Google The Unplanned Homeschooler

Friday, November 27, 2015

I'm a homeschooler, I can do anything!

I wasn't planning on going out shopping on Black Friday, but thankfully there weren't any lines at Locke Supply when they opened at 7:30 this morning.

I had to run down there first thing to get a part to fix my furnace. The furnace quit working in the wee hours of the morning the night before Thanksgiving. I was still in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the baklava I had decided to make for the first time this year when my daughter tiptoed in and said, "I think there is something wrong with the furnace. It made weird noises and now it won't turn on."

I checked the breakers, but they were fine, so I flipped the power switch off and back on, to reset the unit. I could hear the blower start and the gas come on, but there was no familiar whoosh of ignition.

I took the cover off the unit, but couldn't see an obvious problem, and never having worked on a furnace, I took the safest route and turned off the gas and the power supply until I could figure out a solution.

It wasn't just the middle of the night, it was Thanksgiving! Even if I could somehow find a repair person to come out on Thanksgiving in a small town, I worried about how much that would cost.

So, I wrote down the model number of the furnace and set to work, trying to figure out what might be wrong with it, to minimize the cost if I could. At least if I narrowed down the problem, it might help save a little time, and when you're calling for HVAC repair on Thanksgiving, time is money.

As I researched the issue, educating myself about furnace parts and how they work, I learned that the most likely source of this particular problem was the ignitor. But I didn't know where mine was, or how to change it.

Enter YouTube! You can learn anything on YouTube. So far this year, I have fixed a toilet, replaced a keyboard on a laptop, fixed a refrigerator, and now, repaired a furnace using tutorials from YouTube. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I pulled an all-nighter, reading everything I could find and watching tutorials, but by mid morning, armed with knowledge, and confident that I could find the ignitor and at least check to see if it was cracked or damaged in some way, I returned to the furnace. While my sweet potato casserole was baking, I found the ignitor and managed to carefully release it's bracket from the frame so I could see if it was indeed the culprit.

As you can see here, the old ignitor, on the right, was clearly damaged. It was cracked so badly that once I had it fully removed, it virtually crumbled in my hand. But the good news was, I knew without a doubt that this was the source of the problem, so I put off calling a repair person and decided to hope the temperatures outside wouldn't drop too much by the next morning.

Thanksgiving in northeastern Oklahoma was mild this year. It was rainy, but unseasonably warm, and the cloud cover helped to keep temperatures up through the night. By morning on Black Friday, it was starting to get cool outside, but inside the house was still comfortable, and for that, I am so thankful. I might not have been able to put the repair off until the store opened this morning if not for the nice weather.

At 7:30, when the doors opened, there I was, perhaps the only early bird shopper that particular store would see. But I got my new ignitor and headed home to make the repair.

I handled the new part carefully, making sure not to get any oils from my skin on it, because the tutorials said that could increase its chance of failure.

Installing the ignitor was challenging, because of the tight fit, but I took my time and put in in place gently. Once I replaced the screw that held the bracket in place and hooked up the wires, I turned back on the power and the gas.

The ignitor glowed bright red before igniting the gas. You can still see it faintly glowing in the photo above.

And then, whoosh, all the burners were lit and there were beautiful blue flames once more! I did it! For just over $33.00, tax included, I fixed my own furnace and didn't have to call a repair person at all. I'm not going to lie, I'm so proud of myself I still can't stop smiling!

But here's the best part. While teaching myself how to fix a furnace, I couldn't help thinking this is exactly what homeschooling is all about. My kids watched me tackle this repair, and they were proud when I told them I could fix it, but I'm going to teach them how I learned what I did, from finding the model number on the unit to researching parts. I'm going to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that we can do anything as long as we are willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and of course, take the appropriate safety measures to do the job right.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving tips for picky eaters

I love Thanksgiving dinner. It’s full of some of my favorite foods, including the slow roasted turkey, traditional cornbread dressing, sweet potatoes just about any way you want to serve them and a nice side of tart cranberry sauce. Oh, and the pies. I love the pies.

My youngest daughter loves all the same foods, and it’s a lot of fun to watch her dig into a home cooked Thanksgiving dinner with enthusiasm. But my twins really aren’t fans of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. In fact, about the only thing they really like are the freshly baked hot rolls, turkey and mashed potatoes. So what do I do to make sure my kids have enough to eat on Thanksgiving while everyone else feasts on foods that they really don’t like.

Have your kids try just one bite

Tastes change over the years. Also, some people may make a traditional dish in a new way your kids will love. I didn’t much care for sweet potatoes growing up, but now they are one of my favorites. I began to like them when I tried a sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping and nuts. Instead of forcing picky eaters to choke down a whole serving of something they dislike, have them try just one bite of lots of foods, just to see if they find a new favorite this year.

Add some kid friendly foods to the feast

Whether you are cooking at home or visiting family or friends, an extra dish is almost always welcome at the table. Maybe your kids can’t stand turkey, but they like thinly sliced ham and pepperoni, fruit and cheese cubes like they might eat for lunch. Go ahead and bring a deli tray to share, piled extra high with the meats they like.

Or try making a bunch of homemade appetizers, like sausage balls or pigs in blankets. Just make sure to bring something your kids will definitely enjoy.

Repurpose the ingredients

Maybe your kids would be more likely to eat a turkey slider than a serving of turkey and gravy. Try repurposing some of the Thanksgiving ingredients already on the table in a creative way that your kids will enjoy. A hot roll topped with some thinly sliced turkey and a bit of cheese with just one or two small sides is more kid friendly than a plate mounded with unfamiliar foods.

Give kids their own space

There really is something to be said for the kids’ table at big dinners like Thanksgiving. Not only does it give youngsters a chance to eat with people their own size, it gives adults a chance to enjoy a meal with other grown-ups. Besides, your picky eaters may be more likely to try a new food if they see their friends enjoying it.

Don’t make a big deal

Thanksgiving dinner is just one meal out of the year. Seriously, it’s only as big a deal as we choose to make it. If your child sees that you are stressed out over their picky eating, they may have an even harder time finishing what is on their plate.

It’s far better to enjoy your own Thanksgiving feast and let your child eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if that’s what they want than to stress out and ruin the festivities for everyone.

Don’t make a big deal out of dinner, and don’t let others make your child feel bad, either. It’s no one’s fault that they don’t like certain foods, even at a meal as yummy as Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

This weekend I made barbecued pulled pork for the first time ever. Although I am a serious bacon enthusiast, I never liked pork roast and I figured the folks who made the barbecued pork I loved had some secret method I could probably never master at home.

But after having some at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, my youngest asked me if I couldn't make it for her, so I said I would try. I asked one of my friends for instructions, bought a good sized pork butt, some onions and barbecue sauce, set my slow cooker and went to bed.

I woke up hungry the next day, after smelling that delicious pork cooking all night long. By lunch time, I could barely stand it. We had plenty of food for our family, my parents, and lots of leftovers, and all for less than we would have spent on pizzas.

Sometimes you have a moment when you can't help but wonder, why, oh why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

It occurred to me later that homeschooling is sort of like that for a lot of people. You see other people doing it, it looks good, you're kids want you to try it, but you figure that's not something you could ever master at home. Those other families must have some secret method you could never learn.

But the truth is, like barbecue, there are a million paths to homeschooling, and each one can turn out wonderfully in its own way.

What's the best way to learn how to homeschool? Ask around. Homeschoolers are eager to share their secrets, and happy to encourage you along the way to success.

When it comes to trying something new, too often we let our fear of failure keep us from experiencing something truly amazing.

I didn't know if I could homeschool, either, until I tried it. And although getting started wasn't quite as easy as making some phenomenal pulled pork, it was every bit as satisfying. By the time my first year as a homeschooler was over, I had to ask myself, why hadn't I been doing that from the beginning?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When did all my friends become homeschoolers?

I first noticed it when a few of the moms in my homeschool group started hosting parties for things like Usborne Books, Thirty-One Gifts and Mary Kay. Several offered me a chance to host my own party, at home or online, and earn free gifts. But nearly all the people I might invite to a party had already been invited, because we were all in the same circle. All my friends were homeschoolers!

Had I managed to sleep through a social revolution, whereby homeschoolers had taken over the planet? Sadly, no, but just think about how much fun that would be. Alas, I knew that homeschoolers were still a small but growing minority in our society, so I had to ask myself, when did all my friends, at least the ones I see on a regular basis, become homeschoolers?

The ever changing friends list

If you are like me, you've probably noticed that your friendships have changed as your life has evolved. In college, your friends seemed like they'd be a part of your life forever. But graduation came, you got jobs, everyone moved off in different directions. I still have a few close friends from college who I really love, but it's hard to stay close when you're literally hundreds of miles apart.

Sometimes it's hard to stay close even when you're living right in the same small town. But as marriage, parenthood, work and other commitments take up time, you end up choosing who you'll spend your time with, often based on how much you have in common.

Homeschooling is a major lifestyle choice. It tends to put families on a different schedule than their public schooling peers. It shines a light on those who are critical and disapproving of your choices, and challenges those who feel threatened or judged by the fact that you chose something different for your children than they chose for theirs.

As shallow friendships fall to the wayside, the door is opened to new friendships, often with other homeschoolers who share much in common with you. You may miss the friends who've gone their own way, or you may even be relieved to be rid of some of them, because you've changed so much you just aren't compatible with one another anymore.

The change is gradual, but one day you look around and notice, like me, that you are surrounded by other homeschoolers... and you like it!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Everyone Matters: Mourning the loss of an online friend

Last week, I found out I'd lost a dear friend who I never had the chance to meet in person. Melissa Matters had started writing a few years ago on the now defunct Yahoo! Contributor Network the same time I did, and we both became friends with the same bunch of writers, eventually engaging in a supportive community on Facebook where we read each other's work every week and encouraged one another.

When Yahoo! decided to shut down this branch of their business, dozens of active writers held onto the ties we'd made and encouraged each other as we built blogs, like the one you are reading and like Melissa's blog, "Wading through Motherhood."Each of us followed our individual interests, and though our blogs were diverse, we continued to stay in touch, reading the work produced by the friends we'd made in our months or years writing together.

Then, one morning, messages on Facebook, tagged with Melissa's name, gave the indication something was terribly wrong. Looking a little deeper, it was clear. My friend had died, suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind her husband, her two small children, her parents, and many, many other family and friends who loved her dearly.

I didn't know any of them. I'd read about Melissa's family in her own words, and I knew how much she adored her husband and her children. She loved being a mother more than anything. But even though I had shared many chats and messages with her, I'd never written a word to her husband or anyone else she knew in person. I had to reach out to a stranger, a friend of hers who had posted a sorrowful goodbye and seemed to have known her for many years, to even find out how she died.

And I cried. And the other writers who knew Melissa cried. We mourned, and we felt helpless and sad, whether we lived nearby or half a world away. We'd known her, we'd loved her for her sweet and generous heart, and now we'd lost her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

So long, monarch butterflies

It's been about a month since we first found our monarch caterpillars in the back yard, and a couple of weeks since we released the butterflies back into the wild. 

What an exciting experience it was to watch the caterpillars eat voraciously as they prepared to enter their pupa stage and then observe each day as we waited for them to emerge from their chrysalis.

As the first caterpillar's chrysalis began to turn transparent, and we could see the markings of the butterfly inside, we put a couple of zinnia blossoms from my mother's garden inside the terrarium.

After the butterfly emerged, late in the evening while we were out of the house, we gave it time to rest in the terrarium overnight.

The next day, we carefully transferred the butterfly to a portable carrier, being as gentle as possible so we wouldn't harm it or disturb the other caterpillar, still in its chrysalis in the terrarium.

Then we took the butterfly to my parents' house so that when it was released, it would be in the middle of a flower garden with lots of blooms, a perfect place to prepare for its long journey south.

The second butterfly emerged a couple of days later, apparently in the wee hours of the night. We went to bed and awoke the next morning to find it hanging from its chrysalis, gently turning back and forth.

We didn't disturb it for several hours, giving it plenty of time for its wings to dry before moving it to the carrier so we could release it in the garden. It flew up into a tree and sat there in the afternoon sun, fanning its wings.

We were able to tell by the markings that both of the monarch butterflies we raised were male. You can read more about determining the sex of a monarch butterfly here.

By now, I am sure our butterflies are well on their way to their southern destination. We hope that their journeys are safe and that their offspring return to our area for many years to come.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Don't skip the word problems

I recently read a post from a new homeschooler, who said that her daughter liked math, but hated doing word problems to the point that it was often a battle just to get her to do them. She asked whether word problems are really necessary, or if her child could skip them, since she knew how to do the math anyway.

I say, emphatically, don't skip the word problems!

I know, your kids may hate word problems, and you might be wondering why they really matter, especially if you are confident that your children already knows how to do the math required to solve them. But here's the thing. Word problems require different skills than simple equations, and your students need to master both types of skills for a few good reasons.

Preparation for real life scenarios

Word problems require students to first determine from the information provided what math is required in order to find a solution. This is a completely different skill than being able to complete math problems laid out as simple equations.

In real life, we're seldom presented with problems that are already laid out in an equation. Instead, we find ourselves answering questions like, how many pizzas do we need to feed our son's hungry baseball team if each of the nine boys can eat three slices of pizza and the pizzas are cut into eight slices.

We need added skills in order to parse out the information provided by a scenario like this and then determine how to come to a solution. That's the main reason why word problems are so important, they prepare you for real life math.

Preparation for exams

You'll want to pay special attention to word problems, especially if your child is college bound, because exams like the SAT, ACT and PSAT all have them. And if your child is not adept at solving word problems, their scores will suffer.

There may be no worse feeling for a student than freezing up on an exam question, knowing that the timer is ticking and the problem doesn't make any sense. Precious moments tick away, as you sit there, confused and frustrated.

Being unprepared for tricky word problems may cause your child to not only lose points on those questions, but also other math problems that they are unable to complete because they've run out of time.

Scholarship money is at play

I've told my own kids, who dislike word problems as much as any average middle schoolers, that these types of problems really are what separate the good math students from the great, especially with respect to scholarship contenders. Everyone competing for scholarships will have learned the basic math required to do well on the tests. But that added skill, of being able to read a complicated word problem and deduce what solution is required, is what will set the best scorers apart.

If you've neglected word problems, it's not too late. You can always start building your child's problem solving skills. Start with word problems that require math your child is already proficient at doing, so they can become confident at looking at math outside of neat little equations. Help them learn to think like a detective, and hunt for clues within the word problem that will tell them what question is being asked and how they'll go about solving it.

As the word problems get easier for your child, move along to more complicated math. Your goal is to help them learn to solve word problems confidently and in a timely manner, without confusion and frustration standing in their way.