2019: A Year in Review

We’ve been greatly blessed as a family this past year–every day has been an adventure! Homeschooling is an absolute gift; we’re able to explore the boys’ individual passions, travel whenever and wherever, and read endless books as a family.

The boys continue to progress in karate, began theatre classes this fall, and enjoy spending time at the go-kart track for Asher’s races. Mark’s flexible work schedule allows him to spend plenty of family time with us throughout the year, and the boys love having Daddy around as much as possible! Nana and Papa treated the entire Ludwig crew to a Disney Cruise and Disney World this summer. We made memories that will last a lifetime!

Mark had the wonderful idea to escape the Texas summer heat in the mountains of New Mexico–so we packed up for an impromptu vacation and headed west! Our days were spent hiking and exploring God’s gorgeous creation…it was a beautiful trip that restored my soul. Daddy also reads to them every night at bedtime, which is just one of the many reasons I love him so much!

Asher (age 7.5) has discovered a passion for Shakespeare, loves to write, and creates endless stories. Keane (age 5.5) is a budding artist and mathematician; crafting, Lego-creations, and board games are his current favorites. We spent many hours at the Kimbell Art Museum, enjoying the masterpieces of Monet and Renoir. Asher attended the world premier of the Shakespearean adaptation SHE WOLF a total of three times…more if I would’ve let him.

We balance our days between memorizing scripture, poetry, Shakespeare, history facts, math facts, and spending copious amounts of time at LegoLand, the zoo, Fort Worth Botanic Gardens, and three different museums.

The Three Rs, history, geography, and science are taught using games, life-giving stories, and hands-on projects. (I did, however, stop short of mummifying a chicken.) For the second year in a row, we’ve continued as volunteer docents at Nash Farm, a historical farm in Grapevine; seeing the boys come alive at the farm has been such a joy! We also enjoy meeting up with our weekly Wild + Free nature group. My military schedule forced us to take a break from Classical Conversations this year, but we’ll be back next year!

I just began my eighteenth year in the USAF, Air National Guard, and switched over from Health Services Management to become a First Sergeant. A rank change came along with the position change; the whole family came out to the base for my long-awaited promotion to Master Sergeant. I leave for a month of training this winter.

Somehow I thrice managed to get published in 2019–my head is still spinning! This spring, two of my sonnets were published in In Love…& War: The Anthology of Poet Warriors. In the autumn, I published Disguise Fair Nature: A Military Memoir in Sonnets. All proceeds went to support my favorite veteran non-profit, DeCruit! I’ve had the great pleasure of serving as a co-instructor for this phenomenal course for the past year, and hope to be involved for many years to come. Being a change-agent for military veterans is one of my greatest passions. My sonnets were presented at Amphibian Stage Productions by fellow female veterans–two of the most phenomenal women I’ve had the privilege to meet!

My third book will be available mid-January, and is a compilation from twenty female veteran authors. Behind the Rank, Volume 3 will be available on Amazon (as well as direct purchase from myself) the second week of January!

How we Homeschool

We’re currently in our fourth year of homeschooling and are loving every minute! As a somewhat seasoned homeschooler, I’m often asked the same questions by inquisitive mothers and potential homeschooling families. While I’m always happy to answer questions and explain my methods, I realize such a conversation can feel like sipping from a fire-hose! The following information is my attempt to distill an overwhelming amount of information into manageable, actionable steps to help new homeschoolers feel confident in this exciting journey!

What do you do? How did you know what to choose?

Classical. Charlotte Mason. Boxed curriculum. Co-ops. University model. Unschooling. Unit studies. (And on and on and on…)

If that list makes your head spin, take a deep breath and realize you don’t have to pick a path or subscribe to one single method from the get-go. This isn’t a head-first swan dive off a cliff, it’s a gentle wading into the ebb and flow of a lifestyle full of freedom!

Until you create your homeschooling vision, set individual goals for your children, and fully understand their personality types, ignore those catchphrases and philosophies!

How do I create a homeschooling vision?

I credit Pam Barnhill for walking me through this ultra-important step. Her podcasts, YouTube channel, and Plan Your Year book set me on a successful planning path. She gave me a list of important questions to consider; from those points to ponder I came up with the following…

BIG PICTURE VISION:

When my children are adults, I want them to look back on their homeschooling experience with joy. I want them to see it as a memorable adventure full of opportunities to learn real world skills that prepared them for life — not just college — and taught them how to be lifelong learners. As adults, I want Asher and Keane to be absolutely in love with God and have a passion for His work. I want them to value healthy foods, consistent exercise, time in nature, and to enjoy reading as a hobby. I want them to be creative thinkers with empowered imaginations! When they think of me as their homeschooling mom, I want them to know I loved them unconditionally, that I was always available and willing to listen. I want them to see me as an encourager who was full of grace, and whose passion for Christ was evident every day. I want them to feel they had more opportunities to experience the real world. I want them to be proud of their adventurous experiences and the educational journey they got to take alongside their parents.

That 30,000 foot vision helped me fine-tune our daily vision, which also led to creating individual goals for each of my children. Skipping these steps would be akin to a train setting off on a cross-country journey without any tracks. You’ll get nowhere fast!

DAILY VISION:

In our homeschool we strive to engage in hands-on learning by playing games, having adventures, and spending time in nature every week. We will foster creativity and a love for reading through daily read-alouds, poetry tea times, and imaginative play. We will cultivate a life-giving home with peaceful Morning Time, where we focus on truth, goodness, and beauty through prayer, biblical affirmations, scripture, song, and purposeful memorization. We refuse to be tied to worksheets, workbooks, and following the crowd. We refuse to let a lesson bring us to tears or steal our joy.

INDIVIDUAL GOALS:

Reading: We will complete two Joyfully Read lessons per week, two Brave Writer lessons per week, and read four books to Leppy the Leopard Gecko each week.

Writing: We will practice Handwriting without Tears three times each week, Draw Write Now once a week, and write one greeting card each week.

Math: We will practice flash cards at least twice each week, do Right Start Math lessons twice each week, and play two math games each week.

Content Subjects: We will do weekly science lessons using The Good and the Beautiful’s Botany study; weekly history lessons with The Story of the World and The Peaceful Press; weekly art lessons with Masterpiece Society, trips to the Kimbell Art Museum, and composer study with Meet the Great Composers. Weekly geography lessons will be map drawing, and reading Hungry Planet and Material World. Latin and Spanish will be weekly DVDs, while Gaelic will be simple conversational bits and phrases.

Our goals and methods won’t look like anyone else’s, because they’re personalized to my family’s interests and personality types!

KNOW THYSELF:

Before you sink a ton of money into curriculums or co-ops, do the work of discovering your own and your children’s personality types. This is one of those life-hacks that has served me well in all aspects of parenting and homeschooling. Nurture by Nature by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger is an excellent reference that will help you type your children.

For example, I know I’m an INFJ. As a homeschooling mom, it’s wonderful to know my strengths and weaknesses. I strive to provide a safe, loving, understanding environment, rich with ideas & connections. My strengths allow me to identify with my children, and my struggles include ignoring my own needs. My homeschooling style is deeply conversational, and I seek out moments of beauty. I become discouraged by conflict and rules-based plans with no room for innovation or flexibility. I can be a stubborn perfectionist as well as a wise, caring friend…finding balance is a daily endeavor!

My oldest son, Asher, is an ESTJ, while my youngest is an ISFP. This gives me incredible knowledge and foresight in making a myriad of educational decisions for our family.

As an ESTJ, Asher is attracted to useful, concrete information and traditions. He is repelled by a lack of rules, order, and can’t stand laziness. He is motivated to create rules and take the lead. He becomes stressed by lack of plans or purpose, and by people who violate his internal rules and ideals. He sees logic and the value of hard work. He struggles with being bossy and giving up when frustrated. His stress symptoms include feeling isolated and misunderstood, which can lead to emotional upset. Ultimately, he is a natural leader who can follow trustworthy authority.

Keane’s ISFP tendencies lead him to be attracted to beauty, nature, and hands-on tinkering. He is repelled by standardization and conflict. He’s motivated to design beautiful creations and environments. He becomes stressed by loud environments and not being able to finish projects. He notices and responds to beautiful things, kindness, and generosity. He struggles with people-pleasing and being assertive. Some of his symptoms of stress include becoming withdrawn and focusing too much on structure and order. Overall, he is more spiritually aware than most, with a need for personal connection and personal space.

The time invested in creating our vision, goals, and delving into everyone’s personality types has allowed me to craft a deeply meaningful homeschool experience for our entire family. Oftentimes we look for quick-fixes or the “right answer” before understanding the nuts and bolts of those entrusted to our care.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of homeschooling your children, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day! Purposeful planning and vision casting have given me such a peace for this educational journey. May you, too, discover this peace as you define your own vision and goals!

Disney Adventures

I shamelessly admit that I am not a Disney person. My boys have only seen a small handful of Disney movies, and didn’t know (or care) who Mickey Mouse was until Nana began buying them several matching Mickey shirts for the upcoming family vacation. We’re not a big TV-watching family, we don’t have Disney soundtracks memorized, and they don’t know the difference between Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

I bought a cheap four-pack of mouse ears on Amazon before we ever left. Good thing, because Disney sold them for $20+ each!

That being said, we had a fantastic time on our Disney Cruise and our stay at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. Nana and Papa took the whole family (a dozen total of us) on an eight day extravaganza! It was an amazingly generous gift and we are now blessed with lifelong memories. While I definitely don’t consider myself a Disney convert, I do see the draw for those who drink the cool-aid. They make your family feel like their top priority, take extra care in preparing allergy-friendly meals, and cast members go out of their way to take care of any issues.

I set up an eye-liner pirate tattoo parlor before dinner. Keane was inspired to order “One bottle of rum, please!” from the waiter.

The boys visited the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique to be transformed into royal knights (their cousins had appointments to be transformed into princesses), and one of the cast members told Asher there was a dragon who lurked between decks seven and eight, but only came out at 3:00am. Asher is an extremely logical child who doesn’t believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, or any other made-up childhood entity…but he believed this very convincing lady. I still can’t figure out why he latched on to her story the way he did, but he went to bed convinced that he would wake up three minutes before 3:00am to grab his sword and shield to hunt down this cruise ship dragon.

Asher and Keane took their royal knight duties very seriously!

As Mark was putting the boys to bed, I snuck off to guest services to explain the issue. Strangest conversation I’ve ever had, to say the least! I figured if Disney caused the problem, Disney could solve the problem. I explained the elaborately detailed story related to Asher by the boutique cast member, and how devastated he was going to be when he realized he had been lied to (he’s an ESTJ, so dishonesty or being tricked is particularly upsetting). The very helpful crew member, Bianca, said she’d never before encountered this issue and offered to make a call to the stateroom, explaining to Asher that the dragon had been called away on a mission. When she called, he had already fallen asleep…but she didn’t stop there. She wrote a note in an official Disney Dream stationary card from the dragon’s perspective. It was Mushu from Milan. (Granted, he’s never seen Milan, but this lady gave it her all!) “Mushu” apologized to Asher for having to fly to China to help Milan with a special mission, but told him that he’d always be with him as a spirit guide. Did this all end in tears for my tenderhearted son? Yes. However, Bianca went out of her way to help; she truly went above and beyond. Asher found her note slipped under our stateroom door at 5:00am, when he woke up on his own to go find the dragon. My sweet boy shot up out of bed saying, “Dragon!” while grabbing up his sword and shield. He was met at the door with the card from Mushu; it softened the blow but still stung. Fortunately, he walked off the ship with many more happy memories than sad ones, so this wasn’t wholly devastating.

Extra happy because they didn’t get stung by jellyfish…Daddy wasn’t so lucky!

Aside from that disappointing escapade, the only negatives to speak of are the over abundance of commercialism and non-stop movies. Although, you kind of know what you’re walking into since it’s Disney, so that’s really no surprise. On the cruise ship, there’s a poolside Jumbotron that constantly plays Disney movies. It’s hard to avoid that one, but easy enough to ignore while swimming. Two pools and an epic water roller coaster proved much more exciting to my boys than the ginormous cartoons.

Their one and only obligatory character photo.

On the ship, they play the newest Disney movies that are currently playing in theaters worldwide. We could have seen Aladdin, Toy Story 4, and Avengers: End Game, but we did not. The idea of sitting in front of a movie screen for hours on end is not my idea of fun — especially during vacation. To give Daddy an after-pool-break, I did take the boys to see DisneyNature’s Penguins, which was adorably educational and entertaining. Every cable TV channel owned by Disney is accessible on your stateroom’s television, but that’s easily avoided by not turning on the TV.

The entertainment we did “indulge” in were the Broadway-style shows. We saw two of them: Believe and Beauty and the Beast. They were phenomenal; the extremely talented cast had the boys mesmerized and on the edges of their seats both nights!

Disney’s private island had gorgeous beaches!

Based on their phenomenal customer service, pristine beaches at Castaway Cay, and special attention to all of my food allergies, we would consider booking another Disney vacation within the next five years…but we’d never consider joining their vacation club and spending every vacation with Disney.

Getting extra mileage out of those pirate shirts in Nassau

Self Care through Mother Culture

Many a homeschooling mother has heard the term mother culture, but not all of us have a good grasp on how to implement it in our own lives. As I enter my fourth year of homeschooling, I’ve realized the importance of setting aside some sacred time and space to nurture my heart, mind, body, and soul. This goes beyond personal prayer and devotionals. While those two things are integral to my walk with God, mother culture is a type of self care that fills me up so I can continue giving to my children. It also anchors my soul in a way that lets me be me. At some point, my little birds will leave the nest. When that day comes, I want to know that I haven’t completely abandoned my own growth. Mothering is never finished, but it will change as my boys become men. In the midst of those changes, I cannot forsake kindling the fires of my mind, heart, body, and soul.

My latest Mother Culture Day was admiring Monet’s paintings at the Kimbell.

At any given moment, I have two or three books on Audible that I listen to while doing dishes, laundry, or driving around alone. My book table is spilling over with Sally Clarkson’s words of wisdom and several prayer books. Every other Tuesday night I meet up with a handful of homeschooling mamas for a Charlotte Mason book club. We also get together once a month for kid-free fellowship.

On Sunday nights the boys attend Awanas…and I cozy up with books at a nearby Starbucks. Approximately every six weeks, my husband will take the kids for a fun Daddy Day so I can have an introverted date day. Six hours all to myself. This is time I set aside to feed my soul — not to do laundry or dishes! I’ve been known to watch plays, wander through museums, listen to audiobooks while getting a pedicures, or meet up with my mom for a fun girls’ day. In the beginning, I felt guilty for this time away, but it makes me a better mother. This sought-after mother culture recharges my batteries and settles my soul for the work at hand: motherhood.

To commemorate my precious self-care time, I like shed my mom-uniform and dress up a wee bit.

If this concept seems entirely foreign to you, please don’t give up before giving it a shot! Ask your husband to take the kids to Chick-fil-A for two hours so you can read a book with a cup of tea in your favorite chair. Better yet, have him pop some popcorn for a movie night; this will buy you at least ninety minutes at a local coffee shop! If nature speaks to your heart and soul, sneak in a quick hike or nature walk around your neighborhood. Start small — steal away for a few precious moments to feed your inner self, and add more time each week. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Truth, Goodness, & Beauty-Sleep

On those days when all of your best efforts just aren’t enough to get the train up the hill, it’s probably best to pump the breaks and take a rest. Morning Time kicked off with a pirate treasure hunt, then moved onto MadLibs and play-dough and Legos — oh my! Scripture and Shakespeare were full of truth and goodness; Nature Study was full of beauty…and…then…things began to derail when it came time for nature journaling.

Asher had told himself before the pencil ever hit the paper that he couldn’t do it. While he never said it aloud, it was written all over him (that limp-noodle body language speaks volumes). With supernatural love speaking louder than my internal impatience, I urged him to try his best. Encouraging words just weren’t quite enough to pull him from the doldrums. Nevertheless, we persevered. Not because he wanted to, but because I sat with him and wouldn’t allow him to quit. I cheered him on and complimented his finger spacing between words. His perfectionist personality type can be a huge stumbling block when it comes to subjects like handwriting and drawing; frustration ensues when he can’t make the paper look like what he sees in his mind.

In these frequent situations, my attitude can go one of two ways:

1. I can allow that frustration to sweep us both out to sea and chide him for what some might see as a lack of effort.

2. I can look at the little boy God has entrusted to me, see both his strengths and weaknesses, and love him through it all.

A few hours after nature journaling time, he walked into the living room where I was folding laundry. Shoulders slumped and face fallen, he said, “Mom, I just have this big ball of feelings that I don’t know what to do with. I feel sad, like crying, and I don’t know why.” I gathered him up in my arms and told him that I sometimes feel that way, too. I thanked him for telling me his feelings, and snuggled him close. “Mom, do you think we could cuddle up and take a nap?” So we did, because hours earlier I had chosen option number two. How would our day have gone had I allowed frustration to reign? What would he have done with his big ball of feelings then? Over our three years of homeschooling, I’ve come to understand that it’s rarely just about the handwriting. The seeming problem at hand is usually a telltale sign of the condition of my son’s heart.

I’m so thankful that I stepped back and followed the Holy Spirit’s prompting. It was an incredibly humbling experience to realize that I held my son’s heart in my hands when I made the choice to extend kindness in the face of frustration. Keane was more than happy to join us on the couch, and we all crashed for a good two hours. Asher enjoyed his first nap so much that he took another one thirty minutes after waking up from the first. That, my friends, is God’s grace in action.

Adventuring with your Children

Throughout all of my reading, research, and experience as a homeschooling mother, I’ve learned that the best way to teach is to come alongside your children.

Do you want them to develop a love of reading? Don’t give them a stack of books and a command to read, read WITH them!

Cuddle up on the couch with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals to read together. I’ll read a paragraph, then point to my sons and have them each read a few sentences. This improves confidence and fluency, not to mentions fills everyone’s cuddle tanks! Each summer we sign up for the community library’s reading program (together). We listen to audiobooks (together), log our collective hours, collect our reading prizes (together) and celebrate each five hour milestone (together)!

Notice a trend?!

Do you want them to love nature and become passionate explorers? Make discoveries WITH them and explore nature with them!

This is another beautiful aspect of togetherness which will lead to budding independent exploration as the boys grow. Together, we take nature walks, hike trails, splash in puddles, and write in our nature journals. This outdoor together time sets the stage for semi-independent exploration. We are now to the point where my oldest is allowed to walk to the pond by himself — with me watching from the front porch. I can trust that he will be safe and follow our family rules because it’s a walk we’ve taken together countless times. (He’s also an ESTJ, so that helps!) After allowing him a bit of solo birdwatching time, I traipse down the path with little brother (an ISFP who enjoys having Mommy nearby for his explorations). Then I make things really exciting and announce that it’s Brother Time! I remind them to stay together on the bench to watch birds and turtles, then I quickly walk back home to pack snacks and umbrellas. I consider myself more of a hummingbird parent than a helicopter mom. A little space and perceived independence goes a long way in building confidence and nature skills!

Do you want them to love the Lord your God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength? Don’t just park them in Sunday School every week and assume the lovely volunteers will take care of that…bring them alongside you in your faith walk!

Read the Bible at bedtime, have morning devotionals, pray aloud (often, for anything and everything), worship together through music, recite liturgies, pass out cold water to the homeless when it’s 106 degrees in July, adopt a grandmother at the local nursing home and love her well until Jesus calls her home — all of that and more will show them what it’s like to worship with their whole life. Ask God for opportunities; I promise you he will provide and stretch you beyond your comfort zone!

I follow the mindset of missional motherhood; my home is my mission-field and my children are little disciples, eager to soak up and share the love of Jesus. They are God’s first and foremost, on loan to me for a short blink of an eye.

What will I do with that time?

Will I give them a stack of workbooks with a list of lessons and send them on their way with a deadline in mind?

Or, will I come alongside them in the spirit of discipleship and act as a godly mentor?

May I never grow weary of walking this journey alongside my children. May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us, wherever he may send us. May he guide us through the wilderness and protect us through the storms. May he bring us home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown us; may he bring us home rejoicing once again into our doors.

Morning Nature Walks

For the past couple of years, our school days have started with Morning Time at 9:00am. This year, we began instituting an 8:00am nature walk! Spending an hour in nature prior to beginning our school day has been a wonderful way to ensure the most important things aren’t forgotten.

Making time for wonder and wander opens our hearts to God’s grace and provision. The boys take time to catch frogs, marvel at Osage orange trees, drop sticks in the stream, and count how many red-winged blackbirds alight in the trees.

An hour outdoors at the start of our day sets a beautiful tone for everything that comes after. It’s a flawless transition to practice handwriting in our nature journals, leads to an organic drawing lesson, and unites our hearts for the coming day.

The boys discovered a hidden trail, neighborhood bat boxes, and the perfect place to bring our paints for a Monet-style art lesson. Creating a habit of starting each school day with a nature walk will no doubt enhance every aspect of our educational endeavors!