1. I’m still homeschooling. For the last 2.5 years, I have lead a homeschool support group of about 500 families which I started in the West Valley of the Phoenix area, thinking it would fit a small niche. No. It exploded. In trying to healthily manage the growth, I’m in the process of converting it to a 501(c)3 (non-profit).
2. My oldest son, Ethan, is now 20. He lives at home and works full-time for Sprouts as an asst manager in the Vitamins department. The apple indeed does not fall far from the tree. In many ways. They adore him at Sprouts — he is excellent with people, knows a ton about product, and is ultra-responsible.
3. My 18yo, Grant, is on full academic scholarship to ASU and just moved onto campus after commuting for a semester. He is an Acting for Theatre major, which I could never have envisioned, but is doing extremely well. Longtime readers will recall that Grant was diagnosed at age four with Nonverbal Learning Disorder. He was in occupational therapy from ages 4-12. Much of our efforts were focused on getting the hemispheres of his brain to communicate with each other. We started with very simple exercises, like rolling one way across a room, then back the other way. This would stimulate his brain to send signals across the corpus calossum. Since Acting for Theater — he dreams of musical theatre on Broadway — is a new passion, it has taken me a bit to adjust to this trajectory. I’m still not sure if he is chasing a squirrel, or if this is the right place for him, long-term. Being 18 is a great time to chase squirrels, so… Anyway. I had the revelation that with many of his acting classes — and a modern dance class that he is taking this semester — he is HEALTHILY SELF-MEDICATING. We had a good laugh over that one, but it’s true. Movement still enables him to think better, to communicate better, to connect better with the world around him.
4. My 16yo, Wesley, is a junior and homeschooled after two years in a public/charter school. I think we both have mixed feelings about this school year. And we still don’t know where he will be for his senior year. Wes is my “free spirit engineer”, a rare bird, indeed. If he homeschools for his senior year, this will enable him to embark on a through-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 5-6 month endeavor, with some homeschooling friends. They would have to depart in April of 2019, though. Much of his senior year could be spent preparing him for the hike, like taking Wilderness First Responder courses, and going on shorter hikes. I can’t see him being able to do the entire through-hike if he returns to public school, though. He is conflicted about what to do for next year.
5. Audrey is nearly 12. She’s is a mix of great strengths and challenging weaknesses. The homeschool group may have benefited her the most, of any of my kids, as she now has real friends for the first time in her life. We have had many a talk on the reciprocity of relationship; she can’t treat others like pawns. She is growing through challenges in healthy relationship. One strength: She is driven to create. It’s my goal for her to have a place in the 2018 Children’s Business Fair. Recently, on a whim, she sewed a backpack for her American Girl doll, which she completed in one afternoon and the following morning. She didn’t have a pattern – just formed it in her head, then created it with zipper, straps, and pockets. In many ways, she is an amazing girl.
6. Fiala is nine and a great encouragement to me. I’m thankful that Fi is… coming into her own. She isn’t really in anyone’s shadow any longer. She is my highly emotional child and that is good in many ways and challenging in others. She is full of surprises – recently picking up coding on Khan Academy and rocking it. Longtime readers may remember heartbreaking health issues with Fiala, stemming from candida sepsis. I’m so thrilled to say that she is 99% recovered and a very healthy girl.
7. Jeanie is 4.5 and the cutest child I think I have ever seen in my life. She is smart as a whip, very opinionated, full of life, a fledgling reader, and obsessed with cats, which we will never own.
8. Life is still good with church and ministry, too. We still attend the same place… We are very much looking forward to an impending leadership retreat and a church-wide (and beyond) day called International Sunday — past experiences are surely searchable on the blog.
9. I’m still gardening. It is a joy of the desert – gardening 52 weeks a year.
10. Our family took a 40-day, 14-state road trip this summer, which I was going to document via the blog. I didn’t. The trip was 98% good. The most interesting parts lie in the 2%, surely, like when our truck got stuck in the clay mud up past our hubcaps, sliding down toward a precipice, on the back side of Capitol Reef National Park in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, UT, without my husband and oldest two sons. I was so good at not communicating my panic to my four youngest children who were present that the girls were unaware of the danger and super-chatty, to my immense annoyance. I seriously thought we were going to have to bunker down in the truck for 2-3 days – we had food and water – until the road dried enough for us to drive out. And then, Welsey and I were able to wade through the mud to find branches to put under the wheels. We got in the truck and prayed together. I put the truck in 4WD low and inched/slid our way out. That was scary and I feel that incident earned me my Competent Mother badge for life.
Public service announcement: When you have six kids, there are bound to be ones that absolutely ADORE all the things you find super-annoying.
Back story: Before we had kids, my husband Martin and I said that we really wanted to let them develop into who God made them to be.
Side-note: We found it a bit odd that EVERYONE thought our kids would be, you know, musical. Worship leaders. That is, exactly like us.
Back to today: As it turns out, I’m a little sad that not everyone is musical and no one leads worship, and a little excited that our youngest, three-year-old Jeanie has an absolutely lovely singing voice. I have high hopes for that girl!!!
Last week: I caved and bought Fiala a Barbie DVD for one of her birthday presents — her 8th birthday. I have banned Barbie DVDs in our home, previously. They’re like the gateway drug to Lifetime movies, in my opinion. Plus, pink and sparkly and relentlessly chipper. I just can’t hang with that, even though I’ve been a mom of girls for 10+ years now. I was at Costco and had my choice of three Barbie DVDs. I picked the one that sounded the least cheesy, albeit by a very slim margin.
Last night: As a direct result of watching the DVD about 15 times in two days, Fiala tells me she wants to be Barbie Super Sparkle for Halloween. I try to dissuade her. “Plus,” I reasoned, “it’s not a movie that was in the theater. It’s just a Barbie DVD. I don’t think you’ll be able to find a costume and I don’t have time to make one.” She promptly hopped onto the laptop (not literally) and found a Barbie Super Sparkle costume on Amazon. I must admit, not being all that familiar with the current world of Barbie, I was shocked that a costume exists.
This morning: I ordered said costume using my 19-year-old son’s Prime account and got free same-day shipping. Fiala is hyperventilating.
The things you do for your kids that you could never have imagined… Not to mention that in my younger, stricter phase, we didn’t even participate in Halloween at all. No costumes. No nothin’. Now, I will join the hordes of parents who buy their child overpriced bits of ill-made material and watch them be incredibly excited.
I have a small amount of bitterness, deep in my soul… Just kidding. Kind of. Our family has become regulated by the dreaded School Calendar. “Dreaded”, that is, if you’re a homeschooling family, not used to bending the family’s schedule to the imposed will of others.
I say that a little tongue in cheek, but the struggle is real. Or, real-ish.
Two of my young men, Grant and Wesley, started school yesterday at a local charter school, Jefferson Preparatory High School. Wes attended there last year as a freshman, to mostly-success.* Grant has been homeschooled from kindergarten through 11th grade, but decided that he wanted a traditional campus experience for his senior year. And, frankly, I was growing weary of cracking the whip for him to get his work done and not get distracted by managing his fantasy soccer team. He will still be applying to the U.S. Air Force Academy this fall, but is also working on several other Plan Bs, virtually all of which include an AFROTC scholarship. Those scholarships aren’t guaranteed, of course, but he is doing well in school and is set to achieve his Mitchell Award in Civil Air Patrol Cadets next month, an honor conferred to only 15% of CAP Cadets. This is my son, by the way, who was diagnosed at age four with Nonverbal Learning Disorder. A couple of weeks ago, as I was preparing enrollment papers for Grant’s time at JPHS, I decided to see if the phone number for his old Occupational Therapist was still active. We had a long and encouraging text conversation. She worked with him from age four through 12, and I think Grant is still reaping benefits from our hundreds of hours with Carol the Occupational Therapist.
So, anyway. We have decided that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks (mostly molding our family around The Dreaded School Calendar), and both Grant and Wes are enrolled.
For my three girls (and me), summer is still in full swing. Mostly because I’m not ready (nor am I willing) to start our homeschool year. My 7-year-old, Fiala, got impatient with me, though, and started on her math yesterday. I spent the day looking into co-op classes for the girls, reviewing curriculum (I’m very undecided about which way to go for our curric), and starting to plan for the school year with the homeschool group I lead. From the bottom of my heart, I feel like a lousy leader. Our group has upwards of 250 families in it, and I’m sort of blindly feeling my way along, very much an introverted fish out of water… But, the benefits gained from the group (and the benefits to grant; with 14+ years under my belt, I have a lot of experience and a lot of resources to share) outweigh the challenges.
We were able to save up some money and take a “real” vacation this summer. Typically, we camp, because a family can camp for an entire week for the cost of one night in a hotel. But, we decided to go to California and go to Disneyland, the beach, and even a short stay at a little mountain lake. All six kids were with us; I can’t help but think this may be the last vacation, all together as a family. Grant has a friend-who-is-a-girl, a darling young woman — also homeschooled, also in Civil Air Patrol — who is from a conservative Catholic family. Very coincidentally, her family was planning to go to Disneyland THE VERY SAME DAY we were. Cuh-razy. So, our families met up — their four children, our six — and we hung out all day. I have decided that going to a day-long outing like that tempers everyone: Kids are less squabbly, parents are less crabby. Everyone helped each other, and it was pretty ideal. The teens frequently ran ahead to collect Fast Passes for everyone, and Martin and I used the parent-switch pass with Jeanie, who, at 39.5″ was just a hair too short to go on most rides. Even though it was the middle of July, we really didn’t do a whole lot of standing in line. We were there from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., maximizing our time. I’m so pleased that our mid-summer trip worked out so well. A “mid-summer trip” wouldn’t be necessary if our family was 100% homeschooling — in years past, we have often waited until September when destinations have only 10% of the tourists that were there just a few weeks previous.
My summer has also been consumed by decisions. Like many homeschooling families — or at least, ones like mine, where the mom really can’t multitask all that well — I had saved up a ginormous list of projects to do around the house, purchases to consider, doctor’s appointments to schedule and attend, decisions to be made… And, truly: Those last two sentences consumed most of my summer. Lots of research, lots of comparison shopping, lots of trawling Craigslist and local Swip Swap sites, lots of time in the car, schlepping here and there. But, I feel like I accomplished a lot this summer, which is much more than I can say for most summers. See? The dreaded school schedule, to which I am beholden, lights a fire under my rear and causes me to make things happen. It’s good. I guess.
I have also been gardening, of course. Right now is kind of a lull in the garden: Yardlong green beans, Armenian cucumbers, Clemson spineless okra, and sweet white onions are pretty much the only thing I’m harvesting. Many things have died — between the birds, the rabbits, and the heat, I feel like a garden is a fight against encroaching wildness, in order to eke out fruitfulness from our caliche clay “soil”. To encourage myself, I started weighing my harvest in November of last year. This summer, the lowest week of harvest was just under four pounds, and the highest week around 30 lbs. A typical week is around 10-15 pounds. So. Eking is worth it.
Among the never-ending garden lessons I’ve learned: The Phoenix area is far enough south that we really don’t get enough sun for long-day onions. Also, sweet onions don’t keep as well as spicy ones. And what did I plant? Long-day sweet onions. I’m storing my harvest in the fridge, once they cure. I hope they keep longer, that way.
There are always lessons to be learned. I think that is the main lesson I’ve gleaned in the last 20 years. There are always lessons to be learned in marriage, in motherhood, in gardening, in personal growth, in relationship with God.
And on that note, I’ll sign out and clean something. Because there is always something to be cleaned. That’s another lesson I’ve learned. There is always something to be cleaned.
*Wesley did get a “D” in one class, primarily because he just didn’t click with the teacher and really couldn’t figure her out… He had the opportunity to be a T.A. in one of her classes this year — as a tutor and assistant in the French II class, as the school does not offer French III, which Wes wanted to take. He said, “I don’t think Mrs. W would appreciate me being her T.A.” He’s probably right. So, he’s taking the class as a concurrent enrollment class with a local community college. And for that “D”, we made him take summer school, and he finished the month with an “A” — barely; it was a 90%. Still. G.P.A. mended.
- After eating mostly Paleo for about eight years, it stopped working. I don’t know what the deal is, but I’ve talked with other Paleo people who have had to switch up their eating habits, as they have started to gain weight, even while eating grain-free, sugar-free, refined-foods-free… It doesn’t seem fair, but I had to decide to do something different. After gaining about ten pounds since Jean was born, which put me at 160 lbs — the most I’ve ever weighed, non-pregnant, I started hiking at the end of November. I went two or three times a week, early in the morning, 3-4 miles at a time. In that time, I didn’t really change my eating habits. So, what did that effort net me? I gained eight pounds. Ugh. And, no, it wasn’t muscle. Well, maybe one pound was muscle. So, in the last month or so, I started tracking calories — something I’ve NEVER done before — on My Fitness Pal. I also started running more often, in addition to hiking. I’m now running or hiking, four or five times a week. And what has all that tedious tracking and MORE exercise netted me? A loss of five pounds for the month. It seems like very little in return for such effort, and I’m still way over the weight at which I feel comfortable. But, it’s five pounds. And I ran my first 10K. That’s 6.2 miles. I came in last for my age group… But I finished! I ran the first four miles (slowly) without stopping, then walked for a minute or two, ran the rest of the fifth mile, and then walked/ran the sixth mile. One hour, 23 minutes. I’m running to improve that time, and also hoping to complete the Phoenix Summit Challenge, which is in November.
- Today is the last day of 4th grade and 2nd grade for Audrey and Fiala, respectively. I’m kind of relieved, and I have a VERY long list of summertime projects from the mundane to the complicated. Grant, who is in 11th grade, is still doing work, mostly because he didn’t do enough during the school year. Sigh. Thanks to the homeschool group that I (very loosely) lead, we have a fabulous end-of-year party tomorrow. I really stink at planning parties, so I’m pleased that, while I had the idea for the party, other people who are much more skilled than I am are planning it. Speaking of the homeschool group, we have 210 families who now are members. THAT IS A LOT OF FAMILIES. I kind of envisioned 15-20 families, but the group meets a greater need than I knew existed. We have attended weekly park days, near-weekly field trips, and I lead a (typically small) mom’s night of grading and chatting every week. And the girls are in piano lessons. It has been a good year of homeschooling for them, which was my goal. Tomorrow is my son Wesley’s last day of 9th grade at a local charter school. It was mostly very successful: He loves it, but his grades aren’t the best I think they could be. As long as he finishes the year with a 3.0 or higher (which he almost certainly will), he will most likely be returning in the fall. “Baby” Jean is no longer a baby: she will be three years old next month!! She is bright, full of fun, and VERY active.
- My oldest son, Ethan, who attended Arizona State University on a near-full scholarship this last year, very likely won’t be returning to school in the fall. From my perspective, this really isn’t a good situation, and I cried for two hours when it all came down. But, my son is almost an adult, and he’s making more adult-y decisions, and that’s hard when your children don’t choose for themselves what you, as the parent, see as wisest. But, God is faithful, and Ethan’s times are in His hands, and this is an opportunity for faith on my part, bathed in prayer. Still, it feels like a failure on my part. I don’t know if it is, but it FEELS like a failure.
- My garden is thriving. It’s nearing the searing heat of summer, and I’m hopeful for its continued success. I have two beds: one is 8′ x 12′, and the other is 12′ x 12′. I am tracking, by poundage, how much I harvest. These past winter months, things DO grow here, but more slowly. I’d typically harvest 4-6 lbs of produce. Now that it is warmer, I’m harvesting 8-12 lbs each week. A couple of weeks ago, when I harvested the last of my beets, it was 16 lbs, 6 oz for the week. I am currently reaping: I’itois onions (bunching onions); Greek and Italian basil; Cardinal Chard; Top Bunch Collards; Tyfon Holland Greens; Harris Model Parsnips; four kinds of tomatoes; Greyzini (a summer squash like Cousa or Mexican Grey Squash); Sweet Banana Peppers; and just yesterday, the first of the Homemade Pickles Cucumbers. Soon, I’ll have Sweet White Spanish Onions (the largest have tops that are over 4′ tall! I hope they’re as giant as their tops suggest); Asparagus Yardlong Beans; Garlic; and Honeydew Melon. I’ve also been collecting seed from radishes, lettuces, and cilantro. And, I have at least nine kinds of flowers blooming, including 8′ tall Lemon Queen Sunflowers. And in another 3-4 weeks, I’ll have okra and Armenian Cucumbers.
That’s about it from our home. Well, actually, that’s not nearly it. There is always more that is happening than I can write about. And, I don’t know if this update is all that interesting, actually. But, I felt like I was overdue for posting one.
Today, I wrote to a “secret” group of homeschool (and former homeschool) moms, asking for perspective. I had a feeling they’d tell me that I’m doing just fine. So far, in fact, they have. But in this, and in other homeschool-related endeavors, I just can’t seem to find the right balance, where I’m pleased with what we’re doing.
My oldest three children are boys, and my youngest three are girls. I think I was/am pretty rigorous with my older boys. That approach has worked well on my oldest (now a university freshman on nearly a full-tuition scholarship), and for my 11th grader who is still homeschooling, but nearly independently. My rigorous requirements didn’t work fab on my 9th grader, who is thriving in his first year in a small, public charter school where they seem to value his… free spirit a little more than I do.
So, I’m really only schooling my 4th and 2nd grade girls. I also have a 2-year-old who makes things challenging and helps us to laugh and gives lots of hugs and kisses. Last summer, I told myself that I was going to make school FUN for my girls, after several years of really just focusing on my boys. I started a homeschool support/play group that has unintentionally ballooned — I now lead this group that has 179 families in it. It is a very relaxed group, a social network, really. Me “leading” is really a misnomer. I organize most events and communicate with everyone in person and online. With that group, we have weekly three-hour park days. We have one or even two field trips or activities with the group nearly every week. (This week, we’re going to the library for a decorate-your-own-journal art hour, and going to a local organic farm on Friday.) The girls are in weekly piano lessons and loving it. They play together more beautifully than I ever hoped. We spend lots of time outdoors every day. I have a veggie garden and they all putter with me. Our science yesterday was inspecting cilantro blooms and seeds in various stages of development, talking about how plants bolt, bloom, become pollinated, and develop seed that we can save. They also do seat work nearly every day (journal — writing and drawing; math; handwriting; and phonics/grammar). We have done lots of reading for fun — we’re working our way through the Little House series and are currently just beginning The Long Winter. The girls read on their own, fiction and nonfiction, a ton. My almost-10-year-old is the Arts and Crafts Queen and is working on some project all the time… She also is taking every-other-week drawing lessons from two ladies from church.
In other words, this school year is virtually everything I had hoped. HOWEVER… I’m not really an unschooler at heart. I feel much better with structure. I feel such guilt that we are on week 5 (FIVE!) of (old) Sonlight Core 2. Week five. We’ve barely gotten through anything, really.
When I read out everything I’ve written above, it seems like I should be pleased. But, honestly, I feel a little out of sorts, like I’m doing them a disservice for not being more regimented and rigorous. We are ENJOYING the school year. Yet, I have thoughts like, “I required so much more of my sons. Am I being unconsciously sexist by doing so little real schoolwork with them??” Seriously.
I don’t know what I need to be satisfied. This school year is one of the best, experientially, we’ve ever had — and this is my 14th year!! But, I just feel so uncomfortable not checking those boxes in the Sonlight Instructor’s Guide. I feel guilty.
At the other moms’ suggestions, I’m going to add more science and have them read aloud to each other and me.
But, mostly, I think I just need to adjust my own attitude and enjoy what is left of the year.
I have no mother.
If you have read this blog since 2012, you might remember that my mom passed about three years ago. I have some wonderful mothers-in-law — two of them — my husband’s biological mother and his stepmom. However, both are some distance from us, and we don’t see them as often as we had seen my mom. My mom and stepdad used to come over every week to my home for dinner… We did that for about ten years!!! So, I’ve been feeling bereft in the “grandma” category — not just the loss of my mother, but the loss of my children’s grandmother.
I mentioned earlier that I am schooling a friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten — the little girl comes over for two hours, four days a week, and my toddler, Jean, goes to my friend’s home during that time. My girls have loved this, and the whole plan has worked out very well. However, an unexpected blessing I’ve received is this: Vi, my student’s great-grandma, has become SO IMPORTANT to Jean. Jean calls her “Memaw”, and absolutely delights in going to Memaw’s house. She adores time with her. Vi doesn’t understand why Jean loves her so much, but it really doesn’t matter, does it? My two-year-old knows that she is loved and cared-for by Vi. That matters. I had anticipated Jean having a rough time adjusting to being at Vi’s house, four days a week, even if it is just for two hours each time. But, no! The opposite has proven true, and I’m so thankful. Vi has become very important to Jean, and is filling a need that Jean must innately know that she has.
I’m also immensely thankful for “my” homeschool support group. In late July/early August, I was anticipating this school year, and realized that my three girls really didn’t have enough friends. For a period of about five years, our family had participated in a loosely-organized homeschool group, and it was so perfect for us…. But, that ended three years ago, as well, when my dear friend who organized it moved to Washington state. I wanted something similar: a true support group for the moms and a weekly park day for my children to run around and forge friendships. However, I couldn’t find anything like that it my area — not anything that was a good fit. Most groups now say something like, “Pay your $20 per child yearly dues and we’ll TELL you where our park days meet.” Or, they require a high level of involvement from the parents. Or, they require a signed statement of faith that is usually quite particular to a certain denomination. Or, the opposite: the group is comprised of homeschooling families who are so non-religious that, as I’m not a pagan, I was pretty sure I’d feel out of place.
So, I started a group.
I anticipated that we’d have fifteen families or so and had dreamy visions of our small, tight-knit group. However, that hasn’t been the case: The group is up to 99 families!! NINETY-NINE!! It seems to be filling a larger need that was out there, not just my own. Now, not everyone participates every week. But, last park day, there were ten families who came. A weekly grading-and-chatting night that I “host” at a local coffee shop typically has 2-4 women come. We’ve gone hiking in Sedona, touring the Musical Instrument Museum, visiting the Halle Heart Museum, attending various events at the library together, and more…
My “unexpected results” here are that:
- I never intended to start and lead such a large group.
- I never anticipated the group being such a rich blessing to me.
I wrote this to the group this morning (slightly edited to remove names):
I hope this doesn’t get too long or sappy… But I just wanted to let each of you know that I have LOVED getting to know you and as each week passes, I am becoming more thankful for what our group is becoming.
As I left Mom’s Night: Grading and Chatting last night, I was so thankful. It was “just” three of us. But, it was what I needed, after a discouraging afternoon, when, honestly, I initially thought all I wanted was a night alone. I came discouraged, and I left highly ENCOURAGED and with a huge smile on my face. I was able to share a bit with the other ladies and I hope they were encouraged by me, as well.
I had a brief message chat with another group member this morning who is going to put together a Thanksgiving celebration for our group for later this month. Again, honestly, I STINK at celebrating occasions and marking events. I’m sure that she is better than I am, and I’m SO HAPPY for her to coordinate this.
Last park day, there was an impromptu football game that was quite well-organized, completely organized BY THE KIDS. It made me shake my head in amazement and thankfulness — kids that mostly otherwise wouldn’t have known each other, and now they’re rolling in the grass, playing together. Another group of kids shared sand toys and dug for a long time! It was so precious. Two young teen girls spent a good hour or more just walking together, chatting, building a friendship. They’d never met before Thursday. I know for certain that this was such a blessing to both moms.
I guess what I’m saying is that this group is truly becoming what I hoped it would: We are sharing our strengths. We are impacting each other with advice, help, encouragement, friendship, and more. Our kids are gaining friendship and having some wonderful experiences.
So, my many heartfelt thanks to each of you who have made the time to come out to any of our events and truly share of yourself. We’re bettered and strengthened by each other. And for those who haven’t yet joined in person, I look forward to meeting you and getting to know you, as well.
Love and blessings,
Both of these situations have led me to ponder the beauty of interconnectedness. Not the “independence” we value in our American culture, but interdependence — where I contribute what I have to the community and where I receive what I need, as well, as others contribute.
13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
This verse is referenced often — and obviously — by the fact that Jesus laid down His life for us. However, it extends beyond that: It is true love when we yield our LIVES — our activities, our priorities, our time, our energy — which results in the greater whole being built up, encouraged, strengthened, renewed, even redeemed.
Which makes me think of…
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Which, of course…. the homeschool group I lead is not the fullness of the Body of Christ. It’s not a church. But, we’re doing the work of Jesus when we help each other become “healthy and growing and full of love”.
And that’s good.
Be encouraged today. You may feel bereft. You may be in a situation where you’re looking around, thinking, “This is NOT what I signed up for.” I didn’t take on teaching a little kindergartener because my two-year-old needs a “grandma”; that was not on my radar in the least. I didn’t start a homeschooling support group with the intention to lead nearly 100 families; I just wanted some kids with whom my kids could play.
However, so often, my heavenly Father knows what I need, even when I don’t know it, myself.
I need to start keeping track of how many pounds and bunches of produce I harvest, because it kind of FEELS like my summer garden wasn’t very successful. But, when I confessed that to my husband, he looked at me like I was out of touch with reality, which IS definitely a possibility… But, so many of the things I planted didn’t work out well.
I was especially disappointed with my lone summer squash variety: Tatuma Calabacita. Its vines spread forever, yet it was very unproductive. I think I harvested three squash total in the two hills I planted. The beginning of September, I sowed seeds of Greyzini from Pinetree Garden Seeds in two hills, with three more hills a couple of weeks later. I was attracted by the Pinetree’s claims that Greyzini produces early and prolifically, and that I’d soon be drowning in summer squash. (Note: The “summer squash” planting season in Maricopa County extends well into the winter.) I figured if this was actually true, I could freeze, barter, sell, gift, etc., the excess. The first baby squash is now about 4″ long and harvestable, though I will wait a few more days:
My only problem right now is that I likely didn’t give the Greyzini enough room to grow, so the plants are already crowding the carrot area. But, my carrots — Atomic Red from Pinetree — are having a hard time germinating and taking off, so I figure if they’re dominated by the Greyzini, so be it.
In my “old” 8′ x 12′ I have also sown:
- White Sweet Spanish onion — These are slow to take off, as well… but onions always are.
- Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach — This is the first time I’ve planted spinach. It is having a hard time germinating, and the small sprouts that have popped up seem to be a favorite of bugs.
- A Giant Mix zinnia — these have germinated and are growing well. I’m thinking that a “giant” zinnia was probably not the best choice; as the garden veggies start struggling to soak in as many of the pale sun’s rays, I don’t want flowers shading them. If worse comes to worst, I could yank them, I suppose.
- Super Sugar snap pea — These look lovely and are a good 6-8″ tall. I’m pretty sure I had 100% germination, and they start germinating in 7-8 days, and grow quickly. It’s very satisfying to see a plant grow healthy and strong after only a week or so. I have an 8′ row in my 8′ x 12′ bed and have sown another 12′ in my new garden bed, the first of which just started sprouting a few days ago.
- My Clemson Spineless okra is still producing!! Those bushes are 5-6′ tall!! It’s pretty amazing. Now that it’s a tad cooler, they don’t grow nearly as quickly. But, they’re still alive! I’ve heard from local gardening groups and a bit of research that one can overwinter okra plants, but they are very cold-sensitive. I’m not positive, but I think I’m going to try.
My new, 12′ x 12′ bed is not fully sown. So far, I have planted:
- The aforementioned 12′ of Super Sugar snap peas.
- Lettuces — So far, both a Pinetree Lettuce Mix as well as a mix of Simpson Black-Seeded and Romaine lettuces, the seeds of which I saved from previous lettuce plantings that I let flower and go to seed. In my experience, Simpson Black-Seeded is the most successful lettuce to grow in Maricopa County. But, I’m looking forward to a greater variety of lettuces.
- Alaska Mix nasturtium — which I chose for its variegated leaves.
- Red Cloud beet. I ❤ beets.
- Harris Model parsnips — I probably wouldn’t have attempted parsnips, as I know they taste better after a frost, which we’re not likely to have. However, the CSA I hosted for nearly three years, with organic produce from Crooked Sky Farms, grew parsnips very successfully. So, I’m trying it.
- Cardinal Chard — Red chard of any kind just might be my single most favorite vegetable. 🙂
- I also transplanted a bunch of I’Itois (EE-ee-toy) onions — 18 bunches, to be exact — from my containers. These green/spring onion-type heirloom, bunching onions are AMAZING. They’re holdovers from the CSA. Plant one bulb, and a year later, you have 50. They just don’t die. They go dormant in September, but start sprouting back in October. Literally, it’s year ’round “free” green onions. I haven’t purchased green onions in at least two years, maybe longer. I figure I can go without, the one month they die down.
I have also been cleaning out my containers — I’ve done eight so far. This is a HUGE PAIN IN THE @SS, as — of course — bermudagrass, that evil and invasive species — has found its way into each and every pot. So, I’m digging out all the bermudagrass stolons, roots, and “leaves”, plus doing other cleanout and refreshing of the soil that’s there with compost and some native clay dirt/soil as needed for better water retention. I have more I’Itois, a bit of parsley, a few flowers, and lots of basil already growing. I’ve sown lavender, more nasturtiums, cilantro (I actually meant to sow flat-leaf parsley seed and grabbed the wrong packet), and Crimson Giant radishes. I have another 6-8 pots to clean out and replant, and I’m planning on growing more radishes, herbs, and flowers. It’s funny, because previously, I had felt kind of grumpy about my containers, calling them my “fake garden”. But, now that I have my real garden — in the dirt — going, I view the containers as… “free” space. And, they’re especially easy to take care of in the winter. (In the summer, my containers need water at least once — often twice — daily, to keep them alive in the blistering heat.)
One more note about gardening in the winter. OK, two. Maybe three.
- Winter gardening is kind of a crapshoot. Last year, we had ZERO freeze days. The year before, we had five — with three of those being back-to-back, which is kind of unprecedented cold for the Phoenix area. The only bad news about having such a large garden is that I probably don’t have enough sheets, et al, to cover everything, if it does freeze. So, I’ll probably be praying for no freezes.
- The “days to maturity” on each packet of seed don’t count for much. Yes, things will grow beautifully here in the winter (unless it freezes), but as the sun’s rays are not nearly so strong or long as in the summertime, things take longer to grow. Still, it’s so worthwhile growing in the winter, as a greater variety of veggies do well here in the cool months: all cole/cruciferous crops, all root crops, anything leafy, plus other extreme-heat-sensitive veggies like peas.
- My permaculture ideas — going through the tremendous strain of digging out SUNKEN beds when raised beds are all the trend right now, has proven to be a good idea. Other than keeping the seeds moist for germination by light sprinkling, I’ve watered my garden NONE in the last almost-two months. The garden beds are placed at the lowest slope in our yard, so the rainwater soaks and percolates down to that area. In 110°+ heat, there’s NOTHING that can be done to gardens to preserve water; you just have to water, and usually daily. But, now that it has cooled down and we’ve had a few fall rains, the sunken bed idea is paying off.
…actually write a blog post today.
But, I’ve decided to use my rare time on the actual desktop computer to look for plans for a chicken tractor, instead. (OK, I wrote a blog post.)
I will briefly update to say:
1. My oldest son, Ethan, is doing great at Arizona State. He is getting all As, and one of his professors loves his writing so much that he is keeping all of Ethan’s writing assignments to use as examples in current and future classes. While this is a particular win for Ethan (and for me, because — yay! I didn’t really suck as a teacher!), it’s a win for homeschooling, in general. Because what does this professor want? Analysis. Synthesis. Excellent grammar. Thoughtful, insightful writing. An understanding of the topic at hand. As a homeschooling mom, this is what I want, too! I’m not just looking for my children to regurgitate information; I want them to understand and to think. Apparently, professors enjoy having students who can do this.
2. My 16 year-old, Grant, is still mostly homeschooling in the traditional way. He is, however, taking two classes at a local two-day-a-week co-op. Honestly, he isn’t killin’ it like I thought he would; it’s a struggle for him. But, that’s a good thing to figure out NOW, as a junior, rather than in his freshman year of college. He still has the Air Force Academy as his goal, and is killin’ it in Civil Air Patrol Cadets, where he is a Staff Sergeant.
3. My son, Wesley, is a freshman at a small, conservative, tuition-free charter school. I have been extremely pleased with the school itself, and shocked, frankly, with how well Wesley has integrated into “the system”. There is one class in which he isn’t doing well — French II — and it’s mostly because of conflict with the teacher, who is pretty hard-nosed. But, I’m fine with that. I’ve told Wesley that, a) it’s an elective, and he’s still actually learning to speak French quite beautifully. And, b) for his whole life, he will encounter people who don’t “get” him, or are otherwise challenging, and learning to adapt and have healthy relationship is at least as important as learning particular subjects. So, overall: he’s doing very well.
4. Audrey is in 4th grade and Fiala is in 2nd. They are both doing excellently in school. Audrey is doing 6th grade math. Fiala can spell as well as a 4th grader. It was my aim for them to have FUN this year; to have a rich, full educational experience. That is happening. Because I couldn’t find a group in my area which was relaxed and social with no fees and no “statement of faith” to sign, I started a homeschool support group. We’re up to 95 families, which is crazy. Not everyone participates in every event, of course, but I organize a weekly park day, a weekly mom’s night grade-and-chat at a local coffee shop, and usually 1-3 additional events weekly. So, we’re busy, but it’s fun-busy. We’ve been to museums and on day trips and to art classes and more. This is exactly the sort of school year I envisioned for them, even if it means that we’re making really slow progress through the structured curriculum we’re doing (old Sonlight Core 2).
5. Jeanie is two years old and absolutely crazy. She is fun, chubby, happy, very active, doesn’t nap well, and has a thing for playing with her poop, which drives me absolutely batty. Yesterday, when I thought she was napping, she actually sculpted a faux hawk for herself with her poop. Yes, it was as gross as it sounds. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!??” I admit I yelled. Holy crap. Literally. It’s one of those things where my previous judgements have come back, in God’s humorous way, to bite me in the butt. Truthfully, when I had previously heard about other toddlers playing with their poop — since none of my kids had ever done that — that there must be something deeply wrong with the family, or with the child, emotionally. Or something. Playing with poop is clearly wrong and disturbed. Well, Jeanie is about the furthest a child could be from “disturbed”. But, she still plays with her poop.
6. Jeanie has been going to the home of a dear friend of mine for two hours, four days a week, and in exchange, I tutor my friend’s great-granddaughter for Kindergarten. She also goes to weekly park day with us, and on field trips. This is the first time I’ve taught a child other than my own. In the past, I’ve declined such requests, because they’re mostly along the lines of, “Hey, since you’re already home and teaching your own children, and public schools stink and private schools are too expensive, why don’t I bring my child over and you can teach her/him for free!” Which I decline. However, this particular plan is going quite well! I’m paid AND my friend keeps Jean, which really makes the whole thing possible. I had intended for Audrey and Fiala to be doing their seatwork (math, grammar/phonics, handwriting, and journal) while I work with our Kindergarten-friend. However, we’re doing Five in a Row (plus Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons and Handwriting Without Tears). And, apparently, even though my older daughters are nine and seven years old, they still enjoy FIAR books and activities, which, frankly, I didn’t do enough of, with either of them. So, they are reliving kindergarten, and having a blast. (Reminder: Audrey is doing sixth grade math and can spell as well as a 7th grader, and is on-track with her other subjects; doing K won’t damage her education, thankyouverymuch.)
7. My garden is doing fab. The past summer, in my first — 8′ x 12′ — bed, the most successful things I grew were: Clemson Spineless okra — which is actually still growing, here in late October. My okra bushes — five of them — are nearly six feet tall, and still producing, though more slowly, as it has cooled a bit. I also grew Lemon Queen sunflowers, which were amazing — a good 7-8 feet tall. Armenian cucumbers grew wonderfully and were extremely productive. The next-most successful plant was Fonzy Melons, which I grew from saved seed from an organic melon I had purchased early this year. And flowers — Sulphur Cosmos. They made lovely cut flowers all summer and are self-seeding in actually a rather invasive way. It’s a nice problem to have, actually. Oh! And a volunteer spaghetti squash was quite productive. Less successful were banana squash, Tatuma Calabacita summer squash, and a musk melon. I had a number of tomato plants come up volunteer — which I’m still growing — as well as a tomatillo plant which grew humungous and was covered in flowers, but never fruited. Dumb waste of space. I yanked it. In the places where I have pulled out and re-prepped the soil in this bed, I have planted Atomic Red carrots, Greyzini summer squash (which will grow here in the winter!), Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, Super Sugar snap peas, white sweet Spanish onions, and zinnias, all from Pinetree Garden Seeds (which, yes, I know their test gardens are in Maine. But, I’m a sucker for small, family-owned seed companies). I have had a heck of a time getting the carrots and spinach to germinate, but the Greyzini has its first tiny fruit already growing! I have prepared a larger, 12′ x 12′ bed “next door” to my first bed. That sucker took ALL SUMMER AND FALL for me to prepare, as a) bermudagrass is so, so, so, so horridly invasive; b) our clay soil is hard and heavy; c) I worked on it in my “spare” time. The bed is now waiting for me to till in all the amendments. I haven’t done that because a) it has rained so much in the last week that the ground is too wet! and, b) I bought a rototiller and a friend from high school fixed it for me, but our schedules haven’t allowed us to meet up for him to return it! And, I don’t want to till 12′ x 12′ of heavy clay soil by shovel. In the new bed, I’ll be sowing more sugar snaps, Harris parsnips, Ching Chang bok choy, more carrots, Top Bunch collards, a leaf lettuce mix, Cardinal chard, Homemade Pickles cucumbers, more onions, Red Cloud beets, Gaillardia, and nasturtiums. Although I haven’t actually planned out the space exactly to see if I can fit all that into the bed… I might have to pull the okra, which I was considering trying to overwinter.
8. We’re still plugging away at our home remodel. I’m kind of weary of it, so I won’t say much about it, except to admit that it’s still in process.
9. We are still at Vineyard Phoenix and absolutely are in love with our local representation of the Body of Christ. (If you click the link, that is my hubby in the video on the front page.) God is good and moving mightily by His Spirit. People are getting saved and healed. It’s really an amazing church, and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m leading worship again at a small home group, which I greatly enjoy. I also am teaching the 4s and 5s Sunday morning preschool class once a month and singing on the worship team usually about twice a month. Our head pastor — whom I’ve known since I was 15 (I’m 42) — stepped down to a semi-decreased, semi-retired role in July, which gives him greater liberty to immerse himself in missions and apostolic ministry. As I type this, he’s in Zambia. My hubby’s best friend, Doug Scott, is now our head pastor. I adore Doug. I’m biased, but…. seriously…. I feel like God has given me absolutely GOLD with the church in which I get to participate.
10. As I mentioned at the beginning…. I’ve been given the go-ahead to start my chicken flock!! I’m super-excited. I just need to go now and get that figured out. 🙂
11. My husband is awesome, and I’m very grateful for him. NOTE: Awesome doesn’t mean perfect, nor does it mean that we don’t work, work, work, work on our relationship. We do. We have ups and downs. But, this November, we’ll celebrate 21 years of marriage that has been profoundly blessed and is the result of two people loving Jesus and not giving up on each other. HALF OF MY LIFE will be with that man, and it has been an honor.
My love and blessings to each of you who have read through this.
I won’t lie: I’m really happy with my garden. I go out to visit it several times daily. In the evenings, when the right-hand wall (which is on the western edge of our property) is in shade, I often sit on the walk path. The shade makes it tolerable, and the water content in the air around the garden acts as evaporative cooling. The screen — which is actually concrete “remesh” from Home Depot — makes a fabulous bird blind, even though the beans have not traveled very far up it yet. Hummingbirds and verdins flit and zoom right by my face… It’s perfect.
The water-pollination dilemma: I’m happy that this coming week, the highs top out at 105°. I’m hoping that it’s cool enough for more flowers to be pollinated before they die. This is the big dilemma in summer desert gardens: female flowers bloom, but they die before they become pollinated. And, similarly with water: we need enough water — usually daily — for the plants to grow and not die… and the most effective way to water is with an
old vintage sprinkler which I found in the shed of this house when we moved in. We had one identical to it when I was a kid. Newer sprinklers are more efficient and don’t deliver enough water to provide a good soaking. This one is pretty leaky and the drops it distributes are big. I have carved channels in the garden bed in which the “excess” water travels, making sure every corner of the garden gets soaked. However, here’s the rub: watering with a sprinkler soaks the blooms, and makes it difficult for the bees to pollinate them. So, I just water everything enough to keep it alive, and the greens are lush, but the actual fruit of the garden is not gigantic.
I’ve harvested only Armenian cucumbers so far. Three of them, and another will be ready tomorrow or so. And one okra.
- More okra (I’ll probably have enough for a meal within a week).
- More Armenian cukes.
- One getting-quite-large banana squash and several smaller ones.
- Two spaghetti squash. I didn’t plant it; it came up volunteer in the compost.
- One melon (I think it’s honeydew — again, it came up volunteer in the compost).
- One mystery volunteer squash/melon that might be watermelon — actually, there are three on the plant.
- Another melon plant that has a good 5-6 melons on it, which I am cheering on — it might be a Fonzy melon I planted from saved seeds. It’s hard to tell what’s what in the tangle of vines.
- Many tomato plants — those came up volunteer, as well. Same pollination problem: it gets too hot too fast, and they bloom and die before they’re pollinated. Historically, if I can keep tomato plants alive through the heat of summer, they’ll start fruiting in September or so.
- Lots of flowers — mostly cosmos so far, but my marigolds are about to bloom, and my first sunflower bloomed yesterday.
- My asparagus yardlong beans are flowering and there is ONE baby bean.
- My native Yoeme Purple beans aren’t doing so well, but they’re alive….
- The summer squash I was excited about — Tatuma Calabacita — is growing and climbing, but the blooms and baby squashes keep dying before they’re pollinated.
- There’s a butternut squash vine — two of them, actually — growing nicely, with darling little butternuts on it. I didn’t plant that one, either.
I also planted an apple tree, developed in Israel — an Ein Shemer — and it’s not looking great, but I’m not surprised about that. I have more hope for it, for next spring.
The only thing that has flat-out died is all the nasturtiums I planted (from seed). It’s just too hot for them.
For bugs: I have had very few problems with harmful bugs this year. Shortly after it germinated, the okra plants were beset by aphids, which kept the growth stunted and killed off one plant. I sprayed the leaves off thoroughly — especially the undersides — about once a week. There is a little aphid activity in the garden currently, but it’s really minimal. There are LOTS of
hoverflies — actually, lots of what I’ve been calling “hoverflies”, but upon research, I’ve discovered that they’re actually long-legged flies. In any case, they’re very beneficial to the organic gardener, as they eat aphids, thrips, and spider mites, all the small, soft-bodied insects which like to eat garden plants.
For feeding the garden: I’ve soaked the plants with compost tea about once every 7-10 days. There are lots of pricey compost tea systems you can purchase, but mine is a cheap hack: When I water and turn my three bins of compost, I dunk the head of the hose into an empty plastic garbage barrel. While I work on the compost, the barrel fills. I have a zip-top burlap bag from a 25-lb package of basmati rice — I’m not sure if I got it from Costco or the Asian market… I have several of them. Anyway, I just fill the burlap bag with almost-completed compost and lower it into the barrel of water. I cover it and let it stew for 1-2 days, and voila! Compost tea. I fill two garden watering cans and it takes 3-4 trips of refills to soak the garden — leaves and all — in the “tea”. It’s kind of gross, so I inevitably have to spray down my legs with the garden hose, post-feeding. Compost in general is not for the faint of heart, but that’s a post for another day. (Hint: compost needs decomposers.) This is actually the first year I’ve done compost tea. I’ve favored fish emulsion in years past, but I will never go back to that. Not only does fish emulsion smell like puke, it doesn’t wash off well, and it’s pretty expensive. Comparatively so, compost tea is less-gross, washes off completely, and is free. Win-win-win.
In the above garden pic, I’m working on prepping the bed on the right-hand side for a mid-August planting. According to the very reliable University of Arizona planting calendar for Maricopa County, that’s the next big planting “season” for a fall garden.
And that’s it, for now!!
My friend Kathy told me I need to write more. So, I comply.
Though I struggle with feeling irrelevant in this age of blogs that are perfectly photographed, engagingly-written by self-assured experts in every imaginable topic, she tells me that I do have a niche, and I fill a role… I’m still not 100% certain what that role is, nine and a half years after I started blogging.
I’m also going to — at Kathy’s urging — start to journal more on the things about which I cannot write publicly. I find that, as my children grow toward adulthood, I can’t really disclose to the faceless masses — or even friends I know and trust in real life — many of the things that truly weigh down my heart, as they are often not my secrets to divulge.
Then, when all of these thoughts and feelings and words are teeming in my mind, considered but unwritten, everything else seems like fluff — truly irrelevant and not worth the time invested in writing a blog post.
This, however: Worthwhile. To me, at least.
I did something this past weekend that I’ve never done before: gone on a girlfriends’ weekend with no kids and no husband. Well, I haven’t done anything like that since I’ve been married. For Mother’s Day, my husband surprised me with a trip to the Portland area, to see some dear friends. I had been semi-planning this trip for, oh, about a year… But, with my oldest son’s high school graduation, my second son going to Civil Air Patrol Encampment in June, a house that sucks up our remodeling budget and most of our discretionary income, a family camping trip to plan, and more — always more — I was certain that it wouldn’t work out. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had been scheming with my friends. He’s a good man.
So, while my headcold-ridden husband stayed home with our six children, I flew to PDX, and went criss-crossing southern Washington and northern Oregon with three friends for four days. Mountains! The beach! Gardens! Farmer’s market! City! Country! We packed a great deal into a short period of time.
One friend, Dee Dee, traveled up from the desert — though not the same flight as me — and we met our two friends who used to live here, but who now live in the Portland area.
This time is a treasure to me. I have no great love for the Phoenix area… Yet, as my husband says, it is the land of our anointing. It’s where God has us, and where He has blessed us. We have not plans — not any hopes, even — of ever living elsewhere. There are far too many attachments here in the desert: our beloved church, my husband’s job of 24 years, nearby family (though no one remaining who actually lives in the Phoenix area)…. So, it’s a hard balance, something I’ve struggled with — with varying degrees of success: I long for green, for water in creeks, for rain, for tolerable weather… Yet, I cannot give in to discontentment. It wants to eat my heart, and I can’t let it. I won’t.
So, any trip outside the desert is a delight, and this one was particularly so.
In my absence, my husband bought me a second-hand rototiller, so all things considered, it might have been the Best Weekend Ever.
My other favorite times:
- Hanging out in Allison’s home, with her hubby and their two sons. The living room is on the second level, and it is like being in a tree house, with massive windows on two walls, tall trees surrounding the property. We curled up, kicked back, scritched the ears of her two Westies, and chatted for hours.
- Eating. Every restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has a gluten-free menu, and even the gelato at the grocery store (Chuck’s, I think it was called) was labeled as g.f. We also ate at an Iraqi restaurant, which I wish I could transplant here.
- Kathy made a delicious dinner for all of us, which we ate in her back yard. As we waited for the meal, we had hors d’oeuvres of fresh blueberries, plucked from the bushes in Kathy’s yard. Blueberry bushes. In her back yard.
- Just the friendship of other women who know and love each other and have similar values… I feel rich in the blessings of friendship. And we laughed a lot. And exclaimed over the same things. We’re all alike enough to enjoy most of the same things, but different enough that conversation is enlightening and lively, and we learn from each other.
- On Sunday morning, as we drove to the Oregon Garden, Allison — the driver — made an executive decision that we would worship and pray aloud. We did, for about an hour — praying for each other, our families, our churches — three represented by the four of us… And we listened to the Housefires. Time flew. And then right at the end, as we were drenched in the Spirit, someone up the way started backing a 60-foot Winnebago into a driveway, and a lady strode purposefully onto the two-lane blacktop highway and held up her 5″ palm, telling us to stop. This struck all of us as hilarious, because, really… we couldn’t see the Winnebago, and we would have been lost without her direction. We were so grateful. (Much laughter.)
I must return. We’re already making plans, the four of us, to do so.