29 November 2015

Baby Steps To Improved Fitness

Welcome, friend. Thank you for stopping by today. If you enjoy this post and would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

In early September I wrote a post about how I needed a new outlook on fitness. Then I did absolutely nothing about it for two months. Because, laziness.

But about four weeks ago I decided to actually give this whole new attitude thing a go and see what happens. Following are a few of the tiny, itty-bitty steps I took during the month of November.

Found my baseline. On day one I weighed in. And then stopped weighing in. When I stepped on the scale that day I admit I had a teensy bit of a shock. And I was tempted to keep checking. But I realized if this plan was going to “work” I had to stop looking at the numbers so frequently. So I vowed not to weigh myself again for at least four weeks. Now I intend to weigh in only once a month. Because anything more than that is probably just daily fluctuations anyway and not helpful information.

Took photos. No, you won’t see them yet, maybe at all. But they exist. I look cheerful and alert in these “before” photos because, well, I hate when people intentionally take mug shot photos at the beginning of their exercise journey and then post glamour shots at the end. I’m happy now and I’ll be happy when I’m a little less squishy. So, yes, even extra-fifteen-pounds me gets to brush her hair and wear lipstick.

Let go of unrealistic options. Normally I don’t like to start with the negatives, but in this case I had to honestly evaluate what would not work. Could I leave the house on a regular basis to work out somewhere like the YMCA? Well, technically it is feasible . . . I could either take the kids and pay to have them stay in the child care (where they would be the oldest ones there and bored out of their minds) or go when Hubby is not at work (which pretty much means going when they open at 5:00 a.m. Monday through Friday or only on weekends). Neither of those scenarios is optimal, so I considered exercise DVDs (or YouTube) in the living room. I actually tried this for a while, and Agent J kind of got a kick out of doing them with me, but ultimately I realized I just don’t like cheesy cardio videos enough for that method to be sustainable. I knew I had to come up with another idea.

Developed a new mindset. After some valiant efforts to come up with the Ideal Workout Plan, it occurred to me that maybe I didn’t need a plan after all. What I needed was a new way of looking at fitness. (In other words, to actually take my own advice from that previous post.) Exercise didn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) something that I have to do in a certain way at a certain time to reach a certain goal. It should just be part of my everyday routine, like eating and sleeping and spending too much time on Twitter. I didn’t need to rearrange my days to "fit in" exercise; I needed to make exercise a natural part of my days.

Experimented with a three-part plan. The first part—starting each day with at least 10 minutes of stretching—I had already been doing and so this was more of a renewed commitment to not slack. The second component—strength training—was going to have to be more intentional. I don’t have any sort of equipment or weights at home, nor do I have tons of free time, so this was going to have to be a brief circuit of things like squats, lunges, push-ups (which I admittedly suck at), crunches, and the like. After some waffling, I realized the best time to do this is before dinner (sometimes while I’m in the kitchen keeping an eye on the stove while cooking said dinner). The final piece, cardio, was going to be harder. Honestly, I hate cardio. I don’t run (and here’s the borderline TMI reason why not) and I already established that video workouts don’t do it for me. Getting to an outside class was probably not going to happen. So I took the simplest route I could come up with: I began walking more. I walk with the Agents around the neighborhood. I walk by myself every weekend and holiday when Hubby is home during the day. I walk when it’s windy and cold and this warm-weather-loving gal needs to break out a hat and gloves.

Made minor adjustments to my diet. I don’t do food deprivation or wacky diet plans. I like to eat. I like to indulge (within reason). Making elaborate changes to my eating habits was not going to happen. But, I knew I could make some small, painless tweaks that would have potential benefits. I made an effort to drink more water. I cut back on my afternoon coffee fix (because I can only drink coffee if it is enhanced with honey and milk and I figured I didn’t need those extra calories twice a day). I stopped putting honey in my tea (now I don’t even miss it). I tried really hard to notice when I felt full and then stop eating no matter how tasty the food in front of me. I never realized how often I ate to the point of feeling slightly uncomfortable until I made a conscious decision to pause and think about it at each meal. I started having more than coffee for breakfast, which in the long run helped me to not overdo it later in the day.

Focused on the big picture. I still eat dessert every day. (Most days it’s something small, like a mini chocolate bar.) I still eat fast food. (Although instead of every 7-10 days it’s more like once a month.) I still head for the cookie plate at church coffee hour. I still go overboard on holidays (hello, Thanksgiving, I’m talking to you). But I don’t stress about these things because they are minor details in the big scheme of things. I don’t feel the need to “cut out”  food-related activities that I enjoy. I don’t ever think, oh I ate x and now I need to do y to “make up for it.” That’s not how it works. I know that one huge meal, or even a whole weekend of huge meals, isn’t going to derail my overall progress any more than one extensive workout is going to get me into fantastic shape. It’s a work in progress, and it’s more about balancing over time.

And that’s it, folks. Nothing dramatic, but it’s a start. I’m happy to report that with just a few weeks of these very minor adjustments my weight has gone down (not significantly) and I feel better overall (although I realize that could just be a placebo effect). The changes to my routine are becoming habits. 

What do your overall health and fitness goals look like?

27 November 2015

Agent Homeschooling 2015-2016: Week 22

Welcome, friend. Thank you for stopping by today. If you enjoy this post and would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

We had the week “off” here for the (US) Thanksgiving holiday, which means we did not do any of our structured school activities this week. This was our first scheduled break since we began the school year on 1 July where we did not have plans to be out of town on vacation or visiting relatives. The Agents (and Momma) all like our usual routine, so I was a bit concerned about derailing, but it turned out pretty well. Following are a few things we did.

Played outside. We were continuing our daily walks around the neighborhood (despite dropping temperatures), but this week the Agents were distracted by the play set Hubby recently built in the back yard. Luckily I can see them easily from the kitchen, because there were days I had enough of the cold and wanted to come in but they still insisted on staying out. 

Read books. Even when “school” is not in session, the Agents go through several books each week. Among others, Agent J finished up the first Land of Stories book (per Agent E’s recommendation) and a few more chapters of Life of Fred: Cats. Agent E started a new Kingdom Keepers and read Tales of Beedle the Bard. Together we finished 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving, an eye-opening read addressing many myths our culture accepts regarding the traditional “pilgrims and indians” stories. 

Planned for Disney. With Agent E’s assistance, I mostly plotted out our upcoming trip to the Disney parks. The Agents (and Momma) are super excited. Proximity to Mickey Mouse is one of the things we miss most about living in Florida. Disney vacation planning is pretty much my favorite activity ever, and I love that Agent E is so into organizing with me. We’re also compiling a book list, a movie list, and a related school topics list that we’ll start working on probably sometime around Christmas. This post about Homeschooling With Disney outlines some of the things we’ve done in the past to incorporate a trip into our homeschool studies. 

Our last trip to the parks was during Star Wars weekends

Talked current events. Every other Friday a copy of the Our Little Earth newsletter for kids is delivered to my inbox. I print it out so we can more comfortably read it together, although it is also cool to read online, as it includes additional links to videos and pictures. We signed up for this free service a few months ago and the Agents really enjoy it. If you’re looking for an easy way to introduce current events studies to your homeschooling in a kid-friendly format, check it out.

Watched fun Netflix shows. This week we finished up Cosmos (a huge hit around here) and also watched Polar Bears: Spy on the Ice, Pandas: The Journey Home, The Last Orangutan Eden, and The Tiger and the Monk. We’re also re-watching Thomas Edison’s Secret Lab.

Hope you had a wonderful week. Happy Thanksgiving to my US friends.

23 November 2015

Yes, Workbooks Can Be Fun

Welcome, friend. Thank you for stopping by today. If you enjoy this post and would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Workbooks get a bad rap in many homeschooling circles. Especially among unschoolers and more relaxed homeschoolers, the word itself tends to evoke images of a young child forced to sit at a desk filling in tiresome pages of pointless busy work. Stalk any homeschooling group long enough and you will definitely run across some form of workbook bashing.

Well, I’m here to say that is not always true. Sometimes relaxed homeschoolers {such as ourselves} actually love workbooks and find them very useful. Now I don’t simply plop random pages in front of the Agents and expect them to dutifully fill them in. Our primary mode of education remains solidly book-based with travel and hands-on activities incorporated as feasible.

However, they like being able to have something written to look at, and they have discovered several series they find quite—dare I say it—enjoyable to complete. I like them as well, because they provide just enough practice without becoming too repetitive or venturing into “drill” territory. They always choose what they do each day, and tend to incorporate their own notes, doodles, and coloring along the way. It helps with retention and suits their “visual” learning needs well. 

Agent E {4th} and Agent J {2nd} currently use some combination of the following workbooks. Of course, we don’t do all of these every day, and they are more of a supplement than a primary curriculum. But, these are the titles we keep coming back to.

These workbooks include not only math and language arts but also science and social studies for each grade level {pre-K through 6th}. They run roughly 300 pages and can be done in any order. Agent E really likes this series; she completes 2-3 pages a day {from her sections of choice} each day. 

Oh, how I wish they published these workbooks for older kids! Right now they only cover math, reading, and writing for preschool through 2nd grade. Agent J is currently using the 2nd grade reading and math ones. {She refers to them by their covers, as in, I think I’ll work on some Darth Maul math.} Star Wars just makes everything more fun!

We decided to give learning a foreign language another go this year. {We’ve tried in the past, and the idea kind of fizzled.} We started with the Grade 1 book and recently moved on to Grade 2. {Think of them more in terms of “levels” not necessarily designed specifically for 1st graders or 2nd graders.} I think it’s helping us to stay on track now that we have some written work to look at each day.

Both Agents have enjoyed these workbooks, particularly the Math Basics ones. The “deluxe” versions are 64 pages long, and provide a good overview of concepts covered at each grade level. In addition to the more general workbooks, they also have others that focus on a specific topic {e.g., fractions, money, word problems}. The Agents like that they include puzzles, codes, and color-by-number in addition to routine problems.

These are math and language arts workbooks primarily aimed at the K-2nd set. {This link shows the Princess-themed ones, but there are others.} We have been able to find most of these at the Dollar Store or the Target dollar section.

We’ve mostly used the Let’s Grow Smart series of workbooks, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, states, presidents, dinosaurs, and animals, among others. These are a good way to introduce fun facts about a topic as well as practice handwriting. Again, we’ve scored most of these at the Target dollar section. 

Did any of your favorites make the list?

Linking up with the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms.

20 November 2015

Agent Homeschooling 2015-2016: Week 21

Welcome, friend. Thank you for stopping by today. If you enjoy this post and would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Wrapping up a kinda sorta light-ish week as we move into Thanksgiving break. Because we homeschool year round, we are on track to far exceed the minimum number of days required in our state. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—and quite honestly I don’t even think the Agents would notice—but it does leave us a lot of flexibility as far as days off. So we will not be doing any structured “school” next week, although I have a feeling the change in routine may backfire. Time will tell.

Here are some things we worked on this week with Agent E {4th} and Agent J {2nd}:

  • {math, 2nd} Skip counting and basic multiplication, plus an introduction to multiplying a two-digit number by a one-digit number. She is also re-reading Life of Fred: Cats.
  • {math, 4th} Place value of larger numbers, partial sums {she was not impressed with this method}, and more multiplication and division word problems. This week she read Math: A Book You Can Count On! by Dan Green, part of the fabulous series of Basher Books. {Seriously, check it out. The titles are awesome.}
  • {math, 4th and 2nd} Life of Eratosthenes, the person who first calculated the circumference of the earth. For a fun read check out The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky.
  • {language arts} How to write a story. We love Look At My Book by Loreen Leedy for its great step-by-step, kid-friendly instructions. The Agents plan to use their week “off” to compose their own fiction stories.
  • {Spanish} Using pronouns and creating plurals. We’re on book two of the Brighter Child Spanish workbooks and of course have been watching our pal Little Pim as well.
  • {geography} We’re still enjoying our geology study; yay, rocks! Yesterday was the monthly homeschool workshop at our Barnes and Noble and the topic was . . . geology. We did not plan it that way, but it’s cool how it worked out. {Check to see if the Barnes and Noble in your area offers a program for homeschoolers. The Agents really enjoy it each month.}
  • {history} Socrates. We finished reading Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M.D. Usher.
  • {science} Rabbits, hares, and pikas. Agent J has an affinity for “bunnies” so we decided to take another week on this particular group of mammals. While we supplement with other books, our spine for our animal studies is The Animal Book: A Visual Encyclopedia of Life on Earth, by Smithsonian and DK Publishing. We are simply working our way through the mammals section in order. Next up: Rodents.
  • {science and history} Charles Darwin. We finished up Darwin {With Glimpses into his Private Journal and Letters} by Alice B. McGinty and have several other books about his contributions on our list. The evolution of life on earth has been a favorite study topic of ours ever since Agent E first saw the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History during our trip to Washington, D.C. a year ago.
  • {health} Circulatory system. Of course this included a viewing of the corresponding KidsHealth video on the heart. {This is a great site for health topics for kids that you should definitely bookmark.} Our spine book for health this year is Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia by DK Publishing.
  • {music} Handel’s Messiah. We listened to the Classical Kids CD of the story. This is the third one we've tried, and quite honestly the Agents are not super thrilled with it. {For the record, I thought they were pretty cool.} We’ll probably go back to simply reading out of our spine book {The Children's Book of Music by DK Publishing} and listening to samples.
  • {art} Brief biographies of Franz Marc, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, and Andy Warhol. This concluded our reading of 13 Artists Children Should Know by Angela Wenzel, and we now have 13 Sculptures Children Should Know {same author} waiting in the wings.
  • {world religions} We’re continuing to read from What Do You Believe? each week. We actually went back and started the book over when we decided to buy it after having it checked out of the library for the maximum number of renewal times. It is a really wonderful book for introducing young children to faiths around the world.
  • {Thanksgiving} In anticipation of the holiday next week, we also began 1621: A New Look At Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac {a National Geographic Society publication}. This came highly recommended from a fellow homeschooler and has so far proven very interesting. Definitely not your typical Pilgrims and turkey story.
  • {PE} Agent A {age five, kindergarten this year but not usually included in these update posts} has developed a love of walking laps around the neighborhood. Each lap is approximately a quarter mile. We usually do five, because, well, five. Some days we do more; a few days recently we did ten. Hoping to get in as much outside PE as we can while the weather is still cooperating.
Have a great Friday!

I’m linking up this post with the Weekly Wrap-Up hosted by Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms.

16 November 2015

One Year Later

I didn’t recall picking up the phone, yet a familiar voice was on the other end. It was my dad, and he was asking about the kids and saying how much he would miss them and that I should tell Agent A about him since he knew he was too young to remember. I asked him, are you going to die? and he said yes. But he told me not to worry, because it was going to be okay. And then he was gone. 

This Friday, 20 November, will be exactly one year since my father died. As with most major changes like this, in some ways it seems like it just happened and in other ways it seems like that’s the way it's always been.

The aforementioned phone call, of course, was a dream I had shortly before his death. The last time I actually talked with him over the phone, a Friday afternoon in November 2013, he didn’t recognize me. I suspect he had already had the first of several small strokes at that point, although we didn’t know it yet. That night he was admitted to the hospital and never came home again. 

Numerous doctors struggled to figure out his exact illness based on his symptoms. He was finally diagnosed in mid-December 2013 with tuberculosis meningitis. {Never heard of it? Me neither. It’s rare in the U.S. and he had few of the classic risk factors or symptoms. They said he could have had a latent TB infection for years, if not decades, that eventually led to this more serious illness.}

Even though it would be over a year of hospitals and nursing homes and gradually diminishing hope until we finally lost him, I think I knew that night, that weekend in November when we last spoke, that he was already gone. I remember thinking how much I would miss him, but also having this sense of knowing I had no unfinished business with him. There were no regrets, no conversations we should have had, no things I needed to tell him.

It was a long year {basically The Longest Year Ever} and truthfully much of it is now a blur.

In early October 2014, shortly after my dad was placed in hospice care, the Agents and I decided to go stay with my mom for a while. {And by “a while” I mean I knew that once the kids and I made this 500-mile journey—sans Dear Hubby because he was off doing Navy stuff—that we were pretty much staying until the end. We knew he would die while we were there. The doctors had said he would make it a few days, maybe two weeks at best. He lived for seven weeks after that.}

But here’s the odd, I guess some people might call it bittersweet, thing about that trip. We loved the time we spent there. We had never, ever spent that much time around my parents’ house. The kids never had such an opportunity to play with their aunts and uncles and cousins as they did during those eight weeks or so. We drove over to Washington D.C. {where Dear Hubby was} for a brief visit and it was one of the best trips we ever took. We were at my mom’s house long enough that we had a routine, we went grocery shopping, we cleaned, we did school work, we lived there . . . and the kids liked it. 

Part of me thinks how wonderful it would have been to have made a long-term stay like that when my dad was still around to enjoy it. Yet, honestly, it never would have even occurred to me to do such a thing if he hadn’t been so ill. It just wouldn’t have even been on my radar.

Needless to say, November will always bring with it mixed emotions for me.

We were lucky to have him in our lives for so many years. He got to meet all of his own children and watch them grow up. {His own father was not so fortunate. He died—pancreatic cancer—two months before my dad was born.} He got to meet all ten of his grandchildren {spanning nearly 25 years from oldest—my niece Marie, who is 29—to youngest—Agent A, who just turned five}. He got to see his oldest grandchild get married.

I didn’t cry at any of the funeral home viewings or during the funeral itself. This may seem unusual, especially if you know that I am the kind of person who tears up at everything . . . I cry reading books to my kids, I cry when I see the castle at the Magic Kingdom, I cry during most episodes of Once Upon a Time. Then I realized I just don’t get super emotional during these kinds of more serious events because I’m too overwhelmed. I didn’t shed one tear at my own wedding or any of the Agents’ births. It’s like I block out big emotions—good or bad—until my introvert self can process them at a later time.

Sometimes, just for a moment, I forget he’s gone. Not that I literally can’t remember that he died, but maybe one of the Agents will do or say something that I previously would have called him and told him about, knowing he would have gotten a kick out of it, and it will take a second to register that I can’t do that anymore.

I miss him every day. I have many friends who have lost their fathers as well, and I know from exchanges with them that you don’t just think about it for a week, or a month, or a year . . . you carry it with you every day for the rest of your life. Grief does not have a time limit. It changes, but you don’t simply get past it. The role it plays in your life just looks different with the passing days.

To all of you who are missing someone special, I just want to say, I get it.

Linking up with the SHINE Blog Hop co-hosted by Jennifer at The Deliberate Mom and Wake Up Wednesday co-hosted by Krista at Far From Normal.

15 November 2015

No, We Don’t Have a Homeschooling Group

The #1 question I get asked when someone learns we homeschool, even before the ridiculous “socialize” inquiry, is Do You Have A Group? I don’t know why non-homeschoolers tend to place so much emphasis on this idea. Maybe they don’t know what else to ask.

The truth is, we’ve tried several and never found one that was a good fit.

There was the oh yeah we’re totally inclusive! group who wanted to know what church I attended within five minutes of meeting them.

Then the time I showed up for the first meeting of another group and was berated by a member for not already having a group. Yes, that’s right, the very people I went to for encouragement were scolding me for not having found it sooner.

And who could forget the we’ve lost all control and gave up trying disorganized sh!tst@rm group. Good times.

{We actually tried to get on board with that last one, despite its loud, unruly, haphazardness. But, ultimately we decided it was not an activity worth disrupting our week.}

Yeah, I got discouraged. I thought I am never going to find a homeschooling group that works. I started to think it must be me . . . I’m too picky, too difficult, too introverted. I’m looking for something perfect, and that doesn’t exist. I just need to give it more time, try harder, be more open.

Then I realized something very important. Maybe it’s not that I can’t find the right one. Maybe it’s that we don’t need a homeschooling group at this point in our journey. Our support comes from other areas, and that works for us right now.

Admitting this is practically sacrilege in homeschooling circles. Ask most homeschool moms, and I guarantee you, find a homeschool group or co-op is number one on their list of survival and sanity skills. It’s also a primary way for their kids to make friends. And if that works for a lot of people, great. 

For our family, at this moment, what is more helpful and comforting is to have people in our lives who are interested in our children and supportive of their educational journey, regardless of what their own children’s schooling looks like. We have concerned family members, nice neighbors, a welcoming church environment, and other adults in our kids’ lives.

The Agents have friends they enjoy spending time with—most of whom are not fellow homeschoolers. They also have a few homeschooling friends as well, although to them it’s almost more of a small world novelty to discover this . . . kind of like when you strike up a conversation with a stranger while traveling and learn they grew up one town over from you.

Another related epiphany for me was letting go of the notion that I had to like every homeschooler I met. I think there is some expectation when you are doing something that goes against conventional wisdom and you meet someone else taking the same path you will undoubtedly bond over your rebellion so to speak. And that’s not always the case. I don’t click with every military spouse I meet, or every parent of young children, or every blogger. This is no different.

Fellow homeschoolers, what say you: group? or no group? And why?

Linking up with the Hip Homeschool Hop at Hip Homeschool Moms and Wake Up Wednesday co-hosted by Krista at Far From Normal.

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