Hurricane Harvey and the Spirit of Helpful Kindness

After Hurricane Harvey devastated the little town of Rockport, the nightmare had just begun for Houston, TX. It kept raining, and raining, and raining for days. Harvey was the cause of more than 50 inches of rain over Houston – to put this into perspective, Houston on average gets 50 inches a year. The massive downpours caused unparalleled damage to cars, houses, and millions of people were affected. The death toll stands at 50, according to The New York Post today, Sunday, September 3, 2017.

Credit: ABC News

My cousin lives in Houston, and she told me she and her family have been luckier than most. They had no electricity for five days, and no water for a few days, but otherwise, they are fine. They are alive, and they are safe.

My heart goes out to those people and animals affected by the floods in Houston, as well as in Southeast Asia. Rising waters have forced people to evacuate, some people drowning in the process. Some have drowned in their cars, and others were swept away under canals and in ditches.

I am heartened by the response from the people Fred Rogers’ mom famously called “the helpers”, the countless volunteers, emergency responders, nurses, doctors, police officers, firefighters, and civilians who have stepped up and helped others.

People who show helpful kindness are like diamonds in a heap of coals. They have us in awe, inspire us, and reinforce our faith in humanity. Thank God for the helpers. Thank you, helpers. We need you. We need to be you.

First Time: Two Weeks at Camp Without Us – (gulp!)

Camping in the mountains is going to be a wonderful experience for him.

He’s leaving tomorrow. My son is leaving for a two-week camping adventure in the mountains, hundreds of miles away, without us.

I’ve never had my boy leave me for more than a five days at a time, and when he was sleeping over, it was almost always with his grandparents who live only a half hour away. A few times he has gone to Disney World (about five hours away) with his aunt, also for a few days.

His father and I have had discussions, and our boy is a thirteen-year-old Boy Scout (almost fourteen)  who has been garnering experience in camping for a while now. He’s been on a twenty-mile hike and has proven his worth as a scout at camp.

He’s going with trusted adults. One of the scout leaders, the council chair, is a lovely woman who’s also been his martial arts teacher for a long time – since he was seven – and he considers her almost family. We do, too. She’s an experienced camper and outdoorswoman and has camped in the area many times before. Lucky for me, she’s also good at sending me updates, many times with photos.

As far as the scoutmaster, he’s been a friend for about two years now, and we have known him for the past three years. Our son also trusts him and considers him fair and kind. He’s also an experienced camper and has all the gear one would need on a trip like this.

The third and fourth leaders are excellent planners and good at handling expenses and other details.

In the mountains, he’ll be partaking in many amazing activities: camping in the woods, zip lining, whitewater rafting, tubing, visiting a Native American museum, mining for gems, climbing the highest mountain in the eastern United States. This will be a trip he’ll always remember.

Why then, is it so hard? What is so hard about letting go? I have always been an adventurer in my heart. Is it the fact he’s going away for two whole weeks, or the fact he’s going to be making decisions on his own once in a while, the fact I’m not there to remind him, and the biggest fact of them all weighing on my heart: I will miss him.

I’ll miss his smile, his laughter, his irreverent humor, his exuberance, his lack of diligence, his messiness, everything. I’m going to miss my boy.

Someone once said the toughest part of being a mama is to forever to have your heart go walking outside your body. Letting him go and learn and grow on this camping trip is splitting my heart and have it wander farther than I’ve ever let it roam before.

I know it’s not easy, but I know I must. I trust in God to keep him safe and the leaders, who all have one of their own children on the trip as well.

 

Homeschooling Eighth Grade Next Year: A Lighter Touch

Florida Virtual School Homeschool Flex: another option for the homeschooling student

 

I’ve been homeschooling my son, now 13, since he was in Kindergarten. Aside from the myriad of activities he’s been in and the occasional class at the local public school over the years, he’s been educated at home all his life. Last fall, I signed him up for an online writing class. He adjusted well, and in the end aced his course. He liked his teacher, an upbeat young woman.

We’re going in a different direction this year. First, a bit of background information.

Since he’s been a teen, almost a year now, he’s been predictably wanting to broaden his horizons and looking for new experiences outside the home. He plays clarinet and is going to be band captain this coming fall, he’s a second class Boy Scout, and has just received his red belt in taekwondo.

In addition, he just passed the Florida Boating exam a week ago and now possesses a boating license. Neither hubby or I have one of these or any experience boating besides having gone on boats before as passengers.

He’s been working on his merit badges, too: camping, cycling, geology, Indian lore, and forestry.

Son also practices his sailing, boating, kayaking and fishing skills with a good friend on free-roaming, minimally supervised Saturdays. This August, he’ll be embarking on a two-week campout in the gorgeous Western North Carolina mountains. I feel blessed he can take advantage of these amazing opportunities!

Back to school: son will be in eighth grade and beginning the homeschooling flex portion of Virtual School. This is public school online and something I was on the fence about at first. Virtual School Homeschool Flex allows for up to six classes. He’s doing five.

These are the classes he’s taking through the Virtual School:

  1. Language Arts 3
  2. Comprehensive Science 3
  3. Spanish Beginning (he needs to start here, but I hope, given the background n in Spanish he’s had over the years, he’ll progress fast through these courses)
  4. Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Learning Strategies
  5. Comprehensive PE – Health, Nutrition, and Fitness

I like the fact he’ll learn how different teachers operate and different styles of presenting the materials. I also like that I’ll have more time to devote to teaching my girls – ages 10 and 6.

The rest of his classes he’ll have at home:

Math: Pre-Algebra – we’re finishing last year’s book

History: Pirates, The Renaissance, and Slaves (my own concoction)

Writing with Skill Level 2 by Susan Wise Bauer

Geography: Evan-Moor Seven Continents – South America

Spelling & Vocabulary w/ Spelling City using Natural Speller as resource

Religious Education: Grade 8: Our Life in the Church through My Catholic Faith Delivered

I’m looking forward to help Son through his last middle school year to grow in character, deepen values, and sharpen basic life and academic skills to be successful in his adult life.

Analyze My DNA, Please – Part II: Results Are In!

When people look at me, they can’t quite tell where I’m from. Most people guess I’m Hispanic, but my parents are not Hispanic. At least not for a handful of generations. Quite a few people have guessed I’m Indian. I’d never heard of any of my family members I knew of which were from India. A few even assumed I was a vegetarian, which I’m most definitely not.

Then I received my Ancestry.com DNA results. The company had been good at communicating every step, and my results were no exception. I received an e-mail which looked like this:

 

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I was thrilled! I couldn’t wait to see what my heritage was. As far as I can remember and listening to family histories, my family has been from Aruba. Aruba is a Dutch Caribbean island, with a wide variety of mixed populations. As a result, we were all mixed so much we were not all one ethnicity or race. As my father, who sometimes got mistaken for Japanese, used to quip when Americans asked him what race he was, “the human race.” It never was and continues not to be an issue where I’m from. As far as family histories go, I suspected Native American (South American, that is), European, and African origins. I had no idea in what proportions.

Ancestry has a professional and crisp presentation where you can see a pie chart and see the breakdown of your DNA percentages. The map on the right shows you the locations where your ancestors came from.

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The bulk of my DNA, as it turns out, is 58%. I’m 58% European, which I find interesting. This is further broken down into percentages as follows:

  • 16% Western European (France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany are in this admixed region)
  • 12% Iberian Peninsula (comprised of Spain, Portugal)
  • 11% Irish (this was a complete surprise!)
  • 8%   Great Britain (Yes! I’ve always been somewhat of an Anglophile)
  • 6%   European Jewish (I wasn’t aware of this either. Region includes Poland, Belarus, Lithuania)

The ones I don’t really count, as they’re 2% or less, are:

  • 2% Scandinavia (you would never tell by looking at me)
  • 2% Italy/Greece (my son was really thrilled about this – he’d love to visit Italy)
  • <1% Finland/Northwest Russia

All this and we’re only on Europe! I was somewhat disappointed with “western Europe”, as this group can be so many countries, including Switzerland, Austria, Germany, etc. I suspect I have Dutch and German on this side, but I was curious to see if I had any French, for instance. Apparently this particular region is so admixed, it’s difficult to discern the countries – as per Ancestry.com. I’m thrilled and happy to see all the others – I was surprised to see I was only 12% Iberian Peninsula, especially when I’m confused so many times about a Hispanic heritage. I insisted I was not considered Hispanic (I did learn Spanish in school and on TV as Aruba almost touches the northernmost coast of Venezuela), but I wasn’t entirely sure. I thought maybe 20%, but it turns out the Iberian side is much smaller.

Next is Native American. I’m 26% Native American, which I’m super excited about! I’ve always been intrigued by and sympathetic towards Native Americans, whether in the US or South America. Ancestry.com cannot break this down further yet, so unfortunately all I have is an enormous region which spans North America all the way down to South America – the information Ancestry gives you about Native American is as follows:

“Your genetic ethnicity estimate indicates that you have ancestry from the region that is home to the indigenous people of the Americas. This vast region stretches over two continents to include the rugged territory of Alaska and Canada, mountains and plains of the United States, dry valleys of Mexico, tropical jungles of Central America and South America, and the Patagonian steppes of southern Argentina and Chile.”

Considering my geographical location combined with my limited family stories, I deduce I’m from South American heritage, and likely descended at least partly from the Wayuu [tribe] in the Paraguaná and Guajiran Peninsulas.

Next one up is my African heritage, which I’m proud of.  It’s so cool to be made up of many different races! I have 14% African heritage. This percentage is further broken down like so:

  • 7% Benin/Togo
  • 5% Nigeria
  • <1% Senegal
  • <1% Ivory Coast/Ghana

I had no idea of this breakdown! All I knew is my great-grandfather was half black. It’s fascinating to see the specific countries in Africa which tend to have a match for my particular African strain.

Lastly, I have only 2% Middle East. A fellow passenger on a plane once told me the last name Eman, which belongs to one of my great grandfathers, comes from the Persian “Imam”, which means something like leader. It’s exotic to think I could have Persian origins. Albeit only 2%, it’s cool to think he was right and it’s in there.

At least now I know I’m not from Indian heritage. I do enjoy Indian food, though.

Analyze My DNA, Please: Ancestry.com DNA Kit

Registering

What’s my background? Analyze my DNA, please. As a person of a veritable cornucopia of mixed ancestry and a family history with sketchy records, I’m really curious about my heritage and what ingredients make up me. I’d seen results telling people percentages of heritages all across the world, and I wanted in. I’m also curious if my background includes every single major race out there.

I had registered with Ancestry.com years ago, but only managed to turn up a few records as most of my family’s archives are from another country and at a time and place when officials kept sloppy records.

Coming back years later, I see Ancestry.com has more capabilities and a much wider international reach. I had decided a few years ago I’d have to check my DNA. The process was simple – I went on the site, logged in, clicked on a few buttons, and ordered the $99 DNA kit. When you order the kit, you also get a discount on the Ancestry.com general website. International costs quite a bit more and right now, unfortunately, I don’t have much time to dedicate to unearthing my complete family tree, so I opted out.

Receiving

The DNA kit got here fast – in just over a week, I received the package. Inside, there’s a collection bag, a small test tube, and instructions. It was exciting to open it!

ancestry

The instructions boil down to this:

  1. Register your number on Ancestry.com so it knows your identity when you send in the DNA kit. You’d have to register with the site if you haven’t created an account yet.
  2. Do not eat for 30 minutes before you begin collecting your DNA sample.
  3. Produce plenty of spit (I mean it) to fill up to the black line on the test tube.
  4. Shake the test tube to release the blue liquid encased on the top of the tube into your sample, which will preserve your DNA’s integrity.
  5. Insert tube in collection bag.
  6. Insert collection bag in included mailing box.
  7. Mail box back to Ancestry.com
DNA
Can you see the tube? Now my saliva looks a bit blue because of the solution

Waiting

I’m supposed to get my results in 6-8 weeks. On August 15, I received an e-mail from Ancestry telling me the company had received my sample and encouraged me to add branches to my family tree.

Update

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It’s all in the bag: DNA all set and mixed up with solution to preserve it

 

Yesterday, August 31st, I received an update saying Ancestry is busy running my DNA through the lab. It also provided a link where I could log in and check on my progress. There I see the lab has been processing my DNA since yesterday. There are tabs indicating: Activated – Arrived – Processing – Done. Only the last tab is unmarked, so all I have to do is wait. While I wait, there’s another link that takes me to a video which shows you what’s happening to your DNA as you wait.

 

 

Processing DNA

 

 

On My Son Turning Thirteen: A Note

Son, I’ll keep this brief as I know though you like to read very much, you vastly prefer tales of dragons and adventure, and I’m afraid what I have to say won’t be as exciting – but just barely.

You see, you are turning 13, and although I can blink and see you as a toddler with hand dimples instead of knuckles firmly grasping a Little People figure, you are transitioning into a (very) young man right before my eyes.

Although thirteen can be and is a wonderful age, it can also be a bit heavy. The weight of thirteen shouldn’t just be yours to bear. Know your mother and father are here not just as parents and not merely friends but confidantes and coaches to support you through this sometimes baffling stage named adolescence. Don’t be afraid, be not ashamed, but be assured that, for millennia, these changes have been happening to millions and millions (and millions) of people. You are not alone. Whether you like it or not, you are.. not alone. In fact, we have braved these changes ourselves and son, all the adults you see have experienced these changes themselves.

Let the inside changes always command your attention more than the outside. Watch your thoughts, guard your affections, your attention. Hold fast to your values as you explore other points of view. Grow upwards, but maintain roots deep into the soil you were born into. This is where your character is nurtured and where you cut off the parts which are no longer desired and no longer needed. Let this sacred gardening be your main purpose as you mature and become the human being God intends you to be.

Happy Birthday, B. Mama loves you so very much.

 

Planning for the New School Year – The Fourth Grader’s Schedule

What would I do without my trusted Mac laptop?
What would I do without my trusted Mac laptop?

August means hot, sticky weather, and planning for the new school year. The cicadas and I have been abuzz, but for different reasons – I’ve been researching, choosing, and formulating plans and schedules.   This is what our fourth grader’s  schedule is shaping up to be for the 2016/2017 year*:

Mondays – Thursdays

  • Breakfast poetry and literature read-aloud
  • Math drill
  • Math explanation + 2 worksheets
  • Geography
  • English
  • Science
  • History
  • Independent work (while I work with her older brother, who’ll be in 7th grade this year)

Her independent work today consists of:

  • Poem memorization (same one I introduce at breakfast)
  • Spelling City with lists I prefilled
  • Duolingo Spanish
  • Rosetta Stone Spanish
  • Penmanship practice
  • Reading for 45 minutes minimum
  • Play US History app and Stack the States app

Fridays-

  • Literature discussion at breakfast
  • Poetry recitation
  • Math drill
  • Math on the computer plus one worksheet
  • Science
  • History
  • Art

Extracurriculars-

Monday afternoons she  has Music enrichment class at the local public school.

Tuesday and Thursday afternoons she has taekwondo. She’s working on attaining her green belt.

Wednesday afternoons she has STEM class at the local public school.

Saturday mornings she has horseback-riding.

Sunday mornings she has religious education on the computer.

 

I’m excited about this school year! Are you?

 

*disclaimer: I don’t operate by time, just approximate times. As long as all the work gets done we’re terrific.

Five Things You Should Consider Before Buying A Planner

Planner Time

Remembering things have never been my strong suit. As my life gets busier, I know I needed more than the nearly constant beeping – mostly ignored – of my cell phone. Digital has its advantages, but it’s not for me. A big picture gal, I need:

  • to see everything in front of me – writing, chores and errands.
  • place to journal about how the day went
  • plenty of writing space
  • a long section for a to-do list
  • paper planner

Being a homeschool mom of three kids of varying ages and starting a freelance writing career, I’m busier than I’ve ever been.

A quick Google search and there’s a whole universe of paper planners: from scrapbook style to bare-bones day-of-the-week from thirty years ago. What I thought was going to take half an hour turned into an epic quest rivaling Indiana Jones’. Days and many hours later, I have found my planner.

I found searching for the right planner involves more than choosing from one list at one site. The first step is to consider what kind of planner you prefer. This involves asking yourself some key questions and visualizing what you’re going to be using this planner for.

Here are five things you should consider before buying a paper planner:

1. Which style suits you best?

Ring-bound with refills, wire-bound, book-binding. Does a gorgeous cover and personalization à la Erin Condren matter to you? Could you care less about decorating your planner, do you just want some empty lines on good paper? Do you want to buy a whole new one, or keep reusing a cover and just buying refills like Franklin Covey?

2. Which format?

Monthly at-a-glance style planners, weekly vertical, weekly horizontal, plenty of space for to-do lists? Maybe you need to pare down your to-do list and need more space for appointments. Perhaps you’re a free spirit and don’t mind customizing your own bullet journal?

3. What budget?

Some planners sure are pretty, but they can cost you a pretty penny. How much are you willing to pay for a paper organizer? Is it worth it if you are motivated enough to use it day in and day out? If it’s going to frustrate you because it’s so expensive and you’re not using it nearly as much you thought you would, you’d be better off starting off with something simpler. Remember, presumably, you’ll need one yearly. Sometimes it takes a few years to find out which one is your ideal planner.


4. Wait, do you already have a cover lying somewhere in your house?

Chances are, you may have bought one in the past – Day Timer covers and others work with other refills just fine. In my case, after searching around in my own home, I found two covers – one compact one and a Franklin Covey Classic (5.5″ X 8.5″). Looking at how small compact was, I knew I couldn’t use this. My handwriting is large, and I like to write plenty of notes.

The Classic is nice – dark brown and leather, and more importantly, the right size. I decided I needed to at least seriously consider the possibility of using Franklin Covey refills.

The best part is, you don’t need to commit to your cover’s manufacturer. You could search on Etsy and google “printable planner refills” to build your planner the way you want to.

5. Search on YouTube for planner videos

You’ll see people giving reviews of their planners and showing you how they use it. Short of seeing it in person, there’s nothing better for size and style comparison than seeing someone holding the planner you’re eyeing. Oftentimes, the reviewer will show you how he customizes it to fits his own needs. She will show you her categories, how she organizes the planner, and sometimes how to break the rules. Hint: You don’t have to write neatly in the space provided, and you can use the margins to jot down quick notes.

All these tips helped me in my discovery of my chosen planner. Let me know if they help you.