She’s Leaving On A Jet Plane

My children are growing up way too fast–every single one of them, though I tell them constantly to stop it. Recently our youngest has shot up a couple of inches and lost two more baby teeth in front. I have it on good authority that the tooth fairy spent considerable time in his room last week, looking hard at those tiny teeth taped to his bed and then looking wistfully at the not-so-little boy sprawled out in the bed. How is this possible, she wondered. Didn’t this kid just get these teeth yesterday? And now he’s seven and looking oh, so much older with that gap in front. I share her bewilderment. Didn’t he just start kindergarten? And now he’s over 2/3 done with first grade and proudly spouting Spanish phrases and math facts all the time. Weren’t we just working on colors and ABC’s yesterday? A lot must have happened when I blinked.

 

 
As if my little boy growing up wasn’t bad enough, his older sister–my baby girl for so long–is suddenly all grown up too. Moving closer to her school has been great. I’m there more; she’s at home more. We’re together more. At the beginning of the school year I thought happily about the three years we had to enjoy before she graduated. But wait, now that three is down to 2 1/3, and again, I’m not sure how that happened so quickly. She’ll be sixteen soon, and then there will be dating, driving, and summer jobs taking her away from home even more than her usual activities do. I miss her already.

And I miss her today. At 2:30 this morning, she left with her choir for competition in Nashville. At the beginning of the school year, I had planned to go with her. After all, we’ve been together at every young women camp each summer, and I went with her on tour to California last year. Traveling with a bunch of teenagers–especially great ones like the group she is in–is fun! And it’s also great for one-on-one time with your child. The times my husband and I have spent traveling with our older children have turned into some of our most cherished memories.

But there is also this principle called independence. And at some point, each of our children have decided they needed a little bit more. And as parents, we have to honor this, encourage it even. It’s the natural order of things, even if I hate it. This was Hannah’s time to decide that, to see if she could go on a trip, fly for the first time, be on her own without Mom. I have no doubt she will do just fine. And so I resisted the urge to secretly buy a ticket and sneak behind her on the plane. This is good for her. And probably good for me too. After all, that 2 1/3 years is going to rush by fast, and then goodbyes will be harder and for longer periods of time.

Until then, I intend to cherish every minute. And right now it’s time to go play a game with my toothless boy.

In the Name of Love—or research—or why My Family Rocks







Upcoming Booksignings for Captive Heart

Saturday April 9th, 9-10:30 Spanish Fork Seagull

Saturday April 23rd, 11-12:30 Springville Seagull

Saturday April 30th, 11-12:30 Orem State Street Seagull

Tuesday May 3rd, 7:00 pm, Provo City Library (with authors Sarah Eden and Jennifer Clark)

Saturday May 14th, 11-12:30 American Fork Seagull

It’s after midnight, and I’m just getting started on this post (long night helping youngest daughter make Tangled birthday invitations, rocking/comforting two-year-old who still has a difficult time sleeping, and listening to oldest daughter who is nursing a broken heart).

I was sorely tempted to leave blogging until tomorrow evening (after young women and a camp planning/presidency meeting . . . hmmm maybe not), but your comments about why you need escapist fiction have inspired me to stay up a little later.

I really ought to give away books more often, as it seems everyone out there has good reason to read something fun and lighthearted. All I can say to each of you who have commented here and on Facebook is WOW. I am appreciating my life right now! The good news is that your chance of winning a book is excellent. If you have no clue what I’m talking about and haven’t entered the drawing yet—more good news. There is still time. I’ll announce winners next week.

Now, about these pictures.

One of the standing jokes between our children is that the majority of our family vacations over the years have been to visit rocks. We’ve been to Yosemite (Half Dome, anyone?), Yellowstone, and Grand Teton (isn’t that whole mountain range one gigantic rock?) national parks. We’ve visited the Grand Canyon (looking over lots of cliffs at—a lot of rock), Arches (standing beneath rock), and Zion national parks as well. We’ve played hide-and-seek at Goblin Valley, climbed Independence Rock at Sunrise, and gazed in wonder at Devil’s tower in north eastern Wyoming. And the same year we all gawked at the real Close Encounters of the Third Kind set, we continued east, dragging our children even farther to . . . you guessed it, look at a few more rocks.

The idea to visit Mount Rushmore had been blossoming for quite some time when I began doing research for a historical romance set in the Black Hills. The more I read, then more I longed to go there, and finally, my husband agreed. Our children were not quite so enthusiastic.

“We have to go see more rocks, and they’re HOW many miles away?”

Good times. Really. They were, or at least that’s how we all remember that trip five years later. Ah, memories. Gotta love how they become sweeter with time. Which is why I hold out a lot of hope that our children will someday refer to their childhood as charmed (as opposed to some of the ways they consider it right now).

Our first stop in South Dakota was the ranger station, where we picked up an old national forest map. Little pick axe symbols dotted the map, indicating the presence of old mines. Towns I’d researched were listed too, though many I knew to have been abandoned for years. Clearly, it was time to put the suburban in four wheel drive.

Several hours and miles, four cranky kids, and a few no-trespassing signs later, we struck gold—from a writer’s perspective, anyway—when we located an abandoned community. The chalkboard still hung on the wall in the old schoolhouse. A partially-covered well sat in front of a tumbled-down house. An old mill jutted out from the side of a mountain. We even discovered an old root cellar, something that later became key in my story.

As we explored the old buildings, inhaled the fresh forest air, and really lived the beauty of the Black Hills, the wheels of my imagination were churning faster than our camera was snapping pictures. I was in heaven, and the story I’d been drafting—about a school teacher taken against her will to the Black Hills—came completely to life. Truly, there is nothing quite so wonderful as being able to visit the location you are writing about. On that trip I fell in love with both the Black Hills and my story.

For both my husband (who enjoys exploring) and me it was a vacation that rocked. Of course there were also those moments (possibly more than moments, but my memory fails) when things were rocky with our kids. It was an exceptionally long drive, and a trailer full of popsicles and ice cream bars notwithstanding, it wasn’t always fun. They—my wonderful husband and children—went on that trip because I wanted to. Because they loved me enough to cross two states so I could look at rocks.

So to each of them I say thank you. I held Emma’s book in my hands for the first time last week, and that wouldn’t have been possible without you. I continue to be grateful for the things we all do for each other in this family, all in the name of love.

Oh, and just so you know, Dad and I decided we’re going to visit Four Corners for our family vacation this year. We hear they have some pretty sweet ruins—built in a giant wall of rock.

Gratitude in the Off season


It’s nearly the end of March, and I should be blogging about my next book that will hit store shelves in a couple of weeks. I am quite excited about it, however, I have other things on my mind tonight. But to answer Jennie’s question—and thank you for your kind comments—my next book, Captive Heart, will be released in April. Go here, and you can read all about it. Come back next week, and I’ll tell you more—including how to win a free copy. I’ll be giving away about a dozen.

So next week fun; tonight, a little serious.

Last November, in the typical season of Thanksgiving, I worked hard all month to help our family think about and express gratitude. My daughter and I die cut what seemed like about a thousand paper leaves, and every day of the month each member of our family wrote one thing he/she was grateful for on a leaf and put it on our patio doors (note: double sided sticky tape on glass doors is a bad idea). Some of those expressions of gratitude had me rolling my eyes (Facebook, seriously?), but others I could tell had actually taken thought and reflection. For me, at least, it really was a month of Thanksgiving.

And then the year rolled on.

And then the new year came.

And then March was upon us, before I’d even managed to get all the Christmas decorations collected and put away. My own March Madness ended up being a little more intense than I had planned. In addition to finishing up/turning in a manuscript (enough by itself on top of my usual, overbooked schedule to make me sufficiently stressed), our family has been slammed with varied and yucky illnesses all month.

Our two-year-old hasn’t been to church the past three weeks, while he’s been battling a runny nose, chest cold, fever, cough, croup, can’t-sleep-all-night thing. It’s been a pitiful sight each Sunday to see him pull his dress shirt and tie from the closet and croak in his raspy voice, “church,” when he notices the family members who are healthy (a whole two of us, on average) preparing to leave.

My husband, who is never sick actually took time off work, went to a doctor, and ended up with two prescriptions. My oldest daughter, currently in a beat-the-clock race to finish courses in time for graduation, has been wiped out too. Last week I became the final one to fall and succumbed as well. For the past five or so days, I’ve been sorely missing my ability to breathe normally. Just when I thought that surely, we were all on the way to being healthy again, today—in a fitting end to our sickly month—the family computer contracted a virus and crashed. Now, not only can I not breathe without sounding worse than Darth Vader, I cannot pay my bills online. Hardships indeed.

And yet . . . I’ve had much opportunity this month to think about how very blessed we are. Yes, money always seems to be tight, and we have been worried about finding new renters for our previous home. But, we have a home! Two of them, in fact, that are standing and in good repair. We have a pantry and refrigerator full of healthy food. Clean water flows from our tap. We are warm, safe, and mostly well.

Our son has been stressed about the cost of college, finding a good job, and choosing a less expensive school to attend next year. But how wonderful that he has a state full of universities to choose from. How blessed we are to have him home again.

I am often stressed because my days are ridiculously full. No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to fit in all the playing with my toddler, homeschooling my daughter, helping and listening to my older children, spending time with my husband, serving in my calling, cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, bill-paying, and writing that needs to be done. And yet, I am here to do it. What a wonderful blessing.

Last month my husband and I attended a funeral for a family friend. I didn’t personally know the woman, a mother of five, not much older than me, who had passed away. But her funeral so touched my life that I doubt a day has passed since that I haven’t thought of it—of her. She was a beautiful woman who loved life and especially her family. Her bishop and husband both spoke of her reluctance to leave them behind. She suffered greatly during her last seven years of life and battling cancer, likely staying on earth as long as she did to raise her children as much as she could.

I imagine that those last seven years were a little different than some that came before she was ill. Perhaps things like keeping her home clean, staying caught up on the laundry, and even paying the bills slipped in their level of importance. Certainly time spent with her children did not. But I imagine that daily interactions with them—even things like helping with math homework, reminding them for the sixth time that it was their night to do the dishes, or caring for them when they were ill became precious moments of opportunity. Not simply one more part of a too-busy day, as I have often felt.

When we returned home from her funeral, I kept the program, reflecting on the life of this woman I’d never met, and tucked it in my nightstand drawer, as a frequent reminder to feel gratitude. Turns out, that was good timing, because March has been a bit of a rough month for our family, in more ways than those mentioned in this blog. But it has also been one of reflection. Who am I to complain that I feel awful? That our toilet paper consumption has doubled from the blowing of noses? That some of our children are struggling? That we’re probably going to have to buy a new computer? I’m here. I am alive. I have the opportunity to keep loving and serving my family, difficult and busy as that may, at times, be.

The tragedies unfolding in Japan are overwhelming to contemplate. To lose family, friends, a home and more is suffering beyond what I have ever been called on to endure. So I am left to think that a little sniffle, a little extra worry now and then is probably a good thing because it makes me grateful. For health, for family, for the opportunity to have a maddening month every now and then.

Love it; love it not.


In honor of Valentines Day yesterday, here are a few things I love—or not.

I love that my fourteen-year-old and her friend were happy with their “single” status this Valentines Day. Here she is, wearing the shirt she made, celebrating her boyfriendless status and warning guys she’s planning to stay that way.

But . . . It didn’t really matter. Tonight she came in and flopped on my bed and told me about the guy she likes and how he likes her back. ARRGH! I do not like the whole teenage romance thing. Worry #784 to add to my list of things I think about at night when I should be falling asleep.

I love that my husband and I were able to go out to dinner at the Olive Garden last night. I love that I got dressed up and did my hair and met him there after work. I loved sitting across the table from him, holding his hands, and pretty much keeping to our rule of not discussing our offspring. I love that we both had cards for each other. I love that mine made him laugh and his made me blush. Dinner was excellent; the company was even better.

But . . . I did not love the family of six sitting behind us. I did not love their noisy kids who were climbing across the table. I did love that it wasn’t us disturbing the peace this time. Yes, we have been there, done that—-as recently as December when we went out to celebrate my birthday. During that excursion, Andrew kept reaching over the booth to pat the guy behind us on the head (he was bald), he spit rice all over the table, and he knocked over a glass and it shattered in my dinner. I really do get the whole “trying to take your children out to eat with you” thing. But on Valentines? Only in Utah.

I love that we have church from 1-4 this year. Every other week—those weeks it isn’t my turn to get up with our toddler who thinks 5:30 a.m. is an acceptable time to rise—I get to sleep in. I love that we’re making good use of our Sunday mornings (my girls are not loving working on personal progress every week, but I am!). And finally, I love being on time to church and not feeling rushed.

But . . . I do NOT love the 1-4 church schedule because it is right during naptime (some serious extra blessings for the nursery leaders this year!). This is Andrew last Sunday after church. I was fixing dinner as fast as I possibly could, but he didn’t make it.

What do you do with a two-year-old who falls asleep at 4:15? If you wake him up—as we did last Sunday—you suffer the wrath of the two-year-old the rest of the night. He literally cried for an hour. If you let him sleep, he’ll wake up around midnight and realize he’s starving and he’d like dinner and some playtime. Either way it’s ugly.

I love the TV show, The Middle. It makes me feel waaaay better about our family (compared to the Hecks, we are normal), and it’s my comic relief—when I get to watch it.

But . . . I do not love that it is on at 7:00 Wednesday evenings, a time nearly impossible for me to watch TV. I do love that my son set up NetFlicks on our computer when he was home last weekend. I do not love that the past two days I’ve caught my daughter watching Scooby doo when she was supposed to be doing her K12 lessons. Now I’ve got to have consequences and monitor her and—Sigh. One step forward; two steps back.

I love that I’ve been meeting my goal of blogging regularly again.

But . . . I do not love that I still haven’t turned in my next manuscript to Covenant, nor have I sent out all those queries I told myself I would during the first quarter of this year. To that end, I need to start writing shorter posts!

I’d love to hear your love and love nots. It seems to me that everything really does have two sides. I hope your Valentines Day weighed in on the love side and was brimming with romance.

Dream Big and Go For It!


First, a heartfelt thank you to everyone who took the time here and on Facebook last week to “help my hook.” Unfortunately, it still needs help, but hopefully it’s a little closer now. Great suggestions all—from Lu Ann, catching a glaring error (Yikes!), to thoughts about whether or not to start with dialogue, and which direction the story should go. I really do appreciate the input.

I haven’t blogged much about homeschool lately, but we are still plugging away over here. January brought an exciting change, in that we added three hours of theatre to our weekly schedule (which means that we are now reading the history book late into the evening—disguised as a bedtime story—more than ever). Cramming this additional activity into our already bursting week has, in this case, been well worth it. But it was an experience we almost missed out on.

At the beginning of the year, on one of my many homeschool group lists, I read about a new theatre opportunity at the Covey Center. My daughter expressed interest, and since the play they were going to be doing was Annie, I told her she could try out if she wanted to. I hoped she might be able to be one of the orphans or a servant at Mr. Warbucks mansion.

The day before the tryout was Sunday, and I was gone much of the day. I asked my fourteen-year-old to read over the script with her little sister, so she’d be ready. Then, in the midst of other responsibilities that day, I promptly forgot about it.

The next morning Hannah reminded me when she announced at breakfast, “I’m going to try out for the part of Annie.”

My immediate reaction was, oh no. This will not be good. She will be crushed. There will be tears. Must not allow that to happen. But it was a Monday morning, and I was still half asleep, so I didn’t actually say all that to her right away. Instead, I thought about it.

Good thing.

Who am I, I finally decided, to tell her what she can and cannot aim for? Yes, she has dyslexia, making reading a huge struggle for her. No, she hasn’t ever been in a play, nor has she had any singing experience (I figured the annual primary program probably didn’t count). Surely those things would stack against her, but when we headed off to the tryouts, she had a huge grin on her face. She was confident and excited.

On the way to the audition, I did try to tell her—as gently as possible—that there would likely be many little girls there, all of whom would love to play Annie.

“And some of those girls may have been in other plays before. The directors may want to give the lead to someone with more experience.”

“I know, Mom. I just want to try.”

And she did. My worries came back as I filled out her audition paper and wrote none next to prior experience for just about everything. But she went into the audition smiling, and when she came out a while later, she was clutching a yellow call back slip.

“Not very many kids got these!” she said excitedly and then proceeded to tell me all about the song she sang and the parts she read. “They even had me read Miss Hannigan,” she told me. “And I did her all snarly.”

Who knew? Not me. Who’d have guessed that the girl who dreads reading could pick up a script and read with expression? I was starting to think that Hannah would likely get to be an orphan, and that this could be very good. I’m all about read aloud sessions that are not sheer torture, and she seemed to be getting into this script thing.

During the callback, the girls were asked to dance. This, Hannah could do. In fact, she’d done quite a lot of it at her previous dance studio (before her brother went to college and the money for dance lessons went with him). Now she was really having fun. I snuck down the hall and peeked in for a minute, and it was then I realized she might just have a chance at the lead.

For the next several days we waited anxiously. Then finally, the email.

“Hannah has been assigned the part of an orphan in scenes 1, 2 . . . and she will play Annie in scenes 5, 6, 7.” The directors had split the role, giving Hannah the lead for part of the play. She’d done it! And it was exactly what the teacher—me—ordered. A healthy boost to her self-esteem, and the potential for lots of reading practice. In fact, she is the one coming to me with script in hand each day, telling me it’s time to read. Love it!

In the weeks since then, Hannah has skipped off to rehearsal with joy in her heart. She loves the play. She’s made new friends. She’s happy in all the scenes, both when she is Annie, when she is an orphan, and when it’s her turn to get props on and off stage. I continue to marvel at our good fortune and at her can-do attitude. At first, I wondered where she got it from, but a quick look around the dinner table, and I had my answer.

My husband thinks he is some kind of superhero—or ironman. And he is, having run over a dozen marathons, competed in several triathlons, and completed an Ironman competition last year in 14 hours. He sets goals; he works hard; he achieves. Last year leading up to the Ironman, we all watched his intense and amazing training. And Hannah was right there with us at the finish line.

Hannah’s brother dreamed of going to a college that costs $26,000 a year in tuition alone. Coming from this single income family of seven, that goal was farther out there than the Ironman. Along with the rest of us, Hannah watched the color rise on the chart on the basement door. She was part of it, giving up dance so he could get there. And there he is, and has been all year, at the school he dreamed of going to. He’s loving it. He made it happen. He’s been working on more scholarships to continue to make it happen.

Hannah’s sister wanted to get a job as a lifeguard. This was another one of those “mother’s mental cringe” moments. As, But you don’t even swim that well, trailed through my mind, I was telling Carissa it was a great idea and she should go for it. She did. She nearly drowned a couple of times attempting to pass the tests, but she did pass and in the process became a very strong swimmer. She’s still a lifeguard, and she’s the youngest CPR instructor the Red Cross has right now.

Hannah’s other sister is the youngest on her school dance team. Why wait until I’m a sophomore to try out? was her mantra. It was a good one. She’ll be heading to New York to dance with that team next month.

And the craziest thing of all in our family—Hannah’s mom thinks she can write books! She imagines stories, writes them down, rewrites them, rewrites them some more. She sends them off to agents. She collects rejections. She goes back and forth on edits with her editor. Her books are in the library. Hannah thinks it’s fun to see them when we’re there.

I’ve realized that we are a family of dreamers. We imagine we can do difficult things. Quite honestly, I think we are all a lot like Hannah in that we don’t see the obstacles as much as we see the possibilties. We may not always realize success quite so simply as Hannah did, but that never seems to stop us for long.

We dream, we believe, we achieve. We like to go and do. And when we’ve gone and done, we like to go and do some more. I’ve loved publishing in the LDS market, and I hope to continue, but I also have dreams of publishing nationally. It may be a long time coming, but those dreams still burn bright for me. My husband is already gearing up for another Ironman next year. My son is talking about Ivy League graduate schools back east. My daughter wants to be an EMT—within the next eighteen months. My other daughter has talked about dancing at Juliard someday (somehow I think next month’s New York trip is only going to intensify that desire). Are we all crazy? Maybe a little, but I think it’s mostly a good thing.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that Hannah wanted to be, and believed she could be, Annie. I hope, in the future, she’ll continue to think she can be anything she wants to. And the next time she comes to me and tells me she wants to be an olympic gymnast or be an artist for Disney, I’m going to banish those negative thoughts and tell her to dream big and go for it.

That’s a wrap!


As I mentioned in a previous post, I love all things having to do with fall and the holdays. I feel a little giddy when September arrives and I notice the first color changes on the mountains. But by the time December and Christmas are upon us, I’m exhausted, positively wiped out from all this joyous season entails. It’s truly the most wonderful and insane time of the year.

As a result, I didn’t post about homeschool for October or November, nor have I posted anything about writing lately. So today’s summary is going to wrap all that up into one—including a note about an opportunity to win Covenant’s 2010 Christmas Anthology, Where Will Christmas Find Us? For more info. on that, keep reading. But first, a quick run-down of the craziness we’ve had around here the past sixty or so days.

With homeschool—science units on Oceanography and the Atmosphere, complete with a boatload of fun experiments. A field trip to the Scera to see The Reluctant Dragon, and another to The Covey Center to see Knuffle Bunny . We made more salt dough models (I think children will recall anything they learn if they get to make it in salt dough), read more of the Sarah Plain and Tall Series, the Fudge series, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We visited Pumpkin Land (where my daughter sadly informed me that this is her last year there, as she is getting too big), made Frankenstein Jello, and had a party that used up a good portion of our toilet paper supply.

For Halloween I sewed Woody and Jessie costumes for my two youngest, and on the 29th both started and finished Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head for my husband and I. On the 30th we had about 25 people here for our traditional soup and chili dinner before trick-or-treating. Those same 25 plus a few more joined us for a crazy, chaotic Thanksgiving. Throw in a school play here and a dance recital there, along with a trip or two to visit our son at college and whew! What a couple of months. It was crazy and fun and left me so exhausted that I’ve yet to remove the rotting pumpkins from my front porch. Maybe I’ll just throw some garland on them if I ever get around to decorating the outside of our house for Christmas.

As for writing . . . are you laughing yet? Superwoman I am not, and unfortunately, my writing is the thing that suffers most in all this madness. And that, while as it should be–I have the rest of my life to write, but only so long with our children–is still painful. I miss my characters and creativity. Thankfully weekends like the earlier Authors Incognito retreat, allow me to see that the creativity is still there, hibernating in my brain until a later date when I am allowed more than two seconds at a time for coherent thought.

But I do have some exciting news. First, Covenant’s 2010 Christmas short story collection is now available in stores. Twelve authors, myself included, have shared Christmas memories about poignant moments in our lives. Today, over at Tristi Pinkston’s Blog, you can win a free copy as part of her Merry Month of Miracles countdown to her next release, Dearly Departed. I haven’t had a sneak peak at Tristi’s latest book, but you can read here, how much I’ve loved her other books. I’m looking forward to curling up with this next one on a snowy January day.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying hanging out at Tristi’s blog all month. She is one of those people that make me tired just thinking of all she does. From homeschooling all four of her children, to writing much faster than I do, to blogging, book reviews, editing etc. she is one amazing lady. The first time I met Tristi she was teaching a class at the Storymakers conference in 2007. What she said in that class, about being true to ourselves in our writing, so resonated with me that I felt I knew her well already and that she was a Kindred spirit. Congratulations Tristi, on your upcoming book and all that you do. You inspire slackers like me!

And speaking of slackers, upcoming releases, and miracles . . . Covenant will be publishing one of my historical romances this spring. More on that later. But now, I’ve got a math lesson to teach :)

Happy Holidays everyone. May your days be merry and bright, and may you get more sleep than I do at night!

UEA = Utah Escape Activities



I love Autumn, and living in Utah it is made even better by the annual fall break or UEA (Utah Education Association) days each October. In the past our family has–with half the state–headed south to Disneyland, Seaworld and the like, but this year we’re staying closer to home. We started our week early at a local pumpkin patch where we enjoyed perfect weather and my youngest got to chase a squealing pig around and around the farmyard.

After that it was time for fun without our children–and yes, we sure heard from them what dreadful parents we are for leaving them at home on their school break. I think it’s very important to be dreadful sometimes! A night at the Homestead Resort in Midway, an hour long soak in their mineral hot spring crater, a quiet dinner together—where we didn’t have to clean up any spills, cut anyone’s meat, or referee any teen arguments—and a day spent exploring art galleries and seeing the fall colors was the perfect escape. It is quite amazing what twenty-four hours of peace can do to rejuvenate the spirit.

Perhaps that is what the leaders of UEA had in mind when they first started this long-standing tradition. Teachers, probably more than anyone I know, need a break, need to have their reservoirs of patience, motivation, and inspiration refilled. How wonderful that those of us in Utah have the same opportunity to “take a break” each fall. This time of year, and this time spent with my family has become one of my favorite things.

My wish for everyone–may each of you find the time for your own autumn escape, the time to slow down and simply enjoy.




P

Off and Running


Last year my both my blogging habits and my blog reading habits changed quite a bit. Instead of spending what little time I had at the computer focused on writing, I found myself lurking on homeschool sites as I tried to hurriedly educate myself on the huge venture I’d undertaken. Many of those sites became my lifeline. Just knowing there were other moms out there struggling through the daily and, at times, overwhelming task of educating their children was an immense comfort. Even more than this comfort, I found inspiration in their ideas and enthusiasm. And now—a scant year later—I feel ready to share some of my own creative ideas and solutions. What a difference that year has made. Our days are certainly not perfect, and my daughter’s learning challenges continue to be many, but we are making this work. More than that, we are making the work fun.

So, aside from my monstrously big goal of finding time to write seriously again, I’ve also set a goal to blog about our homeschool at least once a month this year. It will keep me accountable, and just maybe some other “newbie” homeschool mother will stumble upon my post and find her own inspiration to keep on going.

And with that, here is a glimpse of our first month of the 2010-2011 school year. I’m happy to say that we are off and running.


As a review before our Science Unit 1 test on the water cycle, I filled up water balloons and wrote vocabulary words on them. The girls had several turns to be blindfolded and pick a balloon. If they could give the correct definition of the word on their balloons, then they were allowed to keep the balloons or pop them however they wanted to. But . . . if they got the definition wrong, I got to pop the balloons over their heads. It was a lot of fun, everyone aced the test, and I’m pretty confident they will remember what we learned for a long time.

Hannah continues to be a wonder with clay. One thing I learned last year is that it is important to have fun! As our budget is tight this year (son in college), we’ve had to cut back on a lot of the extra curricular activities we did last year. Instead we’ve incorporated weekly art, cooking, and sewing (she is a crafty type girl :D) into our curriculum. The morning is for being serious; the afternoon is still about learning but less with books and more with hands on.

Andrew is—not a baby anymore! Or at least he doesn’t think he is. Things are a little trickier this year, as he naps less and wants to do everything that we are. I’ve found it best if we let him help where he can. It takes longer to get through our day, but having a toddler around certainly keeps things lively. And no one will ever be able to tell me that homeschooled children are not able to focus like children in a regular classroom can. Have you ever tried taking a math test with a 21 month old driving his muscial fire truck around and around and around your desk?

To ease a bit of our mom stress, and to keep things fun for our girls, a friend and I are trading off teaching science and language arts this year. So far, so good. It’s nice to have friends around, and it keeps everyone on schedule. By the way, did you know that you can inflate a balloon by putting it over the top of a soda bottle and then very carefully unscrewing the lid? Just one of many cool science experiments we did during our Ocean Science Unit. Thanks Bill Nye!
Note: See my daughter with her uncombed hair and PJ’s still on? Some days are just like that—and it’s okay!

Field trip report: Took advantage of Thanksgiving Point’s two buck Tuesdays in August. The museum was crazy crowded, the farm was fun (especially when Andrew tried to climb in with the cows and sampled the goat’s food), the gardens were gorgeous.
We also attended a back-to-school picnic with Alpine Online. Now, if I could just find those scraps of paper that I wrote down all those other moms’ phone numbers on . . .

Loving Literature: I introduced Hannah to Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I thought she might be able to identify with the main character, Peter, and his frustration with his pesky little brother, Fudge. I was right on. After that we devoured (and I mean devoured, for three days straight we pretty much ignored other language arts related work so we could READ!)Robin McKinley’s Beauty. And that, I admit, was my choice for personal, writing-related reading. Since I really want to write in this genre (and want to make what I’ve already written in this genre better), I am revisiting favorites to see just what it is that makes them so great. Beauty, I am pleased to say, was just as splendid as ever. My daughter summed it up nicely this morning when she sighed and said, “I’m so sad we finished that book.” I couldn’t agree more, though it was the perfect way to spend a couple of rainy afternoons in early October.

The Learning Curve


It was about this time a year ago that I was making the agonizing decision of whether or not to pull my daughter out of her charter school (a great school that I really love) to homeschool her. Ultimately, after quite a lot of prayer and pondering, I (we, though my husband left this decision largely up to me) decided we would teach her at home. I’ll go into the reasons in a future post, but with the first year behind us, I feel strongly it was the right thing to do. That said, I have to admit the learning curve was pretty steep for both of us. Here are a few things we’ve discovered along the way.

-Starting homeschool the same year you’ve had a baby, are building a home, and will have to move twice is probably NOT a good idea.

-Once started, there is no going back (literally in our case, as our previous charter school has a long waiting list), so it’s best to dive in and plow through whatever obstacles you’re dealing with.

-Having a set schedule is vital.

-Following that set schedule everyday is unrealistic. And that’s okay. If, for example, the opportunity presents itself for you and your child to see a crane in action (as it lifts the trusses onto your future home) you should put away the science book and head outside to witness some firsthand engineering.

-Math is best done first thing in the morning before you are both too cranky.

-It’s okay to eat marshmallows while you do that math.

-It’s generally not okay, however, to wear your pajamas while you eat marshmallows and do math. What you’re wearing really does affect performance.

-P.E. is important for both teacher and student, or—in this case—mother and child. Units on rollerblading or Tae Bo are perfectly acceptable.

-Aside from unique PE activities, homeschool encompasses learning in other, unusual ways. Because Hannah learned at home this year, she finally had time to take piano lessons (and did awesome at her first recital last night) and was able to realize her dream of being on a dance team. She also learned how to make her own pancakes, eggs, and cupcakes (a ten year-old’s favorite food groups), change a diaper, and navigate her own laptop. These might be simple things for many children, but for Hannah each was a significant victory.

-Curriculum is hugely important. Saxon Math, Core Knowledge, All About Spelling, and K12 are all excellent choices.

-Field trips are fun and a real perk of homeschool. This year we . . . visited the Thanksgiving Point Museum, farm, and gardens, went to This is the Place State Park and Old Deseret Village, hiked in Provo canyon, spent a very cold morning at Hee Haw’s, attended a Utah Valley Symphony concert, attended two plays at the Scera theater—Stellaluna and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie—went rollerblading at Classic Skating, went ice skating at The Peaks, visited the children’s museum in Carson City, Nevada, visited the Rosenbruch museum in St. George, went on a space camp mission, and went to Hogle Zoo. A big thank you to Alpine online for providing many of those experiences.

-Getting through all that great curriculum and going on all those field trips took a lot of time—about 1080 hours. That’s 1080 hours that had to come from somewhere. In other words, I had 1080 less hours for meal planning, cooking, cleaning, shopping, baking, sewing, ironing, laundry, organizing, bill paying, blogging, and writing.

-The upside: I spent 1080 more hours with my daughter.

And for us, that upside says it all. I’ll be the first to admit that homeschooling is not for everyone. There were several days this year I thought it wasn’t for me. But it is, I’ve discovered, very good for my daughter. A year into this I’ve noticed her stress decrease, her confidence level soar, and her enthusiasm and love of learning take flight. To say the least, it’s been a bumpy ride, but as I look back over the past nine months, I want to pat us both on the back. We made it. We accomplished amazing things, and we’re in this for the long haul.

Just what I needed




Since the birth of my darling little boy sixteen months ago, I have posted on this blog exactly 15 times. I have been caught up on the laundry twice. I’ve made breakfast for my family perhaps 20 times during all those months (pathetic considering that we used to eat breakfast together almost every day). I’ve purchased, rather than sewn, the Christmas pajamas; I haven’t scrapbooked a page. And, after our recent move (recent being four months ago), I still have a basement full of stuff to unpack. Who knows how long it will be before I get to it? Who knows how long it will take me to finish my next novel (at the turtle’s pace I’m writing at now)? Who knows if my family will ever again have clean clothes when they need them or anything besides cold cereal for breakfast?

To be fair, our little guy is not entirely to blame for my lack of progress in writing and just about everything else. His arrival coincided with several other significant events in our lives, all of which have drastically altered my days, nights, and pretty much every breath I take.

Without going into all that, I’ll just say that I’m hard pressed to think of a time as stressful as the past several months. My husband and I have been dealing with several crisis of varying degrees with our four older children. We continue to love them all dearly, but they are draining us both mentally, physically, and financially. Added to their teen angst, learning disablities, and the like, our sweet, sleepless baby has just about put me over the edge. Since his arrival he has yet to sleep through the night. This has been new territory for my husband and I, as our other children were all pretty great sleepers (three of the four sleeping through the night by six weeks—we didn’t know how good we had it!). Since Andrew’s arrival, and our subsequent sleeplessness, we’ve read all the books, tried all the methods and come rather close to losing our minds in our efforts to get a good night’s sleep once again.

Recently, during a middle-of-the-night, rocking and calming my baby session, I had a frank discussion with our Father in Heaven about the state of my life. My purpose was two-fold. First, I recognized the many blessings he’s bestowed upon me. I have a wonderful husband and five unique, exhausting children. I’m grateful for this crazy family of ours. I love them all dearly; my life revolves around them. I’m doing the things I wanted more than anything else when I was growing up—being a wife and mother. But lovely as that is, lately my life has had its moments. And it was about these moments and our five children, specifically the one on my lap, that the second part of my prayer was concerned with. It was time, I’d decided, to call in the promise from Heavenly Father that he won’t give us more than we can handle.
Because I’m pretty sure I’m there, as in one beat away from total insanity.

It’s one thing to have a baby who keeps me up at night. It’s another to have that baby plus a fourth grader who, in spite of my year-long effort homeschooling her, spending thousands in vision therapy etc. still cannot read. And it’s yet another to have three high needs teenagers all in various crisis points in their lives. In other words—

“Uncle, already!”

And so I pled with our Father in Heaven to please let our little guy sleep so I could. So I could be well rested and level-headed to deal with the events of my days. So the tears I’d probably cry would at least be from true emotions and not sleep-deprivation.

As is often the case, this particular prayer was not answered in the way I hoped. My baby did not fall into an instant, deep sleep. He did, however, wrap his arms around my neck and lay his head on my shoulder—one of my very favorite things in the world. I’ve been a mom long enough to know that hugs like that get farther and fewer between as children grow older. I cherish every one and, tired though I’ve been these past months, I’ve cherished the time, these middle of the night moments, with Andrew.

As I felt his little arms tighten around me, the thought distinctly came that this was exactly what I needed. While I’d been yearning for sleep, Heavenly Father was giving me what I actually needed even more—peaceful moments with the baby we wanted so badly, time alone with him, reminders of the joys that really do come with being a parent. In our crazy, busy, stressful days, there isn’t a lot of alone time for Andrew and I. But for the past sixteen months, we’ve spent good time together anyway, rocking, singing, reading stories. I’ve had plenty of chances to brush the hair back from his face, to look down into his eyes, to kiss his neck. We’ve cuddled and snuggled even more than I did with our other children during less stressful and busy times of life. In short, I’ve been able to do what I promised myself I would—to enjoy and treasure the oh-so-short time when he’s a baby.

It was a revelation that left me uplifted and gave me the energy to pull myself out of bed the next morning and face another day. Our lives and our family are certainly not perfect, but I am grateful for the sweet, middle-of-the-night reminder that Heavenly Father is aware of each of us and knows and provides what we truly need.