Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter

What does the world look like when you travel home on a fall night after a day of packing up your Mom’s house after her death? Rick drove. I thought about how she loved this Virginia trip from Berryville to Stanardsville, through Front Royal, Flint Hill, Sperryville, Etlan, Madison, and Wolftown.img_5501

When Mom and I traveled that path together in the same car, she looked at Old Rag Mountain and recalled her hikes there – including decades ago, before hiking was a big thing, and there were no lines of people waiting to scramble around the next corner.img_5401


Greystone Building, Route 231, Virginia, at dusk

She told me about taking the bus to Flint Hill from Berryville as a young World War II – era high school science teacher. Her dad drove from the Culpeper area to pick her up for holidays. It always seemed odd to me that such a trip, so short by today’s standards, would be deemed long enough to require splitting into two legs.

Our passing through Flint Hill usually morphed into stories about gas rationing and boyfriends and various Mary Washington (then “College,” now “University”) professors she still loved although they were long gone – like the math teacher who could draw visually perfect circles on the blackboard, keeping his eye on the center point and imagining a consistent radius connecting it to the chalk he held.


Etlan, Virginia



Madison, Virginia

We passed by Etlan’s general stores with stories of her college friend who lived in Etlan, and then all her other college friends, and then the miracle that she went to college at all – how her school had no eighth grade, and how she got her drivers license at 14 in order to drive to “the big high school” in Warrenton, after a year of tolerating being driven to high school by some neighbor boy her dad paid.img_5429

She talked to me about the TV show The Waltons, how it really did portray pretty well her family’s life in Jeffersonton, Virginia during the 1920’s and 1930’s. She had a wonderful mom and dad and three sisters she loved both as a child and throughout her whole life.

But she wasn’t a Pollyanna – she also talked to me about being stricken with a new consciousness as her life progressed – with an understanding of the tragedy of her beloved Virginia’s deep racial segregation during much of her life. Not long ago, we arrived at the conclusion that my own school class was the first integrated first grade class at Berryville Primary School. Another miracle, she said, was that my second grade teacher was African-American.img_5421

How she loved the rolling hills, farm ponds, redbud and dogwood trees, craggy mountains, general stores, and hawks of this drive. How she appreciated and taught us about the coming of electricity to these hills through the REA – the Rural Electrification Act.


It’s late for this post, and all out of context and order. My mom died August 5, 2014. (Obituary). She was sick and getting sicker for months before. My blog, which was saved in her “Favorites” on her own PC, languished in favor of real time with her, even as she admonished me to “keep writing, Jeanne.”img_5450

So in these pictures, many of her well-loved trees on this drive still have their leaves, and many have not yet changed color. I am shooting photos from inside Rick’s F150 truck with 250,000 miles (yes, you’ll see the dashboard sometimes; yes, I’m all over the place with exposure — sometimes letting the darkness of the night show and sometimes bumping the ISO so that later photos are brighter than earlier ones), pulling a U-Haul trailer with Mom’s desk, her photo albums, the pink china that came piece-by-piece from the Safeway store, enough for my sister and me to each have eight place settings.

In the U-Haul, the precious wooden table where she sat bird watching out her back windows, reading, writing letters, doing the crossword, knitting, visiting with friends, feeding her family, chatting with grandchildren and great grandchildren, keeping her calendar, making phone calls.img_5418

Now, on Thanksgiving Eve, my first Thanksgiving ever without her, I have to write this before I can clear my dining room table of the layers so I can welcome family to dinner. On top are dresser scarves and framed photos that have come from her home; underneath is my normal scattering of papers and unmatched socks, since I didn’t seem to inherit her sense of domestic orderliness.img_5506

Or, I tell myself, I didn’t have the opportunity to live in one home for nearly sixty years; that’s my excuse. One of my sons, who has found himself moved and moved and moved around the country as my husband and I have followed the economic benefit of, uh, employment, calls it “being grounded.” My mom, in the one beautiful home she made for all those years, was nothing if not grounded.img_5408


Wolftown, Virginia

And yet, a simple two-hour drive from the Shenandoah Valley to the South River Valley of Virginia could make her mind take flight across years and eras and people she knew and loved – and cause her to ruminate on geography (the “fall line” of Virginia — which she learned about as she studied “the Tidewater, the Piedmont, and the Appalachia” on a sand table in her beloved two-room school house in Jeffersonton, Virginia in the 1930’s), history (from Native Americans to Civil War to Civil Rights), botany (the rare faint pink dogwood in the woods of her childhood and the trilliums of her more recent hikes), sociology (Jim Crow, two-income families, the importance of education), and good books.img_5445


Blue Mailbox, Blue Ridge Highway

And always, always, the birds. As we drove, we might see a flock of geese or a Cooper’s hawk or a bluebird on a fence post. This might lead to a story of the time she overturned the canoe on the Shenandoah or encountered a bear on the Appalachian Trail – trips she pegged to sightings of scarlet tanagers and cedar waxwings. She was thrilled that sightings of bald eagles were becoming common place; I remember her fear of their extinction in the ‘70s.img_5400

These trips to “clean out” Mom’s home were emotionally and physically exhausting, even if many times, her notes to us rose to direct us. “These papers probably are not needed; throw away,” she wrote on an envelope found in a closet shelf. “This was the box my daddy kept his collars in, when men wore them separate from their shirts,” she had tucked inside a small wooden box with an unusual glass top.

We packed boxes, loaded furniture, hit the road from Berryville to Stanardsville.img_5431

It was getting dark, but as we drove that familiar route, I remembered her sense of awe, her memories, her stories, her Virginia.img_5439

And lingering in my mind was the solo our friend John Hudson sang at Mom’s memorial service.img_5468

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to see you.” And the second verse. “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter. Away you rolling river. Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you. Away, I’m bound away, cross the wide Missouri.” 



Posted in A Writer's Life, Family Life, Photography, South River Valley, This Day, Uncategorized, Virginia, Virginia Byways | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

VaHomeschoolers 2014 Conference and Resource Fair

VaHomeschoolers will hold its 2014 Conference and Resource Fair March 21-22 at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, in the Richmond area.

This year, I have the privilege of presenting three conference sessions. Friday I’ll present Homeschooling 101: Homeschooling for Non-Homeschoolers. This session is a great intro to homeschooling for people who aren’t already in the homeschooling community — educators, legislators, the media, grandparents, librarians, and parents who are interested in homeschooling but don’t know much about who is homeschooling, why, and how.

Saturday morning I’ll present Engaged Homeschooling, and Saturday afternoon will be Body of Learning: Phys Ed, Sports, and Homeschooling the Athlete. 

Read about these and the other sessions making up the 2014 VaHomeschoolers Conference session lineup, including those offered by keynote speaker Susan Wise Bauer, author of The Well-Trained Mind and featured speaker Julie Bogart, founder of BraveWriter. 

You’ll see lots of other great sessions, regardless of where you are in your homeschooling journey — from preschool to high school.

VaHomeschoolers offers sessions about many different approaches to home education, trusting parents to “take what works and leave the rest.” VaHomeschoolers conferences are also inclusive, meaning the atmosphere supports homeschoolers who have a wide variety of religious and political backgrounds.

Looks like this year’s conference could have high attendance; some sessions will close out, so if there are particular speakers you want to hear, be sure to register early.

Oh — and one thing that is different — there are more sessions being offered on Friday, so the conference is especially packed with good things this year.

Hope to see you there!

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Selling the Homeschooling Books

Or, Jeanne Contemplates Empty Shelf Syndrome

untitled-8384Last night I listed some of our homeschool books for sale. Some homeschoolers sell books throughout the years, but my homeschooling has been spread over children widely spaced in ages, so I was always hanging on to things for the next kid. And besides, our moves complicated my, uh, poor tracking of inventory.

Somehow I still had Bob Books on my shelf long since I had my last beginning reader — who, despite other kids’ apparent appreciation for Bob Books — had not been moved by them in the first place. Which probably accounts for why they are in excellent condition. Twelve tiny paperbacks, $5. Still in the original set box. (Sold)

And so the disassembling of the library has begun. First to go were the Life of Fred books. These were not just Life of Fred, but Life Savers while they worked. And then, one day, they didn’t. The chatty, silly narrative that had disguised the fact that arithmetic was happening was suddenly, well, far too chatty and silly. We’d passed into the “just the facts” stage, and then firmly into high school math with regular, serious math books and no looking back for Fred.

I’m sure that the son who used Fred and then left him behind never appreciated what a relief it had been for me to find Fred in the first place, to have him work narrative magic on a story-oriented kid who hadn’t yet realized that he was going to be really good at the true nature of math, no matter how tedious he found early efforts at calculation. And for the record, I wouldn’t have insisted on a formal math curriculum at all at this stage because I was working on the big concepts in his head via “living math,” but the kid wanted one, taking us on a years-long endeavor to find Math Books That Worked. Fred worked longer and better than most, but then became tedious in his own right.

I had gratefulness attached to the Fred books, but also a serious sense of finality that it was over. And, kind of a cheerful sense of wanting them to be in the hands of another kid who might learn from them.


So Fred broke the ice. By selling Fred, I got enough money to pay for a Spanish lesson. And then I ran my hands over my bookshelves to see what else I could part with, to see how many more Spanish lessons I could fund this way.

untitled-8388The next batch includes A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, which is the first book I ever bought at a homeschool conference, which was the first homeschool conference I ever attended. That was way back in North Carolina in our earliest homeschooling years. Before we moved back to Virginia. Before we moved to Mississippi. Before we moved back to Virginia again.

That book, like its shelf sisters collected during the same era, has a lot of miles on it.

When I posted my For Sale list to my email groups last night, it was the first book spoken for, and it will go to a new home alongside Pocketful of Pinecones, a Charlotte Mason nature study book in story form. I was never a Charlotte Mason purist, but I found the techniques she recommended to be effective, and what’s more, I noticed how often the same techniques popped up in other approaches to homeschooling that worked for us and how naturally these techniques came to me. Sort of like a big intersection of How to Homeschool ideas with my name on them — the nature walks, the good books, the narration, the sketching, the fresh air.

Some of the books I’m selling now caught my eye on my own bookshelf last year when I was preparing a presentation called “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back” for the 2013 VaHomeschoolers Conference. I hadn’t been sure how to organize my talk. A simple year-by-year re-telling of our couple of decades of homeschooling didn’t feel like it would be compelling or helpful.

But — the books. The idea came to me fully formed while I stood in the upstairs hall looking at our personal homeschool library. I snapped pictures of my bookshelves, pulling out certain groupings that were especially helpful during certain years or with certain subjects or with certain kids. There were also the non-helpful books, one or two complete duds.

There, still on my shelf some fifteen years later, was Saxon 54, the math book that nearly did us in during our first year of homeschooling, that I could not bear to give or sell to anyone, lest it impart the same torture on another child that it had on mine.

So the book photos arranged themselves into a PowerPoint presentation with a little help from me, and I made notes about how the books had shaped our homeschooling and how our homeschooling had shaped our book acquisition. My presentation was, basically, a giant book talk, taking my audience with me through years of our family’s reading, of my own reading. My audience was with me, nodding and supportive of this odd flight through our book shelves, accepting it as a perfectly rational approach to “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back,” hanging around after the session ended to talk about books, needing to be pushed out the door so the next session could get started.

These are my people.

(You can read more about that session and the other talks I presented in 2013 in my post about the 2013 VaHomeschoolers Conference. Let me know if you’re interested in having me give this talk to your homeschool group).

So breaking up the library that reflects our homeschooling years is no small task. It turns out that my memories of years of learning alongside my children are stored with each book. A La Leche League friend told me about the Oak Meadow curriculum that got us started; these books over here are the books I used to take in a canvas bag to show new homeschoolers when I led local homeschool groups; these were the novels that started a real reading binge in one of my sons; here are the historical fiction books that took my boys through Colonial times, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights movement.

Here is the science text that sorta worked, alongside the real science books that filled in the gaps and then became the real sources. Here are the d’Aulaires’ books that my mom got from the Doubleday book sale when she worked for that book printing plant part-time four decades ago — would I have found these treasures of our lives if she had not happened to bring them home long before I ever thought of children I never knew I would homeschool?

(Over at TheHomeSchoolMom blog, I wrote about my love for the d’Aulaires’ mythology books, which can be used in lieu of a packaged curriculum — or found as part of a curriculum).

Yes, I’m saving some books. Yes. The d’Aulaires aren’t going anywhere. The only way I can get rid of the ones that I realistically will not be using again is to give myself permission to save some. Many, if I want. I can save them for sentimental reasons — the books with the most warm memories, the books my mother gave me during my childhood that I then enjoyed with my sons, the books I have seen inhabiting my kids in that unexplainable way. I will save a few books for their beauty, some others because I anticipate an opportunity to share them with other children in the future, several because they are hard to find today, and some Just Because.

But now I can sell Saxon. I have lived in Homeschooling World long enough to see the many homeschoolers who have loved Saxon Math as much as we hated it. Saxon has taught me truths about homeschooling, that customizing really is key, and that what doesn’t work for one kid really will work for another, that a key advantage of homeschooling is its nimbleness — no need to bang your head against the wall using resources that don’t work for your kids. Life of Fred was over for us before the high school math years, but I know many others who successfully prepare for college by using Life of Fred all the way through their teens, covering all their upper level high school math.

untitled-8390So off to find new homes are Jacobs Algebra (loved; used by mathy middle son with little help from me — and sold), Nebel’s Elementary Education (well recommended and probably a good fit for us, but it never shouldered other books out of the way to become a major player in our household), Martin the Warrior (were we the only houseful of boys who did not get hooked on Redwall at the time?), Pinhole Photography (actually, oldest son used this in college to do a project, which involved making a camera out of a box — and it really worked), an Apologia Exploring Creation through Biology book used with friends in Mississippi (chosen for its coordination with labs — but requiring supplementation on some concepts), among others.

In addition to selling some of our books, I’m sure I’ll donate some to the VaHomeschoolers 2014 Conference Used Resource Sale, which is another way to get useful resources into new hands. (Great bargains there, by the way, and you could donate books, too!)

I’m only at the beginning of this process; there are hundreds and hundreds of books on our shelves. I’m sure it won’t move fast enough for my patient husband, who has the sort of binary Using It/Not Using It approach to the stuff of life I could use a little more of.

Still, he does not push, somehow understanding how hard it is to let go of these books that have been with me through all those miles, all those moves, all those years, all our boys. By the fireside, around the kitchen table with its flickering candle in a child-decorated jar, among the bed-headed sons arguing about theme or plot or motive or imagery.

I’m sure my husband would not want to complicate our coming encounter with empty nest syndrome (just a couple years away) with empty shelf syndrome.

As if.

Posted in Approaches to Homeschooling, Curriculum, Elementary Grades, Family Life, Homeschooling, Homeschooling Boys, Moms After Homeschooling, Reading, Resources, Speaking, TheHomeSchoolMom, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fall Soccer Practice

20131023_181410It seems like just the other day that the soccer year started, with July heat and humidity accompanying the early months of training. Wednesday night, Nick’s Richmond Kickers U16 Elite soccer team scrimmaged a U18 Classic team at Ukrop Park under changing skies. First the trees were tipped in orange light, which I tried to capture with my cell phone camera.

20131023_181439Then the sky rainbowed.

20131023_182154Then the sunset colored the curvy nimbus clouds. This was an unusual sight for these fields, because the pink skies were to the east rather than the west. I’ve gotten other nice evening photos when I was oriented on the opposite side of these fields, but it’s the first time I’ve seen the eastern soccer sky over Ukrop Park glow at  night.

Orange trees, pink skies, and rainbow apparently heralded the coming of fall.  Since Wednesday, the temperature has dropped significantly and there is a wisp of winter on our mountain breeze. It might have been the last comfortable tee shirt practice, with just two games left of the regular season and a couple of tournaments left to play before Christmas.

We’ve completed our first quarter at our homeschooling co-op. Middle son’s university is sending reminders that parents should consider sending end-of-the-semester exam care packages. Husband is counting the days until he will be in the woods deer hunting. I’m thinking about the cranberry punch I serve at Thanksgiving. Nick is anticipating snowboarding at Massanutten.

And I’ll probably have my camera out — or at least my cell phone camera, as in this case — when the first snow flakes fall on the soccer field.

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Preparing for a Homeschool Evaluation: Saving Work

Thinking of using an evaluator to meet your state’s homeschooling evidence of progress requirement? Stephen Covey’s suggested second habit in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind,” something that can certainly help your homeschool evaluation go more smoothly next spring or summer.

That’s because there are things you can do now and throughout the year that will help you accumulate and organize the “evidence” that an evaluator needs at the end of the year to assess your child’s progress.

But the process — at least in Virginia — does not have to be onerous nor interfere with your family’s learning.

I’m writing a series about how to prepare for evaluations because I’ve gotten quite a few questions from readers, especially from new homeschoolers and those who have previously used standardized tests.

(I’ll add this caveat — if you find yourself unexpectedly seeking an evaluation at year’s end and you didn’t prepare ahead, you can probably pull together sufficient evidence of progress; it just may be a scramble for you. Or maybe not — you may have plenty of homeschooling stuff around that you can easily pull together for an evaluation. But that’s a future post).

Save Work

Your evaluator can easily see progress if you have samples of your child’s work from the beginning, middle, and end of the year.

If your state has specific requirements as far as subjects or curriculum, make sure you know what they are so you save the appropriate samples.

If I am your evaluator and you are meeting Virginia’s requirements, I can review work that is or is not part of a formal curriculum. (Virginia does not prescribe a curriculum for homeschoolers, which is one of the advantages of homeschooling, since you can customize).

For example, to see a child’s progress in writing, I can certainly spot improvement whether that writing is on workbook pages, on required reports, or in a child’s letters to Granny. Older children might have written work they have done for a curriculum, classes or co-ops, or, less formally, they may have written short stories or well thought out blog posts about their interests.

To see a child’s progress in math, again, you may have the results of a placement test from the beginning and end of the year, notebooks showing completed curriculum, or projects showing acquisition of new skills and concepts.

Remember to Save and Date

Pick some baseline work from August or September to show your child’s current level, especially in math and writing.

Then, you may want to put a tickler in your calendar to remind you to save some things once a month through the coming year. Take a minute to write the date in the corner or on the backs of pages – or encourage your child to learn to date his or her work.

Photograph and Scan

If you plan to use electronic documentation, photograph or scan work samples that can be included in a private blog or online portfolio (more about that in a future post). Leaving this task until close to the evaluation date may make it a bit overwhelming during a busy time of the year. Again, you can involve your child in digitizing work – it can be fun for a kid to help select and preserve work samples.

Work Done at the Computer

If your child does most of writing at the keyboard, encourage him or her to save files and email them to you, so you can select some to include for an evaluation. Some math programs also allow you to save work samples, or you can capture screen shots. You can print these and stick them in a folder if you plan to provide paper documentation; you can add them to an e-portfolio if you plan to provide paper documentation.

Work that Doesn’t Look Like Work

Homeschoolers’ written work may or may not look like typical school work. I have gone through stacks of drawings with first and second graders, seeing their gradual inclusion of letters, words, and sentences in complex art projects. I have analyzed the arguments in the text of teens’ online debates, which originally appeared in tech forums. I have read impassioned and well-researched pleas that tweens wrote to persuade parents to allow a cell phone or a new puppy. I have enjoyed seeing the writing involved as kids created homemade board games. Kids have saved their PowerPoint presentations and computer animations or videos that include writing samples – these can definitely show evidence of progress.

Saving samples of completed curriculum throughout the year is a straight forward way of showing a child’s progress. However, parents can be on the lookout for the ephemera of a learning lifestyle and make a conscious choice to save some of that “work,” even if you are process- rather than product-oriented in your homeschooling.

I remember when two of our sons were quite young and made a Pokemon-style card game, with characters from Greek mythology featured on each card. This was not a project I had any hand in assigning (though our reading of Greek myths together was certainly the catalyst and gave them access to the cultural knowledge and content).

However, it would have been a great work sample for an evaluator, demonstrating handwriting, spelling, composition, social studies knowledge, literary allusions, and both creativity and critical thinking.

The trick would be for me to recognize the value of these cards in demonstrating my children’s literacy and then to remember to save this deck of geeky homemade Greek myth cards until evaluation time — or to photograph or scan them while it’s on my mind.

Have a Place for Work You Save

Use a specific box, basket, drawer, file, or shelf for physical work products from each child. Designate your saving place early in the year and stick work samples there throughout the year. You can select the most representative work later, but you’ll have plenty to choose from if you squirrel papers away once a month or so.

If you are using electronic documentation, decide how you will save work and back up your files. I’ll post more about techniques for e-portfolios in the future (or I can come do a talk to your homeschool group about the cool ways you can do this), but as I say on my page about evaluations, be sure that your approach to an e-portfolio meets the needs of your evaluator.

More on Evaluations

I’ll post more about other aspects of preparing for an evaluation as part of this series. Not all homeschoolers create an abundance of typical school work, and there are additional things you can do to prepare for an evaluation. It may also be true that living an authentic learning lifestyle requires little in the way of long term preparation for an eval — so relax and enjoy watching your kids learn!

Read more about my homeschool evaluation services here.

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