School’s Out…Forever

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Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the District #5 School in East Washington, New Hampshire. This 1849 one-room schoolhouse is now maintained by the Washington Historical Society; it closed its doors in 1938, a year in which there was only one family with school-age children left in East Washington, but it holds a significant place in our family lore. The District #5 School is where my maternal grandmother, Helen Natalie Peasley, began her school career. She walked a mile to the school down Lovell Mountain, where she lived on the family farm run by her grandfather, who grazed his cattle on the mountain. She grew up to work for decades as a teacher, and she always enjoyed telling us about her early days walking to the schoolhouse.

Now, when I hear about the debate over school consolidation in Addison County, I picture the District #5 School sitting empty, its woodstove grown cold, its rows of seats and chalkboards on display for visitors like my daughters and me. Were my grandmother alive today, she would ride the bus 7.3 miles to Washington Elementary School.

Because I homeschool all of my children, people often say to me, “You must be so glad you don’t have to worry about that!” They say this about school-related issues like classroom discipline issues, consolidation, and school shootings.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

A Room of One’s Own

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Our family spends a lot of time at home.

My husband leaves for his office on weekdays, but since I homeschool our daughters, our house is the center of our daily activities. We eat most meals at home, given the expense and hassle of dining out with four young children. Caring for 31 animals (give or take) and a garden during the warmer months limits our ability to travel. All told, I’d estimate that I spend an average of 147 hours a week at home – out of a possible 168.

While I haven’t been able to find a definitive figure, a quick bit of internet research turned up the estimate that the average American spends roughly 45% of their time at home (including sleep), which would translate to 76 hours a week.

I often fail to notice the obvious in my life until it’s pointed out by others. For example, a fellow homeschooling mother with whom I was sharing tea happened to drop the statement that, “Homeschooling is a full-time job.” It was like a jolt of electricity had passed through me. “OH!” I thought. “THAT’S why I’m so busy!”

That same mother, in the same conversation, enlightened me further with the observation that it’s difficult for homeschooling families to have clean, orderly houses because the kids are always there.

“OH!” I thought. “THAT’S why there’s a constant trail of books and art supplies stretching from our entryway up to the girls’ rooms, and a massive cardboard box/transmogrifier/time machine in the middle of the kitchen.  And why any attempt to wipe, vacuum, or straighten away evidence of my four children seems futile, since they’ll just undo it the next minute.”

I’ve also started to wonder if the amount of time we spend at home has something to do with why my daughters keep asking for furniture.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” in The Addison Independent. 

“It’s January”

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My 11-year-old daughter, usually my most centered child, was seething. Her hands clenched and unclenched at her sides, her breathing sped up, and she was gnashing her teeth – actually gnashing her teeth. (I’d never really witnessed teeth-gnashing until I had children of my own.)

“I just feel like I haven’t learned anything today!” she spewed out, throwing her pencil to the floor.

We’d passed hour three of our homeschool morning. Thus far, she had watched a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech before writing a short essay about her own dreams; she had read a chapter of the historical novel Johnny Tremain; she had completed a math lesson in which she learned why bees use hexagons to build their hives; she had spent 20 minutes working on her second semi-autobiographical novel; she had read and discussed a history chapter about the early Puritans, including a comparison of the various forms of government; and she had finished a page in her Latin workbook.

But she hadn’t learned anything.

If there’s one thing that parenting and homeschooling have taught me, especially as we enter the “tween” years, it’s that these outbursts are neither logical nor personal. In response to my daughter, I said, “I’m so sorry,” and went about my business.

I decided to follow up later, after she’d cooled down. That afternoon, when I was able to get her alone, I said, “So, that thing this morning about not learning anything? Was that just a blah morning, or was is something more long-term that we should discuss?”

She shrugged. “Just a blah morning. It’s January.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

American Girls

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On the second day of 2019, because everyone else had returned to school but our homeschooling family was taking a full second week of vacation, because our eldest daughter complained that “we never go anywhere,” and because we needed a change of scenery, we packed the minivan for an overnight trip to the Boston suburbs. It was a hastily conceived voyage, designed loosely around the goals of:

  1. Providing some sort of enrichment for our children
  2. Spending time with extended family
  3. Getting our youngest daughter to quit begging us to visit an American Girl doll store

That we were able to accomplish all of those things in less than 36 hours and live to tell about it seems near-miraculous. And it turned out to be a journey through the landscape of the American girl.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column (the first of 2019!) in The Addison Independent. 

Just Two Pages a Day

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Last weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: Packed my family into the minivan and drove up to Burlington for a book-signing event. I would do this for very few authors, but I did it for Kate DiCamillo.

For those who don’t have children under age 18, Kate DiCamillo is a children’s book author known for an impressive array of beautifully written and moving works, from picture books to young adult fiction. I taught her novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, to my third grade class before I had children of my own. My own children have devoured her Bink and Gollie books (co-authored with Alison McGhee), The Tale of Despereaux, and – our family’s favorite – the Mercy Watsonseries, about a pig who lives with the Watson family on Deckawoo drive and will do anything for toast with a great deal of butter on it. (I consider one of the Mercy Watsonspin-off books, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, to be among the most perfect books ever written, period.)

Needless to say, when I learned that the Flying Pig Bookshop was hosting an event with Kate DiCamillo and New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator Harry Bliss to promote their latest collaboration, Good Rosie!, I deemed it a worthwhile way for our family to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Out of the entire afternoon, one moment stuck in my head:

When asked by a young girl in the audience how she handles writer’s block, Kate DiCamillo explained that she doesn’t getwriter’s block, because her working day involves sitting down to write two pages. Just two pages a day.If those don’t turn out well, she said, it’s not writer’s block, “it’s just a bad writing day.”

This moment stuck in my husband’s head as well; my long-suffering husband, who has spent a decade listening to me bemoan my lack of writing time.

“Two pages a day,” he said to me as we exited the event.

“Yup,” I said, smiling in an attempt to look brave. “That seems pretty manageable.”

Inside, I was thinking: HOW can I find the time to write two pages a day?!?

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Why Not?

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Our telephone rang towards the end of dinner one night. My husband picked up the receiver; our neighbor was on the other end.

“Are you hearing noises in the morning?” he asked.

It was an odd question to ask a family with four energetically verbal daughters, 19 chickens (including two roosters), seven ducks a-quacking, and one dog who barks at the slightest provocation.

Are we hearing noises in the morning? When are we NOT hearing noises?

My first response, when my husband repeated our neighbor’s question to me, was guilt. Were our roosters — who crow not just at sun-up, but throughout the day — becoming a nuisance? Did this have to do with my daughter’s ninth birthday party the previous day, when we’d had six rambunctious youngsters telling silly stories and dancing to the music in their heads around our fire pit long past bedtime? Or to that very morning, when four of those rambunctious youngsters awoke in the tent where they’d camped out in our yard, demanding assistance at 6:30 AM?

The answer, it turned out, was none of the above. Our neighbor was simply inviting us to come over and see the white peacock that had settled in his yard.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

(Not) Wheeling and Dealing at Barter Day

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When we began homeschooling our children about two years ago, it was a choice born of necessity: Our family would be spending five months in Berkeley, California while my husband was on sabbatical, and in order to have the flexibility to make the most of our stay (and to avoid navigating the Berkeley public school system), homeschooling seemed the obvious solution. I assumed it would be a contentious, stressful, and painful experience. More than once, I assured myself (and my daughters), “We can survive anything for five months!”

When we returned to Vermont and continued homeschooling our children, it was a choice born of love. The actual experience of homeschooling my children proved my expectations wrong: It felt nothing at all like ‘surviving,’ and more like thriving.

Homeschooling in Vermont has meant that our family has become part of a group known as the “Addison County Homeschoolers.” That’s the name assigned to the group’s email list and its Facebook page, but the group itself is a bit diffuse. In a style that I’ve come to identify as very Vermont, our homeschool group is more like a loose collective of families who tend to do their own independent things, but who gather on occasion for community events.

These community events include a couple of theater productions each year, weekly open gym and sharing times, an annual spelling bee, and a monthly meeting.

This month, the Addison County Homeschoolers came together for something that was once an annual event, but that hadn’t happened in a year or so: Barter Day.

Click here to continue reading about our Barter Day experience in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.