Friday, November 29, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 5

Chapter 5: Johnathan

Meanwhile, Johnathan was slowing down his work hours. When you have the funding to do field research, you do as much as possible when you’ve got the money to pay your help. He had been trying to survey the entire county, and that was a huge area to cover. Now that the weather was getting cool, he would send everyone else home for a bit and they would start again in the Spring. Meanwhile, he would be on sabbatical and have a little more time with his family.

Field research was rewarding work, but exhausting. They would have a huge collection of data to pour over when they were through. It could take him years to sift through it all. Tiring as it was, he loved being outside and getting to see what was in a trap. Other than the glass lizards, through the late summer and fall they had seen quite a few box turtles, black racers, rat snakes, timber rattlers, skinks and many, many lizards. He had also come upon a very frightened vole or two, and numerous insects. Anything small that fell into the trap couldn’t get out. The vertical, slippery sides of the buckets dug into the ground, and the cloth fences gently funneling animals into the traps were very effective. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a great way to get a survey of reptiles in the area.

They had also used nets for the aquatic species and found a good number of water snakes and turtles. So far he was heartened by his counts. Amphibians everywhere were in trouble, but most of his reptiles were hearty souls and survivors. He was doing good work, and it was the kind of work that might stand up for many years and be a solid contribution to science. It would also be helpful for regulators trying to protect key areas. Too often, a lack of information hampered these efforts. This refuge and the surrounding undeveloped forests really were a haven for these creatures and he hoped to prove it.

For the past several hours he had been sitting in his “office”, a small closet they had jammed a desk into in the most out-of-the-way place that could be managed in this house, but he hadn’t gotten very much done. Joe kept wandering in and giving him things: Legos, rubber balls, matchbox cars, wooden blocks, old Cheerios… Each gift was given with such an air of solemn and earnest love, that he didn’t have the heart to ask Joe to stop interrupting.

Downstairs, he had overheard Sarah and Jack have a rare and pointless fight (heated argument they would say) about who got to read the new book in their favorite series first. Then he heard Karen interrupting, asking them to give her the book, and would they please both sit down and finish their math work? Ellie slammed the door on her way out. She was probably going to go sketch some more bugs.

He had brought Ellie some of the more interesting bugs they found his fall, and she loved to look at them. She looked each and every one over carefully, and then flipped through the field guides to find out what they were called and learn about them. Often she would sketch them, and she liked to go out and see if she could find new ones she had never seen before. There was no shortage of bugs out here in the grassy fields and pine forests. He hated to think about what it was going to be like in the spring, however. The ticks would probably be pretty bad. They would have to all take appropriate and extreme precautions and he’d have to tell Ellie to restrict her wanderings.

Jack had begged to be allowed to come on the survey with him this season, but he had been a bit nervous about this initial effort. So many things could have gone wrong, and he had a responsibility to his graduate students and his funders to give them and the study his full attention. He hadn’t wanted the added distraction, but now he felt bad about it. It would have been a terrific learning opportunity. He would have to make sure that any of the kids that wanted to come out with him would get at least a day to do so when they started up again.

It did hearten him though, that of five children, at least two of them shared some of the love of animals he had always had. Karen had always been somewhat interested in the work he did, and was blessedly unafraid of the snakes and other things that he loved. She had forbidden him to bring any of them home though. She probably knew that if he started down that road, it would be a slippery slope, and the house was full enough as it is.

He looked out the window. The sun was setting through the pines and the light was a beautiful golden hue. Suddenly, sitting there trying to summarize his work thus far seemed unimportant. He went downstairs. Sarah was making spaghetti for the family for dinner and Karen was supervising while feeding Emma and giving Ellie a Spelling test. He said, “Hon, it’s beautiful outside, would you like to go take a walk? I can take care of things here for a bit.” Karen stopped and looked at him for a minute, trying to process what he was saying. “Well… yes, that would be nice.” She said slowly. What a wonderful surprise! She often had her nose bent so close to the grindstone that she forgot what it was like to stop and take time for herself. The golden light called to her, and she gratefully got up to let Johnathan take over with Emma and Ellie.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Justin

It was a couple of days before Justin got up the nerve to come knock on the Katz’s door. When his mom had asked about the phone call and his leg, he had grudgingly explained the bare minimum of the incident to her. She called the Katz’s and spoke with Karen, and she had been very nice, explaining what had happened and that she was fine if Justin wanted to come over some days, as long as he behaved himself. Justin’s mom was thrilled at the possibility that he might have somewhere to go after school. She was aware of some of the talk in town about her neighbors, but she was just desperate enough not to care.

Justin’s mom didn’t just ‘not mind’ if he went over, she encouraged him. She hated leaving him, but she had been lucky to get a job at the restaurant in town. They desperately needed the money, but her boss was insistent that she stay until closing and make sure everything was cleaned up before she went home. This often meant she had to stay late. She had brought Justin in to the restaurant a couple of times to do his homework in one of the booths, but her boss had frowned at that. It was too bad her husband was also too busy to be there in the evenings. It really seemed he should have been able to work things around so he could. To make ends meet, he had started doing odd jobs for other people around town and on other farms. Some days he was too far away to come home, or so he said. She never knew when he would be home. He had been particularly uncommunicative the past couple of months and seemed to stay away more than was strictly necessary. They had had a few fights about it the few times they actually saw each other. They didn’t get a lot of time together these days, and Justin was just getting lost in the middle of everything.

Justin walked up the Katz’s drive one day after school. It had been a particularly bad day. His grades had been suffering recently and the teacher had given him a note to bring home to his parents. On top of that, the jerks on the bus snatched his hat away and threw it out the window. He had had to walk a mile back down the road to get it. After that, he didn’t really want to go home. He stood there on the front porch with his dusty crumpled hat and his backpack full of books, and didn’t seem to be able to get himself to ring the doorbell. What if they found out what a jerk he really was and threw him out of the house? Deep down, he really didn’t feel he deserved to have someone be nice to him.

He stood there for ten minutes until the dog sensed him there and started barking. He heard a commotion inside and then he heard “Snitch, shut up!” Suddenly, the front door swung open and Ellie was standing there. Her wild curly brown hair looked like she had stuck her finger in an electrical socket, and she was wearing a strange outfit that looked like something between a space explorer and a medieval princess. In spite of himself, Justin smiled. He couldn’t help it. She was just so… wacky! She said, “Oh, it’s you. Um, come in!” Justin stepped inside and she closed the door. “We were just making up a game. We all just finished reading ‘The Hobbit’ and felt like we wanted to make up our own story. You want to play?” “Um, what’s ‘The Hobbit’?” Justin said. “Really!?” Ellie said incredulously, “You don’t know!? It’s this famous fantasy book written by a guy named J.R.R. Tolkien.” Justin thought the name “Tolkien” sounded a little familiar, but he wasn’t sure. Ellie said, “Do you want to be a hobbit or an elf?” Justin just said, “Um”. Ellie said, “Well, don’t just stand there, put all of that stuff down and come on!” They walked into the living room and he saw it had been transformed into something else. The cushions on the sofa had been piled into what looked like a wall and blankets draped over it all. Things were draped everywhere and the rest of the Katz kids were there in various make-shift outfits. Ellie announced to the room, “Justin is here. I think he should be a good elf, what do you think?” Jack said, “Sure, we were about to enter the tunnels under the mountain. Are you ready? I think we may need some of your magic light. Here, hold this ball.”

That was the beginning of a cautious friendship. Justin was a little rusty with this “fantasy play” thing, so he was rather quiet the first few times he came over, but the Katz kids just did their best to include him, and he eventually loosened up and started to have fun. He could almost forget about everything else.

Of course, some days the Katz kids couldn’t play. They either had someplace they needed to go, or someone hadn’t finished their schoolwork for the day or they were still working on a project. On those days when Mrs. Katz insisted on quiet, she invited Justin to sit and do some of his homework at the kitchen table.

He had been ignoring his homework, and he really didn’t want to face it. It just made him feel dumb. A lot of the time he just didn’t get it and he didn’t like feeling dumb, so he ignored it. One day he took a paper out and just stared at the page. Mrs. Katz was spooning some food into Emma’s mouth in her high chair. She noticed him and said, “What is that homework about Justin?” He said, “Fractions.” She asked if he needed some help and he nodded his head faintly, so she finished feeding the baby and took a few minutes to help him. She took out some really neat magnets and showed him how, if you split things up in various ways they were fractions of the whole, then she showed him how you could add them together, and it all made sense to him suddenly. “Thank you Mrs. Katz. I… I just didn’t get it before. I figured I was just dumb, but now I see it’s not so hard. I think I can do it now.” The next day he handed in a fully completed piece of homework to his teacher for the first time in months. The teacher was pleasantly surprised. Maybe he wouldn’t have to repeat the grade after all.

One day in September, it was raining outside and the kids had all finished their schoolwork for the day. Justin was over and he and Ellie were playing a game of chess. Justin didn’t know how to play, but Ellie was trying to teach him, and she was trying not to beat him too badly. Justin seemed to be in a somber mood. He was in a somber mood much of the time, but today seemed to be a bit worse than usual. Justin said, “Ellie, can I tell you something and you won’t tell anyone else?” She said, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.” He said, “Really, I just need to say this because I feel really bad about it and I need to tell you.” Ellie sighed. She had a feeling she knew what it was. “Aaall-right.” “Well, you know when I got caught in the goat pen?” “Yeah.” “Well, I was trying to spy on you guys and think up mean things to do. I don’t know why, but I hated you for being so lucky and also different, but you’ve been nice to me. I just want to say I’m sorry.” Ellie said, “You wrote those nasty notes too didn’t you?” He just looked at her. She said, “Well, those were really mean things to do and I should beat you up for it, but I guess I can forgive you. Just… don’t ever do anything so mean again.” She threw a pillow at him and he fell over and pretended to be dead.

Things were just a tad better after that. Karen and Johnathan had suspected the truth, but since nothing along those lines had happened in a long while, and no serious damage had been done, they let it go and had never pressed him on it. Even on the days when Justin had to be home by himself all afternoon, he wasn’t so sad anymore, because he knew he had some friends, and at school his grades got a bit better. He held his head up a bit more, and a couple of the bullies on the bus decided he wasn’t worth the trouble to pick on any more. The problems at home continued, but Justin had something good to hold on to now.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 3

Chapter 3: 4H and Other Animals

The next day was cold and rainy. The Katz’s piled into their beat-up minivan to go to a 4H meeting. It always took a few minutes to get everyone buckled up and in their car seats. While Karen was getting Emma in her seat she looked out the back window. Someone had scrawled in the dirt on the window, “Go away weirdos!” Infused with anger, she said in a low growl, “Which one of you did that?” They all turned around and looked. Jack said, “What the…?!” and with wide eyes, Ellie said, “Mom! The word “weirdo” was on our mailbox the other day! I swear I didn’t do that! Somebody is being really mean!” Sarah said, “It gives me the creeps that somebody might be lurking around here spying on us. Why would they do such a thing?” Karen said, “I believe you. Let’s talk about this later.” It was a very somber group that drove over to the community center. Karen was very disturbed, but she tried not to show it.

At 4H the kids were broken up by age into different groups to do their various activities. The toddlers were having fun just playing with some toys in a corner. Ellie and Jack were in a group learning about keeping goats and Sarah was in a leadership group with the other teens. Karen had stayed for the meeting to try to be friendly with the other moms, but although they were all very polite to her, nobody included her in their conversations. To be fair, much of it was about Church functions and frustrations with teachers and busses, and Karen couldn’t really sympathize or add anything to the discussion. Sarah was also having a hard time because she had been paired up with the girl who had turned a cold shoulder to her last week. They were to prepare a presentation for the following meeting about the things they loved to do. It was to be an exercise in public speaking. The problem was that the other girl was being very uncooperative. When Sarah had asked if there was a good time they could get together to work on it, the girl had maintained a determined silence. The girl then asked the leader if she could do her own project. Sarah didn’t know what to do.  She had never had anyone be so mean to her. It really hurt. As the girl left the meeting, Sarah saw her walk out the door with a very stern looking woman, who looked back at her as she left with an expression of loathing. Sarah wanted to cry. Karen saw the exchange and the expression on Sarah’s face and came over to give her a hug. Quietly, in Sarah’s ear she said, “Now that I know who her mom is, I think I might understand. That was the minister’s wife, and I understand they are very strict. They probably don’t trust anyone who is not part of the church. I’m sorry sweetie. I never expected you to have to deal with this. If you want to quit 4H, you can. I only wanted to give it a try.”

Sarah wiped away a tear, and said, “I don’t know mom. Let me think about it.” Just then a re-headed girl Sarah’s age with heavy black-rimmed glasses came up to them. She said, “I saw how Joetta was acting. It makes me so mad! I just want to tell you that not everyone here is so snotty. I’m Beth-Ann. Do you want to work on the project with me? I got here late, so I didn’t get a partner.” Sarah beamed through her wet eyes and said, “Sure!” They arranged a time to meet at the library that weekend.

That night Sarah was bubbling, full of hopefulness, and Ellie and Jack were grumbling about the soccer game they had to go to the next day. They were not looking forward to it. Although both were passable players, and Ellie was even pretty good, it seemed like the other kids were always being especially rough on the field and the coaches and referees didn’t ever call them on it. It could be a bang-up day tomorrow. They were anticipating many bumps and bruises. Sarah had gotten out of doing soccer, pleading that her other schoolwork took precedence. Truth was, she wasn’t much into sports and wasn’t really good at it. She tended to be somewhat afraid of the ball, so it was probably for the best.

Joe came into the girls’ room after dinner. He had on his superman costume and a pair of blue-rimmed sunglasses. He also had a new library book in his hands. “Sarah read me!” he said and climbed up on her bed. Sarah had been watching a video on her laptop. “Ok Joey, come here.” She put down the computer and hoisted him up to sit next to her on the bed. “Ducky” he said solemnly. The book was “Make Way for Ducklings” by Robert McKlosky. It was a favorite and Sarah didn’t mind reading it to him. Reading to Joey was a good excuse for her to re-read all of her favorite kids books, but she would never admit that out loud.

Suddenly there was a huge commotion outside. Someone was shouting. It sounded like it was coming from the goat pen, and Snitch was barking excitedly like he was finally about to catch one of those pesky squirrels.  Everyone ran outside. There in the pen was Justin. He was on the ground with his pant leg caught in the wire fencing. The goats were making a good effort of trying to eat his hair and jacket, and Snitch was outside the pen barking excitedly. He was a blur of black and white exuberance. He finally had something really important to bark at!

Karen said, “Aren’t you the little boy that lives down the road? Are you ok?” Justin just kept yelling, “Help me! They’re attacking me! Ouch! Help!” Jack opened the gate and went in to grab the goats and Karen handed Emma to Sarah and made an attempt to get Justin’s leg unwound from the wire fence. This took quite a few minutes and actually ended in them having to cut the wires loose. By this time Justin was breathing loudly but being quiet. He had a very curious expression on his face. It was a mixture of fear and defiance.

When they had gotten him untangled he had wanted to run off, but Karen grabbed him by the arm and insisted he come inside. She sat him down and had a good look at his leg. The jeans were torn and he had a nasty scratch on his leg. “Let me see if I can clean this up for you” she said. “Have you had a tetanus shot?” Justin nodded and sat still while she cleaned him up and put a band-aid on the wound. Meanwhile, all of the kids stood around in a circle watching. Sarah said hotly, “What were you doing in our yard?” She was angry. He had no business being there and she was pretty sure this was the same creep who had been leaving nasty messages. Justin said, “Your dog scared me and I was trying to get away from him. I thought maybe I would be safe with the goats, but I tripped and they attacked me! Maybe I should ask you why you let you dog roam free?” “Hmmm.” Said Karen. “Snitch never attacks anyone, and so far, out here in the country we didn’t think anyone would mind him. He never roams away from the yard.” She didn’t add that if Snitch had chased him she knew he must have been in their yard. “I need you to give me your parent’s number. I need to call them and let them know what’s happened.” After he had reluctantly given her the number, she dialed it, but nobody picked up the phone. She left a message, “Hello, this is Mrs. Katz down the Lane. We have your son, Justin, here and he’s had a little bit of a fall. We’ve patched him up, but I wanted to tell you he should probably be up to date on his tetanus shots. He is ok now. We’ll be sending him home shortly. Bye.” And she hung up.

Justin said sullenly. “Nobody cares where I am. Dad’s out somewhere and mom’s at work.” “Hmmm.” said Karen. “Well, then, you’ll have just enough time for some cookies and milk before you go home.” Justin was flabbergasted. He didn’t know what to think. He really had been creeping around their yard. He had half thought he might do something like open the gate and let the goats out, but really he had just been curious to see what everyone in this house was doing. He wouldn’t admit it to himself, but he was really lonely. Every day after school, if he survived the jerks on the school bus, he had to come home to an empty house. The farm wasn’t doing too well and his mom had had to take a job in town to try to make ends meet. Some days he didn’t see anyone until eight or nine at night. Sure, mom would call to check on him, and she did leave some dinner in the fridge just in case, but he hated being there by himself.

At the moment, three of the Katz’s were looking at him with glares. Mrs. Katz was being super nice, something he hadn’t expected, and the two littlest ones were staring at him with curiosity. Suddenly the toddler pointed at him and said, “Boy go fall down!” and started laughing hysterically, falling over on the ground in laughter. It was such a funny belly laugh, there was no way not to join in. Everyone cracked up. Jack said, “Look, if you want to come hang out some, just come by and knock on the door, OK? “ Justin just nodded. Why were they being so nice? They had a pleasant half hour of cookies and milk with everyone talking and trying to decide what game they could all play together that night. Justin just sat there quietly, listening, and then he went home. Stepping out of that house felt like stepping into the desert. He limped home silently by himself, deep in thought.

Ellie watched him go from the window, and suddenly all of her anger faded and she felt sorry for him. He just looked so lonely. Maybe he had done those mean things and maybe he hadn’t, but she’d give him a chance if he decided to show up again.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


There has been a lot of talk of thankfulness this month, and of-course, in America, that is how it should be. Our homeschool group is having a "Month of Thankfulness", and people have expressed, via email, a great range of "thank you's" to the volunteers that keep our group running and the people who have given their time and energy and curriculum and resources to helping others on this homeschool/parenting journey. Friends have been posting things they are thankful for on Facebook on a daily basis as well. I have been thinking about this a lot, and I'm thankful for Thanksgiving so that we can all remember how thankful we are.

I've put a sign up in my kitchen, "Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude" because I think it's something my family could remember more often. It's good for your health and it's good for your mind, and it's good for your relationships to remember this.

I may not always feel it, stressed-out as I've been, but I am so thankful for so many things. In a way, my life has been unimaginably fortunate. I sometimes wonder how I got to be this lucky. I found the love of my life early, was able to pursue a college education and a short career before turning my energies to being a mom. We have never had to endure much in the way of financial hardship, and other than a couple of passing health emergencies, we have all been pretty healthy.

Also, I get to CHOOSE to be a mom. I get to CHOOSE to be a homeschool mom. Choice is a luxury I have that I do not take lightly. While I didn't really get to choose who my kids are, I am thankful that they decided to come into my life and that I survived the experience (so far).

I would like to add another thing to my list today, and this one came to me on one of my stolen walks in the woods. 

I am so thankful for the trees. I am thankful that I can go within 5 miles of our home and still be startled by a deer beside the trail. There are very few places untouched by human hubris and folly, but I'm thankful that there are still wild places out there that people haven't mucked up too badly yet. It's healthy to remember that even though we tend to live in our egocentric, human centric, worlds, nature will continue on and it doesn't care what we think about it. I hope that this Earth and it's myriad of creatures will continue in it's endless cycles, even when we are dead and gone. For some reason that gives me comfort. It helps me to lift myself out of myself and regain some perspective.

 For this I am thankful.

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: On the Mend

Two days later Karen and the little ones felt better but Johnathan and the older two had come down with the illness. Karen sighed (she seemed to do this a lot lately), it always seemed go through the whole family when someone got sick. If they were lucky, not everyone would be sick at the same time and it would stop there. Sometimes it seemed to morph into another illness to make a second round. Her mom used to come and help out when these situations occurred, but she was too far away right now. Karen still felt very tired, but her fever was gone and her appetite was back. She’d have stayed in bed if she didn’t have a family to care for, but somebody had to be up taking care of things. She was contemplating dragging herself to the grocery when the doorbell rang. Who could that possibly be?

On the doorstep was a smallish lady with long grey hair down to her knees caught up in a braid, a floppy straw hat on her head, and overalls. It was hard to tell how old she was, but she could have been in her 50’s. She said, “My husband says you folks have been under the weather, and since we didn’t see your husband out there in the woods the past two days, we were worried you might need some help. David gave me your address, and I thought I would come check on you. I brought some chicken soup!” Karen smiled. It had been a while since anyone outside the family had shown her some kindness. “Thank you so much! We really could use this. I’d invite you in, but I don’t think you should. You might pick up some of this nasty bug and I would hate to do that to you.” “That’s alright. I never get sick. My name is Rose by the way. Let me put this down in your kitchen for you.” She stepped in and put the pot down on the counter, moving some dishes aside.

Emma was on the floor in a pile of Tupperware while Snitch surveyed the mess beside her. He came over and gave Rose a sniff. She must have passed the sniff test because he wagged his tail and went back to supervising. Joe was at the kitchen table making little monsters and pretend food out of play-dough. In the living room Ellie, Sarah and Jack were each in various corners of the room working in their math books. Sarah and Jack had piles of used Kleenex next to them and Jack was muttering to himself. Rose said, “I hope you don’t mind my saying so, the place is a mess, but you are an industrious bunch! Is there anything else I can do for you? I figured if you couldn’t come for dinner, I would bring some dinner to you. Oh! And here is some bread I just baked to go with it.” She placed a wonderful smelling loaf of bread next to the pot of soup. Karen said, “I’m speechless! Thank you so much. We’ll be ok, really, but this meal is very welcome.”  Rose said, “OK. I’ll just get out of your hair. Don’t worry about bringing the pot back too much. I don’t need it right away. I have another one and won’t miss that one. I’ll come by again soon!” and with that she was out the door. She was such a small person, but it seemed as if a whirlwind had just come in and out the door and left the wonderful smells of fresh bread, soup and lavender behind. Karen was so touched. She couldn’t believe it! Well, that solved the dinner problem!

Over the next few days everyone began to slowly get better and things started to get back to normal, if there really was a normal, which there wasn’t. The only difference was that they started to get regular visits from Rose and sometimes David and once they did actually drive out to the Greenberg farm for dinner. Surprisingly, the commotion of all of those kids seemed to make them happy instead of tense, and the kids had fun running around amongst the blueberry bushes. Rose showed them her garden, which was rather barren since it was Fall, but she showed them her cold weather plants (lettuce, broccoli and carrots mostly) and spun a picture for them about how it would look in the Spring and Summer. It was a large and well-tended garden with several large beds. She even talked about all of the beneficial bugs one would find there. Ellie was particularly entranced by this. It was nice to have someone in the area to talk to besides each other.

The following week Karen found a soccer league in town and signed the oldest three up for it. She felt they needed to make an effort to get to know people, and the extra exercise was good for them. Ellie was glad. She loved sports, but the other two protested greatly. Karen persisted anyway and hoped that it would help them to make some friends. They also joined the local 4H group, which was a little awkward. Most of the kids in the group had grown up around farm animals their whole lives, and also had known each other most of their lives. New people were not very common and it was hard to break into the circle of friendships. Some kids just ignored them, and others laughed at the differences (“What, you never heard of a heifer? Really?”) The Katz kids didn’t have the southern drawl and didn’t seem to know very much about life on a farm, didn’t know any of the local teachers, and didn’t get any of the inside jokes many of the kids shared. Several were friendly, but Sarah was puzzled when a really nice girl who was friendly and kind to her one week gave her the cold shoulder the next.

One day Karen and Rose were sitting down to share some tea. Rose had been coming over about once a week, she said to help out and see the kids.  Today, she confided that she had been lonely, and now that the growing season was over, she had less to keep her busy. Her son was away at vet school and her daughter had entered a school of the arts in New York City in the hope of becoming an artist. She didn’t get to see them as often as she liked. They did come home for holidays though. The two women had in common that they had not grown up in the area. Karen said, “Rose, the kids are having a hard time finding friends here. I don’t think we’ve ever had that problem before. It’s very frustrating. I know we are “outsiders” and we don’t go to school or church, but I guess I never expected that to be such a big deal. “ Rose said, “Hon, I’ve lived here for ten years now and I’m still an outsider and probably will always be. They’ve got me pegged as an oddball, but that’s ok for an old lady. You kinda expect old ladies to be a bit off their rocker! I’m not sure what to tell you, but my guess is that if you give them some time, they’ll all come around. Who could not like you guys?”

David had shared some of his tips for managing things around the house with Johnathan, like how to get the old heater to kick in, and how best to fix a broken fence. Johathan, however, didn’t have a huge amount of time to socialize. He was wrapping things up with his Fall reptile survey, and managing his help along with compiling the data they had collected was taking up all of his time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane: Chapter 1

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, I have taken a deep breath and decided to post the little novel I wrote last year up here on my site. My intention is to edit and post it chapter by chapter, and then I will put it all in a separate tab for easy reference. I haven't had very much outside help, so if some of my facts are a little off I apologize  I hope you all enjoy it, as it was especially written for my homeschooling friends.

Here is my first installment.
Those Crazy Katz' of Windsong Lane

Chapter 1: A Bad Day

Karen stared out the window at her children playing in the yard. It was going to be a long day. Most days she was happy to be home with the kids, even though most of the people that lived in their town believed she was “some kind of nutty” to be homeschooling her kids by choice. They would argue that for someone to punish themselves with being with their kids all day, that person would have to have some compelling noose around their neck. Most days she would disagree and tell them that it was an honor to be able to share with her family all of the ups and downs that life has to offer on a daily basis. It made their family stronger.

However, today had started with the baby throwing up. Little Emma was only eighteen months. She had awoken in her crib crying at five this morning and promptly thrown up all over the bed. Since then, she had been running a fever and clinging to Karen like separation would be the death of her. Thankfully, Emma was now asleep in Karen’s lap.

Three year-old Joe had seen that she was focused on Emma and decided that he needed some attention too. Today he was mad at the world, fussy and clingy. He was hungry but didn’t want any of the foods she offered for breakfast. He did finally settle on a handful of Cheerios and a bite of cheese and was currently following the older kids around the yard. He was whining that he didn’t want to do whatever it was they were doing, but she was glad he had consented to go outside for a bit.

It looked like Sarah, Jack and Ellie were out there simultaneously tying each other up with jump ropes and digging a pit in the yard.  Thank goodness they knew not to tie anything around each other’s necks and to make sure the other person could actually escape if they wanted to. When this game had first been played it had scared her half to death. Some serious ground rules had had to be set immediately, but it seemed safe enough at the moment.

Karen was still in her pajamas, with her blonde curly hair a mess, and she was just now sitting down with a mug of very strong coffee and some toast. She was really feeling her forty-something years. It was already ten o’clock and it was lucky the rest of the kids had gotten to eat anything at all with Emma and Joe being so fussy. She had long since given up on having energy to do much schooling today. She was much too frazzled to be properly patient and kind. This was definitely the kind of day the home school critics probably shouldn’t know about. They could point to the situation and say, “See? If the kids were in school they would be able to remain productive while you would be able to attend to your young ones.” She had been living this homeschooling life long enough to know that tomorrow would probably be better, and that she should be thankful that they could actually take a break when they had an “off” day. The learning happened much more quickly when everyone was well rested and happy, and sickness was as much a part of life as multiplication tables, maybe even more so. For now, she had sent the older kids outside to run off some energy and give herself a few moments to re-group.

Thirteen year-old Sarah looked down from her perch high in the magnolia tree. Her long skinny legs were splayed out from either side of the branch and her blond curls, much like her moms, were being tossed about by the breeze. She was tired of the game they were playing. In the game, the evil wizard tied up the hero and left him trapped, while the wizard went to go do some other dastardly deed, at which point of course, the hero escaped. She couldn’t even remember who had come up with the idea. All she really wanted to do now was go find her book and read for a while, but she could tell that Mom really needed help today and Joe was in a snit. She sighed and climbed down. Joe was crying to himself and tearing a leaf apart bit by bit while sitting in the whole they had dug.

Their dog, Snitch, was standing over him as if he knew something was wrong and was going to protect him from the world. Snitch had been named during the Harry Potter craze that Sarah and Jack had gone through three years ago. When they had adopted him as a juvenile from the SPCA, he had started taking their stuffed animals and hiding them in unlikely places. He seemed to have some border collie in him, because he liked to heard things and also move things around. Sarah said that he was quick and sneaky like a Snitch from the Harry Potter books and the name had stuck. He had accepted the Katz’s whole-heartedly and seemed to consider them his own.

Sarah said, “What’s wrong Joey?” and sat down next to her brother at the edge of the hole. He sniffled and mumbled, “Nuffin.” Sarah felt his forehead and realized he was warm. Oh no, it looked like he might be sick too. “Joey”, she said, “I think you might be sick too. Come inside with me so we can have Mommy check.” “Otay” and he stretched up his arms for her to carry him. She could still do it, but just barely. He sure was getting big!

Snitch ran off to chase some chickens. That reminded her, “Jack!”, she said. “Can you go feed the chickens? I forgot!” “Yeah yeah.” He untied himself and loped off to the barn to get the feed and check for eggs. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, he was a smallish dark-haired ten-year-old, but Jack loved living out in the country. The best part about the whole thing was that they could have chickens and goats and as many other pets as they wanted. Sarah had complained bitterly when it was decided they were to move this year. She hated leaving her friends and felt like she had been forced to move to the end of the earth, but Jack couldn’t be happier. He loved animals. He couldn’t get enough of them. He knew he wanted to be a veterinarian some day… or maybe a scientist like his dad, but not the same thing… something else. He wasn’t sure what.

He opened the doors to the big barn and found the chicken feed. Sometimes a mouse or two would be in the bin, so he opened it carefully. Nothing today! He put a couple of scoops into a pail and went around to the side of the barn where the chicken coop was. Those goofy hens were hiding in the garden again. They knew the kids liked to chase them around, so they ran and hid in the tomato vines whenever they heard someone coming. It didn’t help that Snitch was also sniffing around looking for a feather to sneeze at. He wouldn’t actually eat one of the birds (or so they all hoped), he just liked to tease them. As soon as they saw Jack had the pail, though, they ran out clucking and squawking, each one jostling to be the first to get to the feed. Jack spread it around and then checked the coop for eggs. His dad had built the coop the first week they had moved in. It was a really neat design. The hens would sit in a cubby and lay an egg right into a little compartment. If you went around to the other side of the wall, the egg would just be sitting there waiting for you to grab it.

These hens were still pretty young and new to laying, so there were just a couple of eggs today. Some were a nice light-blue color and some were brown. Jack had dreams of selling fresh free-range eggs to people in town to make some money. He might even be able to buy a new Wii game if he could sell enough of them! For now, he was just having fun feeding and watching over this fussy flock. The kids had taken turns naming them. There was Fluffy, Peanut, Mrs. Whatsit, Goose, Hercules (the rooster), Froda, Captain Pecack, Jellybean, The Name of This Chicken is Secret (otherwise know as Secret), and Turkeyleg (who had extra long legs). It was hard to remember who was who though, and sometimes he would get them mixed up. He decided that he was going to be the one to care of them, so he could argue later that they were his chickens! He already fed Snitch every day. It wouldn’t be a big deal to feed the chickens too.  Maybe he should ask his mom to make it his official job.

Meanwhile, eight year old Ellie had been digging yet another hole in the yard and was having fun collecting worms and bugs in a pail. She hadn’t really been interested in the game either, even though it had been her idea. She did love to find bugs, and there were so many out here! Some were a little scary, like that big yellow grasshopper she had found yesterday, but today there was a black beetle, several earthworms, a couple of grubs and a jumping spider. She wanted to go inside and find out what the beetle was. Afterwards, maybe she would feed a few of them to the chickens. She got up, grabbed the pail and headed back to the house. When she got to the door she heard Emma crying and changed her mind. Best not to be in the house with that noisy mess going on. Putting down the pail, she wandered around to the front of the house. Sometimes being a kid in such a big family was a pain. The good part was that even though they had had to move and didn’t know anyone really well in town yet, she still had people to play with. The bad part was that they never went home… they were home. If they had a fight they had to work it out. They couldn’t go away and avoid each other. Momma tried, but she didn’t always have time to listen to Ellie’s exploits with bugs and other things. It was also hard to find some quiet time in the house. This was a line of thought she had had before. She decided maybe she should just go get the mail.

She wandered up the driveway to the mailbox. It sat all by itself on Windsong Lane. In the distance on either side, over rolling green hills of grass and trees, Ellie could make out houses in either direction. Their closest neighbors were an older couple. They had three kids but they were all grown up and living elsewhere. Mrs. Batcherly busied herself by volunteering at the church in town most days, while her husband worked at the local hardware store and took care of things around their small farm. Mrs. Batcherly had come over a couple of times to try to encourage Ellie’s mom to take them all to church (“to get some gospel and to meet people”) and Ellie’s mom had had to explain that they were Jewish, but thank you anyway. Mrs. Batcherly had been very taken aback by that bit of knowledge. It had never occurred to her that this family, or anyone else really, might not be Christian like most people in town. Even though she was polite, it had seemed to cement in her mind an opinion that these Katz’s were a VERY strange bunch. It was hard to be new here anyway, but to be new AND not a part of the social network of the church AND to be homeschoolers and thus not part of school events…. Well, it was downright odd and antisocial. She stopped coming around after that.

With a sinking feeling Ellie looked at the mailbox and realized that someone had taken a piece of black charcoal and written on it in big letters “WEIRDOS”. She sighed. Suddenly she was furious but she also wanted to cry. Deciding not to let whoever had done this get the best of her, she wiped it out with her shirt sleeve, got the mail, slammed the mailbox lid closed, and ran back to the house.

In a tree nearby, a pair of gleeful brown eyes peeped from the branches.  Justin lived in a house a little way down the lane. He grinned while he watched the curly brown haired head of Ellie run off. He didn’t exactly know why he had done what he had done, but he had been so very annoyed with this new family. They lived so close and should have been playmates. Ellie was his age, but they all were so unlike him and (he would never quite admit this to himself) he felt a little intimidated. He was an only kid, and there were just so many of them. Then he found out that they didn’t have to get on the schoolbus every morning and didn’t seem to have to deal with all the stupid stuff he had to deal with all the time. That made him mad. It just wasn’t fair! They should suffer a little bit too.  He needed to think up another prank soon. He didn’t expect his little impulsive thing he had done to have gotten such a quick response and to have given him such a thrill of satisfaction. He was glad he could climb the tree fast enough so she didn’t see him. He was a good climber and his blonde hair and yellow shirt had blended in with the early fall leaves really well. He hopped down out of the tree and sauntered off down the lane. He’d have something to tell his friend at school on Monday… and maybe he’d get lucky and those other kids would leave him alone.

Ellie ran back into the house. She threw the mail onto the table and couldn’t help herself. Tears began to leak from her eyes. She flopped down on the kitchen chair. Her mom had just managed to get both little ones asleep and get dressed. Joe was in front of the TV wrapped in a blanket snoozing and Emma had been gently put back to bed. Her mom sighed, and said, “Honey, what is it?” Ellie cried, “Why does everyone hate us, mom? Why did we have to come here? Aren’t there any other families around here like us? People can be so mean!” Karen was alarmed, “What happened?” Ellie said, “Nothing! “ and ran upstairs to the room she shared with Sarah and threw herself on her bed.

Sarah was on her own bed finishing an essay she had been writing for her online book club class. At least she has friends online, Ellie thought. She gets to talk to them every day. I only get an email from Jenna once a week. Her mom keeps her too busy to check her mail too often. Ellie was feeling very lonely and sad and sorry for herself.  Sarah looked up from her laptop, “What’s wrong with you?” Ellie thought about keeping it too herself, but it all spilled out. She said, “Some jerk called us ‘weirdos’ on our mailbox and I hate it here. I mean, I don’t hate it here, I love it here. I love this house and all the bugs, but I hate it here.” “Hmm. I know what you mean,” Sarah said. “It’s only for a little while Ellie. Daddy said he just needed to be out here for a year to complete his fieldwork, and then we could move back to Raleigh so he could write up his results at the college. I miss my friends too, but it’s only for a little while. “ Ellie thought about that and started to feel better. Sarah was right. Sarah was always right. It was very annoying. Suddenly, she felt very tired.

Sarah finished up her report for her class, and looked over at Ellie. It seemed her sister had fallen asleep. That was very odd. Ellie never took naps. She went down the creaky stairs to see if Mom was ok. She thought the house was pretty neat. It was really old and not very big, but the fact that it had a wrap-around porch and some really big trees that were great for climbing made up for a lot. Her mom had said that it used to be a farmhouse and much of the land around them had been part of the property, but over time the land had been sold off, so that now the farmhouse just had the small barn and goat pen, a small garden, a few trees around an open yard, and a nice long driveway off the lane. It was secluded but it had pretty much everything they could need, and it was very different from their old house. Their house back in Raleigh had been a lot bigger and newer, but they had had a very tiny yard and no trees bigger than the width of her arm. Those little trees were useless for climbing. Neighboring houses had crowded close, and traffic had been pretty heavy on their street. They had had to be careful not to go out onto the street or throw anything out there. It was very different from here, and she liked the extra space and quiet. Still, it was getting harder and harder to find good friends and it was hard to be away from her best buddies. It was ironic that she was telling Ellie it wasn’t so bad, when the truth was, she had protested the loudest in the beginning. She had since resigned herself to the “year in exile” as she referred to it to herself. Mom kept saying that they could learn new things and meet new people, but so far it was just mostly chores and long-distance work. She loved the time they got outside with the animals, but she would have traded it all for a better library nearby.

Karen was finishing up the dishes and making lunch. She said, “Sarah, I sent Jack out to check on the goats. Could you get a load of laundry going and then go water the garden? I’ll have some lunch ready here soon.” Sarah balked a little. “Can I make the lunch instead?” She much preferred cooking to mucking about in the garden. “No hon. I just can’t leave the house today. Emma and Joe might wake up at any time.” Just then, a loud cry came from the bedroom. “Yup, there it is. If you get that done for me we can all have lunch afterwards.” She ran upstairs, leaving some bread on the counter and an apple half cut up. Sarah privately thought that lunch might be a while, but she went out to water the garden.

Jack was giving the goats some feed and fresh water and a rub or two behind the ears. There were just a couple of goats, sisters that they had inherited from the last people to live in this house. They were named Mazy and Lazy, and were very sweet and surprisingly clean, but you had to be very careful when you were around them, or they might eat anything they could grab at, like the buttons off your coat. They were really just pets for the Katz’s and the kids had been having fun figuring out how to care for them.

Karen was somewhat troubled. She wished Johnathan would get home, but he was pretty much unreachable when he was in the middle of a survey. He was a specialist in snakes, a Herpetologist, and had gotten a grant to survey the reptile population in this part of the state. He could be out for hours at a time directing his graduate students and setting up pit traps. Karen used to help him with that kind of work, but that was before kids.

They had met in college. She was an Education major and he was a scientist in training. She spent all of her time learning about how people learn and he spent all of his time memorizing scientific facts and doing research for his thesis. It didn’t seem like they had a lot in common, but somehow they had just fit together and had spent all of their free time together. It wasn’t long before they were married. Later on, she had gotten a job as a teacher while he completed his doctoral degree. When he was working on his post-doc, she had moved on to counseling and private tutoring. He had gotten very lucky, finding a job at North Carolina University, and soon after that Sarah had come along. Their roles switched, and while she had pretty much supported them before kids, she now got to stay at home and she considered it a privilege. By that time, Karen had seen enough of the school system to know that she didn’t want her kids to be part of it. Fortunately, North Carolina was a good place to homeschool, and it was a life-style that suited them.

They had followed a natural progression from exploratory toddler play to a little bit of focused learning each day, gradually mixing the two in whatever ways worked. When Johnathan was home, he gave his all to the kids, and he did his best to include them in what he was working on. Karen had always wanted a big family, but she never really expected it to be this big.  She hadn’t really planned on Emma coming along, but somehow she had ended up with five children. There was a huge network of homeschoolers in Raleigh they could go to for help, activities and other resources. Every now and then extended family would come and help out as well. On days like today, however, she felt extremely outnumbered and wished there were more of her. Sickness usually brought this feeling on. Well, maybe Johnathan would take a day off tomorrow, hand over some of the work to his grad students, and help her out.

Other than two feverish kids, she was also worried about Ellie’s latest outburst. She didn’t know what had happened, but it seemed to be connected to the unfortunate start they had gotten here with the people of the town. She had hoped to move in and deal with the “homeschooler” oddness without having to deal with the whole religion issue, but Mrs. Batcherly had forced the issue to the forefront. Now when they went into town for groceries or to go to the library, people just gave them funny looks and didn’t bother to try to talk. She was used to funny looks just for the size of their family, but it seemed more pronounced now somehow. Maybe if the kids got involved with some sports teams or other activities they would get to know some people and it would all work out.

She knew that on a day like today everything could look hopeless but it probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed. With Emma now on her hip, and looking flushed but a little better, she went downstairs to finish fixing lunch. Emma, surprisingly, let her place her on the floor amongst some toys, and Karen finished cutting up the apples. She got out some fresh milk and bread and peanut butter for lunch. Always willing to see the silver lining, she gave thanks for the easy access to farm fresh foods out here away from the city. The Saturday market had yielded much of this lovely food, and she had spent a little extra money, knowing that the farmers and the baker might remember the kindness and think better of them.

Meanwhile, Johnathan was on one knee, leaning over to look into a pit trap. It always paid to be extra cautious at this point. You never knew when you would end up looking into the beady angry eyes of a timber rattler. It was part of the reason he insisted on doing a lot of this work himself. The other part, of course, was that he loved it. Most of his time these days was spent writing papers and proposals and teaching classes. It was engaging work, but he often missed being out doing the grunt work. Unfortunately, as he got older it had become apparent that the graduate students had a lot more physical flexibility and endurance than he did. Getting older really stank. Well, at least he still had the skills and knowledge to teach them. He looked into this bucket in the ground and found a lovely little glass lizard. This was a terrific find. They were hard to find because they were wily and rather rare. They looked like snakes but were actually really more like legless lizards. His got a firm but gentle grip on it. You had to be careful with these guys because they could detach their tails at will. He measured it with his calipers. A nice twelve inches tip to tail. It was in good health, glossy scales and no obvious parasites. He rattled off numbers and observations and his assistant wrote it all down.

Just as he was about to let it go, he looked up to see an interesting character sauntering up to him. “A good afternoon to you sir!”, the lanky man said. He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, blue jeans, a flannel shirt and flip flops. “Nice to meet you. I’m David.” He extended his hand to Johnathan. Johnathan looked at his own hands and back at this strange man. “Sorry, I’m a little occupied. My name is Johnathan. Nice to meet you.” “What do you have there?” David said.  He looked genuinely interested. “This here is a glass lizard, a very unusual type of lizard that looks like a snake but isn’t.” David said, “Wow, would you look at that?! I’ve never seen anything like that and I’ve been out here for a while! I was over there on my property looking at you folks here on the preserve and wondering what the heck you could be doing. I couldn’t quite figure it out, so I decided to come over here and see for myself. My wife said you had to be scientists of some sort. She used to help with bird counts, you see, and said that if there was a group of people milling about doing mysterious looking stuff they were probably doing science. Darn if she wasn’t right! “

The two struck up a conversation and before the day was over, David had invited the family over for dinner, although Johnathan had asked him repeatedly if he was sure. The Katz’s descending on any home was no small matter, but David assured him that his wife would love the commotion. Ever since their own kids had moved out things had been entirely too quiet around their place. David had been trying to grow and sell blueberries and the bushes were just getting big enough that he hoped to sell them next season. He had explained that his wife was an organic gardening specialist and that they had moved out to the sandhills from Charlotte a few years back. Johnathan sensed a sympathetic ear and was eager to get to know him better. After David left, he went on the finish checking all of the traps in that line. They closed them up and would set up some new ones the next day.

When he came home, however, it was evident that dinner was out of the question. Karen, looking very tired and flushed, sat on the sofa with Emma and Joe in her lap. Both kids had that pink cheeked, glassy eyed look to them that said “fever” bright as day. She was reading one of their favorite books to them and they were listening, but were being exceptionally quiet. The other kids were strangely absent. “Oh no!” he said. “Do we have some sickos here?” Joe nodded “yes”, stretched out his hands for Daddy and Johnathan picked him up. “When did this happen?” “Oh, about an hour after you left this morning,” Karen said. “First you leave before the sun is up and then poor Emma starts throwing up. I swear she waited for you to leave. She stopped doing that, thank goodness, but it’s definitely the flu. It’s all I can do to get her to drink something. It a miracle the other kids haven’t gotten it yet. Oh, and just to make matters worse, I feel like I’m coming down with it as well.” She paused. “Could you please go check on the other kids? They all went upstairs a while ago and I haven’t heard a peep since. It’s making me nervous.”

Johnathan went upstairs to find Ellie sleeping on her bed (hmmm, also not normal) and the two oldest playing a game of chess in Jack’s room. They were occupied, so he left them alone and reported back. “Looks like we have a full blown quarantine situation here. Ellie may be sick as well. Why don’t you go up to bed with Emma and I’ll handle little Joe here. I’ll call in sick tomorrow and hope they don’t run into anything dangerous without me. Oh, and by the way, we got an invitation to dinner tonight, but I’ll call and get a rain check on that. Looks like we aren’t going anywhere for a while.” Karen breathed a sigh of relief and gave thanks to the powers that be (whatever they may be) for good, loving, dependable husbands. She dragged herself and Emma upstairs and slept the rest of the evening away. It was an indication of how bad she felt that she didn’t ask who had invited them to dinner.

That night Johnathan, Sarah and Jack had a small dinner together, while Joe and Ellie ate crackers and sipped apple juice and went to bed early. It was a very quiet night. The next day, the three took care of the chores while the others recovered. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon the phone rang. Johnathan picked it up and there was nobody on the other end. He hung up, shaking his head about crank calls. The phone rang again, again nobody answered on the other end. At the third call, he was getting really annoyed. A strange voice said, “weirdos” and hung up. Johnathan decided they had better get a caller id. This kind of thing was unacceptable. It made him even more angry that it was getting under his skin. A stupid prank like this wasn’t worth getting upset about, and yet he was upset. He had been a bit worried about bringing the family out here, but they had all agreed it would be a great learning experience, and they could see eachother while he worked. He never seemed to get enough time to be with the kids, and to have had to commute this distance would have been a real hardship. He just hadn’t counted on the small town mentality. First, they were outsiders just because they were new to town and hadn’t grown up there. Next, they weren’t Baptist and in most peoples minds here that seemed to mean they were heathens. They weren’t event Christian, which was even worse. Thirdly, they didn’t send their kids to school. What kind of crazy family did that, unless they were extra devout or just plain odd? It didn’t seem to cross any of these people’s minds that in spite of those differences, they were a family just like any other family.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Horrible Histories

I know this may be old news, but we just discovered a fun addition to our history lessons. It is a series of videos, most of which you can find on YouTube, called Horrible Histories.

These videos are truly horrible. Some of them are pretty gross, so don't say I didn't warn you. Gross is funny, though, don't you know, so it can be a fun way to get them remember a few things about history, even if they might not be the most important things.

They actually have a website and a set of books you can get. The episodes and games can be found here.

You can also find them on YouTube and can search for any historical event you want too. The only draw-back to YouTube is the commercial they put in the beginning of each.

I came across them when I found an episode about Leonardo daVinci on TedEd

After showing this to the kids, they went to YouTube and spent a couple of hours just watching videos. Here is one entire show (about a half hour) about Napolean, the Victorian Era, the Romans, history of Scotland, WWII, the Middle Ages, and Stupid Deaths

and here is a snippet of just "Stupid Deaths"

Have fun!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stress and commitments

Stress. I'm feeling it and I want to fix it. How did things get to this point? I so carefully considered our activities for this year, and somehow it all got out of control and the kids and I have gone over the edge of busy into insane. 

The careful balance I had found, of busy but happy and productive, has been upset and I'm finding myself desperately needing to find a way to cut back on our commitments. 

I think part of my problem is my willingness to let my daughter go and do whatever it is she wants to do. It's a wonderful problem to have... a child who wants to do everything. 

I've spoken to many parents who have pulled their kids out of school and who's children consider "schooling" or "learning" to be nasty words and something they don't want to do. Education is something forced upon them and they don't want any of it. 

Somehow, I've got the opposite problem. 

It's not so much my son, who is more of a normal child in many ways, as my daughter (if there is such thing as normal). SHE wants to do the Spelling Bee. SHE wants to learn Hebrew and have a Bat Mitzvah. SHE wants to build an instrument and play it in the Science Olympiad. SHE wants to take voice lessons and try out for a theatre production and sing in it too! (No mommy, don't drop art! I LOVE art!)

I have heard parents of kids like this complain about how people mistake their child's busy schedule as something they have imposed upon their kids. I can easily see how people might think that I am pushing my kids to do all of these things in a mistaken drive to have them succeed. The truth is that my daughter is driving most of it. The only things I ever made mandatory were continuing with the piano lessons and having a language. The art was important for a while. I'd like them to be well-rounded, and I feel that music and a foreign language can be very important in the development of the growing mind. Art can hone creativity and physical hand strength in the early years. There are reasons for these basic things. 

I do periodically go through these phases of trying to drop stuff from our schedule. I don't think I've felt so stressed about our commitments before, however. Whereas it's easy to drop a paid art class if it's not working out, it's much harder to back out of a group or team commitment where people are counting on you.

I can hear you now, "Well, it's your job as a Mom to make sure it doesn't get to that point. You gotta put your foot down before it gets this far." This is true, but it is also true that some years our kids are just sailing along smoothly and some years are really pretty choppy. I forgot about the choppy. People warned me, but now I know. Yes, 12 is a ROUGH year. Things are taking longer. She needs more time to percolate. More time to have off days, emotional melt-downs, obsess about Dr. Who, and Skype with her friends. I didn't think about these things when I let her stretch me beyond my comfort level this time. She's always stretching the envelope, how was I supposed to know I should have said "no" this time? 

Every year is a new adventure with our kids. Once you think you've got it all figured out, they throw a few new curve balls at you. This is true of all parenting, not just homeschooling. 

Somehow, we'll get through this year. I am determined to somehow get the workload down to something reasonable. They are blessed to have so many wonderful opportunities to choose from, the breaks just need to go on every now and then. Why is it I stress more than they do? 

If you have any wise advice, let me know. Meanwhile, I'll go examine my new grey hairs.