more – me or my boys. There’s also a wonderful library a few blocks away, and it’s almost enough to make me want to move to the city. But don’t worry — it won’t take long for me to miss our large yard, garden and sparse traffic.

On Saturday we visited the Chicago Botanical Garden, and we spent a long time in their butterfly habitat, which seemed like a perfect conclusion to our experience of raising butterflies. We also had a mission to find the carnivorous plants, which is my six-year-old’s latest interest and quickly becoming his next project. He told me he wants to grow them at home, so stay tuned for our adventures with that!

We will go to at least one museum while we’re here and visit with family, but we’ll be happy to return to Georgia, our friends, summer camps, and lazy summer afternoons where we’ll be too far away from anything to bother with the shopping or other errands.

***

FYI We are home now!