Outlook on the New School Year

The 2017-2018 school year has started for East Baton Rouge Parish, but not quite yet for the Carruth Classical Conservatory. Do you like the name? I’m trying out different options for our homeschool to see how they fit.   Louisiana doesn’t require us to name our school, so it’s just for funsies. We moved back into our house a few weeks ago and have been hard at work getting the kitchen finished. It will be many more weeks until everything is finally, fully done but a half finished house is better than a too-small trailer.

I’ve been steadily prepping for school since we got back in the house; I’ve ordered all the books, written lesson plans for the first quarter and I’m working out which subjects I’ll teach jointly. This year I’ll teach not only Evangeline, but Felicity as well. Last week the girls’ and I started re-acclimating ourselves to a homeschool schedule. We start our day with a prayer, then calendar work, counting and learning a new vocabulary word. In September when we begin our full school schedule, this will remain our morning routine.

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I’ve spent two years teaching Evangeline and my instincts have been molded by my interactions with her. Teaching Felicity is a daunting proposition. Felicity is a spirit all of her own and functions on an entirely different wavelength than the rest of us.

Evangeline is structured and enjoys rules. She likes sitting down and being taught; she likes the sense of accomplishment a completed worksheet brings. She thrives in a school room setting and basks in the one on one attention of homeschool. She likes to jump rope with the line between daughter and student. She frustrates easily and is offended to find things she did not already know.

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Felicity just enjoys the world; she is oblivious to circumstances. She can be sitting in a classroom, walking through a grocery store or kneeling in mass, when a thought occurs to her, she acts on it. About 90% of the time, her thoughts have nothing to do with what’s going on around her; her internal life is very active. She enjoys having her own work to do and can really zero in on a worksheet or coloring page. The thought of teaching her a lesson however makes me twitch. Just going through this morning routine for a week, I know she’s not one who will sit still and listen: “Sit down Felicity. Take that out of your mouth. We’ll get water in a second. Where are your pants?!”

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She’s 5 and we are working on sitting still during mass and at supper. I don’t think it’s necessary to beat the horse for homeschooling. In fact, while I have many concerns about teaching Felicity, my greatest worry is that I will crush her little spirit. She is so resilient and joyful. Happiness and affection simply beam out of her. But she can get underfoot and strike a nerve quicker than her siblings do. Maybe it’s because she and childhood-me are very similar; her flaws have been my flaws that I work hard to overcome. It isn’t fair and I have to remind myself often that she is a lovely 5 year old who is doing well on her journey to holiness.

This fear is the driving force as I make decisions for her school year. I want her Kindergarten year to be gentler than Evangeline’s was. She’s already ahead of where Evie started just because she’s had the benefit of an older sister in school.  I’m going to start with basics, but I expect her to make quick advances. I want her to accidentally learn rather than be taught directly. I want to help explain the world around her as she discovers it. My motto for Felicity this year is from Mr. Rogers

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

-Fred Rogers

 

An approach like this would drive Evangeline crazy. She likes the structure. Her’s is the hardest head in the family…well maybe after mine. She is so quick to draw a line in the sand and hunker down. That spirit could do with a little crushing if you know what I mean. My mottos for her year are meant more as instruction and encouragement for myself.

“You will accomplish more by kind words and a courteous manner than by anger or sharp rebuke, which should never be used except in necessity”

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“Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called.  He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need He will stretch out His saving hand.”

-Saint Angela Merici

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Teaching the two of these girls will require so much grace and favor from God. I surround myself with inspiring stories of girls adding to the world in tremendous ways through their education (thanks A Mighty Girl and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.) I hope to grow quite a bit this year and learn a great deal about teaching little girls…just in time to start teaching Reuben.

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Good Bye Trailer, Hello New Start

It is fitting that this post comes at the one year anniversary of the flood. It’s been 12 months months but the effects are still visible. Houses are still empty, families are still evacuated and most infuriating of all, infrastructure issues like clearing drains and maintaining pumps are still not done. There is barely any mention any more about diverting canals or preventive measures that seemed all too important a year ago. We are still living under the band-aid, but it feels like not much has happened to keep this from happening again.

Our family, too, is not quite back to pre-flood status but we are a lot closer. Our house has walls, our mortgage company is eeking out money for our repairs. The biggest milestone is that we have turned in the keys and officially moved out of our FEMA trailer!

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FEMA’s paradox, the trailer was a refuge all of our own where we could live out our own psychological torture experiment. But I’ve complained enough about it; now it’s time to move on!  It was good and it’s good that it was.

During the month of July we worked through projects big and small to get our house live-able. My dad built in our bathroom cabinets and closet shelves, my mom painted everything. We installed the counters in the bathrooms and are working to get the sinks all hooked up. We had nailed down the design for our kitchen and painted our surviving upper cabinets. Our kitchen and bathrooms remain our last projects. We still need to have tile walls of our bathrooms replaced, order cabinet doors, build in lower cabinets in the kitchen and put in the floor. The house is functional enough to live in while we finish the rest. As projects and rooms are finished, I’ll share their updates, in the mean time here’s a reminder of where we’ve been this year.

 

 

Our time back in the house has been wonderful. The children, as a whole, are happier with all the outlets now available to them to spend their energy. They have two rooms and a yard with swings, trampoline and an inflatable pool. Ryan and I, as a whole, are happier. Our house doesn’t shake with everyone’s steps, there is room enough for everyone to sit at the dinner table at the same time. Jackie, our dog, is back with us and it feels like we are landing on our feet. I’ve given us this month of August to finish preparing and settling in before starting homeschool after Labor Day. Each night as I sink into my own bed in my own room, I let out a contented sigh and affirm that it is good to be home.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

One of the most unexpected effects of last summer’s flood is how many of our neighbors have moved away. Some sold their houses not wanting to go though the process of filing insurance claims and restoring their houses (can’t blame them for that!). These houses have only recently been bought and work is just now beginning. One gutted their house and is trying to sell it now. Others restored their houses but are selling and moving.

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Our Street Flooded

This is happening all over the city. There is such a strange buying\selling situation where somehow everyone is coming out ahead. Contractors are buying flooded houses with cash and then restoring them and selling at market value. Minus the amount of time this is all taking (we are coming up on one year from the flood), ultimately this process should help stabilize our neighborhood. It’s fun seeing everyone getting new doors and windows, like we’re all getting face lifts.

Driving around the block now is disorienting, though. Some houses were quickly restored, have families living in them with beautifully landscaped yards. Others are sitting, gutted and abandoned, yards killed by piles of debris. Houses like ours fall somewhere in between. This past week, when we went to get our mail from the house, the kids and I noticed a neighbor’s FEMA trailer was taken out of their back yard. We all cheered for these neighbors we didn’t know but long to imitate — moving back into their house and getting out of sight of FEMA.

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Contractor and Real Estate Signs

We bought our house almost five years ago. Only recently did we stick our heads out and meet any neighbors, however. It didn’t take long to learn to always wear a bra (you just never know). Checking your mail on our street was a social occasion; a quick trip down the driveway to put the trash at the curb could become an unexpected, delightful 15 minute conversation with a neighbor.  Our girls found friends up and down the street to play with, which is really a gift for everyone, and they ran back and forth across the street. We knew which dogs to pet and which to leave be. From a cantankerous engine revving bright and early on a Saturday morning to the buzz of a drone in the evening after supper, we could hear the neighbors out and about, their lives overlapping our own in these small ways.  Our little block struck a comfortable balance of being both quiet and unimposing but also comforting and safe. Some of our neighbors were in their houses since they were built in the late 70’s, some not as long, but all of them had been there longer than us. Our neighbors were established and knew the history.  This was especially valuable last August when a neighbor from across the street knocked on our door, umbrella in hand, and asked “y’all know we’re going to flood?”

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Our House Waiting For the Water to Recede.

And now our little section on the street is dispersing. New cars come and go, new pets in and out. We are nervous, excited and anxious. Who will our neighbors be? Will they have kids? Will they take four years to say hello? Already there are new faces around when we go to work on the house. We haven’t stopped to introduce ourselves yet. I’m not sure I’ve seen the same new face twice; it’s unclear if they are the new homeowners or contractors. As the inside of our house becomes more familiar and inviting, outside the street feels foreign and deserted.

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Our Ever-More Inviting House

Our kids love to play outside, we don’t make a lot of noise, and, when we get chickens again, we can lend you eggs. Will you be our neighbor?

Quarterly Reading Report June 2017 Edition

This year’s motivation has become about goals: short, annual and life-long. Maybe being out of control of fixing our house has made me over-eager to feel a sense of accomplishment. Maybe I just like lists. Either way, goals are being set and met!

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I’ve been ticking away at the Better World Books reading challenge.  Since March, I’ve crossed off these 6 categories:

I have 6 out of 25 left: Based on a Fairy Tale, National Book Award Winner, Travel Romance, Banned Book, Book of Poetry, About Immigrants and Translated. I am currently knee deep in The Brother’s Karamazov (more on that later!) which is, obviously, a translation. I have C.S. Lewis’s Narrative Poems and The World According to Garp by John Irving which will fulfill poetry and National Book Award respectively.  I have nothing in mind for the others. Any suggestions?

As for life-long goals I have new and old ones. I am currently 350 pages away from meeting a long-standing reading goal: read and understand a famous Russian novel. I have been chipping away at The Brother’s Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky since the middle of May. I’m trying to strike a balance between taking my time and not losing momentum. The book is broken into 7 parts, each roughly 100 pages. Between each part I allow myself a “treat” book. Nothing too long, I don’t want to break my interest, but I also want to give my brain a little break. This tome takes more energy and concentration that most books I’ve read recently. So far this system is working; I’m halfway through the third part and I am still interested and understanding!! Midsummer’s Night Dream was my last brain-break book and now I’m committed to another 130 Russian pages before my next break.

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I dreamed up a new life-long reading goal this year : read a book set in each country in the world. I am focusing on Europe this year and so far I’ve crossed off France, Greece, Montenegro, Spain, England and Scotland. I have also added Pakistan and China. I would really love to read a book *from* each country but I vacillate between what’s ideal and what’s practical. Certainly, I stand to learn a great deal more reading a book from each country but I’m limited by only knowing English. This presents some translation concerns. Not to mention, there are a whole lot of countries, even just in Europe, that I’ve never heard of much less have a working knowledge of their notable literature. Which is more probable: finding books *set* in Slovakia or finding books *from* Slovakia translated into English? Which goal would you set?

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In addition to reading the six books listed above this past quarter, I went on a Hemingway rant and read A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises. Added to For Whom the Bell Tolls which I read earlier this year, these books have given me a favorable impression of Hemingway and now I want to jump over to F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve read The Great Gatsby but I wonder if I’d enjoy a biography better. Who is a Fitzgerald fan? What would you recommend?

It is rare these days (read: when J.K. Rowling doesn’t publish anything) that I read a book the year it comes out. When I noticed Paula Hawkins, of Girl on the Train, fame published a new book, however, I put a hold for it at the library (sorry Paula) and practically inhaled it. I enjoyed Girl on the Train a great deal. While this second book, Into the Water, may not be quite as profound as it’s predecessor, it is a great read. I was a little disappointed with the ultimate reveal, but the story itself was certainly compelling and exciting.

Do you have any auspicious summer reading goals, or are you looking for anything that can be read on a beach? Do you like to keep reading lists or set new goals or do you like to go wherever your whim may take you? Hopefully I’ll have more to update on after the summer than just Karamazov. Even if that’s all I accomplish,though, I’ll be proud of it!

 

 

 

Evacuation Academy Floats on Alright

We did it! It is done! We finished our first year of homeschooling.  Evangeline finished Kindergarten and is ready to be a first grader!

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To say I am proud of this accomplishment would be a huge understatement. Homeschooling for the first year in and of itself is challenging. Everything is theory until you jump in and try to actually teach your child something. Sure it’s fun to read about different theories and curriculum but when the rubber meets the road it means routine lesson plans and making school time in every busy keep-the-kids-alive day. Add to that being displaced by the flood, juggling the physical and mental needs of 4 kids and 2 adults in new and traumatic surroundings and the task seemed near impossible. Evangeline’s desire to learn and my refusal to fail saw us through the year.

(Minus December which we totally took off because holidays are distracting.)

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When we first started seriously considering homeschooling two years ago, I harbored a secret fear that I would not be able to teach my children to read. How could I? Obviously I learned how to read somehow but I have no training in teaching. People make entire careers out of teaching kids to read. I prepared myself for the possibility that Evangeline would go to first grade not knowing how to read and needing traditional education.

Then she learned to spell her name, and I was on cloud nine.

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We’d done it! I taught her, and she learned one of those big milestone things! She could spell her name. There was no stopping us after that.

I have our full curriculum listed out on our homeschooling tab. Hooked on Phonics definitely worked for us. I plan to use it again with Felicity. We both loved our history lessons. We went through Bede first to get an understanding of time and history, then the History Pockets to learn specifically about Ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. I worked in some geography with this too.

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We’ve used the science book for two years, repeating some lessons. They are fun each time. For Christmas, Evangeline racked up on National Geographic and Smithsonian project kits. This took the place of the science book for the rest of the year 😉 . She also got an Encyclopedia for her birthday in October which we used to look up more about the experiments she was doing.

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We stuck with Saxon math, and Evangeline did well with it. However she moved faster than the lessons did. She’s a quick study and the lessons became short and unfulfilling. I’m planning to stay with Saxon next year but I hope second grade math will be more on the right level.

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I am so pleased with our accomplishments this year. I am proud of both of us for sticking with it and getting through as much material as we did. Evangeline gets frustrated so easily when she encounters something she does not already know. The week she learned “doubles” she couldn’t remember 8+8 and refused to do a math lesson for almost two weeks. As a mother this is frustrating to deal with. It took a lot of discipline to keep on the teacher hat and help her work through her frustration. That is no easy task but such a rewarding one. Seeing her work through a math concept she struggled with is a victory for both of us!

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Mostly I am proud to see my daughter love learning. Her encyclopedia is her favorite book, she walks through the library looking for new things to read and she is constantly identifying things in the world around her. Any question she has, she knows how to go about finding an answer.

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It also makes my reader’s heart proud to hear her say she’s most looking forward to summer because she can read whatever she wants now. We’ve already read through two Magic Treehouse books and she’s set a goal to read all the Fancy Nancy’s at the library. You go girl.

For Better or Worse, Come Hell or High Water : Eight Years of Marriage

Four years ago I wrote 4 Down 96 to Go…or Happy Anniversary to Us. As yesterday was our 8th anniversary, I thought this post could use a little update. I used to day dream of calmer years and routine. Now I am just begging for a working second toilet

29485_429193835398_686920398_5875683_7633647_nFirst Year: We set up our first home in the townhouse. As the year closed, I think the day before our anniversary in fact, Ryan graduated LSU and I entered the second trimester of my first pregnancy. We planned to bring home baby to the townhouse, but when the complex hiked their prices and things outside our doors started disappearing, we decided it was time to find somewhere else.

 

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Second Year: We lived in the barn until finding a house to rent. Ryan sold Rainbow vacuums (and anything else that would fetch a fair price) to support me and my growing belly until beginning work at Catholic High. We welcomed Evangeline Lily into our family and survived the first school year by the skin of our teeth.

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Third Year: Actually was calmer. Ryan worked his second year at Catholic teaching the same classes. We lived in the same rent house, ignoring the ick factor and enjoying the great location. Just before our anniversary, we brought home sweet Felicity Iris to join our family. Our actual anniversary was spent back in the hospital while I received treatment for postpartum pre-ecclampsia.

 

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Fourth year: This was the year we finally were going to settle down. Instead, we bought our first home and moved in after two and a half months living with my parents. Just weeks before our anniversary we brought home another sweet Carruth bundle of joy, Reuben Benedict (for those of you keeping score at home, yes, I’ve been pregnant every year of our marriage thus far). And Ryan began working on his Master’s degree in Theology, commuting to New Orleans and back each Saturday.

015Fifth Year: You guessed it! Another baby, our fourth was born June 2014 Genevieve Rose. We lived in the same house, making room in a corner of the master bedroom for the new baby. We worried about affording a vehicle to accommodate our growing family, but God took away all doubt when our Tuscon was totaled and we were forced to buy a mini-van. Ryan continued working on his Master’s Degree…

2014-06-10 14.38.49 (1)Sixth Year: We were able to enjoy our house fully. We made a splash park in the backyard, season craft walls in the dining room and made small changes around the house to make it more our own. This was also the year chickens suddenly came into our lives. A bold step into homesteading we all came to enjoy. This was also the first year we got a vacation together as a couple since our honeymoon. Ryan continued working on his Master’s…..

12247096_10105176282789825_7269548078356078359_nSeventh Year: Thus began our first tiptoe into homeschooling. I began Hooked on Phonics with Evangeline and she got her first taste of reading. The years after Genna was born are mostly a blur, or more precisely, four fast moving, loud, hungry blurs. We made some more changes to the house making more and more our own comfortable home. Ryan continued working on his Master’s…….

Eighth Year: This year will forever be remembered as that year from hell. It started off well with Ryan completing all requirements for a Master’s degree in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. This felt like a huge accomplishment for all of us. A lot of team work went into that degree. We enjoyed the summer with no classes, no tests and no studying. Then as we prepared for Ryan’s 7th year at Catholic High and Evangeline’s first full year of homeschooling, our house flooded. We have been out of our house since August. In our marriage we’ve lived in a townhouse, barn, rent house and guest room. This year we added game-day condo and FEMA trailer to the list. We’ve survived a summer of unemployment, four kids under 3 and a half, pre-ecclampsia, post-partum depression and still this year takes the cake for most trying year of our marriage.

This next year, though, is bound to look up. It will be the year we get back into our (remodeled) house. The year we have steady homeschooling, holidays and parties in our own home again. Maybe this will be the year Ryan begins work on a PhD…but you didn’t hear that from me.

As trying as times have been over the years, our marriage is truly blessed. We’ve drawn closer together through our adversity and strengthened the foundation of our family. We’ve passed good times and bad, holidays and lazy Sundays with our extended family and watched our friends’ families grew. We’ve seen our children become people of their own and we are guiding them toward happiness the best way we know how. The future looks bright for the Carruths, as long as we are together.

Having more than one working toilet would be great too.

Just saying.

 

60 % From Home

There is no place like home

There is no place like home

Especially when you’re living in a government issued trailer during spring storm season

We are so ready to be back in our house, back to our home and our space. Of course right now the house is unlivable, at least for the kids. Ryan and I would be there in a tent if we could. We need money to finish the house, but we have to finish the house to get money from the mortgage company.

Yesterday a mortgage company inspector came by our house. This was our first inspection since beginning work on the house last summer. We hoped to be marked officially 50% done so that the mortgage company would eek out some of our insurance payout.

We have gutted, cleaned and disinfected the house, insulated the walls and hung drywall throughout, had the drywall taped, floated and textured and had the tile floor cleaned.

Alas, that only brings us to 40% done.

We are in a difficult spot being at the end of the school year and having to meet numerous requirements from the mortgage company to get materials or work done. There is a huge toss up between doing work ourselves — in stolen hours here and there — and jumping through hoops to hire more expensive workers our mortgage company approves and will pay for. Neither is going to get us home this week.

We preparing to install doors ourselves, order flooring to DIY install and find someone to install our trim work. Once those things are done (with exceptions in the kitchen/dining room), we can have the walls and ceilings painted. All of this work should put us comfortably over 50%. Once we are there, we should get half of the remaining money from our insurance settlement which can be used to finish the kitchen and bathrooms.

While this is a major priority, we also have hopes of getting back into the house as soon as we can and live there while work continues. The trailer shrinks one square foot a day. For this to happen, our priority switches to bathroom cabinets and sinks to make the house livable. We need money from our insurance settlement to start work there.

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You can see the catch 22. If we were independently wealthy this would be easier. Then, I imagine many things would be easier with self-sufficient funds (affording a house not in a flood zone, for instance)

So, once again we find ourselves at a cross roads trying to decide which way will get us home quickest. If the heavens align and the clouds part in just the right way, we can make some real progress this month. I won’t speculate about a move-in date; I’ll just say if I’m still in that tin can during the heat of the summer, it may be best for everyone to just leave me alone.