Friday, February 21, 2014

15 things I've Learned About Homeschooling

We've been homeschooling for 3 and a half years now.  I've taught my kids to read, worked through math struggles with them, and even watched friends and family make the decision to homeschool themselves.  :)
It's been wonderful, and I wouldn't choose anything else for our family.  It's definitely been a learning experience, though, and I thought I'd share some of the things I've come to discover since we started a few years ago.

15 Things I've learned about homeschooling:

1.   It's not for everyone.  This one needs to be mentioned first.  I'm a HUGE fan of homeschooling, because it's so perfect for us and it works so well for our situation (and I love it).  But I know that it's a calling, we're not all called to the same things, and that's okay.  Just like parenting styles, food choices, and clothing styles are all individual choices, traditional schooling vs.homeschooling is a choice and what works for one may not be the right fit for another.  Don't ever judge or feel that your way is the best way.  Frankly, that's pretty arrogant.

2.  It's not easy.  It's not.  It requires patience by the bucketful, organization, dedication, discipline, and a recall of all those math lessons you learned in 8th grade that you forgot years ago. But it's worth it.

3.  You will want to quit. It's true.  There are good days, for sure.  But ohhhh...the bad days. When life happens and your kids are cranky and uncooperative, your house is falling apart, and someone *accidentally* throws a pencil at a sibling.  It happens.  Do your best to find the humor in it (after taking care of the pencil situation, of course).

4.  Your kids will fight you to do school, just like they fight you in other areas.  I don't know how things go in your household, but my kids wake up and just want to play and have fun. They know they have responsibilities, but they're not very happy about it.  And when school time interferes with the 12 hours of Minecraft they were hoping for, they put up a big stink about phonics and times tables (at least, mine do).  Working on discipline and consistent expectations won't get rid of all the fights, but it definitely helps.

5.   Homeschooling encourages individuality and possibly weirdness (embrace it).  We were fortunate to join a homeschool co-op this past Fall, and I remember having an actual moment when I realized how different the homeschool kids really are.  Sure, they participate in the latest trends and they're very much like their traditional-schooled peers, but there's something about them that makes them...different.  And that *thing* is their own sense of individuality.  I see it in so many of these kids, including my own.  It makes sense to me, when I stop to think about it...when you're surrounded by your siblings all day, do you want to look like them, dress like them, and act just like them?  No way!  You focus on your uniqueness.  And when you're surrounded by family who loves you for you, and encourages you to be yourself (and not wandering the halls of the local junior high and trying your best to "fit in" every day), you have the courage and confidence to be you.  I'm sure there are exceptions to this, but in my personal observations, individuality is the norm.

6.  No two homeschools are the same.  One of the benefits in homeschooling is the ability to tailor things to your own style.  I love reading, so our curriculum uses a lot of books to teach, and less workbooks and hands-on learning.  In another homeschool, there might be minimal reading, but many projects and field trips.  You do what works for you, and your children.

7.  Comparing yourself to other homeschoolers can be a bad, bad thing.  This one goes hand in hand with #6.  In our homeschool, we don't do many crafts and hands on projects, because I stink at them.  It's true.  I see other homeschool families who build life size teepees in their living room, or an entire model of the solar system, to scale, and I feel really, really guilty.  But you know what?  My kids are perfectly happy with the few projects I manage to pull off every year, and I haven't heard any complaints or comparisons from them.  And they love when it's time for me to read to them, but it's something I enjoy, and that makes me enthusiastic about it.  It shows in the way I read the words and tell the story.
Find what works for you and embrace it, not compare it to others.

8.  Just when you think you have your curriculum and teaching styles set, things will need shaken up a bit.  This one I really struggle with, because I'm not a fan of change.  I want to stick with one thing, forever, and not even question it.  But a year ago, I noticed that my kids were outsmarting their math curriculum, and not truly learning the concepts being taught.  I also wanted more repetition with previously taught concepts.  After doing some research and talking with other homeschoolers, I made the switch to a new math curriculum and I am SO GLAD that I did.

9.  It can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be.  There are Ebay sales, used book sales, library books, free things on the internet.  You may even have a friend with the exact books you need, sitting in her basement, that she'd be willing to loan to you.  If you set out to buy everything that looks good, brand new off the shelf, you're going to spend a lot of money. Keep in mind, too, that a curriculum that uses a lot of consumable items is going to be more expensive in the long run than a reusable one, if you're homeschooling more than one child.  Hand me down books save a lot of money.

10. Your house will get messy.  As with anything, some days are better than others.  Surprisingly, for me, the craziest, busiest days are when I keep up on the mess.  Relaxed days, when we get a late start, tend to be the worst, because things pile up when I'm not looking and schoolwork takes priority over vacuuming.  This is where assigned chores and making your kids help goes a long way towards keeping your house clean, and keeping your sanity.  ;)

11.  There is something truly beautiful when you've been working with your child to overcome a learning struggle, and they finally "get it."  This is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling.  There is a look on a child's face, when a concept that you've gone over multiple times,  finally makes sense.  It's a beautiful mix of relief and pride, and it makes the effort to get there worth it.

12.  Your kids will grow closer.  And if you're like me, you'll quietly observe them interact, as your heart swells with gratitude and love for each of them and all of them.  My kids play together, share secrets with each other, and have an unbreakable bond.  This is the benefit of having siblings, but when your sibling is the one you're with all day, building memories and sharing moments with, that bond grows tighter.

13.  Having some sort of routine/schedule (even a loose one) makes a world of difference.  I have had to learn this the hard way.  As much as I love making routines/schedules, I am terrible at sticking to them, and it shows in the chaos of the day and the struggles with my kids.  I guess it's safe to say that although I've learned this lesson in homeschooling, it's one I'm still trying to conquer.

14.  Think outside of the traditional box.  Homeschooling stopped being the "traditional school" over 100 years ago. Now, 30+ kids of the same age sit in a classroom learning the same thing, mostly at the same pace, for the same 7 hours on the same days.  That's traditional.  Is that what you want?  Not likely.  Since I work 4 days a week, we sometimes save some schooling for the evenings.  On occasion, we do school on a Saturday.  We don't have homework, because all of our work IS "home work," and we even pack up our books when it's nice out and head to the backyard, the park, or the library.  I saw a blog post from someone once doing school at Panera Bread, and I've been determined to try it ever since!  Throw out your preconceived ideas of "school" and see what happens.

15.   It is a choice that brings much joy and blessings to your life, and the lives of your kids.  Despite the messy house, the extra responsibility in taking on schooling my kids, and the fact that they're with me all the time, there's has never been a moment when I've regretted my choice to homeschool.  As much as Aimee misses the social aspect of school, she has admitted a few times that she would choose to homeschool if it were up to her.  And years from now, when my kids are all grown up and living their lives independent of me, I will look back on these days and be grateful for the time and the memories we have (I try to focus on that when the day is long and hard and I want to quit).

Those are my top 15 things I've learned since we began this journey.  I'm sure there are many more lessons ahead.  :)

If you have anything to add to this list, please share it in the comments below!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Alexis and Mama selfies

This is my baby girl, Lexi. She's 5 now, but still every bit my "baby."
She loves early morning cuddles with mama (but not pictures, as the crabby face makes obvious).
Really, she hates pictures. 
But I take them anyway. And after a minute, she grudgingly complies. 
I love her so much. 
And yes, it's even more fun to steal kisses when she's being a snot. ;)
But after a few minutes, we got some fun shots. 

I love my cuddle bug. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My favorite Bethany

I had dinner with this beautiful lady last night.

Her name is Bethany, and she’s one of the most special people I’ve ever known in my life.  I’ve known her pretty much since she was born, growing up in the same church, but we weren't close until we were adults.  

She gets to claim this blog post, because between her and I, we have 9 kids, 

which means we don’t hang out enough, and I’m so glad I was able to steal her away last night for dinner at Panera Bread.  And as we talked, I kept thinking about how beautiful and special she is, inside and out, and how grateful I am for our friendship.  Anne of Green Gables (my favorite heroine)  would talk frequently of kindred spirits, and I never knew what that meant until Bethany.  There are no walls with Bethany, no insecurities.  I am me, she is she, and we accept and love each other simply at that.  We understand the other, because we’re so similar.  And when life is crazy and we haven’t gotten together in far too long, we just pick right up like we saw each other yesterday.

I love her tons.  And her giant family.  J

I hope my kids each find a friend like her in their lifetime.  One who feels like family, even when you’re not.  The type of friend who listens to you cry about the same sorrow, for months, and listens every time like it’s a fresh hurt.  Who literally sits beside you at your divorce and keeps you calm and collected. 

A friend who invites you over to watch a chick flick, yet falls asleep before the end.  Every time.  ;)

Who agrees to race you, to see who can have 6 kids first, but then cheats and has twins!!

Someone you can talk on the phone with for way too long, even though you hate phone conversations. 

Someone who totally gets wanting a big family, and why 4 kids doesn’t feel like enough.

Someone my 12 year old adores and asks to spend time with.  And who has such beautiful, sweet babies that she asks me to drop her off so she can be a mother’s helper (aka baby holder).

And someone so special, that simply spending an evening with her makes me feel refreshed and blessed.

This is sappy, I know.  J  But she truly is blessing in my life.  I don’t know that I could have made it through these last few years without her friendship.  And as we ate dinner last night, I was so aware of how grateful  I am for her, and how beautiful of a person I think she is. 

I wanted her to know.  Hopefully now she does.  J

Monday, February 17, 2014

A little update on me and my life

< insert catchy opener here, because I’m struggling to come up with one ;) >

I was thinking about what to put on this blog, since it’s been so long since I’ve been writing here.  A lot has changed in our lives in the past few years, and I’ve grown and learned so much.  I feel like I’ve  conquered life as a single mom, life as a homeschooling mom, life as a mother of 4.  I’ve found the best job for me there could be, and I gratefully get up 4 days a week and count my blessings.  I’ve even *mostly* mastered the delicate balance of having a life outside my home, while still getting the rest and alone time my introverted nature craves.  It was hard getting here, though.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll do with this blog.  As I have mentioned before, God has been clear that He wants me to blog.  My private, quiet nature struggles with it because I like living alone in my bubble and only letting in a precious few.  J  But I write in my head all the time, and later I wish SO MUCH that I would have written it here, even for my own self to reflect back on.  Like my marriage proposal story.  I’m glad I have that here to reflect on years down the road, when I’ve forgotten how I felt at that moment.  I’ll always remember getting a headache.  But will I remember the shock and confusion at Ryan pulling off the element of surprise?  Or the flow of conversation?  Probably not in great detail.  Rereading it will take me back to that night, as it allowed others a glimpse, too.

I’m happy.  Truly happy, in the way that trusting God and His perfect will can make you.  I know how it feels to have your life fall apart all around you, and that feeling of helplessness when it was without your consent or control.  I know what it’s like to cry out to the Lord in your pain, struggling with anger you want to direct at God, but knowing how wrong and dangerous succumbing to that urge would be. 
I know hate.  And I know the power of forgiveness. 
I know what it’s like to swim in a sea of advice, when all you want is to be alone and listening to Him.  To wade these waters by yourself, and learn to find inner strength.
 I know what it’s like to slowly transform from dreading the morning, and the day it brings, to waking with praise and gratefulness on your lips.  To see the good, and not be haunted by the disappointment. 
And I know what it’s like to hear God saying, “Trust Me, Elizabeth.  Trust in Me.  I have a plan, greater than any you could work out on your own.”  And I know what it like to break, giving up your plan, for His plan. To live that plan.
I may be rambling now, but that is what I have learned in all of this.  Everyone has different circumstances, but the journey is the same.  I had my life planned out in my head, and the one I’m living is not at all the one I had wanted.  But I still wake up seeing the beauty in it.  Sometimes I still struggle, especially after a hard day or week, and I call my sister and cry.  But those days are few and far between now.
God has been good to me.  I don't deserve it, and I don't take it for granted.  But I know it.  And at the end of my life, I want to look back and know that I served and honored Him in every way that I can.  Because that's the only life story that matters, regardless of the details.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

A marriage proposal

If you follow me on Facebook, you may have read my status this morning that talked about my disobedience in blogging. Funny thing to be disobedient in, huh?  But God has asked me for years to be a blogger, in many different ways, and I've mastered the art of excuses.  :P

So here I am, working on obedience, and sitting down to write. And I was thinking, since today is Valentine's Day and all, that I could announce, once again, that I'm ENGAGED to an amazing, wonderful man named Ryan, who is not only loved and adored by both me and my children, but loves and adores us right back.
And following that lovely announcement, what better to write about than the proposal??  :D  Especially since I almost messed the whole thing up in the middle.  ;)  And Ryan, in his calm, laid-back way, took it in stride and said, "Well, that didn't go at all how I thought it would in my head.  But I guess it's just a sign of the life to come!"  Oh, darling, I'm sure we have no idea...

The Proposal

I should start by informing you, reader, that I am a planner, and have a tendency to be a bit stubborn about my plans.  Ryan and I have been together for awhile now, and I had decided that it was about time we started thinking about marriage. ;) I am set on getting married in the summer, since I work and homeschool my kids during the school year.  Ryan and I were both in agreement that we wanted to get married, but he's more of a "take each day as it comes" kinda guy, and my day planner has an exact day for changing our toothbrushes. ;)

Needless to say, although I was sure Ryan would propose at some point, I was pretty confident that if I left him alone about it, the proposal would come too late to plan a wedding for this summer, and I couldn't imagine waiting another year to be married. For starters, I miss that man way to much when we're not together, and between his schedule and mine, we only see each other on weekends.  Boo. :(  Plus, dating is hard when you have 4 kids and all you want to do on the weekend is catch up on housework and take a nap.  ;) I've fallen so behind on my to do list that I don't even make one anymore.  *sigh*

So...I had planned in my mind to somehow nag him encourage him to propose, if he hadn't by Valentine's Day.  If he hadn't by my birthday (end of March), I was going to start crying and take it from there.  Haha.

Last Thursday, Ryan texted me that his mom had given him a gift card to The Melting Pot, a fondue restaurant I had been dying to go to, but we're both pretty frugal and The Melting Pot is not cheap. I was SUPER excited to go there for dinner, and not feel guilty about it, and although in my head I thought, "what a perfect date for a proposal!" I honestly bought into the gift card story and looked forward to a yummy dinner.  It was my kids weekend to be with their dad, and Ryan had the whole day off work (a Saturday rarity).  I was looking forward to all that time with him, and The Melting Pot put me right over into dreamy bliss.  :)

I won't bore you with the details of the day, but it involved thrifting (I found some really nice stuff!!), a Netflix marathon, and lot's of junk food while we waited for our 9:15 reservation (ugh!)  We arrived early, hoping to be seated early, and waited in a very cold reception area for 20+ minutes before being seated.

Fast forward an hour and a half.  We thoroughly enjoyed our cheese fondue appetizer, our assortment of meats and veges in a vegetable broth, and were eagerly anticipating the chocolate fondue. This, my friends, is the moment when Ryan had been planning to ask me to marry him.  To pull out a beautiful ring, tell me he loves me, and ask me to be his.  But life never goes the way we plan it, does it?  I take a sip of my Coke, and BAM...Liz feels a pretty nasty migraine taking over her brain.  Looking back, I should have known a few cookies would not hold me off until a 10:00 meal, but I run with a tad bit of denial. Hunger is a huge trigger for me, but I thought I'd be fine.

I immediately swallowed some pain killers, and careful laid my head back against the booth.  By now, the pain was moving into my neck.  And Ryan was inwardly panicking.

But life can be beautiful, even in these messy, unplanned moments, when things feel like they're falling apart and we have no control over a darn thing.  As I laid my head back, I looked over at Ryan.  I thought about how much I had looked forward to this day, and to all of the hours I got to be in his presence and have him all to myself.  I thought about how amazing I think he is, and how much I adore him.  How my kids adore him.  How my heart broke when I surrendered to my divorce, but God held my hand and promised me there was happiness in store.  And slowly, He revealed in my mind this man that couldn't possibly exist because he was way too perfect for my kids and I, but does exist and is sitting right next to me.  A man who calms me and brings me peace when I'm stressed, who loves my kids as much as he loves me.  Who is kind, and caring, and considerate, and loving.  He's even divorced, for about the same amount of time I have been, and for the same reasons.  I cannot explain how huge that is in understanding and relating to each other's scars.  He even has the same love languages I do!  When God promises, He fulfills.  And Ryan is proof in my mind of this.

As I think these things, and the pain in my head is slowly receding, I turn to the man I love and say, "Do you have any idea how much I adore you?"  Cuz he doesn't.  He can't possibly know.  It's too great an amount.

And he says to me, "I adore you, too.  And I love you.  And I don't ever want to lose you."

Suddenly, there is this little black felt bag and the sparkliest of rings protruding from within.  I gasp, and look at the ring, then at Ryan, and back at the ring.  And what sweet words do I utter at this moment?

"But I have a migraine!!"

Someone please stop me.  I'm useless.

And then I apparently said, "No!" because he says, "No?  Or yes??'' And I'm laughing and apologizing and of course it's a yes!  But how did I spend a whole day with this man and not guess what he was up to??  And why did I have to get a migraine in the middle of all of it?!

Because life is a beautiful mess and we just keep moving on.

I wish I could say that my headache went away, but it didn't.  I ate one piece of chocolate covered banana and realized I wouldn't even be able to watch Ryan eat.  Oh, migraines are fun.

But the proposal doesn't end there. In my mind, the last part is equally as good as the main part.  Maybe better.

As we said goodbye later that evening, Ryan looked me in the eyes and with all seriousness said, "I'm never getting divorced again, Liz.  I mean it."  And to test what i already knew, I said, "And what if we're miserable and unhappy?"  With even more seriousness, he replied, "then we work on it."  And this I know we will do.  I knew a month into our friendship that this man would put everything into his next marriage, because he tried so hard to save his first. And he found a woman with the same story, the same fight, the same commitment.

Life is a beautiful mess, but when God is the One writing the story, the beauty outweighs the mess.

Happy Valentine's Day.