Friday, October 17, 2014

Five on Friday: Lessons from a Homeschooling Newbie

Biker Dude started school this year. Kindergarten! I can't hardly believe it.

Something I don't think that I mentioned on the blog before is the fact that we have chosen to homeschool. There were several things that factored into our decision, but I'm not going to go into that in this post. We're about one month into our homeschool journey at this point, and things are going pretty well so far. We have a bunch of friends who are also homeschooling their kiddos, so I was able to get a lot of good advice and help with curriculum from them before we started, which was really great. We've also joined a homeschool co-op group that has proven to be super, super beneficial for both the kids and I. (I'm really glad I signed us up for it, even though it was pretty far outside my comfort zone at the beginning.)

I'm a complete homeschooling newbie. I wasn't homeschooled myself. I'm kinda learning as I go - what works, and what doesn't, where to find resources and get help or support... I'm also learning that here is no "one size fits all" approach to educating your kids. What is working right now for Biker Dude is probably going to need some adjustments in a couple of years when Mountain Girl starts kindergarten. I've always had an interest in teaching, and I'm actually really enjoying myself so far. (Of course, like anything, it does have its moments...)

Anyway, for Five on Friday this week, I'm sharing a few lessons I've learned so far in our journey:

Five Lessons from a Homeschooling Newbie

#5 - If you reach an impasse, break the frustration by approaching the problem from a different angle or break away and do something completely different. Sometimes, Biker Dude just gets totally stuck on a certain point or problem in his work. (Hey... that can even happen to me sometimes.) I'll try to have him look at things from a different angle, or I'll try to explain it in a different way. But if we're still not making any headway with it, we are free to do something else and come back to it later. I love the flexibility that homeschooling offers!

#4 - Find your child's learning style and capitalize on it! Biker Dude has to move, like, pretty much all the time. Getting him to sit still and stay focused for two hours is a real challenge. If he can't stay on his chair for math... we move the chair out of the way and he can stand to do his lesson. (It's not what I would want to do myself, but he likes it!) Sitting and doing alphabet flashcards gets tedious for him, so we play a game where he can throw a ball for each letter he identifies correctly the first time. Same thing with counting - sitting still and counting to 50 gets old, so we go for a walk and count our steps instead. I'm working on helping him to learn to sit still and focus also, but that is something that is going to come with time - I can't force it.

#3 - Be flexible. We use a purchased curriculum, and generally we do one lesson per day... but if things are going very well (quickly, smoothly, and being comprehended well) we can do two lessons in a day. On the flip side, if things are NOT going well at all... we can repeat the same lesson two days in row. I really like to stick to my scheduled lessons, but I'm learning that it is okay to be flexible and make changes and adjustments as needed.

#2 - If at all possible, get the lessons done in the first part of the day. We get up, have breakfast, get dressed and then go downstairs to our school room as soon as we can. It is so much easier and more painless to get our lessons done in the morning than the afternoon. Biker Dude's focus is so much better first thing in the morning. I almost HATE it when our schedule gets switched around and we end up schooling in the afternoon. Today was one of those days. We survived it, but... whew...

#1 - Don't go it alone. Don't isolate yourself. I have found fellow homeschoolers to be very supportive. We can discuss curriculum choices and bounce teaching ideas off of each other. We can get together for field trips, and even just to let our kids play together. Our co-op (as I mentioned above) is just awesome. We meet weekly and us moms take turns teaching things that can be taught more easily in a larger group than at home - art, music, P.E., public speaking (just to name a few). There are also quite a large number of resources available online.

So there you have it! Five lessons from a homeschooling newbie. I'm sure I am going to learn a lot more as our journey continues. If you have been homeschooled, or are homeschooling your children, I'd love to hear about the things that you've learned along the way! Share your thoughts in the comment section below...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Five on Friday: Road Trip!

Well... we made it! We survived!

What did we do, you ask?

Why... we road-tripped across the country - Wyoming to Pennsylvania, and back again - with a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old.

Of course, it had its moments, but overall... it went very well. And we had a wonderful time visiting with all our family and friends in Pennsylvania when we (finally) got there. So, this week I give you some tips for surviving road trips with young kids. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, but it's at least a starting point!

Five Tips for Surviving Road Trips with Young Kids

#5 - Prepare the little ones for the hotel stay beforehand. Mountain Girl had a complete meltdown the first night because she wanted to "go home"(!!!!) and sleep in her own bed. I realized that I had mentioned that we would be staying in a hotel, but I hadn't really explained what that meant... Oops. (And sorry to our hotel-room-neighbors...)

#4 - Always, always, always bring a bucket and paper towels. Always. And keep said items within an arm's reach... always. You just never know when someone is going to get carsick, and it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Trust me.

#3 - As a sort of follow-up to #4, here is a basic list of items I always like to have on hand in the car: A map (printed on actual paper - technology can be fickle), car charger for your phone, first aid kit, water, snacks, old towels, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, tire pressure gauge, jumper cables, a basic tool set, blankets (and maybe travel-size pillows too), extra clothes, etc, etc, etc...

#2 - For long trips, I like to put together a goodie bag for the kids in addition to letting them choose a few of their own toys/books/activities. Some of the things in the goodie bag they may know about (DVDs, coloring books, CDs) and some of the things I like to keep as a surprise. That way, when they get really, really restless and the regular stuff just isn't cutting it, I can dig into my bag and pull out something new. It usually keeps them busy for a while. This time, I made some seek-and-find bottles and road trip bingo cards, and we had some new storybooks and activity books also.

#1 - And the number one tip is... keep yourself sane! Yes, we listened to kid's cds for hours upon hours... but when the kids were sleeping or watching a movie in the back we'd fade the speakers all the way to the front and put on some more "grown up" type music. We also brought snacks (with chocolate on them) that we kept to ourselves. It's the little things...

So how about you? If you've road tripped at all and have any tricks or tips to share, please leave a comment below!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Five (Minutes) on Friday: The Whoopie Pie

Hello, Friday! I don't have a list for you this time, but a post written in (approximately) five minutes.

The Whoopie Pie

Hello, nemesis.

[I'd "insert whoopie pie picture here"... if I had one... Just picture two thick, cakey chocolate cookies with a liberal layer of creamy white icing in the middle.]

The famous whoopie pie. Have you ever eaten one? It's sort of like a hand-held cake, only much, much better. This treat originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (maybe?). The state of Maine tries to lay claim to the invention of the whoopie pie also, but anyone from PA will strongly dispute that! I've enjoyed my fair share of whoopie pies in my life, but I've only made them a few times. And apparently only once since getting married. And my husband doesn't think that I know how to make them. That really got my dander up – any good Lancaster County-raised gal knows how to make a Whoopie Pie! So I set out to prove him wrong!

And didn't I go and prove him RIGHT?!? Ugh.

Halfway through – not nearly enough cocoa powder. As I was unwilling to waste half a pound of butter (have you bought butter lately? wow.) , I improvised and used hot chocolate mix to fill in (also known as setting myself up for failure). And despite the fact that I knew I should reduce the baking soda to compensate for the altitude (over 5000 feet here), I did not do it because I thought I had made the recipe successfully before with no alterations. The batter looked great! It smelled right, too. I spooned it onto the cookie sheets and off to the oven it went! And about ten minutes later, I had... giant, flat, super-dry chocolate pancakes. I tried to redeem myself and baked the remaining batter in a cake pan. And now I have a whole pan of nice-looking, dry-as-breadcrumbs chocolate cake. I'm not convinced that there is any amount of frosting that will be able to help it out. I'm going to chop it up and smother it in pudding and whipped cream and chocolate sauce (hello, trifle!).

I still haven't admitted my failure to him (unless, of course, he's reading this right now). I'm planning on telling him what happened later... just as he's taking his second bite of an irresistible, perfectly baked, made-by-me whoopie pie (next week) (after I go and buy more cocoa) (and alter my recipe). That's my mission for now! I'll let you know how things turn out...

(By the way... hot chocolate whoopie pies are totally possible. The cake does taste good. And it did bake evenly. I think I should spend some more time in the kitchen perfecting that idea...)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Some Assembly Required"

A little more than sixteen years ago PJ and I met each other for the first time. Just over a year later we started dating. And nine years ago (plus a couple of weeks) I married my best friend. I can't believe it has been that long already! When we got married, we were very much “in love”. From my point of view, he was (mostly) perfect. We shared the same interests. We shared the same (or very similar) views on important topics such as children, finances, etc. We talked about anything and everything together. There was no one else I would have rather spent my time with. Thinking of spending the rest of my life with him made my heart skip a beat. *Cue wedding music...

Wait. Stop the music. Stop everything. I have a confession to make: I didn't really love my husband at all when we got married. Well... not in the same way that I do now, anyway.

I think that sounds kind of harsh... but I don't intend it that way. It's just that what I called love at the time was really more of an infatuation. A surface type of love. The kind of love I might have for an awfully cute little puppy, before it chews up my favorite pair of shoes. (Oh dear, I don't think that sounds any less harsh...)

Oh sure, I thought I loved him more than anything. He thought he loved me more than anything, too. Then again, we also thought we knew each other pretty well at the time (but we both found out fairly quickly after we said “I do” how little we really did know about each other, right PJ?). Yup, it didn't take me very long at all to figure out that the feeling I had – which I was sure was true love – was really just... puppy love.

The puppy-love/dating stage was fun! But after the wedding, the realities of married life set in and they began pushing puppy love right out of the picture. Everything from toothpaste conflicts (I can't believe he squeezes the tube from the middle and not the end!!! *yes, I'm serious – we really fought about that*) to very real financial troubles. The reality of living with someone with a chronic illness (and the expense associated with it). The dirty laundry on the floor and not in the hamper. The TV-watching when I thought he should be doing something productive (or paying attention to me, at the very least!)... Some couples (or so I've heard) have a “honeymoon period” of their marriage – six months or a year where all they see are the stars in each others eyes (or something like that) before any real kind of tension begins to surface. We, however, did not. I blame a lot of that on our personalities and - perhaps mostly - our immaturity. (It is easy to look back and identify this now! But at the time, I (of course) was impeccably mature and oh so very perfect and it was my man that was the sole perpetrator of any disturbance of our wedded bliss. Ahem.) … And we hit bottom.

Yeah... it turns out that puppy love doesn't carry a relationship very far when things get tough. At some level I guess I bought into the fairytale that living “happily ever-after” was something that just happened – no assembly required. It turns out that love – real love – is nothing like Hollywood. It is gritty and messy and unbelievable. It takes work – and not just a little bit of it! It takes a lot of work! Cultivating real love that lasts in a marriage requires a husband and a wife to make the choice to love each other and to make a commitment to put forth the effort that it takes. Because believe me – it won't just happen on its own.

Rock bottom was a difficult place to be. The idealized picture of marriage I had held in my mind was shattered. I guess that in my planning and dreaming, I kinda forgot that a marriage is made up of two people with different plans and dreams. PJ's ideas were valuable to him – but not so very valuable to me. My ideas were valuable to me – but not so very valuable to PJ. We reached a point in our relationship where “hopeless” is a pretty good descriptor of how we felt towards the idea of reaching any kind of resolution between our differing opinions of how our life together should go.

Thankfully, somewhere down at the bottom, we found that there still existed a foundation for the continued existence of “us”. Getting past the frustrations and disappointments I found in the beginning stages of our marriage for me meant discovering that PJ was still my best friend... and above all I didn't want to lose him! And most importantly, there was the foundation that came for us from our relationship with God and the fact that we had based our marriage upon Him. We invited Him into our lives and into our marriage as a vital part of both. We stood in front of a crowd of witnesses and promised in front of them and God that we would be together “til death do us part” - and that's not something that we took lightly at all. We chose to make it work. We faced our issues. We got help from our pastor and his wife. We leaned on trusted friends for support. We prayed. We relied on God. We chose to love each other. It was a process – it certainly didn't happen overnight – and we faced setbacks along the way. I'd like to say that we've got it all together now... but it seems that being married is not something that you ever totally stop working on. The times I become complacent and think I can stop working at it are the times that problems arise. And because PJ is a human, and – like all humans (myself included) – can sometimes be a little less-than-easy to love, I have to continue to choose to love him every day, even when I don't feel like it.

Marriage licenses should come with a disclaimer: “Some assembly required”. Yup. But guess what? I love this man now more than anything. Yes – I really truly love him! I know that I do, because I have chosen to. We chose to not give up on each other or on our marriage together even when it was difficult. Even when we couldn't go a day without arguing about one thing or another. The hard work was definitely worth it. Puppy love may be gone... but real, deep, lasting love is so much better than that anyway.

PJ – You are the love of my life. I'm so glad we have each other. I'm blessed to have spent the last nine years married to you, and I look forward to many, many more years together. Thanks for working at this marriage thing with me... I don't know what I'd do without you! I love you!