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If you were reading this blog about four years ago, you would have seen a lot of posts about homeschooling.  It was my first year teaching Lorelei at home, and I was full of plans and eager to share them.

Lorelei spent her first four years of schooling at a parochial school.  It’s an excellent school, and her former classmates seem to have been very happy there.  But Lorelei was showing signs of stress and anxiety from the ever-increasing amount of homework, even in the summer time.  And I wanted to spend more time with my last baby.

Lorelei First Grade

Lorelei’s first day of first grade

Sending her back to “real” school eventually was always my plan:  when we would do it and where she would go were left TBD by needs and circumstances.  All I was sure of was that the transition would occur before high school.

I’ve homeschooled four of my five children for varying amounts of time, and it’s been a different experience with each of them.  I’ve come to realize that homeschooling does not provide the best learning environment for every child.

I am not sorry that I removed Lorelei from an environment that was stressful for her.  At home, we were able to recognize that she suffers from anxiety and take steps to combat that.  I was able to get to know her very well, and to spend time with her, and we are very close.  And she was able to devote extended time to non-academic pursuits.  Lorelei has always loved art, and I’ve been amazed to watch the changes in her pictures over the years.  She also became involved in an online group devoted to making music videos, and I was beyond impressed to see how she navigated the online community and taught herself skills both online and off.  I learned (and I think she did too) how very capable she is.

She also played outside a lot, as children should.  And remained a little girl longer than it seems most girls are allowed to these days.

Lorelei on the rock

Lorelei playing outside

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Lorelei on her 13th birthday

But the academic side of homeschool was a real struggle.  Part of that was my change in circumstance from the last time I did this. I’m at home, but I’m working several hours each day, and I have to get things done.  But part of it was Lorelei herself.  When I taught Teddy at home, for example, I could read off a list of assignments and he would do them on his own.  Lorelei would complain and resist and insist that she couldn’t understand; she would freak out about possibly putting down the wrong answer even though her mother was the teacher and there were no grades; or she would go off to work and never return for her next assignment, and I wouldn’t even notice because I was so busy.  Every day, every subject, every assignment was fraught.  There were many days when we didn’t even attempt school, and we both felt guilty about it.

I’ve always known Lorelei was smart, of course.  She made high grades when she was enrolled in school.  But I had about decided that although she was a very capable person, she just wasn’t academic.  We all worried about what would happen when she returned to school.

Lorelei started eighth grade at the local public middle school in early August.  And she is thriving.  The transformation has been remarkable.  First progress reports are in and she has straight A’s.  Her Language Arts teacher has commented more than once that Lorelei should be teaching the class.  Her Social Studies teacher asked her if she would like to be in the Honors class.  Her art teacher invited her to apply for Art Club membership.  She joined the Book Club.  She comes home chattering animatedly about her classmates.  She stays on top of her homework without prompting.  And she joined the Youth Group at church to continue her religious education without complaint, and is enjoying that too.

So what happened?  Where did this motivated, happy, energetic, self-directed, intellectually curious student come from?

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Right after her getting-ready-for-school haircut

The answer, I believe, is that Lorelei is an extrovert.  She is drawing energy from the school environment and applying it to her studies.  It never would have occurred to me that this could be a factor–she wasn’t pining for school by any means; she was happy to have been removed and enjoyed being with me.  But the evidence is clear:  Homeschooling was not an academically good fit for Lorelei; traditional schooling is.

Again, I have no regrets about removing Lorelei from school.  The homeschooling experience may not have been an academic success, but it was valuable in other ways.  And she is quickly making up any ground she may have lost.  But I also have no regrets about putting her back in!

Some people–I was one of them once–are very tied to a certain way of educating their children.  “This is how our family does things,” they think.  For me, it was the ideal of having all my kids graduate from the parochial school attended by my sisters and me, and then going on the be members of the third generation of our family to attended Knoxville Catholic High School.  Family circumstances and the individual needs of my children forced me to rethink and relinquish plans I thought were set in stone, and my kids are the better for it.

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Meet Rameses

I am not a dog person.

Confession time:  I have never understood my children’s obsession with animals.  While I enjoyed the occasional zoo trip as a child, animals in general did not occupy much of my thoughts.

But I can fall in love with animals on an individual basis.

And here is my new love.

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About two years ago, Lorelei started begging for a dog.  I said no.  Never again.

Like I said, I am not generally a fan of dogs.  They smell, they bark, they demand lots of attention, we have four cats already, and to top it all off John is allergic to them.  Our first dog was very old school.  He was an outdoor dog who loved the outdoors and was perfectly content with his dog house and the garage in cold weather.  But we adopted him around 2003, before the internet told me that my dog needs to be in the house with us.  While I still think Balthazar was perfectly happy, I would now feel plagued with guilt to have a mostly outdoor dog.

Lorelei wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why she needed a dog of her own.  It was in a folder and there were several pages to it, and while I can’t remember now exactly what it said, I do remember that its logic and emotional appeal were unassailable and all of us who read it were forced to concede.

So we said she could get a new dog eventually, but she would have to find one that was as hypoallergenic as possible and that could get along with cats.  And that she would have to prove she was responsible enough to care for it, because I have enough to do.

She pored over the internet and dog rescue sites and changed her mind several times before she decided on a greyhound.  In the meantime, she took on the litterbox duty and feeding of the cats to prove responsibility.  She earned money to buy everything the dog needed and learned all the internet could tell her about greyhounds.

We went to the local meet-and-greet sponsored by the Greyhound Rescue folks, eventually started the approval process (which was nerve-wracking but ultimately not as bad as I’d feared), and about a month ago welcomed Deco Cannon Fire (rechristened Rameses, because greyhounds hail originally from Egypt) into our home.

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In his former life, five-year-old Rameses was a racing greyhound.  You can see him in action here.  That was a treat for me to see because we have never seen him run.  At the most, at the dog park, he trots around the perimeter sniffing the fence.

Rameses 2.jpgLorelei could not have picked a better breed.  In a month, Rameses has barked maybe five times? He doesn’t have a smell (seriously, if you sniff your hand after stroking him there is no dog aroma).  He hardly notices the cats, who are beginning to learn that there is no need to run out of the room automatically when they see him.

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He likes attention, but doesn’t demand constant petting.  He’s like a cat in that respect, which is probably why I like him so much.  He spends most of his time sleeping.

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Lorelei keeps his crate in her room, and she handles all of his feeding and outdoors time and cleaning up after him.  Emily and I do help with the walking when she’s at school, but I leave the clean up for her.  We have a new park less than half a mile away with an enormous dog area, and we’ve been taking him there at least once a week.  He barely notices the other dogs, and we can’t get him to run, but he does enjoy exploring and sniffing!

Anyway, we all love him, even John who really doesn’t care for dogs, having been made sick by them for as long as he can remember.   We aren’t sure if he’s allergic to Rameses, because he’s had two colds since the dog arrived and the seasonal allergies are terrible here right now but at this point I don’t think he’d care.

Rameses 8Rameses 5Rameses 7I would never in a million years have thought of getting a greyhound.  I don’t think I’d ever even seen one in person before that first meet-and-greet.  But I couldn’t be happier with Lorelei’s choice.

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I love making plans.  In fact, I often enjoy planning things more than I enjoy doing the actual things!

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I comfort myself by looking to the future and making plans for the next season.  When school is going on, I think how much easier everything will be when I can sleep later, not have to drive anyone anywhere, and not have homework to deal with, and I make plans to fill all that extra time.  When it’s summer, I fantasize about school starting, being back on a schedule, and not having the kids underfoot, and I make new plans.

My original plan for the summer was quite ambitious and was all about things I wanted to do for myself.  I was going to go to the gym regularly again,  I was going to walk several mornings, and I was going to go to Mass a couple of times during the week.  I had a plan in my head for what I would do each day.  Once I made it, I thought it over often and looked forward to implementing it.

But I didn’t follow that plan.  If you’ve been reading this summer, you’ll already know what I did instead.  I have to work, albeit at home, and there just wasn’t time to do what I wanted for myself AND for the kids.  So, I  gave up all my own self-improvement plans, and devoted myself to giving my children a fabulous summer instead.

And you know what?  It WAS a fabulous summer.  For the first time in years, I really wasn’t eager to get back into the school routine, because we’d had a routine–a fun one–that gave shape to our days.  We weren’t bored and stir crazy and sick of each other.  It was delightful!

This year, Lorelei went back to school after having been homeschooled for four years.  I am now blissfully alone in the house for hours every day.  Taking kids to school has almost always been John’s responsibility for the past twenty-plus years.  But Lorelei and William attend schools that start at the same time and are in opposite directions from our house, so this year I must leave the house each morning to drive one of them to school.

When I realized this, a plan formed almost by itself, and I feel safe telling you about it now since I’ve followed it more or less successfully for a month  (yes, school has been in session THAT LONG ALREADY down here).

Mondays and Fridays, I drive Lorelei to school.  Her school happens to be right across the street from the closest Catholic church, which offers morning Mass at 9:00 a.m.  Furthermore, there is a walking trail on the grounds of this church.  So after I drop her off, I take a walk while saying a rosary until it is time for Mass.

All Saints 1

Part of the walking trail at All Saints

Tuesdays and Thursdays, I take William to school.  The gym I belong to just happens to lie on the route home.  So now I stop and work out, so far for only about half an hour but I am adding time each week.

Wednesdays William has a morning appointment so I take him to school when we are finished and then generally head straight home to work.

I am so excited and pleased with myself.  For me the biggest hurdle to doing pretty much anything is making myself leave the house.  Now that I have no choice but to leave the house every morning, the rest is easy.  I love my new schedule which has me back home ready to begin work around 10 a.m.

It would be nice to work in writing time somewhere, but you can’t have everything. 🙂

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School started yesterday.  Our summer is over even though there is a month and a half left in the season!

There wasn’t a whole lot of time for fun in our last week.  It was actually a pretty typical week from one of our other summers–I worked every day and the kids stared at screens.  But that was the ONLY week that was true this summer so I’m calling it a win.

There was a lot to do, as there always is when school is about to start, like haircuts:

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And although I bought supplies online, we still spent most of Saturday shopping because Lorelei needed new clothes.

I promised everyone a trip to the lake in the afternoon, though, and I delivered on that promise.

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On Monday, we had our last big adventure.  I have no pictures to commemorate it, but we wore ourselves out spending maybe three hours at an enormous antique mall.  The kids thoroughly enjoyed it and each got to bring home a few items.

On Tuesday, we went for ice cream just once more as a last day of vacation treat.

And then on Wednesday school began.  No way would William let me photograph him on such an occasion.  You can see how thrilled Lorelei is to have to go back to regular school.

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Thanks for following along on our summer adventures.  Knowing I was going to be blogging about them helped motivate me to continue, and continuing gave me something regular to write about, so it was a great idea all around and I will plan to repeat it next year.

Here are all the posts in order:

Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead

The Summer Fun Continues . . .

More Summer Fun

Summer Fun Update

Summer Fun:  Vacation

That 70s Summer

In Which I Grow Lazy

Exploring History

Adventuring

Home Stretch

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Just popping in to update anyone who has been following my minimalism posts . . .

I have NOT stopped, but I have slowed down.  When last I posted, we were moving into Kids’ Rooms Week.

We recently minimized Lorelei’s bedroom in a BIG way–because Jake moved out and we moved Lorelei to a new room!  It doesn’t need minimizing yet.  At some point I will share pictures of her big girl room, and show you what I did with the room she vacated.

As for William’s room, we have done work there in the past and while it does need more I decided it could wait till the next go round, because I had something far more challenging to tackle:  THE PLAYROOM.

Up until recently, Lorelei spent a lot of time in this room, even sleeping here because she had developed a fear of sleeping in her own bedroom.  Since she moved, this space sits vacant for days at a time–vacant of people anyway, not stuff.  I thought if we could make it nicer Lorelei might start spending more time up there, and especially that it might be a good place for her to do her homework as she moves from homeschool to public school in just a few days.

Well, we started.  But we have not finished.  Here’s a preview to give you an idea of what we are dealing with:

playroom 2playroom 3playroom 4playroom 1We have made a lot of progress, but we are not finished.  Given the pressures and time constraints inherent in working at home, delivering on promised summer fun, and getting ready to start school very shortly, we have not been able to work on this every day.

Following the schedule, after Kids’ Rooms came Catch-up week, then Office Week, and now it’s Living Room week.  I wasn’t planning on doing Office Week (the office is a mess, but most of it is out of my control!), but I do want to do some things in the living room, and I still wanted to go back to some of the kitchen cabinets.  I don’t want to wait six months until the next challenge to get to those things!

So, I am going to continue working on this in a sort of mixed up way for the next few weeks, even after the challenge is officially over.  I am determined to finish the playroom once and for all (this is far from being the first time we have tried to tackle it but it gets easier each time, especially since Lorelei is finally able to let go of things.).

I’ll post pictures when the playroom is complete, and I by then I should have an idea of how I plan to proceed.

For more adventures in minimalism, read on:

My explanation of Catholic Minimalism.

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Week One Redux

Week Two Redux

Week Three Redux

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It was the second to last full week of summer break, and my pace was slowing, but we still had some fun times!

On Tuesday we had breakfast at Nick and J’s, a former Waffle House now locally owned and serving breakfast and lunch, with the most enormous pancakes I have ever seen.  William ate two entire orders of French Toast.

We followed up breakfast with our very first visit to Plumb Creek Park, which is a five minute walk from our house, that is if there were any safe way to walk there.  Y’all, I’ve known they were building this park eventually since we moved in, which was seven years ago, so I was super excited to finally get to walk around there.  The walking trails are not quite finished but I foresee this as a great exercise spot when it gets cooler.

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On Thursday I kept a promise made two weeks ago when we stumbled across Bull Run Park, and took the kids swimming there.  I highly recommend it.  It’s not crowded. it’s shady, and the water temperature is comfortable.  I found it soothing and peaceful.  But we are buying water shoes before we return because Lorelei cut her foot on something.  It’s not a swimming pool, y’all.

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Friday we left town for a long-planned trip to Nashville, which is about three hours west of us.  The trip had a dual purpose.  First, to visit my sister and her family, and for the kids to see her house; and second, to go the Nashville Zoo.  Both parts of the trip were successful.

We visited on Friday and went to the zoo Saturday morning.  Someday I will write a whole post about the zoo and share more pictures, but the short version is that we were there for about five hours, and it was delightful, with lots of shade, happy animals in lovely habitats, and more opportunities for interacting with the animals than is typical in our experience.  William declared it one of his favorite zoos.

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Summer break is almost over and I’m sad because we’ve had so much fun that I don’t want it to end.  If you want to read more of our adventures, click on any of the links below.

Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead

The Summer Fun Continues . . .

More Summer Fun

Summer Fun Update

Summer Fun:  Vacation

That 70s Summer

In Which I Grow Lazy

Exploring History

Adventuring

 

 

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Last week I fell far short of my promised one-fun-thing-per-day promise.  I had a good excuse, though–I went to Nashville from Wednesday until Saturday to visit my sister.  Emily kindly provided some entertainment for her siblings in my stead, taking them blueberry picking.  And John took them to a “magnificent” (according to William) Asian restaurant to dine while I was gone.

But we did have one big adventure on Tuesday, one that did not turn out at all as I had planned!

We lived in South Knoxville when the big kids were little, and every Wednesday morning for years I used to take them to breakfast at Shoney’s.  Shoney’s was a big favorite for our family back then because we didn’t have a lot of money, we had a lot of mouths to feed, and kids ate free at the buffet!

So just about every summer since then we make a point to head south to that same Shoney’s to recreate some of that long ago summer fun.  Usually there’s a waitress or two there who still remembers us from back in the day (not this time, sadly).

That’s what the plan was on Tuesday, to be followed by a quick trip to the Fort Dickerson Overlook, perhaps a short walk on a trail, and visits to Scottish Pike Park and the new Suttree Landing Park that William and Lorelei have never seen.

Most of that will have to wait until another day, as you will see!

After a big breakfast, we drove up to Fort Dickerson Park and went to admire the view from the overlook.  I will never forget the first time I saw this view, about 25 years ago.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing–it was like I was in some enchanted faraway land instead of about a mile from downtown Knoxville.

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Now, I’ve been to Fort Dickerson many times, but this time I saw something new–a trail just to the left of the overlook.

And that’s when I had a bright idea.  Why don’t we explore it, I said.  Let’s just see where it goes, I said.  We can always turn around and come back.

So we braved the kudzu and started to walk.

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And we walked.  And we walked.  And we sort of committed.  Eventually it was clear that we were walking right around the lake.  I figured we’d end up at the bottom (I’ve taken a trail that goes there from a different parking lot) and then surely there would be a way back on the other side.

Sure enough, after a fairly easy walk we ended up exactly where I thought, and we started hunting for that other trail.  At first things seemed to go fairly well, and we made our way along the opposite side of the lake, heading in exactly the direction we were supposed to.

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Until, that is, we ended up at a very dead end, standing right on the bank of the lake with a sheer cliff several hundred feet tall in front of us.

So we doubled back to where we had taken what was clearly the wrong fork and kept walking, only to eventually realize the trail we were on did nothing but circle us back–after a long time, I might add–to an area close to where it began.

By now we had come to realize that there WAS no trail on the other side.  We had two choices for how to get back to the car–take the trail we’d come down to begin with, or leave the park and go by road.

Did I mention that it was about a million degrees by now? (Well, at least 90 anyway.)  And we didn’t bring water.  We were tired, exhausted, and dehydrated as we made our way to the parking lot and thence to Chapman Highway, which if you are not local I need to explain is NOT the kind of road you really want to walk on.

Fortunately, there is a sidewalk–on the wrong side, naturally–and we were able to find a safe way to cross the highway.  We trudged doggedly up the hill and then crossed back over to the park entrance and finally made it to the car.  Y’all, we had walked FOUR MILES.

We drove straight to Weigel’s and bought Icees and much water, which I actually poured right on my head.  I apologized A LOT for my poor leadership skills.  But it was an adventure!

Read more of our summer adventures below!

Why We Can’t Have a 70s Summer and What We Are Doing Instead

The Summer Fun Continues . . .

More Summer Fun

Summer Fun Update

Summer Fun:  Vacation

That 70s Summer

In Which I Grow Lazy

Exploring History

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