Thursday, February 5, 2015

First frost, two teens, public school defended, other shocking points of interest




This year our first frost took me by surprise. Everything in the garden turned out okay, tucked in under manure and coffee grounds and maple leaves, thanks to my amazing team (of child labor, a-hem). I do have to remember to wrap the resurrected fig tree though, before temperatures dip much lower at night.

When last year's hard winter apparently killed my fig tree I shed a wee tear (sobbed like a baby). When it sprouted anew late in the summer I rejoiced! And then when I accidentally hacked it off with the weedeater I cried again while all of my children and my husband assured me it would grow back, which it obligingly DID. That tree deserves better but it has me; it's put down roots and we've been through a lot together.

Similarly my Meyer lemon is blooming with incredible vigor. I painstakingly pollinated it via paintbrush (say that ten times fast) because although the book says "hardy to 17 degrees," the ghosts of my three prior Meyers decline to testify. The fig would live inside too if only the farmhouse weren't, you know, a pair of tiny former logging camp cabins cleverly joined with hand milled fir planks and lumberjack artistry to make a home for seven.

Despite the trials of the tropical plants, the rest of us are settling in to a routine. Three years at the "new" little farm. Three years of watching the light weave patterns through the forest, watching leaves clog the stone culverts, watching the horses figure out the zoo-worthy fencing in order to break into the pond. Three years of making hay and driving to dance. That about sums it up.
I think we just started our sixth year of having school at home. I don't write very much about "homeschool." Polarizing issues paralyze the blog writer in me. And recently I came to understand, again, how damaging any sort of label can be. Homeschooler. Gifted. Special needs. But I get ahead of myself.

We jumped into the deep end of teaching our children at home without a philosophy beyond what we knew of ourselves as parents and what we knew of our individual children's needs. For three years after Madeleine, Sarah and Grace were sitting at the kitchen table (and couch and car) with their books I still volunteered in the community school and my husband still chaired a committee dedicated to helping our tiny rural school survive. And then when we moved away from that area our love of community and our belief in the power of education didn't fade away. Of course not.
 Members of my family and so many people I deeply respect work in public education. Our nation is so lucky, fortunate, ridiculously blessed to have access to free school. I hope we, corporately, don't take that for granted. You know what else we are lucky to have? Choices.
 My children are amazing. Ask anyone. They are also beautiful, and sensitive, and gifted, and different. A couple of them might do fine or even exceptionally well in traditional brick-and-mortar school. One of them would likely spend more time in the hospital than in the classroom. Hospital, "resource room" and school nurse in rotation? Or home? Which would you choose, if you could? And then, when you were choosing, would you reflect on how privileged you were to be able to have that time with each of your little people? Watching them change and grow is one of my miracles. Being present for them is a gift to me.
And we know families whose choices to teach their children at home are as different from ours as night from day. Perhaps they have strong political or religious beliefs and are passionate about remaining separate from the world. Perhaps they have very exacting academic standards and are dedicated to high achievement. Their home might be too remote and the commute too taxing. The list goes on and it even includes those who think young people shouldn't spend time with the opposite gender outside of parental chaperoning.

We don't have school at home for any of those reasons. And our reasons have evolved as these years have passed. What started as a medical necessity and an academic convenience (one of our children was so far ahead of her grade level that the school ran out of ideas/patience/books and threw up its administrative/educational hands, leaving her to "help" in class (read: "be tortured by the bigger, tougher children from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.") (and then note my double parenthetical statement and feel sorry for the twisting logical meanderings of me, again)) morphed into a lifestyle of joy in learning together.

Theatre and dance are so consuming for our older girls; having flexible school hours allows them to read and write and learn on their own schedules. The time to form ideas and act upon them is a gift. The time to take a trail ride after school and before rehearsal is a gift. Time, it passes, and the spending of it is a lesson too. Or can be.

Somebody is going to say we are not even a true "homeschool" family because some of our children are enrolled in public, virtual charter schools that allow us to choose and design our own curricula. Somebody is going to believe it's less-than, or selling out. I respect that opinion too but I have to say I am grateful for the option, choice, the gift of time. I'm grateful that my children will be able to choose universities, or not, and that their choices won't be limited by mine.

It's a dance and not a ballet. We all waltz this way, parents. We make the most careful choices we are able to make and we thank God for the blessings we have and can share.

*just a note: I wrote this in November and have been immersed in all of that living-spending-time-learning stuff since. I still think about polarizing issues and have cold sweats over controversy or the whiff of it. I still love you if your children are in public school or private school or hacking school from the internet. I especially love you if you read this far.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Autumn at the ocean

September is the beginning of our favorite time to visit the Oregon coast. Saltwater and sunshine and sandy feet combine in an alchemy of pure joy. The winds are slow and so is time.
This particular September we are choosing rest. Is this possible in the midst of ballet, tap, jazz, modern, Guys and Dolls, piano, voice, sewing... farm work... and schoolwork? I submit that it is possible. At least it's worth trying.


Dear Mr. Suite and I talk a lot about finding balance. He runs an engineering business and serves as a planning commissioner for our county government. He fences (and re-fences) and hauls hay and fixes the farmhouse. I teach school to five students of hugely varied learning styles and giftedness and I keep the house (mostly) and garden (sadly small this year but still) and meals and carpool schedule. I also write grants for a few non-profits and squeeze in the occasional writing and photography that fills my heart. So there's that.

Our teens are intensely involved in community and children's and public school theaters. They dance at two different studios that are 25 miles apart. One is dedicated to ballet and one loves modern and tap. One is training horses and dogs and one is showing rabbits. Our younger children have pets and piano lessons and passions of their own. The Lego budget. The book budget. The gas budget. 

And the time and energy budget. I'm just saying.
We used to have an unofficial family motto, spoken somewhat in jest: "Work hard, play hard." Most famously, my exceedingly hardworking husband once declared in a time of exhaustion, before a 9-hour-drive to see a baseball game: "We. Will. Recreate."

In a slight divergence from that I propose: "We. Will. Rest."

We will rest in the moments between tap and rehearsal. We will rest in the knowledge that a great thirst for knowledge and discovery is a much better educator than is a proficient lecturer. We will rest and realize that sometimes good enough is truly enough, that perfectionism is a pit that separates us from joy and from others. We will rest knowing that the waves come in, the waves go out. The wind calms in autumn.

And there is a season for rest.

How do you find rest? Is it a principle or a practice? Or both?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Playing catch (up)

How was your summer vacation?

I'm taking it as a sign of a good summer that I am, once again, not ready. Last week at the swimming hole I sat with a friend watching the children splash about picking blackberries from the overhanging vines. Feet in the cool water, with pebbles massaging our toes and the laughter of eight or nine swimmers entertaining our ears, we watched the first of the turning leaves float to the water's surface and skim downstream. Our shady spot will be exposed to the autumn sky in a month or two.

But we'll be inside with books and tablets and schedules to make the gas gauge sigh.
How not to make a two-month catch-up letter a series of "been there, done that?' How to capture the feeling of summer? We took some drives. We splashed in the creek and swam in our "secret" swimming hole. We went to a big family wedding in the redwoods and we went to the movies with friends.
Madeleine stretched her musical theatre skills with singing/dancing/acting camps and Sarah attended a ballet intensive and a melodrama performance camp. The big girls were in our local heritage parade too, on the Storybook Theatre float. Sarah was the blue fairy from Pinocchio, reprising her role from last spring's performance. Maddy was Tiger Lily and Grace was a mermaid, both from Peter Pan. I broke three sewing machine needles on Grace's costume but she glittered like an undersea princess. Salvador and Laura caught a lot of candy and waved at all the floats. I ran after the Storybook float with my camera and Mr. Suite was impressed with my speed in pursuit of the photo.
Then! Grace worked on a new quilt top and on her model horse barn. Mr. Suite bought her a miter saw and she uses it with more confidence than do I. Grace and Laura won ribbons at the fair. Grace exhibited a blue-ribbon bookhouse and her handmade puppet collection, also a blue ribbon winner. Laura showed a Lego coffee delivery boat of her own design (blue!) and her pony collection (red).

The whole family plus some friends hung out at the fair and watched the steam engine demonstrations. We ate caramel corn and drank lemonade and I regretted that but not in the baking hot moment.

Mr. Suite and I had a few date nights. We celebrated our anniversary -- 22 years -- with a Tom Petty concert where almost every song made me feel younger. We hiked the mountain above our house a few times and took photos at the river bar where he grew up and learned to drive. We drove over a floating bridge and visited farm stands and old haunts and longtime friends.
On the pet front, Laura has two guinea pigs. I am informed they are not rodents. Charlie the Spaniel took a brief vacation with another family whose mama works at the self-sustainability workshop on our road. He went camping by the lake and then came home and we were very, very glad. Murphy the Bernese went up the mountain with Maddy and Mr. Suite on a hike and came back down in the Suburban. I understand the hip joint pain.
Maddy and Sam cut new trails in the woods above our pasture. We made hay in record amounts and two teen boys with more energy and bigger appetites than imaginable helped get all eight tons in the loft before it rained. We picked blackberries and visited friends. We hosted a mini craft and swimming day camp for friends. We took some more drives. I am gathering rose hips for wreaths and tea. I am gathering the school books and calendars and my wits for another year of sharp pencils and sharper minds.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

And they danced

The girls finished nine months of six-day-a-week dance classes with this thing called a recital.
I cried through nearly the entire thing.
From the second row the click of the Nikon shutter
punctuated their steps.

Madeleine was in ten different pieces.
Sarah and Maddy both had their first pointe performance.
Hip hop was a surprise favorite.
Tap was a crowd pleaser.
I love this stuff.
And I try not to count the recitals we have left
stretching before us in beauty.


(When classically trained ballet dancers
go hip hop it will surprise you.)


 Grace was a bookish ballerina.
Considering carefully a year of quiet work.
Laura was a ballet diamond in the cutest deck of cards.
And a teddy bear tap dancer.
Grace also got jazzy.
We have a vocal recital before summer starts in earnest.
Then a few dance intensives and a couple of theatre camps
and a lot of backyard camping.
A wedding.
Swimming in the creek.
Playing with the ponies.
Summer.