Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Road that Led to Homeschool: Where I Failed At Homeschooling

(I've been sharing some older posts with you, ones I felt needed some revisiting.  I wasn't entirely new to homeschooling even when I wrote these, but I was still in wonder of the things that had brought me to that educational choice.  Now into our 6th year of homeschooling, the 'wonder' is mostly gone, but I'm more delighted now than ever to have taken this direction with my children.

But you should understand that failure came first.  In this post I talked about our daughter whom we suspected early on had some learning disability.  Earlier this year it was finally confirmed to us that she is dyslexic and has a language processing disorder.  While of course that is a daily challenge, I also see it as such a blessing.  As contradictory as it may sound, without the difficulties and my resulting failings as a homeschooling mom, I may never have found the joy inherent in homeschooling.)

We can learn a lot from our successes, but it's often our failures that prove to be the greatest teachers.  I've learned, (and am learning,) to accept the lessons they have to teach me.

My very first venture into homeschooling came when my daughter was a preschooler and we started working on some basics together, simply because I noticed she didn't seem to know many of the things other kids her age knew.  I never called it 'homeschooling' however.  Of course that's exactly what it was, but I had no intention of I wasn't even going to use the term if I didn't have to!

But necessity can be a powerful motivator.  Our oldest child was enrolled in our church's small Christian school and she was doing very well.  When it was time for daughter #2 to begin Kindergarten and our school didn't offer K, we found ourselves faced with a dilemma.  I had already decided public school wasn't an option, but from a practical standpoint, neither was another Christian school.  For one thing, it was going to be a logistical nightmare getting two children back and forth to two different schools with two different schedules while I still had two small boys at home.  There was also the issue of tuition for my Kindergartener at a larger, far more expensive school.  The extra funds simply weren't there, so....very much against my will, I decided to homeschool my daughter, even to call it homeschooling this time!  But I would do it only for Kindergarten.  Just this once.

And I wish so much I could tell you that this intentional effort at homeschooling immediately began to break down my defenses, to challenge my preconceived notions, to overwhelm me with joy and fulfillment in God's purpose and plan for my life of home educating my children.

Instead, let me pause a moment and laugh hilariously.

Because my first attempt at homeschooling was, in my mind at least, an abject FAILURE.  Maybe not entirely from an academic standpoint, but definitely from a personal one.

I blew it!  I mean, I really blew it and by the time that year was over, homeschooling one child, I was more convinced than ever before that I never wanted to homeschool my children.  Never.  So let me explain...

While daughter #1 was the kind of kid who just "picked things up" with hardly any effort on my part, who knew all her letters and numbers before she even started preschool, daughter #2 was vastly different.  I knew she hadn't learned as many things as early as her sister and that she was easily distracted in comparison, but I chalked it up to some ADHD and maybe some immaturity and I thought we'd overcome it in no time.  Once we focused in on schooling, the wheels of learning would begin to roll and she'd be on the level of #1 in no time.

But I was terribly, terribly wrong.

My sweet, creative, imaginative little girl is dyslexic.  I didn't realize it at the time, of course, as it doesn't reveal itself until a child begins tackling written language, but I quickly knew something wasn't right in her learning.  My daughter was drawing pictures with startling detail at an incredibly young age and she amazed me by knowing all of her shapes by name almost as soon as she could talk, yet she struggled desperately with something so simple as learning letters and numbers and stringing letters together into words.

Coming to understand what was wrong and seeing letters and words through my daughter's eyes was a slow and very painful process.  We struggled together for months.  Even as an older Kindergartener, (she turned 6 just after we started school,) for the longest time she could not seem to tell her letters apart or learn their names.  Some days she would do relatively well and I would be encouraged.  The next day we would review letter flashcards and she would miss nearly every one of them.  My 3-year old would often wander into the kitchen and blurt out the names of letters and numbers my 6-year old could not remember to save her life.  It was always disheartening for us both.

I can't begin to explain how long and painful those pitiful efforts seemed.  I didn't know what I was doing wrong as a teacher and my daughter didn't know why she couldn't get it or why I stayed so frustrated and I can't tell you the times both of us finished school in tearsI was incredibly stressed.  My patience was shot.

By the middle of February in our school year, I was desperate for some kind of progress and even questioned if I had no choice but to put my daughter in public school where perhaps someone could give her the help I could not.  I was at a total loss for what to do and I was more convinced than ever that homeschooling was not an option for me. 

But I had made some egregious errors from the very beginning and I look back now, knowing well that had I had these issues in check, my homeschooling experience may have been very, very different.  But...

1.  I homeschooled that year totally against my will.

I agreed to educate my child at home, but I did it resentfully, frustrated that this was my only option.  I viewed homeschooling as a burden instead of the wonderful opportunity it truly was. No wonder I was frustrated when things didn't go smoothly!  No wonder I spent the year stressed-out and aggravated with myself and with my daughter and with a disability I couldn't understand!

2.  I went at homeschooling with totally unrealistic expectations.

I didn't want to homeschool, but I figured we'd have some beautiful learning moments together just the same.  My daughter would be anxious to learn and fascinated by the things I taught her. All the distractions would easily fall away with a little one-on-one time. When she read her first word, dramatic music would play in the background and together we'd bask in the magical glow of learning.  (Okay, I didn't really expect to hear music, but you know what I mean.  It was really supposed to be that magical.)  When homeschooling didn't go anything like that, of course I was discouraged.

3.  I hoped for homeschooling success for mostly prideful reasons. 

I realize I'm not painting a lovely picture of myself here, but I'm trying to be truthful.  I wanted my daughter to learn quickly and seemlessly and with as little effort on my part as possible. I wanted her to excel and amaze her peers and mine with her incredible abilities, not for her benefit or for God's glory, mind you, but for my own pride.  When it didn't happen that way and I not only felt inept, but was sure I looked it, too, it was simply more than my dignity could stand.

So, failing miserably and overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and complete inadequacy, I began to pray.

I know, I know.  I was way late on that one!  I should've been praying and praying hard about teaching my daughter from the very beginning, but I'd gone into homeschooling with this dissenting arrogance, convinced I could do it on my own and mad I was having to do it all.  Sadly, it never occurred to me I might need to bathe my attempts in prayer. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures and, no doubt about it, incredible things began to happen as I prayed.  My daughter did not excel, but she did begin to learn her letters and by the end of the school year was reading very simple words, though it seemed to happen in spite of me more than because of me or any brilliant efforts of mine.

So at year's end we closed our books and I finished my first attempt at homeschooling.  Or just gave up on it maybe, but either way the summer passed and I breathed a sigh of relief as I sent my daughter off to Christian school for 1st grade.  I wasn't sure she was ready for it, but I hoped for the best and thanked heaven I didn't have to homeschool again!

But unbeknownst to me at the time, something had begun inside of me that school year.  My failures nagged at me.  The miserable helplessness I'd felt, the horrid, humiliating inadequacy I'd experienced was painful, yet fertile soil for a "homeschooling epiphany" to begin to grow. 

I wasn't willing to homeschool, but in the slightest, almost indiscernable way I think I began to be willing to let God change my mind on the issue, if indeed that was what He wanted to do! 

Now, I don't think I really believed He wanted to change my mind at all, or maybe I didn't believe He could.  But it didn't matter.  All God needed was a little willingness, a tiny crack in the door of my heart.  It wasn't much, but it was enough.  And then one day I prayed that half-hearted prayer I mentioned before.

"God, if you want me to homeschool, you're gonna have to change my heart."

Bam.  I think that's all He was looking for -- the slightest willingness.  It was very slight, mind you, but God in His mercy and love took hold of that prayer and was kind enough to answer it for me, even when I wasn't sure I wanted it answered at all.  He didn't change my mind all at once, but slowly, through circumstances and through prayer and through gentle, but frequent proddings in my heart. 

And when I decided to give homeschooling another try, this time with multiple children, I was so uncertain and so afraid.  Surely I'd be stressed again.  Surely my patience would be gone by Christmas.  Surely I would be completely burnt out by the spring.

Yet here I am, more passionate about my decision to home educate than ever before.  It's been amazing.  Miraculous.  Something so far beyond myself I can't even begin to describe it to you.  It's been a gift of grace, one as readily available to you as it has been to me.

"Oh, not me!" you say.  "I could never homeschool!" 

Yeah, I said that, too.  Yet here I am.  And thank God I'm here! 

It's my rallying cry, the daily mantra of my heart, and only in remembering it am I confident in this thing called homeschooling. 

"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is
made perfect in weakness."
--2 Corinthians 12: 9

And I'm all weakness.  I admit it.  But I've learned, through my failures, that it's not MY strength I'm depending on anyway. Thank God He daily gives me HIS.  

And thank God for the road that led me to homeschool. 

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Road that Led To Homeschool: Four Reasons Why I Didn't Want to Homeschool

                                                                       Photo Credit

(I'm vacationing from blogging....kind of...and resurrecting some older posts in the meantime.  Like last week's post, this one was originally part of a series that, when I wrote it, was more or less half personal diary and half 'homeschooling manifesto'.  The things I wrote back then still ring true in my heart and mind today.  And while my blog is still unassumingly small, it has nevertheless grown ten-times over since the days when I wrote these things, so I thought it might be time to share these posts again...)

They say confession is good for the soul.  Well my soul will be experiencing lots of goodness in this blogpost!  And hopefully you won't think worse of me by the time it's all through...

Like I told you, after being practically anti-homeschool for the better part of my life, I slowly and reluctantly came to recognize that homeschooling could be a good thing and that public school rarely is.  But realizing that did not mean I was ready to consider homeschooling my own children!

There were several excuses I would throw out on those rare occasions when the subject of homeschooling came up and, to some extent, I suppose there was validity to each of them..  But it's time to be honest!  All those excuses were just a cover-up for the real reason why I had no intention of homeschooling.

I always insisted I didn't have the patience for it.  I was concerned about the day my children reached higher math.  I feared I couldn't possibly cover everything I needed to cover and do so with multiple children, all at the same time.  They were all legitimate concerns.  Maybe. 

But the real reason, the underlying motive behind my decision, the one I was so careful to conceal with all my meticulously designed excuses was this:  I would never homeschool because...I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO.

That doesn't sound very profound, I realize, but stick with me here because that truth was the biggest obstacle to me homeschooling my children.  Once the complete unwillingness was overcome, it's amazing how my entire perspective of education and childrearing and even motherhood began to change.

Now some of the things I'm about to say here sound ridiculous to me now.  I've had the time to do a lot of soul-searching and I think I'm seeing much more clearly the things that matter in life and the things that really don't.  And some of these things definitely do NOT!  But humbling as it is, I'm determined to share with you some of the messed-up thinking of my past, no matter how petty I sound in the process.   So here you go....

I didn't want to homeschool because...

1.  I wanted a clean house.  I am by no means a clean freak, but I honestly did look forward to the day I could ship all the kids off to school and clean and do laundry and decorate and have the cute, (and CLEAN,) mazagine-cover-worthy little home I knew I could have if I really had the time to devote to it. 

2.  I wanted the freedom to come and go at will, (at least during the daytime.)  I wasn't looking for the chance to travel to distant, exotic locations.  I just wanted to be able to go to the grocery store on a whim!  I wanted the opportunity to run errands, do volunteer work, visit a friend, or check out the big sale at Dillards without having to drag four children along with me or go to the trouble of finding babysitters.

3.  I wanted to enjoy silence and solitude in my home, at least every once in a while!  I wanted more opportunities to think and pray and just be alone on occasion without the noise and chaos of having children in my company 24/7.

And this is the biggie:

4.  I wanted the time to pursue the dreams that having children has pushed to the wayside.  Some people look forward to the day they can go back to school or have time for a beloved hobby or pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.  Well I had some things I wished to do as well and I was smart enough to see that homeschooling was going to be a significant time-vaccuum.  The only hope?   Get those kids out of the house so I could do the things I wanted to do!

So, truth be told, as much as I adored my children and as much I felt ready to give the world for each of them, I also viewed them as a considerable inconvenience.

Ouch.  There goes my Mother of the Year nomination...

I never admitted my feelings to myself.  In fact, I'm not sure I even realized I thought that way!  But I don't believe that kind of thinking is unusual.  Sadly, it's all too common and I never realized I had fallen prey to a mindset of the world.  Society itself in subtle and not-so-subtle ways teaches us that children are a bother.  They disrupt our plans.  They try our patience.  They limit our abilities.  They can be like a ball and chain that weighs us down, hindering our success and robbing us of fulfillment.

Society teaches us we can't handle our children.  We can't manage them.  We can't deal with the stress they add to our lives and we certainly can't teach them!  So the best thing to do is send them off to school as early and as often as possible.

But while society is teaching that attitude, the Bible teaches something very different.  Nowhere in scripture is there any indication that God hands out children without also providing parents everything they need to handle them, provided they tap into the supply of grace so readily available to them.  He said His grace is sufficient, did He not?  And nowhere does scripture indicate parents are incapable of teaching their children either.  In fact, we are commanded to do it!  This passage from Deuteronomy is the homeschooling mantra, but only because its message is so powerful.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 
--Deuteronomy 6: 4-7

I am not commanded in scripture to have a spotless home.  I'm not instructed to allot myself plenty of "me time" or to pursue my every dream or even to volunteer my services to worthy causes.  And while there's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, it is wrong to focus on them while also ignoring what the Bible plainly tells me; that I am to teach my children.  Now granted, that scripture speaks of teaching children spiritual truth and not merely transitive verbs and the pythagorean theorem, but, unfortunately, when kids spend such a huge portion of their time outside of the home at school or elsewhere or sleeping, there just isn't a lot of time leftover for imparting spiritual truth!  

Does that mean a person is disobeying scripture if they don't homeschool?  I don't think so, but I see how easy it can be to pursue other things and then shrug our God-ordered responsibility to teach our children off on the church or on the Christian school.  And while both of those can and should reinforce Christian values in our children, they can never and will never take the place of our teaching them.   

I have been blessed with four beautiful children whom I love with all my heart.  And while there are those days when it seems they'll be little forever, the days when they fight constantly and create one mess after another and wreak havoc on my plans, I also realize they will be gone from our home and out from under our protection in an incredibly short amount of time.  In the scope of time and eternity, the window of opportunity I have to influence them for good is terribly, frighteningly brief.  I had better make these years count!  I won't have a chance to repeat them.  

Now...I was determined I wouldn't draw this subject out again, but I have more to say and I'm afraid it just can't be helped!  I haven't explained the things that helped conquer that unwilling, (and selfish,) attitude of mine when it came to homeschooling.

God has such a sense of humor, I think.  And it never ceases to amaze me the things He can do through our circumstances, even through our utter failures....

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Road that Led to Homeschool: Why Public School Just Wasn't an Option for Us

                                                                            Photo credit

(This is an old post of mine written back in the days when I blogged because I needed a writing outlet, mostly just to clear my head from time to time.  I decided to rename and share it again, first of all, because I'm taking a very temporary hiatus from blogging, but also because this post and a couple of others I'll share were gushings of my heart that I feel deserve some revisiting.

I had been homeschooling for a while when I wrote this, but was still baffled, I think, to find myself doing so.  For years I had insisted I would NEVER homeschool, which I thought at the time somehow made me unique among homeschooling moms.  I've since learned how wrong I was in that department, but now that the oh-my-goodness-how-did-I-end-up-homeschooling?? feeling has long since faded away, I still like to look back and remember the road that led me into an educational choice and a way of life I never dreamed I would experience.)

My "homeschool epiphany," as I like to call it, didn't happen overnight.  I never saw an angel, I had no supernatural dreams, and I never heard the audible voice of God directing me to homeschool my children.  The process, (and notice I said process,) was a slow one.  Through time and careful research and diligent prayer and one interesting "happenstance" after another, my opinions evolved over time into what they are today.

You see, my less-than-favorable view of homeschooling goes way, way back.  Not many people were homeschooling when I was a kid in the 80s, but I knew a handful who did and, if I may be honest, they weren't exactly stellar examples of what homeschooling can be.  And, unfortunately, those first impressions were lasting impressions for me.  Even as a child I understood the importance of a good education and I just didn't see homeschooling providing that. 

I'll cut myself a little slack here because I was a child when I came to that conclusion, but, sadly, the anti-homeschooling mentality stayed with me for years to come. 

Add to it that I myself was a product of the public school system.  I went to public school K-12 and graduated with what I considered a very good education.  And I didn't sacrifice my Christian testimony in the process, either!  By the grace of God I lived my faith throughout my public school years and had many opportunities to be a light and a witness for Christ.  And in the years immediately following graduation, I clearly recall insisting that my own children, (who didn't exist yet,) would go to public school just as I had done.  There they could receive a fine education and have an opportunity to show the light of Christ to others. 

But my ideas and opinions have been turned upside-down since those days!  First of all, just because somebody I knew way-back-when gave their homeschool a lackluster effort does not mean homeschooling can't be done very, very well.  Some people are awful basketball players, but that doesn't make basketball a terrible sport.  Even an unathletic, uncoordinated, out-of-shape person can learn to play a decent game of 3-on-3 or H-O-R-S-E, provided he's willing to invest some time and effort into honing his skills.  In the same way, with the proper investment of time and effort even an uncertain, inexperienced, feeling-anything-but-qualified parent can hone their homeschooling skills until they're an adequate, if not exceptional teacher to their children!

And I know there are those of you thinking, "Okay.  Maybe it can be done well, but that doesn't mean it can be done well by me."  Save that thought.  I'll get to it eventually...

Once the bloom of high school graduation had fully faded and especially as I had children of my own, my view of those public school years began to change. I began to realize that the good education I received had far more to do with my own motivation to learn and my love of reading than it had to do with any of the public school methods.  And that's no insult to any of my teachers!  I had some very good teachers who did the best they could with the class sizes they were handed and the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all education they were expected to provide.  My high school biology teacher taught me to love science for the first time ever in my life.  Though I had struggled for years with even the most basic math concepts, an extraordinary math teacher somehow helped me grasp trigonometry so well I excelled at it and even found myself loving it!  That was pretty amazing.  And I appreciate these teachers' contributions to my education.

But that said, it would be unjust not to also mention some of the very bad teachers I had in the course of my school years, like the angry 3rd grade teacher whose constant yelling left me terrified of her and constantly faking illness so I didn't have to go to school.  Then there was the 7th grade history teacher who always seemed lost in class and one day couldn't read a graph until I finally went in my frustration to her desk and explained it to her.  I can't forget the angry algebra teacher who only got frustrated when people didn't understand, so students stopped asking questions and learned to hate algebra and not do algebra.  There was also the 9th grade World Civ teacher who spent every class period telling us about the evils of political conservatives and the 12th grade English teacher who ignored English and taught moral relativism to the point we questioned if murder was really always wrong.  I could go on and on. 

But what about the issue of being a light for Christ in the public school?  Oh, how my mind has changed on that one, too!  Granted, by some miracle of grace I survived public school with my faith intact, but it was a dangerous gamble I refuse to take with my own children.  We all hope our kids will stand for Christ when put in a situation where they must choose, but to ship them off to school for hours every day in hopes they'll be salt and light might actually be more like throwing them to the lions and hoping they know how to run!  To expect a child or even a teenager to stand for Christ in circumstances that may be far beyond their spiritual grounding and maturity, especially when their faith comes under fire from adults placed in their authority, is an awful lot to expect. 

And even if that child manages to be a light for Christ, like it or not, at least some of their innocence will be sacrificed in the process. 

I was exposed to absolute filth at far too young an age in the public schools.  My parents could monitor the children who came to our home and limit the playtime we had with neighborhood kids, but they had no control over who sat behind me on the bus or who I met in the hallway at my school or who sat beside me in class.  Pornography regularly made its rounds on the school bus.  Bad language started in the elementary grades, but was rampant by middle school.  I would be embarrassed to share here some of the discussions that went on openly in class as early as 6th and 7th grade. 

I had to listen to classmates spew the details of the music they listened to and the movies they watched and was sometimes even expected to listen to it or watch it right in class.  We watched an R-rated movie in the 5th grade, one so gory I only made it about 2 minutes in before I asked the teacher if I could leave the class.  My classmates later informed me I missed full nudity as well.  I still remember those bloody images some 25+ years later. 

In middle and high school, particularly around holidays or testing periods, movies with horrible language, extreme violence, or graphic sexual content were allowed to play with no regard from a teacher busy grading papers or reorganizing their supplies.  Sometimes such movies were hand-picked for their "educational benefit" and shown to the class.  Looking back now, I don't even know why I never protested, except that it seemed pointless.  It was an ungodly place:  It didn't surprise me they were watching ungodly things.  And while it was offensive, it was also incredibly common and not much different from the trash I heard in the hallways or saw on the bus, so rather than make a scene, I would quietly ask to be excused from the room.  To their credit, I never had a teacher refuse me when I asked to opt out and go to the library for the class period, though I had friends who were not so fortunate at their particular schools.  

I've been out of school 18 years now.  No one can convince me its gotten better and most people will agree it's far worse.  And urban, suburban, or rural school district--it really doesn't seem to matter.  My husband graduated from one of the top school districts in the state of Texas, a rural district with top-notch schools and some of the best teachers in the state.  He insists his school was no different from mine.

But remembering all of this the way I do, seeing my own public school experience for what it really was, I don't want to put my child in that kind of environment when there is an alternative.  I can't speak for anyone else and I don't try to tell anyone else what to do, but I just can't.

So what is the alternative?  Christian school is the obvious choice, but Christian schools aren't cheap and for far too many people they just aren't a financially viable option.  And while there are many fine Christian schools out there, sometimes I feel many parents are all-too-eager to enroll their children in schools where the term "Christian" actually applies very loosely.  A school filled with delinquent public school outcasts cannot provide a good environment for Christian education, but neither can one filled with students and teachers who all claim Christianity, yet live lives that demonstrate absolutely no difference from the world.  Sometimes a school filled with blatant sinners can be less dangerous to a young mind than one filled with religious hypocrites who have all had an "experience with Christ," yet in no way has it affected the way they live their lives.

I know, I know.  I'm too wordy.  But you have no idea how much I've brooded over all these things.  My decision to homeschool is not one I've taken lightly.  And no, I'm still not done with the subject here.  Even when I had decided that homeschooling could be done effectively and that public school absolutely was not an option, I had yet to conquer my greatest objections to homeschooling my own children. 

And that's where the real epiphany began...

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Best Summer Blueberry-Cherry Cobbler

When it comes to a fruit pie, nothing beats the aesthetic appeal of a pretty pie pan and a fancy lattice crust.  I'm always a little proud of my lovelier pies, but they're a lot of work!  Besides the fruit prep there's all that mixing and chilling and rolling and cutting and weaving and crimping that goes into the crust-making, and that's before you even get to the baking!

But a cobbler?  No, the creation of a good fruit cobbler usually looks something like this:

Dump the fruit.  

Mix the batter.  

Dump the batter on the fruit.  

Bake it.  

And there you go.  Does homemade get any easier than that?

Now I will admit that in most cobblers you are sacrificing beauty for ease, but I can handle UGLY just fine so long as awesome flavor is intact!

And, trust me, there is LOADS of awesome flavor in this cobbler!

Originally, this recipe called for blueberries only.  I love all things blueberry, but one day it just so happened I only had about half the blueberries I needed to make this cobbler and about an equal number of fresh cherries.  Obviously it was time to bring two of my favorite flavors together into one cobbler.  And I was DELIGHTED with the results!

So here it is...

Best Summer Blueberry-Cherry Cobbler

1 1/2 cups, plus 3 T sugar
3 eggs
1 1/4 sticks melted butter, plus 2 T softened
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 T baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh pitted cherries, halved or roughly chopped

Preheat your oven to 325°.  Grease the sides and bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan with the 2 T. softened butter.  Sprinkle that evenly with the 3 T. sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, whisking until light and fluffy.  Add milk and whisk until combined.  Add flour, lemon zest, baking powder, and cinnamon, whisking until smooth.

Spread the berries in the prepared pan.  Pour the batter over the berries and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and the center is set.  Unless you like mush, (and it's okay if you do!) allow cobbler to cool 15-20 minutes on a wire rack before serving.

*Now let me say here that fresh cherries are probably not the easiest fruit to cook with!  Cherries have pits, of course, and they have to be removed.  (I mean, surely you knew that, but just in case there's somebody out there who has never bitten into a fresh cherry...)  You can use the pitting method shown here, or just do what I do, slicing each cherry vertically from the core and in a circle, then twisting the halves apart and popping the seed out with a fingernail.  Personally, I can pit cherries that way as quickly as any other method I've tried.  For me the extra time and effort, (and even the unsightly red-stained fingers,) are well worth it.

**But if you're not up for cherry-pitting or cherries aren't your favorite, plenty of other fruits would pair well with the blueberries in this recipe.  Chopped peaches or apples would be my first choice, but strawberries, blackberries, or raspberries would be delicious as well.

***And, yes, technically you could use canned fruit if it was well-drained, but, good heavens, why would you want to?  Frozen would be better than canned, but trust me here and go with fresh fruit if there's any way in the world you can find it in your budget to do so.  You'll thank me for it later.  Really.

You know why I like cobblers?  They may not always be pretty, but they're oh-so-easy while tasting like they took some pretty impressive effort.  And this is, hands down, the most impressive cobbler I've ever made and maybe the best I've ever eaten.

So forget the pretty pie pan and save the fancy lattice crust work for the holidays.  Take advantage of fresh summer fruits while indulging your summer laziness -- whip up a simple cobbler today!

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

5 Homeschooling Survival Tips

I loved to play in the woods as a kid and pretend I was stranded in the wilderness alone, forced to live off the land for survival.  I figured I'd find a nice, cozy cave for shelter and eat berries and leaves and fish I caught with my bare hands and cooked over a campfire started by rubbing two sticks together.  I'd live a life to make Daniel Boone proud!

Umm...right.  Truth be told, I would have starved to death.  Or died of exposure.  If I wasn't eaten by a bear first, that is.

Because, really, I don't know much about survival in the wilderness.  Read the accounts of real-life survivors like Boone and you'll find out even they had times when they nearly starved to death or went insane from the solitude.

But I've heard that if you know just a few basic survival tipsyou can survive stranded in the wilderness, at least long enough to give help more time to arrive.

So does a homeschooling analogy here seem a little extreme?  Maybe so, but I couldn't resist.  Hey, homeschooling isn't easy!  It requires a huge commitment of time and effort and devotion.  It's breaking away from societal norms and cultural comforts.  For some it can even mean loneliness and isolation, in an emotional rather than physical sense, when the decision to homeschool is met by family and friends with criticism and ridicule.

Homeschooling is tough, but even at its toughest I'm convinced that we can make it simply by remembering some basic survival tips.

These are the five I consider most essential:

Bathe Your Homeschool in Prayer

Listen, I am well-aware there is a growing number of secular homeschoolers out there who seem to homeschool quite effectively without uttering a single prayer.  Their academic successes seem to indicate that if we, (as the moms,) are smart enough, organized enough, and strict enough, we can meet with success in our homeschool without ever bothering to pray.

But I am a Christian and as a believer in Christ, my concept of homeschooling success can, (and OUGHT to,) look very different from the secular world's.  While I strive for academic success and I hope to produce an independent thinker and learner, my primary goal is to lead my children to Christ.

I can't do that without regular prayer specifically for my homeschool.  I can admit it:  I don't have the wisdom, insight, moral character, or even the physical or mental ability to be all my children need me to be.  I am desperately in need of a Savior who can give me the direction and the patience and the strength I need for each and every day.

Educate Yourself Regularly

In the beginning, all I knew of homeschooling was two curriculum companies, neither of which I cared for very much.  But then as I started doing my research, I began to learn there was a great big wonderful world of homeschooling beyond my very limited knowledge of it.  There were books and resources and support networks galore to give me ideas and encouragement.

And yet I am surprised sometimes at the number of homeschooling moms I meet who know virtually nothing about homeschooling materials and techniques outside of whatever curriculum they've used for years.  If a person is perfectly happy with what they're using, then it's not a problem.  But I must confess to having met a few moms who seemed miserable in their homeschooling process, but the very suggestion of changing curriculum or approach is either met with offense or with a blank stare.

For most if not all homeschoolers, there are going to be problems at some point along the way.  It can be a reluctant, struggling, or gifted learner that has you bewildered or a scheduling or planning issue that leaves you frustrated and discouraged.  We can draw so much from the wisdom and experience of others, which is why I read homeschooling books, websites, and blogs like crazy and visit homeschool conventions as often as I can.

We tell our kids their learning should never stop.  Shouldn't that be true of us as well?

Stop Making Comparisons

Honestly, falling into the "comparison trap" may be one of the quickest routes to homeschooling failure.  We panic when the co-op director's daughter rattles off The Raven word-for-word when our own child is struggling desperately just to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution.  We view with envy a friend's beautiful dining room-turned-formal homeschool classroom and feel like a failure because we have nowhere to homeschool but a rickety kitchen table.  We read after a homeschooling blogger who seems to have it all together, (but who really just knows how and when to take the right pictures and wisely chooses not to write about the more disastrous days...not that I would know this from experience or and beat ourselves up for not being more organized and inspired and more intentional in our efforts.

Sometimes we even do the comparing within our own family, which is just as awful, and maybe even more so!  We're distraught because child #1 was reading at age 4 and child #3 barely knows letter sounds at age 6!  One child is sweet and compliant and eager to learn while another wiggles and squirms and whines and acts like a page of math problems is cruel and unusual punishment.

Listen, our students, curricula, classrooms, and schedules do not have to look like anyone else's and expecting them to do so will likely end in despair quicker than you can say adult peer pressure.  Let the comparisons go and learn to appreciate the differences in your children and then enjoy the freedom of conducting your homeschool in a way that works best for your family.

Readjust Your Expectations for Yourself  
(Even in areas outside of your homeschool)

Nobody is harder on your average homeschooling mom than the average homeschooling mom is on herself!  As mothers we are born multi-taskers, fully expecting ourselves to DO ALL THINGS and DO THEM ALL WELL.

But homeschooling requires a lot of time and energy and effort, consequently meaning other things will have to take a backseat if it's to be done properly.  Sometimes priorities have to be reshuffled and we have to accept that we can't do things as we once did them.  That means the house may not be up to our usual standard of excellence and the responsibility of the laundry may have to be passed on to a responsible child because we just can't get it all done.

In my own life I've even had to lay aside opportunities for ministry so I could focus on my own children and our homeschool.  I haven't done so lightly or without occasional periods of nagging guilt, but the more I've read and studied the scriptures, the more I am convinced that I am neglecting my most vital, Biblically-commanded opportunity for ministry if I am not focused FIRST on my own family.  Not everyone is likely to agree with me here, but I have come to believe that if my work for God leaves me so stressed, grouchy, depressed, and/or so strapped for time that I don't have a sweet spirit or loving attention left to offer my husband and children, then I am directly disobeying scripture in trying to do it.  Period.

It's a lesson I'm still learning.  But I know sometimes we have to accept our limitations and realize there will be time for all the other stuff later.  I have my children for a remarkably short window of time.  They have to be my focus while I have them in my care.


If we are spending our homeschooling days and months a bundle of stress and worry, there's really no way our homeschool can survive.  Sometimes a change in schedule, approach, or curriculum can be helpful, but more often a change in attitude will make all the difference.

Learn to relax about it all, moms.  It's not the end of the world if you make a bad curriculum choice.  Being less organized than you'd like to be won't ruin your children.  Some gaps in their education are completely normal and would happen if they were enrolled at the finest, most expensive private school in the nation!

So algebra scares you to death.  Math isn't exactly my strong point either, but I like Voddie Bauchum's take on it.  He says all you need to do is stay one week ahead of your children and if you can manage that, you can teach your kids math.  Yes, that means you may have to do some learning on your own, but don't forget about some of the amazing resources available out there to help you.  In our modern world of Google, YouTube and Khan Academy, all the help you need can be a few keyboard clicks away.

Don't sweat it.  It'll be okay, mom.  You're doing what's best for your child and God can give you the grace to do it well.


So how are you surviving, (and thriving!) in your homeschool?  What tips could you offer other homeschooling moms?  


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Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Gift from God and My Neighbor's Trash (DIY Mod Podge and Scrapbook Paper Bookshelf)

A beautiful bookcase is not essential to a successful homeschool.

But, boy, does it help make the teacher happy!

Homeschooling involves lots of stuff.  And corralling all that stuff -- books and papers, visual aids and school supplies, is not easy.  Doing so in an attractive way can sometimes seem downright impossible!

Since we began homeschooling I have searched high and low for some kind of cabinet or bookshelf to contain our homeschooling materials.  I had to have tall shelves for binders and larger books.  And I was persnickety about the overall size as well; couldn't be too wide, couldn't be too tall, so I could fit it in my already-too-small eat-in kitchen where we do most of our homeschooling.

Stackable plastic bins have been sufficing for a couple of years now and though they've served their purpose well, I never, EVER liked them, though I have learned to embrace the homeschool mess and accept that my decorating style is not shabby chic, French provincial, or American country:  It's homeschool modern!

But God knew how I wanted a pretty place to put our homeschooling things!  And so, long after I'd given up looking for something, my husband spotted THIS in a neighbor's trash.

Yep.  In the trash.  And while I stared blankly for just a moment thinking only of all the time and labor necessary to transform this piece into something usable in our house, it was my dear husband who immediately piped up and reminded me I had always wanted a bookshelf for my homeschooling duds.

Instant epiphany!

Sometimes a little nudge from a smart man can do much to jog your inspiration. ;)

Aside from a few dents and bangs, especially on one corner, this bookshelf was actually in very good shape.  I LOVED the fact it had tall, adjustable shelves.  And though it wasn't high quality furniture, it looked nice and was plenty sturdy for what I needed it for.  All I had to do then was decide what color I wanted it to be.

I considered light blue and thought about pale yellow, but decided to go with distressed white because, well, I love white furniture.  (Check out last summer's kitchen table makeover.)  And I'm happy with my choice, though the dear husband caused me some agony by saying one day in passing, "Hmm.  Ya should 'a painted it green," only after I was already 98% done with the project.  (Sometimes his inspiration-jogging runs on a delay.)  Why I had never considered green, I don't really know.  I think I might've liked it very much, but oh well.  I also love my bookshelf as it is.

I gave it a good cleaning and then a light sanding.  Nothing major there.  I was just trying to scuff up the surface so the paint would adhere well.  I cleaned it again to remove any dust and then it was time for the painting to begin.

With brush paint I would have had a world of options when it came to color and I probably could have saved some money as well.  Some day I may invest in a sprayer, but until then I prefer using canned spray paint for these projects when at all possible.  It just makes the whole painting process much faster and easier than brush painting, not to mention the time and trouble it saves on cleanup.

When the painting was complete, I had a gorgeous white bookshelf and I loved it, but it needed....something.  Now I love that pop of color when people paint the interior of a bookshelf a contrasting hue, but here's where I got the idea to add a print to the interior instead.  You can do this with fabric or wrapping paper, even maps or old newspapers!

I decided to go check out the choices at the scrapbook paper section of Hobby Lobby, my favorite store in all the world.

Talk about sensory overload!  Oh, how I love this place...

I walked around with a stack of plaids and paisleys and toiles before finally deciding on this weathered stripe.

I loved the colors, and though perfection isn't necessary in a mostly hidden portion of a bookshelf, I also knew straight lines would be easy to match up.  (If you're a perfectionist, prints that don't match up perfectly might drive you crazy.  Keep that in mind if you decide to try this project on your own.  You might feel safer going with a stripe, plaid, or very simple print.)

This bookshelf was easy to work with because I could remove the shelving completely, but I still had to measure and cut pieces to fit the sides and to match up perfectly in the back.

A paper trimmer is one of my most valuable homeschooling supplies.  It made this part of the project a breeze.  

Now here's where I pulled out the Mod Podge.  Using a foam brush I coated the back of the scrapbook paper with a thin layer of the Mod Podge.

I had to work quickly because it begins to dry immediately and the tackier it is, the harder it is to place it.  Once a coat was applied, I quickly and carefully put it in place, smoothing it flat and pressing out air bubbles with a straight edge.  (In this case, with a Dr. Seuss book, which just happened to be the perfect size.)  I had to be careful it was exactly where I wanted it because once it's in place, moving it is hard, if not impossible!

I continued adding the paper, overlapping the pieces just slightly to help hide the edges.  I liked working with the scrapbook paper because the pieces are relatively small and I could work in sections.  It slowly began taking shape...

Once the entire inside was covered in paper, I used a wider brush to coat it with a couple more layers of Mod Podge as a protective seal.  When I was finished, this is what it looked like:

So technically, except for putting the shelves back in, I was done.  But I had never done the distressing!

This is always my favorite part.  I just took a sanding block and went to work scuffing things up here and there, especially around the edges.  Usually I distress more than I did here, but I decided I wanted this piece just lightly distressed.  No doubt it will get lots more natural distressing with time.

While I usually add a polyurethane top coat to protect my finish, I really didn't think it was necessary this time around.  I figured more dents and bangs would likely only add to its character!

So here was my finished product:

Though we haven't started school just yet, I've already put my bookshelf to use.  I'm delighted to have gone from this:

To this:

...Though, honestly, my bookshelf doesn't look nearly as amazing in my pictures as it does in my kitchen!  

This was really a fairly easy project and very inexpensive, especially considering I got my bookshelf for FREE!  I already had the Mod Podge on hand, so my only real expenses were for spray paint and scrapbook paper.  Altogether, I did this for about $20.  I LOVE my new bookshelf and I can't hardly wait to start school and use it on a regular basis.  

This wasn't my first time trash-picking, by the way.  Sometimes you can find some pretty amazing things in the garbage.  You never know the potential in something old and forgotten until you look for it.  And you never, ever know what blessings might be lying in a pile of trash!


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