Monday, July 28, 2014

Round #1 - Tennessee

In planning this giant trip that took up nearly the entire month of July, we knew we would need to stay in homes as much as possible. Many times we stayed with family or good friends. But occasionally we stayed with people we didn't know who just graciously opened their homes to us because they knew us second-hand.

Can people be second-hand?

Well, such was the case with the Groves family who were truly a highlight of our trip!

The Groves cannot be blamed for the extraordinarily weird faces that my little ones chose to employ for this particular picture. What is it with the Toliver kids?!

You can just pretend that I remembered to take lots of pictures of our time together, but in reality we were too busy talking and getting to know each other. At least we remembered a "kid picture" before we left!

I notice that none of the parents volunteered to have their pictures taken?

We also had a great time with one of John's nieces - I'm not sure she wants me to mention her name but it rhymes with Schmelissa.

My oldest son was a little flabbergasted by her adorable little guy who happens to really like hanging around the guys.

(And he cried when I held him! Can you believe it?) Technically, my son and her son are first cousins once removed and I am that little guy's great-aunt. Don't you just love big confusing family relations?

Not only is Schmelissa's family a lot of fun to be with, but they also have really cool gear . . .

And a museum nearby that my military history-loving teenage son really enjoyed.

Now this has nothing to do with any family we visited, but simply a buffet that we stopped at in the midst of our road trip - in which my toddler proved she has a tongue like an anteater when there is an ice cream cone nearby.

I'm not quite sure what this picture is all about . . .

But I think she may be praying that we visit buffets with corn on the cob and strawberries more often.

And the trip continues! Or at least it does here on the blog because actually we're back home in Texas, and, well, never mind . . .

Friday, July 25, 2014

What a Month!

If you've never had the experience of traveling 5000 miles over a period of nearly 4 weeks with 10 people while staying in 17 different places, well, you really need to try it. At least once.

We left our little ol' house in Texas on June 30 with a packed schedule on our calendar. And a tightly packed van. Here's how it looked as we began to load the van . . .

Go ahead. Say all the critical things you want, but it worked.

With so many different places to stay, I packed about a dozen "One Day Boxes" so for each house we stayed in, we could bring in just one small plastic tote that had a complete outfit for each person; each child also brought in his pillow with pajamas tucked inside and we also brought in a toiletries bag. Overall, it worked really well.

I washed clothes at our hosts' houses frequently and once every few days I had to do some re-packing of totes. I think next time I'd do fewer totes overall so there wouldn't be so much time spent sorting laundry but I'm happy with how it went.

So what on earth were we doing for this past month? Other than driving, that is?

And canoeing?

And kissing sweet little baby cousins?

And dressing up in really cool authentic costumes?

Well, it started off with John's family reunion in Kentucky (here's a quick post I did about that) over Fourth of July weekend. Then from there we went on to do a lot of ministry presentations. A lot. In fact, we averaged one presentation every two days.

It's possible that I'm a bit tired of talking about Bible translation.

That was the main purpose of our travels - giving ministry presentations in churches and homes to talk about Bible translation and our part in it. While it was exhausting, it was also very, very good. I can only think of a few negatives for the entire trip. And I'm pleased to report three huge things:

1. Nobody threw up on our trip. This is a Toliver Family Traveling First.
2. We drove for 3000 miles before the kids watched a video. We do lots and lots of reading, car games, and listening to audio books. They're good travelers and that's something we have worked on over the years.
3. The Lord provided for us over and over again. Our van didn't quit (except once in Brookings, SD, but that was short-lived) and people generously gave to help with trip expenses.

In addition to lots of ministry presentations, we also did a few vacation type things such as museums . . .

And camping. Yes, I camped. In a tent.

Last night - actually early this morning - we made it back home - sleepy but with our sanity relatively intact.

Except that we saw a mountain lion about four miles from our house.

I ain't a-kiddin' you, folks. That there varmint was dashing off the road into the ditch and just as we got really close to him he crouched down and shimmied his way under the fence into a pasture. He was big, I tell you, big. We'd heard rumors about a mountain lion in these here parts, folks, but until I seen one with my very own eyes, I never did believe it. And I'll admit that I was plumb skeered.

I'm sorry. Mountain lion sightings force me to write in hillbilly vernacular.

All is well though. But if you hear of some crazy woman in Texas setting up a sniper nest, that may just be me. Someone has to protect the chickens and the children, right?

Well, have a fantastic weekend and let me know if you see any big cat prints around your house. Or if you have any missing chickens. I'd have to say that I prefer our encounters with skunks over potential encounters with large mountain lions.

Next week I'll catch you up on details about our trip because I know some of you want to know about it and this blog works just lovely as a family journal so you'll have to suffer through trip photos like everyone does!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Making BIG Decisions for College!

**Earlier this spring I was blessed with the opportunity of meeting Michele Pleasants. She's a fellow homeschooling mom blogger and we finally got to meet when her family was in the Dallas area. Her oldest is a few years ahead of mine so she has experience under her belt when it comes to getting a child ready for college! Read what Michele has today, and I think you'll be blessed by her wisdom and experience too! (and leave a comment for her!) Gwen **

How do you know if your child is ready to go to college?  Should they even go to college?  How do you get them ready and help them prepare? Where, when, how?  Trust me, if these questions and many more are not the center of your family's daily conversation, I assure you they will be at some point.

Been there, done that, and entering round two.  Please don't remind me that we will also have round three and four!

There are no easy answers and there are no right answers, but there is a lot to learn that may help.  We were blessed by several who have gone before us, and now we want to pass that blessing on.  Will these suggestions rock your world?  Maybe not.  But I do hope they will allow you to avoid some of the pitfalls along the path to the college decision!

1) Traditional college is not for everyone, and that is okay. There was a day when hardly anyone went to college. Then there was a day when almost everyone went to college.  While we personally hope that all of our kids will earn a college degree, we have to come to realize they all may not, or at the very least that they may not do it the same way.  Take our first born for instance.  She took online dual-credit classes for a year, went away to school for a year and a half, and will graduate this December, finishing up her last year online.  Yep, that adds up to only three and a half years, one of which was while she was still in highschool.  
Some options for you to consider
  - Dual credit classes are less expensive (we saved thousands of dollars).
  - Some kids are better off under their parents roof for longer.
  - Not all careers demand a four year degree.  
2) If your child goes away to school factor in all the costs.  Sure, everyone looks at tuition, room and board, and meal plans.  Know what we forgot?  That awesome school that is a two day drive away costs money to get to.  A lot, in some cases.  Car trip for drop off, plane trip for Thanksgiving (of course my daughter is coming home to eat turkey with us), plane trip for Christmas, plane ride for Spring Break, car trip at the end of the year, etc.  See what I mean?  We knew those things in our head, but not once did we factor those costs into our college budget.  Hard lesson learned!

3) Gap years really can be a good thing.  I know lots of people that say they just do not think their child is ready to go off at age 17 or 18.  I understand that, really I do.  I was not ready for my daughter to go off.  She did go, but I was not ready.  Gap years are looking better and better to me.  What does one do that year?
 - Get a job!  Earn some money, save some money, and learn some responsibility.
 - Get some training!  My son and I were recently talking about a young man we knew that spent a gap year getting every bit of training he could. EMT, firefighting, and diving certification were among the trainings he received.

4) And the preparation?  It is huge and often overlooked!  We seem to purposely prepare our kids for everything else in life, except for their first year in college. Some things to consider:

- Does your child know how to manage their time?  Seriously, you can not follow them around making sure they get to class on time and have finished their homework.  Now is the time to teach time management skills.

- Can your child do their own laundry?  Cook their own food?  Maintain their own car and keep the tank filled?  Those all may seem like everyday mundane things to you and me, but I am amazed at all the things some teens don't know how to do.  

- Are your kids good at picking friends?  Hopefully by this age they are.  But a gentle reminder, we are who we hang around!  Remind your kids that the friends they make while away from home have a huge influence on their lives and who they are and who they will become.  Scary, isn't it?

- Has your child ever taken a class with a teacher other than yourself?  Okay, I know this is a homeschool thing here, but hear me out.  I am a great teacher! ;)  But my kids need to know how to handle other teachers as well.  How to ask questions.  How to handle a different grading scale.  How to participate in discussion forums outside of family.  And on and on.  This is just one of many reasons we rave about online classes while in high school.  They keep our kids still safely home while exposing them to the world outside of mom the teacher.  We have seen the benefits and will sing them from the rooftops!

Some will go to college.  
Some will stay home for a while and then go. 
Some will take online classes. 
Some will train for a trade.  

Regardless of the path your child chooses, you can help them choose and prepare for their journey.  My advice is to watch others and listen carefully, be open to new possibilities, and be a team as you decide.  You and your child will benefit in the end!

Blessings, Michele

Michele is a military wife of 21 years and mom to four kids, from 19 to 6 years old.  She can be found at Family, Faith and Fridays blogging about family, homeschooling, modesty and life, with a few reviews thrown in for fun.  When not schooling or writing, you can find her with her nose in a book, studying up on that farm life she longs to live.  With internet, of course!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Homeschooling An Only Child

**Even if this is your very first visit to Tolivers to Texas, it should be fairly obvious by the header picture that I have absolutely zero experience with homeschooling just one child! Combining multiple ages? Yep, I can give advice all day. But when it comes to "just one child" (I don't like that phrase!), it's a whole 'nother ball game and I'm so glad for blogging friends like Wren who can tell you all about that. So leave her a comment and give her some feedback today! Gwen**

5 Things I’ve Learned as I’ve Homeschooled My Only Child

When our son was born, we put him immediately on the waiting list for a local charter school, which had an excellent reputation.  And then, we went on about our business!  But while we were enjoying our early years with our son and all that that entailed (you know….diapering, not sleeping, reading board books, not sleeping, singing, playing, not sleeping), God was in the process of changing our hearts and moving us into the exciting life of homeschooling.  By the time he had turned 6, we’d received the letter from the charter school indicating that our boy had a spot there.  All we had to do was to sign and return the letter to the school verifying our acceptance.

But, with a little fear and trepidation, we sent the letter back….declining the spot. 

Over those six years, God had taken us on quite a journey.  Our son was a happy, social little guy. We spent hours together and tried as many different activities as we could.  We sang and played musical instruments at Kindermusik.  We played with exercise balls and bubbles at Gymboree.  We attended nature center activities, library events, playdates at parks, swim lessons.  And that was just outside the house.

And inside the house?  We read.  A lot.  A voracious reader myself, I naturally spent a lot of time reading books to our son.  We started with board books and toddler Bibles.  Then we graduated to picture books.  We made crafts with foam, we painted watercolor pictures, we played with the sand and water table.   One day I realized that we could be doing even more than that!  He was definitely ready, and he was so hungry for fun activities that we could do together.

A friend recommended the wonderful curriculum Five in a Row, which uses wonderful children’s books which you read together with your child, one book each week.  Then, during that week, you do a different activity each day that connects both to the book and to a particular subject; by the end of the week you’ve done activities on science, art, math, language arts and geography.  But it’s all fun and it doesn’t seem at all like school!

We started that, I believe, when our boy was 4 or 5.  It was a joy and a delight.  We even found a cookbook published by the Five in a Row folks, so we added an evening of cooking together to the mix.  And there we were, homeschooling…with great excitement and enjoyment!  I just don’t think it quite hit me that that was what we were doing until the charter school letter came.

My husband and I prayed together and came to the same conclusion.  Our entire family was flourishing in this life we’d “happened” into.  Our son was content, gently challenged and interested every day in what was ahead.  So we graciously declined the invitation, and we have homeschooled ever since.  We just completed our 8th year of homeschooling together this year! Many of our years have been pure delight.  Others, when challenges or difficulties have intruded upon our homeschool or our family, have been less fun.  And yet God in His graciousness and goodness has always enabled us to persevere and to continue.

If you are considering homeschooling an only child, let me tell you that if God calls you to do this, you can do it!  Here are a few tips that I’ve learned along the way that might be of assistance to you.

1.  Try a variety of activities every year.  We have done nature clubs, hiking clubs, art coops, swim lessons, piano lessons, soccer lessons, plus homeschool coops with other families.  Whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert, you’ll both enjoy getting out for fun and variety; and you may discover some exciting new talents in the process!

2.  Be intentional about providing some social activities for your kiddo.  The favorite question homeschoolers seem to get is, “What about socialization?”  The truth is, your child is going to receive excellent socialization right there at home with you.  But, it’s also a blessing for both of you to have some like-minded families with whom you can hang out for play or talk. 

3.  Share your own failures or challenges with your child (within reason).  This was a great tip that we got from our pediatrician.  Our boy, like many only or firstborn children, definitely has some leanings toward perfectionism.  And failure can be difficult for him to endure at times.  The pediatrician reminded us that his only measure of his progress is against two adults who already know everything he’s trying to learn….unlike what he’d see if he were alongside his peers in public or private school. We found that this can help our children have a much truer perspective of themselves and their parents. 

4.  Never underestimate the power of story….and read together!  As I mentioned earlier, we’ve always done a lot of reading together.  And even though our son is going into 7th grade, our family still adores reading aloud together.  Get some comfy pillows, some hot cocoa, a great book and snuggle up and read!

5.  Make love the theme and underlying force of your homeschool.  We’re all probably very familiar with 1 Corinthians 13.  And it applies enormously to homeschool.  Allow me to paraphrase here:  “If I can teach calculus to my first grader, but do it impatiently and crossly, I am nothing.  If I believe that God has great things for my child but I instruct him harshly like a drill sergeant, I’m showing him nothing.  If I can teach him Greek but I don’t love him while I do it, I have gained nothing.”  Because our precious children in our homeschool are with us 24/7, love must go with all that we do.  Of course we’re going to make mistakes, and of course we’re going to blow it.  But if we can always come back to love…and if we help them to KNOW that they are accepted and loved no matter what….we will be helping them grow into loving and well-adjusted people.  And that’s a goal of ours as parents, isn’t it?

Homeschooling our son has been the joy and delight of our hearts.  I have not regretted one single moment that we have had together.  He and I have both grown spiritually, emotionally and academically.  If this is something you feel God is laying on your heart, I encourage you to prayerfully consider it with your family!  “Faithful is He who calls you, who will also do it!”

Wren, a former missionary and a current homeschooler, blogs at with her sister Finch. Homeschooling has been an amazing journey of discovery, in which she’s learned (among other things) that she can teach art, blog, and make a large group of second graders mind!  She is married to the best man on the planet and they love life with their only son.

Finch n Wren

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