Monday, December 29, 2014
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Our start was rocky, as everyone adjusted to the new world order. My scramble to form a plan and routine, since the decision came quickly, didn't help matters. Some days are still rocky -- one child may find her toes more fascinating than her math, while another seems to enjoy the view from time out -- but I see improvement. Our days are still busy, but not rushed; they are full, but not burdensome.
But why the initial change of heart? There was no single reason, but rather a combination of different things, briefly listed here:
[Disclaimer: These reasons are very specific to our family. They are not meant as blanket statements about the pros and cons of a traditional versus home school. I would not suggest that anyone home school their children unless they feel called to do so.
Also, our decision is unrelated to the quality of education in Maryland, which is solid and filled with wonderful teachers. In truth, when I found out that Isaac could have had the same kindergarten teacher as Anna, I seriously considered sending him, after all. Still do, some days.]
(1) Traditional schooling takes a huge chunk of time. Ironically, we considered this the main benefit not so long ago. Imagine how much could be accomplished on a day without children! I could get a job, get in a decent workout at the gym, or even dust all those hard-to-reach baseboards. I anticipated my own world opening wider, but at the same couldn't shake the feeling that our kids' worlds were about to get smaller. There are many non-academic pursuits we wanted to incorporate, including bible study and physical activity. Adding in homework, downtime, eating, and sleeping, we anticipated more busyness and less quality time as a family.
On a broader scale, it was increasingly difficult to plan family visits. As I'm sure you're aware, air travel is very expensive and horrible, so when someone is flying somewhere to see somebody we want to maximize our time with them.
(2) Physical activity. As in, not nearly enough. Anna's school offered only one outdoor recess per day, and none at all if the weather was cold or wet. As a result, half the year there was no outdoor recess. As for physical education, one per week seemed insufficient -- particularly given the lack of recess.
I'm not saying we do laps around the neighborhood now, but even on poor weather days we incorporate plenty of bouncing, tumbling, jumping, and wiggling. We also feel freer to sign up for soccer, gymnastics, etc., because our days are less rushed.
(3) Social activity. There are two aspects to this. First, I didn't feel there was enough social interaction or friendships developing at school for my extroverted daughter, perhaps due to lack of free time during recess. Second, as a family we were not building a community through her school. No doubt, my introverted nature contributed to this lack. In contrast, the home school group we attend is composed of kids from all ages, and it's small enough that I know the parents and they know us. And again, we feel freer to be part of extra-curricular social groups (e.g., scouts, Awana) without feeling over-scheduled.
(4) Even if home schooling is a bust, I won't regret the time spent together. This point was made by my dear friend Christina, whose children are also home schooled. Her words tipped the balance for us this summer.
(5) Character. Every child is so different, making it tricky to figure out what your particular one might need as they grow. At this point, ours needed more time their family. Anna in particular reminds me of a green bean seedling, growing strong and straight at first, but risks becoming too tall too fast if planted outside before it's ready.
(6) I felt called. When you feel called you pray, discuss, read scripture, and follow through if everything points that direction. It did, so we followed through. This is really the crux of the matter. Despite the reasons listed, there is much that is illogical about our decision to home school. To wit, the financial cost. We certainly could have used the money from my employment: nicer house, better vehicles, airline tickets to see family etc. But I felt called. And now I have that deep sense of joy and peace that only comes when you follow the call. Yes, our decision was swift, but no less thought out or accurate or prayed over, for that.
Friday, July 18, 2014
(2) House hunting is horrible. I've seen things I've liked, but I'm no good when it comes to balancing tradeoffs. There are no perfect homes - with whose flaws can I live?
(3) In my continuing saga to make everything as complicated as possible, we have decided to home school. (More on this later.)
(4) Personally, I would like to begin H.S. in August, so that the kids don't need to attend public school at all. We'd be changing school districts anyway. Jon is not convinced of this decision - he feels they should start out in school so that I get free child care while packing. It is today's mission to gather enough information to persuade him.
(5) Weather wise, it feels like a Canadian summer lately. So nice. Certainly not pool weather, though.
(6) When viewing properties, my head continues to be turned by bright, shiny things (faucets! new appliances! shiny floor!). This is unwise, so I'm utilizing a 40 point checklist to write down information about more substantial things. One problem: my handwriting is horrible.
So, lots of changes/decisions/etc. etc. etc.
Overwhelmed, but on-task.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
This is going to be a "catch up" post. There's been a lot percolating around here, but nothing has really happened. Jon is still waiting for his job paperwork to click through the bureaucratic gears, and so we are still waiting to buy a home. We've actually tried to get a loan pre-approval without the final job offer, but this has not been successful. The uncertainty of the job timing coupled with our upcoming lease deadline, means house hunting could happen very quickly month, or not at all until mid-winter. I am quite done with renting. Beyond the financial loss, we're all just ready to emotionally and physically invest in a home. And plant fruit trees. I really want to plant fruit trees. And then live there long enough to eat some actual fruit.
The big choice is whether we get a single-family house that needs work, or a nicer town home. What do you think?
Pros of single-family:
bigger yard (fruit trees! garden! trampoline!)
possibly more square footage
less concern about neighbors (although right now, we're the loud neighbors)
lower HOA fees
Pros of town home
more kids in the immediate vicinity (due to higher density)
newer, therefore less up front time/effort/money needed for repairs, renovations
very minimal yard maintenance
It's a tough call.
Anna will be sorry to leave our neighborhood. She's made friends and loves to play outside and ride her bike with the pack. There's a variety of ages in the local pack, and I think it's great that she can go outside and play with a variety of kids. Having said that, I do harbor some reticence. Overall they're good kids and some are quite sweet. But they tend to be less supervised and given more freedoms, compared to what we think is appropriate for our own kids. Of course, it is good to have variety in our friends, and I'm so proud of my extroverted daughter for being able to get along with everyone and that everyone likes her. The (potential) issue is that this has become her primary peer group, simply as a function of proximity. Already she is becoming influenced more than she is influencing (her top "must haves" suddenly include an ipod, laptop, and ipad). It may not be a big deal now, but will become a larger issue as she grows. Anna seems too willing to give up control for the sake of social inclusion.
Isaac, on the other hand, is too willing to give up social inclusion for the sake of control. As much as he wants to tag along with his sister, he is reticent to take part in the local pack when there are too many kids. Part of this is his introverted nature, but at the same time he doesn't want to lose control of the situation. The practical result is that he tags along with his sister for a bit until things get too crazy for his liking (which doesn't take much), and then whines and cries that Anna isn't playing with him. The benefit is that he's relatively cautious, and won't follow the crowd just because it's a crowd.
Another interesting difference between the kids is that while Anna is more friend-polygamous, Isaac engages in friend serial-monogamy. Is this gender? intro/extroversion leanings? different stages in the capacity to engage in friendship? I dunno, but it's pretty fascinating to watch.
Isaac is officially a two-wheel biker. I credit the balance bike for this seamless transition. Anna has also improved a lot, and I'd like to find a nearby bike path that we can enjoy together.
After I tune up my own bike, that is. The chain grew a nice layer of rust within 24 hours of moving here, and I haven't fixed it yet. Lazy lazy.
My parents made not one, but TWO visits in the past few months. During one visit we forayed to D.C. for two days. Highlights: excellent food, rolling down the hill in front of the Capitol, seeing the city lit up at night, a near escape from the human crush at the Natural History Museum, watching the kids' interpretive dance in the Lincoln Memorial.
Another time we returned to Amish Country, and the amazing model trains at the Choo Choo Barn. It's very calming out there, although avoiding the buggies on the road can be harrowing.
Jon and I also took a night and visited St. Michael's on the eastern shore, to celebrate my birthday. We biked and kayaked and tasted wine and watched the sunset over the bay. We also spoke in complete sentences and had uninterrupted conversations. I read a book, and slept through the night. Meanwhile, my folks took the kids to Chuck 'E Cheese, in the ultimate example of grandparental sacrifice.
In May, the kids and I piggy-backed onto a conference that Jon was attending in Florida and enjoyed some time on the beach. Anna favored the ocean, while Isaac was more of a pool boy. (Again, that control thing.) We all got sunburned, but this did not diminish our enthusiasm. We explored Sanibel Island and collected shells and ate ice cream. Jon's folks met us there, and we all stayed in a condo in Naples for a couple of nights. It was fantastic to get away and to see more grandparents. I've never considered myself much of a beach person, but this was fantastic. As totems, we left behind Jon's poster tube and our health care cards. Or maybe we just lost those.
The kids finished up school, ending on strong notes and well prepared for next year. One was ecstatic to be done; the other said she was ecstatic but spent the afternoon of her last day sobbing into my lap. Transitions are hard.
More recently, we camped in a rollicking thunderstorm, beginning with a fierce wind that nearly BURNED DOWN THE CAMPGROUND according to Anna, and ended with Isaac passing out (rear end in the air) amidst the chaos of our soaked tent around 11 p.m. In the interim, Jon spent hours bailing out our tent, Anna cried that she wanted to go home and sobbed more when we discussed going home, and Isaac threw around the bedding. But did we give up? Almost. It was close. But we persevered and things sort of dried out. There were night swims, day swims, a boat rental, scootering, and a fish peed on someone. We also had a scavenger hunt, collecting unicorn horns, fairy clothes, a gnome hat, witches wands, the roving eye, ancient writing, and an enchanted troll. Isaac was more interested in fire than water, and my attempts to teach him how to chop wood nearly resulted in the loss of a lower limb. We took a break after that.
So it's been a very busy spring and early summer. We have many more things planned: mystery adventure days, various VBS events, and lots of swimming. In the background lurks many questions and the specter of packing up and moving on. Until something is certain, I will enjoy the moments with my lovely children.
Monday, June 30, 2014
This is the month I began consulting an older age bracket when calculating my target heart rate on the elliptical. Or I would, if the heart rate monitor worked or was accurate. It's the principle of the thing, really.
My brother asked how I felt about entering this new decade, and I was speechless for awhile. And then I was annoyed at myself since I had been pondering that question and still wasn't sure. Bro, here's my answer. In more detail than you expected:
1) I expected to have a better handle on my hair.
2) My knees have not yet given out - a welcome surprise.
3) I don't feel worthy of this decade. Forty seemed like such a mature age. But now I'm forty, and I'm on to the rest of you.
4) This may be the decade I stop disliking cheese. But I'm not promising anything.
5) I do promise to continue disliking avocado.
6) I have more wrinkles and more gray hair. This does not bother me (much).
7) I hope I don't have to wait too many years to make deep and lasting friendships in MD.
8) Sleeping on a thin mattress while camping now introduces creaks and groans in new and surprising body areas.
9) I would like to figure out who I am to be at this time, in this place. I thought I would know by forty.
10) By now I expected to consistently and correctly line up the buttons and button holes on a shirt the first time. More practice needed.
11) My personal chronological age is less important than the age of my children. And that is the crux. This will be a big year, not because of the zero in my age, but because my youngest will enter kindergarten. This is what will change the fabric of our days and lives, and what I look towards with both sadness and pride.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I will begin with the number one fun thing: snow days.
There were a bunch this season and I didn't mind them in the slightest. They offered a reprieve from the busyness, and a chance to revel in mountains of snow. I even broke out the snowshoes one day. Bliss!
Jon's office was closed on a few occasions, which added to the sense of holiday. The only difficult aspect was reestablishing routine on the non-snow days, but no matter. We had a "real" winter which will add to our enjoyment of the spring. A few buds are beginning to poke out, and the crocuses and daffodils are up.
Other positives: Anna's reading is starting to take off. In fact, on March 8th she decided that she could read. I didn't notice much change in her ability, but rather her attitude. Reading is still not her favorite activity, but I'm not pushing it. This is something she's going to have to figure out, and hopefully learn to love, on her own. Nothing crushes enthusiasm faster than being told you have to do something.
Meanwhile, Isaac is learning sight words, and is trying to sound out words on his own. His preschool is more academically challenging than Anna's ever was, and the results show. Nevertheless, I can't believe he'll be in kindergarten next year. He seems so small and young. Age-wise, size-wise, and academic-wise I predict he'll be in the middle of the pack, but since he'll always be younger than Anna I think I will always feel he's "young."
Negatives: As described a couple of months ago, Jon's academic job applications were not fruitful. Not that we heard anything back from the vast majority of schools. Such lack of communication, while status quo, is still extremely annoying. Good-bye academia. In many ways, you are a black hole anyway.
Of course, this still left us with the black hole containing our future. Jon's contract is three years long, and then what? Attempt to continue this work as a contractor? Search for industry jobs? Perhaps explore the parallel universe of engineering faculty positions (they tend to appreciate actual work experience)?
After praying, and fretting, and wondering we developed a plan about three weeks ago: Jon would selectively look at engineering faculty positions in the summer/fall, and then industry jobs around January. Target markets: North Carolina, Denver, New Mexico, Calgary, Salt Lake City.
I liked this plan. It provided some hope to my Maryland-weary heart. People, I just do not like it here. It's not particularly pretty, it's not particularly interesting, it's very expensive, far from family and friends, and the humidity kills me in the summer. Furthermore, it continues to be very hard to make connections with people. On the whole we continue to feel like foreigners in a foreign land.
Back to a positive: This last challenge may be mitigated by our new church. It's relatively young, which means that it is not filled with generations of families, and thus has some skill at integrating newcomers. Furthermore, the preaching and theology seems solid. You would think finding a church that meets those criteria wouldn't be hard to find but, it was an arduous search. I am relieved it is over, and hopeful that we may begin to build a solid community.
The question of community is critical since our future took a surprising turn about two weeks ago. As Jon was leaving work one evening, he received word that he had 24 hours to decide whether he wanted to apply for a permanent position. The process of being approved for a permanent position is generally a long and painstaking process. But none of that applied in this case. Occasionally, such bolts of lightning do emerge from the Mt. Olympus that is the upper echelons of management, but not often. This situation, along with a few other details and a fair amount of prayer, led Jon to apply for the position. We are now awaiting the slow wheels of bureaucracy to process the paperwork and finalize the appointment. A "hurry up and wait" situation.
My feeling, when Jon first told me the news, was one of relief that all questions were now answered, followed closely by annoyance that I felt relief, and then grief that my hope of moving back west was not to be. I still can't believe that this is it. And yes, I am well aware that other left turns may be awaiting us in the future - turns leading back west. Such turns may be awaiting you, too. But we tend not to plan on them, because we need to live where we are at. Therein lies my struggle. Perhaps others could continue to live in one place while hoping to move elsewhere, but I cannot hold two realities in my head - my emotional struggles in the past 1.5 years testify to that. I need to be here, now. So, I am once again grieving the loss of the life that I had and wanted to have again, and trying to process the implications of what being here means. Jon and I have talked about those implications a bit, but concrete details are lacking. The wheels of bureaucracy are indeed slow, so while everything has changed, nothing has yet changed.
I don't doubt our choice to stay. And over the next few weeks and months I'm sure I'll be able to see more clearly the positives and benefits of our situation. But not yet. Right now I'm allowing myself to be sad, and that's okay.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Despite all the white stuff, the roads were surprisingly clear when we left to visit Jon's sister and her family this weekend. Much had melted, and I guess people were still digging themselves out in most areas. After debating whether or not to travel at all, we managed to shave 45 minutes off our long drive. Hurrah! We had a refreshing weekend with family, and it was a pleasure to see the kids together. This chaos of cousins made the most of their time, so much so that I barely saw my children. A good break for everyone, I think. Anna does girly things with our niece, Minecraft with her oldest cousin, media with the other, and mayhem with everyone. Isaac specializes in mayhem, peppered with a bit of media. Volumes and treats were up, sleeping and order were down, fun was had by all. Except the cats, possibly.
Meanwhile, Jon and I benefited from real, adult conversation. And by "real" I mean lacking in superficial small talk. We commiserated on the west-to-east conversion, the plethora of snow days, and the challenges of moving in general. It was nice to talk with people that have similar experiences, and simply to talk with other adults.
It was also a good opportunity to talk out our current church situation, and get some different perspectives. In brief, after a lot of prayer and deliberation, we have elected to seek out a new church. The one we've attended since arriving has great teaching and Christian education, but it has been hard to get to know people. Such difficulties aren't unique to this church, of course. Any such institution lacking an explicit mechanism for incorporating new members will present integration challenges. The simple fact, pointed out by many who give thought to such matters, is that individuals have a finite number of meaningful social connections that they can maintain. When one has lived in an area for awhile it's likely that those connections are filled. Some churches are good at connecting people who are new to an area or a community, while some are better at supporting the people they already have. A church that fits the latter profile won't grow, but maybe that's okay. A single church can't be everything to everyone.
And so, we are searching for a church home. My hope is that we haven't completely exchanged good teaching/education for community, but after investigating and visiting a few churches it may be that we have. I hope we can find a congregation in the vicinity that balances these things. I think that would go a long way to helping me feel settled here.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
This ever-changing schedule highlighted the perfect timing our minivan purchase. Since I am looking after one of Isaac's preschool classmates a few mornings a week, we consistently needed room for three car seats as soon as the winter semester began. I thank God for taking care of this relatively small need, since it reminds me that He has our larger needs in mind, too. I need that reminder right now.
A year and a half ago, I packed a box of kitchen things and labelled it "storage." There was room enough to fit my waffle iron, so I popped that in the box. We could live without a waffle iron for one or two years, I figured. Over time, in a weird way, the waffle iron became imbued with symbolic meaning. My plan was to leave my storage boxes alone until we moved somewhere more permanently. The waffle iron would be unpacked in a new home filled with possibilities, and what better way to celebrate than with pools of syrup trapped in square, edible boxes?
But today, sitting here in my p.j.s (schools closed!), I officially pronounce us here. As in, we are not going anywhere. As in, we are staying in Maryland. As in, the whole job search thing didn't work out.
I feel very sad about this. I feel sad for Jon, for whom an academic position would have been an excellent fit for his gifts and talents. I feel sad for me, since Maryland still fails to make my Top 10 Places to Live. I feel sad for the kids, since our home(s) will lack a sense of permanence for awhile. I feel sad for us as a family, since building a community is very hard and our usual venues for such things (e.g., church ) are not panning out. I feel sad for Jon and I as a couple, since the greater purpose we had envisioned must be replaced and we're unsure with what to replace it with.
No doubt there is a silver lining here somewhere, but I'm tired of looking for it. I need some time and space to practice looking down instead of ahead. It's a hard habit to break, but hopefully freeing as well.
So I will unpack the waffle iron here, in this temporary place. And I will make lots of waffles. But this year I will add chocolate chips to remind myself to focus on the little things. Perhaps extra chocolate is the silver lining.
Friday, January 3, 2014
After a week long visit, Mom returned home on New Year's Day, so an elevated mood was welcome. She left just ahead of the storm, although we would not have minded if she had been stuck here. We are always very sad when Grandma leaves, and this time seemed particularly poignant. Perhaps I am simply reluctant to return to the real world after winter break. (So, three cheers for a well timed snow day.)
It was a fun filled Christmas, with the right balance of activity and nothingness and productivity. Early on we saw Frozen as a family, and while one could offer the usual critiques to this Disney film, I appreciate the unique way it handles relationships.
On Jon's birthday, he and I went to see The Desolation of Smaug, and it was.... okay. I found the story interesting, but the fight scenes tended to drag on and on and on and on. How many ways can one fight orcs? Do we care? I vote for more necromancers and dwarfs chanting lore. Obviously, I am not a Hobbit purist and I find myself mystified at those that who object to the lack of ... what? "veracity" that this film demonstrates? It's about elves and hobbits and dragons.
Mum arrived in the afternoon on Christmas day, so we divided the gift opening into two days. There were many benefits to this, as you can imagine. I know my Mom appreciated being part of the fun on Boxing Day (Christmas Two!), although it did prompt Isaac to ask whether there would also be a Christmas Three. (Turned out that there was, thanks to a foray to Target on the 27th and Mum's undying desire to shower gifts upon her grandchildren. I used to be uptight about this, but I have mellowed somewhat. After all, the time when the kids' eyes will light up with relatively simple pleasures is indeed a short one.) For the dinner, I was unable and unwilling to procure a goose for less than $100, so we went with rack of lamb. More dollars per pound, but less pounds. I was pretty nervous about roasting it - such a finicky piece of meat. Nonetheless we managed to find that thin line between a perfectly medium rare piece, and food poisoning. I may even cook it again.
Thinking of the gifts themselves, the themes of Engineering and Transportation come to mind. The former included the standard Legos, and that category included the Millennium Falcon (For Jon, of course. Death Star next year? Maybe not.) Gifts like a marble run and a demolition lab were also popular. What little boy doesn't like destroying buildings? Anna also received a set from Goldie Blox, which unfortunately is not nearly as fun as the commercial. Overall, I'm happy with these items - they encourage spatial reasoning and logic and experimentation, and the kids enjoy playing with them
For Transportation, there is the electric train procured during Christmas Three. This is the first time Isaac really showed an interest in trains, although it's Anna that builds the tracks. There's also the kid-sized skateboard which will more fun once the snow melts. Of course, having more space to use the board would also be fun, but this isn't Miracle on 34th Street. The biggest contributor to the Transportation theme is the minivan we purchased (on Christmas Three, come to think of it). This was unexpected, since the plan was just to test drive. However, since they had exactly what we wanted, at the mileage and price we requested, it seemed foolish to delay. I am quite happy with the vehicle, although the size will take some getting used to. As will the sticker shock at the gas pump. *gulp* The irony is that now we will be more comfortable on long road trips, but will they will also be less affordable.
We headed to Lancaster County one day - our first big outing with the minivan - and the experience confirmed our purchase decision. Not only did I escape from the tyranny of the back seat, where I would have been squished between two car seats, but I also escaped the pouring rain while wrestling with car seat buckles. Now, the kids can even buckle themselves. It's a brave new world.
Despite the rain and gloom, Lancaster County was lovely. Given our Mennonite background, Mom and I found the historical tour fascinating. She and Dad will likely take a longer bus tour when they visit next time. Among the interesting factoids was the Amish aversion to electricity, as opposed to modern conveniences per se. For example, many homes have lights and relatively modern appliances, but all using propane or pneumatic power. Many communities have experts whose job it is to adapt such things for propane, etc. Thus, I suspect that somewhere in Pennsylvania there is someone working by candlelight in the dead of night, trying to adapt an iPod to propane.
The highlight for the kids was the Choo Choo Barn. The detail and sheer number of animatronics on display kept their attention for a long time. Favorite scenes included a recurring house fire, which is promptly doused by fire fighters and a little working hose. There were also 55 hidden Santas, and Anna was convinced she found all them save for Super Santa (with cape) who eluded us. Our departure from the area seemed to coincide with the conclusion of the Amish worship services, so many a buggy were encountered on the way home. I guess that is in keeping with our Transportation theme.
So with that, the New Year begins and we are curious to know what it will bring. A move is certain. Whether in-town or out of state remains unclear. Any positive responses to Jon's faculty applications will likely be received this month. If we remain here, my time will be split between preparing for a local move, as well as thinking through career possibilities for myself. No resolutions, but I pray that contendedness and thankfulness are threads that will tie together the months ahead.