Friday, August 28, 2015

What I Read on My Summer Vacation

We'll start school mid-September, in case you're wondering.
We're actually just finishing last year's schoolwork, thanks for asking.
We made it through Algebra II - yahoo!!

One of my students is completely DONE with school work and earned a nice little break, one of my students is wrapping up a few loose ends, and I'm gearing up for the new school year with a 10th and an 11th grader.  That's completely unreal.  Our eldest is working this semester and applying for EMT school, and our second son is working and loving his college classes.  It was such a blast to have him come home from his first day of classes to say, "I LOVE my classes!"  YAY.  

So it's time to start school.  You can read about how I feel about that }here{.  I haven't had a prophetic dream about starting school this year because my head and my heart are still full to bursting with vacation.  I suppose that's when you know you did it right.

We scheduled summer vacation for the last possible week, just before college classes began here.  It was fun to look forward to sunshine on warm Gulf waters all summer, and it helped that so many of my friends went to the beach in Alabama so I could enjoy their vacations vicariously on Facebook.  I'm a big believer in vicarious vacations.  Take me!  Take me!!

I had all of our clothes packed two days before we left.  Six people, eight days - do the math, this is no small thing!  We came home to a clean house with all but a few items of clothing clean.  This was our most efficient vacation prep ever, and Past Me gets a big gold star for all the effort it took to make coming home a pleasure.  This is something I've been working on for YEARS, and I can say it's totally worth all the work up front.  Of course I can say that, now that I'm home reaping the benefit.

I love to anticipate vacation and all its fun, and I also really look forward to all the idle time to fill with reading.  I choose at least two books to read on vacation, something light and something thought provoking.  I think about it all summer.  That's kind of geeky, but I know my fellow book lovers will understand.  Time in the car, time on the balcony, time on the beach - a book lover's dream!  My favorite reading vacation was the one where we went to the beach in early May, and it was chilly enough to sit on the balcony wrapped in a blanket and read all afternoon.   

Before I started reading my vacation books this year, I had to finish The Geography of You and Me, because I have book rules.   I chose this book from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide.  Click }here{ to check it out ... so many great books!  The Geography of You and Me is a sweet book about first love and does a delicious job of describing the ups and downs of being young, in love, star crossed, and at the mercy of life events.  It's Young Adult fiction, but well written.  

For thought provoking reading, I chose Brene Brown's Men, Women and Worthiness : The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being EnoughActually, this one is a listen through - if you aren't a member, your first listen is free!  This is a 2 hour program and every minute is packed with wisdom.  I've heard about Brene Brown for some time and was curious about what she had to say, and honestly, I wondered if any of it applied to me.  The answer was yes, very definitely, everything she said applied to me.  She begins with explaining the difference between shame and guilt: shame is about you - shame for who you are; guilt is about behavior - guilt for something you did.   Guilt can be helpful in changing your behavior, shame has no constructive purpose.  The difference is subtle, but consider it and you'll realize the implications are vast.  Listening helped me understand some things about myself that I've been trying to puzzle out for years.  Understanding the difference between guilt and shame can have a tremendous impact on how you parent, and how you approach all relationships, really.  I also appreciated the insightful discussion about what men and women experience shame about - quite the difference there, as you might expect.  I haven't finished contemplating this wisdom, and I look forward to reading more from Brene Brown.

Next up was book 1 in the Survivalist Series, Going Home, by A. American.  I didn't plan to read this one, but my brother-in-law had just read it and strongly recommended it.  Going Home begins with an "event" that shuts down everything electrical.  Everything.  No electricity, no cars, and everything goes dark.  It's not completely clear what's happened, and it seems that a sun flare may have had something to do with it, but there's also evolving suspicion that the government may have played a role.  The story follows Morgan Carter, who is 250 miles from his home in Florida when everything shuts down.  His road home is a long and dangerous journey and will have you thinking about planting a garden, digging a well and getting some chickens.  And if you're on a road trip, it will have you thinking about the miles from home not in hours but how long will it take us to walk it?

Finally, I started The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo, on the drive home, since I'd heard that when you read it, you'll immediately want to change your life and tidy up, and I wanted to apply the energy to home and not a vacation condo.  I haven't finished the book yet, but Kondo's premise is that you start not with tidying up, but with cleaning out - in one fell swoop.  As in pull everything out, sort through and throw things away that don't bring you joy, and then find a place for everything that made the cut.  It makes complete sense and the idea appeals to me tremendously.  I'm not sure I can employ the big clean out in one fell swoop in a household of six people who aren't really motivated to clear out their junk, but there are rooms in our house that desperately need magic, and this book just may be exactly what we need.  I'll let you know when it happens.

September is sneaking up on us.  There's a faint tint of yellow in the color of the leaves.  As much as I loved summer and the beach, I'm ready for all things fall - it's my favorite time of the year, I may have mentioned that once.  Same as I enjoyed the beach vacations of my Facebook friends, now I'm enjoying everyone's back to school pictures.  Just let me get one more peek of the beach before I sharpen the pencils.  

thanks to my sister-in-law for her gorgeous beach pictures!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Mercy Hunting : Vacation Style

We've been on vacation.  Beloved, wonderful vacation.  Beloved, wonderful, takes a lot of work to get to, we've been counting down for 364 days vacation.  God's mercies are new every morning, but surely on vacation they're doubled and maybe even tripled.

We've done this vacation with little ones.  We've done this vacation with tweens and teens.  Now, we're doing this vacation with a passel of kids and their cousin who are old enough, really, to execute this vacation on their own.  Funny thought, that.  Not, of course, that I refrain from reminding them to put on sun screen, don't swim out too far, or to be careful crossing the street.  It's really hard to turn down the Mom machine.

I've shared ideas about how to have a successful family vacation }here{, and one of those ideas is to keep a (loose) daily schedule.  We've vacationed in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach, Alabama, for years, and I realized about half way through the week that maybe it's time to adjust my expectations on the kids.  They're teenagers and twenty-somethings now - no one is bounding out of bed at the crack of dawn ready to play in the surf.  Reality is that they're staying up really late and sleeping late and doing the beach somewhere in between.  It's their vacation too :o)

We took a risk and opted to stay in a different condo this year to make sleeping arrangements a little more convenient.  I love love loved our old condo, but the new one had a bed for everyone and it's hard to argue against that.  The new condo had a beachy decor motif, an absolute must as far as I'm concerned.  The colors were on the sophisticated side of happy and definitely on my favorite color palate.  The master bedroom was the most dreamy color of blue with white furniture.  

Part of our crew made a massively successful fishing expedition with Summer Hunter Charters (click }here{ to go to their website), wherein the they left a bag of fish with the deckhand, brought three bags of fish to the restaurant to be cooked (we love Mikee's!), and we still took four boxes of leftovers back to the condo!  The fishermen fished and the rest of us enjoyed the beach and did our best to dodge the jelly fish.  (Thanks to Sam for the fishing trip pics!)

My sister-in-law and I spent a lovely morning shopping, all the way from Orange Beach to Loxley and back.  It's so much fun to imagine decorating a beach house or condo in all beach theme decor.  And we couldn't resist a stop in at the Burris Farm Market, too!

We also found the two beach houses that were featured this season on HGTV's Beach Flip (click }here{ for a link to the show).  We just drove by, we didn't knock on the door, but it was tempting!

Our Mercy Hunting nets are full.  We had a fantastic time sitting on the beach, playing in the waves (except for those pesky jellyfish - oh, the pain!) visiting our favorite restaurants (Lamberts, Home of Throwed Rolls, you MUST eat there!), drinking coffee on the balcony, listening to the loudest thunder we've ever heard in our lives, grilling by the pool, squeezing in multiple naps, reading, and just sitting blissed out on the sand.

The countdown clock resets ... 364 days to go!  

If you're interested in visiting Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, Alabama,  
Brett Robinson Vacation Rentals is a great resource.  Check their website }here{ for property listings.
I'm not affiliated with Brett Robinson, and haven't been compensated for mentioning their name here; 
we've used their services with great results for many years and I do recommend them.
If you visit our favorite vacation destination, share the joy - let me know!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Three Things to Help Keep Your Kitchen Clean

How are you doing?  Are you ready to start school?  Have you already started?  This is my favorite time of year - maybe it goes back to the thrill of brand new school supplies and the promise of a new school year after a long hot summer.  Remember that?  When summers used to be long?  And remember when you would get a little bored at the end of it?  HA!

Last weekend a neighbor stopped by to talk about mowing our pasture for hay.  Typically if the doorbell rings, the house is clean, we're expecting party guests and they've already called from the road so we can open the gate.  Most importantly: I am ready for them.  On this day, though, the gate was open, which was great - who doesn't want a neighbor dropping in to talk about mowing your pasture?  But alas, the house was in complete disarray.  "Come in, would you like something to drink?" gracious lady of the house wearing sweats and no makeup says, completely mortified and kicking herself for how standards have definitely laxed over the summer.

Humiliation being the great motivator that it is, you can bet housekeeping slipped into high gear as soon as Friendly Neighbor was gone.  Well, I'm not really sure there's actually a high gear on my housekeeping scale, but you know what I mean.  Today I'd like to share with you three things that help keep our kitchen in reasonable working order, no matter how relaxed things have gotten.

Cooking isn't my favorite thing, and coming to terms with that was immensely helpful to making it more pleasant for me.  I wrote }here{ about that, and explored some ways to make cooking more pleasant if it's not your favorite.  Starting with a clean kitchen is key for me, and here are three things that help keep it a little more tidy:

Get Someone Else to Do Your Talking

If I could go back in time, the first thing I would do is go back and teach my children NEVER to put a dirty dish on the counter without looking to see if it fits into the next dishwasher load.  Apparently, the habit to just leave your used milk glass on the counter ingrains deeply in the human brain. We've had family meetings to no avail.  At one point, I taped a sign on the counter asking people to put their dirty dishes in the dishwasher.  Said sign was pretty snarky and was frequently covered with said dirty dishes.  I'm afraid the sad truth is that it will take years to retrain this deeply ingrained habit, but I've recruited help.  When the dishwasher is empty, I put this little guy with the chalkboard that says "into the dishwasher please" on the counter, and more likely than not, people load the dishwasher themselves.  It's a little reminder to check the dishwasher first, and he has a much better attitude about it than I do, which is probably why he's so successful.

Keep One Sink Empty

You know how frustrating it is to come to the kitchen sink needing to wash your hands real quick, only to find that both sinks are full of dishes, and now you have to unload a sink to rinse your hands?  Or maybe you've come to the kitchen to clean it up, but you can't even start that until you empty the sink of dirty dishes.  When one sink is empty and clean, you always have a clear a place to wash your hands or rinse a dish.  This is such a basic thing, but if you don't already do this, you'll be amazed at how much easier it makes kitchen life!  It may take a little time for everyone in the house to get on board with the concept, but it's totally worth it to campaign for an always empty sink!

Use a Microwave Splatter Guard

If you have a house with kids in it, I'm betting you have a well used microwave.  At our house, people are fond of microwaving things laden with oh, say spaghetti sauce, until the inside of the microwave has a lovely red and white polka dot thing going.  Or sometimes they explode hot dogs in there.  Of course the mess is left to be microwaved over and over, because who wants to clean a microwave when you're hungry and there's a hotdog the temperature of the sun waiting for you?  Cleaning the microwave used to be a regular Saturday chore, until we got a microwave splatter guard.  Turns out all you have to do is cover the food to keep it from splattering all over the place!  I got mine at Walmart for under $10 (click }here{ for one on Amazon).  We keep the cover in the microwave all the time, and toss it into the dishwasher or rinse it off in the sink when needed.  The inside of the microwave stays clean - marvelous!

There you go - no rocket science at all here, but sometimes it's the simplest things that have the greatest impact.  Getting new school supplies equals squaring the corners and operating on a little bit tighter schedule around here, and our relaxed standards are about to be left behind along with the triple digit temperatures.  Maybe I'll find that housekeeping high gear after all.

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Tiger is Really a Cat : Beginning a New Homeschool Year

In my entire life, I've had one dream that I remember vividly and know exactly what it meant.

Even though I'm not really into dream interpretation, this is a dream that I treasure because it was so clearly relevant when I had it, and quite frankly I can use the reminder more often than not, even now.

The dream begins and I'm walking into a massive indoor/outdoor marketplace.  The market has an international feel, and everything is intriguing and interesting and familiarly unfamiliar.  I notice that people seem to be increasingly agitated as I move further into the market, and eventually, people are running past me in terrified sprints toward the exit.

Somehow, I come to understand that there is a tiger loose and prowling through the market.
And somehow, the person who has to get the tiger out of there ... is me.

image credit:  "Tigress at Jim Corbett National Park" by Sumeet Moghe / Wikipedia

I'm scared.  I don't want to tackle this tiger.  I don't know how to tackle this tiger.  But it's up to me to do it.

I reach the back of the market, and there's the tiger, pacing between the stalls.  How do you capture and subdue a tiger?  You grab it under the forelegs, hug it close, lift it off the ground, and start walking, of course.  It's big - as big as me - and not easy to control as it whips around.  But I know I have to get it out of the market, so I hold on tight and keep on walking.

After the initial struggle, something strange begins to happen:  the tiger slowly begins to shrink.  I still think I'm carrying a huge tiger, but little by little, it goes from full grown tiger to an overgrown cat that fits perfectly in my arms.  It continues to squirm, but by the time I reach the door of the marketplace, the animal is completely manageable, and I'm bemused to find that what once was a big tiger now looks a lot like Garfield the Cat.

I had this dream in mid-August a few years into our homeschooling journey.  I was preparing to teach first and second grades, and had a nineteen-month-old and a new baby.  I was still figuring out the whole homeschool thing, unsure of how to juggle teaching two different grades at once and keep up with a toddler and a nursing baby.   I was overwhelmed by the vast array of curriculum available, not to mention my hopes and dreams and high expectations.  I'd ordered all my books but was afraid to open the boxes.

Do you see?  Homeschool is the tiger.  Before the school year begins, as you contemplate all the moving parts, it does seem utterly impossible.   It seems impossible, that is, until you start.  You lean into the year, grab your books and school supplies and lesson plans, and you begin.  And before you know it, your students are counting by 9's and reading chapter books ... or solving quadratic equations and writing papers.

This one's for my fellow homeschool moms who are gearing up for another school year - or maybe the first homeschool year - and it feels like you're tasked with wrestling a tiger.  

There's still a lot to learn, but you'll figure it out. 
You may not be completely ready, but it doesn't have to be perfect.
It seems too big, but just take one day at a time, you can do it.
It feels like it's too much (I know!)  - but you can handle it. 

 Don't let the tiger scare you.

We can totally do this.  It's going to be a great year!