12 August 2016

Why I’m Giving Up Blogging {and What I’m Doing Instead}

Long before this blog existed, way back in the pre-Agent days, I used to keep a handwritten diary. And every once in a while I would clear it out—literally remove and shred pages that didn’t seem to speak to me anymore. Once I had “worked through” something, destroying evidence of the thought process became almost cathartic. 

I recently did that {virtually} with this blog. I “shredded” {via the delete button} approximately 180 entries. A few were among my most popular posts {at least according to page views}. But they didn’t seem to represent “me” anymore. 

Not that what is left is a perfect reflection, either—sometimes the arrogance of Past Me makes Current Me cringe.

Since this blog's inception—ruthless page cutting notwithstanding—I have written increasingly more each year . . . until this year. In 2015 I posted 83 times, or roughly once every 4 days. It’s already mid-August and so far for 2016 I’ve only shared 18 posts. I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere near that average again.

And I’m totally okay with that. 

I’ve gone through “dry spells” before, and experienced the inevitable writer’s block, but this is different. A friend once explained it {wisely, I’d say} like this: Maybe I write more when I need to process things, and not having anything to write about is actually a good thing, as it would imply I’m feeling confident and content with life. Maybe I simply don’t need the reassurance of making my writing visible.

I don’t want blog anymore. I just want to write.

For some time I’ve felt this space edging away from a “helpful, shareable, advice” tone and toward more of a “personal journal writing" feel. Basically, I no longer want to write for an audience.

While I’ll be {at least temporarily} keeping this blog set to “public” and continuing to use its related social media pages, I’ll be moving forward with the intent of updating this space for me; sharing posts with the intention of gaining feedback from others will not be a primary objective. {If it ever was. Self-promotion was never exactly my thing.}

I feel a twinge of disappointment to be pressing publish on this one, but I think it’s the best decision for now.

11 August 2016

A Simple Life

This time of year especially, with the new school year about to begin, most everyone we know tosses two words into every single conversation:

So. Busy.

And I don’t relate. At all.  Because we are—can I say this out loud?—decidedly not busy. By choice. And we like it that way.

For the most part, our family lives in relative “simplicity” and I do consider this a worthwhile goal. This might seem surprising given that we are an active duty military family that moves every few years, are raising three young kids, homeschooling, and travel frequently. Simple, of course, does not equal easy. But our day-to-day existence feels un-rushed, un-complicated, and un-busy.

We intentionally have lots and lots of breathing room in our lives. Oh, we still Do The Things. But, we are extremely selective about what Things make it into our routine.

Quite honestly, our unhurried homeschooling schedule is pretty sweet. We don’t mind staying close to home most days, and we like the steady rhythm of our days. Our general rule before adding any regular event to our calendar is to ask, is this activity worth disrupting our week?

This is an anomaly in a world where non-stop busy-ness is worn like a badge of honor. I’m not saying what we’re doing is better. I’m saying I think many people forget they have options.
Agents chilling at the park
I am acutely aware of how fortunate we are to be able to orchestrate this lifestyle. My husband is our sole income provider and I am our primary childcare provider and this works out well both financially and logistically. I must acknowledge how privileged it is to be able to say, we choose to do this or we choose to not do this when our family dynamics are what they are.

I realize some folks truly don’t have a choice. People for whom “busy” is a way of surviving . . . the ones working two or three jobs, raising kids without a partner or family support, taking care of aging parents, juggling childcare, just trying to make ends meet and get by.

Let’s face it, though: for most people being busy is a luxury. A self-imposed, too many good things to choose from, take advantage of every opportunity, can’t say no, luxury. People confuse I have to with I get to. We complain about having too many extracurricular activities to choose from, and then expect empathy for our purposely over-scheduled lives.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s impossible to choose simplicity unless your life is relatively carefree and basic necessities are not a worry. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt. I’m also not going to argue the merits of individual activities and schedules, or suggest that everyone needs to personally go all minimalist.

I’m just lending a voice to the (apparent) minority who do not over-schedule, do not stress fitting it all in, and do not mind the silence . . . all while being cognizant of the circumstances that make such “choices” possible. We’re out there, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of our current culture, we’re doing just fine.

10 August 2016

Homeschooling Update: So Far, So Good

We are roughly eight weeks into our current homeschooling year, having started mid-June. {We school year round and usually “grade up” in early July, but decided to be all wild and crazy and get going earlier this year.} We have been pretty good about keeping our daily rhythm consistent, and our transition to 5th grade {Agent E}, 3rd grade {Agent J}, and 1st grade {Agent A} has been relatively smooth.

As far as a day-to-day plan, we do math, language arts, and Spanish every morning. This looks a little different for each Agent because of grade level, but generally they all work on these subjects at the same time. Then we read a few books together.

We don't follow a curriculum for math or language arts, just work on grade-level appropriate topics from a variety of workbooks. All three Agents also enjoy independent reading throughout the day. For Spanish, Agent E is using Duolingo and Berlitz, while Agent J {and to some extent Agent A, although he's not as into it} is having more luck with Mango.

A current favorite math series is Sir Cumference, which we also read last year and the year before. But, they are so fun and I think the Agents get more out of them with each consecutive read-through. {We actually have several book series in all subjects that we tend to re-read as the Agents grow. Basher Books are another favorite.} We often do our Greek mythology readings in the mornings, too, just because they are fun read alouds that all three Agents enjoy. 

Then in the afternoons we tackle our other core subjects, including geography, history, and science {Monday, Wednesday, Friday}; and health, art, music, and world religions {Tuesday, Thursday}. While we do some reading on each subject with Agent A, my goal for him right now is exposure not mastery. I try to have a variety of books available on the subjects we’re studying, and read a few of the “simpler” ones with Agent A and then spend some time with just the girls reading a few more in-depth books on the same subjects.
My lovely students at a rest stop somewhere in Pennsylvania
Our current geography study is climate and weather. Right now we’re on different types of storms {hurricanes, tornadoes} and lightning. Soon we’ll be spending some time on climate change, which is a topic the Senior Agents are very interested in.

We decided to divide history this year into specifically American history {currently we’re covering patriotism and citizenship; elections; and symbols, like the flag and the Statue of Liberty} and world history {currently we’re in the middle of the crusades}.

Science continues to be a favorite subject. For now we are introducing basic chemistry concepts as well as exploring Agent E’s favorite topic: human evolution. We've also been reading several books about the Big Bang, and Agent E is in the middle of The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins. Our ongoing mammals study has turned our attention to big cats for this quarter.

We just finished our human body study that we began last year for health. At the beginning of this year, we wrapped up the final section of our spine book {Mind and Personality} and now we have moved on to studying emotions. We are also big fans of the Robie H. Harris books on the body and growing up.

For art and music we are continuing to work through our spine books {The Children’s Book of Art and The Children’s Book of Music, both published by DK.} We have also read several sections from the 13 Artists series, and plan to read more. I don’t always include Agent A in all of our art and music studies, as it’s a lot of history and theory. Instead, all three Agents participate in “art time” a few times a week {collages are a current favorite} and we try to listen to different types of music and sometimes look at an interesting musician biography.

Agent E plays the recorder and the keyboard, and wants to learn guitar. Agents J and A are not particularly interested in instruments at this time, but then again neither was Agent E until more like the beginning of 4th grade.

After spending a good part of last year discussing world religions, including detailed studies of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism {as well as some “lesser known” faiths and aboriginal religions}, we are winding down our individual studies and looking more at big picture stuff. We’ve spent some time comparing similarities in the different religious mythologies, as well as looking at rituals, rites of passage, and symbols. It’s definitely a fascinating subject, and the girls really like the book we have been reading, What Do You Believe?

And that is pretty much what we’ve been up to the past two months or so. As usual, we don’t have a lot of outside activities, but we’re okay with that. We did travel twice in the last few months; once to visit relatives and once for a long weekend in New York City. Hoping to incorporate more travel as the school year continues.

01 August 2016

The Good Enough Fitness Plan

Nearly a year ago {September 2015} I wrote about my wishy-washy attitude toward fitness and professed plans to get it together by developing a more positive outlook. My “plan”—if you could call it that—was basically to make small, incremental changes that would be simple {and relatively painless} to incorporate into my daily routine. 

Of course, cultivating new rituals is never an easy feat, especially when part of you just doesn't care. It can be difficult to find true motivation when other things in your life seem so much more pressing.

Despite my reluctance, I did eventually make “fitness" a habit {sort of} and what I’ve learned can be summarized as follows: 

My overall motto remains: I like eating more than I dislike exercise. Food deprivation is not an option for me. If I want to keep things balanced, I must move my butt regularly.

While I don’t deprive myself of the yummy goodness I crave, I also don’t overdo. I used to consistently eat until I felt uncomfortably full. Often I kept eating not because I was still hungry, but because what I was eating was just so damn good. {Taco night, anyone?} Now I am much more aware of the difference between needing and wanting more food.

I still hate cardio. In fact, the only “cardio” I do that I could speak of is walking laps around the neighborhood. Does that even count? Could that even be considered a legit workout? I have my doubts, but I figure it’s at least better than sitting on the front porch scrolling through Twitter.

Those little changes add up. I lightened up on sweetners in my drinks. I became more likely to pause before going back for seconds. I automatically reach for water sooner rather than later. I start each day with exercise {meaning I do it sometime before I get breakfast for the Agents, not necessarily at the crack of dawn or the same exact time each morning}.

What I weigh in pounds actually means very little. Oh, I still keep track, and I can tell you how much I’ve lost: an underwhelming 7 pounds. But I don’t care. Because honestly, the primary focus was never losing weight. {Although I admit it is nice that my clothes that were borderline yikes this seems snug can I even still make this work are becoming more yeah I could totally still rock this.}

Consistency is more critical than intensity. For me, anyway, it is more important that I’m doing some type of physical activity every morning—any kind of exercise really—even if it’s only 10-15 minutes. What I’m doing {weights, yoga, squats in the living room} matters considerably less.

No food is off limits, and sometimes I purposely slack on working out. I never say, oh I can’t eat that. If I want some particular food I have some and if I don’t I pass. I rarely exercise when traveling, but I don’t find it particularly difficult to get back in the swing of things once we return. 

I can totally do this. Now that I’ve made this a part of my routine—my morning ritual if you will—I know that I can sustain it. I may not be dropping sizes or shedding significant pounds, but I genuinely like that fitness is on my radar most days. And that was the goal all along.

15 June 2016

First Day of School!

Today we officially began the 2016-2017 school year. I’m looking forward to a fun year with a 5th grader, 3rd grader, and 1st grader.

Yes, I know it’s June. Yes, I know most schools just ended for the year; in fact, schools in our district go until next week. But when you choose to school year round, none of that really matters.

We ended the previous school year in late May, and after a three-week hiatus we are ready to go at it again. Now that we’ve been homeschooling for a while {this will be our sixth year} we have gotten pretty comfortable with our routine. We’ve tried taking a longer “summer break” in the past, and it fizzled for many reasons.

So far so good for day one. During “morning school” the Agents all did some math, language arts, and Spanish, and then we read from a few books together {including A Is for America, Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and The Gods and Goddesses of Olympus}. After some play time, reading, lunch, keyboard practice {Agent E} and more play time, we went outside for about an hour, then came into have “afternoon school,” which covered geography, history, and science. {We focus on these three subjects on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; on Tuesdays and Thursdays we turn our attention to health, art, music, and world religions.}

The Agents were all super excited to get started today, especially sweet Agent A, who is so very happy to be a “big" first grader.

If you’re wondering what it is we actually do as far as subjects/lessons, I’ve written about 5th and 3rd grade here and 1st grade here. I’ve also shared what a typical day looks like for us here.

26 May 2016

2016-2017 Homeschool Plans: 1st

This week we are officially “closing out” our 2015-2016 homeschool year and preparing to take a short break before all three Agents move up a grade. Year-round schooling works well for us, and after a few weeks without our comfortable routine, we’ll all be ready to get back into the swing of things. {I wrote about what that will look like for my 3rd and 5th graders here.}

My youngest student, Agent A, will be leaving kindergarten behind and heading into 1st grade. Following is a general outline of what we plan to do. It’s more detailed than what I would likely plan if we were not in a state that had such particular requirements for homeschooling early elementary, but it is what it is.


Primary focus areas for math will include the following:

  • addition and subtraction
  • number sense and place value
  • greater than/less than
  • time and calendar
  • skip counting
  • word problems

Legos and Cheerios are great for illustrating early math concepts. For written work we like the workbooks published by Workman, SchoolZone, and Bendon.

Language Arts

Our 1st grade language arts will be broken down into four main areas:
  • reading {non-fiction, fiction, poetry, fables, folk tales, fairy tales, mythology}
  • comprehension {understanding what is read, being able to discuss it, using context clues}
  • introduction to mechanics {grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, vocabulary, sentence structure}
  • handwriting practice
Mostly Agent A’s language arts “curriculum” will simply involve reading a lot. He learned to read simple texts just before his 5th birthday {so, October-ish last year} and has progressed to early chapter books. {Honestly, he’s capable of more—probably Magic Tree House level stuff with some help—but we’re still in the but it’s so long with so many words! phase.} Primary sources of written work will include Workman Publishing {1st grade reading and writing} and Brighter Child {handwriting, language arts grade 1}.


I’ve decided to have Agent A participate while his older sisters study Spanish, so he will be following along with their Berlitz CDs and books. I’m sure he will want to incorporate our Little Pim DVDs, books, and vocab cards as well. Definitely going for exposure not mastery at this stage, and unlike my 3rd and 5th graders I will not have him do any written work just yet.


I’m still undecided on this, but I think what I will do for geography with Agent A is simply have him study the same topics that my 3rd and 5th graders are working on, just at a different level with age-appropriate books. So our focus areas for the year will be climate and weather, ecosystems, and human geography. I also purchased this very cool First Encyclopedia to use as a spine, mostly for geography and history {an overview of people and cultures} although it also includes some science, art, and music. 

American History

For our spine this year we will be using the United States Encyclopedia, in part because the simple layout and state-by-state organization means I can easily work on this subject with all three Agents together. We will probably enjoy a re-watching of Liberty’s Kids as well, and hopefully Agent A will show more interest this time through. {I think they all get a little more out of it each time we view it.} For 1st grade, I do not plan to teach world history or world religions as separate subjects as I do with my older students.


I intend to include Agent A in our mythology studies this year. I think he will enjoy the stories, and so we will read together from the Treasury of Greek Mythology each week. {We plan to read one story a week and supplement with additional books from the library.}


Unlike geography and history, I will probably not simply follow along with what the girls are doing for science, with the exception of our mammals study. Instead I plan to offer more of an overview of general science terms and topics, including reading about the various science topics outlined in the aforementioned First Encyclopedia. We will also make use of the Read and Find Out Science series (levels 1 and 2) that the girls enjoyed at that age, as well as the book Creature Report: Sunlight, Twilight, and Midnight Zone Ocean Animals {aka, the Octonauts' guide to sea animals}.

Health and Physical Education

Our state guidelines require that at every grade level we teach "alcohol, drug and tobacco misuse; highway safety and traffic regulations, bicycle safety; and fire and arson prevention” but they do not specify much past that. So, we will include these topics, as well as a more general overview of self care, nutrition, and safety at home and in the community. I do not have any particular spine books lined up for these topics. As far as physical activity, let’s just say that’s not an issue when you have a jumpy five-year-old who lives for the outdoors.

Art and Music

For art we will look at select famous artists and styles of art, as well as an introduction to art history. Of course we will also incorporate tons of creative art play {i.e., mess making}. For music we will have a similar agenda: select famous composers, musical instruments, an overview of music history, and listening to a variety of musical pieces. I do not plan to use spine books here either, although I may try to “follow along” a bit with what the girls are doing, just at a different level.

As with my 5th and 3rd graders, we’ll work on math, language arts, and Spanish every morning, and the other subjects in the afternoon a few days each week. I’m not exactly sure how that is going to come together logistically, as this year most of Agent A’s kindergarten work was pretty free range and random, so this will be my first year with an “schedule” for all three kids. It will be a work in progress—like everything else—but this will give us a good starting point.