October 20, 2012


Welcome to August in October! This school year has me SWAMPED. If I can manage to stay only three months behind on the blog and not let it slide back to six or more I'll consider it an accomplishment. Oh blog, I think of you often, sitting out there in cyberspace (wherever that is), patiently waiting for me to find you and post gazillions of pictures, life happenings, and trite nonsense. But alas, I am not, in good conscience, able to sit down and spend time with you when there are exactly, probably, maybe, precisely 1,245,312.7 things that need doing each and every evening, one of which is going to bed so I do not develop narcolepsy and begin snoring every time a child begins to read aloud to me. 

Post-camp, there were several groups that used camp for retreats and camps of their own. Several staff stayed around for awhile, which was fun. I took the following pictures because staffers NEVER come to the house to see me in the summer, no matter how many times I issue my standing invitation. I guess the draw of hanging out with other staff in the Lodge in the evenings vs. hanging out with a mom of four who probably seems 20 years their senior is just too great. (Oh yeah, I AM 20 years their senior.)

 We had a couple of fun game nights at the house.

One by one they trickled away from Strong Rock as the retreat groups got smaller, back into their regular lives. I love summer. I'm pretty sure I would be happy living in a commune where people share duties and hang out all the time. Community living makes me happy. I could do without the stockpile of guns and ammo and polygamy though. Not that kind of commune.

On August 4th we celebrated Jordan and Reagan's birthdays in Marietta. Jonathan cleaned Target and Wal-Mart out of their end of season pools and slidey things, and made a water park in the front yard.

Grass landings are rough on the belly.

Maybe she's going to be a model.

Jordan! She turned five in July.

Then it started raining, A LOT.

So the party moved into the garage for pizza and cookie cake. Jonathan was praying over the girls. He may also have been praying for it to stop raining so the large crowd now wedged into his garage could go back outside!

Present time!

Reagan celebrated her third birthday at the end of June.

Here's one of the main reasons I was excited about going to Marietta that day. My niece, Brynn Gabrielle, was born on July 16. This was the first time we got to meet her. She spent the party mostly sleeping, even through all the noise. A true third-born child.

Avery read to Grandad while the girls opened presents.

Brynn did spend a little time awake.

This is a really cute baby.

Testing out one of the new presents.

Most of the guests except for family members left, while it continued to pour and pour outside. Shannon had a blast with the water toys in the torrential downpour. The girls set up a tea party in the basement and then invited us to join them.

Jonathan and Lisa's first date since Brynn was born. Dinner and tea at a nice basement establishment.

I am sure there's some reason I took this picture. Maybe because it's not every day you get to see someone dining with Thing from the Addams family. (Or in this case, the Adams family...I think this is my dad. :) )

Reagan enjoys tasting things. I think this is a slipper. Watch out, Reagan, Thing's right behind you!

We attempted to get a picture of all the cousins and this was the best we could do.


This is more like it.

Brynn and her cousins.

The next week went by with a few more groups at camp (yay for the Dining Hall still being open!), and I attempted to sort out a few more things before the start of our school year.

The first official day of school was Wednesday, August 8th. If schools can start on random middle of the week days, so can we. The curriculum I ordered wasn't in yet, but there was plenty of review to be done so we'd be ready to go. Taking a twelve week break from academics requires a bit of reminding of the little things, like, say, how to add two numbers together, hold a pencil properly, or sit in a chair for more than 10 minutes at a time. We mostly took a break from piano as well, so we played through some old material to get ready for the new level of books.

Here's how they really felt about starting school. You can't see the face I'm making behind the camera myself.

Amelia is a FOURTH grader this year! Every time she turns a year older or starts a new grade it's a little bit of a shock to me, probably because she's the one paving the way for the others and it's still new to me that we have a kid this old. I clearly remember my fourth grade year, which was a good one, thankfully. It was a fun year, and I hope fourth grade at home will be a fun one for her as well.

She looks optimistic, anyway.

This one is a kindergartner this year! With Amelia I remember feeling a little guilty and maybe even naughty the first week about keeping her home while all the other five and six-year olds were headed off to school every day. Mama friends posted on Facebook left and right about how they were going to spend the day at home crying, and then at the end of days about this or that thing their child was doing at school. I took my kindergartner to playgroups for the younger kids, again feeling a little weird about my kid being there when she was "supposed" to be in school. With Shannon, kindergarten registration came and went, folks posted about it, and I gave it a little thought. This year with Avery it never even crossed my mind. It turns out I have very little to teach him this year compared to what I taught the other two their kindergarten years anyway. He has terrific handwriting, reads beautifully, skip counts, knows all his months, days of the week, colors, and adds and subtracts easily. (He's actually a pretty smart guy with a quick mind. Don't tell him I said so.)

Zombie Avery.

This guy is a second grader this year. Sitting down continues to be a challenge for him, but that's one of the things I love about him. He's doing a lot of third grade material this year in reading and math.

I love second grade!


 Our new curriculum arrived the day we started school. It took me a few days to get everything sorted and figured out, so we started it the following Monday. I debated and wavered about purchasing it, because it's pretty pricey, but in the end the desire to avoid the absolute craziness of the year before won out. I spent the whole school year piecing together curriculum for a third and first grader, which meant every single weekend I had to sit down for up to two and a half hours leafing through workbooks, textbooks, and readers trying to decide and write down what each kid would be doing each day of the week. It required constant adjusting because sometimes they needed an extra day or two on a topic in a subject so it would mess up the rest of the week I had already planned. Prior to that I had spent countless hours online and talking to people about what books and workbooks they recommended, and then ordering them and figuring out how to incorporate them. I was constantly reassessing if what I was asking of the kids was too much or too little. I second-guessed myself a lot. I mostly found it frustrating that there was no margin in my life, no time for downtime.

Sonlight is a company that's been in the home school business for awhile. Everyone I know that uses it really likes it. It's literature-based, so there are no traditional textbooks. Most subjects are learned through "real books," not textbooks written specifically for the purpose of teaching topics within subjects. (Except for a math, and few other skills-specific topics like handwriting and spelling.) I did stick with the math series I've been using, which I really like. As scary as my math performance through all of my school years was, I figure I'd better stick with math that makes sense to me as the teacher, which Math-U-See does. I thoroughly researched Sonlight and talked to several people who have used it for a long time, which was almost enough to convince me, then I found this on their website: "Sonlight Curriculum, Ltd. was founded to help those who don't want to spend much time (or hardly any at all) creating schedules or doing preparatory work. Our Instructor's Guides, supply kits, and other materials help such parents spend more time teaching and interacting with their students, and less time preparing."

And that was enough. Since we've been using it for nearly eleven weeks now I can say that I am a happier woman for sure. I really like what they are learning too, because it teaches a Christian world view without sheltering the kids from things of the world. Several other curriculum options I researched were so full of "Christianese" I didn't feel like it would do a good job of preparing kids for the realities not only of our history, but our present. There is a lot of reading involved, both with the kids reading separately and with us reading together out loud. I like that. We've learned from experience at camp that kids are never too old to be read to and to enjoy it, and it gives us a chance to discuss things together as we go.

Two more plugs for Sonlight, and then I'll move on. First of all, they give you 18 full weeks to try their product when you order material for the year, and after that if you aren't satisfied you can get your money back for ALL of it. That's a good deal. But perhaps most importantly of all, the boxes the books come in are printed on the inside with a castle you can cut out, so you can play with the box! If that's not a good reason to order Sonlight then I don't know what is.

I have a lot more I could say about our school year so far, but I'll save it for another time. I'd like to finish this post so I feel like I have accomplished something today.

 Speaking of brilliant home school teachers such as myself, (since we were), it's a heartwarming moment when you walk into your bedroom and find your kids all snuggled on the bed reading together, knowing that you are the one that has mostly poured into them what they need to be the outstanding readers they are; able to comprehend difficult texts, discuss intelligently with one another what they have read, and have a deep understanding of important writings.

Or...maybe not so much. But maybe you're proud of them for other reasons, such as realizing they are starting to acquire their brilliant teacher's warped sense of humor. It was a proud moment.

School days flew by in August and we started to get back into the fall routine. We did go on one field trip, which was to the post office in Gainesville. I was going to take pictures, but apparently it's a federal offense. No, really, it is. The post office worker people take their jobs very seriously, which is a good thing. Privacy of the mail, and all that. It had potential to be a really great field trip, but our tour guide was lacking a bit in understanding of what elementary aged children would think was interesting. Or adults. He used a lot of shop talk. Apparently the postal service is a bit like the military when it comes to acronyms. Even when he told us what they stood for, we still didn't know what they meant. I think the thing I found most interesting about the entire trip was learning that there are three different unions that work out of post offices. Rural carriers can use their own vehicles if they want, don't have to wear uniforms, and get paid for eight hours of work even if their work doesn't take eight hours. City carriers use authorized mail vehicles, wear uniforms, and have to work all eight hours even if their job doesn't take eight hours. There's also a union for post office maintenance staffers who have their own special set of rules. Management has to be non-union. It must be a good job, because most of the folks working there had been there at least as long as the building was old. (It had an operational boiler room, if that helps date it for you.)

Serious school days are often dotted with bits of spontaneous fun.

Like the day a tent city sprung up in the living room.

I felt bad for the little urchins so I made them sandwiches. 

For about a week I worked with Elizabeth on our Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons.

She had a decent start on writing her first sound, "M."

So of course I took pictures. Then I gave up on it for awhile. She's not quite interested enough for me to make this a miserable experience for us both, so I'm putting it away for a few months. I worked on reading with all of the others during their pre-k year, which this is for her, and they were all reading great by kindergarten. She's the youngest pre-k-er I've had though, and those months really do make a difference. Maybe after Christmas.

Towards the middle of August we had a small break in groups staying at camp, so James and I took the opportunity to get away for the weekend. Mom and Dad came up to stay with the kids and we rented a house in Hiwassee for two nights. It's only about 35 miles from our house, which was perfect. I see why people like to come to the mountains of North Georgia. It also happened to be our 16th anniversary on the 17th.

We stayed at a nice little place overlooking Lake Chatuge. All summer I knew I wanted to go on a getaway at the end of camp so we could not only see each other after passing like ships in the night for weeks and weeks, but also so we could get some things planned for the next year.

We stayed all day Friday and Saturday, and half of Sunday, leaving only long enough to go out for our anniversary Saturday evening for a few hours. It was awesome.

It was a nice place to watch movies, read, talk, sit around, and nap.

This was what most interested me in the online description. It was heavenly.

The view from the hot tub.

This was a nice place to have dinner, just up the road in Murphy, NC.

The next day we drove around "the long way" to get home. There are so many great things about vacationing within forty miles of your house. James had ridden most of the mountain roads on his bike at some point. We stopped by a historical site in the area, Track Rock, which was the site where Native Americans a long, long, long time ago left carvings in some rock.

I'm not sure how experts knew enough from looking at marks on a rock to fill up an entire plaque.

We also went hiking at Brasstown Bald. We picked a trail which an online site said, "The only reason to take this trail is to get exercise. It's a continual climb." Since that was pretty much the idea, we strapped on our shoes and headed out.

About halfway up the mountain a steady rain started. Then a heavy rain started. It was a cold one too. So we turned around. We were a bit muddy and wet, but it was still fun.

 Here's some pretty scenery tourists drive up to see. We are fortunate enough to live in these here hills. We are blessed! We drove on into Helen and grabbed dinner at The Sunflower Chinese restaurant, unwilling to have our weekend end. We still beat the grandparents and kids home though, because they had been out and about galavanting all day themselves, including going to Tallulah Gorge and Lake Burton.

The night after we got back Avery lost another tooth. It's documented here for your viewing pleasure.

 Two days after that we crossed another life mile marker. The completion of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. It took a break for the summer right along with us. This kid ruled this book. So far he's been the easiest one to teach to read. I also took a picture the day Amelia finished it. I didn't ever get one of Shannon because he never finished it. He HATED that book! He still reads great, so I guess you can turn out a decent reader with the Teach Your Child To Read in Approximately 82 Lessons Because Your Kid Runs and Hides When He Sees It version of the book.

We went through most of the month doing school at the dining room table, which was another one of my frustrations with the year before. There were always books stacked in the corners of the room and we were forever clearing it so we could eat, then covering it up again with papers. We had talked about a couple of possible solutions and I finally settled on making Elizabeth's old nursery the school room. James brought home a shelf from the office for all of our new Sonlight books and the closet is perfect for the rest of our school things. The only drawback is that a table would fill the entire room and I didn't like how crowded it was going to be. So, we decided on beanbags and lap desks as a solution. The kids are half out of their chairs most of the time anyway, and drop pencils about 27 times a day, so it seemed like a reasonable plan.

We went to four stores in Gainesville to find suitable beanbags. At Walmart they had covers to choose from, then you buy bags of foam beads to fill them with. It took A LOT of styrofoam beads! The kids and I had fun pouring them in the bags and using "magic" (static electricity) to chase them around the room.

 I also bought a big cork board for our dry erase map and a fun lamp. I still, all these weeks later, don't have the school room looking like I want it to (primarily because we've been using it so much!), but when I get it there I'll post a few pictures.

That Friday we went to Rebecca's for dinner (we've been calling our weekly get together's TDOF for sometime now, as it originated on Thursday nights and is now officially "Thursday Dinner On Friday."), and Meg came home with us to spend the night. We headed to Vogel for some afternoon and evening fun hanging out with friends. It also happened to be Curtis' (ahem) 40th birthday. James rode his bike over the mountain and met us there.

 The Davidsons and Knotts were camping, and their kids had spent part of the afternoon building a raft. Naturally we had to see if it would float, so down to the lake we all went.

They chose Shannon as the test pilot.

Bye dude. Come see us when you can.

Back safe and sound.

Meanwhile the girls entertained the crowd on shore with camp songs. I believe this is "The Cooking Song."

Most everyone had a turn after they realized they wouldn't be lost at sea.

 She returned after her voyages, a few twigs, branches, 2 liter bottles, and bungee cords lighter, but still mostly intact.

Back to the campsite for some chili.

Happy birthday, Curtis!

Another successful non-camping camping trip. We're blessed to have so many great friends!

The last week in August we headed to Grandmom and Grandad's in McDonough after church that Sunday. We hadn't been to visit family on the south side since May, so we were overdue a visit. We got to see Nanny and I had a great visit with Granny, who had just been released from the hospital after a low sodium passing-out episode. I was grateful to have good conversation with her, especially since at first the doctors weren't sure she hadn't had another stroke since she was confused and not herself at first. We stayed through Thursday.

On Tuesday we took a field trip to the Lego Discovery Center at Phipps Plaza in Atlanta.

There was a Lego Atlanta.

There's a ride where you can pedal to make your seat go higher.

There are, shockingly, lots of things to build.

Lego cupcake, anyone?

Cars and wheels without cars (whatever you choose to build) can race against each other.

Possibly the best part was the 4-D movie. It was really cute. At one point it even snowed.

We stayed for a few hours, then headed north to Marietta and hung out with Jordan, Reagan, and Brynn while Lisa went to the dentist. It was fun hanging out with the nieces for the afternoon.

We headed back to Cleveland on Thursday and finished our school week at home. August wrapped up with Family Camp, which I will post about next time.

I'm off to feed Taffy, as she gets fed right before I get ready for bed every night. (Oldies like her have to be fed at least twice a day.) Tomorrow we'll head to church bright and early. I am teaching fourth grade Sunday School this year with the teacher who had the class by herself last year. It's a big class, so having two teachers on board is a good thing. I love my class. That age and is great and I have had some real fun with them.

BUT, I will first share my list o' funny Himstedt kid sayings for the month.

One day when the state of the house got to be too much for me to stand I went on a cleaning spree. The kids helped out too, and after about an hour Shannon said, "It smells like people coming over."

Elizabeth was pretend hobbling around with two plastic golf clubs under her armpits like she had an injured leg and announced, "I have two crotches."

On the way home from Lisa and Jonathan's house mom and I stopped in at a Chinese restaurant with the kids. Avery was eating egg drop soup with a few vegetables in it. He suddenly held up a spoonful and said loudly and excitedly, "I got a pea! I got a pea!"

Elizabeth had a pack of different colored lip glosses, and was naming them for us. "This one's grape, this one's key lime, and this one's tomato." Ew.

Avery decided last week that the sole purpose of a briefcase was to carry underwear.

Amelia recently said, "Ruth taught me an ending to happy birthday. It goes, 'And many more, on channel four." I told her that was an old one and had been around since I was a kid. She said with frustration, "How come I'm the last kid to ever hear anything?" I told her probably because she wasn't in school everyday with other kids her age that were sharing things all the time. She said, "AND because I don't have TV." Uh oh. She's catching on...

A funny thing happened in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago. The lesson was about how the Isrealites complained in the wilderness, so as class was starting my co-teacher Kathy asked the kids what some of the things they complained about were. There were several responses, then one boy said in a whiny voice, "You NEVER have cookies in here!" I one-upped him with, "And they NEVER have coffee for the teachers!" Literally five seconds later our childrens' director opened the door and said, "Hey, one of the ladies brought us a goodie basket and wants to provide coffee every week." Well. Within five minutes Kathy pulled out the cookies she'd brought for the kids as part of the lesson. Lesson learned. Complain enough and you'll get what you want!