Author Archives: Elisabeth

Summer vacation, Montana

Summer is coming to a close and back-to-school busyness is already flooding in (it’s the first week of homeschooling at our house). I recognize that I’m only halfway through my summer vacation report extravaganza.

Lots of big things have happened since July, the shining star of it all being Jason and Ian’s trip-of-a-lifetime to Africa. Our family trip to Idaho and Montana can’t really top seeing a solitary leopard saunter out of her den five feet away from you with an impala head in her mouth. In the WILD, people–no fences, no glass, just a beautiful African skyline cast out before you (or at least that’s how I imagine it).

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She got tired, dropped the skull and sprawled herself in the road, right in front of the truck Jason and Ian were sitting in.

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I would’ve just about DIED. My mouth is actually still hanging open from the retelling of that story.

The one very special thing that Africa did not have was all of us together. Our family vacation obviously had a lot of that. My guess is in a few short weeks when I’m worn down from the intense teaching and parenting that school brings, I’ll want to look back fondly on lovely memories and remind myself why I like my people so much. (To be honest, I’ll probably also look at the leopard because it is AMAZING.)

So, I continue on with my report–for anyone who is reading, and mainly for my future self.

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With our 4th of July celebration in Coeur d’Alene complete, we packed up and left for Great Falls. Our goal was to toodle along, both there and back, since it was only about 300 miles and half of that was on the interstate.

The weather was hot and sunny and it continued that way into Montana. Not a cloud in the sky and blue, blue, blue. Memories came back for me as we drove over 4th of July pass, made our way over Lookout Pass, and entered into a place that holds a quite a few memories for me.

Lots of summers, lots of road trips, lots of visiting relatives, lots of passing through. I’ve seen a lot of Montana and that’s saying a lot because it is BIG. In fact, I’ve seen more of it than the states I’ve lived in.

I hadn’t been to Montana in a long time, and this was first time I was going to this beautiful state with ma fam. I was happy.

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We only had one stop on our agenda before Great Falls, and that was several hours ahead. I did insist that we turn off at 50,000 Silver Dollars (it was a mere 10,000 when I was a kid).

It was just as I remember it–packed to the brim with souvenirs and tourists. We were the loudest people there (we like to remain consistent wherever we go). When I was young you could buy handicrafts made my Native Americans there. I’d like to think these items were reasonably priced. Somewhere in the depths of my memorabilia I’ve got to have a beautiful beaded leather coin purse I bought there.

In 2017, $50k Silver Dollars has mostly cheap crap with expensive price tags. Still, I insisted each kid pick out something under $5 to take home, for my own sense of well-being and nostalgia. Let’s just say none of it was the product of Native American creativity.

Our next stop was the REI in Missoula. I had been on the hunt for the perfect sun hat and hadn’t found one in Coeur d’Alene. We had some fun in the store while our children ran around hiding in clothing racks while mostly understanding clerks loomed nearby.

Three hats are pictured in the photo below. We bought two; you can take a guess which one didn’t make the cut.

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About that time we got onto The Lonesome Highway (200) and headed toward our one on-the-agenda-from-the-beginning stop. It was an hour plus before we hit gravel road and found ourselves at the trailhead that would take us to Garnet Ghost Town.

Recommended by Bill and Becky, this place was definitely worth seeing (but just once with small kids). There’s a short hike down into a dip in the hills where we had a great view of the skeleton of what was (for a very short time) a thriving western pop-up at the turn of the 20th century.

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The place was small enough that we went into most of the structures before the kids got bored and/or wily.

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One of the forest service volunteers was kind enough to take our picture right up at the bar. In the Wild West there is no drinking age!

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I honestly don’t remember where else we stopped, but we didn’t pull into Jared and Rosheila’s driveway in Great Falls until about 6pm. As it was in Idaho, it was dry, hot and sunny at their house. People in these parts of the woods also have air-conditioning–something strange and lovely to those of us from Western Washington.

The next day we headed to Malmstrom Air Force Base. Master Sergeant Haggard/Aunt Rosheila had thoughtfully scheduled a tour for us of a C-130. As you can see we had a fancy escort.

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Future flight engineer, perhaps?

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Better keep your eyes on those instruments, ladies.

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We went inside a couple of hangars and managed not to break anything. The military makes things pretty sturdy, but you’d be surprised what the Haggard kids can destroy–intentionally or unintentionally.

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Here’s the gang–the grown-ups lookin’ good and the kiddos lookin’ cute! Notice the Bebo from Seattle who can’t handle the sun (that or she doesn’t know how to salute, I can’t tell).

We spent the next couple of days enjoying being with Jared, Rosheila, Aiden, Amaya, and Adessa. Things are pretty low-key around their house. So, not surprisingly we brought noise with us, but hopefully not too much chaos. Aiden showed Ian around the Wii, and the girls played together on the swing set. Honestly, I’m not sure what else they did, they were just off being busy and happy together.

Jason and Jared took the kids to Flippin’ Family Fun after visiting Malmstrom. It is–you guessed it–flippin’ fun, or so our kids say. Trampolines galore, and a foam pit. Calories were burned with the bouncing and then put back in in the form of frozen lemonade cups. I took myself on a solitary date to a nearby Target, which was fabulous.

While we were at Jared and Rosheila’s a timely package showed up from Tiffany, filled with items for both sets of kids. As you can see, some of them were matchy and mermaid-themed.

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The two youngest, Beatrice and Adessa. The girls all got miniature mermaid tails to fit their dolls. All handmade, of course, by Aunt Tiffany.

The other exciting day trip we made was to Electric City Water Park. Part of the Great Fall’s Parks and Rec department, it was very inexpensive and way better than any city pool I’ve been too. It had an Olympic size pool, a couple slides, a nice kiddy pool/splash pad, a lazy river (my personal fav) and a body-boarding ride (Jason biffed it).

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I think we all got in for about $30 total. You gotta love Montana being cheap! Well, everything is cheap compared to Seattle.

The final evening our family grabbed teriyaki and went to Giant Springs State Park, just past the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center (that’s for next time).

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Jason and beautiful, happy Imogen.

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Me and crabby Bebo. She refused to eat delicious teriyaki. So sad for her.

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Me and my eldest. We’re clearly headed toward adolescence.

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Giant Springs State Park has bragging rights for having the world’s shortest river. But what it should really brag about is the beautiful, green, wooded park, and the big bubbles of the natural spring that flows into the Missouri a few hundred feet later.

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It took us a few tries to get a good pic. And then we ended up with one of the best of all-time, in my humble opinion.

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Recently discovered records from Lewis and Clark’s stop at Giant Springs are surprisingly fitting:

“After a long day of travel, Lewis was pleased to reach the Missouri and delighted by the Giant Springs his (her) troop discovered there . . . Clark was clearly unimpressed.” (Wink.)

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The morning we left for Coeur d’Alene, we go a few cute pics of all the cousins together. Next time this happens they will probably look like giants in comparison.

As we cruised along Highway 200 heading west, we decided to stop at some of the historical signs, mainly marking pioneer trade routes and Native American happenings of old. The kids mostly humored us.

Soon it got to be lunchtime and we started looking for a good spot to picnic. We stumbled upon a fantastic place in little Lincoln, Montana, of which I am still quite amazed by.

It’s Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, and it’s a privately-funded and maintained sculpture art park made filled with the products of Montana artists and inspired by the region. Super random–I still can’t get over that part of it.

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I wish I would’ve taken more pics of the art and our explorations, but all I’ve got is a teepee. Visit the website to see more of what we saw.

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As we got closer to Missoula Imogen insisted that we stop and skip some rocks she had collected back in Great Falls.

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So idyllic. Think River Runs Through It–but with three small children. The epitome of Montana wild, with some Haggard wild thrown in. And we all know Jason is just as handsome as a young Brad Pitt.

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I wished we had put our suits on and dipped in, but I was nervous about the current. The river was just begging us!

There was something else we needed to do that was very important, and that important thing was ice cream. Yelp had told us to go to The Big Dipper in Missoula.

I have a lot of thoughts about ice cream and the places where people should eat it. My thoughts on The Big Dipper are this: It was worth the outside line and the 20 minute wait. They had lots of flavors–including black licorice–which surprised and delighted me, and which of course I ordered and consumed.

Also, if you go there you can sit among hip liberal locals wearing Kavu shirts and Chacos on their feet (WAY before they were cool . . . again). It’s not a leopard with an impala head in its mouth, but it’s a particular brand of wild only found in western Montana.

Once we curbed our sugar craving in Missoula, we got on I-90 and booked it home (as in Coeur d’Alene, our landing place). A week of doing whatever was waiting for us.

Also, it must be noted there is SO much more we need to see of Montana–Glacier, Flathead Lake, Whitefish, Bozeman, Yellowstone, Havre, Hot Springs. For next time.

You can catch up with our fun in Part 1: Cave B and Part 2: 4th of July.

Happy trails to US!!!

 

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Summer vacation, 4th of July

First, let me start with this.

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THAT is the epitome of a Haggard kids’ summer trip to Grandma T’s. It’s their version of magical, and it’s called the WAVE CRASHER. My mom says it’s the best 40 bucks she spends on our kids each year (not surprisingly, it needs to replaced regularly).

This is what the trio did over and over and over again while we were at Cave B. They were probably also eating lots of sugar and watching TV and living the good life. When I say “good life” I  mean themed goody bags, because that’s how Grandma rolls. (Who’s ever turned down a really good goody bag? NO ONE).

When Jason and I reunited with the kids, I noticed I felt refreshed and ready to parent, and in particular to co-parent with Jason. I had a different tone with our kids, and I had the energy to work on “seeing” each one of them. I noticed Jason doing this, too.

My heart felt like it was saying, “Ahhh, this is what it’s supposed to be like. I’ve missed this!” The “this” isn’t that everyone behaves and gets along, but that we are living life together, investing in and seeking to know one another, not just get by. Kids thrive on that. Heck, everyone thrives on that! Like I’ve mentioned, my soul didn’t realize how hungry for connection it really was.

For the next few days we savored 4th of July weekend in small town Coeur d’Alene.

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First, we visited the new carousel (which is actually really old and has a cool story), had a picnic in the park, and caught a live show at the bandshell.

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Lots of older people were sitting out in their folding lawn chairs listening to the music of their era (50s and 60s). Imogen and Beatrice jumped right in with the few that were dancing and made some new friends.

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Next stop was Joy’s pool. We do this every summer visit, and Joy is so gracious every time when we show up, get wet and make lots of noise.

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It was so great to have Jason with us this time.

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Ian probably burned 6,000 calories in the pool that day. I spent a lot of time watching my back, as he’d sneak up on me from underwater; I reciprocated. We had a lot of fun.

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It wasn’t fifteen minutes of pool time and Imogen was confidently jumping off the diving board.

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Joy’s pool is a beautiful color; it feels like dipping into a lake bath, not a chlorinated pool. Horses from her stables graze nearby and a few cats and dogs meander around. Ian gets to pick apples from the orchard (pictured to the right of the pool house). It’s magical.

Next up was the actual 4th celebrations. This will be our second year of hitting the downtown parade, and we have our usual spot, which is both close to the start of the parade and a short walk to the local ice cream joint. Both factors are important in having a pleasant parade experience.

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Grandma is really into holiday outfits, and for some reason every year we end up with at least two 4th of July outfits for each child, if not more. I can’t fit enough time into the season to them wear them all. As you can see they also received accessories this year.

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Imogen got a photo with Mudgie the Moose–he’s a famous character in that neck of the woods. Jason made a point of cheering for my high school’s rival cheerleading squad, just to annoy me. But he also bought me iced coffee, which helped the situation.

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That evening we had burgers, as much corn on the cob as we could eat, and banana splits. Well, Ian ate a banana split since he’s the only one who will eat fruit. We let him go to town, as you can see. There are rewards for having a well-rounded diet.

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Since we were avoiding the crowds, big fireworks, and late night, we picked up a few little sparkly things from the fireworks stand. Ian was proud of himself that he got to light up the “big” ones and Beatrice took hold of a sparkler for the first time.

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The neighbors were probably hugely impressed by our display, and happy our show only lasted about 20 minutes and was over at 8:30pm.

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I don’t have pictures, but Jason and I also got the chance to do some more bike riding. Since the Ironman came to Coeur d’Alene about ten years ago, the city has created and connected so many paved bike trails, so you can ride out in the country, by the lake, in the mountains. It’s amazing . . . and magical.

Second leg of our family vacation complete! Next up is road trippin’ it across Montana to Great Falls for a visit with cousins.

One last goodie–a signature move gone wrong on the WAVE CRASHER!!!

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Summer vacation, Cave B

Well, some changes have been afoot for the Haggards. It’s been a year since the last time I wrote here and since we’re all about the drama, we packed a lot into twelve months. But I’m just going to focus on the last few.

In June, Jason’s job ended somewhat abruptly, and because it had taken up a lot of his physical and emotional energy for quite some time, he needed some major down time–to the tune of at least a month, probably two. With him freed up the summer months suddenly seemed like a world of opportunity for us!

We didn’t go anywhere particularly amazing. In fact, I guess you could technically say we just went to Coeur d’Alene, but really it served as our main hub, from which we did mini-trips or day outings. But here’s the best, greatest part of the whole thing– we were together, all of us. I didn’t realize how much I was starving for family time until we planned, and I waited with anticipation.

On June 29th, the kids were up at the butt crack of dawn, also eager with anticipation. Of course, it was several hours before we left because every year we need to outdo ourselves by packing more gear. This year we added a topper, hitch and 5-bike rack to achieve this goal.

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We eventually pulled out of the driveway and headed east toward Grandma’s–the wind in our hair, the sun shining, and our lovely itinerary before us. First on the agenda was stopping off at the Columbia River Gorge. We met Grams at the interstate and caravaned down to the river. We had a picnic at Frenchman’s Coulee, all the while trying to shield ourselves from the sun, which we hadn’t seen much of at this point in the summer.

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After lunch we drove just a few minutes to Cave B Inn & Winery, where Mom took the kids, headed back to her house and left Jason and I for a couple days. We booked a yurt at the inn, which I can say now by experience is a fantastic place to lay your head at night if you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Cave B is magical. I think I’ll probably use that word a lot to describe a lot of this trip. The  whole dang thing was just so what I needed, in so many ways.

Jason and I spent three days in or near our yurt eating cheese, prosciutto, fresh fruit, wine and chocolate. In between that we meandered through grape vines, dipped into the pool, hiked, drove alongside orchards, and went on a long bike ride together.

Here’s some pics.

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Yes, it’s that magical.

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Here’s us on the first night, sitting outside our yurt filling our bellies and listening to the birds. I totally nailed the cheese selections this time–I’m still bragging to myself about it.

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Eating again, this time at South, along Wentachee’s riverfront. Those stuffed jalapeños were really hot. I kept torturing myself because they were the vehicle for the melted cheese, which was amazing. I am noticing cheese is becoming a theme here. The margarita was also excellent.

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View from the pool, but sparing you images of our skin, which was still pasty white at this point on the trip.

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View out the top of our yurt. Not a cloud in the sky the whole time.

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Of course I have to include bunnies, if I saw them, which I did. What I didn’t get a picture of was the frog who lived outside our yurt and croaked incessantly starting at exactly 10:30pm each night. I was so happy that even he was a bit magical to me. I still went outside and stomped around with a stick to scare him, though. It did not work.

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Hiking trails below the winery. Finally learned about the stinging part of stinging nettles.

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The bike ride down into Frenchman’s Coulee was the piece de resistance of Cave B for me. It was my first big ride of the season and what a place to have it!

Jason took me down a long hill and I swore up and down to him I wasn’t going to make it back up. But I did, and it was great. And I felt exhilarated and confident when it was all over. It really got me itching to do more rides over the course of the trip.

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We do a lot of “best of”s in our family. So as we headed toward Coeur d’Alene, the kids and Grandma, I asked Jason what the best part of Cave B was for him. He said it was during our ride when I told him, “You know I’m really glad I’m doing this with you. Not just this ride, but everything.”

We needed that time together, that little slice of Creation to enjoy, and that hot, hot sun. And the cheese.

There’s more vacation story to tell, because this was an epic one. I’ll continue that in the next installment.

Ten weeks into home school

We have just completed our tenth week of our new and improved home school.

The best way to describe what we’ve been up to is to share some thoughts about how each one of us has fared through the last weeks–from my perspective. So, here goes.

Things I am learning about Ian

  • He really likes “couch time.” This is together time, where we sit down and do our main Sonlight stuff–Bible, World History, Geography and reading novels. He especially likes the Usborne Time Traveler and World History books we go through, which are packed with lots of great illustrations and encyclopedic information.
  • The boy needs structure and consistency. It has been helpful for him to see a list each day on the fridge that tells him what will be expected of him in both school and family life. His fits and whining have dramatically decreased.
  • He has a knack for a lot of things–things that surprised me. He has pretty quickly picked up novice piano reading and playing skills, and I didn’t realize he could spell as well as he does. His ability to communicate in writing has improved, too. I think it’s all the reading he’s doing, and the varied subjects that the Sonlight Readers give him.
  • Despite his bad attitude about going to church, he enjoys reading the Bible with me, listening to me explain meaning behind stories, and engaging in conversation. I think he thinks about these things later, at least I know he remembers them. Maybe this is a better way for him to do it than Awana, which we discontinued after last year.

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We’ve been spending many mornings doing couch time in front of a fire. Our woodpile may not last us through the winter.

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Portraying desk work worse than it actually is.

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Piano practice.

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Archeological dig.

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Smaller, indoor archeological dig that ended up bearing more fruit than its outdoor counterpart.

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Ian’s budding rock and treasure collection.

Things I’m learning about Imogen

  • She’s picking up a lot of what Ian is learning–the things that pique her interest. She likes the Bible memory verse songs and the Geography songs. She likes to move to them as she learns.
  • She LOVES Aesop’s Fables. Honestly, many of them can be perplexing and the lessons can be difficult to explain to children. She loves the animals, the older, unique writing style, and the pictures. So we’re going with it.
  • She is excited about learning and I don’t want to dismiss that because I’m busy doing stuff with Ian. She wants to be read to and to have her own library books to look at. She often says, “When I read I’m going to . . .” She’s memorized a Sandra Boynton book she reads to Beatrice.
  • She loves art. Love, love, loves it. I have a love/hate relationship with her doing it because it’s messy. But she feels so loved and inspired when we engage in art activities. I’m excited for her to enroll in the Art class at the HEE next year. I’m ordering her some drawing books to work on for now.
  • She plays well with Beatrice when I’m teaching Ian things she’s not interested in. I am very thankful for that.
  • She loves swimming, and I’m so glad we got her into lessons. She gets to shine, doing her own thing.
  • She’s still doing ballet, but I’m not sure that will be a long-run activity.
  • Doing Pre-K was a good choice for her. I don’t hear her talk a lot about it, but I also don’t hear her complain about going. I think she feels confident in her class. She gets some one-on-one time with her teacher developing skills as one of the oldest in her class.

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We found a great toy store called Toys that Teach. They have a fantastic book collection that clearly Imogen was intrigued by (not to mention I drooled over so many good titles). I’m thinking I may need to create her a quiet corner with a comfy chair.

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Things I’m learning about Beatrice

  • She’s definitely moved into that 2.5-3.5 year-old difficult phase. Hitting, calling names, yelling, throwing fits, being sassy. It’s not so bad yet, but as the youngest she is definitely getting away with more.
  • She talks like she’s a ten-year-old sometimes, complete with attitude and hand gestures. We think it’s cute, but I’m not sure we should encourage it all that much.
  • She really likes being at the HEE. She’s found a favorite toy (a pull along puppy) that she drags all over the place. Don’t tell her, but she’s getting one for Christmas.
  • She doesn’t put caps on markers and it drives me CRAZY.
  • She has picked up French words with more enthusiasm and ease than the other two.
  • She has memorized the Middle East geography song we worked on in our first weeks, and can sing the Alphabet. It’s amazing what little ones can learn through song and the influence of their siblings.
  • She can start doing more household chores, I just need to make an effort to include her and hold her accountable.
  • She was a fantastic potty trainer!

Things I’m learning in this process

  • This gig is like a job. No, it is a job. Depending upon how much one invests in it, it can be part-time or full-time. I like it, but I didn’t think about how it would change my schedule and my relationships with others. I am missing some of my friends and fun activities, and need to consider how to fit those things into our lifestyle.
  • I really love learning, particularly when it comes to history and literature. This isn’t a revelation, but a rediscovery. There’s a reason I got a liberal arts degree in English Literature (I also strongly considered History). Ten years after leaving formal education I am seeing it bear fruit in the parenting and education of my kids. I know this is not for everyone, but I am having fun right now. You can ask me later how I feel when higher-level math and science come onto the scene.
  • I can see that this current endeavor could equip me for something else down the line, though I have no idea what. I like sharing what I know and engaging kids in good conversations. I can ask good questions appropriate to their level and then listen for their answers and personal views. I don’t think is just my kids; this has come naturally to me in nannying and other teaching scenarios.
  • I really love reading out loud. The more I do it, the better I get at it, and the more fun it is for all of us. It’s a bit of acting, of finessing words, and of creating the atmosphere I think the author is intending.
  • I can become a slave to the schedule and the checklist. I’m starting to feel that pressure to keep us on track with what is assigned each day and week. It’s wearing on me. Other Sonlight parents in the Facebook group I’m in warned of this. It is certainly not the intent of the Instructor’s Guide to encourage this. It’s just us Type A types.
  • In light of this, I am going to pick up Teaching from Rest, which has been sitting at my nightstand, waiting for me to come around to it. I’m interested to learn more about schole, the intentional slowing down of learning. This will be a challenge for me, but I think it will prove beneficial to my kids in the long run.
  • I can see myself living vicariously through my kids. Biggest example: I want to teach Ian Grammar (probably too early) because I learned very little when I was a kid. I turned out to be a good writer anyway, but I wonder if it hindered my foreign language learning. I am insecure about it. On the other hand, I don’t want to focus too much focus on Grammar in a way that hinders him from writing freely and outside of the box. Yes, these are the things that home school moms stress about and that I used to roll my eyes at.
  • I am tempted to choose the school stuff over the character building and discipline work. It’s just easier, folks. I’m trying to switch priorities.
  • I’m still hesitant to pick up French because I don’t have a set curriculum or lesson plan. I obviously don’t have the immersion option. With Ian going to Botswana in July it is more motivation to move forward, but this will be a real challenge for my personality. I’m hoping to focus on teaching him essential phrases for his travel experience and not venture too far out from that for now.
  • I’m still a homebody. Getting my kids outside for play is another weak point for me. I am glad they have the HEE and preschool two days a week.

Other things I’m excited about

  • Ian’s piano lessons with Miss Jane. I am thoroughly impressed with her skill and her thoughtfulness in considering the interests and needs of her student. Ian respects her tight ship. At the same time, he’s impressed when he requests songs like the Imperial March and Miss Jane practices it to perform for him at their next lesson. Sometimes I wish I could be a fly on the wall when they work together.
  • Usborne books. I’m not a fan of buying anything at full price, but I’ve gotten sucked into these fantastic materials. I’m particularly excited about some of the books I’ve ordered for Imogen that will help her transition into and get started in Kindergarten. (Side note: I have a book lady named Jessie, if you are interested in Usborne, and she did help me get some good deals.) I’ve also gotten a lot of used encyclopedic books from Goodwill I plan to dole out. I will be cracking them open myself in my *mass* of free time.
  • Putting together a centrally located bookshelf of good stuff that the kids will visit regularly (the one in their basement bedroom doesn’t get frequented).
  • How fun the HEE community continues to be, and how helpful and kind the staff is there.
  • Setting goals. I usually hate doing that. It’s like creating a mission statement–you forget it, move on and then feel guilty about how much you clearly didn’t care that much about it in the first place. That being said, the curriculum specialist at the HEE encouraged me to come up with some benchmarks for the school year. That way, I can put possible new endeavors through the checklist and see if they fit into what we are trying to achieve with our kids. This includes not just formal education, but also character traits we want to encourage, and our kids assimilation into being contributing members of our household and society. I really did feel relieved after putting my thoughts on paper, and I look forward to getting Jason’s feedback, so we can hone in on what we’re doing with these kiddos.

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Archeological dig in the backyard.

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First day in our new workspace. It was clean then, but now it’s a mess of scribbled scrap paper, uncapped markers and really dirty carpet. But, we’re making our way through that shelf of books!

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Members of the HEE family (at our new location). These three aren’t official students yet, but they enjoy the space, the people, the regular refills of popcorn, and the lollipops that are given out by the generous Ms. Trudi.

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Weekly preschool carpool with this bunch

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Preschool pumpkin patch visit

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Trick-or-treaters who mean business

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Future homeschooler? Yet to be seen.

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On a sunny day at the HEE, watching the big kids with their remote-controlled truck.

*For those who are interested in the details of our curriculum and materials, Ian is using Sonlight’s Core B&C World History curriculum, Math Mammoth, and Spelling Power. I can’t seem to commit to more Language Arts materials, but we have been trying out Shurley English and Winning with Writing. I’m thinking about starting Rosetta Stone for French.

Imogen is a part of our Sonlight Bible, History and Reading time when she wants to be, she’s doing a few pages a week of a Scholastic Pre-K workbook I got at Costco, and I’m trying to get her books at the library that interest her. She attends Westgate Preschool two days a week and does ballet.

Portraits with Jessica Ribera

Hi.

On a note unrelated to more intimate writing and daily life-sharing, I am excited to talk about about a couple creative opportunities that have come my way. One involves my amateur photography skills (below) and the other is a possible job doing copy for a creative business a friend is starting up.

Both are 1) low pressure, 2) working with people I really like, 3) testing waters of a new hobby (photography) and 4) dipping my toes back into an older side job (website writing).

I’m also excited for these projects because I think I can pull them off and still have time for our daily grind of homeschooling and generally keeping everything and everyone here at the Haggard Haus in optimum condition (including myself, which, if you know me, is a BIGGIE).

The first project was portraits I took of Jessica, who needed head shots for her budding writing career. You may recall I did birth photos for her last summer.

Jessica is used to being in front of a camera due to her previous job as professional ballet dancer. She also just generally likes being in front of people, sharing herself, and getting attention. I think that’s obvious from what you find here. It also gave me an immediate and helpful advantage come picture-taking time.

Here’s my favorites. The last two made the final cut.

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I am a perfectionist, but I am pleased, and I’m really pleased that Jessica is happy with the end results.

What I wish I would’ve gotten during our time together were some of her great facial expressions in conversation. When she’s talking about something she cares about or telling one of her funny stories from daily life, her face is all over the map, in the best of ways.

This time, being a beginner photographer, I was so busy thinking about light, background, and settings that I wasn’t able to create good conversation. It would’ve been nice to have an extra friend there to talk with her and get her going down some rabbit trail.

I know that really wasn’t the goal of this project, but I think that would’ve rounded out this session. It could’ve given Jessica some more personal photos her family and friends could enjoy–the essence of Jesky Ribera.

Oh well, another time.

Read Jessica’s writing on her blog, and maybe you’ll see her words (and her picture) on some high-faluten website or in a publication one of these days.

Note: Photos were taken with a Nikon D60, 50mm lens, aperture priority setting at mostly 4.5. I have no experience with Photoshop or Lightroom; some very easy editing was done with iPhoto.

Homeschooling for real

Many of you know that I’ve been “homeschooling” Ian for the last couple years. When it comes up in initial conversations with people they say something like, “Oh, wow, that’s so impressive. I don’t know if I could do that. It must be hard.”

I quickly interrupt them to say, “You know, I’m not really a true homeschooling parent. It’s more like a 50/50 thing.”

Then I go on to explain about the Home Education Exchange (HEE) in our school district, which is an amazing resource for us. It’s essentially a school for homeschooled kids, where they can take the messy or hard-to-simulate-at-home classes, and experience community with other students and families. Also, because Ian is a registered public school student, the program provides a variety of options for curriculums in many subjects, as well as support from the teachers and coaches who staff the HEE.

Ian’s kindergarten year we did maybe a half hour of schoolwork at home, a few days a week. I relied heavily on the classes he took at the HEE, which were Science, PE, Art and Lego. I told myself, “This year is no biggie. Besides, in the state of Washington you technically don’t have to start school until second grade to get a high school degree!”

I kept that lackadaisical attitude through first grade, too. Ian took the same classes and he did math and reading at home. He generally picks things up quickly (when he wants to) and he was reading very well. Honestly, if  we got around to schoolwork in a day that was a bonus. If we didn’t, oh well. Life is an education, right?

But, by the end of last school year I began to acknowledge that I couldn’t continue on our course (or lack thereof). Ian wasn’t being challenged. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lot of great learning experiences over the year, but our learning wasn’t just lacking in amount, it was also lacking in rigor. Honestly, my agenda for the day or week took precedent over setting aside time to do school, whether it be book work or more exploratory learning.

I knew I needed to kick it up a notch come second grade, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. I know I like structure and a schedule (something we haven’t had in our school at home), but I didn’t know how to tie various subjects into something more cohesive that we (I) would stick with.

We ended the year early and went to North Carolina in June for the Haggard family reunion. While we were there I learned that my sister-in-law, Tiffany, had decided to homeschool her two younger kids (2nd grade and kindergarten). North Carolina doesn’t offer anything like the HEE, so she had talked with friends and chose to do Sonlight along with some other curriclums to teach her kids.

We happened to still be at Tiffany’s when all her materials showed up in the mail. I was very intrigued. Regardless of the subject, it’s hard to keep me away from a stack of fresh, new books, even if it’s just to flip through and admire them. The smell of print and the feel of pages between my fingers woos me. I feel like a kid in the library or bookstore again.

Tiffany told me a bit about how Sonlight works and she let me look at her catalog (which is very exhaustive and informative). I was fascinated by how the curriculum worked. I was excited by all the books–lists and lists of them–ones I would love to read myself or to my kids. And I was very impressed by the company’s philosophy on how families can learn together.

The downside was the sticker price. It’s not that Sonlight is outrageously pricey, but up until this point almost everything we have done so far has been provided to us for free through our school district or the public library. We’ve had it really good. Spending several hundred dollars seemed like a big commitment, possibly even a waste. [Note: Sonlight is not covered by our district because it contains religious materials.]

Yet, as I imagined how Sonlight could play out at our house, I got pretty excited. The teaching guides are structured, while at the same set up in a way that isn’t rigid. The approach isn’t stuffy or complicated, but simple and based on a love of reading. And because doing it is such a group activity, Imogen and Beatrice could be incorporated into at least part of our learning time.

It is true that you stick with things you are excited about. So I decided that I would pay the money to try Sonlight this year because if I liked it, I would go at it with gusto. And hopefully that enthusiasm would rub off on the kids.

Sonlight says that “box day” (the day when your materials arrive in the mail) is a lot like Christmas. The company is usually referring to the kids’ delight, but since this is our first time doing this, Ian had no idea what I had gotten him into. I, on the other hand, was pulling out each thing in the box as if it were an individual gift.

Usually summer is the time where you take a welcome respite from the demands of school, whether you school your kids at home or they go to school elsewhere. But knowing we had this new thing to look foward to, I was ready to started homeschool–for real.

I think we have a great combination this year:

  1. A couple of years of “sorta” homeschooling under our belt
  2. Ian taking Science, PE and Art at the HEE
  3. Math, spelling, writing, etc., curriculums provided through the HEE as well as a great community
  4. Sonlight’s Bible/Lit/History Core B&C (World History)

We just finished up our first week of school at home. Ian threw a stink on Monday morning at 9am, which was no surprise. But by the end of the week, even he was giving the books and topics we are learning together his stamp of approval (which is no small achievement for Sonlight, tell me tell you!).

I hope to write more about our learning experience as it progresses. . . but for now, here’s to the 2016-2017 school year!

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Note: I would  recommend requesting a Sonlight catalog as a resource–regardless of whether or not you buy, homeschool or don’t. They have awesome books lists and descriptions for various grade levels. It is a gold mine!

If you happen to decide to purchase, please use my Rewards number: EH20435116 at checkout. That means I’ll collect points that somehow benefit me in the future. 🙂

Lastly, if you use Sonlight, I would love to talk with you. This is all new to me, and I’d like to hear how it works for your family.

Imogen at five

Dear Imogen,

At this time last year your inner world was mostly a mystery to me. You are by no means introverted or quiet, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was going on in that little head of yours. Your dad was even perplexed, and he doesn’t obsess about things like this nearly as much as I do.

Well, I’m elated to report that your fifth year was a true emotional and mental unveiling. You grew up in so many very big ways. You were like the peony in our front yard that surprisingly and delightfully popped up and bloomed this last spring in the most natural and delicate way. It was just waiting for it’s time, and so were you.

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You brought your fifth year in dressed as Belle at a fantastic birthday party. And the summer that followed was a pretty awesome one. We spent lots of time outside, went to Grandma T’s for a couple weeks, and went camping with our church family. I wish our family fun wasn’t so dependent upon my health, but I was feeling great and it worked to our whole family’s advantage. Just as you are with anything that promises amusement, you were all in.

In the fall you started Pre-K at Westgate Chapel. I can’t stop saying how wonderful of a school it is, and you had a great teacher, Diane. She has given us lots of insight into what you’re like in the classroom and in social settings. She says you are a kinesthetic learner, but regardless of your regular movement, you are absorbing everything like a sponge. You have a great memory, recalling experiences from all areas of life, dating back quite a ways. You talk about these memories through your own unique lens, in a way that shows that your heart is attached to what you’re sharing.

Teacher Diane has also consistently pointed out how tender and loving you are, and it’s so true. You have soaked up the affirmation and encouragement from the staff at Westgate. You can’t give or get enough hugs. It melts my heart when I imagine you sitting right next to Teacher Diane during preschool circle time; she tells me that you sat right by her side, every day of class. There’s probably a spot worn on the floor right next to her chair!

Your faith has grown much this year, too. You have a vast knowledge of Bible stories and you were an enthusiastic participant at Awana yet another year. But you also wanted to pray for Jesus to come into your heart, and several months later you asked if you could take communion with us, too.

It’s been such a privilege to see how your love of Jesus is manifesting itself. Teacher Diane made a point to tell me that one of her favorite parts of the preschool class was hearing your prayers. She said they were so intentional and sweet, in a way that was different from others in your class. You also have a heart for those in need–you pray for ambulances you hear, homeless people on the sidewalks, friends and family who are sick or sad. You have a sweet voice and I know God loves hearing it.

When we talk about God’s family and how Jesus loves His children, you often smile with a hint of pride, knowing that means you. I think, at least right now, one of the most valuable things I can impress upon you is that God loves you, and He hears you and sees you. I can see that being left alone is a fear of yours. Even though I can’t always answer the questions of why God doesn’t heal someone or why he didn’t make your scary thoughts go away at bedtime, I can emphatically say that you will never be left alone. That you will always be loved and cherished.

You enjoy all the relationships in your life, and you really do want everyone to get along. I appreciate that about you, but it also pains me because I know from experience that it’s just not going to happen (in this life). That is a hard thing for someone who is so relational and so much wants love and peace between people.

It’s also hard to hear you insist you wear a pretty dress to preschool so so-and-so will want to play with you in class. Or to hear Ian and the neighbor girl engaging in play that leaves you out. You want people, why don’t they want you?!

What I can say to you (when you’re a bit older and read this) is this: You will probably struggle with this for a long time. I wish I could say it gets easier, but it will get harder first (i.e. adolescence). I am praying that through every season of life God puts people around you that invite you into the best of circles, those that have Jesus’ arms wrapped around them. And that you can bring people who are sad or lost into these circles, too, with your gentle ways. I can already see your desire to do that.

Before this last year I would’ve said that you were on the shyer side, especially when it came to large audiences. But now I realize you just hadn’t yet had the opportunity to perform. You completed a year of ballet and your performance this last spring in front of hundreds was a smashing success. You had no jitters, just total confidence and enjoyment. In fact, you led most of the other kids in the choreography AND you re-performed the dance in front of your preschool class a few days later! As someone who loves an audience as well, I say keep going for it, girl.

Ian does try to outshine you, so beware. He pretty much tries to outshine everyone. I hope at this point you realize that and aren’t taking it personally. I often have to tell him to shut his pie hole because I want to hear what you have to say. Teacher Diane was right when she encouraged me to make sure you have a voice in a household of strong opinions.

Partly because of this, we decided to have you do another year of Pre-K at Westgate. I love the idea of you being one of the oldest in your class, leading other kids gently and with confidence. But also, this means that as you get older you and Ian will be another year apart in school and that may be for the best.

Another perk to this is that you and Beatrice will be a year closer in grades. Up until a few months ago you and her didn’t play that much together. In fact, if I found Bea with anybody it was Ian. But as she has grown into a full-fledged toddler you have taken her under your wing–with her permission, of course, since she doesn’t let anyone do anything without that.

Your games usually include you being the mom and calling her “sweetie.” She is either the baby or the puppy dog. You make her little beds around the house and she crawls in, settles in, and sticks her thumb in her mouth. Meanwhile, Ian broods in his room, building Lego bases in solitude. This be a hint of the future Haggard sibling dynamic.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not all peacefulness in this house. Bebo bowls over you at times, and Ian has been doing that since day one.  He’s forceful and bossy, and you whine. Dad and I feel a tension between telling him to back off and telling you that you agreed to play with a boy who is sometimes harder to stop than a freight train.

Nevertheless, some of the absolute best sibling moments this year have happened between you and Ian–at bedtime. We turn off the lights, leave the door cracked, and warn you to settle down. Then you two proceed to get all riled up, singing goofy songs, doing impersonations, telling stories. I think Ian instigates, but you are the comic. You are on stage, and Ian is in for uncontrollable laughter. I half-heartetedly yell down my authority, but usually let it slide because you two love each other so much in these moments.

You are still a barnacle, and proud of it. It’s almost monkey-like; you crawl into laps, play with hair, breath in people’s smells. You love snuggling with Dad in bed on Saturday mornings. Oftentimes you have to fight for your space when Bebo comes in like a bulldozer. You are calculated in battle–you don’t shove her off, you just wait until she gets distracted and then sneak back in. Or you gently slide her over when she isn’t paying attention. And then you hold me extra tight, making eye contact with her so she knows what she’s missing.

There have been times I have wondered if you and I lack some particular connection we would’ve had if I hadn’t struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety after you were born. This was compounded by the fact that you and I are different in so many ways, and that in your earlier years I couldn’t quite figure out your internal world.

I feel happy thinking back (and writing about) all the things I’ve learned about you. I feel confident we will grow closer, and you will teach me many things.

Please stay sweet and sensitive. I get it–you’ll have your days of defiance and of sneakiness (your particular sin of choice right now). You are human. But the world needs more of your empathy. Hold onto that, as you know God firmly holds on to you. Also, hold on to others. Vulnerability is a rare, rare jewel, one that God is very pleased with.

I love you, Imogen (innocent) Annabelle (beautiful) Haggard.

Mama

Here are photos of Imogen’s fifth year, in chronological order.

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