Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Season of Gratitude

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it is I'm grateful for.  I could just as easily be focused on what is wrong in my life, but I've learned that focusing on what is right winds up keeping me happier and more apt to be productive.  Decided to share part of the list:

1. I'm grateful that, at the age of 61, I'm still on this earth, unlike several  friends in my age group who have already passed on...Jerry, Kenny, Jim, Harold, all three Pauls...I miss you guys and will remember every day to have a good time while I'm on this earth! I miss my mom, too, but she had a long life and made it all the way to 92, and besides, she is still here...."Somewhere this mother is alive, no more as one but in the breasts of five."...well, three in this case, but I still feel her presence in my life.

2. I'm grateful that, unlike my grandmother, I lived to see all five of my kids grow up.

3. I'm grateful that, unlike many others, my husband and I both have a way to make money, our house is paid for, and we're not facing foreclosure.

4.  I'm grateful that, unlike Joni, I have the use of all my limbs.

5. I'm grateful that, unlike Corrie Ten Boom, I'm not in jail, and there's no war raging in my home country.

6. I'm grateful that, unlike Helen Keller, I can still hear and see (albeit not as well as I did once!)

7. I'm grateful that I have a purpose and calling in life, and that I know what I am supposed to be doing every morning when I get up.

Now, I could have a different list...one that talks about my current problems, frustrations, and roadblocks, and then you could all join me in a big sigh, and say, "Poor Mary...Let's pray for her."  And then I'd feel depressed and run around telling you all how bad things are and asking for prayer, and the next thing I'd know, everybody I met would be patting me on the back and asking me in a concerned voice, "How is everything going?".....Blech.

By the way, I can already hear some of you thinking, "Yes, but number ____ isn't true for ME!"   So substitute in one of your own.  If one of the above is a problem for you, move it to your other list and then tear up the list of negatives.

I prefer to focus on the positives, and hope you do, too!  For one thing, ALL my kids will be here this Christmas for the first time in ages.   Oh Frabjous Day...Calloo, Callay!!!

Hope you are all having a thankful Christmas Season!!! Mary

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Busy versus Purposeful

I was going to open this post with an apology for having missed a couple of weeks blogging...and then I noticed that it was a lot more than a couple of weeks!  Time sure does slip past sometimes.  Anyway, since I've just been too busy to keep up with certain things lately, it seemed like a good time to ruminate for a bit on the difference between being busy and being purposeful.

I, for example, know exactly what my purpose in life is.  At this point, after more than twenty-five years homeschooling my kids, my purpose is twofold..to continue to be an effective mom and a good role model for my grown children, and to help support and encourage younger moms, especially those who have chosen the homeschooling lifestyle.

So what has kept my so busy lately?  Mostly appraisal work.  Over the past two months, besides doing a lot of work in this field, I was studying and taking a test to elevate my appraisal license. Note that none of this has much to do with my expressed "purpose in life".  At some point, you have to start asking yourself what is going on, and whether or not it is time to make a change.

In my case, right now, I need to do a good bit of work in this field of appraisal, because it is the only immediate avenue for me to help out with the finances. I can also see that it has been helping in some measure with my work with homeschoolers, equipping me to help others during this whole real estate/economic problem that we've been experiencing. It has also helped me to move into the world of (semi) high tech, getting more comfortable with computers and other forms of technology.

At the same time, though, if I can't keep it under control, it will obviously take me away from my main purpose.  I'm reaching the age when many people think about retiring. I don't personally believe in retirement, at least for myself, but I do believe in balance, and I keep reminding myself, 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.. One part family/personal, one part homeschooling ministry, one part real estate & finances to pay for the other 2/3.  So this week I'm determined to bring it back into balance, starting with this blog.

This whole concept of balance, and recognizing the difference between staying busy and being purposeful is so applicable to the world of homeschooling and raising children.  It is incredibly easy to be busy as a homeschooler, or, I would imagine, as a mom of public school kids.  However, you have to stay focused on the real purpose of what you are doing.  The purpose of all education should be mainly character training, opening up a world of possibilities to your kids, and helping them develop the basic skills, habits, and attitudes they will need to become lifelong learners and joyful, productive adults.  This main purpose should never be allowed to get buried under mounds of curriculum materials, mindless homework, or blindly following the dicates of anyone outside of your immdiate family.  That is true whether you are a homeschooling mom worrying about staying on "grade level", or "making sure" you have "covered everything" (which you can't do, by the way)...or whether you are a mom of kids in school who is allowing a teacher to dictate the amount of work a child needs to do on a weekend when his help is needed on a family project (which is probably more important, in the long run)...

So please join me this week in thinking through what the real purpose is of whatever you are supposed to be doing...and then trying, as much as possible, to rein in the busyness of life to make sure that you are putting your efforts into those things that are the most important.

Monday, August 1, 2011

New article at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine

Mostly just blogging today to spread the word that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine did an interview with me in the current (Summer, 2011) issue. Easiest way to read it is to go to http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine-digital.com/, (links don't seem to work, just type it in if they don't), and either scroll to page 84 or click on the table of contents for the living books article on p 76 and scroll a few pages.

Actually, this week I'm doing another interview for the same magazine, this one on our Titus Brigade mentoring program.  If you are in the Atlanta area, watch for an ice cream social at Swift-Cantrell Park in Kennesaw, sometime in Sept.  (When details are available we'll post them on the facebook page.) Also, I'm probably doing a RHS workshop in LaCrosse Wisconsin in October.  Did that on purpose! This old Wisconsin native needs to see some of those colors once every few years.  Also my high school is having a 100 year reunion (not my class...that's how old the high school is) in Milwaukee that month. Not sure if I'm going or not. 

Finally, watch for details on a webinar Chris Davis and I are doing together a little earlier in October.  This is with Felice Gerwitz' Ultimate Homeschool Expo organization. 

I feel like I've been doing so little homeschool talking for so long, and now it is all lining up!  Probably also talking in Los Angeles in January, maybe Florida in Feb.  Hope to meet some of my new blogging/facebook friends at one of these.

Oh, and its my birthday tomorrow.  Accepting all the greetings I can get since my family is so scattered, I'll feel practically alone.  (Thank God for Skype.) 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Connecting with Your Audience

It's Saturday night and I just got back from the park with my dog.  It's become a ritual this summer, walking my dog at the park on Saturday nights and listening to the free bluegrass concerts. The band tonight had one of the very best mandolin players I've ever heard. (Keeping in mind I used to play mandolin in a bluegrass band way way back when, I know a good one when I hear one!)  The guitar player was also very good, as was the fiddle player.  Individually, they were some of the best musicians I've heard in a long time.  However, they just weren't connecting with their audience.

The people who attend these concerts are die-hard bluegrass fans.  They don't mind a little country gospel mixed in once in awhile, but they want their bluegrass clean and traditional.  These guys were into jazz....they jazzed up one Doc Watson tune so much I couldn't even recognize it.  Great musicians, but they were either just in the wrong venue, or didn't know how to read the audience to figure out what they wanted to listen to. One by one, people got up and walked back to their cars until there was just a handful of people left.

As a writer, and someone who has taught writing, this is a key theme in helping people turn into great communicators.  You've got to connect with your audience.  I learned this early in my writing career.  I had just finished up my Ph.D., where you have to write very academically, citing everything, and sounding as erudite as possible.  When I first wanted to share my Ph.D. research with the homeschooling community, I wrote a big ol' book called something like "Educational Philosophy and the Home Schooling Movement".  You all remember that one, don't you?  Huge success.

After a bit, though, I re-grouped, started thinking like a homeschooling mom again, and turned it into my Countdown to Consistency workshop, and actually eventually sold out of that big old first printing.  Later, I wrote a very simple book, called "The Relaxed Home School", and the rest, as they say, is history.  But I didn't do well at all until I figured out who my audience was and starting thinking like they did.

That's what this blog is all about...I suddenly had one of those epiphanies where I realized I wasn't connecting with an entire generation of new, younger homeschooling moms, the ones that were raised in an electronic generation.  It isn't easy to start new things when you're a little older, or remain flexible and open to new ideas, but I realized that if I wasn't willing to try something new, the only homeschoolers I'd be connecting with would be "ex" ones....

So whatever you're doing, be sure you're connecting.  Even if it just trying to see life from the standpoint of a teenager, or a mother-in-law, or a husband who doesn't support your homeschooling ideas,  you won't get anywhere if you don't stop for a minute and try walking in that person's shoes.

Okay, time for bed now...I've had a busy day, digging up tulip bulbs to try to trick them into thinking we live in Wisconsin or Michigan.  Hope you all are coping with the heat wave!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bring Back an Old Concept

When I was young, one of the things I remember my mother telling me, over and over, was the importance of doing things in moderation.  Back then, almost everyone who was older and wiser would say that you should walk the middle ground, avoiding extremism.

To some extent, the world has simply changed.  There are times one must be a bit of an extremist these days because the middle road can lead to compromise.  It's true.  However, I think a lot of us could benefit from bringing back the concept of moderation.

One example is in the area of food and diet.  Some of my friends are really into the "no white sugar, no white flour, everything whole grains" thing. Others are vegetarians or vegans.  Others pig out on just about anything that isn't nailed down in the kitchen.  I've found that, in general, the people who are absolutely adamant about eating healthy at all times often have a real hard time sustaining it over the long haul. Then, when they do succumb to the occasional dish of ice cream, they beat themselves up to the point that they are damaging their own self-esteem. 

There are those, of course, with genuine health concerns.  My daughter used to vaccilate between being a vegetarian, a vegan, diagnosing herself with lactose intolerance, etc.  Finally she discovered her real problem, which is that she is gluten intolerant.  Now, she is again able to enjoy an occasional piece of meat or dairy, but really has to stay away from gluten, or she faces the consequences.  Real health concerns are a whole different issue than what I'm talking about today.

For those of us who don't have a specific intolerance,  I still maintain that moderation is the key.  I've found that as I eat less sugar, I crave it less.  As I get more used to eating fruits and vegetables, I don't miss having meat at every meal.  However, once in awhile, I just really feel like having a candy bar or a bowl of ice cream.  If I allow myself to enjoy these things in moderation, I dont' feel guilty and I don't feel deprived. Plus, I'm able to actually stick with the resolve to eat in moderation....I don't know about you but if I tried to give up all foods I like cold turkey, I'm betting I'd "fail" and then beat myself up about it.

Exercise is another example.  One man I know goes back and forth.  One week he is exercising every day, hiking ten miles, working out on the machines every morning.  Then for a month, it is nothing.  Some of the exercise programs are even labeled "extreme" these days...Personally, I go running at the state park almost every morning.  When I can't go for a couple of mornings, I miss it, but I don't yell at myself all day about what a slug I've been...I just try to get it back on the schedule for the next day.  What I call running is what a lot of people would call bouncing up and down while walking.  Every morning, I'm passed by real runners. You can tell a "real runner" by the spiffy new running shoes they are wearing, the walkman they are listening to (I prefer to listen to the birds in the early morning), and by the fact that I will probably see them for about six days in a row and then never again.  On the other hand, some of the early morning walkers and bouncers have been there just about every day with me for the past two years.  Once again, establishing some moderate form of exercise that you will actually enjoy and be able to sustain over the long haul is usually better than choosing something too extreme for you to continue day after day.

One more example:  technology, especially social networking.  A little is fine, laudable, good, productive, and fun.  However, when it truly becomes your "social" outlet, to the point you have no real friends, or you wind up getting up in the middle of the night and turning on your computer to to let everybody know you are having trouble sleeping, it can easily become an obsession.

So now I'm getting off the computer and going to do my exercises (in moderation). Bye.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Learning about "Social Studies"

On the fourth of July, it seemed like a good time to address a question I'm often asked, which is, "what exactly should we be teaching for social studies?"  I just answered this question this week for a mom who was thinking about high school and wondering what the colleges expect.

As with any homeschooling plan of action, the first thing is to ignore purposefully what the public schools would be doing in any particular grade.  As long time readers know, I am not opposed to everything/everybody that is involved with the public school. My own mom worked there for many years. However, social studies education is one area where the public schools have done a very ineffective job for many years.

So here we are on the 4th of July.  As many people know, recent polls have shown a pathetic level of knowledge of even the basics of American history.  Most young people these days have only a vague idea of what they are supposed to be celebrating on this holiday.  I have known supposedly well-educated young people recently who had no idea who many of the founders of the country were, who thought Thomas Jefferson wrote the Constitution, who didn't have any clue what the Bill of Rights was, and who  genuinely believed that the first amendment said something about the separation of church and state.

None of this is news to the average homeschooler.  Today I want to address a slightly different issue...the issue of ethnocentrism.  Yes, it is important to know about American history, to understand (and actually READ the Consitituition), to know how the U.S government works,  the basics of capitalism, and the ideas of the founding fathers.  However, as Christians, we owe our allegiance to something greater than a country.

Along with the U.S. history in your curriculum, be sure to help your children develop a knowledge of the rest of the world.   One thing I saw, over and over, at our resource center, was that by the time a student came to us for a high school level class, he or she often had huge gaps in their knowledge.  Those unit studies that were popular homeschooling topics, like Romans, or Vikings, or Greeks, or the Civil War, had been covered extensively.  Yet hardly anyone could tell me the names or locations of the countries in South America or Africa, or explain the history of "the two Chinas"....Everybody knew about World War II, and nobody knew about World War I.  Everybody knew about the Great Depression in the United States; nobody knew anything about the major depression that hit in Germany between the wars, resulting in the rise of Hitler.

Of course, this is exactly what makes moms come to me asking for help.  Everybody is deathly afraid that they will somehow "miss" something important when working with their homeschoolers, thereby somehow rendering them hopeless and unable to get into college. In the long haul, what matters most is developing a love of learning in your children and giving the desire and skills to enable them to continue learning throughout their adult lives.  Nobody can know "everything" at the age of 18. (Although most 18 year olds think they know everything...but that's another topic.) However, a little thought and planning can avoid such huge gaps and help provide a basic platform for further learning.

When planning for teaching social studies, I would follow these steps:

1. Forget/ignore what public school instruction is in social studies at a particular age. It doesn't matter, and your own plans will probably be superior to whatever they would be learning in school.  (Note to any public school parents who may be reading this:  Read to your kids, take them interesting places when you can...You can add on what the schools aren't teaching them and have fun doing it!)

2. Whatever you do, try to make it relevant and fun.  History can be the driest subject in the world or the most exciting one.  Start with local history, consider reenactments or theatre involvements, go on interesting field trips, read good books instead of textbooks.

3. When dealing with children 12 and down, there is nothing wrong with doing this a bit "hodge-podge"...but a good time line on the wall might do wonders in helping to tie things together.  Also, whatever you are studying, start with local, go to U.S., but don't ignore the rest of the world!  Learning about other cultures is vital in today's world.  Two of my own children live outside the United States; all but one have done extensive traveling.  I didn't leave this continent until I was in my fifties.  My mother never left the U.S.  My grandmother never left Wisconsin.  Things are changing, and we have to change along with it!

4. When the kids are about middle school age it is a good time to do some subjects more linear...U.S. history from the beginning to current, a good overall view of world history and geography, perhaps some emphasis on missions work.  Middle school years are a good time to prepare them for high school level work.  Emphasize the skills they are developing (research, public speaking, reading and writing, thinking), as well as  the specific knowledge base they are developing.  Both are important at this stage.

 5. When high school comes around, the typical social studies curriculum includes U.S. History, World History, World Geography, and Political Science/Economics.  Most homeschoolers already know a lot of U.S. History by then, so my tendency is to go heavier on the more difficult subjects in high school, such as economics, Constitutional law, and World History.  This doesn't mean you have to switch to boring methods of instruction...it just requires a little bit more planning, which should always involve the students at this stage.

6.  No matter what the age of the student, textbooks are always the worst kind of instruction in this area.  The best is personal involvement, (like real family trips), the second best is reading a good book written by someone who is actually interested in a particular topic. Good quality videos can also provide interesting vicarious experiences.  When I was teaching a world history class at the resource center, I always got the video of the bomber pilot who bombed Hiroshima discussing his experiences that day.  (For those of you in Georgia, it is available at the Cobb County Public Library). Just a little more interesting than reading about it in a textbook!

For those of you who have coops or resource centers where you can have group experiences, one final suggestion....my social studies classes at the resource center were also always my thinly-disguised speech classes.  Over and over, my old students who have now graduated college, come back and tell me this was the best thing we did for them there.  In middle school, they were expected to do group oral projects; in 9th grade they began taking ten minute pieces of class to teach, and by their senior year they were each teaching two complete classes a year.....An important part of this, I believe, is that they got to choose their own topics...It is always much easier to learn to speak in public when you are talking about something that you are interested in yourself!  I'm a great public speaker when I'm talking about homeschooling, but put me up there on a topic of someone else's choice, I'd probably be horrible.

Okay...way too long a post on a holiday weekend.  Get out there and enjoy the day with your families!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Rhythm of Life

I'm stealing this title from the book, "Plain  Wisdom", by Cindy Woodsmall and Miriam Flaud.  Miriam is an old order Amish woman, and Cindy is from the modern world, but they share a lot in common just by virtue of being women..It's a good book. You should all read it some time. I know I've been enjoying it the past few days.

Two rhythms strike me as important this morning...the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of the days.  It's a good time to be thinking of this, just as July shows up. July, by nature, is meant to be a slow time of year.  It's a time for lying around in a hammock, taking a nice siesta during the hot hours of the day, spending the 4th of July with family and friends, and maybe taking a trip to the beach, or just splashing around with the family in the back yard pool.

The problem is, so many people have allowed themselves to get out of rhythm with the natural world.  It is so easy to hide inside climate controlled houses and let July pass unnoticed.  When I was a kid, the neighborhoods would be filled with children playing outside all month long.  Think of Calvin and Hobbes and how much Calvin loved the summer, when "the days were just filled" with lots of nothing to do... In my job as an appraiser, I drive neighborhoods almost every day during the week.  The kids are usually nowhere to be seen.  A few might be found in the subdivision's pool, but rarely do you see children just fooling around out in their yards... I guess it is just too easy to sit inside in the airconditioning and play computer games, and I find that desperately sad.

It is also very important (at least for me) to move in the natural rhythm of the day...and that also changes for me from season to season.  In the summertime, down south, I get up early every morning and before the sun gets too high, I do a little praying/inspirational reading, do my flexibilty exercises, feed the animals, feed myself, go running at the state park,  water the outside plants and my gardens, and then water the inside plants and fill my bird feeders.  Only after those "morning things" are done do I turn on my computer.  I never allow appointments to infringe on these early morning hours...my work day starts at 10:00.  Period. 

Except yesterday.  Yesterday, my boss really needed to talk to me at 6:00 a.m.  That talk just kind of continued until about noon...and none of my "morning things" happened.  That threw me off for the entire rest of the day.  Of course, one of the important things to learn in life is you have to be flexible, and he really did need me yesterday morning. I understand that.  I also promise that if he started to "need" me very often at that hour, I would soon be looking for another job.  I've talked a lot about establishing boundaries lately.  This is one boundary I simply have to have in place!

When my kids were little, we had a lot of flexibility and freedom in our homeschooling and our household, but every morning we had a bit of a routine, what we used to call our "morning things". We always started out with a few chores, a little personal private time, and a sit down breakfast together at approximately the same time every day.  I've written many times that if we ever looked a little bit like a school when the kids were young, it was when we were at the breakfast table. I figured I had them all gathered together, so we might as well use the time together.  We always started with a little Bible study, mostly using Pearl Buck's "The Story Bible", and then did one other thing...often a unit study, sometimes some foreign language study.

The important thing, to me, was that we had a routine established...Again, we could sometimes alter it for a day or two if life got in the way,  but established routines and rhythms are very important to maintaining sanity, and the more they can mimic the natural rhythms of life,  the happier and calmer everybody is typically going to be.

For the record, it has been in the 90s for days down south, and right now, at just after noon, the air conditioner is still off.  I have a routine for that, too, (which, I'll admit,  is sometimes a bone of contention in the family)..First thing in the morning, windows open, attic fan on.....Later, attic fan off, windows closed....At some point in the later afternoon, if it gets just too bad, a couple of hours of AC...then it is off again and the windows are opened and the attic fan is on....Not only does it save gobs of money, it helps me to live my life like my cat...going in and out of the house all day long at will....not getting so used to a nice cool house that I don't want to go out and do things in the garden.

Of course, I know not everybody is the "nature girl" that I am....But whatever, you need to establish your routines and your rhythms...it is part of the entire process of learning how to be relaxed without having things deteriorate into chaos.  Then remember to set your own goals for your homeschooling and just stop obsessing over all the things that don't matter much in the long run.   Live an interesting life, read a lot together, and make sure to enjoy some of these long, hot, summer days with your kids out in God's beautiful world!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Moms and Working

I've been thinking a lot this week about the issue of moms who need to earn extra income.  This is the first time in a long while that I've been working for a "boss", although I'm still technically an independent contractor in my real estate work, which  gives me a certain amount of leeway.  Working for someone else makes everything so much more difficult when you have a household that needs somebody's full-time attention.

I read a good book a long time ago, (the title of which escapes me), which talked about women going through various stages in their lives.  For the majority of women, this looks something like:  young, unmarried, just out of college; young and married without children; 7 years (or so) of being married with small children,  then married with children in school, and eventually married with kids all grown up.  Of course, there are also single women at all phases,whose issues are somewhat different than the majority of homeschooling moms.

The problem with homeschooling moms is that phase three, married with children, doesn't last just seven years for us....it lasts about a third of our lifetimes!  That makes it more important than ever for homeschooling moms to consider carefully whenever we are trying to earn an income.  I still believe that it is much, much better for moms to either not work at all when their kids are still needing them a lot, or to figure out some way to do it being their own boss....An outside employer throws a real wrench into your priorities when you still have kids at home that need you at odd hours.

Even now, with just two "kids" at home (aged 20 and 33), I find there are still moments when I'm needed.  As they get older, these moments are rarer, but they seem to be all the more critical at the exact moment of need. Even though I have deadlines now, I still have a little flexibility since much of my work as a real estate appraiser is done at home at my computer (and often in my jammies at midnight!)  Still, I could never have done this job when my children were younger, because the stress would have made me crazy.

For those of you whose kids are still young, I strongly encourage you to explore any options you can find to make money on your own schedule. Nowadays, that probably would be easiest to do using the internet.  My daughter Laura is thinking about making a variety of handcrafted items and selling them on an internet site.  I had so many botched attempts to make money when my kids were little.  The worst one was distributing phone books. I had pictured walking down the street with a little red wagon while Sam and Ginny took turns running up to place a phone book on a porch...Instead I wound up with 400 phone books I had to haul up to the 15th floor of an office building while they sat at home being babysat!  The best job I ever had as a young homeschooling mom was teaching piano lessons to school kids after school at my house.  By then my little guys were ready for some quiet time in their rooms, and as long as I kept it down to 2 students a day, it worked fine.  Then later, as I began working with homeschoolers, things also worked fairly well because it was all homeschool related, so the kids could usually be around and moderately helpful.

I don't regret the last four years, working and studying in the field of real estate. It has definitely helped me learn more about computers, marketing, and lots of technological areas that I'd been avoiding to that point. However, I could never have done this when my kids were all still at home.  I miss the more leisurely days of homeschooling and working with other families and I''m looking forward to putting this real estate work aside again someday and returning to the field of education....But for now, gotta go...I have a deadline to meet!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Building (and Appreciating!) Community

This past weekend, for the first time since my New Year's Resolution to blog every weekend, I didn't do it....hence the mid-week post.  The reason I didn't is that, for once, I was actually part of a community for a few days again. I went up to Virginia to see my daughter, who was visiting a friend in grad school. The friend lives in a house with five other young women, and it was so great to feel like a part of a group again for a change.  I think the thing I like the best is that, when you want to go to a farmer's market, or a movie, or a swimming pool, there is almost always someone there who wants to go with you.

I've been a part of a community many times over the years, like during school, or when working at Goodwill when I was in my twenties, or when creating the resource center in Kennesaw where we worked with homeschoolers for nine years...but I've also experienced a lot of alone-ness...Note this is somewhat different than loneliness...the more you know yourself, and the more connected you are to God, the more alone-ness you can tolerate without giving way to loneliness.  Still, connections are important, and I crave more of them.

When my kids were little, in a lot of ways, they were my community.  I remember, back then, though, that I often craved a little adult companionship to balance it out.  Every once in awhile, I'd experience true fellowship with other homeschoolers, or sometimes other adults that weren't homeschoolers. Once Steve was on a baseball team that travelled a lot, so I got to really know the other moms and dads in a deeper way, but this was the exception, rather than the rule.

I also remember how envious I was once when I met a homeschooling group of moms down in Florida who really had developed the kind of community I was craving. They met every week at somebody's house, and talked and laughed until the wee hours of the morning. Although plenty of groups try to do this, it seems hard to get everybody to commit and stick around long enough to develop deep friendships...For those of you who do already have this, treasure it! 

One of our goals with ARCHERS is to stimulate this kind of community among homeschooling moms.  We don't want to step in and take over if you already have this kind of experience.  However, I am finding that it is difficult to help, because people either already have it and don't need our help, or are completely clueless as to how to start.  I probably get at least one email a week asking if we have an ARCHERS support group in (fill in the blank).  When I respond I always say, "Not that I know of, but we'd be happy to help you start one"...Typically, there is no response.  Starting something sounds like a lot of work, but back in the early days of the movement, when there were no existing groups, we all started by doing things like tacking up notes at the library or seeking out a couple of people at places like LaLeche League meetings, or food coops. Once we had a small core of people, the groups often grew, sometimes to the point that they became too large and had to either split or change character. 

My dream continues to be to create a special retreat/conference center to help people build such communities....In the meantime, I treasure the occasional times when I get to be a part of a group of special women, like I did last week. If any of you are reading this, thanks for the memories!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Getting Unstuck, Finding Real Faith

Lately, in one of my jobs in life, being the person everybody calls when they don't know what else to do,(which I don't mind, by the way), I have noticed a definite trend.  So many people are getting scared about a large variety of things, some real and close to home, some halfway imaginary and far away, that they are becoming absolutely stuck, and can't figure out what to do next (about almost everything).

Obviously, I have  alot of solid Christian friends and relatives, but I also have a lot of non-Christian friends and relatives, and, quite frankly, the only difference I'm seeing between the two groups is a difference in rhetoric.  One group gives me various degrees of  "Life Sucks and then You Die."...The other is all about "God is good, God has a purpose in all this, God will see us through", etc.  But neither group seems capable of figuring out the next move.

You know it is one thing to say the Christian words, and quite another to truly believe, deep down, that everything is going to be okay.  The thing is, as much as I do believe, I have never personally experienced a situation where God just threw down money or handed me a job without my going out to look for one.  (Not saying he wouldn't be capable of that, just saying it isn't the way he usually works on my behalf.)

So the question is, how does one get unstuck?  How does one get over the fear of the unknown and figure out how to take the next step?  How does one make that decision, especially if that next step is something scary, like letting your house go back to the bank so you can move on to the next stage of your life?

Since my son Sam never minds me talking about him (unlike a couple of his siblings), I'm going to use our recent interaction as an example.  Sam has been stuck, stuck, stuck lately.  He had a series of difficult situations to get through, battling cancer and then winding up bankrupt due to medical expenses, and he wound up broke and living at home, unemployed.  He came very close to getting his dream job a few months ago, and when it didn't come through, he got into this rut that I'm seeing a lot of other folks in right now....a rut where it is much easier to just sit there and whine about the economy than it is to keep on trying.

The other day we had a talk about how to get out of a rut...in his case, I'm encouraging him to go back and start taking some college credits again, one class at a time..(He was close to his degree when everything started to hit the fan, and now would like to finally finish it...)  In addition, he needs to just start handing out the resumes again...no matter how discouraging it may seem. The bottom line is, he has to do something, even if he isn't sure what that is!  He will not find a job, or finish his degree, or find more friends, or ultimately create a family of his own, as long as he sits in this house having philosophical discussions with his mother!

In my work as an appraiser, I'm seeing many situations these days where people's lives have gone up in smoke, losing their homes to foreclosure. In many of these houses, you can just feel the anger...people who said to themselves (and I'm guessing to many other people!) ....Ok, you can take my house, but first I"m taking the stove and the dishwasher and all the ceiling fans, and I think I'll just make a few holes in the walls while I'm at it, and maybe I'll take all the copper piping and rip out the tile in the bathrooms....Then the other day I went into a foreclosed home and you could still feel the love in that home.  The wallpaper on the children's rooms were still intact, the house had been carefully cleaned up when the family left, and the stove and the dishwasher were still in place.  I don't know where that family is today, but I know that the attitude they had in the face of economic troubles will serve them well as they figure out the next step. And I'm willing to bet that God really will be with that family, and will not let them starve.

If you're having troubles, or feel like you're in a rut, just make up your mind to move beyond the "God is good" rhetoric and start really trusting him!!!  Then wake up tomorrow and figure out one good thing to do to start moving in a better direction.  As usual, I'm partly speaking to myself here.  This morning, I had two good things to do...one was to write this blog, and the other was to clean up the patio area...a disgusting job for early on a Sunday morning, but one that had to be done, and now it makes me feel good. Instead of looking out on a winter's worth of debris, I'm looking out on a nice clean patio.

One of my favorite quotes is from an old Amish lady..."Do ye now next thing."....And then the next, and the next, and the next, and one day you will wake up and you will have gotten out of your rut and your difficult situation.  Of course, life is a series of difficult situations, so part of the exercise is understanding that this is LIFE...and part of it is learning to have a good time in the midst of the difficulties.  So, once again, RELAX...and don't just SAY you're trusting God, really trust God to show you what to do, one step at a time.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Remembering other people and times on Memorial Day

This Memorial Day weekend I'm having trouble keeping myself cheerful because, compared to other times of my life, especially when I was surrounded by little children, I feel so alone....Yet, tucked down deep in my heart are so many memories of other places and other times. When I feel all alone, I know that I'm not really alone, since God is there, and since all these other loved ones are still deep inside and have become part of me, as I have become part of them. I also know that the day is coming, fairly soon, when I will once again be surrounded by a community, as ARCHERs proceeds with its plans for developing a rural conference center.  Today, though, I will have to be content with my plans, as well as my memories.

To start with, there was my father, a veteran of World War II, a casualty of the Great Depression, who never really found himself after all he went through...Still, I know I got a lot of my intelligence and curiosity from him, and, in a round about way, I even developed a lot of my spirituality through him, even if it was just noticing the mistakes he made along the way.  I can still see him walking up a ladder with two piles of shingles on either shoulder.  He has been gone from earth for almost 40 years, but his presence is still with me every day.  So glad I was able to forgive him long ago....or the memories would have ruined my life instead of helping me grow.

Three years ago, my mother died...Wish I could be up there at her grave this weekend putting flowers on it, but I can't run up to Wisconsin whenever I feel like it, especially with gas prices what they are.  She will always be a part of me, the little voice inside my head that keeps me on track, both encouraging me and telling me when I am messing up. Most of my personal strength comes from knowing that I  came from a line of strong women, starting with her mother, who raised five children (and lost 3 others) in a house with no indoor plumbing or electricity, up in northern Wisconsin where heat is not exactly optional...I think of my grandmother every time I go out to garden.  I have the privilege of doing it for fun, and not worrying about who gets to eat it, me or the rabbits.  If her garden didn't grow, her family starved.

When I think of my own mother, I am so grateful that I didn't let minor things, like her disapproval of our homeschooling, or her efforts to prevent me from publishing a particular book, get in the way of our continued relationship. It would have been so easy to just get angry and turn away sometimes...but we both persevered and manage to retrieve our joy, despite several angry and hurtful moments.  In the end, we parted the best of friends, the kind of friendship that can only develop out of the early mother-daughter relationship.

More than anything, this Memorial weekend, I am missing my daughters.  I'm used to having kids run off to places like Korea and Thailand, but before this it was always for a limited time.  Now my youngest daughter has left to get married in England, and there is no guarantee she will ever again live nearby.  My oldest daughter is now living in Portland, Oregon, but in two weeks we get to see each other in Virginia at the home of a friend....sure looking forward to that! 

As women, we find that we are always going into or out of some phase, and always needing to reinvent ourselves.  I believe women do that much better than men, and are capable of being flexible and going with the flow more than men, too.  In order to be happy for Laura, I have to once again reinvent myself.  Up to this point, I have been out of the country three times. Once was when I was 12, and went on a trip with my drill team up to Canada.  The second time was a trip to Kenya to speak at a homeschool conference, and the third time was a trip to Korea to see my kids who lived there and to speak at a large workshop.  They were all fun times, but they all seemed like aberrations, way outside my comfort zone.  Now I have to actually become a world traveler.  Next year, I have two trips scheduled, one to Thailand to see my son who works at an international school, and one to England to attend Laura's wedding.  

I know I'm just rambling today....but I wanted to thank all the dear ones I've mentioned, as well as the people I don't even remember, who have influenced my life and touched me all these years.  I wish I could be with every one of you this weekend, but instead I will have to hold your memories in my heart and make some plans to look forward to, while doing a good job at whatever God puts in my hands today.

Have a good Memorial Day with your friends and families!  For all you homeschooling moms out there, enjoy the time together with your little ones...the best times of your life are the ones you are going through right now, even if it does feel overwhelming at times!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rabbits and squirrels and deer...oh my.

It's gardening time again in the deep south.  Just went to "customer appreciation day" at Pike's Nursery and came back with three new rose bushes to plant.  I've always loved gardening, but I could have done without the little rabbit sitting there looking right at me while I was setting my new little tomato plants and eggplants over by the garden. I'm surprised he waited until I got in the house to chow down.

Last year the deer got my corn, the raccoons took the tomatoes and watermelons every time one got ripe, the squirrels dug up my corn (while I was planting it) and the rabbits ate all the beans. I got one pepper and a couple of eggplants to eat out of an entire summer of getting up early to water. 

What does this have to with education, which is usually the point of this blog?  Just this....I can't get angry at the little critters, and, in fact, am purposely planting the food knowing they are going to eat it. Why?  Because I read one too many books about little animals and gardens, both when I was a child and when my kids were little...from Beatrix Potter to Thornton Burgess to Robert Lawson...these authors affected me more than almost any other experiences in my life.

Read to your kids....its a whole lot more lasting than anything else that might look more educational...and while you are at it, plant a garden this spring....Even if you, like me, wind up getting very little food out of it, you will learn an immense amount just by having the experience of digging in the dirt. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saluting all single moms (or those temporarily single)

Today I'm saluting all of you who are either single moms or feel like it sometimes when your husband is away....This past year my husband has been away a lot...right now I'm going on four days here by myself.  Even though my kids are grown, three of them are here right now.  There is just so much to do that it can't possibly get done.  I feel like I just keep running from store to home to work and never have a single moment to myself!  This morning, for example, I got up and went downstairs and one of the dogs had "done his thing"  on the new tile floor my son and I just finished laying.  So I wound up not only cleaning that, but the entire downstairs plus the bathroom before I had even done my exercises or eaten breakfast. Of course by then the dogs and cat were all starving and they had to be fed before I could eat, and then some phone calls came in, and then my son needed to talk to me, so it wound up being about three hours into my day before I had the time to eat a bowl of cereal.

I don't have any great words of wisdom for y'all...I'm just appreciating your struggles right now. I will say that it has been important to me to celebrate my own little successes rather than focusing on what is not getting done...It would have been tempting to come back up after cleaning the whole downstairs and start beating myself up about the upstairs being a mess. But I chose to enjoy the clean downstairs for awhile instead.

Anyway, my hats are off to those of you who have to do this all the time...keep your priorities straight and try to stay balanced...and don't hesitate to ask others for help when you need it!

Friday, April 29, 2011

What are you attached to?

This week I am blogging a day early. Tomorrow I leave for two days in the wilds of Mississippi, on our tree farm in Webster County, far, far away from the reach of cell phones and computers!  Of course, I always enjoy times like this, because I am a true nature girl.  Other than always loving the out-of-doors, one of the reasons I am a nature girl is because I learn so much from being around animals and plants.

This morning, I went out to water my rose garden.  I was greeted by one of the most amazing and intricate spider webs I've ever seen.  The dew was sparkling in the early morning, and it was just SOOO pretty!  For about one second.  Because, unfortunately, the spider had attached it to the hose reel, and the minute I turned it, it was destroyed in an instant.

You have to be careful what you allow yourself to become attached to!  Attaching to something that is easily moved is not a particularly good idea, as this spider found out this morning. So what are you attached to today?

-Those who are attached to material possessions can find them gone in an instant, like many of our friends and neighbors here in the southland, following the tornado outbreak of a couple of days ago...
-Those who are attached to their IRAs and stock portfolios can find them gone in an instant in the next crash.
-Those who are attached to their good looks can find outward beauty fleeting as they get older.
-Those who are attached to a particular group of friends can find that friends get busy and move away
-Those who are attached to their persona as a homeschooling mom will someday find that even those children grow up and move away, and the persona has to change or wither away! (I may be talking to myself here!)
-But those who are firmly attached to Jesus and to the principles of the Bible, will find that their anchor is 100% immovable, regardless of tornadoes or stock market crashes, or accidents, or illnesses, or growing older, or watching as friends and families leave to follow their own dreams.

Don't be like that spider!  Be careful to attach yourself to something permanent! 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Celebrating Holidays

This Easter weekend is the first one ever when I haven't bought any candy, haven't decorated any eggs, and don't have the Easter baskets out!  Kind of sad, in a way...but kids do grow up, and we're just in that window of time when no grandchildren are around yet...and at some point it seems a little silly to be hiding the baskets, which was always our tradition...As the kids got older it became more and more of a challenge to find places they couldn't find right away.  I think they finally got tired of it the day I had to hide one of them in the ceiling tiles downstairs in order to provide the right level of challenge!

Both Easter and Christmas are obviously religious holidays to those of us who are Christians, but they have also been secularized to some extent, and there are all kinds of disagreements these days.  The public schools have mostly succeeded in replacing Easter vacation, which we had when I was a child, with "Spring Break", which often isn't even at the same time as Easter.  Now they are trying to change "Christmas Vacation" to "Winter Break"....(Watch and see if it doesn't wind up being in January every year instead of Christmas soon...Then the school kids will only get a long weekend off at Christmas, and even more traditions will be threatened by those whose kids remain in the school system.)

There are also those Christians who don't believe in celebrating Easter with little bunnies and colored eggs, and who want to stay away from Santa Claus,too.  There are even those who stress that Christmas developed out of a pagan holiday and think we should avoid it altogether.

Here's my opinion, for what it is worth.  As far as Christmas goes, it has always been a time for families to gather, to remember the story of Bethlehem, and develop family traditions.  I have trouble seeing what is wrong with that.  Of course, we all have to watch out that Christmas doesn't become one giant "to do" list, where huge amounts of debt are accrued in order to provide for every single possible "want", turning it into a greed fest, and making the mom so busy she can't remember what she's supposed to be celebrating.  Still, we had fun with the Santa Claus idea when the children were little. However, we were very careful to always be sure the kids realized that he was fanciful and fun and FAKE, while Jesus was a real, historical figure, who is very much alive and real today. 

Easter, too, was celebrated with the eggs and bunnies at our house, but the children were always reminded that those were symbols of new life, celebrated at the beginning of new life in nature around us, and rooted in the reality of the new life we all receive because Jesus was raised up to new life on that day.  If others want to debate and criticize, it is up to them, but it was always sort of simple and non-political in our house.  My role models, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt, were simple women, strong women, who cared most of all about their families and didn't get caught up in the arguments that no doubt swirled around them, since there are always people who want to argue about something.  I hope to be that role model, myself, as I get older. I can't wait to have some grandchildren myself so the house will once again be filled with squeals of glee and the type of excitement that can only be generated with a houseful of small children! Enjoy it while you can, young moms....You'll miss it someday!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Drama Camp!

We have just confirmed we have the location for our drama camp...It is in Paulding Co., GA, in the general vicinity of the intersection of highway 120 and highway 92 (eastern Paulding co.).  The dates are July 5-15. It is 2 weeks, for about four hours a day, with a performance Fri night the  15th.  It is meant for ages 10-14; younger kids can only participate if a parent remains. There is also a place for older teens to volunteer.  There are a couple of paid staff positions available, a few slots for volunteers, and 25 slots for paid participants ($175).  The focus will not be on putting on a play per se...it will be a variety, including improvisation, mime, monologues, audition preparation, stage makeup, sets and props, etc.  Lots of Fun!!  Contact me at mary.e.hood@gmail.com for more information.

For those who are far away and drooling...Remember our goal is to be able to plant programs all across the United States (I love being grandiose!).  We used to do this camp all the time when it was actually me directing...this will be the first time we're putting it on with others in staff positions...As soon as we figure out how to do it right this way, we will be open to the idea of sponsoring programs in other areas.  Just stay in touch.

One of our goals is to turn this into a "trailer theatre".. I was involved in one of these in eighth grade. We spent the first part of the summer learning about all aspects of theatre and preparing a play, then spent the second half presenting it at various venues throughout the city of Milwaukee, mostly parks and playgrounds.  Our vision is to do it at summer Bible camps at the churches....

P.S. It is my husband's birthday today!  And Laura is busy planning her wedding. (My first to get engaged...)  Life is good!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Planning New Programs is always Exciting!

This week at our Board of Directors meeting, we are going to put the finishing touches on planning a Drama Camp at a nice location in the country with a little lake...It will be in early July, for ages 10-14. It has been awhile since I've been in on the planning process for this type of educational program.  It really feels good to be creating something that I know will be a wonderful experience for the children who get to participate. It's something I've been missing in recent years, ever since we shut down the flagship resource center in Kennesaw in order to expand into a national organization.

This reminds me of the early days at our first resource center in the strip mall in Acworth...Do any of you remember those first few programs?  When we first began, I taught an algebra class with only three students, including one of my own kids...by the time we ended, I usually had full classes of 16 kids, plus a waiting list.  Sometimes it takes awhile to build things up....This is a lesson I'm really having to learn again right now.  We want desperately to plant new resource centers, to assist others in starting ARCHERS support groups, to find new venues for me to speak about relaxed homeschooling, and, most of all, to finally get the land we've been wanting to create a permanent conference & workshop center in a rural setting...We are starting to see some results, but everything is just taking so darn long!

Did you ever notice that the number one reason people give for not homeschooling their children is that they "aren't patient enough"?  You know, patience is a fruit of the spirit...so when a lack of patience is an issue, it needs to be addressed spiritually.  The problem is that right now, I just want to pick some of those fruit and throw them at something.  I guess being frustrated is just part of what we have to wrestle with as human beings....I know if my mom was here, she'd tell me, "Be a little easier on yourself. Everything doesn't have to happen right this minute!  Give it some time!"  So I guess I'll try to listen. But just so you know, right now I don't feel like an elder statesman of the homeschool movement, or even particularly like a mature Christian.  I guess for now, one program this summer will have to suffice...the rest will develop when it is God's timing.  BUT...(insert stomping of foot), "BUT I WANT IT NOW!!!"

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Keeping Sports Under Control, Too!

Last week I talked about the importance of keeping technology under control. Now, with the Atlanta Braves cranking up, I'm reminded of the importance of also keeping sports under control!  Whether it is active participation or simply watching sports on television, there can be both positive and negative aspects.

My boys have always played baseball, and my girls have dabbled in softball, dance, and gymnastics. Group sports, at their best, can promote a healthy competitive spirit (with oneself and with others), can teach teamwork, encourage children to stay fit, and help them develop skills and have valuable contact with adult role models outside the family.  Under the wrong coach, on the wrong team, in the wrong league, the life lessons learned may completely undo familial teaching.

Families can bond while watching one of the children play ball.  Families can fall apart because television sports detract from time spent around the dinner table.  Families can support each other in healthy competition.  Poor sportsmanship on the part of adults can trigger all kinds of emotional problems in children. 

Like anything else, participation in sports requires balance and thoughtful participation on the part of adults.  When allowed to dominate all conversations during baseball season, it can leave no time for spiritual growth,  for productivity in school or work, or for relationship-building. Done properly, it can add immensely to the enjoyment of life.   So go watch your Braves, guys....but no screaming at the umpires! Make the effort to go in person a few times of year as a family instead of watching on television all the time, and spend some time throwing the ball around the yard once in awhile, rather than having all your contact with the game be vicarious.

Remember, too, that baseball, or any sport, can lead to academic knowledge, too.  My boys learned a lot of geography through following major league cities, learned a great deal of math through working with their statistics, and often wrote stories that were baseball-related.  We used to have a great math game called "Math Baseball"....I haven't seen it in stores for a couple of decades, although there is another called "Slugger", which I don't like quite as much....In math baseball, you picked a card (in the shape of a baseball), and worked the math problem found on it.  On the back side, it said, "single", "double", "triple" or "home run", depending on the difficulty of the problem.  If you got the problem correct, your man advanced to the proper plate.  You could make one similar to this yourself with a little creativity...

Go Braves!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Keeping Technology Under Control

It's a rainy Sunday here in Georgia.  When I looked at my "to-do" list today it included 1. Getting Skype on my computer in preparation for an on-line curriculum I'm speaking at this week (I will post details tomorrow on facebook when I get them).  2. Sending birthday greetings on line to a special friend.  3. Writing this blog post. 4.  Printing off an order to get it ready to send someone tomorrow.

Notice a trend?  Every one of those things have to do with a computer!!!

It's always a challenge, in everything we do, to seek the middle ground, to keep the balance. Doing this with technology will be one of the biggest challenge for those of you who are still in the middle of raising children in this new tech-crazy world.  Back when my children were young, all I had to manage was the amount and quality of the television they watched.  Not to sound like a dinosaur, but it seemed like even the choices of television we had back then were higher quality.  Of course, there were also things we needed to avoid. That was even true when my mother was raising me!

Towards the end of my child-raising experience, I had to face the "new" problems connected with computer games, especially Nintendo.  We simply didn't allow them in our home...until our oldest kids started to leave and go to college, and bring back such things with them.  Then it became a real challenge to balance the need to treat the young adults with respect while keeping the lines drawn clearly for the younger ones.

Nowadays, there is so much technology barraging us every day.  My grown kids text, Skype, watch television and movies, and always have a cell phone at the ready with somebody bothering them at all hours.  Somehow they manage to do it in and around being productive and moving ahead with their plans and dreams.  Still, it all seems so intrusive to me.  Meanwhile, I'm trying to find the balance to learn how to use all this technology without letting my own life get out of control. 

I know the world is changing, and I don't want to stick my head in the sand.  Without embracing some of this new technology, I won't be able to reach the younger homeschooling crowd with our message of relaxed, family-centered education.  Still, I don't want to stop reading books in favor of reading a Kindle, to fail to go outside and take walks and work on my garden in favor of sitting at this computer, or only go to online curriculum fairs where I can't see your smiling faces or be able to give you all a real hug.  Hope you all are able to maintain your balance, too!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Standardized testing?

Somebody asked me about testing this week under the comments on Chris Davis' series on "Not Homeschooling Your Children". I couldn't find the post to answer it so I figured it would become this week's blog instead.

I believe in standardized testing every year starting in the third grade.  Before that time, there is no reason to do so unless your state mandates it.  It is generally too stressful for young children and before third grade a lot of kids still have issues with reading.  The first time, in third grade, if a parent is able to give the test themselves, I recommend doing it at home.  After that first time, though, I recommend doing it in a group setting, preferably a homeschool friendly one, like at a co-op or resource center. 

There are several reasons I believe this is necessary. First, in some states, it is needed to stay legal. Second, and most important, is to learn how to take the tests.  This is a skill, one that is practiced more than any other one in the public schools, and our society has become test-happy.  Part of learning the skill is learning to take the test in an atmosphere where everyone is obsessed with whether or not you are somehow cheating; how to take it in an atmosphere where you may not be allowed to go to the bathroom when you need to; how to take it in an atmosphere where a beer truck is pulling up in front of the window and unloading during the test. (That one actually happened at our resource center once!)  This atmosphere can't be duplicated in a tutorial setting, or at the kitchen table.

That being said, it is just as important not to obsess over the results. Remember, they aren't testing your curriculum, their goals are different than yours are, their values are not the same, and the tests test a very specific type of knowledge, which does not value divergent thinking.  You will not learn anything about your children from these results that you don't already know.  If you need them to stay legal, turn them in, or file them, and forget about them.  Otherwise, file them in the circular file. Most homeschoolers will do well enough to stay legal. 

When my kids were small, I always knew that they would do poorly on the grammar and punctuation sections, because I didn't care about the minute details of writing at that age; my own goals were developing a love of reading and the overall ability to communicate.  I figured the picky things could come later, if at all.  I also knew which ones would do well on the math and which wouldn't.  I always knew that all my kids would blow away the reading comprehension and vocabulary parts of the test.  You know your kids well enough to predict everything, too. If something comes up that doesn't mesh with your own knowledge of your kids, perhaps there was something about the test itself that skewed the results.  If it doesn't seem right to you, or consistent with your common sense, do not assign it any credibility.

I never tested my kids over the content we covered during our homeschooling years because I'm not into the 'stuff it into your head and spit it out" type of education.  However, I did help them learn how to take tests, and when they got close to college entrance we did prepare for the SAT.  All of them got good test scores and wound up doing well in college.

For those of you who have asked about my booklet, "How to Teach Your Children Test-Taking Strategies", it is temporarily out of print, buried on my old computer, but I eventually intend to gather some of my old things together into some sort of three ring binder type product.  Keep bugging me...the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jury Duty

This past week started out with me having to go for jury duty for the first time.  Lots of impressions...First thing I noticed is that whenever I told someone I had jury duty, if they were homeschoolers they said something like, "Oh, I've always wanted to do that," or "I wish my kids could go along to see the process."  Whenever I told someone outside the homeschooling community, most of the time they started giving me their recommendations for how to get out of it.  My favorite one was to say, "I'd be PERFECT for jury duty, because I can tell if someone is guilty or not by just LOOKING at them!"

Well, I didn't get picked, but it was because I had a high jury number and they didn't need me for the first trial. The second trial I probably would have been picked, but the defendent did a plea bargain and the trial didn't happen.  I was torn. Part of me was really happy to get off because my daughter is at home for a few months before moving to England, and I had work to do, too, so I didn't really want to spend a week in a courtroom.  Part of me was a little disappointed, though, because it really did look like it would be interesting.

I did find it very uncomfortable answering questions about "me" forty years ago or so....I felt like I was talking about someone other than me. It made me realize how wonderful it is to become a "new person" when we really get in touch with Jesus...It just didn't even feel like I was talking about myself when I had to start answering questions about drug use and such back in the sixties...

Anyway, that was my first foray into the jury box....and I did get a chance to write an article for Jane Boswell's "Home Educator's Family Times" magazine while waiting to be questioned....so check it out. I imagine it will take an issue or two for it to show up. It is on our new "Titus Brigade" mentoring program.

Friday, March 4, 2011

I just remembered why we homeschooled our kids...

I just spent an entire day  dealing with incompetence and illiteracy, and have come to the conclusion that we need to simply mandate homeschooling for everyone!  It started out this morning, when I had to take a test. I can't even begin to tell you how dumb it was. The entire time I was working on it, I kept asking myself, "Seriously???" 

This was an important test that had to do with real estate. I won't get more specific right now, but it should have been conducted on a very professional level.  Instead, it was full of typos, mistakes, and poorly-worded questions  There was one question that required information found on a chart, but no chart was given.  The difficult parts of the class were skipped over and instead questions were thrown in that were on information not covered in the class at all.

This certainly wasn't the first time I've run into this in the business world...but it was definitely one of the worst examples.  Our schools simply don't seem to be teaching the basics of literacy anymore, and the results of years of ineffective instruction are starting to be very observable out in the "real" world.

At least this week I didn't have to think very hard about what to talk about on my blog!  On the one hand, it made me ashamed for my second profession.  On the other hand, it made me realize how much I could be of service by becoming truly competent and honest in the field of real estate.   Now I just have to go out and buy my black polyester leisure suit and I'll be ready to roll. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Regrets? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention...

I'm often asked if I have any regrets from my homeschooling years.  Generally, the answer is "no".  I certainly don't regret having chosen that path, and I don't regret the relaxed environment in which we operated most of those years. So any regrets I do have are pretty specific.  Sometimes, we get a second chance to fix something we neglected in the early years.

My daughter is coming home for a couple of months, before moving to England, perhaps permanently.  I just spoke with her and asked her if she'd like me to help her learn to sew while she is here.  That was always one of my regrets.  I used to sew a lot when I was young, even sewing my husband's dress shirts, and all of the baby clothes for the first two babies.  Somewhere in the busy-ness of homeschooling, I stopped doing that.

When my girls were younger, they had no interest in sewing, other than an occasional fling with knitting or crocheting, mostly as a crafts project.  Then, when they got older and wanted to learn, life got in the way and we never had the time to "make time".  Luckily, I just got reminded of my own interest in sewing at the Austin Trust in Learning Conference.  The lady next to me had a booth showcasing the sewing classes she was teaching to homeschoolers.  I kept wandering over there whenever my own booth got slow.  So when I was thinking about how to spend this limited time with my daughter, sewing just naturally came to my mind.  I'm so excited to be getting back into this.  Of course, when I last sewed, patterns cost $1.75, and the last time I was at Jo Anne Fabrics, I saw a price tag of $16.95.  Things may have changed a bit....but the ability to sew comes in awfully handy, and I'm so glad to be getting a second chance at passing down my knowledge.  Anybody around here want some sewing lessons?  I might just decide to teach some other people once my daughter flies off for new adventures!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Preventing Meltdowns

This week a younger homeschooling mom called me in tears, feeling overwhelmed by the competing demands of homeschooling, the needs of her children, the needs of her husband, and the demands being placed on her at her part time job.  Notice that nowhere in the discussion did she even begin to consider her own needs....which had lead to her complete meltdown! 

Nowadays, I know that there are many reasons that can lead a mother to believe she needs to get out there and make money.  Some of these are genuine, like when a husband has lost his job and she needs to temporarily get out there and help out while he is looking for new employment.  Some are absolutely necessary, as might be the case with a single mom who is the only provider for the family.  However, sometimes, an adjustment in lifestyle might be the answer, so that her income is no longer required.  A lot of homeschooling families do this already, pinching pennies, buying bread at day-old stores, using coupons, etc.  This is all commendable, but in order to really be able to live on one income, bigger changes might be needed...like selling a large house and going to live in something more modest, or perhaps trying to make it with only one car.

Everybody has to make decisions like this on their own, because each family is different.  All I can share is my own experience.  Our family did its level best over the years to live within my husband's income.  Even now, I drive an older car I inherited from my mom, and we live in a house that many people would consider unacceptable...of course, others in third world countries would do anything for the luxury we enjoy within our four walls!  When I did do things to make some extra money, it was always something under my own control...things like teaching Lamaze classes as an independent contractor, starting my own dba to teach outside classes, switching to a non-profit corporation (with me still in control) when we grew too large.  Even today, I'm still an independent contractor working as an appraiser.

My point is simple, even though I feel like I'm beating around the bush a little...When a mom is considering employment outside the home, first consider if there is a way to make it unnecessary by cutting back.  Second, if a mom absolutely has to work, try to find some way to do it without having a "boss" other than yourself.  The reason is simple...women already have enough bosses without adding one more!  A woman is already accountable to God, to her husband, to her children, and to herself.  In addition, she may feel accountable (perhaps unnecessarily) to others outside the immediate family, like her parents, her in-laws, her friends, her homeschooling colleagues, or the evaluators in her school district.  It's no wonder we break down sometimes!  Adding in accountability to one more person, especially a boss at an outside job, might just be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Somewhere, somehow, homeschooling moms (and other moms, too!) have to stop and make some time for themselves.  Without having the time to re-center and re-energize, we have nothing left to give those who are depending on us everyday.   This is not selfish!  It is absolutely necessary for the family to function smoothly.  This includes things like eating right, exercising, getting fresh air every day, and finding time to learn things that you want to learn.  When you are planning activities for the year, throw yourself into the mix.  Also, remember that if every child in the family is "in balance", with just the right number of activities, and you add them all up and drive them there, you will be the one out of balance!  Don't feel like you need to spend every day doing things outside of the home in order to provide enough enrichment....spend some of your time "homeschooling"  actually being at home!  (And not necessarily hunched over schoolbooks, either!)  I feel like I'm preaching, but I get too many phone calls like this.  It shouldn't be this difficult to find the right mix.  Homeschooling can really be a relaxed, joyful experience.  If it isn't, figure out what needs to change in order to get that feeling back....Life is too short to spend it having meltdowns.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Back from Austin Fair

Ok, I promised one blog a week this year, but I just got back from the Austin, TX fair, I'm tired, and this will be short!  We had a good time at the Trust in Learning conference there.  I stayed with an old-timey homeschooler, and we had a lot of good conversations.  One of them was about field trips.  We both reminisced about some great bonding times we had with our children doing field trips.  In one long trip, she and her kids went to all of the missions in California. (Note: She recommends not EVER doing that.) Still, after all these years, even though it was kind of hard, she remembers those times with her kids....I remember the time I went across country with Steve, who was then about 13, and we camped all the way there and all the way back.  We saw the Grand Canyon, and camped out beneath the beautiful New Mexico sky.  One night we camped beside a swamp in Mississippi, and even though there was no rain at all, we woke up to having everything in our campsite soaked to the gills.  Two nights later, in the hill country of New Mexico, it rained directly into the tent, which had an open screen top, and nothing got wet at all! 

Those are the best field trips, in my opinion, the ones with just you and your kids, or you and a single kid, when not everything is planned in advance and there is all kinds of room for serendipity.  The big planned ones can be nice, too, but these family trips will be remembered forever!  Take the initiative and go somewhere fun this year!   Mary

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Overcoming (or not!) Frustration

I said at the beginning of the year that, barring almost anything, I would make a post on here once a week, usually on Saturday mornings.  Yesterday, though, I just couldn't get myself to share...I kept thinking, "You know, I should really get on and vent just so everybody could see that  Mary Hood has bad days,too!"  It was just one of those days when everything that could go wrong, did!  My husband was getting ready to leave for three weeks on a work assignment, my car was acting up,  and the work I was supposed to be doing as an appraiser was incredibly frustrating.  

I know, though, that my real frustration is that I feel like I'm wasting valuable time doing all this real estate work.  I know in my heart that my destiny is still in the field of parent education, that I have a lot of important things left to accomplish helping homeschooling families, and that I'm not a spring chicken anymore...Once you hit 60, which I did last year, you start feeling the clock ticking.  I just can't understand why God seems to be keeping me marching in place right now when I so much want to be charging ahead.  I can visualize so clearly the place we're trying to create, a conference center in the Georgia Mountains....I can see the children putting on plays on the porch of the log cabin, the moms having fellowship around the campfire, the teens making memories at summer camps...but, right now it seems  that, in the words of the song, "Only trouble is, gee whiz, I'm dreaming my life away."

I wish I had some miraculous concluding paragraph that sums up how I found peace and contentment in the midst of it all...but I'm afraid those aren't really my strong suits, especially right now! Oh, I can QUOTE it...(Philippians 4:11...for I have learned in whatever state I am, therewith to be content."  Living that statement out isn't always quite that easy.

The one thing I have learned, over the years, is that sometimes God just does that...stops us in our tracks for awhile, perhaps confined to a bed, perhaps sick and pregant, perhaps fighting emotional problems, maybe just wrestling with a third grade who can't learn her multiplication facts. Whatever he has us going through, it usually turns out to be some kind of a learning experience, or maybe even a blessing in disguise.  I've also learned that I can try to figure out the reason until the cows come home, but sometimes, it is just isn't going to happen.  Then all any of us can do is to try to trust God, hope for the future, and keep sloshing through the present, one foot ahead of the other, until we come out on the other side.

I do have one thing to look forward to this weekend...whatever happens the next three days, on Thursday I'm headed off to Austin to speak at a fair and meet some of you!  I'm really looking forward to that, and hope the snow and ice go away so all you Texans can come out and enjoy it with me.  For info, go to http://www.trustinlearning.info/.  Hope to see you there!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Learning Styles

In my writing and speaking on the subject of reading, I've often discussed the importance of recognizing learning styles.  Today I'm not focusing on the learning styles of the children, but the personality, interests, and learning style of  the mother.  So often, during the years when we are swamped with attending to the needs of others, we fail to pay adequate attention to our own needs.  That's why my cd called, "How to Avoid Being a Mommy Martyr" is the most frequently requested talk I give!  None of us wants to completely lose ourselves in the quest for being a successful homeschooling moms.

No matter how much we may try to focus on the needs of others, especially our children, our own subconscious needs and learning styles will always influence our interactions with others.  That's why it is important to take the time, once in awhile, to think through what those might be.

When I first starting talking about learning styles, many years ago, no one knew what I was talking about. Nowadays, most people recognize the differences between the visual learner, the auditory learner, and the kinesthetic one.  When talking about children, I have stated that you can begin to figure this out by observing your children when you read to them.  The auditory one will be staring into space; the visual one will demand to sit next to you and look at the page, and the kinesthetic one will be over in the corner playing with his trucks, or bouncing next to you acting disruptive.

One thing people forget, though, is that all of these learning styles can sometimes co-exist in a single learner!  You can overlap, you can change from one to the other, or you may find that one predominates in some circumstances, and another one in a different circumstance.  I'm a perfect example of this.  I clearly have some auditory learner inside me.  That's why I can stand up and give a 6 hour talk without notes; it is also why I rarely make hand-outs, and don't particularly like working with overhead projectors or other visual aids.  On the other hand, when I'm asked to spell a word, I write it out in the air. When my husband tries to give me directions, I have to have him make a map or write it out, which are both characteristics of visual learners.  When I was in college, I would make copious notes on every lecture.  However, I never read them or studied them later!  What appeared to be a visual need, (making notes), was probably actually a kinesthetic need...the need to be physically doing something in order to pay attention in class.

In order to get in touch with your own personality, interests, needs and learning styles, I suggest you take a trip back down memory lane and think of what you were like in the elementary years, before high school.  Once you get to high school, there are so many other influences, including the expectations of others, that you may have let your own needs get pushed down too far to recognize.

When I think of myself as a young child, several things come to mind.  I'm a nature girl, not exactly a tomboy, but definitely with tendencies in that direction. I always preferred "guy" things, like woodworking, to "girl" things, like sewing.  I always preferred being outdoors, and related better to plants and animals than I did to people.  My best friends were often boys. Observing my own needs, I recognize that I have a tremendous need for balance.  I've got to have some time alone, but I also need time with others.  When my children were young, I was often out of balance because I didn't have enough "alone time". Now I'm facing the opposite challenge.

Thinking about your own needs may seem a bit selfish....but it is one of the best things you can do for your family.  If you are a visual learner, you will tend to drive one of your sons crazy asking him to show you his math work.  If you are an "in-your-head" math person, you will drive somebody else crazy using the word, "just"...You just multiply the blah blah blah blah blah and then blah blah blah blah blah." Understanding how you think will help you to finally realize that everybody else does not have the same needs, wants, desires, interests, modes of thinking, or learning styles that you do.  Once you are clear what your own needs are, you will finally be freed up to focus on the genuine needs of your children.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Math and Science

The other night, at a small workshop, the following question was posed:  "I have a son who is good at reading, writing, and science, but bad in math and spelling.  People have suggested "math dyslexia".. Is there really such a thing?  Will it stop him from doing well in science?  What about spelling? How do I encourage him in the areas he is good at and help him in his weak areas?"

Well, kind a big question!  Let me try to answer at least part of this.  First, there is such a thing as math dyslexia. I know, because I obviously have it!  It was one reason I was pathetic in math when I was young. (The other reasons had to do with lack of motivation, frustration, self-fulfilling prophecies, and ultimately, giving up.) I didn't get better at math until I was an adult and had need to do so.  Since I've started working on it, I managed to teach through pre-calculus, run a business and then a non-profit corporation doing most of the bookkeeping myself, and be a statistics teaching assistant when I did my Ph.D.  Obviously, it can be overcome.  However, it takes a lot of motivation and determination, which are often not present in childhood.

Nowadays, for example, whenever I have to copy numbers (like from a checkbook to a ledger), I have learned I need to say them out loud and do them in groups of 3.  Otherwise, I'll have all the numbers, but the order will probably be wrong.  I'm appraising a house right now with the house number 2170...each time I use the number I have to look at it first.  I know there is a 2, a 1, a 7, and a 0...but it is 2710?  2107?  I've learned I have to check it EVERY time to be sure.

As far as the science connection goes, there is no need for math in the lower levels of science...you don't need to know math in order to make a leaf collection, raise animals, study seashells, etc. (Of course, in some cases, it might be helpful....but it wouldn't prevent anyone from getting involved. ) If somebody later decides to become an actual scientist, and needs a degree, at some point the math will become important.  In order to get a degree in geology, for example, you need to take math all the way through calculus. As in my own case, I believe that the motivation will be strong enough later to overcome whatever real problems are present.

Also, I'm not sure how old the "son" in question is.   If he is still younger than 12 or so, it might not be a real learning problem at all. Perhaps it might be a question of poorly chosen curriculum materials (based on his learning style), lack of motivation, or other factors.  I have written extensively about this in the booklet, "Taking the Frustration out of Math" (also available as a cd)...For more info go to our website, http://www.archersforthelord.org/.

I'll tackle the "spelling question" another time.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Speaking Engagements

If anyone could help me get the word about about the following, I'd appreciate it!  I'm speaking in Austin TX at the Trust in Learning Conference on Feb 11-12. This is a small-ish conference with two main speakers, of which I am one.  For information, go to http://www.trustinlearning.info/.  (That makes way too much sense!). Also, if anyone is near where I live, around the Cartersville, GA area, I'm speaking at a home fellowship this coming Thursday.Jan. 20. Being a home,  attendance is obviously limited.  Email johnlaurapenn@yahoo.com to see if there is still room and get directions. It is up towards the Euharlee area.

In other news, our ice finally melted!  I'm in the middle of writing a new article for "The Old Schoolhouse Magazine" on our mentoring program, and looking forward to finally getitng out to go running after a week of being a couch potato! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Waiting for the Snowstorm

All of Atlanta is waiting right now for our promised 6 inch snowstorm. If it really hits, it should be interesting. As a former northerner, I'm always amused by how little snow it takes to shut everything down. However, to be fair, they have very little equipment...so snow removal is usually "wait until it melts". Anyway, we have food and a wood stove, so we should be good to go. If we have electricity, I'm hoping to spend the time writing an article on "Relaxed Homeschooling" for a project that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine is doing this spring. If no electricity, maybe I'll have to get a yellow legal pad and do it the old-fashioned way....kind of looking forward to the snow, but I get cabin fever really fast when I can't go running. Hope we can get around enough to have our board meeting on Tuesday. Time to get some of our projects up and running for the year!