When I’m Not Stalking Facebook/Writing Drivel

I spend a lot of time on Facebook and quite a bit of time lately here on ye olde blog, writing drivel that very few people will ever read. (Hi, mom!)

However, I have also been working on a more serious project – a children’s nonfiction prospectus for a publisher that focuses on literature for the gifted and those who teach them. It was an open call for submissions (which is great, since I don’t have an agent) and in talking with real writer friends, I think my premise is promising.

My book is about contemporary kids doing awesome sciency stuff. As you might have guessed, Scooter is really into sciency stuff. And I’d love to read to him about other kids who are also into sciency stuff, but there just aren’t that many books out there. The books that are out there? They are almost twenty years old, and I really wanted to read to him about kids doing amazing stuff in STEM that are close to his age. I think it’s important for kids to know that right now, right this very minute, there are kids doing awesome things, don’t you?

So, I wrote my own book! (Technically, I only wrote about 1,500 words of it because that’s all the publisher wants – along with a bunch of other stuff including a detailed outline). Since January, when I haven’t been stalking Facebook or writing drivel, I’ve been reading about awesome, amazing kids from all over the world who have done fantastic, fabulous stuff – and all within the last decade.

And, let me tell you – there are A LOT of these kids. At one point, I had over 60 potential kids to write about! I had to winnow the list because the book is geared for 8-12 year olds which influences word count. Sure, I could have said the absolute bare minimum and included all 60 kids, but I wanted to be able to share something about each person’s process, personality and the impact of their research and discoveries. That’s the kind of thing I think kids will find compelling – details that show that these awesome sciency kids are kids just like them. Kids who play the guitar, fight over the monkey bars, and compete with their siblings for attention.

But, I do feel badly about the kids I left out. I know, I know. It’s not like they know they got left out of my imaginary book, but I know and I still want to tell their stories. So, every now and then, while I wait to hear back from the publisher (10-12 weeks, y’all!), I think I’ll write about those awesome kids who didn’t make it into my outline. Maybe you’ll find them as inspiring as I do.

In the meantime, it’s on to other projects. I have delusions of grandeur other ideas that I’d like to submit – and it’s all part of keeping busy here in the Piney Woods.


It’s THAT Day…

Today is THAT day that mothers everywhere love and loathe: Daybeforebirthdaypartyinourhouse Day.

Here is part of my to-do list:
1. Clean the entire house. OMG. It’s filthy. How did it get like this? I cleaned this, like, yesterday. Or maybe the day before. I swear I cleaned it this week. I think. Maybe? IDK. Oh, for the love of God, I’ll just clean the parts people will see and hope for the best. People won’t really need to go in the bedrooms. Or the bathrooms. It’s only two hours, right?

2. Tidy up the entry way. I have never seen so many leaves. It’s March. Were these little mother duckers hanging on all fall, all winter, JUST to fall TODAY? People are going to think we are the Clampetts. They’re going to think we never mow. Someone is going to be bitten by a snake, lurking in all these leaves. It will be a kid. Where’s the snake bite kit? Put one on the shopping list.

3. Last-minute purchases. Just a few things. Sodas, buns, hot dogs, condiments, chili, fruit, Valium. Snake bite kit.

4. Discover foul pet-generated substance on newly vaccuumed rug. And newly mopped floor. Oh, sweet Jesus. Is it on the couch?!? Who yakked on the couch?!? Who does that?!?

5. Add Oxy clean to shopping list. And air freshener. And new couch.

6. Break up sibling fight.

7. Cry. Mourn the loss of your tribe – any number of whom would gladly come and help you with the spawn, the house, the party. But they are all 3.5 hours away.

8. Break up sibling fight. Realize you don’t have time for crying. Add vodka to shopping list. Make mental note not to combine with Valium. Or snake bite.

9. Remind husband about his very important, very short party to-do list: tables, propane, burn pile. (We live in the country…people burn yard waste and large cardboard boxes of which we have twenty-two.) Awesome husband does all of the above.

10. Corral siblings (still fighting). Print shopping list. How did it grow to three pages? Realize that husband, who is at work, did start the burn pile, but it is still burning. You cannot leave because fire.

11. Sit down to cry. Write a time-wasting blog post simultaneously because you are awesome (and out of Valium and vodka).

12. Look out the window and see your salvation is at hand. The utility company finally sent the tree trimmers to remove the towering dead pine in your front yard. The spawn are enthralled. And not fighting.

13. Thank goodness for your new tribe: the tree trimming guys, Frankie and Raul. Add “thank you card for Frankie and Raul” to shopping list, page 3.

I’ll stop at lucky 13.

Wish me luck! It’s a science experiments party. At least one attendee will be officially mad. Guess who?




3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Homeschool

This post is inspired by one I read recently here. I read this post as we contemplated our own decision and took the time to really think through each item. It was a very helpful article to me. (And currently, item one on her list is at the TOP of my frustrations!)

But, I wanted to add my own thoughts to the brew. So, here they are.

1. Don’t home school because public school is “evil.” Because it’s not. Public school is one of the best things to come out of modern civilization. Before public school, the only people who got to get an education were those whose parents could afford private school, private tutors, or both. Or maybe, your parents worked for some progressive-minded folks who let you learn alongside Cyril and Cecily with the governess. Poor people didn’t often get a formal education – many of them never learned to read or write, let alone own a book. So if you were born poor, you would likely stay poor and have the difficult (and shortened) life span that your parents had and their parents before them. If your parents were in trade and your trade was in high demand, lucky you. If your parents cleaned cesspools for a living, that’s what you had to look forward to. Public school is an amazing thing – it helps level the playing field and expands children’s horizons. and even though I’m a home schooling mom, I still believe in public school and I always will. I’ll fight anyone to. the. death. that says we should do away with it. (So, there!)

2. Don’t home school because you think it will be easy. It’s not easy. In fact, some days, it’s really really hard. Like, tear your hair out hard and drink up the liquor cabinet hard. Like, run away from home and leave no forwarding address hard. It may be easier in some ways than attending a brick and mortar school – days are more flexible, no worries about having the “right” clothes – but it is absolutely not easy. In the words of Westley, “Anyone who tells you differently, is selling Westley and Buttercupsomething.” The thing they are selling may just be their religion or their persona – but someone who tells you it’s easy? Selling something.

3. Don’t home school because you think your child’s annoying habits and mannerisms will disappear when they are away from corrupting influences. Scooter is still Scooter with all of his charms and flaws. He still has temper tantrums. He is still mean to Cheech sometimes. He still has trouble sharing, changing direction and making his bed. He still picks his nose and needs reminders to flush the toilet. And we are still working on eliminating, “I seen” and “hisself” (which he learned from his teacher) from his vocabulary. Just because we have him home with us doesn’t mean he has transformed into the perfect child with impeccable manners and flawless grammar. In fact, we get to enjoy him picking up a host of new flaws…from us.

So, there you have it. Three excellent reasons NOT to home school.

Give me time and I’ll come up with more.

Homeschooling – Help! Where do I start?

If you are considering homeschooling, whether as a supplement to your child’s education at a brick and mortar school, or as a replacement for traditional school, you must be ready to be superintendent, campus principal, and classroom teacher – as well as the lunch lady (or gent) AND the custodian. Maybe even maintenance as well.

You also have to be the curriculum director – deciding exactly you are going to teach. And if you live in a high-regulation state and/or are planning to withdraw your child mid-school year, you’ll have to be ready for this and have things in hand in case you do get a friendly visit from law enforcement.

But choosing your materials and methods from the overwhelming number of options can be challenging. As homeschooling has increased in popularity over the last few decades, it has become big business. There are tons of websites, books, conventions, book fairs, catalogs and helpful friends. What is a parent to do? How do you know what to choose for your child?

Well, I certainly can’t tell you. But, I am happy to share my process in hopes that it will be helpful. I am a former public school teacher and though my area of specialization was music, I still had to tutor reading and math as well as familiarize myself with curriculum standards across multiple disciplines. (Music teachers often spend a good deal of time justifying our existence to the “real” teachers and have to be prepared to show how what we are doing in our classrooms supports what they are doing in theirs. When exactly they are going to teach kids to sing solfege during their class time, I never did learn…Ha!)

The first thing to consider are your state’s requirements. In a previous post, I wrote about Texas’ rules and I kept those in mind as I chose materials. Our curriculum has to be in “visual form” and we must cover “reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.” (I am still wigged out that no science, social studies, fine arts or health/PE are required. But, I digress.)

The next thing I chose to consider were the grade-specific requirements provided by the state. Many homeschoolers choose to ditch their state requirements entirely, but I happen to think that they can provide a useful framework, especially if you anticipate your homeschooling experience may be short-lived. In Texas, those are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS (pronounced “teeks.”) You can choose to peruse the TEKS by subject level or by grade level.

You might also choose to review your district’s grade level Scope and Sequence, a map for the year showing when children at each grade level will be learning each item on the TEKS. Not all districts provide these, but many do. If yours does not, try a larger, neighboring district and see what you can find, or search a school district even farther afield that you believe is doing a good job with their students.

You can also review your state’s approved textbooks list for each grade level and subject and purchase from that list. In Texas, the chart even provides information about what percentage of the TEKS are covered in each textbook. Please note that not all publishers make their textbooks and materials available to homeschoolers, but I was able to find at least one approved textbook in each subject that covered 100% of the state standards available for private purchase. Wasn’t that convenient?

Too bad that wasn’t what we decided to do. Ha! That would have been too easy, right?

We had already been homeschooling Scooter for some time before officially withdrawing him from school, so we already had several things on hand with which we were very happy. I already had a good idea of Scooter’s learning style and his skill level and I knew that continuing with these resources was a good choice for him.

ETC CoverOne of those on-hand items was our Explode the Code workbook from a wonderful series of phonics-based workbooks spanning reading, spelling and printing. The primers teach the basic letter sounds and each subsequent book introduces new concepts. There is also an online component available. We did purchase the online membership our first year using these materials, but Scooter really struggled with the mouse (too much click-and-drag for him), which skewed his timing and made it look like he “failed.” It was very discouraging for him. We may purchase a subscription in the fall now that his technology skills have improved, however! (Thank you, Minecraft!) The illustrations do leave something to be desired, but Scooter likes them just fine and asks to do them each day. I also suggest this program for children in a traditional school setting who need extra practice or reinforcement at home. A few pages a day may be just what your child needs.

Singapore Math CoverWe were also already using Singapore Primary Mathematics (U.S. Edition). Singapore math is how math is taught in…you guessed it! Singapore – just one of a number of countries whose students routinely whip U.S. students behinds in the math department. The U.S. Edition changes the currency and uses English measurement rather than metrics, but just like the original, it emphasizes mental math. The books are also inexpensive compared to other popular programs, but you will likely need to buy or create additional materials like these to supplement for practice. The teacher’s guides are fantastic and include lots of great hands-on practice ideas utilizing items you probably already have around the house.

As for the last required subject, “good citizenship,” I’m still figuring out how to put that into “visual form.” From my perspective, that’s a rather loaded term, especially in this state, and I’ll have to get back to you on what we do!

So, that’s what we started with. We met the requirements, ensured he was on-level (and beyond) with our state sequence of skills, and he likes it. Yahoo! An added bonus? We didn’t break the bank!

I’ll write soon about how we are teaching the other subjects –  including science, social studies, fine arts, health/PE and that head-scratcher, “good citizenship.” Honestly, choosing curriculum was tons of fun for me – what do you expect from a teacher? But I understand that it isn’t for many folks,  and from time to time, I’ll post about the other materials we are using.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from YOU! Are you supplementing at home for your child that attends traditional school (or is too young for school yet)? Are you homeschooling exclusively? What are your go-to resources? Or, where are you “stuck?” Maybe I can help!

As always, thanks for reading.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a little bit of money if you make a purchase using those links. I am not ashamed.

“So…what do you DO all day?”

People wonder what we do all day. I mean, having moved from a decent-sized city with a children’s museum and zoo, numerous parks and play places, two malls and numerous restaurants, etc., to an itty bitty small Texas town – and homeschooling, too, “What do you actually DO all day?” is a legitimate question. 

Sometimes, I think this is code for, “Ohmigerd, aren’t you BORED OUT OF YOUR MIND?” As for the out of my mind part, I’ve written about that already. And as for occasional boredom? Absolutely! But, I think occasional boredom is part of the human condition. We were bored at times in the bustling mid-sized city we used to call home and sometimes, and we are sometimes bored here.

But if you mean, “What do you do for fun?” I can tell you all about that!

Just like many families I know, homeschooling or not, rural or not, we look forward to weekends when we can all be together for much of each day, including the primary breadwinner.

So Saturday we made the trek into town for some shopping with the kids. (“Put yore good pants on, Scooter, and brush yore tooth! We’re goin’ to the big city!”) It’s a 35-minute drive which, to me, still seems like a long ride in the car. (That may have something to do with my role as snack dispenser and backseat sheriff, but I can’t be certain.)

T-ball season started Monday and Scooter needed a new bat. So, of course, we left the sporting goods store with a new bat, a new helmet, a new tee, a bucket of balls and a football for Cheech. The bat, helmet and football are all Seahawks colors and Cheech alarmed the staff by shouting, “GO HAWKS!!!!” at checkout multiple times. (That’s my boy!)

Then we headed to Target and I resisted singing, “Jerusalem! Jeruuuuuuusalem!” since Cheech had made enough of a scene at the sports store. But when the husband said he’d take the spawn so I could browse in peace, I had to hum the line, “Bring me my arrows of desire,” ever so softly.

And after a nice little lunch at a chain burger joint, we happily headed home. We had had enough suburbia for the week. It was too much traffic, too much noise, too much stuff, too MUCH. We had made our homage to consumerism at the sports store, left Target with only three things that we actually needed (for less than $20!) and ate an inexpensive little lunch. In the words of Goldilocks, it was, “Just right.”

We did need some new homeschool supplies, however…So on the way back, we stopped off and picked up these.

It's not lunch, kids...
It’s not lunch, kids…

We are not new chickaneers, so buying new chicks at the locally-owned feed store was a cinch. (Last year, I ordered from My Pet Chicken, which I highly recommend for their variety of breeds, wealth of information and the fact that they will ship as few as three chickens – a definite plus for the beginning birder.)

We chose three breeds, all pullets (girls). They were already sexed at the store, but I checked to confirm. Yes, I have mad skills. One accidental rooster is enough and a brief peek at the business end of each chick wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done.

And here they are!

Honey Bun, Sassy and Sweet Pea
Honey Bun, Sassy and Sweet Pea

The black one with the yellow blaze is a Barred Rock. After several escape attempts and her pecking me repeatedly through the air holes of their travel container, we named her Sassy. She better be a great layer!

The solid black chick is a black sex-link, a cross between a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster and a Barred Rock hen. Sex-link means the chicks have marks that distinguish them male from female. The females are solid black and the males have a white dot on their head. This is a meat chicken, but Sweet Pea need not worry. She will die of old age here at our wildlife refuge.

My favorite is Honey Bun, a little Ameraucauna. She will grow up to have golden feathers and may lay colored eggs. I like her because she quickly let Sassy know she would not be taking any sass.

After getting the chicks established in their brooder, it was time for the boys to nap which meant some alone time for me and the husband. Bow chicken wow wow! IOW, time to clean the chicken coop!

We’ve had a lot of rain and snow lately and the flock have had to stay inside a lot. One of the roof panels has been leaking, so the situation was fowl. (See what I did there?) Our coop has a cement foundation with a drain line, so a shovel, bucket, hose and broom did the trick and about three hours later, they settled in to their nice, clean digs.

We also paced out a chicken run expansion and will start construction this weekend. Scooter will help me drive posts and dig the perimeter trench. Cheech will use a power saw and nail gun to make some gates.* We will call it “animal husbandry, physical education and technical education” in our homeschool binder and I’ll post an update soon. (Is there an HGTV show for chicken coops? Hmm. Maybe there should be.) We also hauled limbs from recent storms, built up the burn pile, fixed a fence and then it was high time to clean up and feed the animals.

They had pepperoni pizza and we had combination. All while watching “Babe,” the perfect movie to end this particular day.(Did we really have a choice?)

By 9, we were ready for bed. And then, we were up before the sun (and the accidental rooster!) to start another day.

So that’s our version of rural living. It’s definitely not what I envisioned when we moved here, but it’s alright. Were you surprised? I bet you thought there would be a square dance. Maybe next Saturday.

My sweet pea and Sweet Pea
My sweet pea and Sweet Pea

*Lies. All lies. Just wanted to see if I could scare you.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with My Pet Chicken, I just like them enough to tell other people without compensation.

Homeschooling and Insanity

There are lots of people who think homeschooling is insane. From the moment I announced I was even thinking about it, I heard, “I could never homeschool!” or “I’d go nuts if I homeschooled!” Then, I decided to quit talking to myself and carry on.

To be fair, homeschooling would be an insane choice for some families. However, we are fortunate to have the time and resources as well as a workable match between parent and child personalities to make it work (at least for now). I would never suggest that homeschooling is for everyone – but it is most definitely not in our case, “insane.”

And I’d like to keep it that way. (And so would my husband and the kids despite their daily attempts to drive me over the edge.)

So right after I looked into the legalities of homeschooling (okay…BEFORE), I thought long and hard about what I would need to maintain this thin veneer of sanity. Because this past year? It has been really tough. And I only recently turned the proverbial corner toward a better state of mental and emotional well-being.

My husband as well as my best friend were also concerned. My husband thought it was the best option for Scooter, but worried it wasn’t the best option for me. My best friend had similar thoughts. So, I thought long and hard, talked through things, asked for ideas, and came up with a plan.

The first thing I realized was that, as much as possible, I wanted to mitigate the enormity of this change by making it as smooth a transition as possible. I didn’t want to completely upset the apple cart by changing our entire home routine. So…I didn’t. I planned our homeschooling day like our public-schooling day. (Except without the part where we took Scooter to school each morning at 7:15 a.m. or picked him up later in the afternoon.) We maintained our morning routine: brain-rotting cartoons, breakfast, dress and brush, chores, then school. And that has worked great for us. I need structure, my kids need structure, and structure has made this change less of a “change.”

I also realized that I had to have daily therapy – i.e. time for creative endeavor. Everyone has their thing, and my thing is creating, most often writing, but sometimes practicing piano, composing, reading, studying something new or occasionally, crafting. (As in very, very occasionally. Sorry about those unfinished slippers from 1998, Mom. I’ll finish them soon.) So, every day, I force my children to have a rest period while I head to our little home office or curl up somewhere and read or study. So far, I’ve worked on new state teaching certifications, a nonfiction children’s book prospectus and some fairly bad poetry. It’s been awesome and I look forward to it every day.

I also asked for and received a gym membership and promises to take care of the spawn in the mornings so that I can go run/walk/crawl and do some strength training. Most mornings so far, this hasn’t happened due to weather and illness. But next week is the week! Really, really!

We also get out of the house regularly. No way was I going to be cooped up all day, every day. It wasn’t going to work for me or for the kids. So, three mornings a week, we go on some kind of short outing or errand. Now that Scooter is starting T-ball and a math club at a local library, we may cut down, but getting out and seeing the big, wide world is essential.

And last, but not least, I asked my husband to please, pretty please take over the morning and evening childcare duties. Let’s be honest – I’ve always been the default parent and I probably always will be. But if I am going to continue to be the parent primarily responsible for their safety, feeding, napping, crapping, social calendar AND their education, he can deal with dress and brush and bath and jammies.

Routine, creative time, exercise, getting out and assistance – that’s what I’ve required to be successful at our new endeavor. If you are thinking about homeschooling, what do you need to stay sane?

Thanks for reading.


First Things First: Legalities

The first thing we did after deciding to homeschool was to research our state’s laws. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Texas has some of the most lax rules about homeschooling in the country. We do not have to file a letter of intent with our school district, have our curriculum reviewed, or have our kids tested annually.

What we do have to do is to have a “bonafide” curriculum in visual form that covers reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship. (Does anyone else find it alarming that Texas requires no science, social studies, fine arts or physical/health education?)

What are the laws where you live? Every state is different, but you can find out about yours at this site.

We also had to officially withdraw Scooter from public school. You can’t just not show up one day…or twelve. Please, look at your state laws carefully and make sure your child is attending regularly right up to the day you withdraw. We chose to withdraw by certified letter, a great option in Texas. Yes, road conditions were poor, but it had more to do with the fact that mama doesn’t look good in prison orange. Scooter didn’t care about retrieving any personal belongings (or what was left of them), he didn’t care about saying goodbye and $10 is a small price to pay for the library book we still had at home. A certified letter also has the added benefit of providing a clear paper trail of when exactly you withdrew your child if that should become necessary.

We also chose to join an association that provides legal support to homeschooling families. There have been some cases of parents being taken to court for truancy or being investigated for child abuse and neglect simply because of their decision to homeschool. [As of this posting, the Homeschool Police have not made a visit. Stay tuned.] In Texas, the Texas Homeschool Coalition may be of interest to you. If you live elsewhere, check out the Home School Legal Defense AssociationRead the fine print – many will not help you if your legal troubles began before you joined, especially if those issues were related to excessive absences.

In many cases, you will also need to actually begin homeschooling the day after youScooter and Number Bond Pins withdraw your child. What that looks like will depend on you – but just in case the Homeschool Police come knocking, you’ll want to have something in hand. In Homeschooling – Help! Where do I start?, I will share how we went about deciding what to teach. After the excruciating process of making the decision and the nail-biting experience of withdrawing him, choosing what we were going to work on was FUN!

Thanks for reading!