Friday, January 31, 2014

"I LOVE school!"

As a homeschooler, who wouldn't love to hear those words from the mouths of our children, right?

I heard those words this afternoon from my almost-15-year-old freshman daughter!

Except she wasn't talking about our homeschool. She was talking about the "school" where she takes classes on Fridays.


But if I take my hurt feelings out of the equation for a moment, I ought to feel glad. And happy for her. After all, the purpose for spending all the time and money doing these outside classes is because she told me that she wanted to take some classes, but she didn't want to be gone all day long, every day. And I wanted her to have the classroom experience before she goes to college. And I wanted to have some grades from other teachers to enhance her transcript, and to allow for college recommendation letters.

And today I got some great feedback from her World Literature teacher - that she is one of two students who passed the test on "The Odyssey" (and would have had a 100% except that she forgot to answer in her essay why she liked or disliked the book). And the teacher went on to praise her writing style. I have always thought she writes very well, but it's nice to have that outside validation.

So she's doing well in the classes, she's enjoying the kids she has met and the group she sits with at lunch, and the teachers seem to like her.

Why are my feelings still hurt?

Because it feels like failure that she responds better to other teachers than she does to me?

Pretty much.

Still, I am glad that this arrangement is working for her (and for me), and I'm thrilled that she wants to take additional outside classes next school year!

It's not about me. It's not about me. It's not about me.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Day!

If you hadn't heard, the Atlanta area got some snow yesterday! It actually shut down the entire area, including my husband's place of business, so we got to have a snow day today! Now, I know that homeschoolers usually don't need to take "snow days" since we're already at home, but at the Black Pearl Academy, if daddy is home, then we are off! You tend to do that when daddy works 6 days a week and is gone most of those days from 6 AM to 5:30 PM! :D

So today the kids played in the snow (ok, so it was Reece - Reece played in the snow. The big kids just looked outside and went, "Eh") and then they took a walk up to the convenience store with daddy and bought a ton of junk food!

Overall, our lessons have been going quite well. Everyone has been getting up early to get a good start on the day, and that makes a big difference. I won't say that my mojo is completely returned, but it certainly is better.

We have a big Spring ahead of us, naturally!

Riley will be taking the SAT in early March. She has to do a standardized test  this year per state regulations and I was planning to have her do the ITBS. But her Biology teacher told me for the same money she could get practice taking the SAT, and we just won't send her scores anywhere. Sounds like a plan to me! She started working through a practice workbook this week.

Austin will be taking the ACT in April. His PSAT results indicated that there was probably no reason for him to take the SAT, and I have been told that kids on the spectrum tend to do better on the ACT anyway. The school he wants to attend post-high school doesn't require any standardized testing scores anyway, so this will just be for the experience and to have a score to report if we ever need one.

Riley's classes continue to go well - she has them until the first week of May. Austin's class is also going well (but this semester's focus is on Debate) and he finishes up at the end of March, I believe. Next year, I will be outsourcing the majority of Riley's courses. As many as I can afford. It simply works better for us at this time. Austin probably won't take any outside classes next year so I can direct the funds to Riley. However, I am working on a plan that will allow him to take one class with the awesome teacher he is working with this year. We'll have to see how that works out! :)

Dance is going great for all of us! Costumes are coming in (I look like Minnie Mouse in mine!) and that is always exciting! The recital is less than 4 months away!

We are still on track to finish up lessons at the end of May. The big kids are really hoping to spend the summer working. Riley will have Latin to do all summer (and I'll have Reece sit in so they can do recitation together to keep things fresh), but other than that, I think we've been pretty much on target! It's been very, very hard - but I think we'll all enjoy the break.

Speaking of the break - I have already found a way to keep myself busy this summer! I have signed up for a Half Ironman distance triathlon! The race is in Augusta, Georgia and it's at the end of September! The bulk of my training will be done in June through August.

So that's all for now. I do have another really deep and meaningful blog post to write up based upon another of my pastor's sermons. But that requires me to have time to really sit and think, and I haven't had much time for that in the last couple of weeks! But it's coming, I promise! :)

Stay warm and safe, everyone!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Just the facts, ma'am!

I've been meaning to write this post since Sunday, but just didn't have the time to get to it. So instead of writing my usual weekly report on the state of our homeschool (which wouldn't have been very positive because it's been a challenging week), I am going to share these thoughts. I hope I can do them justice since the sermon that inspired them was almost a week ago.

So in church last Sunday, the message was about Doubt and Fear, and how they are related. I really needed this sermon because of how much I've been struggling lately when it comes to homeschooling. Whenever we have these struggles, I start regretting homeschooling and I'm longing to go back and have a "Do-Over" where I never remove Austin from public school. In my mind's eye, that would make every thing perfect. The kids would be well-educated and happy. I would have been working full-time all this time so we wouldn't have any money woes. Life would be all rainbows and sunshine. It's all homeschooling's fault.

What piqued my attention to this sermon was something that Pastor said right at the beginning: Just a little bit of doubt can cause us to lose the JOY (in our faith). Ahh, JOY - Word of the Year and all. And then that doubt causes struggles and fears. And sometimes worse. He used the example of Abram and Sarai, and how Sarai doubted that God would provide a son for Abram through her. That doubt caused her to offer up her servant girl, which caused a whole slew of problems. There are plenty of examples in the Bible about doubt - but in all of the, God is merciful to those who doubted. But doubt in itself simply isn't healthy for us. And then he ended the sermon with 3 steps to help us when we are battling doubts.

During the sermon, my mind kept going back to Austin. He is fast approaching 18, and even though he has another year of school due to us holding him back when we started homeschooling, he will be an adult soon. And his friends from baby/childhood are Seniors and are getting college acceptance letters. And that is so hard, for me and for him. I am proud of his friends and so happy for them - but so sad for Austin, and so frustrated and disappointed. And I'm afraid.

And then I start having doubts. Doubts about his future. Feelings of failure on my part for not getting him to the place where he could go to college like his friends. Worries that he will never be able to support himself. I spend so much time having the kids memorize the verse in Jeremiah where the Lord tells us that He has a plan for our lives - to prosper us and not to harm us. But I start to doubt.

Our pastor talked about something that really hit home with me. When we are experiencing doubts, it's often because we are focusing on "the facts". For Austin, the facts are many - he has autism, he has seizures, he has learning disabilities because of the seizures, he struggles to learn and process and express himself, he scored extremely low on the PSAT, he scores low on all standardized tests, he won't have an advanced math credit beyond Algebra 2 when he graduates (required in GA to go to state colleges). I am good with facts, you see?

But what the pastor told us to consider is that there are all sorts of "God facts" that we simply do not see and cannot see. I can't predict the future because I don't have all the facts. There is much more going on that I am incapable of understanding and processing.

I needed that sermon so much, and the steps to battle doubts. I have used them all week, and in fact, I have used some of them multiple times in the same day! ;)

I also need to focus on another set of facts. These facts about Austin are every bit as true as the other facts I listed above - he is kind, he is responsible, he is compassionate, he is persistent, he is a talented drummer, he is dependable. These traits are not something that can be quantified on a standardized test, a transcript, or a college application. But that doesn't make them less important. And God loves him. Way more than I do. And He knows how much Austin wants to be independent and self-sufficient. If there is a reason that He does not allow Austin to do so, then I need to trust that He has a perfectly good reason for it.

And I also need to trust that He had a plan when He led us to homeschooling back in 2002, even when, at least according to the world's standards, I have not been very successful.

"Be merciful to those who doubt." - Jude 1:22 (NIV)

Lord, please be merciful to me and help me to shut out the things that cause me to doubt. Please, carry me through this final season of homeschooling and help me to see it through to the end though it is hard and I feel so weary. Be with me every single step of the way and guide me on the path that You would have me take with each of these very different children. Help me to focus on Your will and your plans. Amen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

First week back is a success!

We are finished with our first week back after Christmas break, and I think it was a success! I scheduled our first day to be Tuesday, because I learned long ago that we shouldn't start lessons back on the same day that we start back to dance! But then Tuesday rolled around and it was 6 degrees with a "feels like" of -13. The local public schools were cancelled because of the cold, and therefore dance was cancelled as well. We were supposed to get some snow as well, but it never materialized. There was a wind advisory that morning as well, so I asked my husband to start a fire for us before he left for work, just in case the power went out. I didn't try to get the kids up early because it was simply too cold for our Georgia bones! And when everyone did wake up, I decided we should start watching our Shakespeare (for last term, that we never got around to) - Henry IV, Part I.

The BBC Hollow Crown series, staring Jeremy Irons, and this young man. That's not why we chose it, though. Really!
The plan was to watch about 30 minutes of it, and then get into our regular lessons. But by the time 30 minutes had ticked by, I felt like I was just starting to really get the flow of the language. So we watched the entire thing! And we all really, really enjoyed it!

Then Riley asked, "Can we watch the next one?" Reece agreed! Austin sort of grumbled. But then I started thinking about it and realized that, without dance in the evening, we would have time to watch the entire series (Henry IV, Part II and Henry V) and we could have our entire Shakespeare done for the year in one day. Now, that's not exactly how Charlotte Mason would have wanted us to do it, but sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do! :)

Thus, Tuesday became Shakespeare Day at the Black Pearl Academy! And it was a blast. Even Austin admitted that evening that it was really well-acted. Shakespeare is meant to be seen performed, and it was so much easier to understand what is going on when you can see the action and see the facial expressions and vocal inflections. And this cast was all British stars! I cannot recommend it highly enough! We laughed, we cried! There are a couple of scenes that may not be family friendly for very young ones, but they are short and easily skipped.

Wednesday was Austin's first day back to class - this semester, it's Debate. Since the van is not yet repaired, I had to drive him. Then he had Youth Praise Band at the church where he plays, in addition to Worship Band rehearsal for Sunday's service. So I had to drive him to that. He really needs a vehicle! I got spoiled not being his taxi!

A new rule for our school year is that the kids need to be up and ready for learning by 9 AM. If they aren't, they don't get their screen time for that day. I hate to have to do that, but we are too busy in the afternoons/evenings for them not to get a relatively early start in the mornings. Austin is almost always up, so I wasn't concerned about him. Riley got up each day and I was really impressed. Reece didn't make it up in time on Thursday or Friday. I was really surprised, too. I think we are getting very, very close to her starting her cycle, both due to her emotional reactions to things and her constant eating and sleeping. She was upset that she couldn't have her screens after lessons were done, and I hated to make her upset, but I had to stick to the consequences.

Friday was the first day back to classes for Riley. This semester she is taking a drawing class instead of the graphic art class she took last semester, which has her staying at class until the afternoon! It's really strange to have her gone for almost 6 hours! She had a blast, though. She has a free period now, and she gets to hang out with a few of her friends who also have a free period! I'm happy for her, because she's been wanting more socializing time!

We actually managed to get all 4 days worth of work done in 3 days, even with all of the busy-ness. Of course, we were all working long hours, but that's OK! I think long hours are just part of the whole experience when you are homeschooling older kids. We had a few really nice discussions, too. I've been wondering if/when this would happen for us - so I was thrilled! One of the discussions stemmed from a chapter Austin had read in his Economics book, Economics in One Lesson. It started with talking about the fact that there is actually a "net zero job loss" with the introduction of machines in manufacturing, but how you may not feel that way if you are the one who lost your job to the machine. From there we went on to discuss how that worker could find a new job. Then we went on to talk about modern education being about starting on a "career path" (they start that in 8th grade now in GA) and what an education geared to a "career path" would mean if that career disappeared. And how my goal for their education is to teach them how to learn, how to express themselves, how to find information and be interested in learning, and how to have a good worth ethic. How those things, I believe, will get them further in life because with those skills, you can be successful in any number of careers in your life. People don't stay in one job, with one company, or in one career field their whole lives anymore. Anyway, it was nice to have that is discussion with Austin and Reece.

When Riley got home, she wanted to talk about the prep work they did in World Lit class for their next book, Night by Ellie Wiesel. I didn't realize that this author is a concentration camp survivor so it's an actual first-person account of the holocaust. Riley gave Reece a "rated PG" overview of the holocaust and we talked about how important it is to learn about these things in history, even the really bad things. Reece was uncomfortable talking about it and she made a couple of jokes. Riley was upset with her for making jokes and Reece replied, "I'm only joking so I don't really have to think about it." Such an honest girl she is!

The last notable thing for this week was that Reece finally learned division. A few months ago, at dance, a younger girl was doing her homework and asked Reece for help since she's older. The homework was long division, which Reece hadn't learned yet, and Reece was very upset and embarrassed. She has been begging me ever since to teach her long division so she wouldn't be behind anymore. I assured her that we would get to division - short division - very soon, and that her math book goes in a different order than others. Still, it bothered her to be behind, in her eyes. She asked me frequently to teach her long division, and I was actually going to break down and do it over the holidays but I forgot. So yesterday was the Big Day. She was feeling very intimidated with the short division using the abacus and asked if she had to do the assignments without the abacus that day. I assured her that we didn't, but I could also tell that she was going to be able to do the work without the abacus. So I asked her to just do one problem without it, to try. And she did. Then I teased her a little bit about needing the abacus 'forever' as she said she did! LOL Then, once I was assured that she had short division down pat, I asked her to pick a problem she had already solved and I would show it to her with long division. After I got done, she exclaimed, "Wow! What is the purpose with all of that?!" Cracked me up completely! I hope she sees now that she was not behind, like she thought. Her math curriculum is teaching her in a sequential manner that works so well with her brain!

So that was our week! I'm worn out from it, but that's OK! I hope next week will be as successful. We have a couple of new things to add to our schedule to prepare for the SAT (Riley) and ACT (Austin) this spring. Fun, fun!?!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Word of the Year 2014 - JOY

Happy New Year!! I'm so excited to present my Word of the Year for 2014 - JOY! This is the verse that I have chosen to best represent this word:

"Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for JOY. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything." (James 1: 2-4, NLT)

Of course, this verse also comes to mind when I think of the word JOY:

"But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)

This word came to me while I was in the garage riding on my bike trainer, of all places. I was listening to Christmas music since it was Christmas Eve, and the song was "Joy to the World/Unspeakable Joy" by Chris Tomlin. I absolutely love this song and jam to it frequently during the holiday season, but for some reason - this time - it just hit me in such a deep and powerful way, and I knew that my Word of the Year for 2014 should be JOY!

The biggest reason I want to focus on JOY in this year is my children. I do not want them remembering their childhood with a grumpy mom. And yeah, I am grumpy. Most of the time. And quick to express my grumpiness and, unfortunately, to take it out on them. Being a homeschooling mom who is with my children ALL the time, this is simply not a good thing.

Mom? Is that you??
Now, I don't mean that I intend to walk around with a goofy grin on my face all the time like some psychotic manifestation of a 50s TV-show mother. But the joy that can only come from the Holy Spirit is what I'm wanting to focus on. Joy that is not dependent on circumstances, but instead is an outpouring of the faith and courage and hope and trust that I've been cultivating within me these last few years, with the Lord's help.

As I was preparing this post, I wanted to reflect on how I feel like the "Word of the Year" each year has built on one another to lead me to this point. So I looked up my previous "Word of the Year" since I started doing it in 2008, and boy was I surprised. Notice anything unusual about 2011??

2013 - Hope
2012 - Courage
2011 - Joy
2010 - Trust
2009 - Trust
2008 - Trust

Yep, in 2011 my Word of the Year was also Joy. I had NO recollection of that, and I can tell you without a doubt that 2011 was one of the least joy-filled years of my entire life. 

BUT, this also serves to prove the point I was setting out to make - these years have built upon each other. Trust - the Word of the Year for 3 LONG years - was a very hard one for me. But it was foundational. However, jumping from struggling to Trust right into Joy?? Wow, that was not smart at all. I was not nearly mature enough in my faith to jump from Trusting God (and having SUCH a hard time with it) to focusing on expressing Joy in trials - and 2011 was FULL of trials, especially the last half of the year. 

Courage, I think, would have been the more practical Word to follow Trust. But it wasn't given to me that way, and that's OK. I think it makes it much more powerful for me to see that I attempted to focus on Joy back in 2011 and fell flat on my face. It's OK - now I have another chance, and thanks to the last two years where I have focused on being Courageous and having Hope, my chances of expressing Joy are much better!

I have to tell you, though - when I saw that I used "JOY" in 2011 (and with the same verse, no less) it gave me pause. You see, in 2011, I attempted a huge personal goal - running my first full marathon, and going even further than that by trying to run two full marathons within a week to become a Marathon Maniac. I was unsuccessful in that attempt due to an injury from which I am now, finally, recovered. That issue, combined with Austin's depression and talk of suicide in September, and the return of his seizures in November, meant that I was the epitome of the complete opposite of JOY.

This year, 2014, I am attempting another huge personal goal - my first Half Ironman triathlon in late September. Part of me is really apprehensive now to know that my Word of the Year is the same this year, knowing that I am frequently tested in my Word. But another part of me - the louder part, I hope - knows that I am much, much stronger in my faith now than I was 3 years ago. And I am also much stronger in my sense of self . That failure to achieve my goal and the subsequent recovery from the entire situation  made me stronger physically and mentally as well. I am simply not the same person that I was in 2011, Praise God!! 

Needless to say, 2014 is going to be an interesting year! In addition to my personal fitness goals, it's also a big year for our family. Austin turns 18 in the spring! I am going to be in my first dance recital that same day! Riley will be old enough to get her learner's permit to drive a car. My husband and I celebrate our 20th anniversary this summer, and we are hoping to take a "honeymoon" trip (since we never got a real honeymoon) to the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony! And in the fall, Austin begins his Senior Year of high school! WOW! 

See why JOY is such an appropriate word for the year ahead?? I will have so much going on, and so many chances to get overwhelmed with life and the busy-ness and the pressure. But no matter what happens, God is in control, and He loves me and my family, and I Trust Him completely! I will have the Courage to face the good things and the bad things that are certain to happen in this life, and I will press on with Hope that everything will work together for my good. And I will do my very best to express the Joy that comes from the assurance that I have as a child of God!

Have a very blessed New Year's Day! If you have chosen to do a Word of the Year, please comment and share it with me, or if you have blogged about it, link your blog in the comment!