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Posts Tagged ‘unschooling’

— 1 —

Sunday is…Sunday. Which supercedes any saint celebrations – but you can still think about St. Teresa of Avila anyway.She’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints, and Loyola has a very readable excerpt here 

(If you would like to read a pdf version, click here.) 

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 — 2 —

.Early last spring, I wrote a small prayer book for Creative Communications, publisher of Living Faith. And then I forgot about it until a couple of days ago, when I thought..Wait…what happened to that thing I wrote? Shouldn’t it be out now? 

Well, I discovered, it is:

They had forgotten to tell me it was out or send me copies. I think they’re on the way now.

It’s just a little thing, suitable for bulk purchases for your parish – like when you’re ordering your St. Nicholas pamphlet, right? You can read a pdf excerpt here.

And since it’s the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun….take a look at my Mary book, here. 

Speaking of the St. Nicholas book, when I was corresponding with the editor about it (it had been out of print for a few years), he said something like, “Yes, the prose has held up pretty well after twenty years. We didn’t have to do much to it.”

And I thought…twenty years? That’s crazy.  I’m sure I wrote that no more than ten years ago…right?

Nope. Sorry. 1997.

Wow.  I have to say that realization really set me back. That was a long time ago. I don’t know what to think about that….

— 3 —

Well, onward. I am working very hard on my next book for Loyola, and I’m optimistic about getting it done on time or, hopefully, earlier.  So between that, homeschooling and Lost watching, there’s not much time for writing in this space. Click on the image to the left to get the newest book – or get it, preferably, from you local Catholic bookstore. Or order it from me! 

But…we have done quite a bit since last Friday. I’ll fill in the blanks with some photos and a quick report.

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Last Friday (a week ago), we attended a morning concert of the Alabama Symphony orchestra – they were performing Brahms’ Symphony #1 for an audience of mostly older people and schoolchildren. It was quite good and just the right length.

— 4

Over the weekend, we hopped over to the Alabama Farmer’s Market which was having a little fall festival. There wasn’t a lot to it, but there were some animals with very nice faces.

"amy welborn"

 

 

— 5 —

The science center class is over, so that frees Tuesday mornings up, but Tuesday afternoons are still about boxing. This Wednesday morning we participated in a very interesting homeschool  group field trip to Sloss Furnaces, an iron-producing furnace in operation from the late 19th century to 1971. It’s now a National Historic Landmark, and the great thing about it is that you can just go wander around it – at no cost. It hosts events like music festivals and, of course, Halloween fright nights, and it’s a center for metal arts as well, but really  – most of the time you can just show up and wander around this amazing abandoned facility.

It had been a few years since we had been, and they’ve really upgraded the visitor’s center since then. It’s all very nice, and this was also the first time that we’d taken a tour. Part of the tour had the kids carving a design in a sand/resin mold for their own iron tile. They hold these “iron pours” periodically through the year for the general public, and now that I see how it’s done, we’ll definitely come back to do it again.

 

— 6 —

There was also some photography class homework done, here at Railroad Park:

Birmingham is trying to get some Amazon facility to settle here, so one of the gimmicks is to set up big Amazon boxes all over the place:

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Tonight (Thursday) – a free concert by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. It was outdoors on the UAB campus, so we just ran over there and stayed for about half the set and had some sopes. 

We do try to get around. Life is short. Carpe Diem, etc.

Twenty years ago? Really?

— 7 —

Miscellaneous reads and listens:

In Our Time on Constantine was good, with a recurring theme of ambiguity about what we actually know. 

I listened to several episodes of Witness – a very short program in which an historical event is described from the perspective of those who witnessed it (obviously). I took in episodes on Catalan nationalist Lluys Campanys, the raising of the Mary Rose, and Australia’s rabbit plague, all in one walk.

Oh, and there was a Great Lives episode on P.G. Wodehouse – the structure of this program is that a non-academic picks out a “great life” to talk about – usually it’s a hero of theirs or role model or just someone they find very significant. They chat about this person with the host Matthew Parris and an academic expert in the figure they’ve selected. The non-academic fan of Wodehouse was Stephen Fry who is so very clever and charming in his way, but so creepy and off-putting in others. But he was utterly lovely on Wodehouse, and it was a very inspiring program, not just for writers, I think, but for anyone who would like to think about what it means to just do the work you’ve set out to do and do it well.

Reading: Officers and Gentlemen by Waugh and The Old Man and the Sea. 

In these days when it’s de rigeur to dismiss formulas-norms-rules-formulations-ideas when speaking of faith, here’s a voice raised in defense: Carl Olson “In Gratitude for the Gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

…..reading and studying the Catechism, Church doctrine and dogma, and theology are not ultimately about knowing things or facts but about knowing the living Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Redeemer and Savior. True theology is an act of worship and prayer; far from being dry or dull (or rigid!), it is an encounter with the Triune God, who creates, draws close, calls, loves, and invites. The Catechism is a tremendous gift that contemplates, explains, and shares the greatest Gift of all.

 

When the Catechism was in preparation – twenty-five years ago, I guess  –  I was in a meeting of parish Directors of Religious Education. The bishop of that diocese was there and the topic was the forthcoming Catechism. The diocesan Director of Religious Education said this:

We have to be careful with this. We have to make it clear that it’s for pastoral ministers, not the laity. If they think of it as something for them, they’re going to start comparing our programs with what they read in the Catechism. 

As my mother used to say, You think I’m making that up. I’m not. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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When I feel the need to write something in this space, but can’t quite focus or mentally manage one of ideas on my huge list, I fall back into homeschooling reporting. I find that it exercises the writing reflex, but in not in a stressful way, and it has the added benefit of providing me with reassurance that yes, I am accomplishing things.

Not that I’m not writing other things. I have a Living Faith set due on Thursday – which I finished earlier today (I was in today, by the way), and work on the book continues apace. I’m not going to meet my first personal goal of having it done by 11/1, but I will get it done before Thanksgiving, which was my second-best goal. (Contract says 12/15, by the way, but I want to get it done before then.)

And no, I’ve not forgotten that objective of getting an e-book out of the Guatemala trip. I hope that after this week, I can return to that.

Anyway…about that homeschooling:

  • The unschooling goal is sort of working. Any holdup is due to the fact that there’s been so many extra activities happening since the beginning of September: Boxing and piano lessons every week – which won’t end – and then 2-hour science center classes on Tuesday and 2-hour photography classes on Thursdays. So that means that any sort-of-formal structured learning gets crammed into Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and usually just Monday and Wednesday, since Friday is turning out to be “Hey mom, can we go somewhere today?” day.
  • But we’ve had the last of the science center classes, so that frees up more time on Tuesdays. Photography class runs for the rest of October.
  • Math: Prealgebra with the Art of Problem Solving continues apace. He’s on chapter 3, working on number theory – first prime factorization, now least common multiples.
  • He wanted to learn Spanish this year, so he’s doing so. I hunted around for a decent curriculum, found what I thought was one, but I HATE IT.  Specifically, I HATE the “whole language” pedagogy. I am going to blog about this one, because it deserves a post, but wow, this is challenging. Especially since, you know, I don’t speak Spanish. I’m pretty good with languages though – I can manage French and did Latin up through two years of college, and I did take 8th grade Spanish! And helped one of my older sons learn middle-school Spanish in preparation for 8th grade, but still. This program I picked out it a hot mess, confusing and not at all intuitive, even though that is supposed to be the point – it’s supposed to be “intuitive.” It’s not. Or at least it just makes no sense.
  • Do you wonder what I’m talking about? Here’s a small example from today: introducing a construction that requires use of indirect object pronouns without ever mentioning what these new words are, defining them, or translating them. “What are those words?” “Um…I’m guessing they’re indirect object pronouns, but let’s go on the internet and see” Five minutes later, after we both read through an excellent, clear explanation on a web page – “Why can’t the book be that clear?”
  • No lo sé. Sorry.
  • He does listen to one of the local Spanish-language radio stations all the time, though, and we went to the local FIESTA last weekend, so there’s that.

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  • If he ends up not going back to brick-and-mortar school, though, this is going to have to be outsourced. He has a strong interest in Central America (for some reason) – the culture, the history and the nature – and so Spanish fits.
  • He’s read Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men. Yes, the latter is rough with a lot of cursing, and it’s definitely not a cozy readaloud, but it was a good choice for him to read. Short, but meaty. It was an easy entry to discussions about expressing themes in fiction, as well as discussions about history (the Great Depression) and geography (Steinbeck’s California).
  • I knew it was a good choice when we were discussing the first chapter and, without being prompted or asked, he started going back over Steinbeck’s descriptions of the river bed in those early scenes – the rabbits coming down to the sandy bank in the early evening, the snake’s head emerging like a periscope from the water. Those and other images stuck with him to the point he wanted to share them. It was a good opportunity to discuss what makes evocative description.
  • He’s got his own reading going on, always, but the next “school” book will be The Old Man and the Sea. We’re doing short works right now – it offers more of a sense of accomplishment. For everyone.
  • Read and discussed “To a Mouse” by Burns before he read Of Mice and Men. 
  • He memorized the poem “Bird of Night” by Randall Jarrell. 
  • History/Geography reading has been of his own choosing from our books and library books. Topics he’s read about this week have included Assyrians, the Aztecs, Indus River civilization, the origins of the Vietnam war, and short biographical entries on a few presidents..
  • Watched a few videos from The Kids Should See This and other sources, mostly on science topics: whether or not jellyfish sleep, birth of a kangaroo joey, etc.
  • Read this article and did a bit more research on whistled languages.
  • He did some quizzes of his choice from this website, and then some presidents’ quizzes that I found. Continued working on memorizing the list of presidents.
  • Religion: focus is, as per usual, on saint of the day and Mass readings of the day and the discussions that flow from that. He served at a convent retreat Mass this past Saturday and heard an excellent homily from Fr. Wade Menezes. 
  • Monday, we discussed the Nobel Prize that had been announced that day – Physiology. We haven’t had time to discuss the others, but will try to knock of that teachable moment on Friday, I guess.
  • Talked a little bit about John Cage, for some reason. I think he was on a playlist I was listening to on Spotify, and it prompted a memory and a question from music camp.
  • Going to see the symphony do Brahms Symphony 1 on Friday.
  • He did a homeschool session on clay  at the Birmingham Museum of Art today.
  • Today in his “go read some nonfiction something anything for a while” he came out and said he’d been reading about Siberian reindeer herders in, I think, National Geographic. He asked what Anthrax was. (Because the reindeer had contracted it and infected their keepers, who ate their meat raw). So he researched that for a while.
  • If you’re following along, you know that aside from his own interests, which are considerable,  his history work – such as it is – is focused on participating in the history bee again. The qualification test for that is in January. He qualified last year without much preparation, so he’s not super intense about it, but I am using it    hoping that it inspires a little more formal/disciplined study. To that end, I’ve purchased a couple of outlines of US history and he’ll be going through those with a highlighter, making sure he knows the basics.
  • Music: He’s going to be playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# minor at a recital in a couple of weeks. He’s learning the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Sonata #1 and starting to review the 3rd movement of Kabalevsky’s Youth Concerto, which he sort of learned last year but never well enough to perform. It’s a goal for this year. We’re contemplating the organ. Sort of.
  • He and I working on this piece, just for fun: Satie’s “Three pieces in the shape of a pear.”  Most of it is easy enough for me. We both enjoy playing it – it’s different.
  • I blew his mind when I showed him this article about John Tyler’s two living grandsons. Imagine being alive in 2017, and your grandfather had been born in 1790 and was the 10th president of the United States. Crazy. He kept bringing it up all day.
  • One trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens for photography practice, then a jaunt to a short but interesting and varied walking trail, one which I knew existed but could never figure out how to access until I finally just asked someone. There. Done.
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— 1 —

I have read more individual, separate, actual books in the past six days than I have in ages.

It’s self-preservation. It’s my way of keeping myself off the Internet.

Not off the internet for the purpose of not being informed, but off the internet as a way of fighting the temptation to Fly My Own Very Important Signal of Virtue.

As one of my older sons said to me on Monday, “My Twitter feed has so many Hot Takes, it’s like it’s six thousand degrees.”

Why add to that?

I had wanted to do separate blog posts on them all – and as you can tell from this post on Ride the Pink Horse, I intended to. But I don’t see my pace of reading diminishing any time soon, so I won’t indulge in the fantasy that I’ll actually be able to do that. So some short, not-so-hot takes on recent reads.

— 2 —

 

But first, how’s the homeschooling going? Going fine, but slowly, as my son adjusts to what this “unschooling” thing is all about and I fight off the instinct to ….not unschool.

Math is mostly The Art of Problem Solving’s Pre-Algebra, which is a daily mind-blower for him, but he’s picking it up. He’s done so much Beast Academy¸ he’s accustomed to the approach, but that intervening year of just regular 6th grade math pushed him off the rails just a bit.

I will say that it’s nice to be spending time with Richard every day again.

We begin day with prayer: a mash-up of Morning Prayer and the day’s Mass readings if we are not going to going to Mass, and a reading about/discussion of a saint of the day. This usually leads to various rabbit holes – this week (if you are following the daily Mass readings) about the death of Moses, the early days of Joshua and the geography of Israel.

Then Math – some Komen review followed by AOPS. Then, depending on what else is going on, I tell him to do whatever – just no screens. I’ve done some directing on the philosophy front – he said he wanted to straighten out Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, so we’ve been doing a bit of that. Other than that, his “school” time is taken up with reading about animals of one sort or another, music theory and practicing piano.

This week has been not quite normal because his good buddy from down the street has not started school yet, so he’s been able to spend time with him. Next week will be off, too, as he’ll have two piano lessons (one to make up for the one missed today…because my car wouldn’t start. But then it did. For the AAA guy before he’d even started to jump it. Of course. ) plus one whole day will be occupied with serving at the convent for a Mass for Full Professions followed by an orthodontist appointment.

Oh, and of course Monday will also be All Eclipse All The Time along with the rest of the nation.

So we’ll see!

— 3 —

FYI – and this is mostly for the homeschooling parents out there. I am not doing any planning – because we are purportedly mostly unschooling. But what I am doing is recording. He’s in 7th grade, so keeping a record of what he’s doing is pretty important, although it’s not required by the state. So here’s what we do.

First, a daily record – recorded in a daily planner. It includes specific section/page numbers of the math, any books he’s read in/topics he’s been reading about, the titles of educational videos we’ve watched, the titles of whatever books he’s reading, the music he’s studying and anything “extra” we do.

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And then at the end of the week, we’ll collate it all in a more general way. This is the template I whipped up last night. If it doesn’t work, we’ll tweak it.

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His extra classes at the Catholic co-op and the science center don’t start until September, but when they do, it will be twice a week. He’ll be playing basketball starting in October. Boxing class will start soon. He’ll probably be doing debate club at a local Catholic school. He’ll be busy.

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Not a problem.

]— 4 —

Today we finally got down to the Moss Rock Preserve. It’s one of his favorite places – we had intended to go a couple of weeks ago, but this weather has been crazy, and it just didn’t work out.  We walk, he observes, and he talks to me about everything from remembering Guatemala to Star Wars to geology, botany and zoology. And I say, “Uh-huh” and “Really?” a lot.

I’m a born teacher.

 

 

 

— 5 —

Super quick take: I’ll have devotionals in Living Faith twice next week: 8/22 and 8/23. So look for them.

And yes, I’m working on the Guatemala e-book. It will happen. I have signed a contract for another book that will be due on 12/15, but this, as they say, has my heart, so hopefully you will see it in a month or so. Once I get one more chapter done I’m going to get a “cover” made, get an ISBN and go ahead and put it on Amazon for pre-order. I even have a title, and the lovely part is that I don’t have to fight with an editor or publisher about said title. It can be as lame as I want it to be.

 

— 6 —

This past Tuesday, we went to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Parish for the Feast of the Assumption.

(I’m running out of Takes…..those book reviews might have to be post-length anyway….)

You can see from the photographs that’s it’s a gorgeous church. It might just be the most beautiful church building in the Diocese of Birmingham – a lovely Romanesque/Deco/Other Modern feel to it. The building was finished in the early 1930’s,  but the interior not until the mid 1950’s.  You can read the history of the parish here. 

The parish is the home of one of the diocese’s Tridentine Mass communities – our bishop is very open to the older form.  The Mass we attended, however, was in the “ordinary form” and we ended up there because it was the only mid-morning Mass in a parish within a 10-mile radius that was not a school Mass. (and I was committed to a lunch with a friend – so the usual noon Mass at the Cathedral was out – as was the 6:30 AM Mass…for different reasons….)

 

 

 

A side note, inspired by this Mass on the Feast of the Assumption.

I have friends and acquaintances  – mostly non-Christian/secular/eventhepagans who are quite distressed about the Present Moment and worry about their privilege and what they’re communicating to their kids about said privilege.

So….my advice?

I’ve said this before, or things like it. You want a more global outlook? Be  Catholic. You want an outlook that transcends racial, ethnic and national boundaries?  Be Catholic. You want your kids to have a sense of purpose and place in the universe? Be Catholic.

There’s a hot take for you.

But just consider what happens when your day is shaped around these things: Prayers, first of all,  for those in need; prayers that the activities of your day be directed towards others and not your own desires; prayers of gratitude; the reality of the death and the hope beyond it; your own identity as a child of God, no greater or less than any other child of God no matter where they might live or what they might look like; honoring women, men and children from every corner of the world and from all walks of life as role models and intercessors for you in your moments of need; Going to worship, led by a priest who might share your ethnicity, but also very well might not. Being a Caucasian American of European extraction and going to Confession to and seeking spiritual counsel from a priest who might be from Nigeria or the Philippines or Colombia or India, and calling that man your spiritual “Father.”

And then, on a certain Tuesday in August, you might end up in the so-called “bad” part of town – the part of town that your Woke Friends’ parents would never dream of taking them  – to worship God and give thanks because that is just what you do and it is really not even strange because Jesus is there, and you go where He is.

 

— 7 —

 

 

 

Ah, well…I’m just about out of takes, and I remembered another church-related note I wanted to share, so book reviews might happen over the next few days. I read another one tonight, so it’s just as well…

Last Friday, the Cathedral of St. Paul here in Birmingham celebrated a Mass – celebrated annually – in memory of Fr. James Coyle, a priest murdered on the front porch of the rectory in 1921. Earlier in the day, Fr. Coyle had married a young Caucasian woman, and a convert, to a Puerto Rican man. The murdered was the young woman’s father – a member of the KKK and a Methodist minister. At trial, defended by future Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Stephenson was acquitted.

On Oct. 17, only nine days before President Warren Harding arrived in the Magic City to mark its semi-centennial, “the trial of the century” was gaveled to order in the crowded Jefferson County Courthouse. A jury consisting of mostly Klansmen was impaneled by Judge Fort.

Hard evidence clearly pointed to Stephenson’s guilt, but the prosecution called only five witnesses to present its case, three of whom were rendered questionable in the public mind by the defense’s assertion that they were Catholics. Religious prejudice was wielded like a cudgel through inflammatory statements such as Black’s, “A child of a Methodist does not suddenly depart from her religion unless someone has planted in her mind the seeds of influence.” This played to popular fears that agents of the Pope might be trying to brainwash susceptible Protestants.

Worse, Stephenson’s defense team had no qualms about groundless appeals to racial bigotry. In what might be the nadir of Black’s career in private practice, he tried to present Ruth’s husband, Pedro Gussman, not as a Puerto Rican but as a black man, going so far as to close the Venetian blinds in the courtroom before Gussman’s appearance to make his complexion seem darker than it really was. By invoking the basest taboo of Jim Crow’s South — race-mixing — Black sought to suggest that Father Coyle’s enabling of depravity might well have driven his client past rational response to the commission of murder.

The story is told here in this article, as well as in the book Rising Road. 

Ah, yes – so the noon Mass last Friday was celebrated in memory of Fr. Coyle, with a reception and talks following. You can read the rector, Fr. Jerabek’s homily here (scroll down for the link)  – nicely tying in the feast of St. Clare (which it was) with Fr. Coyle’s story. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The return?

Well, it won’t be daily, because I’m sure it won’t be that interesting, but since I made such a big stinking deal about returning to homeschooling, here you go – the first day:

Brother rose at 6:30 am, got himself ready, drove to school. I didn’t ask him to text me when he arrived – I figured that if something bad happened…I’d hear about it.

(I’m typing this at 7:23 on Day 2, and it’s pouring outside. Still didn’t ask for him to let me know when he got there. Go me.)

Homeschooler rose…later.

I’m hoping to use that time between the two of them starting their days as some work time. I actually did it yesterday. A good start.

M. rose and got breakfast. I then I had a phone meeting with Loyola. After that we got going, very slowly.

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Math warm-up.

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Math. Did sections 1.1-2, including the famous Richard Videos. 

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We talked about what he’d study this year and he brought up something I’d forgotten about – the History Bee. He participated in it last year through school and went to Nationals, and enjoyed it. As he competed in the nationals, he also discovered that with a little more study and aggressiveness, he could probably get to the finals…and he wants to.

Academic competitions have varied rules governing the participation of homeschoolers. I don’t know what the spelling bee rules are because I have Zero Interest in spelling competitions, but I do know that the Geography Bee requires that homeschoolers form a group that holds a qualifying competition. The History Bee at this point is a lot looser. The potential competitor just has to take the online test during the allotted timeframe, and then if he or she qualifies, they can go to the regionals and so on. I talked to one of the organizers at the National competition in Atlanta in June and he was very open and accommodating.

So…although it had slipped my mind, M had not forgotten, and was already planning his course of study. He’d noted his weaknesses in the competitions, and is geared up for filling those gaps.

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Okay!

Went to the store and he picked out an accordion file for his work.

Lunch at his favorite place.

Library:

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Home. His neighborhood buddy doesn’t start school for two more weeks, and the word came that guys were down there, so they spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the neighborhood a bit.

Piano practice. Piano non-practice. Reading (The Far Side and The Fellowship of the Ring)

Day 1…in the books.

And now, it’s my turn to work for a bit….

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Hey, it’s the beginning of August, so I guess that means it’s time for Amy to write yet another post on Our Schooling Decisions and Why We Made Them. Sheesh.

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For yes, as I have mentioned a couple of times, we are back to some homeschooling around these parts. Here’s the deal:

Older son is staying where he is, in high school. My experience with my kids and my own experience teaching is that the quality of instruction in high school improves in the higher grades, and this looks to be so in this case. A junior, he’ll be taking challenging classes in the areas in which he’s interested and it should be good. Seems to be from what I have seen so far of the course materials (school starts tomorrow) at least. He started working in a grocery store in the spring and should be able to continue through the school year, saving up for…what I’m not sure.  But he’ll have full, busy days and will be learning and will be spending his days with good friends. Worth it.

Brief recap of the younger one: in school PK-1st, homeschooled 2nd-5th, then in school last year for 6th. Very smart, self-directed kid. No learning or behavior issues. Just curious, mostly mature, and (this is important) the youngest kid of a 57-year old mom who is…over your weekly folders and gift-wrap. 

He has strong interests in history and science, and is a fairly talented musician.

So…what happened between then (my post on the first day of school last year) and now?

Actually, not “now” but…about three or four months into the experience?

Nothing huge, and I really don’t want to discuss the particulars in a public forum. There’s no point to it. We’ve shared our experiences with the people to whom it might matter, and that’s all that’s important.

It all really comes down to what Sally Thomas said in a comments section in a post of mine, words I quote in this post:

And largely what motivated us to stop going to school was the feeling that school was largely an annoying middleman that wanted to dictate our schedules for us.

It’s a deal, it’s a contract, it’s an agreement that you, as student and family, make with educational institutions. It’s an agreement in which, for it to be worth it to you, elements must stay balanced.

As in: Not everything the school is going to ask of me is going to great or even valuable. There are going to be irritating aspects of school. But all of that is balanced by what the school experience gives.

Just like the rest of life, right?

So just as in the rest of life, we make constant cost-benefit analyses. Is the good I’m deriving worth the cost I’m paying? 

I’ve written about this many times before. As I put it almost exactly a year ago in a post describing my educational background as it related to my original decision to homeschool back in 2012:

In terms of my own life with my two remaining kids at home in 2011, I was not ecstatic with institutional education, but was fairly comfortable with the agreement I thought we had reached. After all, I only had a decade or so left, but who’s counting. I’d send cooperative kids in every day and support what they were doing in school. School was then going to do its part: teach the basics, enrich, inspire a little. School was going to do no harm. School, because it was called “Catholic,” was going to be holistically, counter-culturally Catholic.  I wasn’t asking school to transform our lives, but I was expecting that school wasn’t going to waste my kids’ time or my money. School would do its thing, and then school would step back and school would get  out of the way.

Deal?

Flash forward to 2016.  Older kid was doing fine in high school. The younger one really wanted to go to school. He was curious, a little concerned that what he was doing at home wasn’t keep him up to where his peers were…

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….and he wanted a more consistent posse of friends. The school his older brother had attended for 8th grade seemed to fit the bill.

And….here we are a year later, with him getting ready for school…at home. No regrets, no bad feelings, and yes, lots of new friends made  – friendships that will be sustained through sports and other activities – but just a sort of been there, done that kind of feeling.

(No predictions for 8th grade being made at this point)

There were some specific issues, but the broad issue that I think might be relevant and helpful to others is this:

The dissatisfaction he experienced was not with any specific school, but with the whole concept of curriculum as it plays out in elementary/middle school, period. Anyone who teaches struggles with this, as well.

Let’s put it this way:

There’s this much stuff to learn about:

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During the course of  a school class, period or even a lifetime, you have time to learn this much of that:

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So…

Why learn about – or teach – one fragment rather than another? What governs those choices?

This of course, is the core educational question. What shall we learn and how shall we learn it? It’s not an easy question, especially in a huge, diverse society. It’s why we don’t need a single educational system, but countless schools teaching All The Things in any of the myriad ways or for any of the purposes students want to learn them.

Now, we can and should learn about subjects that we don’t think we need or want to learn about. That’s certainly true. This isn’t an argument for pure interest-driven learning. That produces a whole other type of narrowness and is not, in the end, actually educational.

I’m not a science or math person, academically speaking, but when I think about high school and in which classes I learned the most, I don’t think about English or history. I think about the physics class I took when I was a senior, a class I was required to take, but never would have chosen for myself. It was agony, especially for the first semester, but then, as I was studying for the mid-term, something clicked, and I ended up making an A. That experience of working through something that didn’t come naturally to me was very valuable, but I also learned something about myself – I learned that the more abstract a subject is, the more difficulty I have with it, and I experienced physics as very abstract – it wasn’t as concrete as say, biology had been. I learned this in relation to physics, but then it helped me make sense of a lot of other areas of my life, even at the point in which I was moving towards more advanced studies in religion. I knew that history was where I needed to be, not theology.

So no, I’m not saying that we all should just follow our bliss.

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BUT:

Is it absolutely necessary that a “quality” educational system be one in which elementary school students are required to learn, not just how to read and calculate, but the minutiae of all sorts of specific subjects? That they spend an hour a day learning a particular aspect of science or the humanities, are expected to keep learning about it with half an hour of homework almost every day, and are judged, in some sense, on their mastery of this particular way of learning about this particular subject?

When they are 12 years old?

Once you’ve lived and learned in Homeschool Land, particularly if that learning has been facilitated by a loosey-goosey, INFP mother whose favorite thing is rabbit trails of inquiry….you might be able to live with that bargain  for a while (I’ll put up with this if the other parts of school balance it out)…but then you might start wondering about it.

You might start wondering if rising at 6:45 and doing all the other School Things and being super tired at the end of the day because of it – too tired to practice your music in the way you want, too tired to spend much time outside, even too tired to read at night….you might start wondering if it’s worth it.

You’ve had some good teachers – even a great one. You’re glad of it. You’re grateful. You’ve made good friends. But….there’s that photography class through the homeschool co-op. And the classes at the science museum. And that writing program at the art museum – that sounds interesting. And the iron-pouring session at the historic furnace site. And you might even be able to start volunteering at the zoo.

The thing is….you like science and history and literature and even math is okay.  You read and study about all of that on your own. You learned that you’re not “behind” your peers. At all. You will study scientific and historic topics. It might not be what the curriculum committee of your state has determined all 13-year olds should know…but who cares? Is that really important?

You can be trusted to learn.

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And this, I’ve promised.

I’ll trust him to learn.

I wrote before that when I began this homeschool journey…I was convinced I was definitely Hip Unschooling Mom.

Er..no.

First, I had an older son who was very amenable to being taught. As in: “Teach me something. Thanks. Are we done? Can I go now?” He was not an unschooler at that point in his life.

Secondly…well…I’m a teacher. Life is just amazing and fascinating, and I just want to….

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BUT. THIS TIME GUYS I MEAN IT.

I told my son that except for math, this would be unschooling time. It would all be up to him. We are going to have conversations about what the typical 7th and 8th grade curricula are all about and how that feeds into the traditional high school model. He may not – and probably will not – do traditional high school – but he needs to know how that is structured and what is generally required for graduation.

It will be my job to facilitate. To find resources, to take him to the library, and so on.

Of course, much of this is determined by his sense of what he wants to do or be. There are people around him who think that music is in his future, but while he wants to keep studying piano, and enjoys it, he is pretty firm that he’s not interested in music as a profession in any way. His vision of himself in the future involves some combination of archaeology, photography and reptiles.  We’ll see.

So this is my sense of what “school” will be like for the next year for him:

Prayer/saint of the day/Mass readings or Mass

Math: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra

Aside from his music lessons, homeschool co-op, science center classes, boxing and other activities…what he studies will be up to him, and I’ll help in whatever way I can. The only rule is that he must be engaged in something during the “school day.”  It can be outdoors, it can be reading, writing, drawing, studying, talking to me, whatever. But no screens (unless we are watching an educational video together), and if he can’t use his time….I’ll take over.

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Today he mentioned Spanish, for example. So I’ll get a Spanish I program of some sort – either middle school Spanish or a high school Spanish I program – and he’ll start on that with the wealth of supplementary materials out there and if he wants to, at some point, involve a tutor or an online class.

This will be very interesting. It will require discipline and self-control on both ends – he’ll need it to stay focused, and I’ll need it in order to keep that Sort Of Unschooling Promise.

Paperwork: As I have mentioned, Alabama is a fabulous homeschooling state. The only requirement is attendance records. No testing, no need to submit curriculum.  So our process will be, not planning, but recording.

I have a daily planner, and at the end of every day – or in the course of the day – he will note what he did: what he read, wrote, saw, did. At the end of the week, he’ll write up a summary, and that will be our record-keeping, which I know will be important for future reference, to prove that he actually did things.

So that’s it.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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For more homeschool posts with many more Thoughts:

Balancing Equations: The decision-making that led to homeschooling back in 2011/2012

The first stage of our homeschooling…in Europe.

School at Home and Other Places….my family’s background in education. 

An INFP Homeschools

The main resources I used in homeschooling that first go round.

Homeschool Takeaways: What I Learned. 

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As promised, this is one of two posts I’m going to write on our trip to Belize and Guatemala (July 16-22, 2017) This one will be about the the practicalities, with tips and mini-reviews, and the other will be on the food, which was consistently great.

Why in the world did you go? Should we?

We went on this trip because my 12-year old has a strong and serious interest in Mayan history and archaeology, his brother was doing another out-of-town activity for the week, and I gave him the chance to pick a destination, and this – specifically Tikal – was it.

There are 2000 Mayan sites in Guatemala alone (some just one mound covering a temple, but still…), some quite extensive. Tikal is the most well known, but is close to some other very interesting sites, so we decided to make it the focus of the trip.

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There are other reasons to go to this part of the world. A lot of North Americans head down there for recreational and adventure reasons – you see more of it in Belize, which is becoming a very popular destination, not only for tanned retirees heading to fish, but families and young people as well. People go diving, fishing, caving and tubing. It’s a popular cruise ship stop. There are lots of all-inclusive resorts (including three owned by Francis Ford Coppola) and it’s popular with North Americans because the first language of Belize is English, they take US dollars everywhere, and the exchange rate is easy to figure out on the fly (basically 2:1 Belize:US).

Guatemala has plenty to recommend in this regard as well, and more, considering the geographical diversity of the country.

People also go to Guatemala for the family and cultural connections they have, and to do mission work. Our flights into and out of Belize each had at least two mission groups aboard, and I saw more than a few vans on the road crammed with blonde-haired Anglos and guitar cases visible through the back window – I assumed they were mission groups ,too. Was I wrong? Maybe, but I doubt it.

So. Should you go?

If you want to, sure!

I felt safe and, after a day or two of adjustment, at ease in the culture. Everyone is very friendly and helpful, and the sites we saw were fascinating. There were many American and European families with younger kids at Tikal – none at the other sites we visited, but then, we were mostly the only people at those sites, anyway, so…..

If Mayan culture interests you or you want to expose your family to that part of our hemisphere’s history, Tikal and the other sites are great. If you have never done anything like this before, it might be a little easier to start in Mexico with Chichen Itza and Uxmal, perhaps using Merida and Campeche as bases or Cancun if that is your thing (although crime is becoming more of a problem in the Mexican resorts, it seems, so I’m not so sure about that…).

Or, if you want your family to experience ancient American cultures…try the Southwest. No, it’s not the Temple of the Jaguar, but it’s still interesting and important to understand.

As for the other activities in the area, they don’t hold much appeal for me at this point. When it comes to outdoor type of activities there’s so much in this country that I haven’t experienced – the Florida Keys, the Rocky Mountains, the Northwest – that any energy for that kind of thing that I have…I’ll direct to those places.

How Should I Get There?

When I first started planning, I assumed we would fly in and out of Guatemala City – until I figured out how far it is from Peten, the area in which theruins that are our focus are located. It would be an 8-9 hour drive unless I wanted to fly from Guatemala City to Flores – which is expensive.

So the next possibility was Belize City, which is what I ultimately decided on. Weirdly, it was cheaper to fly from Birmingham to BC than Atlanta to BC – I mean, I’m happy about that, but that’s not the norm and I don’t know why it was so.

Another option is Flores, which is right there.  Unfortunately flying into Flores from either Birmingham or Atlanta was far too expensive. However, if you can fly, for example, out of Houston, the fare is very decent. So if you can get to a major hub in the southwest, check out the fares for Flores.

I worked this journey as two separate flights. I had enough miles to get us down there on American at no charge, but not enough for a round trip, and the AA flights back were at bad times and expensive. So I opted to fly United, one-way, back from BC. This would have been a lot cheaper if we lived in South Florida or Texas…just sayin’.

Should I Drive?

All right. It depends. I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth I went through in my head on this. Well, not much of it, anyway.

I am a very independent traveler. I like to be in control of my own destiny, at all times. The long-haul public transportation in Belize and Guatemala is confusing and not great, especially in Belize. So, should I drive? My reflexive answer was not “NO!” and in fact, I did consider it.

The real question before I went was renting a car and taking it across the border. It can be done, but it adds a level of complication to the border crossing between Belize and Guatemala that might already be fraught. You have to drive the car through fumigation portals, etc, plus there’s the documents you have to have…yeah. And then you’d have to do it again. All that.

But I will say that after spending a week being driven around Belize and Guatemala, if I were going to do anything like it again, here’s what I would do.

First, though: if you are a timid driver – forget it. Don’t even try. I’m not a timid driver, so given that I see how it all works now, if I went back, and were only going to be in one of the countries, I’d drive, with a couple of caveats.

I’d drive in Belize, no question. The roads are fine, and the driving doesn’t seem too crazy. I wouldn’t drive in Belize City, but then I wouldn’t drive in any foreign city if I could help it.

Secondly, I would sort of  drive in Guatemala. Maybe. Sometimes.

It would be considerably more challenging, but having seen those challenges, I could manage. Yes, the roads are not smooth. Yes, there are people on the side of the road, including little kids some of whom are dragging machetes because every male seems to carry a machete around in rural Guatemala. Yes, there are dogs, horses, chickens and pigs on the side of and often in the road. Yes, there are frequent and potentially damaging speed bumps. Yes, there are loads of motorcycles, perhaps 3% of which are being driven by people wearing helmets, and a surprising number of those motorcyclists are transporting small children and babies. My favorite was: 2 adults on one cycle, with a toddler in between them and a baby in a carrier strapped to the driver’s front.

But yeah, I could do it. However….

The roads leading to most of the ruins except for Tikal are terrible. Even Yaxha, which is a major site, and perhaps the most visited in the area after Tikal, involved about 8 miles of really rough road.  Even if I had the most comprehensive insurance on the planet (which is what I would have), I would be extremely tense about driving those roads myself because, well, what if something happened? I can change a tire, but you know what? I really don’t want to, especially in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country.

And since visiting sites would be our major interest…there’s no reason to spend 70/80 bucks a day on a car that I’d have a nervous breakdown driving because I’d be afraid of puncturing a tire or the gas tank or whatever. And I wouldn’t drive at night. Yeah, all that. So while I don’t particularly like being dependent on others for my transportation, it really doesn’t make any sense to do otherwise. Jesus, take the wheel.

Conclusion?

Renting and driving a car in Belize and Guatemala is expensive, and if you did this, you’d want plentiful insurance coverage (and would be required to get it if you rented in Belize and traveled to Guatemala), which makes it even more expensive.

For long distances, you can take buses, but the Belize buses are not great – don’t know about the Guatemala buses. Mexico has really nice buses, but Belize, at least, doesn’t have that kind of service at this point.

In communities, taxis and collectivos (vans) and tuk-tuks (in Flores and probably other places) are plentiful and inexpensive. Everyone, it seems to me, uses taxis to get around because relatively few people actually own cars. You have a motorcycle, probably, but if you need to carry things or take more people, you just get a taxi, no big deal.

In addition, there are plenty of shuttle services, and every taxi driver you encounter will amywelborn78nose about for more business: So…are you going to Tikal? Do you need a driver? Are you going to the airport? Do you need a driver tomorrow for that? But if you do go long distances via shuttle, build that cost in. So, for example, this past Saturday, I paid $100 (50 each) for us to be driven in a shuttle from San Ignacio, Belize to the Belize Airport, about 73 miles away, with a 90-minute stop at the Belize Zoo. I wish I didn’t have to spend that kind of money, but in the end, hiring a driver ends up being not that much more expensive than renting a car in these countries, and while you don’t have the freedom to go anywhere whenever, you have freedom from stress about responsibility for driving mishaps. Life, as I like to say, is a trade-off.

Where Should I Stay?

Again, I’m writing this for people interested in Tikal and other nearby sites, so I’ll start with Tikal.

If you look at a map, you’ll see several possibilities. People do day trips to Tikal from spots in Belize, as well as closer Guatemalan communities like El Remate and Flores. It’s certainly possible, but there are advantages to staying in the park itself.

The best times to experience Tikal are in the morning and late afternoon. Not surprisingly, those late morning and earlier afternoon hours get hot, plus the jungle is quieter during those hours, as the animals are sensible and taking a rest as well. So to experience the jungle and the ruins in their fullest, in the most convenient way – it makes sense to stay in one of the three hotels located in the park.

It makes particular sense if you’re going to do the Sunrise tour, which necessitates you start walking to Temple IV at about 4:30 am. Adding an hour drive to that would be…torture.

There are three hotels in the park: The Jungle Lodge, the Jaguar Inn and the Tikal Inn.

All are located near each other in the same area. We stayed at the Jungle Lodge, and I was very happy with the accommodations. They are separate cabins that were constructed originally back in the 1950’s for the team from the University of Pennsylvania that was excavating the ruins.

(Here’s an article published in 1970 upon the completion of the team’s work. 

Here’s a set of really interesting archival videos on the project – they are silent and just that – archival – but interesting to dip into.)

The bungalows are very clean – as was my experience in all three places we stayed. There is no air conditioning, but there is a ceiling fan. The unusual thing about this to keep in mind is that most electricity is turned off during certain hours in the middle of the day and from about 10:30 pm to 7 am or so – with the ceiling fans being on a separate generator that keeps running. But if you get up for that Sunrise Tour, if you haven’t brought flashlights (we did), you’ll need your cell phone flashlight, which probably isn’t great. You should take a flashlight anyway because you’ll need it for the walk to Temple IV for the Sunrise Tour, and if you go to another onsite restaurant in the evening, you’ll need it for walking on the grounds – there are no streetlights around the parking lot, it’s pitch black and the great thing? The stars.  I’d never seen them so bright and in such an array. It’s what I had hoped to see at the Grand Canyon but didn’t. Gorgeous.

So yes, the Jungle Lodge is more expensive than other accommodations in towns outside the park, but again – everything has a cost, and it’s up to you what currency you want to use – do you want to pay with money or do you want to pay with the extra time and hassle of being an hour away from the park? I’d say it’s worth it to spend at least one night in the park.

The restaurant at the Jungle Lodge is not what I expected and I wouldn’t recommend it, unless you have nowhere else to go (and there are other places – the other two hotels both have restaurants, and during the day, there are comedors – or small restaurants just down the road. The comedors only take cash though, so be prepared.). The service was fine and the food wasn’t terrible, but it was oddly enough, not at all Guatemalan, Central American or even vaguely Hispanic. It was mostly sort of Italian. Weird and overpriced.

In Flores, we stayed at a hotel owned by the same people – the Isla de Flores. Very nice – good sized room and bathroom. The best noise-blocking windows I’ve ever experienced in a hotel. Could have used them in Madrid where the party just gets started at midnight…

Bookending the trip, we stayed at Martha’s Guesthouse in San Ignacio, Belize. I highly recommend it. Very nice people running the place and the room we stayed in was very large, with a balcony.

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Miscellaneous Tips:

  • When you cross the Guatemala-Belize border, you’ll be immediately swarmed on either side by men offering to exchange money. Don’t do it. I had gotten Guatemalan money before we went – I usually don’t do that, but I knew I would need cash right away to buy Tikal tickets (next tip), so I made an exception this time. It might be a good idea to do the same, but there are secure ATM’s in banks all over the place – not in villages, but in towns.
  • Make sure you understand the process for buying Tikal tickets – research it or if you have a guide, he or she will explain it. Because of long lines, delays and corruption, the government took Tikal ticket-selling away from the park and you must buy them at a branch of a certain bank now – there is a branch at the border and at the airport and other places, but just be prepared. You have to pay cash and know exactly what kind of tickets you want because there are no tickets sold at the park.
  • They take American dollars all over Belize. They also took them in souvenir shops in Flores and at the shops and snack places around the Tikal park. I would advise downloading a currency exchange app on your phone to avoid conflict and confusion – you can just punch it numbers and show it to the clerk or server – end of argument. If you think you might use US dollars in Guatemala, make sure they are clean, unmarked and not too folded or wrinkled. The problem, as our guide explained, is that the Guatemalan banks will not accept US dollars that are in less than good condition – so if a vendor accepts one and tries to deposit them and they’re rejected – they’ve lost that money.
  • San Ignacio, Belize and Flores Guatemala are full of tourists. Young American and European backpackers and adventurers, retired Americans and lots of students. It’s got that kind of vibe – a mix of locals hustling to make a living, mostly off the tourists, and the tourists hoping what they’re experiencing is “authentic” – San Ignacio is much more ramshackle than Flores, though.
  • The tourist-centered economy of these places means that they’re full of tour companies. Choose wisely and read reviews. Plan ahead if you want (I did) but I think it’s easy to pick up a guide or join a tour on short notice.
  • Internet: I have a cel-phone plan through T-Mobil that provides free service overseas. The data is slow, but it’s there. I had access through my phone in most places except in Tikal. It was weird – we trekked through various other jungles that were more isolate than Tikal, and I had access in those places, but not in Tikal. The hotels all had wi-fi, but the Jungle Lodge’s service was provided only in the lobby and at the pool and it was terrible. Everywhere else, the wi-fi was fine. Now. Before anyone scolds about “just unconnect! Be free!” – listen to me.  I am a single mom, who had one minor child up in Chicago while I was in Guatemala. I needed to be available. My finances are all on me – no one else – and I needed to keep an eye on my bank account and credit card account to make sure there were no ATM or other shenanigans brewing. Wi-Fi wasn’t important because I wanted to check Facebook. It was important because most of life is on the internet now, for good or for ill, I’m the head of the household with responsibilities that are all on my shoulders, so yeah…making sure I’m in range is important. No apologies.
  • We prepared, health-wise, by loading up on probiotics for a couple of weeks before. It probably wasn’t necessary. We were very careful and never drank tap water – I don’t think most natives do either – and were fine.
  • Do take good insect repellent. I got this one, and it worked great. We were in a rainforest amid swarms of mosquitos, and they didn’t touch us.
  • What did we pack? Our clothes filled one small satchel. M wore hiking boots and packed his sandals. I took hiking sandals and tennis shoes. We each had a backpack – mine is one I bought for the 2012 trip that holds a camera in the bottom and has a laptop sleeve. I took regular camera, phone, laptop and chargers for each. We had journals and pens, and a couple of books. Two small flashlights, insect repellent, the usual toiletries and basic first aid (band aids, itch cream, antibiotic cream) that I always travel with plus Pepto-Bismol and After-Bite. I wasn’t sure about the Jungle Lodge electricity situation – I knew they turned the power off at night, and didn’t know if that included the fans or not, so I bought a small cheap cordless fan and took that. I didn’t “need” it, as it turned out, but it did add some extra breeze on those two nights.

 

Should I Hire a Tour Guide?

Unless you yourself are an expert on Matters Mayan, yes. You can get the basics about Tikal from a book, but having a good guide puts it all in context. You must have a guide for the Sunrise Tour. The other sites we saw are incomprehensible without prior knowledge or a guide. There was English signage at Tikal, but everywhere else was Spanish only, ,which is decipherable for me, but very basic. As I said above, you can easily grab a guide on site or in one of the outside towns, but I needed a guide and driver for the entire week, so I made arrangements ahead of time – based on recommendations on the TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet discussion boards, I went with Marlon Diaz of Gem Guatemala Travel. It was a great decision – he was smart, flexible, deeply knowledgeable and a great animal spotter as well.  Here’s my TripAdvisor review of his service. 

So there you go…I might add to this as the day goes on and more occurs to me. Ask questions if you like either in the comments or to amywelborn60 – at – gmail – dot- com.

 

Tomorrow: the food. And that will be it for blogging on it – look for an ebook with a complete account in a few weeks, I hope. 

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I’m in Living Faith again today. Two days in a row is unusual – you won’t see me there again until the end of August, though.

"amy welborn"

 

(Five entries per quarter is the norm)

To the left is the visual aid for that entry:

In it, I talk about my struggles to write fiction. As it happens, last week I revisited a YA novel I wrote several years ago. I actually got an agent to represent it, and she sent it out to a lot of publishing houses – and of course it was rejected. There were decent comments that came out of the rejections, though, as well as the consistent claim that while the writing was good, they couldn’t sell it. Positioned as a YA novel, since it did not involve dystopia, vampires or shopping…there was no niche for it, I suppose.

I hadn’t looked at it in a long time, but last week, I found it on my old computer, rescued the file, and read through it. Hey, this isn’t terrible.  So I think what I’m going to do is publish it on Amazon via CreateSpace. I have a bit of editing to do on it – to update some tech references and clean up some errors and weaker writing. I’ll do that after our trip to Guatemala and probably have it ready in August sometime.

It’s not perfect, but it never will be, and that’s okay. I think enough readers will find it and enjoy it to make the effort worthwhile.  Which is the point of today’s entry, really.

And I am working on another couple of pieces of fiction, one short and one long – plus I’m probably going to have at least one more non-fiction book to work on over the course of the next year. I’m waiting on the details of that to be worked out.  Which is another reason unschooling will be the preferred pedagogy for 7th grade….

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