Fresh Homeschool Starts

2018 homeschool fresh startHappy New Year!

I am honestly so excited about 2018, as I’m thinking that after the epic awfulness of 2017 there’s nowhere to go but up!  🙂  I feel as if a light is being turned on again, or I’m making it turn on.  Things will turn around.  I just know it.

I’m not going to bother talking about the bad going on right now (see a previous entry if you want a taste of what has me up at 4:35 a.m. talking to you instead of sleeping!).  Enough with the bad.  It’ll go on whether I acknowledge it or not.  So let’s look at the good.

Fiona is in such a hurry to get to more homeschooling.  It makes me smile the way she nags me for more homeschool.

She has been playing like crazy with letter cubes, math manipulatives and pen and paper lately.  She happily made up words with letter dice yesterday, bringing me four cubes at a time for me to help her form words from them.  Her reading and spelling are coming along so fast now. I have promised her that we will get to lots of everyday homeschooling on Tuesday after the holiday.  We had a forced (by me) school break with everything else going on.  🙂

Santa gave Alex a 3-month Gamefly subscription for Christmas and as a result I have seen him far less than usual!  He and Jack have had so much fun playing together though, and it’s the dead of winter when it’s hard for him to get out and do as much as he’d like to.  It’s currently -20 F (no, that doesn’t factor in the wind chill and yes, it is really that cold) so he can’t even play in his beloved snow until it gets a bit less life-threatening out there — though this weather is good for the occasional quick outdoor science experiment like freezing bubbles and vaporizing hot water to make instant clouds.

cold weather homeschool science freezing bubblesJack, Alex and Fiona have all been having a ball with library books right now, too.  Toria has a weekly appointment in a city an hour away that turns out to have a fabulous library, so we go and stock up every couple of weeks.  The little ones love it and even Jack has discovered some beloved new book series.  I love the way he’ll say he has no interest in a book and then read the entire thing before we get home that day!

I have made all sorts of resolutions for this new year on every front there is — housekeeping, homeschooling, work, personal, health…  We’ll see how well they all work out but I am really excited about trying, which is a nice change.

Magic and Mayhem -- fresh homeschool startsI’ve been homeschooling for over 15 years now, with one child already completely done and one about to finish (Rhia will graduate in the spring!).  I don’t want to shortchange the younger kids with waning enthusiasm for it all, but it is hard to juggle the needs of so many different ages and stages — especially with Victoria’s scary health issues and now the issues with her new (old) house and all that it’s bringing into our lives (burst pipes and dead furnaces in 20 below weather anybody?).

But I’ve renewed our memberships to the science museum and the zoo, I’ve made up daily plans and I just have this faith that has been missing since the train wreck that was 2017 begun.  Hope, optimism, all that jazz.

I’m ready to blast through a hundred lesson plans, art projects, history games, math challenges and educational obstacles and make some magic again.

Happy 2018, all!  May it be a fantastic one for all of us.

 

(P.S.  Trying something new and linking up with Homeschool Highlights.)

Advertisements

Putting One Foot In Front of the Other

There are some times in life that are just magical.  Things seem to have all clicked into place.  The world seems full of possibilities and I wonder often how I got to be so lucky.

This doesn’t happen to be one of those times.

To be honest, things have been difficult.  For quite some time.  I have been doing my best to put one foot in front of the other and just get through it, but that doesn’t make for much inspiration for blog posting (or much of anything else).

The past couple of years have been hard.  I lost my job as a columnist when Examiner.com went down.  I really enjoyed that job as I got to write about all the things I loved and was passionate about (homeschooling, sustainable living and attachment parenting).  I got hired at a new site and made good money but only if I mass produced content that I found soul-draining.  Yes, I occasionally wrote about topics I was passionate about, but those tended to tank and get me stern messages from management, so I found myself writing about celebrity baby names and seedy news stories.  I decided to quit and try to make it as a Kindle/CreateSpace author even though I knew that would be a drastic cut in pay and we already live on next to nothing.  I don’t regret that (life is too short to sell yourself out for a paycheck) but it has meant no more frugal Florida vacations and some really serious belt tightening on top of what was already an extremely thrifty life.

Then in the fall of last year, our beloved dog, Layla died.  We all still miss her.  Then on New Year’s, my grandmother died.  We had seen it coming and had made the trip to Ohio three times that year to try to take care of her and get time with her, but it was still a very sad loss for all of us.

Then in the spring of this year, three of my friends died.  One was my dear friend “Savage,” an ex-cop who was a close friend of mine from years ago (he even walked me down the aisle when Daryl and I married 21 years ago).  One was a really wonderful homeschool mama friend who was one of the best people I’ve ever known.  And one was an old friend here in town.

And then Victoria’s pseudo-tumors hit.  Things are still pretty dire there, despite lots of visits to the Mayo.  I am not just worried about the pseudo-tumors themselves and the pain and issues they bring, but also about finding the underlying illness that is probably causing them and about the massive doses of steroids the doctors have her on to manage them and the toll those are taking on my poor daughter’s body. Toria has been through so much already — the cancer, the sepsis, emergency surgeries and baffling illnesses.  At 19, she has had three surgeries and all of them have been above the neck. She is handling this so well but nobody should have to go through this.

There have also been lots of other little catastrophes and sadnesses.  Daryl is recovering from major shoulder surgery and has been in pretty severe pain and quite limited in what he could do for the past two months.  Someone stole things from our van that was parked in our driveway this week.  Victoria and Gabe are in their new house but have no heat (in Minnesota December).  Fiona wants far more of me than there is right now and would prefer twenty times more homeschooling than she is currently getting, which leads to great guilt on my part.  Alex, at 10, has hit his first existential crisis and cried for an hour at me the other day about things that were making him sad and about not wanting to leave his childhood.  And the teenagers — well, parenting teenagers has never been a joyful and worry-free time in this house.

And those are just the things I can make public.  There is a lot more that has been keeping my insides full of rocks and waking me up in the night. (Not to mention what’s been going on in the country and the world, which has been a pretty endless string of awful.)

So I have been sad.  Just sort of bone-crushingly sad for a pretty long time.  I keep trying to turn things around for all of us and start the day fresh and make some magic, but more often than not I have just been trying to put one foot in front of the other.

I keep thinking about a blog post I made 6 years ago when I said I was too tired to talk about cancer anymore and then unloaded here.  I guess twice a decade I need to just call everything out for the train wreck it currently is and then put one foot in front of the other again.

So that’s things here.

As always, I am brainstorming ways to turn everything around and make us all happy today.  And also just to keep going.  It will get better.

As one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell, sang, “Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know.”

“Hope The High Road”  (Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit)

I used to think that this was my town
What a stupid thing to think
I hear you’re fighting off a breakdown
I myself am on the brink

I used to want to be a real man
I don’t know what that even means
Now I just want you in my arms again
And we can search each other’s dreams

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

I heard enough of the white man’s blues
I’ve sang enough about myself
So if you’re looking for some bad news
You can find it somewhere else

Last year was a son of a bitch
For nearly everyone we know
But I ain’t fighting with you down in a ditch
I’ll meet you up here on the road

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in
To a world you want to live in

Here’s to better days.  And I promise to blog something fun next time.  🙂

 

 

Holidays, Health and Houses

Happy Holidays!  Hard to believe it’s December already.  I guess that’s a good thing, as it means we’re that much closer to spring.  😉  I’ve never been much of a fan of Minnesota winters, though with global warming they’re not what they used to be.

Such a lot is going on here!  Where to start….

I can’t post the usual “fun ways we’ve learned and played lately” because a lot of it hasn’t been fun in the least, so here is just a bit of what’s been going on in our little corner of the world.

Victoria has been dealing with yet another medical crisis.  As her grandma put it last week, “Things just always happen to her, don’t they?”.  First cancer, then sepsis, then a long series of strange ailments.  Then, during the week of History Fest in October, one eye swelled up.  It went down over the next couple of days and then the other eye swelled up.  And up and up.

She went to a local doctor who had no idea what it was and put her on a 5 day course of both antibiotics and steroids.  It turns out that was a particularly terrible guess to make, as short term steroid doses like that tend to make things much worse, which they did.  Her eye swelled to a terrifying size and we rushed her to a specialist in Mankato.  She was diagnosed with an orbital pseudo-tumor (basically a swelling of the eye that causes pain and symptoms like a brain tumor but is not cancerous and not a true tumor that can spread) and put on high dose steroids for a longer time to see if it would control it.

To make a long story short, it didn’t help enough, things got worse, and she ended up at the Mayo Clinic.  Her doctor there did surgery a few weeks ago and performed a biopsy of the area behind her eye.

The biopsy revealed that the swelling is granulomatis and it could be related to any of a number of diseases or it could be idiopathic (just a random thing with no cause, which we highly doubt since she has had so many other strange things going on for the past few years).  She has been seeing various specialists at the Mayo and going for tests.

A post shared by Alicia Bayer (@magicandmayhem) on

It has been very painful for her and pretty terrifying. In addition to the pain and vision problems caused by the pseudo-tumors (which are now affecting both eyes, though worse in one), the high dose steroids are causing all the standard weight gain and medical issues, so she is also stressed about that.  The doctors are trying to wean her down off the steroids slowly since every time they lower the dose her eye swells to an alarming size but they can’t leave her on them.  For now she is just tapering down and letting her eyes swell (and I have started giving her supplemental herbs and such to help, which seem to be helping when the steroids aren’t).

There’s much more, but I have to make supper and still wanted to update quickly about the good things going on for Toria right now.  Firstly, her boyfriend Gabe proposed to her during the solar eclipse in August and secondly….  they have a house!

To say that it’s a fixer-upper is quite the understatement, but it’s a house!

We have been searching for months for a house nearby that would be cheap enough that we could afford to buy it outright.  We bought our own house for $2,000 cash 25 years ago and living mortgage-free is one of the reasons that we’ve been able to live on so little all of these years.  Our town is so small that homes are inexpensive but we needed a REALLY cheap house to be able to afford it.

House after house fell through, but this one house that we had called about for months finally opened up and we bought it this week for $4,000 (yes, really!).  I have money invested in a retirement account from my mother’s death that I have set to deposit a small amount of money into my bank account every 6 months to help pay expenses.  There is not a lot left in it but I was able to withdraw the money to buy the house outright and they will pay me $200 a month rent until it’s paid back, at which point I’ll transfer the deed into their names.  Or, if they decide to move to a larger house, a nicer house, or another city, the payments will just count as rent and we’ll keep the house for one of the next kids coming along who can use it as they start out.  🙂

The house is teeny tiny and in really rough shape, but it has good bones, so to speak.  The roof is solid, it has a fairly new furnace and it’s on two lots.  We are already talking gardens and fruit trees.  You know our family!

If you want to read more about the house or Toria’s health situation, I created a WeCare fundraiser to help them fix up the house and I’ve been posting pictures and updates there.

Hopefully they’ll have power turned on next week and things will start turning around on the health front and more.

I’ll post more about the rest of us soon!  I miss yapping here and really do want to start posting regularly again.  But for now, I have three children at home tonight who think food is a really good idea.  🙂

 

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

If you’re a subscriber to Kindle Unlimited, you can read my books, Elderberries: The Beginner’s Guide to Foraging, Preserving and Using Elderberries for Health Remedies, Recipes, Drinks and More (with over 60 recipes for health remedies, desserts, jellies, wines, liqueurs and more), and A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) for free!

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I’m enrolled in KDP on Amazon, which means these books are only available through Amazon and if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read them (and over a million other titles) for free.

We’ve been subscribed to KU for a few months and I’ve found a lot of great books for myself and the kids.  I started a Facebook group, Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited to share good homeschooling books available through KU if you’re looking for new titles, too.

Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited

I have found and shared lots of great books on the Facebook page so far, from Harry Potter to classic literature to math and science joke books to secular Charlotte Mason homeschool books to books about Vikings and parts of speech and woodworking projects…

Authors subscribed to the KDP program get paid a tiny payment per page read when their books are read through Kindle Unlimited, so if you are enrolled in KU this is a great free way to support your favorite authors too.  🙂

You can find out more about Kindle Unlimited here, and also sign up for a free 30 day trial (which is what we initially did to see if it was a good fit and then we decided to keep it).

Please leave comments about good books you know of in the program or subjects you’re interested in!

(This page contains affiliate links)

 

New Book!

My Kindle book went live on Amazon this morning!

You can find it here: A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) (affiliate link).

This is utterly terrifying new territory, but very exciting nonetheless.  🙂

It’s broken down into four seasons, with 13 activities for each season (enough for one every week of the year).  They are designed to work with multiple ages, so families can do the activities together.

Examples of the activities include:

Spring:

  • Test your garden soil pH with vinegar.
  • Make homemade playdough and dye it with a variety of natural materials to make all different colors.
  • Use an empty Valentines Day chocolate box to start a rock collection.

Summer:

  • Count cricket chirps to tell the temperature (with information about how crickets make the chirps and why they speed up when it’s warm).
  • Use a magnet to find micrometeorites at the beach.
  • Use ants for nature studies (draw a chalk maze to see if they’ll run it to avoid the chalk lines, watch how they’ll follow an invisible path on a piece of paper if you turn it after they start walking a line on it, test out various natural repellents, etc.).

Autumn:

  • Use glycerine to preserve a branch of colorful fall leaves.
  • Use apples for a variety of science and nature (and homemaking) projects.
  • Do an amped up scavenger hunt with all the kids (past the usual find something blue kind of stuff, find something Native Americans used for food or medicine, find an insect that’s an omnivore and one that’s an herbivore, etc.)

Winter:

  • Carve avocado pit pendants.
  • Measure the volume of snow when it’s frozen versus melted (and extensions from there).
  • Make a tabletop observation garden from root vegetables.

It’s $2.99 in the Kindle store, or free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  It should be free sometime soon and I’ll post and let you know when that happens.

 

The Dystopian Homeschool

dystopian

Well, that was quite a week.

I’m not going to go into any of my feelings about the election here.  I’m sure you can guess them, or you can take a look at my Facebook page to see them (along with a lot of articles I’ve been writing for my new gig at Inquistr).

I went to our little UU church yesterday hoping that the minister would somehow rally us up, give us inspiration and new energy and directives to go back out there and magically make things better.  I realized afterwards that I sort of expect her to be like the pit crew that services the race cars in the Indy 500.  I screech in when everything is blowing and failing, and she is supposed to fill my tank and fixes my shortages, then I go speeding back into the fray again.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, she offered a scrambled-up sermon reworked from one she had already planned on preaching yesterday.  It turns out she didn’t plan on these election results either, and had originally written an intellectual sermon on dystopian worlds.

(Yeah, UU churches are like that.  Don’t come expecting a lot of talk about sins or bible quotes.)  😉

But in her mixed-up, crazy dystopian sermon, she said something that took me by surprise.  She said that dystopian stories are always written about some terrible time to come, but at some point we needed to acknowledge the truth —

We’re already in the terrible time, and we were before Tuesday.

“an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”

Not exactly a cheerful thought, huh?

But it’s true for much of the world.  Sure, some of us have been existing in a fantastic little bubble for a while.  Some of us are white, straight, upper class, two-parent families who have been awfully blessed.  But for the poor, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, people of color, people of other religions, LGBTQ families, refugees and others, things have already been unpleasant and bad.

Our environment is already degraded.  Climate change is a reality that’s affecting us more every year, from unpredictable winters to droughts to super-storms to rising sea levels.  Animals are going extinct at unprecedented rates.  Our air is poisoned.  Our water is contaminated.  The average child now has at least one chronic illness, not to mention the average adult.  We have finally reached the generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents. Scientists have been warning us for a while that it’s already too late to stop the catastrophic changes coming, and unless we radically change our ways of life very soon, we can’t even slow it down.

Well, huh.  Okay then!

While this is a pretty bleak conclusion to reach when one is already feeling pretty bleak, it also can be seen as liberating.  As Janis Joplin once sang, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And how does that translate to homeschooling?  Or even parenting?  How do we protect our kids and give them hope, when things feel hopeless? 

Well, first we look to the people who already knew all this, who have had boots on the ground for a long time while.  DAPL protesters at Standing Rock.  Black Lives Matter organizers. Environmentalists. Even parents of vaccine injured children driving buses across the country to tell their stories.  People who act to be the change they want to see in the world.  They’re happy to train us, happy to have our help.  (Miley Cyrus has already set up a web site to match people to local organizations who could use help in whatever issues are close to your heart.)

And we teach our children.  We teach them how to make positive changes in the world and help others — and also how to take care of themselves when they’re feeling fragile and shocked by the dark in the world.  We need to model that, too, and take care of ourselves in the midst of all of this darkness.

We prepare them for all kinds of futures — not just a straight line into college and some utopian job waiting at the other side, but for learning trades and volunteering for the Peace Corps and taking gap years and starting businesses and doing freelance work and all of the many ways that we can live in the modern world.

We teach them how to live well on little money, how to meet their own needs, how to survive — not in some melodramatic sense like the zombie apocalypse, but in the sense of knowing how to do well in unpredictable times.  And how to share that knowledge to help our communities.

We fight the good fight, and raise aware kids who do the same.

And then we hug them and love them and read them stories and watch silly TV shows and play, because now, more than ever, they need boatloads of that, too.

safetypins

 

 

 

 

 

Back From Nebraska Again

We’re back from a short week at the fabulous home of Tiffany and company again.  Most of us went this time (me, Fiona, Alex, Toria and her boyfriend Gabe this time!), leaving Daryl home with Jack and Rhia.

We only went for 5 days and bunked in different spots around the house, but we had a fabulous time.

It is so fun to have kids so well matched.

When we visited for the very first time (10 years ago!), I was pregnant with Alex.  Tiffany had Jessie and Jack, and I had Victoria, Annalee (who now goes by Rhia) and Jack.  Her daughter was right smack in the middle of the ages of my daughters, and our Jacks were just about the same age (her Jack has Downs Syndrome and is a year older, but they were really wonderfully matched).

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Tiffany and Jack, 2009

Our kids were stair-steps in ages, but Tiffany lost baby Jacob the year before I had baby Alex, and that was such a terrible loss.  It left a gap in our families, in every way.

When I got pregnant with Fiona years later, she was very much an “oops!” baby, and then a year later, a wonderful “oops!” miracle happened for Tiffany too– Millie.  She was born a year after Fiona and we were back in stair-step.  🙂

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Jessica and Fiona, 2011

Millie, 2012

Millie, 2012

Now, after all of these years of friendship, our kids are still so well matched up:

Victoria (18)

Jessie (17)

Rhiannon (16)

Jack (theirs) (14)

Jack (ours) (13)

(Jacob would be 10)

Alex (9)

Fiona (5)

Millie (4)

Their Jack and our Alex are now good friends too, and happily play Minecraft and bounce on the trampoline and have all kinds of wonderful fun.

It is surreal and special to see these two new little girls of ours, starting their homeschool adventures in our bonded families.  They have really grown up with each other as family, which means so much to me.  My kids couldn’t ask for better homeschool cousins, so to speak.

It’s a pretty magical homeschool.

Now if we could just get back to more science lessons….

(Excuse the absence of any current photos!  My devices were all dead and I always happily abandon them all when I get there.  I planned on swiping photos from someone else’s Facebook or Instagram to blog, and there are none to swipe!)