Tuesday, May 29, 2012

School's out...but not for long!

This weekend we made one of the biggest decisions thus far in preparation for life on the road: selecting and ordering our curriculum for the kids' education next year. I (Stephanie) have been doing a lot of research over the past 9 months, and had narrowed most subject areas down to what seemed to be the best option for each of our kids, but it was a big step for me to actually pull the trigger and place the order. Maybe because I would like for each of the kids to follow the curriculum throughout our time on the road, so it seems like I'm making a long-term decision instead of just for one year. Realistically, if we find that something doesn't work for us, that's one beautiful aspect of homeschooling...we can change it! However, paying the equivalent to a year's tuition in one lump sum is sobering and I definitely wanted to get this right, from a financial perspective as well as educational!

I received several notices of shipment today and to say that I'm giddy is an understatement! I cannot wait for the book deliveries to start arriving!!!

Without wanting to come across as an advertisement for the curriculum companies (actually, we do get a small reward now if you purchase through our Sonlight link in the sidebar), I would like to share with you, our readers, what we selected for our basic curriculum for the coming year. As an aside, our older girls are only one year apart, so we will be teaching them together and expanding/customizing parts of the curriculum to challenge Caroline beyond where Lydia is at academically. However, since they are both so young and so close in age/ability levels, this is the best option for our family.

Core Curriculum, including Language and Literature, History and Bible, we have selected Sonlight Curriculum's Core A for our girls. This curriculum is easily adaptable to multiple ages  and the Level A is perfect for children ages 5,6 and 7 (right where our girls fall!). Within their core curriculum, we can select the level of readers that are appropriate for each girl's reading level, and have ordered a set of each level of reader that we'll need as well. If we find that we move through those faster than expected (which I'm prepared might happen, as Caroline surprised me with her reading level on the various assessments that I tested her with), then I can easily order the next level of readers that fits within the core curriculum seamlessly. Sonlight also is a curriculum that presents the material with a Biblical worldview, which is important to us. We believe that all Truth is God's Truth and try to incorporate the bigger picture into everything that we teach our kids, so a curriculum that does the same (without the added preparation of us lesson-planning our own Biblical integrations into the curriculum) is important to us. I also appreciate that Sonlight doesn't teach from a particular doctrinal perspective nor does it try to candy-coat anything, shelter kids from anything "sad" within its selections. They do not choose to neglect great works that might not be aligned with scripture (allowing kids to think critically and process Truth for themselves, when age-appropriate), nor stretch a concept too thin to connect it to scripture. That's also not how we roll!

Math, we have selected Saxon for our math curriculum. The school where our girls are coming from and where I formerly taught uses this curriculum and I love it! It is a spiraling curriculum, so you cover several concepts at once and build upon your knowledge over the course of the year and throughout the entire curriculum (K-12). We've selected the Math 1 level, and will work this summer to catch Lydia up to speed with any gaps she may have, but coming from a very academic Prep-K program as well as being gifted in math, she doesn't need a full year of Kindergarten math, and I can expand the curriculum for Caroline easier than teaching two separate math programs, only slightly off from one another.

Penmanship. While many public schools are steering away from teaching penmanship and instead are focusing on keyboarding skills, we do believe that penmanship is a valuable life skill and are choosing to teach this to our kids. We will be using the A Reason For Handwriting curriculum to build our girls' printing skills while also working on weekly scripture memorization. I strongly believe that handwriting needs to be purposeful, and down the line we will teach copywriting of important literary works, but at their ages, simple scripture Truths are the most appropriate method of teaching handwriting in a meaningful way.

Phonics. We are using Victory Drill Book to teach phonics to all 3 of our older kids. Ian will work on pre-reading skills such as letter and sound recognition, Lydia will work on her phonics charts, blends, short vowel words and then long vowel words, while Caroline will work toward mastery of these concepts and more complex words with these skills. I love that they can all use the same book, work through the same concepts together and it's the best method that I know of for teaching kids to read! I taught Victory Drill for years at HCS, and cannot rave enough for how great it is for readers of all abilities!

Spelling. This is one area that I have yet to get a feel for how extensive we'll be working with our kids on. This next year, it will mostly be Caroline, but as the year progresses we will likely be working with Lydia on her spelling as well. Because of not knowing how involved we need to be with reinforcing spelling skills, we're going to start with using Spelling City for our spelling curriculum, since it's all online and she can move as quickly or slowly through the lists as she needs to.

Speech Therapy. This is what is totally new to me. Because Ian will need to continue speech therapy, we've purchased the Articulation Station app for him to use in lieu of decks and decks of articulation cards. It was created by a SLP and is highly reviewed by other professionals, so it was a clear choice for our son. Additionally, he can work independently, and there is even a setting where either Jason or I can record the words, so that as he practices repeating the words, he is hearing a real voice (even better, Mom or Dad's!) to hear the nuances of the words and model from our articulation, even when he is working on his own.

Science and Geography. We are not using any formal curriculum for these areas this coming year. We are going to use more of an un-schooling or delight-directed learning approach by exploring these areas through our travels and through life. What better classroom to learn these things than the world around us?!? Especially as our scenery changes frequently!

Now we just wait! We might have the only kids who are asking when we can start school again...but maybe it's because we've told them that it will be once we're in our house on wheels and they cannot wait for that day to arrive. Neither can I!

And as a side note, today when I went to deposit the money to pay off my credit card bill from purchasing all of the curriculum over weekend, I was once again amazed at the little ways where God shows himself in confirmations of our steps along this journey. We have been selling items that we no longer need around the house to purchase items that we do need as we go on the road full-time. When I opened the envelope to get out the money to pay for our curriculum, I was hopeful that what we have sold would cover the full cost, without need for inserting an "IOU" to ourselves from future sales. 
As I counted the last of the bills, what was in the envelope was exactly the amount that I needed to deposit--down to the dollar! Not a penny more nor less than was needed. I seriously had to sit down because it was abundantly clear to me in that moment that we're exactly where we are supposed to be right now in the process. It seems a bit chaotic and very scattered right now, but if I only look down at the step where we are right now, the path is clear. It's only when I look too far ahead do I get dizzy and the way seems foggy. I need to remember that God never promised to illuminate the entire road, only our steps--which is exactly where we are right now. And in the midst of chaos, I found a slice of peace today. It's been a good day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What do I have left?

I found myself in the same situation/predicament today that I have found myself many times before.  I have invested so much of myself and my energy into my day that I have nothing left for my family.  Upon my arrival home, I have nothing else on my mind but to just kick back and veg out, to do what I want to do.  My children, always pining for my attention, keep calling to me to watch their show or to follow them around.  Meanwhile, I am just getting irritated at their volume level and getting in the way of the task that I am trying to accomplish, be it cleaning something up, preparing dinner, or one of many tasks that I have before me.

Yes, I did compel myself (because force is too strong of a word) to get down on their level to interact and play.  We did a brief 'Daddy jungle gym' (let your imagination be your guide) and played with some blocks, but I quickly went back to my household tasks.  Yet, it was during bath time, another one of those begrudging chores, that I really thought about where I was at, both mentally and physically.  I didn't have the time or energy for them, at least, not the amount that they deserve.

Granted, as a working parent I cannot come home every day brimming with energy and zeal, ready to hug and tackle my kids right when I walk in the door and then race around with them in our back yard until my lovely wife has dinner prepared.  But really, how many times have I come home only to ignore them, to fulfill my own selfish desires, which in reality consists mostly of vegging out and tuning out?  Where is the balance, where my kids get the interaction with their awesome father that they crave, but I get the chance to unwind?  When I think about it, if they are not out of bed before I leave in the morning, they may only get 3 hours of their day with me.  For you non-mathematical people, that is only 12.5% of the day.

I write this looking ahead.  I look ahead to the days when I can spend my whole day investing into my children.  When I can play with them for hours on end, to be with them as they make new discoveries, hone their skills, and gain new talents.  I pine for what is ahead of my family, when we have the opportunity to be with each other not for just a day or two over the weekend, but for when we can spend weeks at a time getting under each others skin.  I am eager for the time when we will need to step away from each other for some alone time rather than wishing that we had just one or two more hours to play.

I love my kids.  I love how they pull me down to their level, which is one of joy, fun, amazement, and discovery.  God bless where he is taking this family, I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

One foot in front of the other

I feel like my heart has been racing at a hummingbird's pace this week. It's full--of lots of good things that excite me, of a number of bittersweet bits that bring tears through my smile, and a sprinkling of anxiety, because try as I might to fight it, I'm still a control freak.

I am still perpetually in awe of how God is making His hand very clearly seen in our family's major transition. The pieces of what needs to go/what we need to acquire/what we need to do and in what order continue to just fall into place exactly when they need to--and not a moment too soon!

That contributes to some of my anxiety, if I'm honest, because of my control freak tendencies. I am quick to forget that we aren't in control here and that things will happen when they need to and when they should. It's just a little overwhelming sometimes to look around and see a van, a motorcycle, a house and a houseful of furnishings that need to be sold within the next 6 weeks or so. We also have to pack up and move all that we will be bringing with us into our RV (and the nebulous truck that we're still looking for!) to head off for our first job site in that same time. It's totally doable, I just get bogged down with details more than I should.

I've been finalizing our education plans for our kids too, as they wrap up their school year this week. I want to have any curriculum that we need shipped before June so that we're organized and ready to start their next educational level whenever we get to our first destination. Since summer will be Jason's heavy work season, we'll start our school year over the summer to align their breaks more closely with our travel and "vacation" breaks.
All of the little Simpsonites this morning. It's Lydia's last day of Prep-K.

As the school year wraps up, we're starting the series of "Goodbyes" to our friends, co-workers and neighbors here in town. As excited as we are for what lies ahead and as hard as we are trying to remain present while we are here, when the time comes to say "See you later," it's really difficult for me, not knowing how long it might be before we do see these friends once more.

So we continue to keep on keeping on. I remind myself that the journey is the destination. And that doesn't just start for our family when we hit the road. It started the moment that we breathed our first breaths. And so I'll just keep breathing in and breathing out and trusting that our story will continue to unfold just as it should.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Let me tell you a story...

I love stories. For as long as I can remember, I've loved to hear people's stories and get a little insight into who they are, how they got to where they are today, and where they are going. My favorite game for many years was The Un-Game--basically a story-telling game, and my favorite book as a young girl and teen was The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris VanAlsburg (author of Jumanji), which was not much more than a series of unrelated pictures which I used as story prompts to try to figure out the story behind the picture.

So, if you'll indulge me, I'd like to tell you a story about how incredible life is when it starts to come full circle and you see that you really are on the track that you're supposed to be on...

Growing up, my parents were both teachers and we were blessed with the unique opportunity to travel extensively every summer for 2-3 months. Now, we didn't travel for 2-3 months all at once. We would usually travel for 4-6 weeks, come home briefly, then leave for another 2-3 weeks, return home, and occasionally take a third short trip for a week or so right before school would resume.

It was glorious and I was a teenager before I realized that this is not the norm and not how everyone spends their summers as a child! We traveled in a van and pop-up trailer, my parents, my younger brother and me, and we explored each of the lower 48 states over the course of 10 summers. I grew up dreaming about my "Dream RV"--not a "Dream House" that most kids dream of, and I would spend hours sketching and designing every detail.

My father never knew a stranger and was a man of many interests. When he became interested in something, he jumped in with both feet and immersed himself with his passions. Most notably, he was known for his interest in Harley Davidson motorcycles, as he definitely had the biker persona going for him and spent his retirement hanging out at the local Harley shop. This turned into a part-time gig, since he ended up selling a number of bikes, parts and gear just because everyone thought that he worked there. He called himself the "WalMart greeter of Tri-County Harley". And he was.

However, before he was an unofficial salesman at the Harley shop, he immersed himself for many years as an unofficial salesman-of-sorts at the local RV dealership. He would stop by and hang out with his buddy who owned the dealership in the afternoons after school and on the weekends. He would show campers to customers when the staff was especially busy and also travel to regional RV shows to help with the events. Consequently, I spent many afternoons and weekends at the RV store as well with my Dad. He loved RV life and he loved his friends at the RV shop.

Fast-forward to recent days, and as an adult, I am thrilled that my dream as a little girl of living in an RV is almost coming to fruition. Even better, we now OWN my "Dream RV"! I'd be lying if I said I haven't skipped and danced a few times just thinking about it this past week!

When we found the floor plan that we *knew* was right for us, I could hardly believe that the only one within a drivable distance that was the year, make and model that we were looking for was only available at Couch's Campers, the local RV dealership that I spent so much of my childhood in. (Might I also add that it was only one of two used fifth wheels that Couch's had on the lot at all when we called?!? This was clearly not coincidental!) It was the icing on the cake to be able to do business with a family that I know is the best in the business and will treat us like family.

However, in our initial conversations and dealings over the telephone, I was careful not to say who I was. Maybe I'm a little backwards, but I don't like to be given special treatment due to who I am or who I know. I'm totally not a name-dropper. If anything, I'm the opposite. Like I said, maybe I'm just awkward like that. I like to fade into the background more often than not, but when I go back home, everyone knew "Big Tom" and knows "Mrs. Highley" and it's hard to be just another person in the crowd. I have to say, it was refreshing that we were treated exactly the same when we were just another couple of customers on the phone as we were when we walked into the store and the staff put the pieces together who we were (well, except for a big hug from Mr. Couch, who I haven't seen in the three years since my Dad passed away).

The best part of it all is that we were able to purchase our new "house on wheels" from the very dealership that I grew up spending my weekends as a little girl. I was able to shake the hand of my Dad's good buddy, Jerry Couch, and thank him for his great service.

Stories make up our lives and who we are, and this is absolutely a chapter that will make the final edit of my story. This chapter, 25 years in the the making, of a little girl's dream, not only coming true, but also coming full-circle.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

One less thing to juggle

About a month ago while searching the internet for RVs, I came across a floor plan that suited our needs/wants to a T.  After researching it some more, I came to the realization that it really was the total package.  I soon began to search for any of these models for sale locally so I could check it out and make sure that it really was what we wanted.  I found one in Indianapolis and made my way out to it.  Sure enough, I loved how it was laid out and constructed (although I knew that the one I was walking through was not one that I would buy).  So the search continued online, and I found one at a dealership in southwest Ohio.  We were able to take a trip over to check it out, loved it, and were able to work out a deal.  So, without further ado:
Our new (to us) Fifth Wheel!
That's right, you are looking at a 2010 Keystone Mountaineer 345 DBQ.  It is in impeccable condition from the previous owner taking such great care of it.  With 4 slides and 36' long, there is plenty of room for the Simpson Six inside.  Check out the layout:

Once we are able to begin working on the inside to spiffy it up and personalize it a bit, we will post before and after photos on the RV page.  Until then, here are a few interior shots from today.
The kids room.  We had the dealer remove one of the sofas.
The living area as you walk in from outside.
Looking towards the front.
The master bedroom.

We purchased it from Couch's Campers, which is located in Middletown, OH.  As I stated, we found the RV browsing their website, called about it with some questions, and scheduled a time to head over and see the RV.  Since we don't live close, we were able to do most of the business over the phone, and they had the RV prepped and ready to go when we showed up.  It was really nice that a service tech was able to walk us through and show us how each system worked on the RV.  He was able to answer our questions and take all the time that we needed.  
They are really great to work with, were able to answer all of our questions, and have a wonderful facility to showcase their RVs.  They also have a large service center equipped to work on RVs, whether yours needs a repair, maintenance, or something upgraded.  The dealership has a large parts section where you can restock your supplies or spruce things up.  We definitely recommend stopping by to check them out if you are in the area.  (Sounds like an ad, but it isn't.  They really are that great.)

We are super excited to have this checked off of the list.  Now we get to start prepping it for our travels.  YAY!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Stopping to have a little fun

In the spirit of being present where we are at, we took yesterday afternoon to just play in the front yard.  I understand that this may not seem like a huge undertaking or something noteworthy, but I realized that we have not taken time recently to just play in our front yard.  We have been busy planning, processing, running, and adjusting to simple living.

Yes, it was a little warm and we got a little sticky and dirty, but otherwise we would not have had the chance to see our strawberries beginning to turn red, all of the plants sprouting in the garden, or Caroline's '4' leaf clover (she added a leaf to a 3 leaf clover).

The kids rode their bikes around the driveway, creating their obstacle course with the cones.  We threw frisbees back and forth and kicked the soccer ball.  Flowers were picked, grass was combed through, and Eliza continued her practice of maneuvering up and down a step without tripping over her dress.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Adventures of a Single-Vehicle Family in the Suburbs...

So, I'd be lying if I didn't say that part of me is very excited to now be a single-vehicle family. Yes, we still have the motorcycle (for at least a little while longer) that Jason can ride solo to and from places that he needs to be, but only when the weather is fair. The past few days has been rather spring-like and full of rain. While the rain is wonderful for our garden, it's also forced us to adjust rather quickly to life with one vehicle.

First, let's get the logistics out of the way. Each day now, we're all rising early and leaving the house by 7am. Okay, more like 7:10--we don't have it down to a science yet! I drive Jason and the older girls to school and return home with the younger kids to have their second breakfast (yes, we are raising Hobbits, I'm afraid!) and regroup before we go about the activities of our day. After school, the little kids and I get back into the van, and drive back to school to pick up the older girls and Jason at the end of their day. What if one of us has an evening or weekend event to attend? Well, whoever needs to go does, and the other stays home with the kid(s) who are not attending. So far, it seems like a pretty simple plan.

While many families who live either more urban or rural lives thrive on having a single vehicle for their family, having two (or more) vehicles per family is the norm in the suburbs where we live. However, we've determined that at this stage in our life it's not a necessity. Jason works a fairly predictable schedule. I am not currently employed outside of the home. We generally do things together as a family more often than we do things separately. On the rare occasion that we need a second vehicle, there is a rental car company just a mile or so up the street that we can rent a car for the day from, while still benefitting from life with a single vehicle.

Benefitting? Yes. Benefitting.

There are A LOT of benefits to our new one-car situation. While it didn't make sense for us to sell a car that we owned outright in favor of being a single-vehicle family in the past, now that we are transitioning to living life on the road full-time in a couple of months, I'm excited to reap the benefits. First of all, we have cut our vehicle insurance and registration fees in half! We've cut our gas expenses by about 1/3-1/2 (we'll find out the real number at the end of this month). We have significantly reduced our vehicle maintenance costs. Since our van is still covered under both the manufacturer warranties and the Volkswagen Carefree Maintenance Program, we have had $0 vehicle maintenance costs on our van in 2.5 years, compared to the cost of routine maintenance on our Saab. Not to mention the stress relief of having one more large item liquidated from our lives and opening wider the door for us to move forward toward our dream.

Monetary benefits aside, the greatest benefits for our family to come from living with a single vehicle are many. We will spend more time together as we travel en masse to and from places, even if just one or two family members need to be at the destination. We are forced to make more decisions for the greater good. Just because someone would "like" to go somewhere, we can't just drop everything and go without consideration of everyone else's schedules and needs. Finally, being forced to consider one another's needs and best interests and increasing communication between spouses and children can only lead to a better marriage and family experience.

I'm optimistic about the days, months and potentially years ahead as a single-vehicle family! It likely won't be this way forever, and someday we'll likely need a second car in our lives, but I will cherish these special days while they are here.