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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.



We're All a Little Mad Here

A Plea to be Sane...

Dear Drivers of the Greater DC Metropolitan Area,

Recently, my sweet fifteen year old girl got her learner’s permit. Her nineteen year old brother got his on the same day, but I only take him to very large parking lots to practice driving. His father and I are going to let the state teach him behind-the-wheel before we try to take him driving in this area. My daughter, though, is learning primarily from us.

 

 

Please, please, please be patient, because I'm writing on behalf of several parents who are teaching their teens to drive. It is the most nerve-wracking thing in the world to let your child have control of the family swagger wagon. If you don't have teens, you probably can't appreciate that, but I urge you to stretch your imagination for a few minutes to go there with me.

I understand that I-95 is a soul-sucking experience. I know, because I used to commute, and it was bad way back in the nineties, and I know it has only gotten worse. My husband still commutes, I hear the traffic reports, and I get it. However, no matter what kind of mind-numbing experience you have just endured on I-95, honking at my precious daughter because she lawfully stopped at a red light is not necessary. Furthermore, exaggerated shoulder shrugs and hand raising only frighten her, which will probably cause her to drive even slower when the light turns green. So, please refrain from that kind of behavior. The extra three minutes at a red light are not going to impact the two hour commute home that you have just suffered through.

While Stafford and the surrounding counties are growing in population astronomically, the roads are not being accommodated at the same rate. Many of them are winding, and are only two lanes wide. I believe the speed limits on most of these types of roads are thirty-five to forty mph. So, if you are going upwards of fifty mph around a blind turn and happen to have to brake abruptly because my daughter is pulling onto the road, the one-fingered salute you hastily flashed at us is really, truly offensive, and not well received by her, her younger sister, or me. We are trying to stay out of the way, believe me. Also, slow down!! 

 

 

Finally, parking lots are for parking. They are neither drag racing tracks nor are those geometric white lines to be ignored. So, if you feel the need to cut through all those white lines at an exaggerated speed, and my daughter, consequently, has to slam on the brakes of our vehicle, don't be surprised when I look slightly incredulous at you. I'm simply trying to not exit the vehicle so that I do not accidentally cut off your oxygen supply. I'm exhibiting self control. I'm saving your life. Furthermore, this situation does not then give you any reason to honk at us, or to squeal your tires to go around us, nor to flash rude gestures at us while yelling out your open windows expletives and unflattering names. Did you not learn in kindergarten that bullying is not acceptable?

In closing, people who operate a motor vehicle should act their age and not like a toddler in the middle of a temper tantrum. Said behavior is so not appreciated by any of the other drivers in this region, especially those that are teaching their children to drive. Slow down. Be patient. Be kind. Avoid rude gestures, especially to ladies... especially to young ladies. 

Manners! Language! It all matters. You can't go wrong with good manners in any life situation, truly.

 

 

Sincerely,
A concerned mother of a teenage driver

PS: Slow down and enjoy the view:)

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Five Must-Have Resources if You Are Thinking of Homeschooling

 

Inevitably, talk turns to homeschooling once people know I participate in said crazy lifestyle. I love to homeschool. I love talking about homeschooling, and I especially love helping people get started with the right information to help them make the best choice for themselves and their families. There is a wealth of great advice “out there” and it is actually overwhelming to know where to begin once the decision to start looking into home education has been made. I know. The strange looks, the incredulous gasps; they all made me feel wierd, too, at first.

First and foremost, the internet (of course) is a fantastic place to start, and here in Virginia we are so lucky to have HEAV. Heave? Like, throw up? Isn’t it funny how acronyms are made, and in hindsight they don’t sound so good? Well, HEAV stands for the Home Educators Association of Virginia. Since the eighties, this organization has been advising and helping parents get answers to their questions about homeschooling. The people who run HEAV are some of the nicest and most knowledgeable people I’ve ever encountered. The website is user friendly and intuitive, and if you can’t get your questions answered online, the office is staffed with people that will gladly help you. HEAV also puts on a conference every year, usually the first or second weekend in June. If you wish to be encouraged and inspired, make plans to attend. I go every year. HEAV is a Christian homeschooling organization, but for gleaning information, and the nuts and bolts on how to begin homeschooling, HEAV is a great place to start, no matter what your religious affiliation is. Another great source for people just starting out homeschooling is vahomeschoolers.org. Their website is also chock-full of great information. Although I don't have as much experience with the.org website, it looks to be very thorough with the information and opportunities it provides to Virginia homeschoolers.

 

 

Second, I highly recommend that you invest in some books you find easy to read and/or understand. Books, I find, are nice to have for quick reference. Especially once I researched curricula, philosophies and methods (and there are many) of how to homeschool, I spent many nights on Amazon reading reviews and purchasing books that I knew would help me be the best homeschool teacher I could be. I love books, can you tell? A few of my favorites include: Cathy Duffy’s Homeschool Reviews which is also a website, The Charlotte Mason Companion, Educating the Wholehearted Child, and The Well Educated Mind.  Also popular are the Everything You Need to Know, and the For Dummies series, and each put out homeschool manuals. Repeat after me, "Books are good. Books are your friends."

Third, you must get a library card! The library is such a fantastic resource! The library is also free.  You can take advantage of (free) language lessons, genealogy courses, used book sales, tutors, plus you can check out all the books and magazines that are available to everyone. There are also workshops offered on cooking, yoga, wellness, gardening, writing, and the list goes on and on. The library is simply awesome!

 

 

Fourth, look into local co-ops and homeschool groups. I know of several in the area, to include Grace co-op (not to be confused with Grace Prep, which is a private school), Christian Heritage Home Educators, Classical Conversations, Stafford Homeschoolers (send a request on Facebook), and REACH (google reach, homeschool, and Wanda Sloper- it’ll come up). Some of these groups are casual, where families hang out and do field trips together, and others are more rigorous and offer classes that range from preschool to high school. There is truly something for everyone!

Fifth, and this is important… have an open mind. You are your own best resource because you know your child better than anyone, and you know what might and might not work. Remember that homeschooling is a lifestyle, really. School at home doesn’t need to look like school in a classroom, in fact, it usually doesn’t. 

 

 

So, don’t be afraid to look into home education. No matter what you decide, knowledge is power, and it’s an awesome thing to face a decision fully armed and powered up. Even if you don’t homeschool or wouldn’t think of it in your wildest dreams, the resources are still worth checking out. Education for our children is a responsibility we all share, and we can all benefit from sharing that information.

Keep calm. Share resources. Parent on!

 

 

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The Boy Is Back In Town

 

And just like that… He's back home!

So, for those of you who have been following the "Tommy journey" (Life Skills) read on! 

Tommy finished up his life skills training at Woodrow Wilson Workforce (formerly the Woodrow Wilson Workforce and Rehabilitation Center) last week! I can’t believe how quickly 9 weeks just went by. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but alas, I am a slow learner when it comes to judging time. While summer was flying by, Tommy was doing life-skills training in the lovely Blue Ridge Mountains. 

He learned things like how to keep his room clean, and do his laundry without being asked (and every week), mind you. Tommy had to live with a roommate and negotiate bathroom cleaning schedules with six other young people. He had to learn time management and get up for job readiness classes without the mom-person telling him to get up, get dressed, and go to class! Tommy had a guidance counselor/ social worker in charge of his case, and other people in place to remind him to do daily life type things, but he was largely responsible for keeping himself organized and put together. 

My mama heart overfloweth.

 

 

I can't describe how thankful I am for DARS (Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services). It is hard to put into words how hopeful and relieved I am all at the same time. If I had known about DARS ten years ago, I might not have felt as frantic about launching Tommy into adulthood. His senior year of high school would probably have been much more relaxed. I would not have had to worry so, so much. I do hover on the worry-meter way too much, although that is just how it goes in our family, especially for me. I am so hopeful, now, though that Tommy has some options for his future, and supports in place to help him succeed. We will know more in a few weeks, but it looks like he will return to Woodrow Wilson to start some job training, hopefully around the start of the new year. 

 

 

When we went to pick him up, we encountered many of those people who Tommy has been with over the past nine weeks. Tommy, apparently, was known as the “jokester” in the student health clinic. They informed me that he had a joke for the nurses every morning and evening when he went to get his medicine. I was like, “whaaaat?!?” So, I know my son is funny. He actually has a pretty good sense of humor, especially for someone on the autism spectrum. He tells jokes, and people that know him know to be patient with him, with his stories, and with his jokes because he’s communicating when he is sharing these stories, and jokes. Can I tell you how worried I was (still, I am) about people getting frustrated with him while he is just trying to communicate in his own special way? Well, apparently, some people get it, and they enjoy Tommy instead of just merely tolerating him.

His counselor told us that he was a “star student”, that he worked hard and was able to express his frustration appropriately. He was respectful toward everyone. He was liked, and he didn’t cause any problems. Again, wow. Years of therapies, strategies, IEPs, and praying obviously have had an impact on my Tom-Tom. Did I mention my heart was full to bursting? Can you hear me smiling in my words? I am proud.

Already, Tommy is fitting right back in with us. He is telling his jokes and making up his stories about how he dominates the world with a sword, honor, and a groundhog. He is still frustrated over the interdimensional-multi-verse-time-travel conundrum, but he's working on it. In the meantime, he will go back to volunteering at the library. While Tommy is enjoying his "break", he is also looking forward to returning to Woodrow Wilson. Some independence has been good for him!  We (all of us at our house) are good with that, and we are enjoying him while he is home, for now.

Keep calm, and please love the people that work with people that have special needs.

And parent on!

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you might not want to say that...

 

So, I know that in this day and age of the internet, blogs, vlogs, Facebook, and all the other social media, it is so easy to get offended. In fact, I know a great number of people that actually enjoy being upset and seem to hold grudges for a long time, and then they post about such offenses ceaselessly. Let me assure you that I am not at all offended when these things are directed at me, but I also know that it hurts for some people, some of my friends, to hear such statements, so I am here to offer some alternative suggestions...

Things not to say to a homeschooler…

Oh! You must have the patience of a saint!”  --Um, no, I really don't. I mean, I might, but probably not. I lose my cool like most moms do. I get frustrated with my kids, my dog, and my husband. I say things I don't mean (“if you do not clean up this mess in the next ten seconds, I will throw everything you own into the trash!!”), and I can spew empty threats with the best of them.  My daughter no longer believes, for example, that I will cut off her hair, although I have done it before. I'm just too tired to deal with the emotional trauma that will follow said hair shearing… Today. Maybe tomorrow, though.

Here's what you can say:  “Wow, I would think it must take more than normal amounts of patience to homeschool. How does that work?” --or--  “You are doing great!”

 

See? Tired eyes, hair falling out, and so not completely calm.

 

Another thing not to say...

I could never do that!”  --Well, yes, you could if you had to. When the transition to middle school for Tommy wasn't working, and the powers that be would not give him a paraprofessional to help him with the major change of schools and schedules and people not being so freaking terrifying for him, out of concern for safety, I had to homeschool him. I refused to wait and see if he would or would not wander off, and I refused to trust that the middle school kids were all really just kind children that would watch out for him. I didn't know any of the teachers or staff. We did not have money for private school, or lawyers. I had to homeschool. Lucky for me, I fell in love with it, and homeschool is so much more than just school. Another thing: what if I were to turn that phrase around to such naysayers? It would go a little like this: “What?! You send your kids to school?!? I could never do that!” Think about it:)

Instead:  “What inspired you to homeschool?” --or--  “You're doing great!”

 

schooling anytime, anywhere

 

The one question to try to avoid… unless you are really searching for clarity or seeking to understand, and then only with open sincerity and no disdain:

What a about socialization?”  -- Ah, yes, a fan favorite. I don't know any homeschool families that never leave their house, and none of them have confessed to locking their kids in a closet and/or forbidding them to play with other kids. Socialization is important. It is important that all kids learn to treat each other with respect and kindness. Navigating social situations is also a life skill that needs to be learned. Here's the thing, though: a lot of those skills don't actually happen in the classroom, and social skills are so much more than getting along with twenty to thirty other kids that are all the same age.

Kids being with younger and older children teach kindness, respect, and responsibility. Older kids end up mentoring the younger ones. Learning how to talk with people of all ages is what is going to really help these children in the future. Work environments, school environments, social environments -- these are all filled with people of different ages, ethnicities, and skill levels. The homeschool community is filled with kids, a lot of kids, and they are all different ages, ethnicities, and skill levels, and they are learning to communicate, problem solve, and get along with one another. These kids are in scouts, dance, swimming, karate, they volunteer, and most of them are active in their churches. Socialization happens. 

Better:  “Do your children hang out with other kids?” --or-- “You're doing great!”

 

a homeschool production- grades six-twelve

 

Here's a good one:

I don't think my kid would listen to me all day!”  -- Well… They won't. I mean, they're kids, not angels. Kids are some of the most manipulative creatures on the planet. I've been played several times; I've been ignored, disrespected, and eye rolled at. Homeschooling is a lifestyle. Learning and living together all day is not a fairytale, but it is not impossible, either. The first year is rough, as you learn to live, be in school mode, and be in family mode, all together. There is usually a honeymoon phase (This is the best thing ever! Why did we wait so long to do this?!) then there is the what-on-earth-was-I-thinking-this-is-the-pit-of…. Well, you get the idea. There are ups and downs. You, however, are the parent. You are, above all else, the parent. Your child will respond to your authority, mood, consistency, rhythm and reason. 

Say this instead:  “I'd love to hear how you all handle conflict.” --or-- “You’re doing great!”

 

 

Katie changing a tire

 

Don't get me wrong, homeschooling does not make me a better anything (mom, wife, teacher, friend). We all have to make the best choice for our families, for our kids. It's not all or nothing, either; I know families that have one in public school, one in private school, and one or more at home. There are pros and cons to every situation, all the time, everyday, and the last thing we parents need is judgement- perceived or real. So, be kind to one another, and instead of saying something crazy to someone who does something different than you, ask them about it in a kind and curious way, if you must, or smile and ask how you can help if you can, or simply cheer them on. Positivity usually wins, and is well received and appreciated. So, be a little bit mad (in the zany way) and respond to one another with crazy, wild encouragement!

 

 

Keep calm, and parent on!

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balancing act

 

I am not a high tech mama. I am trying to be one, but the oven gives me trouble, let alone Windows and iTunes. That being said, I have spent the greater part of today establishing new Apple IDs for my kids. Apparently, it is no longer recommended that we all share an ID. This week has been increasingly trying for some reason, because all of the sudden, my daughter is my son, he is her, and I am both. Facetime comes up with me ‘or four others’ every time one of us tries to facetime each other.  We can see everybody’s texts and conversations. There is no privacy (my husband sent me a love text and everyone saw it- not good- we aren’t allowed to be romantic, apparently. The kids must think we asexually reproduce or something). I am having a meltdown, because it is (of course) all my fault because I was trying to be security mom by setting us all up on the same ID.  I am the one who has to fix it. I have been on support sites, Google, and iTunes for four hours.  I’m not even kidding. I can’t make this up. To make matters worse, I’m pretty sure I deleted Tommy’s account, which may mean I have to make a roadtrip to see him if I hope to communicate with him before Labor Day.

Meanwhile, there are people evacuating homes because of flooding in Louisiana, and children are starving in Africa. I am consumed with iTunes.

Houston, we have a problem.

 

 

I keep saying there has to be some middle ground between what I perceive to be a real problem, and a real problem. I think a lot of us are stuck in what seems like a feeling of despair. We can’t seem to make a difference on the big stuff, so we concentrate on the little stuff. I can’t end the famine in Africa, so I focus on the state of my floors. I don’t seem to be able to stop racism, so I focus on the weeds in the yard. No amount of debating seems to alter the human trafficking issue, so I worry incessantly about the kids’ safety. I don’t care for the candidates for President (any of them), so I am house-hunting in New Zealand and planning a defection. Today it’s Apple IDs, tomorrow it may be the heat index, but it is truly the perspective I need to focus on.

How does one change their perspective, though? I am fortunate enough to have had years of therapy, so I have that going for me. Seriously. I also like to think that people are not as bad as the media would lead us to believe. While I may be known as anxiety-girl in some circles, I am not afraid to travel, to let my kids play outside, nor am I scared of Zika, Ebola, or Avian Bird Flu (I am, however, diligent with washing my hands, and I make the kids take Airborne if someone we’ve been around turns up sick). I really do think most people want to help others, and most of us are good lending helping hands to those in need. Some of us just need to know where to look, perhaps, for ways to contribute to those in need, and certainly we need to know where to look for the good news, because it's not coming from CBS, NBC, or Fox. I’m wondering if we all just start to demand good news, would the media listen? Maybe changing perspective means choosing to listen to the good news, to filter out some of the noise of the bad news, and learning to live in a manner that is positive. I wrote about that (social parenting) a few weeks ago; we parents can’t get caught up in other peoples’ highlight reels as the normal everyday life that most of us live in. Nobody is beautifully made up and dressed in non-athletic wear every second of every day, and the children aren’t always looking like a Gymboree ad, either. 

Perspective, also, depends on actively choosing the reality that things are not-that-bad for myself. For example, I know I couldn't do this life as an atheist. I love my church, my faith, and my God. Faith is just believing in what you don’t physically see, and having hope for a better tomorrow. Choosing faith means I know that there is going to be a good ending. All these bad, terrible, horrible things that can paralyze me (us) on this earth will end. While I may still freak out over my iTunes account and the dog hair that accumulates by the hour, I can have balance in not obsessing over everything, and I can focus on enjoying my hot, overgrown backyard. Why? Because I am blessed to be here, where I am, right here, right now. I’m super lucky to have the very problem that is my iTunes account. What are you blessed with?  What makes you realize that you have a lot going for you? How will you take steps this week to have balance in what you worry over?

 

 

Here are a few good tips:

Turn off the news.  At least don’t listen to it every moment, and refrain from watching it in front of your children. While you’re at it, go ahead and start a petition to insist that the media share the good news, too. I need to get on this, myself. And for heaven's sake, limit your time on Facebook!

Contribute to a charity through your church, or in your community. Serve at the homeless shelter, donate some food to the Serve food bank, bring a backpack or school supplies to a drop off location that is collecting for the new school year. Give back, pay it forward, and smile.

Breathe when you feel that anxiety creeping up. Decide if this situation is worth the worry it seems to be causing. Breathe some more. Pray. And, breathe.

While our first world problems are very much our very real problems, don’t be afraid to admit that it could be worse, it could be better, but it probably will be just OK. Tell your anxiety to get lost, and don’t let the web of electronics or dirty floors get you down. Technology will change, and dogs do shed. It’s normal.

 

 

We’re all a bit mad here, at our house, but we are trying to laugh and figure out who is calling when facetime rings; and the kids are currently being requested to just ignore lovenotes between us parents. I didn't vacuum for two whole days last week, and the world didn't implode. The kids are secure, the lawn will still have weeds in the morning, and iTunes will still have future updates. 

Keep calm and parent on!

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Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (BACA) exists to create a safer environment for abused children by empowering children to not feel afraid of their world. Imagine how an abused child feels when a group of large bikers rides up to their house, inducts them into their club and then escorts them to court to testify against their abuser.

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