Month: October 2015

Half Life


If you look up a typical school year, you would find it usually includes 36 weeks of classes, or 180 school days.  This is the required amount of time set by the state for kids to be ‘in school’. Now, in Oregon, the standards are extremely loose, so whole families move here to take advantage of the freedom afforded in the homeschooling laws. We were not one of those families.



We moved to Oregon for my husband to pursue a Master’s at Western Seminary, which led to another degree, and now he is in the midst of a PhD. Rigorous schoolwork has been the pattern at our house for some time now. That being said, kids and adults have drastically different motivators when working on lessons, and the kids in our family are no different. They simply would rather play. Play is scientifically proven to have long-term educational and social benefits, don’t get me wrong, but there is a limit to my tolerance of avoiding schoolwork to build Duplo battle weapons.


Each year as I dutifully plan out our curriculum, I base everything on that 180 day model. 36 weeks. Labor Day to Memorial Day. The School Year. On paper, it looks reasonable, but after the rest of life is added in, it seems to become a burden. Towards the end of last year, I joked that this would be the year I switched to year round school, but I still planned out a ‘normal’ 36 week load….and let it ride. I had my suspicions, and so far they are correct. It will take us about 360 days to do 180 days of school work. The half-life of our work load is roughly 6 months. We are on year round school auto pilot.



The kids are working, they are enjoying the books, videos, classes, lessons, and field trips. They are doing chores, visiting family, working in the garden, riding bikes, exploring interests, and practicing instruments. No one is playing Nintendo for hours, or sleeping in until noon {although I would pay dearly for a sleep-in day!}, no one is slacking, it is just taking twice as long, and I am ok with that. More time to think, more time for ideas and concepts to sink in, more time to read, time for tea….more time.


Naturally, some of our books will go by more quickly than others; as the easier books taper off, and the work load decreases, summer will be here, and a cycle will {hopefully} emerge. 

All of those reasons why I keep doing this that involve ‘going at your own pace‘, and ‘adjusting to each child’s specific strengths and weaknesses‘ {and so on….} seem to fly out the window when faced with a simple 12 month calendar. We are so ingrained with this western school model that even something as small as taking extra time on a subject seems like failure, rather than due diligence. But it isn’t failure. It is learning how to learn, how to enjoy the process of absorbing all of these crazy skills that we NEED TO KNOW, like graphing algebraic equations, and correcting punctuation. The things that we see as insignificant now, may someday be an integral part of our lives. Even algebra. Especially chores.

Determining the half-life of my coffee to be about thirty seconds,



A Field Trip from our Field Trip

We took a field trip to Lakeview Farms yesterday. Usually our family has gone to Sauvie Island to get pumpkins in the fall, it feels like you are way out in the country, and the prices are good. Plus, there aren’t a ton of gimmicky things to waste time and money on. Just pumpkins. This year, we joined up with our cousins and some other families at this other farm. The tour boasted a boat ride, train ride, and free pumpkin for $5 a ticket. That’s pretty good, I thought, so we went.



luke_meri_pumpkinsmeri_pumpkinIt was beautiful. Mid October, and it was pushing 79˚ here in Portland! At some point we were talking about the weather, and wondered about what it might be like at the coast…so I looked it up. 73˚. I checked the map….one hour and ten minutes from the pumpkin patch. WHAT!!!??? We would be out of our minds to forgo a spontaneous beach trip. So…armed with $22 and some snacks from the North Plains Market, we hit the road.


We had no towels, no extra clothes, no plan. It was fantastic!


The beach was amazing, the weather was truly magical. It was warm and not windy at all, a rarity for the Oregon Coast. There weren’t many people on the beach either, since it was mid-week/mid-day during the school year. The kids just ran screaming out onto the sand and proceeded to play hard for several hours, digging, rolling, chasing waves, and finding beach treasures.


My only regret is that we had no extra camera, and my phone ran out of batteries about ten minutes after we arrived, so we weren’t able to capture very many pictures. We just had to sit and enjoy the view.


By the time we finally left, we all had sand in places we wished we didn’t, we were all tired, and still it was like a tiny vacation.

vegas_lia_beach_bw This was the sort of day you couldn’t put on the calendar. The pages of October, November, December, and on are each nearly full already with commitments, appointments and school events. There is something priceless about being able to just randomly go to the beach with all your cousins {and your sister in law}! We wouldn’t have said yes if we had asked each other the day before, we would have said ‘oh, but we are already going to the pumpkin patch’, or ‘oh, I am so busy and tired, I don’t think I can do it’… or something quite similar.  Instead, we just drove west towards the coast, with bagels and string cheese.

I hope days like yesterday are memorable for years to come.

Declaring today ‘Late Start Friday’,


We are Men of Action


We have been reading The Princess Bride for the last week, and we are nearly finished. If you have ever watched the movie, you will see Fred Savage unable to wait for the next chapter, the next sentence, and wonder if any young boy would actually feel that way in real life. Let me tell you, we have had to   d r a g   i t   o u t, because Elvis would have had me reading the whole thing in one sitting if it were up to him.

We started reading it right before fencing class started up again, and that happened to be perfect timing, since the book is riddled with fencing references.  Now, I am on the hunt for some proper fencing swords to give the boys for Christmas!


Vegas and I are constantly debating whether the book is abridged because there may be a more complete and ‘unabridged’ version out there somewhere, or because it is self-proclaiming its abridged status.

We took a break from Harry Potter for this, and we have thoroughly enjoyed it.

Looking for a frame to house our map of Florin,


Cedar Waxwing


Last week we had some special visitors to our deck! Since our backyard neighbors keep several bird feeders fully stocked year round, we see and hear many types of feathered and non feathered creatures. The usual suspects are Scrub Jays, Chickadees, Robins, Doves, and Bush Tits, however, last week we saw Cedar Waxwings. It was very exciting! Elvis was the one who spotted them first, and we all crowded around to marvel at their lovely yellow tail tips, and fancy head dresses.


Next, we looked them up in our Song and Garden Birds of North America book {it comes with its own record of bird songs!} and read about them. Since the record in the book didn’t cover waxwings, we looked up their song on the internet, and listened to it. Its almost a whistle, rather than a tune.

Now, we hear them all the time, because we know what they sound like ~ It’s so cool! Elvis drew a lovely picture of them in his sketchbook, and Axel learned how to spell Cedar on the magnadoodle.


Ever since the first Nature Exchange, we have been learning to notice more, observe more, and appreciate more fully all the wonder that creation holds. Even birds on the deck can spur us into reading and drawing, listening and watching.

The world around us is truly amazing.

I have often thought that God’s goodness is shown in the sciences. Not that science is particularly good in and of itself, but that God created curiosity, and a desire to learn and ‘conquer’ things like the common cold, space travel, cancer, etc. Not only did God give us curious minds, but the ability to actually learn and absorb, and beyond that….a universe of unending mystery. We could study the life cycle of a pine tree every single day of our lives, and still be learning on our deathbed. Each atom holds a lifetime+ of things to learn about.

I don’t think we were intended to be bored.

Now I have ‘Atoms in My Life’ stuck in my head like you would not believe.

And, for the record, that is not my favorite Third Eye Blind song.

Organizing my new file cabinet,

The Days Are Just Packed


September is over, and October is already full to the brim with classes, field trips, books, and projects. I thought I was done ordering books, and then found several more that I *just have to have*! {Field guides, Spelling Books, and the Teacher’s Edition to Jacob’s Algebra} The kids are settling in to a good schedule, breakfast, morning chores, school work, lunch, and then, mayhem.

Our afternoons have been a bit chaotic since we have been watching another boy after school for a few weeks. The kids loved it, but it did make structuring the afternoon difficult. This was our last week of regularly picking him up, so I am hoping to fine tune our afternoon chores and activities.


Last week we had ‘computer class’ with what I like to call Double Harmon Academy. That is when we do things with our cousins, and it was pretty fun. Of course, everyone crowds around one computer, but that’s part of the charm, right? Living within walking distance of our family down here in Portland has been wonderful.


We were able to purchase a laptop for school use with the amazing giving through our fundraising site. The laptop has been in constant use, looking up birds, spelling words, and {pictured above} checking out Bill Nye, the Science Guy. This was their first time watching him, and they still talk about it. We were learning about Volcanos, and tectonic plates. Since then, the boys have been working on the perfect mud volcano in the backyard! It is the messiest, but most fun part of the day.


Every day, I wish we could have done more. I wish we were more organized, or had more space, or better attention spans. {myself included!} Learning happens all the time and in every situation, so I keep reminding myself {even when the kids dig up the whole front garden and spread the soil on the walkway…hey! Here’s a chance to teach them how to use a broom!} to keep on truckin’. Keep moving forward, keep reading, writing, and working on math. That’s all we really can do, and the rest will follow….at least I hope it will!

I am so very thankful for the time I have with my kids, the lasting memories we are making, day in-day out. The standard of normal family life that is synonymous with being together, and not fragmented as Ann Voskamp so eloquently puts it. Each of these kids is a gift – the grace of God in messy rooms and relentless mischief.