Swim Camp 2014

swim camp

We’re home! We survived! I’m tired and sunburned and weary, but I’m not swearing up and down that we’ll never return, so that’s a good sign. We tried a new venue this year and it was so much better, I can hardly compare. The pool was comfortable and clean, the locker rooms an indescribable improvement over the other place, and the staff was friendly and helpful. Plus, we had water slides, a splash park, a sauna, massage, brand new mineral soaking pools, and their restaurant upstairs has decently good food — with great milk shakes and ice cream cones.

swim lessons

Tracy did a ton of work to move us to a new place — I think it’s easier on her and her family to use the old location, but the majority vote won out, and we’re all so grateful to her for making this happen.

Located further south, and not up near the perpetually frozen Teton mountain range, the weather was gorgeous and warm — such a change for us! We actually blew through several canisters and tubes of sunscreen; I think many a pasty white Idahoan went home crispy red. After 8 month winters we’re all, SUNSHINE? HOORAY! And then:


Let’s just say that I am using Burt’s Bees After Sun Soother liberally on my ruby-red thighs. (Thiiigguuughhhss) That lotion is a miracle in a tube, for serious.

hole in our teepee

My sister came and brought her kids. We tried out a teepee… which… we don’t recommend, though other families seemed to like it. We had kids falling off of the narrow cots all night and found them pretty uncomfortable, but it was kind of a fun thing to try. We had a couple of rotten nights until we all got used to the place, and figured how to prop the kids’ pads up with rolled clothes to keep the kiddos contained.

Our teepee wouldn’t close at the top (it was missing some vital pole) so our tent heater didn’t work well, and we were pretty cold at night, but at least it didn’t rain.

swim campswim camp

I bought the Watershot waterproof housing for my iPhone 4 (they have them for the newer iPhones, too, I’m just a cheapskate & have an old one to go with a pay-as-you-go plan), and though I was terrified to use it, it ended up being really fun! Test it with a tissue first, and follow all the instructions to get the app working right, and it’s a blast. It’s really hard to see the photo window in a sunny pool, so half the time I didn’t know where I was aiming, but the photos turned out clear the movies were so fun! I can’t wait to do more with it.

Fun with the underwater camera

Fun with the underwater camera


I have almost no photos of our older boys; they’d finish lessons and head off into the hills with their friends playing war games and hunting for snakes. They played hard and crashed every night. I think there were multiple games of poker going on as well. My friend Jennifer taught them all her best Texas Hold’Em techniques and J. was so glad he’d brought his chips (they play with their grandpa fairly often, you know for gum or candy).

Floating the river

Manda and I decided to do some more adventuring Friday after lessons were over and our camp was all packed up. We scouted around the area until we found float tubes to purchase and a family-friendly river to float. The tube J. and I were using lasted five seconds before bursting a huge hole and deflating. I’m sure it’s not because of all the snacks I ate at swim camp.

Burst tube

Mandy wanted to pile us into the other tubes, but I could picture my butt popping another tube further down the river and then we’d all have to hike out. So J & I drove the car back down to the pick-up spot and busted out snacks and camp chairs and relaxed in the sun. J. looks bummed in the below pic, but he was just really tired after a week of swimming. Neither of us minded the busted tube (well, other than the wasted expense). We really had a lovely afternoon. Our pool floaters made great impromptu shade thingies (I can’t find them to link to, they are round mesh seats with an inflatable ring, and I liked them a lot for lazing about the pool).

river rafting

river rafting

Now we are home and I had the best sleep of my life last night in my own memory foam bed even though the backs of my legs look like this:


Sunshine! YAY!

Lazy reasons to homeschool

I popped down to Utah with Miss K & Mr. B to try and make it to my nephew’s baptism this weekend, but we forgot about K’s dance photos on Saturday so we have to head back in the morning. I totally win at parental scheduling.

This cat does not want to get on the school bus

This brings me to one of the reasons I homeschool. I was chatting with my Sister in Law last weekend and she didn’t believe me when I said part of the reason we homeschool is out of laziness. I think… I think she has me, well, all homeschoolers on some kind of pedestal made out of wariness and awe. But it’s true – I mean I have noble reasons for homeschooling too, but I also have some big fat lazy ones. Let’s list them, shall we?

1. Mornings. You know how I feel about them, and I’ve birthed two children who are in complete agreement with me. The thought of getting these little people up and ready and looking presentable and on a bus by 7:00 in the morning (in the pitch black of night during the winter) is impossible-feeling.

2. Clinginess. The schools around here are far away. The kids get on the bus during the butt crack of dawn hours and come home around dinner time. I’m only slightly exaggerating. The middle schoolers and high schoolers are seriously gone ALL DAY LONG. For nine months out of the year. Then their evening hours at home are filled with homework and cramming in extra stuff like youth group stuff at church, friends, scouts, sports, etc. I… I seriously do not know how my friends manage. I would really miss having my kids around. I joke and call it clinginess or sheltering them all like little Amish children, but that’s not really it. I just kind of hate how the system is set up, and I get that it has to be structured this way — you have to have that much time to pick up all the kids in a rural area and bus them to school in time for it to start. Teachers need the whole day to try to help and teach a frillion kids in their classrooms — all with different learning needs. I just really enjoy the slower, more focused, one on one, not-gone-all-day pace at home.

3. Remembering. I was looking at my sister’s school schedule on her fridge and then listened to her schedule for today. And then I had to take a nap. Various pick ups and drop offs and carpool schedules and remembering whether or not it’s a half day / early day / teacher’s day / holiday / your day to bring the snacks / report day / bring the diorama you were supposed to make over the weekend to school day. For the part year J. was in kindergarten I failed at this so badly. I forgot the snacks and forgot which days school was out, and forgot which days school was in. Let’s not even talk about PTA meetings or parent teacher conferences. You organized parents go ahead and scoff, but I am terrible at this stuff. We regularly forget and are late to orthodontist appointments, dentist appointments, flute lessons, scouts, and church. And nobody flunks out or has to do community service hours for 230 tardies when those things occur — though I’m pretty sure several teachers and medical professionals want to fire us.

3. Extra curriculars. Okay so when your kid is at school all day the extra stuff like soccer or scouts, and even haircuts has to occur in the evenings. Actually I should have entitled this section “Freedom.” Because I really, really like that the music teacher can come at 2pm. I love that if a bunch of homeschoolers put together something like a gymnastics class or a baking class or a co-op or whatever, we can go at like 11 in the morning rather than at 5 at night.

4. Musical school breaks. I super wish that meant we were a homeschooling version of High School Musical, but alas. Only three of us can carry a tune. When we moved we magically made the month of March our spring break. I didn’t have to worry about keeping the kids on schedule AND packing up my entire house. They could help, and they helped a TON. Sure, we’ll have to school a little farther into summer this year, but that’s okay, because that’s what worked for us and what we needed. It makes me exhausted thinking about getting them on busses and picked up and shuttled around and whatever else we needed to remember while in the middle of moving. I know it can be done and better parents than me have achieved that and more, but I was really glad we didn’t have to.

I know a lot of this might sound like we homeschoolers just run around in our underpants and never learn algebra, and for us anyway, that isn’t true. We completely and totally enforce learning algebra in bathrobes at least. But for serious, my kids complete pretty rigorous courses in math, reading, spelling, history, science, writing, penmanship, and more. And they are usually a grade or two ahead of the school system here. It isn’t hard – even with the freedom we enjoy – because teaching one kid is so much easier than teaching 35. And they really do get to a point where they take off and do a ton of their stuff on their own.

I think it’s wonderful that your kids go to public school or private school or charter school or Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m totally not trying to convince anyone that my way is the best in the land, and I’m in total agreement that learning and teaching things like punctuality and honoring one’s appointments is an excellent thing and I think public schooled kids learn lots of great skills like how to wake up in the morning. And I know the laziness motivator goes both ways. My sister is like, “Dude. I can get them dressed and out the door and then go back to BED.” And she has a point.

What are your favorite reasons for whatever you do with your kittens? I mean kids?

School is the worst thing in the world


Yesterday was one of those homeschooling days where everyone keeps drifting away from their work. Admittedly, the kids had a pretty cool game going, they were building ships out of interlocking blocks (we call them wooden legos) and then sending them flying down the hall. Whoever’s ship remained mostly intact won that round.

I was working but could hear E. very patiently remind everyone individually to get back on task. “J, come correct these problems.” “N, please come back and finish your penmanship.” “K, you still have a half page of math problems.” At some point he was losing patience, but didn’t lose his cool (like I would have). E. hardly ever gets audibly mad, he just kind of turns red and shakes, but he wasn’t even that mad. He just used K’s full name to remind her once again to finish her math after she’d drifted away yet again.

This was supremely offensive, so she marched down the hall and proceeded to make this sign. (She had to finish her math in her room, and she did so with an award winning level of sulk.

Sign translation: “I hate school. School is the worst thing in the world.”

And in the pull quote (admirable styling, K): “After I finish math I don’t want to do school ever again because I hate school.”

The night before was… epic. Now that my youngest is five, we normally all sleep well and through the whole night. But for some reason every one had problems. The hall bathroom was torn out, so of course two kids sleep-walked and tried to pee in there. The other came into my room four times for various sleep-talky type things. I finally gave up and made him a bed on the floor which he disorientedly tried to somersault onto. Anyway, it was ridiculous, and so I was trying to sleep in a little bit that morning.

The sound of four racing, and consequently crashing, lego block cars woke me a little earlier than I wanted.

So K’s sign made me smile. I wanted to write the following:

“I hate work. Work is the worst thing in the world. After I finish work, I don’t want to work ever again because I hate work.”

Which isn’t true of course, I just wanted to sleep. But writing a sign about hating lego blocks or ship racing seemed excessive. And K doesn’t really hate school. She doesn’t even hate math. But she was mad and felt out of control of her life.

Raising kids is interesting. My parents were (are) pretty awesome, but I remember struggling for autonomy on more than one occasion. My parents never yelled (not hyperbolic, seriously, never, ever), but I’d often end up in very long, very deep discussions about rules and obedience and the consequences of actions when I was trying to negotiate for more freedom.

I feel like we have a ton of freedom in homeschooling. If we’re sick, or if a kid has a birthday, we can take the day off. We can turn a trip to Yellowstone into a school field trip, and go to the museum / library / movies when everyone else is in school. But I’m not a radical homeschooler, and I feel better when we meet goals and finish things. So my kids are expected to complete certain tasks, and reach a certain level of doneness by the end of the school year. Miss K needed to finish her math, but I liked how E. handled it. He let her vent off steam in her room for a while – and honestly, it gave him some drama-free time with the other kids for a bit. Then, he went into her room, sat in the rocking chair, and after a little chat about her emotions, they worked on her math together, in her bedroom.

She was happier after that, though the sign is still on her door.

We’re not always great at these things. Sometimes a kid lashes out, and I lash back, and in this scenario I always lose. Kids do not give you a break when your back is aching and you have HAD it up to HERE. We’re not big yellers either, but it’s funny, our kids will call a frustrated voice yelling. “You yelled at me,” N. will say with big, sad eyes. I didn’t yell. Not by a long shot, but I said something in an aggravated / frustrated / annoyed / worn out tone.

I think the point is that however I said whatever I said made them FEEL yelled at. Miss K’s main complaint was that daddy yelled at her. He didn’t. He used a stern voice and her full name which granted, does signal that we are losing patience, but that’s how he made her feel. Is it rational? No, but often neither are grown ups when we get our feelings hurt.

So I don’t know where I’m going with this. I guess I feel chatty this morning after a week-long absence from this space. I’ve been working a lot, juggling a few side jobs in addition to my regular work, which extends my hours in either direction and leaves little time for much else. We also started busting out the hall bathroom renovations Saturday, which I will bore you with tomorrow. (Spoiler, it didn’t take five years!)


2013 in books


I tried to organize them for you this year. Books I read together in a series are grouped in boxes. I used Amazon Affiliate links, but obviously you can get these books anywhere or borrow a lot of ‘em (like we did). Books I loved are asterisked!


Fantasy / YA

Ender’s Game – Everyone said I needed to read this, and I kind of didn’t love it. It was a little too Lord of the Flies for me? I guess? Like, kids killing people? Although I adored the Hunger Games, so go figure. My friends insist I need to read the whole series before I pass judgement.

The False Prince – I need to read the rest of the books in this series; it was cute. The boys would like this.

The Thief – I actually started this and abandoned it, I can’t remember why, I probably just got sidetracked, it’s still on my to-read list.

The Crown of Embers – Book 2 *

The Bitter Kingdom – Book 3 *

I should have re-read the first book; I was a little lost at first, but I got my bearings quickly enough. Such a great series! Excellent writing, and the ending was perfect.

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes – Book 1 * – I re-read this so I could read the next two books in the series back to back.

Beyonders: Seeds of Rebellion – Book 2 *

Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy – Book 3 *

I’ve loved Fablehaven and Beyonders for the kids – it did occur to me in reading Beyonders that Brandon Mull doesn’t do a lot of appearance description. I have no idea what Jason or Rachel look like.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones – Book 1

The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes – Book 2

The Mortal Instruments: City of Glass – Book 3

The Mortal Instruments: City of Fallen Angels – Book 4

The Mortal Instruments: City of Lost Souls – Book 5

I finally read the above series to see what all the fuss was about. I admittedly went in with some preconceived notions after reading some of the DRAMZ about the author. I was pretty full of eyerolls for the first few books, but I think they improved towards the end. Though! There is a sixth book coming out, and oh my, I don’t think I’ll read it. I did see the movie: holy massive plot changes, batman.

Delirium – Book 1

Pandemonium – Book 2

Requiem – Book 3

I don’t think these were terrible, though I remember being a little annoyed while reading. I didn’t write a review/note for myself so I just know that I didn’t wholeheartedly love them.

Legend – Book 1 *

Prodigy: A Legend Novel – Book 2 *

I liked these. They are kind of a different spin on a dystopian society. If she drags these out into like 5 books it will probably get tired, but I liked these two.

Reached – Book 3 of the Matched series – I really should re-read to refresh my memory, I read this series kind of overlapping with the Divergent series and both plot lines get tangled up in my head. I think I liked the first in this series best, but I remember liking how this book wrapped things up.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone * – Apparently this book got a lot of hype when it came out, and I’m rather glad I missed it. I read it without knowing what to expect. It is quite unlike anything I’ve ever read, and the writing has kind of a different twist, I like the author’s voice. If you’re religious, the seraphim / fallen angel storyline can be a little weird, but if you can suspend reality it works.

One of my favorite authors, Cinda Williams Chima, came out with a new book in a series I read a few years ago, so I went back and re-read:

The Warrior Heir – Book 1

The Wizard Heir – Book 2

The Dragon Heir – Book 3

And then tackled the new book: The Enchanter Heir – Book 4. I’m very sorry to say it was pretty disappointing. I didn’t adore the Heir series, but I liked it okay. This new book though, is like a crazy departure. The series was complete, and this feels like it’s been awkwardly added on as an afterthought. I was completely lost for the first half of the book wondering how in the world it was supposed to tie in. There are two more books coming and I don’t think I’ll read them. I still highly recommend her Seven Realms series, though.

Allegiant (Last book in the Divergent Series) – I listened to this one on audiobook while I worked, and… eh. To be fair, I don’t think I should have overlapped this series with the Matched series (I read both at the same time waiting for books to become available at the library). I will say I didn’t love the first book as much as everyone else did, so I kinda stuck with this just for the sake of finishing. Maybe I’d like it better if I started over and read it straight through.

Grave Mercy – interesting. I liked it. Didn’t love it completely though (there’s a particularly ridiculous scene that kind of ruined everything), but it’s a really different premise (assassin nun) and is well researched and well written.

Seraphina * Absolutely gorgeous writing. It’s a tad slow in the first part, but then it picks up. Expertly plotted. Really different dragon story, loved the characters. Can’t wait for the next book (it’s a long wait, March of 2015).

Throne of Glass – I’m currently reading this. So far it feels a lot younger / simpler, a little less rich and colorful, after reading Seraphina.

Modern Fiction

The Fault in Our Stars – My friend Kat recommended this to me. I really liked it, lots of language though. I think it would make a really good book club group if you don’t have pearl clutchers (I am one, kinda) over the f-bomb.

Eleanor & Park – By Rainbow Rowell. I really loved this along with the rest of the planet. TONS of language, though it makes sense to set the scene and background of (particularly) Eleanor’s home life. Love that she’s chubby. Love the ending.

Fangirl – By Rainbow Rowell. A ton of language again, which made less sense for me. I didn’t like this as well as Eleanor & Park.

Historical / Classics

Wives and Daughters * Loved. Even incomplete, I loved it. The movie is pretty fabulous, too.

North And South * Again, loved. The movie was good, though the ending was really silly and not true to the time period.

Cranford * The little mini-series is super cute. Dame Judi!

Religious / churchy / scriptural books I read this year

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife – Life after death book, if you like that kind of thing, and I’m kind of fascinated with it. This one is believable, and I liked it.

Visions of Glory – I hesitate to even add this one to the list. It surged in popularity amongst members of my church this year, and I read it because I rather like ‘beyond the veil / life after death books,’ but I have a lot of issues with this book. While at first I liked some parts of it, after marinating on it and talking with some others, I cannot recommend it. There are some fairly unbiased and unemotional (people get kind of rabid over this book) reviews here and here.

The Gospels Made Whole – Bible & LDS scripture telling the story of Christ’s life as a whole. I quite liked this.

Isaiah Decoded

Apocalyptic Commentary of The Book of Isaiah * – E. and I are still studying this, it’s my favorite Isaiah ‘help’ book so far. General Christian reference, not LDS specific.

The Book of Isaiah: A New Translation With Interpretive Keys from the Book of Mormon (Obv. LDS perspective)

The Last Days: Types and Shadows from the Bible and the Book of Mormon (Ditto).

Writerly books I read this year

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Started last year, continued to reference this year.)

The Writers Journey (Started last year, continued to reference this year.)

The Forest for the Trees

The Fire in Fiction: Passion, Purpose and Techniques to Make Your Novel Great

Writing the Breakout Novel

The First Five Pages * My favorite how-to book so far.

Notable Series the Kids Read

I did not keep very good track of what the kids read this year. We didn’t really have any family read-alouds, as J, N, and K just tear through things on their own.

J. read the entire Nicholas Flamel Series (6 books)

He also read the entire The 13th Reality Series and was extremely bummed out with the way it ended. I feel the same way about Dashner’s adult series. I’m still mad about The Death Cure.

He also read all the books in the Erec Rex Series, though I guess it ends on a cliffhanger and there isn’t much word from the author so he’s worried she won’t finish it.

He read the Beyonders Trilogy after I was finished with it.

He started the Leven Thumps Series, but then grandma gave him…

The Kane Chronicles for Christmas so he’s switched to that, I think he’s close to finishing the first book.

N read the whole Fablehaven Series, as he was kinda little when I read it aloud to J.

He followed that up with the Beyonders Trilogy after J. & I had read it.

Grandma gave him the first few books in the Unfortunate Series of Events books, and I believe he’s knee deep in the first one right now.

Miss K. has discovered the Magic Treehouse Series – which I think are kind of terrible, but she loves them and blows through them quickly.

She’s also liking the new (young) Amelia Bedelia books, which are cute and fun.

Grandma got her the first couple of Amy Wild, Animal Talker books from Usborne, and she is reading the second one now.


I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but I think that’s fairly accurate. Any recommendations for me? Here’s my Want to Read list on Goodreads – not in any particular order. (I finally switched from Shelfari this year.) What did you read and absolutely love this year?

Wanted: writing curriculum and an asprin

Writing Tools

J. (age 12) has been trying out the Ron Paul Curriculum this semester. And while we are going to take a break from it, I have good things to say about it, too. It’s totally self taught, so it’s good for those with a lot of self discipline who are highly motivated. J. has had weekly essays that we read and correct, but yesterday was the first time I flipped through the rest of his completed work. It’s a pretty impressive pile of work, and his binder is full to bursting.

However. The RPC curriculum cautions parents that if you find yourself needing to remind, nudge, and outright nag your student to complete his schoolwork, the course is probably not a good fit. And we have had to remind and nudge. In some ways J. has really liked setting his own pace, but there are things that definitely trigger some frustration and anxiety.

I think the heavy essay writing requirements are a little too challenging at this point. He seems to really struggle with expository writing. He wants to write what the instructor said, or exactly what he read, rather than formulating his own words. This has affected history and English both, and has helped me realize we need to implement more specific and detailed writing instruction.

Decisions, decisions

Finding said specific and detailed writing instruction is proving more difficult than I anticipated. And so I’m doing what we do these days. I’m asking the internet for advice. So far, I’ve checked out:

Brave Writer – I’m annoyed that I can’t download actual sample PDFs of lessons. She has one in website format, but I’d like to see what the real pages look like. I also got a little lost on her website, though admittedly it’s late and I’m tired. She writes a lot (like me) and it took me quite a while to figure out the different packages. I think, if I went this route, we’d do the Writer’s Jungle Silver Binder package for $97, plus, I assume, shipping? Kind of a lot of pennies.

Writing With Skill – This one feels safe, because it’s by Peace Hill Press. We used Writing with Ease so I imagine it will feel familiar, though none of my kids loved WWW, so there’s that to consider. $20 and some change on Amazon. I probably also need the teacher’s manual which is like $30 or something.

Excellence in Writing – I found this via IrishMum, and I love just about everything she does with her boys, so I was pretty much decided until I read this review. Holy overwhelming, batman (<-- stupid viglink is making that a link). I know she says repeatedly that it isn't as overwhelming as it seems, but I'm overwhelmed. Plus it's $109.00 though it's non consumable, so you can reuse it easily.

Write Shop – That same reviewer switched to Write Shop (probably because she was overwhelmed, ha ha), and I’m still eyeballing this one. Not everything is contained in one book, so it’s a little confusing, and I’ve read mixed reviews from others. $45.95, though I think I need more components?

Write Source – This is a public school textbook, and the teacher’s manual (which I’ve read is necessary) is like a million dollars. I read a pretty convincing review, and felt good about this choice after looking at some samples, especially after finding used copies on Amazon for much less, but then some bad reviews threw me off again. Around $8.00 for the student textbook used on Amazon, $60 for the teacher’s manual also used on Amazon. Otherwise, like $40 and $130 respectively, new.

Essentials in Writing – I like the price on this one. $40 for the main bit, and $25 for the additional bits. One reviewer said some disparaging things about the video instructor though, and now I think I’ve ruled this out.

Winning with Writing – This is made by the Growing with Grammar folks, and we really like GWG, so I thought this would be an easy choice. It’s also nice and affordable and $25.99 plus shipping. Those darn reviews, though. People say the writing course is too repetitive and boring if you’re already doing their grammar books, so this one has been eliminated.

Cover Story Writing – This one looks interesting, though they are sold out at the moment. Also, spendy at $149.00. It’s by the same guy who does the high school One Year Adventure Novel writing course. Both look really fun, though I wonder if you get any paper writing and letter writing type instruction.

For grammar, J. has requested to return to Growing with Grammar, but I’m also eyeballing Jr. Analytical Grammar, and we also have a complete MCT Grammar package that E. has just never implemented much.

I’m going to go ice my headache. Any others I’ve missed and should be considering? Any experience with the above?