February Into March

For such a short month, February sure packed a lot in this year.

February 9th, I received my first short story acceptance! My science fiction story “The Last Defense” will be appearing in the April edition of Empyreome Magazine

I started working on writing and submitting short stories this September, as the school year tends to make the long, sustained effort required for novels tricky. Along with being easier to produce in the midst of homeschooling a fourth-grader and second-grader, short stories have also been a good way to work on improving my writing, most especially to get away from my tendencies toward, uh, wordiness. Also my tendency to give too much explanation and bog the story down.

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.” -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

So I am so pleased to have a story accepted, and hope that it leads to even more improved writing and more acceptances!

That same day, February 9th, Carl received an acceptance letter of his own: Cambridge University accepted his application for their PhD program. Whether we go or not is still dependent on funding, but it’s still pretty thrilling.

Related to that, on the very last day of February, Tuesday the 28th, we bought two plane tickets for Carl and me to go to Cambridge this month to visit, meet people, and get a feel for what life might be like over there. We woke up in the morning with no thought of visiting, and went to bed with the tickets ordered, the girls set to go to Grandma’s while we’re gone, and our heads whirling with adventure. Neither of us have ever been to Britain–I’ve been dreaming of visiting or living there ever since I was a little kid reading the Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit and The Secret Garden and all the rest of those traditional English children’s books. I am thrilled.

I decided the day after ordering the plane tickets that the next Whitney & Davies book will have to be set in Cambridge! I have no plot yet, but at least the setting will be researched in person for a change.

In between all these happenings, we had snow, and we had seventy degree days, we suffered the usual February doldrums, the kids and I went to the MFA with some of our homeschool group, we rested during February break, the kids started taking piano lessons, and we looked forward to spring.

And now it is March! Hello spring, last-of-winter storms, visit to England, and who knows what else!

Two Weeks In

We are (almost) halfway through January! How is the month looking for everyone else?

Here, we’ve had:

Rearranged our living room and can’t figure out why we waited 3.5 years to set it up like this.

Trip to Grandma’s house to finish off our holiday traveling/festivities.

We had snow this past weekend, enough for sledding, and by Wednesday it had all vanished. No one in this household is particularly pleased about this. I want to use my cross-country skis; the kids want to play in the snow; Carl, believe it or not, wants to shovel. Plus we all just prefer winter to be winter. Hmph.

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but the sledding was fun while it lasted. as was throwing snowballs at daddy.

Kids are enthusiastically participating in the Read-Aloud Revival 31 Days Challenge–they have only missed a few days of reading out loud for at least 15 minutes. Gracie, at least, usually goes longer. Joy is more these-are-the-rules-so-we-should-follow-them and so even if she’s at a really good place, she stops as soon as the timer beeps. It’s great for Gracie in building her confidence (she’s a fantastic reader but thinks she can only handle easy books) and for Joy in forcing her to slow down and process what she’s reading (she reads SO FAST that I’m certain she only takes in about 80% maximum of whatever she reads).

I finally passed the halfway point on my current draft of Magic in Disguise, the next Maia and Len book. Technically this is the first book in the Whitney & Davies series, as this is the one that really starts them off on their detecting careers together, but it is the second book about them–Magic Most Deadly, I’ve decided, really works best as a prequel when compared to how I want the rest of the series to go. Is that over-complicated? Sorry. At any rate, every step of the way with this book has been a slog, but the fog is starting to lift. I had it ready to send to my critique partner (which is when I consider a story done the same way a cake is done–all the editing and polishing I do after that is icing and decorating, but the heart of it is finished) last May, and ever since she sent it back to me I’ve been crawling on it. But I’m getting there, and it’s going to be ready for beta-ing by the end of the month, barring any unforeseen accidents like spraining an ankle or some such nonsense (rap wood).

We got back to Classical Conversations (the kids’ homeschool co-op) and back to school in general. We aren’t quite where I’d like to be yet–our morning time keeps getting started late, so we haven’t been able to work in our Shakespeare memorization this semester yet, and schoolwork keeps spilling into our free time in the afternoons–but we’re getting there. It’s always tricky settling back into our routine after winter break.

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working on their nature journals. sunny but windy today!

I am taking a break from refined sugar and wheat for January, in an attempt to break my body of its dependency on both. I know from experience that a little is fine, a lot wrecks me, and thanks to the holidays, I’ve been having a LOT of both. I’ve also started exercising again, something that slid away when I sprained my ankle last May (see above) and never got picked back up. So far, I’m grumpy and sad because of the diet change, but the exercising is going well.

I’ve managed to catalog each of the books I’ve read so far this month in a book journal. Whether that means I’m reading more mindfully is still up in the air.

Getting prepared for the Bible Study I’m co-leading this semester for the women in our apartment building. We’re going to be going through Philippians this semester, which should be great. I’ve discovered somewhat to my surprise that I really enjoy teaching and leading a study, and thanks to Carl, I have commentaries a-plenty at my fingertips. And I can always ask him if there’s any particularly tricky translation issues!

The only other really interesting thing that’s happened this month is that Carl finally convinced me to give Duolingo a try, and I’m diving back into French. Parts of the app really frustrate me (like when you fail a lesson because they expect you to know something they haven’t yet taught you), but overall it’s been fun. I thoroughly enjoyed taking French back in college and have always wanted to get back to it, and so now I am! I’m already wondering what language I should tackle next after this, Russian or Welsh. I desperately wanted to learn both of them in high school, and now I have a chance!

Oh, and I also got to do an impromptu mini-presentation at CC this week–all the kids have to give an oral presentation each week, and this week they got to pick a topic out of a hat. One of the drawn topics was “why are books so important,” and the tutor laughed and asked me if I wanted to take that one, so I said sure. It wasn’t anywhere near as dramatic as my library presentation last March, but it was a lot of fun and made me think how much I’d love to give a proper, adapted version of my “why stories matter” speech at a school or children’s library sometime. Add that one to my dream list!

And that is my mid-January report. Nothing tremendously spectacular, but I don’t want to look back in December and not remember anything about this month, so I’m writing it down even if it seems simple and small. It’s the little moments that add up to a life anyway.

And Poof

… just like that, the summer is gone.

I’m not breaking my heart over its departure. I hate the heat with a burning passion. When it gets 90°F or higher, when you can’t even open the windows at night for a fresh breeze, when the humidity is so high you feel like you are drinking the air instead of breathing it, that’s when I start thinking longingly of February. I don’t function well in heat. At least if I’m cold I can always throw on another layer (it is not unusual for me to be wandering around in a sweater, wool socks, fingerless mitts, a scarf, slippers, and sometimes even a hat, inside. And thinking longingly of knitting myself a shawl. Our apartment is VERY poorly insulated) and drink another cup of tea. When it’s hot I simply flop down and whimper pathetically. My southern-born husband cannot understand this.

So this evening, as I listen to rain (at last! On top of everything else, we had the worst drought I’ve ever seen in this part of the world this summer–the poor farmers) patter outside my window, wearing my cozy sweatshirt with a blanket over my legs, I am practically purring with contentment.

This halcyon state of being won’t last long, I know. The kids and I are already three weeks into school. Our homeschool co-op starts a week from tomorrow, and it is going to be INTENSE this year. This is our second year doing Classical Conversations, Joy is starting the Essentials class this year, and oh boy is it going to be wild. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll balance my Teaching from Rest philosophy with CC’s high intensity program, but we’ll see how it goes. Carl’s off-campus class started last week; the Greek class he’s TA-ing and his thesis start next week. Grace’s ballet begins on Wednesday, Joy’s a week from today. As soon as my darned ankle is fully healed I’ll be trying to get back on the ice once a week. Then of course there is all of the “eek this is our last year here” activities, between hiking and apple picking and spending time with friends and church family, and applications for PhD programs and visas and figuring out how to transfer ourselves to another country next year … Our life is suddenly PACKED.

And somehow or other I have to fit writing in there. One of the ladies who came to my library appearance last spring pulled me aside after church yesterday to ask when the next Whitney & Davies book was coming out. “I don’t want to be a nag,” she said, “I just really can’t wait.” Words to inspire any author to feats of greatness! Thankfully she’s also a homeschooling mom, though her kids are older, so she understood my nervous laughter and confession that I have NO idea when anything is going to happen. She also encouraged me AS a homeschooling mom to let not my own passions take too much of a backseat–it has to happen somewhat when one is in this season, but it does not do to neglect them (or your own needs) entirely. That’s the sort of thing I know in my head, but sometimes have a hard time remembering when I’m in the thick of things.

It was also a lovely reminder that my words and my stories are not simply dropping into the void, that there are people out there who care about my characters and my worlds and want to know what’s going to happen next, and that I do have a responsibility to them, as well, to not neglect those stories for too long. So I will squeeze in the writing when I can, waiting during ballet classes, occasionally letting the dirty dishes sit on the counter, sometimes giving the kids independent math work to do, five minutes here and ten minutes there, little by little, letting it add up.

So if you don’t see much of me here on this blog, or on Twitter or FB this fall, it’s not a bad thing–it means I’m spending my time wisely! (Conversely, if you DO see a lot of me on social media … well, that probably means I’m procrastinating with the things I ought to be doing.)

Happy autumn, friends. May your September be filled with blue skies, crisp days, rosy-cheeked apples fresh-picked off a tree, simmering soups, and plenty of hot tea, good friends, and good stories.

Already Booked (My Life, That Is)

Worked some on From the Shadows today and thought, “Boy, if I could just take one week where I did nothing but write (like I did when I wrote the initial novella), I could have this sucker done.”

Then I looked at our school schedule calendar and saw that we don’t take a week off until mid-October. And that week is already booked for finishing sewing the kids’ Halloween costumes and, if there is any time left after that, making them some fall dresses.

Sigh. I guess pecking away at it here and there, during the evenings and in between math and grammar lessons, will have to suffice.

School Days, Here Again

I am (not really) guiltily sitting in my comfy chair right in the middle of our school day, because Carl has temporarily taken over math class with Joy and Grace is drawing, which doesn’t require supervision. Joy and I, we try our best, but our brains don’t work the same way at all, and nowhere is that more apparent than with math. I do my best to explain things, and she gives me a blank stare; she does her best to follow directions, but I can see she doesn’t really understand any of it; and despite my trusty and well-beloved teacher’s manual, we end up getting stone-walled every time.

(“You’re making it harder for yourself because you’re worrying more about getting the right answer than about learning how to do it,” he just told her, and wow, there’s some life application right there.)

Carl and Joy have much more similar ways of thinking, and so he took some time out of his studies/lunch break from work to sit down with her and help. And even though she’s frustrated because he’s actually making her think through the problems instead of blindly following orders, she’s starting to get it.

(We’re not sure yet about how Gracie’s brain works. I’m starting to suspect it’s on a completely different plane from any of ours.)

School has swooped in and taken over our lives again, both Carl’s school and homeschool with the kids. Joy got about halfway through first grade by the end of the year last year, so we are finishing that up and then will be starting second grade. I love not being tied to the school’s grade system (a bonus of starting a year early with her) so that we can proceed at our own pace, and take eighteen months to get through first grade math if necessary.

Carl is taking a Harvard class this semester, which is pretty cool. That started last week; the rest of his classes start this week. Once again we are changing our rhythm to adjust to his pattern of work-and-class, and figuring out a good balance between school-and-free-play with the kids.

And in the midst of it all, I still try to find the time to tap out a few words here and there. Last night I churned out 3,000 words between 8:30 and 10:30, which was awesome except then my brain wouldn’t shut off and I stayed awake until midnight trying in vain to not keep concocting snappy dialogue and frankly ridiculous plot twists.

It’ll take us (read: me) a little while to get accustomed to the new schedule, but that’s all right. It’s all part of the adventure of seminary-and-homeschooling.

Homeschool Dilemma

Warning: homeschool talk, and nothing else, ahead. If that topic bores you, feel free to skip this post. I won’t be offended. This is mostly to help me sort out my own confused thoughts.

When we are on for homeschooling, I love it. The kids love it. They are learning well, not getting overwhelmed, I am organized and know what we’re doing, we have enough flexibility to roll with a particular topic of interest or go over something that isn’t making sense until it does … it’s the best. It’s fantastic.

Those times don’t happen as frequently as I’d like, though. Most of the time I’m floundering. And I feel like the kids, not to mention their education, suffer from that. I have issues with adrenal fatigue (yes, I know that’s not a “proven medical condition,” but nothing else at all describes my condition even a little, so that’s what I’m going with), and as soon as something happens to throw me off the rails even a little, school and organization and everything else go out the window (I know I’m mixing metaphors, sorry), because it takes all I’ve got just to put one foot in front of the other and meet my family’s most basic needs.

So I’ve been wondering lately if I ought to put the kids in school next year. I don’t want to—I firmly believe that the best home education tops the best public school education by a mile. But am I giving them the best home education? It hasn’t been too bad this year, with Joy in first grade and Grace in preschool/kindergarten … but what about next year? Or the year after? What happens if I slip down into a firmly mediocre home education, what then? Can I still justify keeping them home, especially when the main reason we began homeschooling them in the first place was so they could receive a better education than they’d get in an American public school?

Joy’s HSP-ness (yes, another not-proven designation. Hey, modern western medicine isn’t the be-all and end-all, all right?) was another factor. I was concerned that she would be misdiagnosed as ADD or ADHD if she went to school, or that she’d be so overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that is elementary school that she would just shut down, both very real problems and not (as some of my fears tend to be) simply caused by me over-thinking things.

But she has made huge, huge strides in learning to deal properly with her world this year. I mean, huge. Playing easily with other kids, interacting with other people without prompting, being aware of and responding to the world around her in a healthy way, handling change without melting down … it’s been incredible. And it’s confirmed that my decision to keep her home this year and last year was the right one. But with the strides she’s made, maybe public school wouldn’t be so bad for her next year? Or maybe it would set her back, I don’t know. But she kind of thinks she’d like to try it, which is worth something in my book.

(So does Grace, but I was never worried about Grace’s ability to handle the interpersonal aspects of public school. Gracie is sensitive, but not highly sensitive, and she is much better equipped by nature to deal with controlled chaos: she mostly ignores it.)

All of this seems to be leaning in favor of public school next year. And yet, and yet …

Gosh, we had an awesome day today. Reading, grammar, math, social, science, art, piano … all before noon. (Considerably less than that for Grace, obviously.) Then we went outside and played on the playground after lunch, and Joy conquered all five monkey bars at last, and then came back inside with still loads of time for playing, reading, drawing, doing whatever they want. Chores, even! If every day went like this, there’d be no question in my mind. And what if, instead of things getting worse as time goes by, things get better? Will I be robbing my kids of their best possible education by giving up on homeschooling just because we’ve had a rough couple of years at the start?

Gah. So many questions.

I’m not exactly sure I’ve managed to sort out any thoughts (“Then why have you inflicted this post on us, Louise?” I hear you howl). Except to clarify that I really shouldn’t make any decisions right now.

For any of you who do homeschool or did – do you/did you have these sorts of crises ever? And if so, how do you/did you resolve them? This is one of the worst parts of not having a homeschooling network here. There are plenty of opportunities for the kids to interact with other kids outside of school/homeschool activities. Not so much encouragement for Mom when she starts feeling overwhelmed. So here I am, reaching out to my online network, in hopes of some perspective.

Gramercy, I Cry!

I was never taught much grammar, per se. I figured it all out pretty much on my own, through all the reading I did, and my mom taught me how to assign the names to parts of sentences in middle school, but at that point it was all so instinctive to me that it never really struck. Hence my struggle in basic English classes in college, when we covered grammar – I could write you a perfect sentence, and pick out an imperfect one, every time, but ask me to actually parse it, and I was sunk.

Wait, which one of these is an adjective and which one is a verb again? One is a descriptor and one is an action word … or is it an adverb, and who really cares anyway?

All of which goes into why I am teaching Joy grammar now, as part of first grade, so that it becomes ingrained in her before she’s such a fluent reader that she can’t be bothered to keep track of what is what. And it’s actually helpful to me as well, because after two months of nouns alone, you better believe I am not ever going to forget their definitions now.

Hopefully by the end of first grade, we’ll both be able to perfectly parse a sentence!

Homeschooling: an education for child and parent alike.

Joy’s grammar review this morning.

(Please excuse the bad pun in the title of this post. I can never resist a good homophone – and yes, I DO know what that is. I learned it from Veggie Tales.)