Friday, October 19, 2018

Plans That Go Wrong

second day with a beautiful view
It's been more than a month but I'm finally getting around to writing about our trip. Things did not go as planned. As always, there are things to be learned from any experience.

JT and I started our hike from Rockfish Gap on the southern end of the Shenandoah National Park on Monday September 3rd around noon. The temps were in the high 80s with high humidity. I hadn't been expecting such warm weather and immediately began having problems related to the heat. We hiked about 8 miles that first day and camped at Calf Mountain Shelter for the night.

That second day we had a 13 mile hike ahead of us to reach the next shelter. The humidity was bad from the start. We had no water sources for more than 10 miles of the day. We each were carrying about 4 liters of water, but it quickly became apparent that wouldn't be enough for me to stay hydrated. After 5 miles, we decided to call a shuttle and get a ride to our next shelter so we could take the afternoon off and hopefully recover a bit from the heat. A shuttle is a service offered to hikers for a fee all along the Appalachian Trail. We paid $25 to be driven from Turk Gap to the trail about 1 mile from our shelter. It was just after noon when we arrived, got our water, ate our lunch, and started to set up our camp.

Then we got a call from my husband who told us that our area was under a heat advisory for the rest of the week. We had to make a decision. Would we continue to try and hike in this heat or should we take a few days off and come back on Saturday when the heat was supposed to break. We had a house reserved that Saturday with the plan that my husband and EM would stay there and resupply the second leg of our hike. We would lose a few days, probably not be able to do the entire 100 miles of the park, but could possibly do most of it. We decided to call a shuttle again, get a ride to Loft Mountain Campground and wait for my husband to come drive us home to Pennsylvania.

The next few days at home we recalculated our hike with plans to start on Saturday and hike until we either finished the park or ran out of time the next Saturday.

Then nature threw us a curveball.

Saturday and Sunday were days of non-stop rain. We pushed our start day back until Monday. We decided to just do a day hike on Monday to check on trail conditions before committing to an overnight stay.
trial is a river

It was rainy and foggy all day, trails were pretty soaked, but it wasn't too bad. The views were non-existent. That was kind of disappointing. Tuesday the rain was still going so we did a second day hike with plans to head out Wednesday on a multi-day hike.

Then Florence came on the scene.

During our Tuesday hike we ran into a couple southbound thruhikers. Both of them had heard the National Park system was considering closing down Shenandoah due to the excessive rain and the approaching hurricane. There were fears of dangerous trail conditions because the saturated ground could lead to tree falls.

supposed to be a view
Wednesday morning we found out that the park would be closing all trails and Skyline Drive as of 10 am Thursday. At this point, we just gave up our plan. After two years of planning, we could not do it. I tried to keep a positive attitude about the whole thing, but couldn't help but feel that we should have just pushed through that heat so we could have finished it before the storms came. We spent the last couple days at the house we rented. We also met a nice homeschooling family from the area at the church we attended there. We went to their home for a visit Thursday evening and had a good time.

awesome owl we saw on a misty day
I can't say it wasn't a good experience. I learned a bit about my limitations. I learned that just a few pounds extra in my pack multiplies quickly on my back. The days we did just day-hiking and only carried essentials, we made excellent time with little effort. The days with full packs were brutal. I also learned that JT is incredibly patient with me. So many times he had to wait while I was struggling from the heat. He never complained. He was quick to suggest ways to make things easier.

When we left Virginia, we left with plans to return as soon as we could and finish our remaining 60 miles. But when we came home, JT started the job search, and we were surprised that he found a job immediately. Because of that, we have to postpone our plan to return to the trail until next spring. In the meantime we will continue doing shorter trips and work on our stamina. But we will finish that hike!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

One Down, One to Go

We wrapped up our 2017-2018 school year with our homeschool evaluations on May 9th. This was JT's final evaluation. <sniff> I consoled myself by immediately packing us up and heading to the beach. We had a very relaxing week on the shore, then headed home to the madness of planning a graduation ceremony and party for JT. I needed to choose pictures for a slide show, but it was so hard to keep it short. We have so many great memories of vacations, homeschool experiences, and fun family times. I managed to pare it down and my husband put them all together with some of JT's compositions for piano as the soundtrack.

We held his party at the church building where we worship. Many family and friends were able to attend. We started the day off with his diploma presentation. My husband shared a bit about JT's journey through school, how homeschooling works, and his plans for the future. Then he gave him his diploma and we watched the slide show. Afterwards, we had food and fun in the church fellowship hall. We also had time to catch up with friends who came a long way to celebrate with us.

Now that the party was over, it was time to start the next big plan - our Shenandoah hiking trip! JT and I leave for our 100 mile hike in less than a week. I have spent the bulk of the summer planning our route, equipment, and taking many practice hiking trips with JT. I feel like we are about as ready as we can be, but still not quite ready. We will be on the trail for nine or ten days, depending on our progress. My husband will pick us up at the end and then we can relax in a house we've rented for the week.

When I wasn't working on hiking plans, I was working on the plan for EM's schooling for this year. This is his sophomore year of high school. We started school the second week of July, with just a few subjects to begin, but are now running a full schedule. This year he is going to earn 6 credits towards his diploma; 10th grade English, Geometry, Physics, American Government, Cooking/Life Skills, and half credits each in Art and Physical Education. I will share the details of each planned course in a future post, after the big hike.

In fact, my whole life currently feels like it split into two chunks, pre-hike and post-hike. I'm constantly saying, "I'll work on that AFTER the big hike." So for now, goodbye until after the big hike!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Nearly There

The countdown is on! Only 35 days remain in our 2017-2018 school year. When we reach that point, I will have successfully (?) completed the schooling of one child. I can hardly believe it is possible. I am generally not a nostalgic person but as I have been going back through photos of our homeschooling years preparing to put together a program for JT's graduation party I have found myself dreading the end of this journey.

Speaking of pictures, I made an appointment to have JT's senior pictures taken. I have the most adorable grandson and my daughter entered him in a contest to be a child model for a local photographer. Of course he was chosen since he's the cutest toddler on the planet. She will get a free photo shoot and package. When I asked her for the name of the photographer to get prices for JT, I found out the photographer is someone I know. She was JT's scout leader for a couple years! We haven't seen her in about 10 years and she was thrilled to hear from me. We will be going to a local state park in April to take pics of JT on the trail with his pack. Hiking pics seemed essential to the whole process. I wish there was a way to get a piano to the woods to add his other primary activity. Of course, it would probably be more appropriate to take a computer and have him playing video games. One more thing off the checklist for graduation!

This week I also sat down with JT and reviewed the things he needs to complete by April in order to meet his graduation requirements with PHAA. It amounts to two more writing assignments and a bit of grammar. Of course he also needs to complete his last community college class. I also sat down with EM and made a game plan for his final three years of homeschooling. We talked about what he will do for math, sciences, and social studies. There will be some use of Thinkwell, Coursera, and the community college. We will also purchase Rosetta Stone Spanish to add a little foreign language to the mix. The program he's looking into at the community college will not require a foreign language, but I want to cover all the bases in case he changes plans later.

After we finished our planning, I went to the bookcases and started pulling books I would not need for our remaining homeschooling years. I listed some for sale and made a little money that I will probably put towards camping gear. I still have a stack of books to get out of the house. I'll probably try listing some again, but some will also go to the library for their April book sale. Once I finish the cleaning, I'm hoping to be down to one bookcase of homeschooling material. I still have my library full of many, many, many books, but textbooks and workbooks will be greatly reduced.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Graduation Plans

We are in the final countdown to our first homeschooling graduation. 43 days to our last day of schooling at home, one more week until JT's last community college class ends, evaluations on May 8th, graduation party planned for June 9th. How is this possible?! Isn't he still just a baby?

There is still quite a bit to do before we can cross the finish line. A month or so ago, I was at a planning meeting of the youth group committee at our church and realized I needed to pick a date for JT's graduation party to avoid scheduling conflicts. I decided June 9th seemed like a good day because it was early enough in the summer and would hopefully avoid vacations for our friends and family. Once I picked the date, I started to wonder if we'd have the diploma from PHAA in time. I am planning to have a short diploma ceremony at the party and it wouldn't be quite the same if we didn't have the physical diploma yet. Guess I should have thought of that before picking the date. I'll keep that in mind for EM's senior year.

I sent an email to our evaluator to ask about time frames for diplomas. She said we'd need to give them two weeks to a month from the date of the evaluation. Our last day of schooling will be April 27th, but JT won't have his final in his sociology class until May 2nd. Not long after that we will be leaving for a week at the beach. Before I picked the random date for the party, I was planning to schedule our evaluation toward the end of May. Now I needed to move that meeting much sooner. With vacation in the way, and the time crunch for diploma delivery, our evaluator suggested coming in May 8th. I told her we wouldn't have JT's final grade for his college class by then, but she said she can submit the diploma request without the grade, adding that to his transcript later. But now I will have a serious time crunch for portfolio prep during the last week of April and first week of May. Yes, I know I can get most of it ready in advance, it's just not the way I'm used to doing it. Oh, and I'll also need to be packing for a trip at the same time. Shouldn't be much potential for stress...

At least I'll be able to sit on the beach and do nothing for a week in the middle of the insanity.

Something else that occurred to me in the last month was the fact that it might be a good idea to get some senior pictures taken. It slipped my mind up until now, possibly because the last time JT had school pictures taken was in 2nd grade. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to make the attempt myself, or pay someone else to do it. One of my friends did her daughter's senior pictures herself and they turned out very nice. In fact, when she tried to get them printed at Walmart, the clerk was asking for proof that she had permission to print them, assuming they were professional pictures. Unfortunately this friend lives four hours away or I'd be asking her to take them for me. As soon as we have some nice weather, I'll take JT out and try a photo shoot. If things don't go well, I have a few local photographers I can try instead. I'd really like to get a picture or two in the woods since our time together has been focused on hiking so much lately.

There will also be the need to make graduation announcements, find a graduation gift, and plan the actual party. I'm thinking the next few months are going to be on the busy side.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Things to Come

Our September Hike Route
Recently, JT and I were talking about blood types and compatibility for transfusions. This topic came up because he is currently reading Dracula. I have never managed to read the whole book; I found it incredibly dry. He is really enjoying it and keeps telling me how every vampire idea came from this book. Yes, JT, that's because it IS the classic vampire story. The original. The Internet did not invent vampires.

So, back to the blood types... during our discussion I told him he should know this stuff. We covered it in biology. Three years ago. He told me he didn't remember any of it. Then he said he "should have taken biology from the college, not because I need it for school, just because it would be good stuff to study."
I know he's a kid who likes learning, but I always thought he was just tolerating the college classes, not enjoying them. It's good to know he sees value in these classes we have funded. We talked about the fact that if he wants to, he could take a biology class before he starts full time at the main campus in the fall of 2019. Of course, that would all depend on the rest of his schedule.

He is working on finding a part time job to make some cash to put towards living expenses when he goes to school next year. So far, no luck on the job front. He's being a bit picky about where he applies - no fast food, which kind of limits things for someone his age. Unfortunately as a 17 year old, he's not able to apply for many jobs in our area. We have put his driver's test on hold until he finds a job. In Pennsylvania, we don't pay any extra on our car insurance for a driver with a permit, but when he gets his license, they'll make up for it by slamming us with a huge bill. Since we are requiring he pay half of that bill the first year he drives, he will need some income before he can do that. Since he really does not need the license until he has a job, it seems sensible to wait.

We are continuing to make our plans for summer hiking. JT and I have been slowing buying our gear that we will use for our 100 mile hike in Shenandoah National Park planned for September. This week we booked the house that EM and my husband will stay in while we hike. It's getting real! Starting in April, we plan to do some two day hikes, learning to use our new gear, getting an idea of our pace when carrying a full load in our packs. Sometime in June we will be doing a section hike of the entire Maryland portion of the Appalachian trail - about 40 miles. I'm just hoping my old feet can hold up for our adventures. I'm pretty good at pushing myself through pain, but I would prefer the no-pain option if possible.

So many exciting things coming soon. The beginning of the school year, I felt overwhelmed and uninspired. Now I'm enjoying every day and every new challenge. Hoping the rest of the year is just as fun!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Apples From the Trees

just a touch of shadow on the moon
You may have seen the news about the super blue blood moon on January 31. Living where we do, I knew we wouldn't have a view during the totality because the moon was going to set before it was time. I thought I'd probably get up to take a look, but figured the boys wouldn't be that interested. At bedtime on Tuesday night, I mentioned it. JT said he should probably get up to see it. I was kind of surprised since he's not a morning person and previous attempts to drag him out of bed for eclipses and meteor showers weren't always received with thankfulness.

When I asked him about it he said, "I guess I should get up to see something that hasn't happened since 1866." Can I just say how happy I am that he is making decisions that show he thinks like me? I'm confident that if he has children someday he'll drag them out of bed at all hours to stare at the sky.

Thinking about this now brings to mind a conversation I had this week. We go to Bible study at our church on Wednesday nights. The boys are both in the teen class. This week they had a visitor in their class who has met our family, but hasn't spent a lot of time with us yet.

After class she said to me, "Listening to both of your boys, I can really see which parent each of them takes after."

She told me she thought EM was more like me because of how much he was talking in class. This may be true today, but when JT was younger, he could talk the ear off of any person he met. As he grew older, he became quieter, spending more of his time in public observing others. EM is definitely more of an extrovert. I'm one of those rare introverts who really likes being with people, but needs time alone after to recover from too much people-time. My husband is more of a true introvert; he'll almost always choose alone time over time with others. In those ways, EM is like me, and JT is like him.

However, when it comes to interests, I would say that JT and I have more in common. We are the hikers, the readers, the documentary watchers, Malcolm Gladwell podcast fans. EM and his dad are the mathy, interested in how things work, public speaking, computer guys. We cross over in a few places. JT and his dad are the musicians. EM and I are the noticing what other people need, list maker, control freaks. Their sister, my oldest, has many of my character traits, and many people say they knew she had to be my daughter when they met her, even though they had not been told.

As a parent it's so interesting watching them turn into mashed up versions of us, with some of their own qualities thrown in to make something totally different. It's like an extended science experiment we get to observe. What will the final product look like? Only time will tell.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Teaching Methods

Back when he was very young, EM was diagnosed with an auditory processing disorder. This past year, he went for a re-evaluation at the university clinic, and they determined he has more than likely outgrown that deficiency. I'm still not sure I agree with their interpretation of the results of his testing. Since there isn't another place to have him tested in our area, for now it is what it is.

Because he had been diagnosed with this disorder, I had structured his learning in recommended ways to help him compensate. I assumed the best learning styles for him would not involve lectures of any kind. When we worked together, if I read things aloud, we would stop regularly and discuss what had been covered to be sure he was absorbing the information. He doesn't really like reading non-fiction, so I would give very short reading assignments when textbook learning was a necessity. The best results for his learning usually came when we did hands on activities.

Then we had to figure out what to do about the fact that this year EM is completing a half credit in music to meet the requirements for both the PHAA diploma program and the PA homeschool regs. While JT has always excelled in anything music related, EM was not very interested. He did take piano lessons for a bit, but dropped the lessons after a year. Because he seemed to not want much to do with it, I was trying to come up with a good plan that would make this year's music instruction as painless as possible for all of us. Just checking off the boxes we need to fill.

I remembered I still had the Great Courses Fundamentals of Music series of DVDs. Realizing that video lectures were probably the worst idea, but not wanting to spend a ton of effort preparing something for someone who seemed uninterested, I figured we'd watch a little at a time, then discuss. I didn't have high expectations for him to learn much, just thought I'd do what I could to help him pick something up along the way. What a surprise it was when after the first lecture he could recall almost everything from the lesson.

I am breaking the lessons down this way:
Day 1: watch half of a lecture together
Day 2: review contents together
Day 3: watch second half of the lecture
Day 4: review contents together
Day 5: quiz on contents; supplemental activity
repeat until all 16 lectures completed

Each lecture is about 45 minutes long. Breaking it down into two 20 minute chunks seems to be just enough to hold his interest. The first lecture is titled The Language of Music. The first half focused on music appreciation, gave some vocabulary, and covered types of instruments and instrument groupings. The second half goes into great detail about the string instruments. During the second day of viewing, we pulled out my violin and tried some of the different methods of playing he discussed; pizzicato, sul ponticello, sul tasto, and col legno battuto. The day after, when we reviewed these terms, I was very surprised that he remembered all of these foreign terms and even came up with an example of col legno battuto in music he knew! He said, "The Piano Guys use that at the beginning of Cello Wars." Sure enough, we looked it up and he was right!

So what have I learned from all of this? I may be completely wrong about his  best method of learning. He hasn't been getting the best opportunity to learn. I knew that he wasn't picking much up when I'd give him those reading assignments, but when I took the time to review what he read, he'd do better. What I realize now is that he probably picked nothing up from the reading, instead only learning the things I was reviewing with him. The 'lecture' I gave after the reading was where the learning was really happening. When I was too busy to take the time to do that with him, he was getting almost nothing from it.

I could spend a long time beating myself up over this lack of insight. I could also make many excuses; 

"The testers told me he would not learn well from auditory methods."

"They wouldn't have customized his education in public school."

"I'm not an expert; it's not my fault I didn't recognize this."

After a couple days of guilt, I'm ready to move forward and correct the problem. I can comfort myself with the fact that I still have 3 1/2 years of time left to work with him. I also know that he has consistently tested above grade level, so even with my mistake, he is doing better than his peers. Most importantly, as homeschoolers, we have the flexibility to change the way he is receiving his learning. I am going to start searching for DVD courses to fill his subject requirements for next year. For the subjects that need textbook learning, I will be working to create my own lectures for him. A friend suggested seeing if he comprehends more of the material he must read if he reads it aloud. She also suggested that just moving his lips while reading may do the trick. We will be testing those ideas out as well.

Homeschooling these boys has taught me that mistakes are going to happen. But it has also taught me that when we find the mistakes, we can make the changes, and move on to success.