While wasting away time on the Book of Faces I came across the following image:

I eventually shared it and of course that lead to book talk. Books, books, books, everyone has favorites.  The ensuing dialogue got the wheels in my mind turning and I thought how glorious would a list of people's favorite books be?! I'm always looking for book suggestions, but not just for myself. 
So dear blog readers I have a request, in the comment section below please share your top two favorite books of all time -excluding religious holy text- and your top two "every child should read this" books.
I'll take all of the suggestions and compile a list that will be easily accessible on my blog.  It will be updated with each new suggestion.

So hurry and share, there are books in need of devouring!

Copyright(c) 2014 Rayven Holmes

 I have a confession to make, some days I just want to throw in the towel.  This of course isn’t an uncommon phenomenon in homeschooling.  When our neighbors pieced together that T.B.M. were homeschooled I heard the usual “you must be very organized and patient”.  I had to silently chuckle and give my standard smile, shrug, and dismissive “meh...I’m a bit Type A”.  Am I more organized and patient than parents who send their kids to public or private school, I highly doubt it.  There are days when my precious darlings voices sound more like nails on a chalkboard than sweet singing angels.  

Our last couple of weeks have been nails on a chalkboard weeks, where every fight I have to referee, every complaint and question I have to field,and every unfinished assignment is another notch in the “you shouldn’t do this” belt.  These past few weeks as I’ve looked at my never ending to-do list, the chaos of my home that is still in PCS purgatory a year later, and the sound of nails on the chalkboard screeched my name I mentally snapped. I was done. Screw it. Never fucking again.  I was going to toss General Disarray and Professor Chaos into public school and hunt down a preschool for Stormaggedon.  Then I could reclaim my sanity-and hang a picture without having to investigate another crash!-, because I had clearly failed at this whole homeschooling- stay at home mom thing.   

Then Tuesday morning General Disarray got up, quietly did his chores, inquired about breakfast, and then disappeared for a bit.  When he reemerged it was to show me a series of drawings he had done, they were plans for mods he wanted to make for Minecraft.  He was thrilled to show them to me, but he was disappointed too.  “I want to make these, but I have to wait until I’m adult before I can make a mod” he insisted.  He was convinced this was only a skill an adult could acquire, because us adults possess the ability to do things that kids can’t -ha!-.

I assured him that he didn’t need to be an adult to create a mod for Minecraft he simply needed to learn to program, and even that could be learned at his age.  After a bit of Googling we discovered Scratch and made him an account.  He spent the rest of the day exploring and learning.  On Wednesday, after he plowed through his regularly scheduled lessons with gusto, he went back to work on the various projects he had started the day before.  His dinner conversation that evening was lively, he was so excited to share with us what he had done and what he plans to do. In the chaos of unorganized books, piles of unfiled paperwork, screams, complaints, and general life insanity a fire had been lit.  I did nothing more than let him know he was capable of something and then gave him the tools to do it, but then again that’s what I believe education should be.  To equip an individual with the skills and tools needed to fulfil their dreams.  It’s easy to forget why we do this day in and day out when we’re in the middle of the chaos that comes with homeschooling.  So today I’m remember why I do this, because tomorrow will be chaos, everyday is to some extent, but in the chaos are victories-both large and small-.  
Will T.B.M. still be homeschooled this upcoming school year, yes.  Will I still have moments of feeling as if I’m failing and days when I add to the strands of white hair that have started appearing on my head?  Of course. I’ll take solace in those precious moments when the why behind what we do becomes very clear, I’ll push forward knowing that more victories await us, and I’ll keep quality wine and chocolate on hand for the chaos.

“Take your victories, whatever they may be, cherish them, use them, but don't settle for them.”
Mia Hamm

Copyright(c) 2014 Rayven Holmes

"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails."
—William A. Ward

Parenting, especially homeschooling, has taught me one very important thing, while adjusting the sail don’t forget to throw your head back and feel the breeze on your face.  

Our homeschooling journey has had its’ ups and downs and I've been realistic about it. There are days though, like yesterday, when I reach for our materials and realize that my little creator of chaos has actually accomplished the items needed to move from K/1st to 1st/2nd -I do a combination of grades allowing for them to have more flexibility in their core academic requirements-.

So our plans in the next few weeks will include a little graduation for him, something he has been looking forward to for a very long time. As realistic as I am that our struggles aren't over, that there will still be days when I want to bang my head against the desk, or actually bang my head against the desk. There is hope, that there will always be a breeze to refresh us.   

Copyright(c)2014 Rayven Holmes

Wow.  2013, what can I say?  Well, if you've read this blog for any amount of time you can tell I didn't say (type) much during the year.  On my personal blog I love to do a yearly recap, highlighting a post from each month, of course if I did that for this blog I would have FIVE whole post to share.  Blimey, that sounds a bit depressing, and in a way it is because I do enjoy blogging.  It’s therapeutic, it allows me to keep a running log of almost everything we do -when I actually take the time to sit and type it up-, and it’s fun to share our life with others and get a peek into their lives as well.  As much as I enjoy it, 2013 just wasn't the year for it, sure I could have made myself do it, but then it would have lost what makes it special for me and that’s just no good.

2013 wasn't a bad year, just a transitional one -to steal a phrase from a friend of mine-, and I think a break from all those various online things I spent 2011 and part of 2012 doing was good, mostly.  When we got to VA I had one goal in mind, it was my big yearly goal for 2013, to experience “all the things” in relation to home schooling options we have here.  There is a sea of co-ops, home school groups, clich├ęs, clubs, and teams to get absorbed into.  Now we didn't take part in all things on the running list in my head, but we did throw ourselves head first into a lot of opportunities, despite the chaos at home of adjusting to life back in the states, for our kids that was a huge adjustment because they don’t remember life before Okinawa.  As well as adjusting to a new area in general, first time home ownership, and the fact that we spent the first three (almost four) months of 2013 living in and out of TLF rooms (temporary living facilities for you non-military folks) which took its toll on everyone, we soldiered on in hopes that when the house of cards fell the pieces worth keeping would land face up instead of us just landing face down in a puddle of our own salty tears.

Well, the winds of 2014 blew the house down and I can say I’m pleased with the cards that are face up.  2013 was an exhausting year, but we gained some great insight into what works for us and what breaks us.  Once again I find myself reverting back to a central schedule, that got thrown to the wayside in 2013, and as a result there were clear negative changes in behavior, that were further agitated by all the other changes our family was going through, and not just for the children but for the adults as well.  I’m a firm believer in family cohesion and acknowledging that change doesn't just upset the children, but the adults as well, and our reaction to those changes can cause even more issues for our children.  It can easily become a cycle of negativity, stress, and frustration.  Now, personally that’s now how I like to live my life, and not how I want to live it, nor does this allow for a cohesive family unit.  The beauty in today’s obstacles is clarity tomorrow, though, and I have plenty of clarity now.

We’re all going into the new year with a family schedule, once again, and the freedom to say no to anything that doesn't fit, of course Uncle Sam is the only loop hole to this, but we have a pretty good idea about what he has in store for our family this year, which is a tremendous improvement over the last few years, and will allow our schedule to work in our favor even more than it has in the past.

For new readers let me reiterate something I've mentioned countless times before, I know schedules don’t work for every family.  Some like to play things loosely goosey and find that the rigidness of a schedule reminds them of public education and thus they avoid it.  That’s what makes the individuality of home schooling so amazing, what works for my family doesn't have to work for your family.  Take the bits you like and apply them as you see fit and throw out the rest, my family is just one example of the sea of home schooling families out there, and I promise you we all have a very different way of getting through these years of sleepless nights, family upheaval, and algebra.  Find what works for your family and stick with it and if or when it stops working embrace the freedom to change it.

And if all else fails, just dance.

Copyright(c)2014 Rayven Holmes

Writing.  Some people really enjoy it and others...well...they don’t.  I fall into the “enjoy it when I’m in the mood” camp.  It’s a great release, the ability to articulate one’s ideas onto paper is just amazing to me.  Of course lately I haven’t been in the mood for writing-which sadly includes blogging-. The ideas are there, I've even started a few blog post, but the desire just fizzes. I blame lack of sleep and far too many commitments.  So what do you do when life’s comings and goings impede on your desire to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)?  You do a rewrite. Yes, I’m rewriting our life.  Slashing commitments from our schedule and slowly retreating back into our little den, similar to life circa 2011, but with a few more friends, and a co-op that we may or may not do again next school year.  

Our move back to the states was a curse and a blessing all in one. We, finally, have all of the opportunities that I wanted the boys to have and experience, but those opportunities bring with them commitments of our time, money, energy, as well as a whole lot of extra stress. Which has a tendency to zap what little energy reserve a mother of three has to start with and I’ll admit I’m a bit selfish.  At the end of the day, after teaching, feeding, cleaning, refereeing, and generally keeping all three of them alive I still want to have energy for my own hobbies and interests. I don’t currently have that and it depresses me-which isn't good-.

As a way to help usher in our lighter load and to help motivate my fingers to get back into typing I thought participating in NaNoWriMo -instead of just talking about possibly participating one year in the near or distant future- would be a good idea. Then, I found out they have an option for kids and I got really excited and the little wheels in my sleep deprived brain started turning.  

I've mentioned before that we were moving to a one subject a day type of school schedule and we've been doing really well with it. It’s removed a lot of the pressure that comes with feeling like you have to cover everything in one very long day.  Instead we focus our energies on one core subject for that day and highlight things that need a bit of repetition to stick, usually using games or relaxed question and answer sessions before dinner.

After looking over the NaNoWriMo information I thought what better way to expand on this idea then by focusing just on reading and writing for the month of November. Their readings would be a mixture mostly fiction with a healthy dose of books that tied in history and science so those things aren't completely neglected. They would also still be free to play their educational math apps and other little games. I may even have them do a math lesson or two if they experience writers block, but our overall focus would be on letting our imaginations come to life on paper.  They both already love telling their own stories at bedtime and General Disarray has been working hard on a series of short stories over the past few months, this just seems like a natural progression for their already creative minds.

This will also be a great segue for them as well as myself into what life is going to be like after November.  Less distractions, more time to pursue our creative selves in the comfort of our home, and more emphasis on being present in what we’re doing instead of just going through the day to day motions and checking things off of a calendar. Feel free to call us hippies, it really doesn't matter as long as we’re enjoying what we’re doing -at least 90% of the time-.

Now you might be asking “Can your kids really write a novel in a month?” Maybe. Hell, I don’t even know if I can get it done.  The beautiful thing about NaNoWriMo for kids is that they get to set their own word count, and they have a nifty word count calculator to help kids determine what their goal should be.  Now obviously General Disarray will have a higher goal count than his brother because they are at two different stages in their writing abilities. For General Disarray I really want him to just write, I figure the more he does it the better he will get at it. I also think he has enough ideas with his short stories to really produce a fun novel. With Professor Chaos this is more about helping him see, in an applied way, how a story grows and develops. Basically, it will be for teaching him the parts of a story and helping him to learn how to go into more detail and tie parts of a story together.  Since he struggles with writing we’ll be using dictation for his story.  

I plan to take it a step further though and after it’s all over I’ll print out their novels and have them illustrate them, then we’ll bind them and they’ll have their very own book. Told in their own words, illustrated with their own art work.

NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program does make it easier to do something of this magnitude.  There are plenty of resources on their website for anyone interested in giving it a go with their kids.  They even offer a free PDF workbook (three versions so you can pick the one that fits your child’s grade range) which we’ll be using to kick off the program towards the end of this month.

Hopefully, we’ll all come away from this with a little more passion for creating words on paper (or electronic paper) and three awesome novels.

Copyright(c)2013 Rayven Holmes

My children are like night and day.  While Stormageddon's personality is starting to blossom, General Disarray and Professor Chaos  are very easy for me to peg. For General Disarray learning and retaining knowledge is effortless, as long as he is somewhat focused. He may not always fill you in on what he has learned that day but, you'll hear about it in full detail when he's ready.  Professor Chaos on the other hand struggles with the things "average" kids his age are "expected" to do.  He needs more time to process new information, he needs more time to formulate a response, and he needs the information presented in different ways. Sitting still and doing worksheets isn't the best method of instruction for him...I know this now.  
About a year ago I was as big as a house and fed up with a lot of things including homeschooling Professor Chaos. Sure, General Disarray and I would have our bad days but, generally speaking we got accomplished what we needed to do without starting WW3.  Not with Professor Chaos though, oh boy he is an eye opening experience.  We would be chugging along in our Teach A Child To Read lessons, Saxon Math, or a whole host of other materials we used; and then he would just stop, shut down, and not even try. I would push and he would push back, eventually we would both be angry and in tears and I would be left wondering if I was making the right choice.  
Maybe he would be better served in public school? He was five years old, surely he should be able to do all these -unrealistic- things we expect of little people who just stopped crapping their pants the year before. The thing is he couldn't. He wasn't developmentally ready for what I had been programmed to believe he "should" be doing. Sure there are kids who can do those things and more with no effort  when they're five, General Disarray was one of those kids. Professor Chaos wasn't though and all my pushing did was create a negative attitude towards learning in general for him. Which is something I observed in public schools and it’s not something I wanted to recreate in my own home.
So I backed off. I let go off the wheel.  I still read to him, well as much as I could with a baby and an international move.  Thankfully, he has a wonderful older brother who would, and still does, spend hours reading to him. I still worked in concepts like letter sounds, numbers, basic addition and subtraction throughout the day but, did very little formal/planned learning with him. I gave him the chance to steer and then one day a few months ago, while sitting in our hotel room watching his brother plow through a lesson, he turned to me and asked "Can I do some school work too?"  He had steered the wheel back into the school lane all on his own.  
Now, I will admit internally I cringed a bit thinking back to all the struggles we've had, but I said yes and proceeded to dig through the materials I packed until I found something just for him. He's been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. I've had to realize that I'm not the driver of the bus they are, it's just my job/responsibility to help guide them in the right direction.  I'm like their own personal Garmin, except I know-well I'm learning- that there are moments when I need to just sit down, shut up, and let them go left when I really want them to go right.
Sure, I could have fought with him over the last year, but where would that have got us? Would he be eager for his assignments every day? Would he turn to me while in the middle of what use to be such a tedious task for him and exclaim "You know mom I think I'm having fun!"? Probably not. He would be like a growing number of kids who decide that school is hard and unpleasant because they were forced into it before they were mentally, emotionally, and physically ready for it.
Just because a child reaches a certain age determined by others doesn't mean they are ready for formal education. One very important lesson I've been learning on our homeschool journey is that there is no one size fits all when it comes to learning and education. What one child may be able to do at five another won't be able to do until they’re seven. It's easy to forget that each person, and that's what a child is-a person-, develops at their own rate. But, they do.
I'm striving to remember that as Stormageddon grows. He may not get there at the same time as other children his age, he may even get there early, but he will get there. And if he, or his brothers, happen to hit a dead end I'll be there on the dashboard to help them make the necessary u-turn in the right direction.  

"Focus on the journey, not the destination. 
Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it."~Greg Anderson

Copyright(c)2013 Rayven Holmes

*GASP* Did I just type that? Now before the holy rollers start praising Jesus, just slow your roll and back the Jesus train up a bit. Now, I say church but, I do not mean church in the context the average American thinks of church. There isn't any praying... well, there’s probably some somewhere in the building but I'm not part of it.  No one is laying on hands unless there is a hug involved and the one time hell was mentioned the laughter it caused warmed my dark evil godless tree-hugging heart. So I wouldn't call it church.
I prefer the term fellowship, not just because it’s the name on the building but, it more accurately describes what happens there. Of course the bigger question is why I of all people would go to a * looks around...whispers...* church? My last encounter with a church was in 2008 and it was a favor to my father because they were having a family and friends day and we just happened to be in town on that very Sunday. Talk about a miscalculation in my vacation planning! Since then I've done my best to avoid religious institutions and religion in general-aside from debates and general rage induced rants-.
If I generally don't like religion why would I crawl out of bed on a perfectly good Sunday morning? The Spouse and I pretty much agree that religion is generally a waste of time but, when it comes to Unitarian Universalism he and I differ. I find UUism...interesting, yeah I think that's the best word to use. You never really know what you'll get. Before I walk into any relatives church I can tell you exactly what will happen, moment for moment-based on the flavor of Christianity they prescribe to- and when it's all said and done I'll still be going to hell in their eyes.
But when I walk into a UU fellowship I'm allowed to confront nearly 30 years of religious bullshit that would take years to wade through and this blog is not the place for it all, and I can do it in a community of love and understanding.  Which gets to the why of it all. Over my life I've heard and seen things that have made me cynical, unyielding, and at times downright cruel to those who believe a whole host of things that I just don't see any shred of evidence for-and to the human race in general-. 
Now, granted at times this has been justified, I see no point in playing nice with someone who equates gays with pedophiles or who claims that Atheist and other non members of the "right" religion are the cause of all the world's problems. But, I can't lump people who carry one label in with all the idiots who also carry that label. It's not fair to project my baggage on individuals who are good decent people. This I know, that doesn't mean it's easy to do. In fact, far from it, while I work through my own personal issues with the religious community though, I still have three little people who are looking to me for answers.
I have no issues with sharing my personal beliefs with them -they are my children after all-, and have done so and will continue to do so. I know, though, that my own personal beliefs about every single issue are just that, my own. I can't very well criticize religious parents for not giving their children the option to find their own beliefs and then prevent my children from doing the same. It's hypocritical and truthfully for me it seems unfair.  The one thing I hated more than anything on Sunday mornings growing up was the fact that I wasn't given a choice. I had to go to church, I had to believe that what I was told was the only truth, and I better smile while I praised the sweet baby Jesus for all he does! I've never wanted that for my children. 
Every Sunday they are given a choice and they go if they so choose, they learn in an environment where they are free to question, and where they can talk with other people from various backgrounds and start to think deeper about what they've been taught at home or heard from family members. They have the freedom of choice. And while they're exploring their beliefs they're also reaffirming values we teach in our home, and who doesn't love an outlet that tells your kids to just be a decent loving human being simply because we only have this one planet and we all have to live on it together? No threats of eternal hell fire, not gods and goddesses to please.
Just people working together to make the world a bit better. I can get out of bed for that.

Copyright(c)2013 Rayven Holmes