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Apparently mums are fall flowers.  Who knew?  Probably everyone except me.  In all my years, I never realized this until very recently.  My landscaping/gardening learning curve continues to slowly and steadily climb upward as I am consistently amazed by how little I still know.  My ignorance supply seems to be endless.  Lately, all I see in every store that sells plants of some sort are mums or chrysanthemums if I want to be exact.   Mums, mums, mums, mums!  So, one day last week as I was buying two new hedge plants to bring home and kill, I also purchased two giant mums (most likely destined to meet the same demise as the shrubs).  The sign said “annuals”, so I don’t think they come back every year.  But, according to a google search, mums do.  Maybe not all mums do.  How’s a girl to know?  It’s pretty much a crapshoot with me anyway.

Speaking of crapshoots…that’s sorta how I feel about the art of parenting from time-to-time….especially lately.  It doesn’t matter how many books one reads on parenting or how educated they are or how much experience they have….parents are all in the same boat with this gig.  The learning curve is winding, long and neverending….it’s full of surprises.  I suppose that’s good though.  It seems every age, every season offers an opportunity for a parent to doubt or second guess oneself.  For instance, learning to let a child learn to fall asleep by themselves — hard work.  Or, teaching a toddler to share toys — more hard work.  Allowing them to make mistakes and sometimes fall down so they can learn how to get back up and try again — very hard work.  Giving them room to make choices, but controlling just enough of each situation until they are mature enough to handle a little more leeway — hard, hard, hard.  Most recently, I struggle with one minute finding myself confident and sure that allowing them to bear the burden of paying their own way through college is the wisest decision I could make.  The next minute I am doubting that decision as I watch them struggle, penny pinch, and choose gasoline or school supplies over food.

In all these examples (and many more), the first thing I have always wanted to do is step in and rescue them.  I could.  It would be quick, easy, and I could help minimize their suffering or pain….for the immediate future.  In the long run, they would learn little and it would ultimately impair them.  So, five seconds later, I am back to believing with assurance that if I rescue them, they will not learn…they will not sleep (and neither will I), they will not grow and mature into the independent, caring, well-rounded adults I wish them to become.

It really is a balancing act to know when to lean in and when to step out.  Each situation requires careful consideration and individual attention….sometimes a firm “no”, sometimes tough love, and still other times empathy and compassion is demanded.  It’s the give and take, the push and the pull.  It’s learning when and how to lead and teach; then learning when it’s time to listen, extend grace, and guide by their side; and finally learning to find the courage to let them go.  In one word:  It is Exhausting!   Don’t get me wrong….it’s not all work and no joy.  The dance can be beautiful if produced with the right mix of planning, prayer, wisdom, grace, compassion, effort, creativity, freedom, boundaries, courage, strength, and discipline.  And, there is so much more that goes into this job called parenting.  It blows my mind.

I often find myself bewildered by both plants and parenting.  Luckily, the kids have fared better than the plants.  My poor plants.  One of these days I hope to figure out how to keep them alive longer.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep focusing on parenting well.  I believe parenting truly is the hardest and most fulfilling work I have ever attempted.  Even on the days that I feel like it’s pretty much a crapshoot, I am so thankful for this job!

Stop the presses, hold the phone, tell all the neighbors….Everyone. Will. Be. Home. For. Dinner. Tonight!  Or so, that is the last I heard.

This is a big deal….to me.  I’m not sure if anyone else in the family cares; but, to a mom, having all under one roof, gathered around the dinner table to share our lives and a meal is simply priceless.

I am aware that some families don’t get that luxury.  I am aware that many families before mine have witnessed the number of chairs growing increasingly empty at the dinner table night after night as children grow up and seek more independence.  I am aware that I am not the first mom to experience the phenomenon of suddenly having no-one to feed at dinner time.

I should be ecstatic about that, right?  No more cooking….more me time.  Not exactly.  It would seem my grocery bill and cooking time would be experiencing a nice little vacation.  On the contrary,  just because they aren’t coming home for dinner every night any more does not translate to them not eating.   They all still eat, and they eat more than ever before.  But, the rhythm of our family’s meal times has shifted from once upon a time having everyone home for every meal to having almost no-one home to eat at the same time. Ever.

I am still trying to find my cooking groove for this new season of life.  My youngest three show little interest in eating home-cooked meals.  That will change, I know.  But, they would be perfectly happy to exist on cold cereal and sandwiches.  But, when my big boys begin filing through the door two, three and four hours after dinner; they want to know “What did you cook?”  They scavenge through the refrigerator to find the latest meal, and they also pack lunches (and sometimes dinners) every day.  It does my heart good to see them appreciate my cooking.  So I still cook.  And, I really do love it.  I have always loved to cook.  While some people dread coming up with meal ideas every single night, I look forward to making the newest discovered recipe.  Cooking has always been a stress release for me….almost therapeutic.

But, what I love most is cooking for them and eating with them…..getting to sit down to hear about their days.  The noise level can grow beyond my comfort zone; but when they are all home and we are gathered around the table, my heart is full.

Dog Talk

It’s not that I consider myself to be the Grammar Police, nor do I want to be.  But, I did realize once upon a time, somewhere toward the beginning of this homeschooling journey that I’m “it”.  If I don’t correct them and teach them proper grammar, then nobody will.   I clearly remember the day one of my boys said, “Me and Chaz are going to go…..”  I cringed as though I was hearing fingernails on a chalkboard because of the incorrect use of the grammar.  But before correcting him, I flashed back to my childhood remembering a teacher correcting me and my classmates.  And suddenly, the reality hit that since we are homeschooling I can’t just let it go and wait for a teacher to teach him.  I’m the teacher.  I have to do it.  So I began correcting my boys when I would hear them speak with incorrect grammar.

I think it worked….or is working….or has worked fairly well as my big boys will now correct me.  Along with proper grammar, I have hopefully taught them enough social graces to not walk around correcting strangers or relatives.  That would be bad.  But, I do know they hear the same fingernails-on-chalkboard screeching in their ears when we gather with extended family.  I know this because we share a look….and then we let it go.

However, I fear I may not have kept up with the same level of proper grammar modeling for my little kids.  Yes, I’m tired, and I tend to be more relaxed with schooling than during the early years.  But, that’s not it.  I still correct them when I hear grammar being used incorrectly.  But, thanks to the acquisition of a little cockapoo named Beau a little over a year ago, we now have Dog Talk.

Dog Talk knows no grammar rules.  Dog Talk doesn’t care about verb agreement….or any grammar rules, for that matter.  Of course, we don’t have to engage in Dog Talk.  But….I cannot help myself!  Dog Talk is fun and sweet.  I (we) say things like, “Here him be.” or “Where are him be going?” or “Him are be going to get some chicken.”  or “His is a baby.”

As a result, Dog Talk is wreaking havoc on my impeccable grammar teaching record.  We could eliminate the Dog Talk or the dog, but I don’t see either of those as suitable options.  When my eleven year old was recently working through a lesson on pronouns, I had to get a little creative and step up the teaching.  He struggled at first.  I couldn’t simply teach by saying, “Think about how we say that sentence when we talk.”  That has worked in the past for my older boys, but my little kids have heard all kinds of weird sentences since the arrival of Beau.  I’m not proud.  But I think we figured out a solution.  I told him to think about how he would say the sentence to people when doing his grammar.  It worked like a charm.  He passed the pronoun test with flying colors, and we have moved on to adverbs and diagramming….that dreaded diagramming.  I may have to write about that soon.

For now, I’m happy to report that child number five is on his way to achieving proper grammar skills even though “Him are still be going around causing us to speak Dog Talk.”

It is Talk Like A Pirate Day I have heard….several times.  It seems there are so many nationally named days all of a sudden.  I can’t keep up.  The only named days I remember growing up, other than the regular holidays, were Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Groundhog Day.  Now there is a day for any and everything under the sun.  I have never heard of all the named days they now have like:  National Dog Day, National Cheese Day, National Go Barefoot Day, National Name Your Car Day…..the list goes on….  It’s crazy….someone has too much time on their hands.

As far as I can tell, some of these days “stick” with the general population, while others don’t….which is most likely why we have never heard of most of them.  But, this Talk Like A Pirate Day seems to be a stick-around-kind-of-national-day.  I can recall hearing about it consecutively for at least the past five years or so.  And, so, hearing that it is National Talk Like A Pirate Day caused me to think of two things:  1)  My youngest three are currently rehearsing for a play….a pirate play called Blackbeard, and 2) Our visit to the Mark Twain museum a few years ago.

The Blackbeard play is another Missoula Theater production.  My Jacob caught the acting bug when he was cast as the Tin Man when the Missoula Theater came through the area last year.  That was his first role ever, and this year he is playing the role of Blackbeard.  Arghhhhh!  He get’s to be a pirate on Talk Like A Pirate Day.  How cool is that!  His younger siblings do not have pirate roles in the play, and they are fine with that.  It’s funny because when I told them it was Talk Like A Pirate Day, rather than saying, “ARGH!” as most humans would say, they said, “HOLY COW!”  They’re not really the pirate kind, but they both have been equally busy with the play.  Joseph volunteered to be an assistant director/master puppeteer.  While he is quite the ham at acting, this was an opportunity he could not pass up.  He dreams of being the next Jim Henson so working as a puppeteer as well as learning the ropes of a director are two roles he was eager to fill.   My little girl is thrilled to be playing the role of Crocogirl….she is a crocodile with attitude!  She’s almost too good at it.

And, then, the trip to Mark Twain’s museum and the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens has nothing to do with their play, but the whole pirate day thing reminded me of one of the quotes on the wall of the museum:  “Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates.” — Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

That quote makes me smile.  Two little boys full of imagination and adventure whose most considerable wish was to be a pirate.  I love it!  We all have wishes, desires, hopes and dreams.  We may not all dream of becoming a pirate, but once a year, on Talk Like A Pirate Day, the pirate in all of us gets to come out if we let it.

So.

I wrote a new blog post.  It took me all week to sort out in my head just what I was trying to say.  Finally.  I had it just how I think I wanted it.

But.

My computer decided otherwise.

It disappeared into cyberspace.  I keep waiting for it to magically reappear, but no.

So, kids.  Just so you know…I haven’t forgotten you.  I haven’t forgotten to write about our journey.

But.

I’m too tired to write it again.

Basically….we are busy…life is full…..yadda, yadda, yadda.

Maybe the next one will work.  This one was obviously for my head only.

Where Were You?

It is a day to remember, a day to never forget.  I think it’s probably safe to say that anyone who was old enough to remember 9/11 can also remember exactly where they were the moment they heard the news.

I was in the safety of my Greeley, Colorado, kitchen pouring a cup of coffee, unaware of more than words can say.  The Bose radio was on as I heard the terrible news reported.  This was after the first tower was hit, but before the second.  It was certainly one of the most (if not the most) terrible moments for Americans.  I was smart enough to know this was something big, so I walked into the living room to report the shocking news to my husband.  But, to be totally honest….I was not smart enough to know exactly what the World Trade Center was.  {cringe}  There.  I said it.  I admitted my ignorance.  So, obviously when the second tower was hit, well….you can imagine my confusion.  No, I did not live under a rock; and yes, that is completely embarrassing to admit.  True story.

Somehow, some way I managed to graduate in the top ten percent of my high school class and Magna Cum Laude from college with little-to-no comprehension or understanding about history, the world, and a plethora of other pieces of knowledge. How sad is that!  I don’t know about the whole song, but a portion from that one song with the lyrics, “I don’t know much about history….don’t know much biology….”  comes to mind.  I did, however, have a firm grasp of math and writing concepts.  So, there’s that.  But, I shudder to think about how many other people have slipped through the American educational system with such cluelessness.  I know I cannot be the only one.

It is absolutely humbling to admit my educational shortcomings, especially since I purposefully signed up to take full responsibility for educating all my children.  However, I can say with complete confidence that they all know far more than I ever learned in school.  And, through the years, I have learned alongside them.  Most everything I know about history and the world I have learned because I homeschool(ed) my children.  I, and they, continue to learn more every single day; and it is fascinating.  I wish I would have learned so much more the first time around when I was the age of a student.  The truth is, we are all always students.  Life is the teacher; we are the students.  My learning and comprehension of many subjects may have been delayed, but I am proof that it is never too late.  When people tell me they could never home school because ______(fill in the blank; the “becauses” are endless), I always think about how little I actually knew/know; and I’m still doing it.  Homeschooling is certainly not for everyone, but it has proven to be the right choice for our family.

So learning about the World Trade Center in this manner was a crash course in history, politics, humanity, and so much more.  One history lesson I have learned while teaching my children which I believe is important for all of us to remember, especially on a day so tragic as 9/11, is that American history demonstrates repeatedly that this nation was founded on Christian principles.  From the beginning, America’s founders accepted the reality that basic rights were inseparable from human beings; and they recognized that those inalienable rights were not given by government nor acquired by force, but that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the gifts of the Creator.  This is clearly stated in the Declaration of Independence:  “…..We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…..”  Less than a hundred years after the writing of the Declaration of Independence, In God We Trust was proclaimed on our coins.   Clearly, our forefathers established our nation to be “…One nation, under God…”  And we can see further evidence of these principles as President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time” and asked ‘Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are of God?’”   Such wisdom!  I am in awe of the foresight and wisdom of our forefathers.  And, when I answer his question in my mind, the answer is “No”.  I believe our security is lost when we remove these convictions.

So, today, on the thirteenth anniversary of this terrible tragedy, I am more certain in my mind than ever that we must keep God at the center of the foundation of our country.  We cannot remove God from our core.  Of course, simply believing this will not stop the evil which so apparently lurks within this broken world.  But, “The more clearly we see the sovereignty of God, the less perplexed we are by the calamities of men.” — Unknown.   That, to me, offers comfort and security.

This morning, when America stopped to observe a moment of silence at the exact moment the first plane hit the first tower thirteen years ago, I was on the treadmill.  We are all now thirteen years older, wiser, and more cautious.  It is true that seeing the photos and videos flood our minds with memories and still have the power to conjure up the sadness, shock, pain, grief and hopelessness we all felt on that fateful day back in September 2001.   I can’t help but believe this is magnified a thousand fold for the families who lost loved ones on 9/11.  So we remember with reverence.  We don’t forget because we hold so much in our hearts such as the loved ones lost who will never be forgotten, or the loss of security and innocence our country once enjoyed.  But, I believe it is equally important, if not more important, to remember that we are are a nation not defined by that one day; we are a nation founded on “In God We Trust”.  God was there on September 11, 2001.  He is still here.  As long as we as a country do not remove Him, we can live with the confident assurance that God’s Got This!  Because in the end, we do know that “every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”.

We avoided the inevitable long enough because we know the cost, and we know two years can turn into four years or even eight years.  But, this morning I faced the inevitable when I took child number five for his orthodontist consult.  And, I got the reaction I expected from this new orthodontist.  Yes, my kids have some pretty messed up teeth.  As I was driving, I was thinking again about how for a little more than 12 years I gave all my money to the OBGYNs, and during the past 12 years I have given it all to orthodontists.  How did we get so lucky?  I know there are far more worse things to deal with than expensive orthodontics.  I am aware.  I’m not complaining, but I’m beginning to seriously think one of my kids should become an OBGYN or an orthodontist.  These are surely lucrative fields.

I was also wondering again to myself how it is that I was blessed with perfectly straight teeth, and not one of my children got them?  My kids have had every kind of need for teeth correction known to mankind.  I wrote about it [HERE].  Clearly, genetics has to be a factor, especially regarding the missing teeth saga.  Even though I have never had a need for braces, rumor has it that my dad had a missing tooth.  So, chances are they inherited this from my side of the family.  Hrmph!

But, it turns out the need for orthodontics is not the only unfavorable gene all my kids have had the misfortune to inherit.  As luck would have it, they have all inherited a whole mixed bag of less than desirable genes from both sides of the family.  Again, not complaining….just saying.  We assume the missing teeth gene came from my side.  And there is one disadvantageous gene we can unscientifically confirm came from the other side.  What I am referring to is what we call “The Spelling Curse”.  The majority of offspring from one branch of the family tree cannot spell to save their lives.  I know there are worse things in life.  Yes, I know this to be true.  But this Spelling Curse is quite a challenge to all those who are born with it and struggle through school and life with it.  Equally, it becomes a frustration for those of us who automatically become human dictionaries for every person in the home.   It’s especially difficult to teach spelling to children born with this innate curse.  So, so difficult.

You see….these kids can’t just learn spelling.  They try, but somehow they cannot get the right letters to transition from their brains to their pencils and onto paper.  I once saw a children’t show where there were ganders spelling, and they would spell like this: “D-double I-double U-double R….”  Nothing made sense.  When I saw that, I thought, ‘My kids spell like ganders.’  And they did.  Throughout all his homeschooling years, no matter how many times my oldest (my genius in math and science kid) would try to write the word “Final” at the top of his paper when he would take a “Final” spelling test, he inevitably wrote “F-A-N-I-L”.  So, of course, to this day, I always tell my children to get a paper and write “FANIL” at the top when they are taking a spelling final.  Surely, this is not very helpful to them, I know.  That’s the kind of mom I am.

But, seriously, after a few years of failed spelling test after failed spelling test and watching them continuously spell like a bunch of ganders; I knew I had to find a better way to teach them spelling.  I knew that if they couldn’t learn to spell, it would hold them back in so many areas of school, work and life.  I searched high and low to find a teaching method that would make spellers out of them, yet.  Their future spouses can thank me later.

What I initially began using as spelling curriculum for my children was the Spelling Workout books.  While I’m sure this curriculum is effective for most children, it wasn’t working for my spelling-challenged children…..at least not by itself.  They needed something more or something different.  And, what I finally found was The Phonetic Zoo from the Institute for Excellence in Writing.  This phonics-based program uses auditory input to ensure that the correct spelling of each word is absorbed by the brain. The audio CDs allow students to work independently much of the time, while allowing for the repetition needed for mastery.  This was exactly what we needed, and my children all embraced the program.  They loved and still love that they get to do this on their own.  While they will never win a Spelling B, they are now more confident spellers; and I believe it has made a difference on so many levels.   What my children may or may not know is that the name of this program really is The Phonetic Zoo:  Excellence in Spelling because we have always referred to it as “All Words”.  The program uses CDs with much repetition.  The first words they always hear on every lesson, and in between words on the lesson are, “All words follow the rule”.  The speaker says this every time he repeats the spelling rule for the lesson.  When my daughter recently passed the first lesson after only six tries, I was reminded of the hope and excitement this program offers my children.  I am so glad I found it.  But, what about those Spelling Workout books which I had already purchased?  ….all of them….I purchased books for all the kids even before they were ready for them.  Yeah, that’s a little OCD, I know.  What about those?  My lucky children get to complete those too.  Double spelling lessons for everyone!  Why?  Because that’s the kind of mom I am!

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