Tuesday, November 25, 2014

But the Greatest of These is LOVE

Today was a tough one. I went to the funeral of a young lady, a very young lady. She didn't live her last days peacefully, but painfully, looking cancer right in the face, and saying to her Goliath, "Soon, I will be free of your bondage, and free of your pain, because I am a child of the Great Physician."

Cancer is not a face I've seen up close and personal as so many others have, but I've known many who bravely stared it down and won their battle as they entered Glory, and I've watched as they said, "See you soon," to their loved ones, sometimes far, far too early.

My sweet friend went to be with Jesus on Saturday, and I am so very happy for her. My heart rejoices at the thought of her beautiful face in heaven, worthy to stand among the beauty of the angels that surround the Father's throne. She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever known, inside and out.

But today my heart broke for her family, especially her mother and father. They were such a picture of God's grace. I imagine if I had to live this day as a parent, I would need to be carried. But they walked arm in arm, clinging to one another for comfort. It was beautiful to see God's strength and grace in the lives of two very precious people, though their pain was still easily seen, God's strength in their weakness was just as evident.

As I sat and listened to her eulogy, I thought about the last time I saw my friend. It was by accident that we met up. She was there with her mom and dad, visiting a church I was also visiting with some family.

To see their faces was such a joy! It had been years since we had stood together and talked, and this family blessed me and my family in gigantic, selfless way years and years ago. They probably don't even know, because that is just who they are.

I was so happy to see them and have the opportunity to hug their necks.

But what originated as a joyful moment turned dark and grey quickly as I started to walk toward them to say my hellos. Church was set to begin within 10 minutes or so, but my family member yanked my arm and said, "No. We don't do that here. You can say hello after church."

I was horrified and humiliated as I walked passed my dear friends, knowing they would expect me to say hello, but instead ignoring them completely, much to my shame and horror. I was so pleased when their wonderful personalities shown through, and they left their seat and came to me, forcing me to be polite despite the horrible restrictions unwillingly put on me.

Even though it was not my doing, I still felt shame. Today, as I stared at her beautiful face in the picture next to her casket, I remembered that moment, the grace the family showed me in that moment and after when I wrote them all to apologize and explain my actions. Again, today I felt the shame all over again.

It suddenly occurred to me why I felt shame. I allowed a stupid rule and "we must act properly" idea to over rule my affection and love for others. And now, she is gone. That moment is part of my story no matter how much I want to erase it, and, once again, I gained a deeper understanding of what Jesus taught. I had a little more clarity of what Jesus meant when He told us to love each other, to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies.

This command, that is the greatest command after loving God, is so very important because one day, whether or not we acted properly and whether or not we followed the proper etiquette rules will no longer matter nearly as much as how we treated people. When I am no longer living on this earth and I am just a memory, will the memories reflect how I treated people with kindness and love, or how I followed every rule and met every expectation?

Today, I let a tear slip down my cheek and imagined that moment differently. I imagined yanking my arm back from my relative and saying, "It may not be what YOU do, but it is what I do." Then I would walk graciously to my sweet lovely friends, who have always blessed me, hugging their necks and rejoicing in our meeting once again by surprise. Today as I said, "See you soon," to this precious lady, hugged her parents' necks letting the words, "I love you," fall from my lips; I wished that there wasn't the tainting of that shameful moment in my mind.

And I was reminded of what we all are reminded of in the midst of saying "See you soon," to someone so young; tomorrow is not promised to any, single one of us. It is cliche, but it still holds true, make the most of every moment, every day, and every opportunity. I don't mean make the most of it and travel as much as possible, or do as many things as possible, or experience as much of the world as possible, although, those are all good. But to truly make the most of each and every day, love as much as possible, even if it offends someone else.

My sweet friend, and her family, taught me a little more about how to love on that horrible day. Many would have been offended that I walked passed without even a wave of the hand, much less a hello. Many would have perceived what I did as rude, and held a grudge, but not this family. They loved me enough to not get offended or let me be rude. They loved me enough to forgive my actions, my cowardice when I willingly followed along instead of standing up and saying no. They loved me and forgave me, and never thought twice about the situation.

Tomorrow, I hope to forget all the obstacles that might stand in my way make the most of every moment by doing what Jesus commanded.
"Love your neighbor as yourself..." "Love one another, by this all men will know that you are my disciples..."

And I will cling to the most famous of all, in memory of Morgan Clayton, and the love she and her family have always shown me.
"...but the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Think Positively Or Honestly?

I sat through an almost 9 hour conference in a freezing cold room yesterday, listening to a man talk about motivation, vision, and affirmations.
This kind of thing is hard for me as a Christian, especially when it is not particularly Christian focused. At some point I feel a bit like I am listening to the meaningless drivel that flows freely from the Houston pastors that make me cringe at every quippy and cleverly penned quote.

You see, I am a network marketer recommender of an amazing product that has changed our lives. I did not set out to make money recommending a certain product, but when it changed so much about our health and our lives, I couldn't help but tell our friends. Soon, they told their friends, who told their friends, and then this remarkable thing happened; the company compensated me for recommending their products to others. Wal-Mart doesn't do that.

 I did not set out to give anyone a plan for financial freedom, or piles of cash. I simply shared a good thing. As of now, I am not rolling in piles of cash, not even close. But I have a bit of extra money to buy some groceries.

For months I prayed for an opportunity to help our family out financially. Each month our financial situation grew tighter and tighter. Not because we aren't making money, or  because we are making less money, but because our kids are growing and eating more and more, and groceries are getting more and more expensive.

Despite my best efforts to be frugal and price match, coupon, and implement every possible avenue for cheaper prices, our kids' appetites were quickly outgrowing our budget. Something had to happen. So, I prayed and asked God to provide.

Within a month or two, I got a check in the mail for recommending a product I use. At that time, I listened to the message God was sending, and I made the decision to put forth effort to make money, instead of just sharing randomly.

Now others are doing the same and looking to me for guidance, so I am looking to others for guidance as well.
At the end of the conference I was more than happy with the tools I gained to lead my team even better and share what I was able to glean.

However,  my mind and spirit struggle with this new concept of speaking positive affirmations.

The lesson summed up was this; to be successful (his definition is to be successful is to have joy on the journey of whatever you are doing, not to make lots of money and gain lots of power and respect) you must be motivated, and to be motivated you must speak positive things to yourself. Sounds a bit Osteenish if you ask me or at least that's what I thought at first.

But, in reality, as I listened I prayed God would speak to me, and indeed He did.

The message of speaking positively and letting your mind dwell on positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts is not a heretical message. It is indeed Biblical. Philippians 4:8 says,

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."

It is Biblical to control your thought processes and not allow them to be subject to every evil and whim that comes along.
"We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," 2 Corinthians 10:5

The problem with the message we so often hear about positive thinking is that it is separated from Christ. Jesus said in John 15:5

"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." 

Did you get that? Without Christ you can do anything you set your mind to NOTHING!

We ended the conference by evaluating our values, our gifts, and then writing a vision in the form of positive affirmations. Such a good practice, if done correctly. But here's the problem. So many people wrote things like, "I am a good person." 

But you may ask, Isn't that just what Paul said to do in Philippians? What is wrong with that? 

Paul indeed said to DWELL on good things, not bad. But the very first quality he lists when it comes to your thought processes is TRUTH. Let me give you an example of a lie.

People don't like me. 

Do you know that for sure? Has anyone told you they don't like you? Have you asked? Such a good question to ask yourself when you are allowing negative thoughts to consume you. Can you be certain this is true? But an even more important question to always ask is,

 "Does the BIBLE say this is true?" 

 The Bible is your standard for truth. Period. Anything else is a waste of time. If your answer to either of these questions is, No, stop wasting your time on such a destructive thought!

So what's wrong with saying I am a good person? You must ask yourself the question, do I know this to be true? Does the Bible say this is true?
In fact, the Bible tells us this is a lie. Romans 3:12 says, 

"All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."

I could say every morning and every evening, I am a good person. I might even truly believe it. But at some point, it will fail me. No matter how much I say it to myself, I will never, ever, be a good person. I will still do bad things, say bad things, and think bad things. If I was a good person, I would have no need for Christ. I would BE Christ.

I can say to myself, "I deserve good things." I could say it all day long, but the truth is, I do not deserve even one good thing. The Bible says that no one is good. It also says in Romans 3:23;

 "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  

And Romans 6:23 says the price for being a sinner is death.

"For the wages of sin is death."

I deserve good things death. Not jail, not a spanking. No. Death.

 I have sinned, I have lied, and said bad things. Therefore, I deserve... death.  I can say all day long, "I deserve good things,"  convince my mind it is true, but my spirit still knows I have sinned, and what I deserve is death. My spirit is still not satisfied, nor will it ever be satisfied through speaking those things. Because speaking myself good just doesn't work. Only faith in Jesus Christ can truly, without a doubt, change me. 

Instead of daily positive affirmations and meditations about myself, daily positive meditation on TRUTH that is found in God's word will change the heart of a human being, thus changing their life.

I no longer say, "I am a sinner. I am a wretch. I am a horrible person. I deserve nothing good."

I can say, "I am redeemed by the blood of Jesus. I am a new creation. The old is gone and Christ remains."

2 Corinthians says, 

"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."

What are the new things? Those new things are your truths, given to us in the Bible.

 I no longer say to myself, "I am a horrible mother." Instead I say, "I am a good mother through the power of the Holy Spirit who has given me everything I need to be their mother, because God in all his sovereignty and wisdom, gave them to ME."

I no longer say, "No one will listen to me." I say, "Because God has not given me a spirit of fear, but rather, He has given me the Holy Spirit that brings with Him, power, love and a sound mind. Therefore, I can speak what He puts in my mouth." 

I no longer need to be afraid of what people think of me. I can say, "I am dearly loved and how great is the love the Father has lavished on me, that he would call me a child of God!" 

This also means I no longer need to dwell on all my faults, and fears, and failures, but rather I can dwell on the truth that is Christ is in me. I have access to the power of the Holy Spirit in me, and it is because of the work of Christ that there is anything good in me at all. Although I do not deserve anything good, Christ has redeemed me and I am an heir with Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven and as a child of God, He will bless me with whatever He determines to be good for me, in all his sovereignty and wisdom, even if it appears to me to be anything but good

For example, when I am digging in the foot of my child with a needle to remove a splinter, I am doing something good for him. However, he can not understand that what I am doing is good. He only feels the pain, so he may only think I am hurting him. God does the same with us.

The other night we watched the movie, Mom's Night Out. It speaks volumes to me because, really, that is my life on the big screen. I am inadequate as a wife, a mother, a housekeeper, a teacher, a friend, and most of all, a child of God. But in the end, the mom character has a transformation from totally down on herself to confident and successful. She doesn't transform because she started telling herself she was enough. She could never be enough. No one can be enough for this job.

Her transformation came when she realized, Christ in her is enough, and because of Christ in her, she is free to be who He made her to be, instead of perfect. 

She didn't change what she did or her circumstances. She simply changed her thought processes, she replaced the lies with the truth.

"Do not be conformed any longer to the ways of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:2

You see, the people who begin to speak good things to themselves, may indeed experience a self-fulfilling prophecy and become skinny, rich, successful, and get everything they ever wanted.

But, that won't be the end of the story.

 I was relieved to hear our speaker end the conference yesterday with this little nugget of truth. You may get everything you ever wanted,  but your life, that is your heart and mind and spirit, will still be incomplete. No amount of things or money can make you happy. It can only give you a bit of shallow entertainment, ultimately leaving you empty. 

Romans 12:2 gives us what the positive affirmation message does not. Transform and renew your mind, to be like that of Christ in order that He may be glorified. 

"I am good because Christ has redeemed me." 

"If I have to boast I will boast of what pertains to my weakness." 2 Corinthians 11:30

"But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14

"But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil." James 4:16

The most important part of Philippians 4:8 is that you DWELL on what is TRUE. Anything else is evil. Anything else is fruitless. Anything else, is pointless.

So what does  the positive thinking and affirmations in light of truth look like? It looks like taking our eyes off ourselves and putting them on the only ONE that matters, Jesus.

Matthew 6 tells us not to worry about tomorrow or what we eat and drink, what we wear or where we will live. It tells us we think too much about the body and waste too much time worrying about it. Instead, we have only one thing we need to do.

"Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:33

To be successful in marriage, parenting, business, friendships, or anything in this life, simply, 
"Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Proverbs 16:3

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Wanna Live Life Like a Kid!!!!

Almost every day I wake up with one thing on my mind; my to-do list for the day, week, month and year.

I come out of my bedroom and immediately start barking at the kids.

Pick this mess up!

Have you done your chores yet?

Would someone PUH-LEEZE put the milk away! Do you think I'm made of money?

I often get convicted that the first words my children hear in the morning aren't, "Good morning, my loves! This is the day the Lord has made!"

But, let's be real. I'm a mom. I don't have time for "nonsense".... or do I?

Tonight I dropped all five of my children off at church (we don't have adult classes on Wednesday nights). My youngest just turned 3 which means he is now welcome to attend the preschool class, pull-up and all, much to my chagrin. Or maybe not.

I pulled into my drive, minutes before my love arrived home. And realized, I'm all alone... at home.

It is raining, sometimes a downpour, but always a drizzle at the very least. I stepped out of my car and decided to just stand there, in the rain. I felt the drops hit the top of my head before I looked up at the sky and let them pour down my face and neck. I reached up to heaven and felt every little drop on the palms of my hands and I felt like a child again.

I remembered what it was like to go outside and play. I would get dirty without every worrying about ruining my clothes or the mess my mother would need to clean up. I walked through Johnson grass without caution or concern, later learning the dangers. But I trudged forward first, feeling as if I was pioneering a way through some exotic jungle through grass taller than me.

I tromped through the creek as my favorite shoe was sucked into the mucky mud in the creek bed. Another sacrifice to the wild jungle.

I remember the day I mounted the giant Yamaha big wheel motorcycle by myself. I had not clue what dangers came with controling such a large and powerful machine with my small 50 pound body. I only knew the feel of the wind on my face and the thrill of speed.

As I stood in the rain, I remembered that feeling. My responsibility as a child was to explore and have fun, not to worry about getting wet, or getting a cold, or having to clean up a soppy mess. I have forgotten what fun is. It's not staying clean, or orderly. It's finding myself shivering, sopping wet, with a huge smile on my face because I lived like a child for just a moment. Now, if I can only remember that when the Littles are home. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why I support MLM and Network Marketing Distributors

There is this big taboo in our society today for some folks. Just saying the word makes people cringe. Ask someone to go to a home party and instantly the recoiling happens. I personally think it is a shame.

I don't support MLM and network marketing companies just because I am part of one. I have supported those people in that business for years before I ever got involved myself, for many good reasons.

First, let's address the elephant in the room. I have heard it over and over again.

"They just want to make money off of you."

Well, I have news for you.

Starbucks just wants to make money off you.
Target just wants to make money off you.
Your gym just wants to make money off you.
The author of your book just wants to make money off you.
Hollywood just wants to make money off you.
Your favorite blogger, just wants to make money off you.
Heck! Your doctor just wants to make money off you.

The fact of the matter is, everyone is out to make a buck. That's how we live and survive. We find a demand for a product and/or service, we market that product to potential customers and then we sell the product and make some money. It's how the world turns.

There are so few people in this world that will offer you  and the entire world, anything without expecting to get paid for it. Why? Because we all have to make a living and feed our family. However, most Network Marketing distributors really do have a desire to help people find a great product, in addition to wanting to earn some extra money.

Which brings me to my next point.

Who do you want to support when you buy products?

I support the Network Marketing mother for one good reason; she's working to support her family! Many Network Marketing people are stay at home moms, or someone just trying to help their family make ends meet. I would much rather buy a higher quality product from a mother and help support her business so that she may support her family and stay home with her children, than to buy a cheaper product at Wal-Mart. I would much rather support the college student trying to work their way through college, holding down a full time job, and selling a product through network marketing so that they may not be in debt upon graduation, rather than getting what I want or need at the local big chain company.

Here's the thing. Someone who is selling something as a home business, isn't just selling air or junk. It is a product or service that they believe in, they love, and they want to share with others as well. Most times it is a product you can buy cheaper somewhere else, but the quality is much better, and you can just consider that it is supporting your local small businessman/woman.

Another very important reason I support network marketing is that is it vital to our economy. These kinds of businesses have been around for decades. "There are over 2,000 Network Marketing firms distributing over $30 billion a year in goods and services in the U.S. alone... $110 billion worth of goods and services are sold worldwide each year in this industry." -The Four Year Career by Richard Bliss Brooke

Lastly, these people don't just sit around and make money off you. If you know someone who is successful in Network Marketing, they have worked their toosh off to get there. These people not only work to find new customers for the product that they love and believe in, serving the role of CEO, Marketing Executive, and customer service, but they also support a team of people trying to do the same. This means they may spend hours answering questions, emails, text messages. They may travel far and wide, without getting paid, to support their team members' first party or class. These people work hard, just like all the other people out there working to build their own small business. Only  they do it with their kiddos by their side while managing a home and family at the same time. But! It beats being a cashier at the local gas station!

So next time you come across a Network Marketing or MLM product and distributor, smile and pat them on the back for working hard, just like you do. Consider whether or not the product might be a help to you, and consider supporting your local people, and local families, over a big chain company. And stop saying, "They just want to make money off you," unless you're going to say the same thing to someone when they ask what restaurant you would recommend. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Choosing Curriculum Part 1

You’ve made the decision to homeschool, and you've learned what NOT to do when choosing your curriculum. So now, let’s talk about what you should do.

I have several homeschool friends from all walks of life that have each taught me something different. I take all those lessons combined with my own experience and give you;

How to Choose a Curriculum
 Part 1

Before you ever start making any buying decisions, you must engage in two pertinent and non-negotiable tasks.

1. Figure up your homeschool budget.  This will not only include your curriculum, but your supplies, your trips, your printer ink and paper, and monthly library fines (Forget it, you will pay fines. I have not figured out a good system to avoid late fees. If you are reading this and you are able to avoid it, please reveal your secret to the rest of us!)

2.  Most importantly! Pray over your budget, for wisdom and guidance as you look to find just the right curriculum that fits into your budget. Pray for what you want or need and wait for God to provide according to your budget!
So why worry about a budget at this point? Figure it up, because it is vital to picking out curriculum. I believe an average amount spent per family is around $1000 per school year, and this is fairly conservative.

If you find yourself on the lower end of that number, you will want to look into more conservatively priced curriculum. Buying the full set of BJU or Abeka, brand new, for each kid, is not going to be easy, although possible, on a tight budget. So here are a few guidelines to follow if you are on the lower end of the budget.
  • Consider a free online curriculum like Easy Peasy All in One Curriculum or Ambleside.  Even if you use it as a supplement or just for a couple subjects, they are both fantastic and free resources which could lead you to even more free resources.

  •            Look for used curriculum. There are several fantastic sites to find used curriculum including eBay, and homeschool classifieds. Ask around at your local homeschool group if they have an annual book sale or put it out on a email loop or social media that you are looking for used curriculum. You can also find some good deals at garage sales, or on some publishers’ websites. There are blog swaps and giveaways. I once won an entire flannel graph set I could never have bought myself from a blog giveaway. It is still one of my little ones’ favorite school activities.

  •         Consider non-consumable curriculum. Workbooks or paces are examples of a consumable curriculum. These can only be used by one child and must be bought again for each seceding child. However, non-consumable curriculum is most often something that can be used again and again, with only a small purchase of an inexpensive packet of worksheets or notebooks to accompany it for additional children.  It may require a large purchase up front, but can be affordable as time goes on. This is a good way to go for a big family, especially if you can find the non-consumable items used at a lower price.

  •          Check out your local library. Many libraries carry a good deal of homeschool curriculum. Some areas even have libraries devoted to homeschool curriculum.

  •          Consider swapping with a friend. A friend of mine uses Life of Fred and has been buying the middle school level books while I have been buying the elementary level books. We have worked it out so that we swap our books to help save each other money, approximately a savings of $200 for each of us. Another advantage I have found to this method is that I am more likely to stay on schedule since I know she will need the books we are using very soon.

  •      Use resources like www.paperbackswap.com. I love this site and I get a great deal of our readers from them. You post books you no longer want or need and when someone requests that book you mail it to them free of charge, paying only the shipping which is usually no more than a few bucks using media mail. In return you earn a credit per book that you can use to request other books people have posted.

  •          Use free earning sites like Swagbucks. I spend some time working on earning my Swagbucks, but it really is like a job for our homeschool budget. With my Swagbucks I can earn Amazon gift cards and use those to purchase curriculum. I have bought hundreds of dollars of curriculum using my Swagbucks, and all it cost me was a little of my time.

None of these tasks are going to be easy or quick. It takes dedication, prayer and time to shop around and find what you want that fits in your budget. There are days I feel like all I've done is sit at my computer and search. But in the end it is worth it when I have just what I want without hurting our family’s budget.  And when I pray about it, God always gives me just what I need.

If you are a homeschooler on a tight budget, please share with us your best tips and tricks for sticking to your budget and getting the most out of your curriculum and homeschool.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Might Want To Homeschool, But I Have Some Questions

So maybe you are mulling it over in your head, or you've just come past the point of saying, "I could never homeschool," to the point of saying, "Maybe I could homeschool." But, you still have questions and reservations that need to be answered before you retreat to your original belief or move forward to your next thought, "I'm gonna try this homeschool thing out."

When making that all important decision for our family we went through each step of the process asking all the questions trying to gain some peace and confidence in my abilities. Almost every homeschooler went through these phases.

At least once or twice a year someone comes to me and asks me questions about homeschooling, and just like every other homeschooler on the planet, I am ready to flood their mind with every bit of information I have gained and retained over the last 5 years, which always overwhelms the one on the receiving end. It's alot like a new parent; everyone has some piece of advice for a new parent. They can simply make the statement, "I am so tired," and a flood of advice will fill their mental inbox from every parent, new and seasoned.

The same thing happens with new or almost new homeschoolers.

To be less overwhelming, and to make answering these questions easier for me, I have compiled a series of blogs to help the new homeschooler, to answer some of those questions without overwhelming the one in that very difficult stage of beginning a new and intimidating adventure. So here is the first of the series.

I Might Want to Homeschool, But I Have Some Questions

1. Where do I start?

I always tell people to go directly to Homeschool Legal Defense Association. At HSLDA you can get a ton of information on topics such as getting started, testing, curriculum, and organization. You can also find a link to your state's laws and organizations which will give you further information.

Here's the thing: Don't ask me what you must do to homeschool unless you live in my state. Every state's laws are different ranging from no regulation at all up to heavily regulated standards. At HSLDA you can follow the link for your state and read exactly what you need to do.

This is my biggest and most important piece of advice to you. Unless you are talking to someone within your own state, do not ask "What do I need to do?" Invariably, you will get an answer that sounds something like, "Well, we had to [do something to remove the kids from school] and must continue to [meet the state's laws]."
If you don't live in the same state, none of these things may apply to you and could only cause unnecessary anxiety.
Talking to someone who is familiar with your state's laws and homeschooling organizations is primary. Otherwise, confusion is sure to follow and the last thing you need in making such a big decision is to add to the already confusing amount of information you will and need to obtain.

2. What about testing and providing information to the state concerning our schooling?

Again, this requirement depends upon your state. In my state, there is no reporting or testing required for homeschooling families. HSLDA again is the best place to go for that information. Start your inquiries out on that website and begin to pour over what will be required of you if you make the choice to homeschool.

3. What about extracurricular activities like sports, art, and music? I don't want my child to miss out on the fun things in education.

The answer to this question lies in your geographical location. Most states' homeschool organizations have smaller organizations all over the state that will provide different sports, arts, and music. My children have been involved in band, choir, soccer, basketball, and art classes. We live fairly close to a major city, therefore the majority of activities are within a reasonable distance for us to participate. However, we have never needed to drive to the city for activities as we have always found them within our smaller communities.

Many churches and communities provide community sports or other extracurricular activities. Of course, the disadvantage is that it will not be provided through the school, but rather most likely will require a tuition or fee.

On the other hand, I have observed most often that the cost of community or homeschool sponsored activities are usually cheaper overall than those of public school sponsored activities, which often require the student's to purchase expensive uniforms and conduct multiple fundraisers, requiring more time from parents to conduct fundraisers in the form of concession stands or fundraising events.

Another option is to participate with local public or private schools. Some schools allow homeschoolers to participate in their extracurricular activities, some do not. You must contact your local school administration to find out if it is permitted in your area or not. If it is not, consider going to the next school board meeting and presenting it as an option to the school board, with convincing evidence as to why it would be beneficial to the school. It might be a good educational challenge and lesson for your children involved, to work for their activities within a political arena.

Some community organizations to look into that will provide extracurricular activities are churches, homeschool co-ops, the YMCA, community colleges, libraries, and community centers.

Your last option may be to set it up yourself. If your child wants to take painting lessons and you know a painter, consider talking with that person and working out a small homeschool class that will make it worth their while. The advantage to homeschooling is that you can participate in extracurricular activities during the day, and many people with special talents are more than willing to hold a one hour morning class once a week and earn some extra money.

4. What about graduation and college?

Again, you must always check with your state to find out what is required, but some information is general information.

You will need to keep track of your student's subjects and credits during high school in order to create a transcript, just as a public school would do. Once all the state's requirements are met, (yes, you will need to meet the same requirements in high school, that a public school student would need to meet in order to graduate) you may issue a high school diploma to your student.
Most states' organizations hold some sort of graduation ceremony that you may be part of. You will need to check with your state's homeschool organization to find the details.
Unless your student has been educated with an accredited school/curriculum, that can issue an accredited degree, your student's degree will not be an accredited degree. However, that makes it no less valuable to colleges. In fact, colleges gladly embrace homeschool students.
I once read an article about a family that puts their homeschooled children in college around the age of 12. Their 21 year old daughter is the youngest doctor in the country, having started college at 12 years old. Their philosophy is, if these kids are going to be taking these classes at home anyway, they might as well take them at college and receive college credit for them.
For most colleges, an ACT or SAT score is what determines the student's ability to enter college level classes, not an accredited high school diploma.

In addition, to answering your questions here, I have a bit of advice for those who are still trying to make the final decision. 

1. Think long and hard about the why. Why do you want to homeschool? The why will ultimately help you make up your mind. The why will tip the scale of indecision toward homeschooling and taking on the massive responsibility that goes with it, or it will tip the scale far away from that kind of responsibility.
Once you decide to take the plunge, the why will be your carrot every day through the first year and beyond, to keep going and keep trudging through.  Determine your why in the beginning.

I would bet that almost every parent that is asking the above questions, have already determined the answer as to why, and it is compelling enough to push forward. However, the fear of the unknown is holding you back, so these questions become your focus. But if you determine that the answer to the question "why homeschool?" is critically important, you can work through any of the difficult and scary unknowns that lie ahead.

2. Talk to homeschoolers and ask your questions, but be ready to be overwhelmed with answers and information. It's important to find one veteran homeschooler in which you have great trust, that lives or has lived and homeschooled, in your state. Spend some time with that person. Visit their home and see how they school. But always remember, you are not that person and no matter how incredibly awesome and organized they are, or how incredibly unorganized and all over the charts they are, you will not be them. Do not base your ability or inability to homeschool on their ability or inability to homeschool. You will homeschool your way, not theirs. But it is good to see what a day in the life of a homeschool family looks like, if for no other reason than to determine how you do NOT want to do it.

3. Read and study your state laws, organizations, and what it can provide to you on your own, even though you may learn and talk to other homeschoolers. Talking to homeschoolers is important to get a good idea, but researching these things on your own will give you a deeper understanding.

4. Don't fret and worry about curriculum until you've made your final decision. That in and of itself is a huge undertaking, to which I have committed a couple more blogs. The first of which is "What NOT To Do When Choosing Homeschool Curriculum". Enjoy!

If you are a veteran homeschooler, tell us some of the initial questions you get asked, and how you answer.
If you are considering homeschooling, and have a different question than the ones presented here, please feel free to ask!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Jesse Tree, Days 1-5

Every year I stop doing "school" with the kids at the beginning of December and take the month off to do enjoy our usual busy December schedules. I swap out scholastic studies for Christmas studies, which is usually some sort of advent.

Last year we did Truth in the Tinsel and I really loved it. This year I wanted to try the popular Jesse Tree.

I found Ann Voskamp's version for free and started planning. Although I am thoroughly enjoying her version, it is a bit poetic for children, and I will probably try to find another version for the future. But for me, it is heavenly.

I decided to do this blog series to help out other Jesse Tree adventurers out there. We are using the Little House series as our basis for history, studying the Civil War, Westward expansion, etc. I wanted to have a Christmas like the Ingalls would've had, where we make all our ornaments. So I had this great idea to use our advent ornaments and make them all.

Everything I searched online was not what I wanted to do, as far as ornaments go. Ann's comes with printable ornaments, but I wanted my kids to do more than just color and cut out a picture. Other's were made from felt or sewn together. I don't sew, and I needed projects that my 2yo and my 12yo could both do and enjoy. I needed kid friendly crafty ornaments. So I made up my own as we went along. Almost everything I used were things I keep in my craft closet for school. But it is all fairly cheap and easy for the non-crafter, like myself.

Day 1: It is Advent. Come 
Ornament: Jesse Tree

I made the decision that our actual "Jesse Tree" would be our Christmas tree.

Day 2: Life Begins as a love story.
Ornament: Creation

For day 2, the study of creation, I gave the kids a pile of craft supplies and told them to create anything they wanted, just like God created all of heaven and earth. I told them they could use any kind of material they could dream, sticks, leaves, Legos, cotton, mud, or whatever they wanted. My oldest Lego master made a stocking out of Legos. We had a snowman, and a clown. It was fun to see their creativity come to life.

Day 3: Where are you?
Ornament: Fruit or apple with a snake. 

For this ornament I made dried out apples and orange slices. I sliced up apples and oranges top about 1/4" thick, soaked them in lemon juice and salt for a while, dried them off and sprinkled the apples with a little cinnamon. Then I  put them in the oven for a few hours on 250F. I recommend punching a hold in them before drying them out, it's much easier.

After they were dried out I gave them to the kids to string and create a snake to put around it. This one was made by my oldest. He used felt and a pipe cleaner to create a snake.

Day 4: Saved.
Ornament: Noah's Ark

This was a fun day to do Noah's Ark because it was snowing all day long. I had found on Pinterest a preschool activity using press 'n seal on the windows to make a stained glass portrait. So I used it for the rainbow. First we made origami boats. out of brown construction paper.  We have large windows in our living room so I taped the press 'n seal to those windows for each kid. I gave them all different colors of tissue paper to rip apart and make a rainbow while they watched it snow outside. My oldest was smart enough to overlap red and yell to make orange, and red and blue to make purple, since we didn't have those colors. 
Once they finished their creations, I placed another piece of press 'n seal over the tops, cut out the rainbow shape and taped the rainbow to the boat. They turned out pretty good. My second choice for a rainbow was to use water colors. 

Day 5: Living By Faith
Ornament: Abraham's Tent

I made this one easy for the kids. I just took a piece of black, or whatever color they wanted to use, construction paper, folded it in half and they had a tent. However, that was not good enough for them. One child made an octagonal tent (not pictured). The top picture is from my 7yo. He added a starry sky above and some tent pegs to the side and glued the whole thing to a piece of cardboard. The second picture is from my 10yo. He glued pipe cleaners to the edge to make it stand up better. One of the best things about this project is that I have seen so much of their creativity come out, and I love giving them the freedom to make it the way they want it. I just give them the ideas and the tools.