Sunday, October 28, 2012

Patience, respect, and not taking things personally

I feel I need to write about this because it keeps coming up in my life. It's come up in my personal life, in my local homeschool group, in online blogs and forums I read, and in family issues the past few weeks. 

Here it is. 

The things that people do and say usually have nothing to do with you.

Here is an example: When you tell someone that you homeschool and they take it as a negative judgement of their own choices to school their kids. They become defensive, and that reaction comes from their own personal fears and doubts. Your decision to homeschool has nothing to do with that person and (most likely) your telling them about it is not meant to be a negative commentary on them. Why is it, then, that so many people will hear these things and feel they are being personally attacked?

If I speak to someone about how my daughter is reading way above her grade level and I'm having trouble finding appropriate reading material, I am not speaking of it because I think my kids are better than yours and I want you to feel inferior. I'm actually expressing my own frustrations and hoping to plumb other peoples experiences and ideas to find solutions. I'm not engaging in a one-up game. Really, I am not. A child like that is a double-edged sword, yet some people will persist in feeling angry and threatened by this. I've learned not to mention certain problems until I know the person I am talking to well, to avoid this particular misunderstanding.  

All too often we take upon ourselves or place upon others blame for things without really understanding what that person is going through or understanding that those things probably, at the root, have nothing to do with us. 

If I make a decision about how I am going to live, it's because it is what is right for ME and MY family. I understand that you might not make the same decisions and you might also come to different conclusions... and that is OK.

Maybe it's this election season. It seems that people are getting more and more strident about the issues and what they believe, and less patient with each other. 

My plea is just this... take a moment before you react and try to put yourself in the other person's shoes. 

Take a moment and consider that the thing that person just said that you consider to be hurtful might not have been meant that way, and if it was, it might not really have been aimed at you at all. It's especially easy to misread something written online or, conversely, to hit the "send" button without considering the ramifications of a few hasty words. People do all sorts of things when they are hurting physically and emotionally, and most of the time it was something not meant to hurt you, or was not meant in the way you just took it. 

I am guilty of reacting this way as well, but it is a lesson worth repeating.

Patience with each other... human kindness and mutual respect... striving for understanding. 

Don't just react, and don't let your own fears and insecurities color your perceptions of things. I'd love to see a little more of this this season... and I'll get off my soapbox for now.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Outdoor Adventures in the Fall

Fall in North Carolina is glorious. Part of the wonder is coming out of the oppressive heat of summer into the cool, sunny clear air of Fall. Gorgeous days pass and the greens and dull browns of late summer start turning to oranges, reds and yellows. I love this time of year. Knowing that the cold grey days are coming, I just want to grab the Fall and drink it in. It's sad that our school system mandates the resumption of serious study at the same time that most people just want to be outside enjoying the cool blue skies. If I were to choose a yearly program, unhindered by outside forces, I would have the kids hunker down to schoolwork June-August and December-February and leave Spring and Fall free for play, camping and other outdoor adventures.

We are still somewhat tied to those schedules, but my family has developed a certain number of "must do's" for the Fall. One is going to the NC State Fair where we see all kinds of crafts and livestock, ride the rides and eat a ton of really bad-for-you food. 

We always have to hit a pumpkin patch to do a corn maze and get some pumpkins to carve. Part of the ritual of this for me is roasting those pumpkin seeds (yum) and also getting some pie pumpkins so I can make everything from pumpkin pie to pumpkin muffins. 

(Where's Waldo?)

This year we added another activity, which I am so glad we could find the time to do. There is a non-profit called Schoolhouse of Wonder based on the Eno River in Durham. They run summer camps, track-out camps, and weekly adventure school days. I love visiting the Eno River, but it is a bit far for us, so I was trilled to see that they are offering some Outdoor Adventure Days down in Raleigh at Schenck Forest (owned by NC State). For a reasonable fee you can drop the kids off with some really great instructors for a full day of outdoor adventure. This can involve anything from learning about edible plants and fire making skills, to group games, stream stomping and mud fights. They promise to bring the kids back dirty, tired and happy. We took advantage of one of these days this week and that is exactly how the kids came back.  It sure helped that the weather was beautiful, and the day outside was a rare treat for them.

I can't help but wish I had been given these kinds of opportunities as a kid. From middle-school on, I knew I wanted to work with animals or in the field of Biology, but I never got a chance to really explore some natural environments until I was in college. I know I'm an anomaly of your typical female, but the first time I got to go wade through a Florida swamp with my Botany instructor I thought I had died and gone to heaven! 

My kids know several ways to make a fire, they know most of the local birds, they know how to avoid nasty things like poison ivy, poisonous snakes and black widows, and they are not afraid to go tromping through the woods and make a shelter out of branches and leaves. I LOVE that they can do all of this, and I LOVE that homeschooling has opened up opportunities such as this one to them. 

Of-course the bonus selfish reason I had for signing them up was to have almost a whole day to myself... a rare treat for a homeschool mom! Part of me wishes I could have joined them though. I haven't worked in field research for years, but I'm still a biology geek at heart. 

There are other opportunities for this kind of thing around of-course (Piedmont Wildlife Center, Clapping Hands Farm), and some of them are a bit cheeper. I do like the facilitators Schoolhouse of Wonder has, and it is convenient for those living in the Raleigh/Cary/Durham/Chapel Hill area.

If you live somewhere where the weather is nice right now and haven't done so already, get out and enjoy it! Life is too short to miss seeing that red-tailed hawk or soaking up some sunshine. Get out of the man-made environments for a while. It'll be good for your body, mind and soul. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

International Festival of Raleigh

We went to check out the International Festival at the Convention Center in downtown Raleigh a few weeks ago. Every year this is held at the end of September, just before all of the other Fall craziness starts. I'm sorry that I'm only just writing about it now! The time has definitely gotten away from me, but it's a resource any Raleigh area homeschooler should know about. There is so much to see and do there and it's all relatively cheep.

If you like to study different countries and cultures, this is a great event to take your kids to. I took my kids a couple of years ago and we really enjoyed ourselves, so I made it a point to put it on our calendar this year. 

Now, if it were just me, I would sit and watch the dancers and performers for hours on end. I was out-voted on this, but the talent and diversity is amazing. For three days, there is a constant stream of performers from cultures all around the world on three different stages . Many of them are local teens and adults who do cultural dancing for fun. Yes indeed, Raleigh is becoming an ever more diverse place to be.

You can do your own dancing as well! My kids spent a great deal of time trying to learn a Baliwood dance (something I found very amusing to watch!) and then when the Irish dancers arrived, they tried out some Irish dancing as well. I think dancing was my daughter's favorite thing at the Festival, especially since I refused to by her any new clothing or trinkets.

In addition to the live entertainment, there are two kinds of display booths set up. The first are commercial booths selling goods from all over the world. These are great to peruse if you are looking for a Russian matryoshka doll or and Indian sari. With the holidays coming up, you could probably find some good hard-to-find type gifts. 

The second type of booth is set up by various cultural groups to explain something about their country in particular. To me this was a bit like our yearly Geography Fair displays, except the cultural groups get a whole booth instead of just a table to work with. If you so desire, you can get a "Passport" at the begining and go around to the various booths collecting stamps for a prize. Unfortunately, my kids declined to do this, so I don't know what the prize was, but it's a great way to get them to investigate the different country booths and talk to some of the people. Some of the booths were more interesting than others and I'm guessing most of it was done by volunteers. We did see some interesting stuff. For example, we got to watch this gentleman from China working at the art of calligraphy.

There is a kids section where you can paint, try on masks, hear stories told from around the world and more. 

You can also go to the hoola-hoop area and hoola-hoop to you're heart's delight!

Along one wall is the food area, and an impressive line of multi-cultural foods were definitely represented.  You can sample foods from Thailand, China, Africa, Italy... you get the idea.

Bookmark the Festival page and check it out next year if you live in the area. It's a three day event and only $5-6 for kids and $6-8 for adults on any given day.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It's so hard to keep balance. Sometimes I think life is really just one big exercise in learning how to balance all the conflicting wants and needs... not just for myself, but also for everyone around me. Since I am the "Activities Coordinator" of our family, it all seems to fall to me.

Every day it seems my daughter says, "Mom, can we_______?". Your can fill in the blank with any number of things, but probably not "clean toilets today". Actually, it's usually, "Mom, when can we______?" (go to the beach, get a cabin in the mountains, go out to California, go see family, have a big party at our house.....). It seems her desires have no limit and she seems to think I can make just about anything happen, which is both flattering and utterly frustrating.

Daily life is about all I can handle. Give me one or two extra things to deal with and I'm maxed out. Here is our general weekly set-up at the moment:

Sundays - religious school (DD- she chose this and I support her right to choose) and outdoor soccer game (DS)
Mondays - 4th Grade Co-op (DS), Spanish lessons (both), indoor soccer (DS)
Tuesdays - Classes at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, piano lessons, art lessons, and karate Wednesday - (bi-weekly) 9-10 year old Co-op (currently studying Critical Thinking and The Hobbit)(DS), Middleschool Literature Group (DD), 4H (photography and map reading and orienteering), and religious school (DD)
Thursday - community theatre sponsored homeschool acting group (DD) and karate class
Friday - Park Day, random field trips, errands and more soccer, and (pant pant pant)
Saturday - Horseback riding (DD) and soccer AGAIN (DS)

In-between we fit in at-home book learning and homework, playdates, random field trips, mom's time to get some exercise, various appointments, cooking and shopping, and of course meals and sleep. Cleaning might happen, or it might not.

This is me trying to cut back. Really. I dropped several things last year only to pick up a few new ones. I'm also still having to turn down new and exciting things starting up all the time. It really is a marvel that we live somewhere that has so much going on and are part of a homeschool group that is so hopping.

Still, how much is too much? How many social and group activities are a good balance for your family? We tend to do a lot of interactive stuff because my eldest craves it, and although I'm an introvert at heart, I want to take advantage of the opportunities out there. One of the great benefits of homeschooling is being able to do those things. Honestly though, if it were just my son, we'd be home a lot more. It seems like a lot of homeschooling families we know in the area are like us, out there doing things, but I also know families that have one or two activities a week and are home the rest of the time and they are happy with that. Where does your family fall? How do you balance it all?