From Tracie

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How To Make Homeschool Work For Your Family

There has been a lot of change in our lives this year, the biggest being, I'm working full time now. I work from home, but it is still full time. One of the first questions I get when talking about my job with people is, "Did you put Katarina in school?"quickly followed by, "But how does that work?" when I assure them we are still homeschooling.

A big part of homeschooling in our family has always been the ability to be flexible with our schedule and make school work for us. It isn't unusual for Katarina to do more than one day's worth of work at a time to "earn" a Friday off of school. We don't take winter break, President's Day, or many other days that schools shut down for holidays, but we do take a break for most of December. As my work hours increased, we had a little trial and error to figure out what worked best.

For us, mornings are the best time for school, but not first thing. I start my work day early, while the rest of my family is still sleeping. When Katarina wakes up, she has about an hour and a half to relax before her day officially stars. During this time we eat breakfast, have a morning walk, and Katarina usually reads or works on one of her computer programing projects. Then it is time for school to start. I take a break from work and do some teaching, and then as I go back to work, she finishes up the rest of her school day's writing and reading assignments. I step in when she has any questions, and look over her finished work as the day progresses.

In the last few weeks, one of Katarina's favorite subjects, Pre-Algebra, hit a difficult patch. While simplifying radicals was, well, simple, dividing with radicals proved to be a little harder. I felt the pressure of trying to juggle work, life, and homeschool while trying to remember how to use math I haven't thought about since I was 14. And trying to do that during those morning hours wasn't working well for either of us.

So we made a new decision.

We started saving Pre-Algebra not just for the end of the school day, but for the end of the day entirely. After dinner we have been sitting down with our math problems, pencils, paper, and Khan Academy, and conquering radicals. And it is working. Katarina doesn't feel the pressure of the rest of her school day hanging over her while she calculates, and is sailing through her work without either of us melting down. And we still have time for a couple of episodes of The Wonder Years before bedtime.

For now, we are keeping this new math in the evening schedule. It might change later in the year, but we both like the way this is working. That is the key to homeschool - not just viewing it as an opportunity to be flexible with your schedule in regards to vacation days, but also an opportunity to be flexible with everything, and mold school to fit your child's needs.

I'm very blessed that I'm working at home, so I don't have to go into an office each day. It also helps that Katarina is eleven years old, and I'm not needed for every second of her school day the way I was when she was younger.

As our lives and needs change, homeschool is changing with us. That doesn't mean we might not make the decision to try something different next year. We have the "what about public school" conversation each summer. I'm not against the idea of traditional school, and I don't believe homeschool is the answer for everyone, but for now, homeschool is our best answer. And even though our schedule might not be a good fit for your family, it has been great for us.

Learn how to make homeschool work for your family.

How To Make Homeschool Work For Your Family

1. Learn which hours are best for your child. Are early mornings the best time for focusing, or do you find that afternoons work best? Does your child need some down time before school starts or part way through the day? Don't feel like you have to keep the same hours that your local school is keeping. Try different times to see what works best for you.

2. Don't be afraid to make curriculum changes. This is true for your curriculum as a whole - you might find that the fancy curriculum package you bought just isn't working - but it is also true for smaller things like taking a few days to focus on something or do extra study if your child is really interested, or swapping out a book for something that you think your child will enjoy more.

3. Take advantage of all the resources available for homeschoolers. From your local library and free educational websites like Khan Academy (have I mentioned how much we love Khan?) to co-ops and local homeschool associations, you don't have to do this thing alone. You also don't have to spend a lot of money to homeschool.

4. Ask for help. You might be the primary teacher in your child's life, but that doesn't mean you have to do everything. If your spouse is a science whiz, there is no reason for you and your child to struggle with something you aren't gifted at if it could be put off until later in the day when Professor Labcoat gets home from work. Or maybe it isn't an all the time issue, but you find yourself having a particularly difficult week. Call in favors, invite the grandparents over, tell your spouse you need extra help, or just take the week off to read and watch educational videos. We always build in extra time for off-days in our year for just these times, so if one of us needs a break, we don't have to stress over falling behind. If you need help, you have to ask. And if you aren't willing to ask for help for yourself, do it for your kids. Modeling this kind of self awareness and self love for them is one of the best lessons you can teach.

5. Don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. This quote is often used as blogging advice, but it is true in almost everything in life, homeschool included. If you are starting out with a five year old, you won't be able to say, "Read five chapters in this book and write a summary for me," and then go sit down to an hour of uninterrupted work. All homeschool families have bad days (yes, even the ones with picture-perfect blogs), we all hit rough patches, and we all have to learn that what seems to be working for everyone else in the homeschool world might not work in our family. Don't get discouraged on your journey by looking how much farther down the path other people have traveled.

6. Be Flexible. I think this one fits with almost every point in this list. Make a schedule, have a plan, get a routine going - all of those things have their place - and then be willing to throw all of that out the window when needed.

7. Have fun. Take a nature walk before cracking open that science book. Have art twice a day. Read really fun books together. Share your passions, and watch as your children develop passions of their own. Enjoy the extra hours you get to spend with them each day.

This is some of my best homeschool advice. I know it didn't tell you which curriculum to buy, or how to write a lesson plan. That is important stuff, and you will do it, but I think these things are what you need to support all of those decisions. The best curriculum in the world won't mean anything if you haven't learned how to make homeschool work for your family and your schedule.

How do you make school work in your family? Even if you aren't a homeschooler, leave your best tips in the comments, or share what is working for your kids. We can all learn from each other as we navigate parenting and school - no matter what kind of education is best for our individual children.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Compassion Is A Calling

I am participating in a worldwide writing movement to speak for compassion.

Compassion is a calling. Not the kind that is only visited on a select few - it is a calling for each of us. You may have silenced its voice, pushed it down and back until you can't hear its gentle leading, but it is still there. Calling out to you.


This is the whisper of compassion.

Love is the difference between true compassion and what is so often just disguised pity.

Love is the feeling that bubbles up in your heart and shows itself in your actions. Love is what makes you dig deep, give sacrificially, hug a stranger, smile, listen closely, share tears, forgive, seek understanding, and reserve judgement.

Compassion reminds you that you know better now, but it wasn't always that way. And it enables you to see those around you with grace.

There is a verse from the Bible that echoes in my heart - usually at the most inopportune times when I am happy in my selfishness, secure in my pride, or not wanting to put others first or even consider their feelings at all.
Above all, love each other deeply,
because love covers over a multitude of sins.
- I Peter 4:8
And if I listen to that echo, if I allow it to penetrate the wall I'm so often building around my heart, I will stop and think about love. Deep love. Love that covers sins also covers misunderstandings, confusion, differences, and all manner of pain.

It is easy to love my family. Sure there are small things like the one millionth conversation about leaving shoes in the dark walkway, and big things that are more important and harder to resolve, but the love is always there under and around it all.

It is easy to love my friends. Even when they make different decisions than I might make, or walk paths I would never choose for them, I can almost always see their side of the story. I might not agree, but I can understand their hearts and feel their pain and joy, and I love them exactly where they are.

But what about the rest of world? The people I don't know, the people who don't hold pieces of my heart in their hands? The ones who I don't understand at all, whose words don't even make sense to my heart? What about the people who are fast and harsh and rude? The ones with jagged edges and not a soft spot to be seen?

What is my response to these people?

Is it love - deep love - love that covers...everything?
Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all transgressions.
Proverbs 10:12
Oh readers, not always. Not enough. I often do not look past my own feelings to care for another's. I often hold myself back from the pain. I rush past. I do not seek to listen, to understand, to love deeply.

Here's the truth: Love is messy and compassion requires work.

You can not step in and out of compassion when it suits your day.

To have true compassion, you must allow yourself to be open to another person's heart and story and truths; you have to be willing to stop and listen to not just their words but their very souls. True compassion must be mixed with the love that covers all the cracks and broken places and makes us whole.

This is the calling of compassion: To share your life and your heart with those around you. To let go of hatred and anger. To give the same grace to others that you would wish for yourself. To listen before you make up your mind, and to cover all the things, with love.

The calling of compassion is to cover everything in love.

If you listen closely, you will hear this calling echoing through your heart. Reminding you to love, to serve, and to practice compassion every day.

What does compassion mean to you?

Today, over 1,000 bloggers are joining together to write about compassion.

It started with a blog post from Lizzie and an idea from Yvonne, and blossomed into a beautiful community. You can find out more about #1000Speak For Compassion here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I'm Not Answering The Phone (But I Still Love You - Or At Least Like You)

I remember when phones didn't come with us everywhere. When it was still kind of a big deal to have a cordless phone in your house, and knowing that the phone would no longer work if you walked too many steps past your front door. I remember how my friends with siblings had to share phone time, because unlike Claudia Kishi, most of us only had one line.

I remember when the majority of my friends didn't have call waiting, and when I was the only one in our group to have 3-way calling service. And I even remember when there wasn't always an answering machine to pick up when people weren't home, and those days when there was no caller ID to let you know if you really did want to answer that call.

I spent a lot of time on the phone when I was a kid. Long summer afternoons. Late nights. It wasn't often far from me. I think my parents even put a phone on my birthday cake when I turned 13.

But as much as I loved the phone, and used it nearly constantly, I also have fond memories of times spent without the phone. The phone was for at home time. When you couldn't be with your friends in person, you had to call them to connect. It was nice to have that option, but it wasn't always possible. And usually there was a point in which a parent on one of the ends of the phone line would restrict the hours spent talking. If you were away from the house, pay phones were the only way to get in touch with someone, and they would only last until your quarter ran out.

Thomas is suspicious of the pay phone at Disney World

When I was 18 I got my first cell phone. It had a very simple snake game on it, but that was pretty much as exciting as it got. There was no texting, and I was calculating minutes in my mind each month to make sure I didn't get hit with crazy overages. Still, it was nice to have a phone that worked anywhere (in theory - there were a lot of cell phone dead spots back then).

I am still a little amazed at having a smartphone - which is basically a small computer in my pocket that can also make phone calls. It is rare for that phone to be far away from me, especially when I'm out of the house. But that doesn't mean I'm going to answer it just because it rings. Or that I'm going to respond to a text message or email right that second just because I hear the little water droplet notification noise.

If you aren't my husband, my kid, or possibly my mom, I'm not answering my phone in a restaurant. Period. And if you are one of those people, I'm having a super quick conversation mostly to ascertain if you are bleeding or not, and then telling you I will call back.

In fact, if you aren't my husband, my kid, or possibly my mom, I'm not answering my phone a lot of the time: During a great tv show. When I'm writing. While I'm in a store. In the car (even if I'm not the one driving). If I'm having a great conversation with someone in front of me. During dinner, or even a particularly yummy snack. While I'm listening to NPR with my family on Sunday night. In the middle of work. When I don't want to take a break from my book. Or when I'm in the bathroom for any reason.

You see, just because I have a phone, and you have the number, doesn't mean I am required to talk to you at the exact second you decide to call. This isn't a slight. It applies to people I love very much, and with whom I always enjoy talking. It really isn't about you at all. It is about me. About my boundaries. About me being present in the moment I am in, and not connecting with the place I am not every second of the day. About me not being distracted.

This is true of social media, too. I will pop on for a few seconds to update something in the moment, or to share a picture while I'm out doing something, but it I usually won't be responding to comments or interactions until I get home. And 90% of the time, the status update or picture won't actually get posted until I'm home, either. I'm in the moment. I'm WITH the people I'm with.

Of course there are exceptions. There are times when I need to be out of the moment, or I need to reach out for support right away. There are times when I want to update facebook right that second, and I do it. There are even times when I make a quick call to ask a question or check up on someone, even though I'm riding in the car or on the way to an outing with my family or a friend. I'm not unreachable. But I am aware that most of the time things can wait for a couple of hours.

These are my boundaries. I don't expect you to share them. But if you do, know that I will never be insulted that you didn't answer your phone for me because you were doing something else. I don't think it is a reflection of how much you care about me, but could very well be a reflection of how much you care about yourself.

I remember those days of walking away from the house and leaving the phone behind, and in almost every instance, it was okay. So while I will always have my phone with me these days, I might not always act like it.

Do you feel like you have to answer the phone when it rings? 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever

Is it feed a cold, starve a fever, or the other way around?

I can never remember.

I suppose I could look it up right now, seeing as how I am on a computer at this very second. But that just sounds like too much work for a Monday morning when colds and fevers are attacking. And I still haven't recovered from the time Dr. Google told me I had Encephalitis caused by freckles and Menopause that was mostly on my tongue.

The real question is:
What are you supposed to do if you have both a cold and a fever?

Eat doughnuts?

Health care is confusing.

Heart Doughnuts

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I Tried The InStyler Max 2-Way Rotating Iron And The Results Were Amazing

Today I'm going to tell you a special story about how I received an InStyler Max 2-Way Rotating Iron for review, but first I have to tell you about my hair. When I was a kid, my hair was super straight, but somewhere around age 25, it went through what I can only assume was a quarter life crisis, and turned into a frizzy puff ball. I've tried cutting it short and I've tried growing it long, I've eve tried special shampoos, but nothing seems to stop the frizz.

One time my friend Lee tried using a flat iron on my hair, but 20 minutes into the process, we hadn't even straightened a fourth of it. (Have I mentioned that in addition to being long my hair is really thick?) I was out. There was no way I was going to put in the time necessary to straighten all of my hair. So last weekend, when I was at her house practicing wedding crafts and helping her take pictures of a fancy hair straightener, I really didn't think it would work for me - in fact, we had already reminisced about that unsuccessful flat iron experience. But as I watched her use it on her hair, it was so pretty, and worked so well, I wanted to try it for myself just in case.

Will The InStyler Max Work On Long, Thick, Coarse, And Frizzy Hair?

We took a quick before picture just (bloggers take pictures of everything), and I started using the InStyler Max. Right away I could see it straightening my hair, and it was FAST. I could hardly believe it. I've never been good with hair tools, but this was actually easy to use. 

Step by step pictures of me straightening my long, thick, frizzy hair with the InStyler Max 2 Way Rotating Iron. I was amazed how well it worked on my hair, and how long the straightening effects lasted!

Very quickly I straightened half of my hair. You can see it right there in the middle of the collage - a picture of my hair half straight and half frizzy. I was impressed, but ready to move on with other things we had planned, until Lee pointed out how fast it was going. "Are you kidding? Do your whole head! This is working and only took a few minutes!" I quickly finished straightening the rest of my hair and took a final picture.

The entire straightening process took 15 minutes. We were both amazed. 

InStyler Max

I'm not sure if it is the ceramic barrel, the ionic bristles, or the fact that it rotates, but something about the InStyler Max is magical. So magical, in fact, that this isn't the end of the story...

I returned home Sunday night and went to sleep. Now, anyone with long, thick hair like mine knows you don't wash it every day - it takes a long time to wash and hours to dry - so I woke up Monday morning and ran a brush through it. You know what? It was still straight. Unbelievably straight. 

As the day progressed I could't stop looking at it. Straight, sleek hair. It was like being 24 years old again. I went outside, and even the heavy Florida humidity wasn't touching it. Later that night I had to make a run for the car in the rain because we had an appointment, and I had another quick run through the rain when we returned home. I walked into the bathroom, and saw...straight hair. 

Sleep. Humidity. Rain. The InStyler Max beat them all. 

This was when I knew I needed the InStyler in my life full-time, and I had to tell you about it. You can expect to see a lot more pictures of me with straight, frizz-free hair in the future, because something easy I can do in 15 minutes, and see the effects last for days, is exactly the kind of hair treatment I have longed for.

The InStyler Max can also be used to make curls or add volume to your hair. Those things are going to take some practice, I expect, but I'm going to try. I think it helps that the barrel rotates to the right or the left, so I won't have to hold it backwards or upside down to get the curls on both sides to match like I would with a curling iron. It is easy to get it to change the direction of rotation, too, you just double "click" the iron as you close it.

InStyler Max

For more InStyler goodness, check out Lee's hair. She has really fine hair, but it worked for her, too. Magic, I tell you. Magic. And if you want some of this magic in your own life, check out the InStyler website. They have both a buy one get one free deal and a 30-day trial offer happening right now. This is the time to get straight hair. And if you are thinking this works great for me because my hair is long, but would never work on your super short hair, take a look at the small ¾" barrel InStyler. It might just be perfect for you.

Tell me about your hair routine.
Do you spend time straightening or curling your hair each day?

*I was given an InStyler Max by VocalPoint. I was not required to say nice things or look at myself in the mirror 175 times while stroking my hair and whispering, "It's so straight."