Thursday, August 28, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 1

I can't remember if I have told y'all about our reasons for homeschooling or how we do it, so that is what I thought I would start rambling about today.

We lived in Central Florida when my oldest daughter was in preschool. She is our Christmas baby. Most of her friends were born in October and November. Our local schools would not let her start kindergarten with her friends, because her birthday fell just after their December 1 cut-off. She was as smart as her friends. She was as physically developed as them. She could already read. She was ready for kindergarten, and she really wanted to go to school with her friends. None of us wanted her to have to wait another year for her to start school just because she was born 3 weeks too late. I had to do something.

First, I called the private schools. My thought: If the public schools won't let her start due to a birthday, surely the private schools would want my money enough to let her start with her friends. I was wrong. To quote the school administrator, "We have enough families wanting to send their children to our school. We do not make exceptions for any reason, especially not for birthdays." Several of my in-laws had homeschooled for several years, so I asked the private schools that if I homeschooled my daughter for kindergarten, would she be able to start 1st grade the following year. Their response? A resounding YES. And so I began my research into homeschooling.

Over the next several weeks, I read everything I could find on homeschooling. I searched online. I read blogs. I went to teacher supply stores. I called my sisters-in-law. Absolutely everything available. I read and read and read some more...and then I reviewed and reread my notes.

Finally, I ordered curriculum. My family has always been a family of readers. We have books everywhere. My father raised me with the mantra, "There's no such thing as too many books." Our stacks of books have stacks of books piled on top of them. Flat surfaces in our home beg for books to be placed on them. I was nervous about what curriculum to order. Since I was new to this, I wanted a complete curriculum that laid out exactly what I needed to teach my child every day. My husband and I are also self-professed academic snobs. We both graduated from Vanderbilt University and have always wanted our children to have the best education available. If we were going to pursue homeschooling, we would have to find an academically rigorous curriculum that would challenge our daughter. After hours and hours of research, I finally chose Alpha Omega Publications LifePacs for math and language arts and Moving Beyond the Page for science, social studies, and art. Each of these curriculae told me exactly what I needed to adequately teach a complete year of kindergarten to my child. Alpha Omega LifePacs are traditional textbooks - my kind of schoolwork - absolute answers, fill-in-the-blanks, etc. Moving Beyond the Page is developed for the gifted student. The curriculum is unit-study based and dives deeply into the material, requiring your child to creatively figure out solutions to various concepts and to generate a unique project for each topic. My child loved it, every minute. I discovered very rapidly that she is a nontraditional student. Workbooks make her miserable. Art projects and creative writing excite her. School-wise, she is my opposite. I LIKE textbooks and workbooks. She hates them. I forced her to complete the kindergarten LifePacs, but that was the last year that we used traditional textbooks for her schooling.

We started the 5K curriculum after Christmas. I was working full-time in a Pediatric ER at the time, and our Kid went to preschool in the mornings. When she came home from preschool, we would 'Do School' until time for me to go to work (usually either at 2PM or 9:30PM). We easily finished the year of kindergarten curriculum within a few months, and our daughter was on track to start 1st grade at the local private school the following fall. Little did we know that God had another wrench to throw into our lives and that we would be relocating before she could actually start her real school. And that, My Friends, is a story for another day...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gluten Free Travel

Let me start by saying that road tripping on a gluten-free diet is challenging. Difficult. Hard. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

Step 1: Plan ahead. Pack lots of your favorite gluten-free snacks in your backpack. Download the 'Gluten Free Me' app. Be prepared to cook a lot. When we travel, my family likes to explore new foods and new restaurants. We have a standing rule to not eat anywhere that we can eat at home. No chains. No fast food (except those rare times when Bill doesn't want to stop for a meal and wants to keep driving and get miles covered). We look for local hangouts, diners, local cuisine, and Mom&Pop places that are filled at lunchtime with a non-tourist crowd. We like to immerse ourselves in the local culture, both overseas and within the US.

Step 2: Know your standby go-to places where you know you can eat. Defying our no-chain rule, there are certain chains that are gluten-free friendly. Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Mellow Mushroom are consistently edible. I wish I could say we never ate at these chains while traveling, but I would be lying. At least we ate them instead of giving up and eating my beloved wheat.

Step 3: Explore local grocery stores. My mom and I never tire of wandering, photographing, and picking out samples of local brands. We randomly found the most amazing little grocery store outside Glacier National Park. It was small. It was locally-owned. It was the most disorganized grocery store I've ever seen (Ummmmm, Hello? Do you really need 3 different freezer sections, 4 meat sections, and 2 dairy areas, none of them within sight of each other?) BUT it had the biggest selection of gluten-free foods I have seen anywhere, including halibut fish and chips, cinnamon rolls, and fresh breads and rolls. It was fabulous. I completely filled the refrigerator and freezer in the camper. I even met the owner while I was perusing the aisles, and was able to discuss the pros and cons of the various brands he carried. Amazing experience.

Step 4: Take the time to cook. Part of why we planned an RV trip and not a hotel-based vacation was so that we would have our kitchen with us. On days when we didn't need to cover a lot of territory and drive long distances, we had the time to cook. We grilled out. We made pancakes. We baked muffins and brownies. We ate cereal out of cups. We enjoyed just being together, sharing meals together as a family, 3 meals a day, with no TV or cell phone or schedules to distract us. It was glorious.

And lastly,
Step 5: Be flexible. Know that no matter how hard you search, you may still be stuck eating your protein bar and almonds for lunch while your family eats a sandwich. It's going to happen. Accept it now, and focus on the fact that you are exploring a new place that may become your new favorite place. Enjoy the ride, and thank God for creating such an amazing world for you to explore with the people you love most.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Summer of Travel of Feeling Almost Normal

As y'all may already know, we spent 2+ months exploring the cooler regions of America this summer. We left May 16 and returned July 16. A week later, we drove back to Nashville for a family event, and we have been in and out of town since. If you are remotely interested in our itinerary, we drove from the Gulf Coast straight to Vancouver, boarded a cruise ship for 9 days to Alaska, returned to Washington, and drove and camped our way back across America for the next several weeks. Stops included Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Cody, Wyoming, Deadwood and Rapid City, South Dakota, Minneapolis (complete with a 'slight' detour to Omaha for the College World Series Finals), Wisconsin Dells, Chicago, Dayton, Ohio, Nashville, Tennessee, and then back home. We had many fun and a few not-so-fun adventures along the way, including a broken axle on our way out West, requiring an overnight stay in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station a la Children of the Corn. Photos with a day-by-day commentary are on Instagram (cdpeck).

Due to the FunFunFun of my pseudotumor, I had my third spinal tap the day we left Alabama. I spent the first 48-72 hours of our road trip horizontal in the front seat of the truck, squishing my oldest's legs. The spinal headache wasn't too terrible, so I was able to at least be in my family's presence without making everyone miserable. Medically, I felt better with every latitude line crossed. The further North we drove, the less I felt like I was walking through sludge, and the more energy I had. Daily naps became optional and were only required 1-2 times per week instead of my usual daily requirement. I was able to hike. I was able to ride horses. I was able to ride my bike. I WAS ABLE TO DO CARTWHEELS WITH MY GIRLS. I had not successfully done a cartwheel in 10 years. Too much spinning and dizziness. This was the first medical miracle of our trip. Our God is so very good.

I rarely, if ever, needed my cane. We always had it available, but it remained very lonely under the back seat of Monstro. I loved being outdoors. Aside from the cruise, we camped everywhere we went. Granted, we were camping in our very nice RV, but we were still out in nature with the windows open enjoying the breezes and the crickets at night. It was glorious. Never too hot. Never too cold. I felt like Goldilocks. Everything was juuuuust right.

Overall, I felt better than I have in the last 2-3 years combined. I almost felt normal. I had forgotten what normal was. I was able to be a Mama. I was able to enjoy our trip. I was able to feel human. I really didn't want to come home.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Scrapbooking On the Road - A Guest Post for Julie Fei-Fan Balzer

The following is a post that I was honored to write for the amazingly talented Julie Fei-Fan Balzer at I just realized that I never hit 'Publish' to share it here with you...

I am a scrapbooker. I am a traveller. I am a photographer. I have an inborn need to explore this beautiful world we live in. I have multiple sclerosis. I have a poor short term memory and an even poorer ability to convert those short term memories to permanent memories. Therefore, I scrapbook. I take pictures. I write. I make art. The closer to the actual event that I can record my experiences, the more raw and authentic my art will be. Because no matter what I do, no matter where I go, no matter what I create, I want my work to represent me – bad, doctor-scribble handwriting, and all.

One of my favorite ways to document my adventures is a result of an Ali Edwards-inspired 'light-bulb moment.' I scrapbook on the road. I take pictures and collect memorabilia and add them together with items I have prepared at home and brought with me on my trip. I want these bits and pieces to be flat – to not take up too much space in my luggage (airline 50 pound weight limits + scrapbook supplies can be challenging if you actually need to bring clothes and shoes with you) or in my book. I know from experience that I will be collecting A LOT of stuff on my trips – admission tickets, pamphlets, flyers, subway tokens, gold flecks (ever panned for gold while learning about the California Gold Rush?), business cards, etc., and this 'stuff' can rapidly add bulk to my travel albums.

My family is planning a 2 month road trip to Alaska this summer. This scrapbook-on-the-road has the potential to be several volumes long. I plan to use Basic Grey's Capture Albums, along with my Instax camera and printer for my daily documentation. My prep work has included collecting letter stickers, page protectors, film, and blank Project Life cards along with several rolls of adhesive and inks and stamps and label stickers to embellish my found treasures along the way. I have used Julie's stencils from The Crafter's Workshop as the foundation of my album d├ęcor. Using the stencils with acrylic paint, distress ink, and gel medium has given my album a unique look that is All Me. The techniques are quick. They are easy. They look really darned cool, and by making them ahead of time, I can eliminate the need for paints and other messy, liquid supplies from my packing list.

1. The Album Cover:
I used some washi tape that I don't love (we all have a few of those rolls, right?) to hold my stencil in place on the cover of the album. I then used an old hotel room key to spread gel medium into all the empty spaces of the map stencil to create a resist of the United States map. After letting it dry overnight (I wanted to be extra safe and not mess it up), I used my Ranger distress ink to bring out the pattern and add some blue color. This effect could also be achieved with embossing ink and powder or even Mod Podge – anything that can create a resist on your background.

  1. The States Cards:
Using the same 6x6 USA map stencil and some blank grid Project Life cards, I placed the state I wanted to emphasize in the 'middle' and used my Distress Ink to highlight that state and a few of its surrounding neighbors at the bottom of the card. I then used a contrasting ink to stamp the state name over the stencilled image. I plan to use these state cards as title cards or journalling cards for each new state that we cross into.

NOTE: This is also how I created cityscape 3x4 and 4x6 cards, to be used for any major cities we may visit.
  1. Days of the Week Cards:
Using the same blank grid cards, I spray misted various colors of ink over the banner days stencil to create several weeks' worth of cards. I have not yet decided if I will use these as-is or if I will cut them apart and adhere the corresponding day to a place. Time on the road will determine how I use these cards.

  1. The Painted Patterns Cards:
I experimented with Distress Paint and these fun, funky patterned stencils. I dabbed the paint over the stencil onto the cards, and left a good old-fashioned mess, BUT being the ink and paint snob that I am, I immediately took the stencils, flipped them over with the paint-side down onto new blank cards, brayered over the stencils to transfer the paint and pattern, and made title cards that I absolutely adore. I honestly think these may be my favorite cards of the bunch. I'm planning to use them as title cards for the different portions of our trip (ex. Alaska cruise vs RV life vs road-tripping with and without my parents, because, yes, they are going to be with us for a month of this 2-month long adventure).

I hope that I have inspired you to pull out your stencils and inks and paints and art supplies and just play. I hope that you realize that you can use 'themed' (ex the map and the days of the week stencils) and 'unthemed' (ex the fun, funky patterns) products to make a project your very own. I hope that you discover the love of travel, be it far or near, and that you learn to appreciate and document this life you have been given. And most of all, I hope you know how truly honored and grateful I am to have been given this opportunity to share my passions with you today.