2017 was awesome. Life: ups and downs and flats in between, but mostly beauty and adventures and seizing the day. How lucky we are to live in this country and have these opportunities and surround ourselves with these people, I say as I flip through the pictures. Here’s to more of that in 2018!
How lucky I felt to take a massive road trip right after Christmas. We called it the Midwest Tour. My dad and stepmom rented a beautiful cabin on a hilltop in the Hocking Hills in Ohio. Only minor glitches in the weather and an overnight stay at a questionable hotel in Buffalo held us back from getting there immediately. But once we were there, it was all family, food and fun: walking through a stunning, open cave; watching deer run through the yard, old-school video games, non-stop comfort foods, and catching up with people I love.
One night, before the leftovers got tossed, I said we needed to throw the peas outside for the birds. My dad tore up bread, mentioning that his mom would be proud. Later, when I was talking about taking a detour to Mammoth Cave on our way back to my sister’s house in Leg #4 of the trip, he said, “That sounds like something my mom would have done. She was always taking us on road trips, stopping at educational sites along the way.”
I’ll be holding those two comments close to my heart for a long, long time. These are the ways I’m like my grandma—the one whose name I have as my middle name (and Zahra, too); the one who got to hold baby Zahra just months before she died; the one whose sapphire ring I wear on special occasions, or just on regular days when I need to channel her I-am-who-I-am energy.
After a few days at the cabin, everyone packed up and headed their separate ways—except me and the kids, who followed my sister Laura and her family back to their house in Kentucky. It doesn’t matter how far I go, how I’ve changed and grown personally—there’s just something that feels like home when I cross the border and see that Welcome to Kentucky sign. Maybe it’s the car sickness that immediately sets in driving over those rolling hills, haha!
I got to spend a couple warm, cozy days relaxing with Laura and her beautiful family. I got to have real conversations with my niece and nephew (ok, with my little niece, it was more like asking her to repeat words than deep conversation—but as we all know, that can be tons of fun). I don’t want to be the absent, faraway aunt. I want to be the crazy aunt. And I think I can check that one off my list for this trip—more on that later.
After a couple days, we packed up and headed to St. Louis, where my youngest sister Janice and my dad and stepmom live. We celebrated New Year’s Eve at Janice’s—and it was probably the best NYE my kids remember, because she is way better at organizing games than I am. We did make it to midnight—if you count the time zone we were in the night before.
Over the next several days, we visited the City Museum (#1 Family Attraction in the World!) and the St. Louis Science Center with my dad. Janice and Ryan went back to work, and I held down the fort at home with my kids and my two nephews. We had so much fun—even a trip to the grocery store was an adventure with these five. I really appreciated this time I had with them, but as we left super early one morning, I was feeling a bit down, knowing that the time was short and soon we’d be far away again. I’ve always wanted to live next door to my sisters. Laura and I would keep Janice’s boys and have endless minivan caravan adventures together. Living the dream, right?!?
Leaving Janice’s, we made a detour to Mammoth Cave—the longest cave system in the world. Zahra did a project on caves last year, and so I really wanted to take a cave tour. It was well worth it!!! During a two-hour tour, we saw cave crickets, stalactites and stalagmites; descended and ascended hundreds of stairs; saw the Frozen Niagara formation; learned the history of the area; and more. I would definitely go back again and take a tour of another area of this immense cave system.
Back north a bit to Bobby and Laura’s in time for dinner—and to hatch a plan. Before I left, we were talking about former teachers of ours, and now it was time to see if we could actually track one down. It was Mrs. Reis, our middle school English teacher, who we were trying to find. Surprise, surprise, the woman (who is in her seventies now) has no digital footprint. So we started contacting friends from high school who stayed in the area or had parents who were teachers. We called the school board. We drove to her old house, but (oh, the irony!), the man who lives there now doesn’t speak English.
We did some more digging, knowing that if we found her, she would be over-the-moon happy to see us. During all of this, the kids were playing video games and ignoring us—so when the investigative work started to require multiple car trips, they started grumbling. At one point, my nephew said, “I’m going to be late for school because you keep looking for this girl!” Laura and I might not make the short list for Mother of the Year in 2017…
We stopped for a snack at the Spare Time Grill. The waitress knew Mrs. Reis—but didn’t know where she lives now. A call to the school board, and the woman who answered the phone had seen Mr. Reis at the grocery store just the other day; so they are definitely still in the area. We found a second address online and drove up to the house—it was a large, beautiful, two-storey brick home with a large yard. Seemed like a strange choice for an older couple with no children. But the curtains in the windows were her style, so we rang the doorbell. No answer. We wanted to knock—but there was a strange “No Knock Ordinance” sticker on the door and we weren’t sure what that was about. But we didn’t come this far to obey stickers, so we knocked anyway. Nothing.
Back to Laura’s for lunch and for Vienna’s nap. The kids and I had to leave later that afternoon, so it wasn’t looking good, but then Vienna woke up! We tore the kids away from their video games, threw them in the car and raced up and down the hills again, back to the brick house. Let me tell you how thrilled they were about that.
Second time ringing the bell and knocking—this time there was a car in the driveway. The first time, we had left the kids in the car, and Laura had left her car running—so I was worried that that looked suspicious and Mrs. Reis wouldn’t answer the door. There’s no way she would recognize us. So this time, we turned off the cars and dragged all five kids to the door. We could only have good intentions, surrounded by this crew, right?
Sadly, no one answered the door this time, either; and we had to part ways with Laura at that point, too. But I kept the address and will write to her—maybe next year, there’s a selfie with Mrs. Reis in my future.
Next on our Midwest Tour was a stop in Columbus, Ohio to visit my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Randy. Zahra bonded with my Aunt Kathy over crafting and came away with some supplies to try cross stitch. Noah hung on to my uncle’s words about his trips to Madagascar and his favourite lemur. We spent the night and visited the Columbus Zoo the next day, including a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal hospital. We saw a Red Panda who had a broken toe, and Uncle Randy showed us her X-rays! We learned about their manatee program, which takes in manatees injured by boat motors, always with the intention to rehabilitate and release.
An uneventful ride home, punctuated by the kids making up a song about the Diadem sifaka (Uncle Randy’s favourite lemur), back through Buffalo, concluded our trip. We got home on Sunday afternoon, hugging and kissing on Saïd and promising to never leave him again. It looks as though he had his midlife crisis while we were gone, getting reading glasses, joining a gym and having a house party (ok, three friends over for dinner, but that’s big, folks). This made the reunion all the more sweet.
Come Monday, Saïd went back to work and we went back to the Nook. It was great to see everyone again and jump back into our community.
Come Tuesday—and it was our first Project Day!
New things on the menu: After a review of the kids’ education plans, it appears that they have completed their grade levels in math and French, with the exception of spelling for Noah and Leila. So that means I wiped the schedule and we’re starting something new: real project-based homeschooling. This is something I’ve wanted to do since we started, but it always got relegated to second (or third, or fourth…) priority. Last year, Zahra and Noah each did a project (caves and volcanoes), but it wasn’t true project-based homeschooling because I was placing too many requirements on it. I wasn’t confidant enough to just dive in.
So in 2018, this is what our new schedule looks like:
Mondays: Nook. But we’re still waking up early enough to have a good two hours after breakfast and before Nook, so we’re also reading one chapter of our history program (Story of the World) together on Mondays.
Tuesdays: Math and French day. This is the one day a week we will devote to doing a bit of traditional math and French. Covering one concept and/or practice. Also, ten minutes of reviewing our history chapter and doing the map work.
Wednesdays: Project Day (two-hour block in the morning to work on their projects, in whichever way they want: research, writing, drawing, organizing info, video, modelling, contacting experts, visiting sites, etc.). This is for Noah and Zahra. Leila concentrates on reading until she’s ready for a project. Half-hour violin and piano lessons in the afternoon. This week, we went to the Grande Bibliothèque downtown with friends to gather books for reading and research. After our visit with my aunt and uncle, Noah has decided he’d rather do a project on lemurs than invasive species of the Great Lakes. We already know an expert we can contact!
Thursdays: Nook and Subscriptions. I’ve devoted any extra time in this day to look at one of our many subscriptions: magazines, Top Secret Adventures (geography), Creation Crate (maker movement), Wonderful Objects (storytelling). This Thursday, we read the first issue of our new magazine, La Salamandre Junior. This magazine is published by the same people who put together those Minute Nature we watch on YouTube once a week.
Fridays: Project Day (second two-hour block in the week). And Spelling Day. The kids are getting their new spelling words on this day and taking a test on their old ones from the week before. (Zahra and Noah each have a French verb to conjugate and two words in English for the week; Leila has two words in French and two in English. Hoping for steady and painless acquisition of spelling skills, especially for Noah.)
This week also saw Zahra finishing up this gorgeous pair of mittens for her kindergarten teacher. I couldn’t be more proud of her. They represent two months of work, and her attention to detail is a beautiful thing to see.
Noah started piano lessons! This one seems like a strange choice, since I give piano lessons, and I’m not sure how to explain it other than, I can’t teach them everything, whether I’m an expert at it or not. There are some things that are just a better fit when someone else does it. Noah’s piano teacher is the wife of Zahra’s violin teacher, and their lessons are at the same time, five minutes down the road. During the week, they are both more or less autonomous in their practice, so that frees up time for me. They’ll also both have concerts, which is not something I do with my few students.
And Leila got a ukulele for Christmas! She was so, so excited to have a real instrument that is not a toy. There is a music studio in the area that gives ukulele lessons, but I think we’ll start with the free, online lessons and see where that takes us.
Also this week, photos of our family doing farm chores and interacting with our animals and those of Quinn Farm were published in Rare Breeds Canada’s magazine, Genesis!!! So, so cool. The kids and I were thrilled because our new farming and animal skills are the area of our education that we’re the most proud of and most enjoy.
So there went our first week of “back to school”. Yesterday, the rain washed away all the snow on the back deck (since Saïd had mostly shovelled), but this morning we woke up to this—and it’s still coming down. Looking forward to a weekend of staying in pyjamas and reading on the couch!