homeschooling, learning, writing

My Summer of Content

You might think I’ve been on an extended summer vacation, considering how little I have blogged the last month or two, but other than our single dismal camping experience we have not taken a “summer vacation” per se. What has been a vacation for me
has been the respite from homeschooling and all that it entails. While we lean towards a more relaxed type of homeschooling, there is still the planning for each day, and the implementation, and I am the one who has always been responsible for that. David and I expect that this year will likely be the same except that more of the implementation will be on him while I pick up additional writing projects.

This summer, the summer of 2011, will go down in the book of my life as my summer of great content. Not content, as in what it contained necessarily, but content, as in very happy and fulfilling. After a long winter of discontent; grieving my mother and having my grandson diagnosed with cancer, it is a much-appreciated change to experience a summer that I will always be able to look back on and say, “Now that was quite a summer.” Besides the obvious; Jacob is nearing the end of his cancer treatment, David getting an all-clear at his five-year-checkup, and me learning to live without a mother while discovering I carry a part of her inside, there are these reasons for my joy:

I’m now writing features for the local newspaper, and find that I actually enjoy interviewing local residents and business people. When my innate shyness gets the best of me, I do something fairly odd, but that works for me: I pretend for a moment that I am either my mother, or in the case of interviewing five residents of a nursing home, that the interviewee is my mother. I’m not sure why this helps me but I always loved drama and acting and it is easy to pretend for a moment that I am not myself, but the curious and outgoing enigma of a woman that was my mother.  She loved meeting and talking to new people. On her infrequent bus and airplane trips she’d come home with new friends she added to her address book. With this practice in my secret arsenal of social tricks (I also take off my glasses before I do public speaking because then I only see blurry friendly faces) I find myself relaxing and enjoying the interview after that initial ice is broken. Now I look forward to meeting new people and finding stories behind the stories.

I’ve also nearly completed my book this summer. The final two chapters are the two that should have been the easiest to write; one profiling interesting couponers and the last chapter which sums up the “how-to’s” in coupon use in case readers are intrigued enough by the history of avid couponing to want to take it up themselves. I would be fine with leaving that chapter out entirely since others do such a good job of teaching couponing (see Jill Cataldo’s Super Couponing website) but somehow the book doesn’t seem to be complete without at least an overview of couponing. The profile chapter has turned out to be more time consuming and maddening to write than I ever imagined. There is no dearth of couponers to choose from anymore. Just Google the word “Extreme Couponer” and dozens of news reports about couponers pop up. However, my goal is not to feature “extreme couponers,” but instead, a wide variety of avid couponers who have worked couponing into their life in a less extreme manner. I feature rich couponers, middle income couponers, females, males, and several coupon users who have developed an important part of their life around couponing.  Those two chapters are still in the rough draft stages but the rest of the book is mostly complete. (I say mostly because changes in the world of coupons are happening every day, and I am working those changes into the manuscript, and because a publisher is likely going to want further edits.)

This was also the summer I had three essays chosen for publication in the fall; two for future Chicken Soup books and one for a new series God Makes Lemonade. I have submitted other essays and entered several writing contests this summer, as well. In other words, I have really been writing. And that sure feels good.

And then, who can forget the experience of my first writing conference in June, the Cedar Falls Christian Writer conference? I had no idea what I’ve been missing. I am already looking forward to next year’s conference.

Writing-wise, this has been a very productive summer for me.

And it all ends in one week, when school begins.

Not really, of course, but I can’t help feeling a small, but looming dread of a new school year and the mornings that will no longer be mine.

Homeschooling is a lifestyle, I quote another homeschooling mother in an article for next week’s paper. I have to remind myself that it is a lifestyle that includes a lot of flexibility and creativity, and what better way for a homeschooling mother to
show her children that learning is lifelong, than to practice that herself? This summer my children observed me scouring the Internet for pertinent facts and figures to insert into my articles. They’ve watched me juggle bylines with household tasks. They’ve seen me be what I want them to be: creative. And those creative juices won’t just shut off like a switch on August 17th when another school year begins. On the contrary, I’m in the process of organizing a winter writing course for young homeschoolers and will continue to write for the newspaper and finish up my book. One of the greatest things about homeschooling (and having a husband home), is the inherent flexibility that will allow me to leave home a few afternoons a week to do~what else~but writing.

Words of wisdom from my mother’s Memory Book:

Try lots of activities and work when young. Find out what you like to do, what you are good
at and get into doing that- even if it doesn’t pay well. Use your talents.”

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If she were wealthy…

I took home a box of Mom’s notebooks to go through. She had a “dream” book, where she glued pictures from magazines of things she would have liked to use in decorating her home.  She never had the money to do much with those ideas.  I am grateful to my sister Pat that in the last year she made sure Mom’s walls were painted and rugs replaced, and that the colors Mom loved were used.  Some of my best memories this past year involve hours spent at my mother’s house with my sisters painting.   Among  Mom’s papers I found a sheet of paper she had jotted this down:

Oh-
To ride a motorcycle again
to feel the wind in my hair
to hug the one I love
as we ride in the moonlight.

If we had been wealthy
my husband could have worn
wide legged jeans and engineer boots
like the jeans and boots he wore
before his ankle had been smashed.

If we had been wealthy
my husband wouldn’t have been
working for a lumberyard and
sitting on top a load of wallboard
when the truck hit a train track and
the load slid off and injured him.

If we had been wealthy
a policeman wouldn’t have had to
come to notify me my husband
was in the hospital with a smashed leg
and maybe “other injuries.   Did you
know you’re living in a room of a condemned building?”

If we had been wealthy
his leg could have had
special attention a break
needs when it doesn’t heal right
and leaves him in pain and crippled.

If we had been wealthy
my husband wouldn’t have had
to come back to that room
to swelter in the summer heat
with no way to find relief
or eat the proper food.

If we had been wealthy
a pregnant woman like me
wouldn’t have been walking the streets
to find somewhere else to live,
a basement room perhaps, that
would be cool and safe.

If we had been wealthy
But then we wouldn’t have found
Mrs. Nannini who heard our story
and gave us a room with
a fan for $10 a month and food that
she said were their leftovers-ha!

God bless her wherever she is.

~ I feel as if I have gotten a glimpse into my mother’s soul with these words.   She didn’t wish for wealth in order to purchase furs or jewels, just for good medical care for her husband.   And she turned a bad situation into something good and precious by seeing the good in someone who helped them at the time. Next time I am whining about something, I will remember these words. My mother kept copious amounts of notebooks and notes on things ranging from religion to smoking.  She was the epitome of a lifelong learner, and one of the reasons homeschooling appealed to me in the first place. She never stopped learning.

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College Papers Uncovered

In the process of cleaning and organizing my office today I came across several term papers I’d written in college, circa approximately 1982 and 1983, at the University of Northern Iowa. These two in particular piqued my interest:

One was written for my Development of Young Children class and was entitled “Education at Home.”  I began homeschooling in 1993, at least ten years after I wrote this paper in which I promoted homeschooling as a viable educational choice, based mostly upon my extensive research in the college library, since I didn’t know any homeschoolers at the time. I got an A-.

The other paper was a part of a presentation I did on how much a wife is worth, using this paper as a handout. It includes the “cover page” which I drew on and included some favorite sayings about motherhood, a questionnaire inside about housewives, and a detailed list of household duties and how much they would be worth if the wife was paid to do them. Sample true and false questions from the questionnaire;

1. 48% of all mothers with children under six stay at home.

2. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles rates “homemaker” high with a rating of 27.

3. Women in the 1980’s spend much less time at housewok than did women in the 1920’s.

4.A fill-in-the-blank question: Ann Oakley, a radical theorist, believes three things must be abolished to liberate housewives. These three things are:

Answers : 1. True (remember this was approximately 1983) , 2. False (I believe they rated housewife somewhere under fish monger and slightly above ditch digger), 3. False, and 4.  the three things are  the housewife role,  the family, and gender roles.

Why I felt the need to “decorate” my paper is beyond me, but it worked for me so many times, I continued doing it.  This presentation netted me another “A” grade as did a paper for a Psychology of Parenting class that included a poem on the cover page that I wrote about Jean Piaget, who studied human development and mother-infant relationships.  If a student asked my advice about writing a term paper today, I would not even consider advising them to draw pictures or elaborate with poetry, anymore than I would tell someone looking for work to use pastel paper and a funky font for their resume or gel ink pens (scented) for their job applications. Or suggest a writer sending out proposals and queries include something wild and wacky to make themselves stand out from the slush pile. It just isn’t professional.

But it once worked for me, and I find that fascinating.

That, and the fact that I hadn’t even remembered writing about homeschooling or being a proponent of educational choice that many years before I actually joined the ranks of homeschoolers.