Packing

This is my best advice for what you need to pack for essentially any trip. Unless you need very specific gear or extras such as formalwear, this list will cover most short-term travels. Be sure to label every bag with your name and cell phone number, even if you think they will never be out of your sight.

Before you get started, however, one thing must be done.

Check. The. Weather.

I honestly cannot stress this enough. For example, when we first considered a move to southern California, we convinced ourselves every day would be like living on the Axiom in Wall-E: a balmy 72 degrees and sunny, no variation. Spoiler alert: it is not. We have traveled to Disneyland in both a deluge of rain and needing winter jackets. Look at the long-range forecast for your days of travel and plan accordingly.

That said, following is a brief run-down of what we typically take regardless of destination. Keep in mind, in most cases there is almost nothing you can forget that cannot be remedied when you arrive. I also include a small-ish purse that completely zips up that I keep with me while out and about. Just enough to hold my phone, chapstick, brush, any tickets or passes, and credit card or cash. And a few band aids. Because, Agents. For reference, no one in our party requires daily medications, and our kids are out of the diapers and sippy cups stage, so those items have not been addressed here.

  • one outfit per day, unless day/night temps are predicted to be wildly different {for trips of 5-6 nights or longer, I pack one outfit for every two days and assume I will do laundry}
  • sweater or long-sleeve shirt for evening {even in summer}
  • rain jacket {if good chance of rain during your visit}
  • two pairs of socks/underwear per day {trust me, if you take a mid-day break you will appreciate this—especially if you change into swimsuits and then different clothes for evening}
  • pajamas
  • swimsuits {if weather is amenable}
  • flip flops or sandals {for getting to and from the pool; can also be a temporary solution if shoes get wet and need time to dry out}
  • chargers for everything {even if it is just an overnight and you think you won’t need them}
  • first aid kit {if you do not want to cart the whole thing, at least take pain relief meds—nothing worse than a headache or a sore back while traveling}
  • basic toiletries {condensed as much as possible; you are likely to want to do the bare minimum especially if your days are long}
  • small containers or shallow boxes to organize toiletries in the hotel bathroom {so much easier than trying to work out of the toiletry bag and/or dumping everything on the counter}
  • nightlight or two {helpful to at least have one in the bathroom}
  • laundry detergent pods {I try to avoid needing to wash clothes on shorter stays, but why not be prepared}
  • sunglasses and sunblock {even cloudy days can be deceiving}
  • book, travel journal, preferred writing implements {if you’re the type to enjoy that type of thing in the evenings or early mornings}
  • coffee or tea and non-perishable creamers {sometimes it is easier to stay in the room than try to go out in the morning or evening after a long day}
  • stuffed animals, if a night time necessity for anyone in your party {move them to the desk in the morning so housekeeping doesn’t accidentally sweep them up in the sheets—yes, this happened to us, and luckily it was recovered}
  • simplified wallet {you won’t need most of what you usually carry; ID and some form of payment is probably enough, plus some cash if you think you will need it for tips}
  • printed copies of tickets/passes/reservation numbers {even if you have them on your phone, you never know}

Alright, savvy travelers: What did I miss?

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Specifics

I am closer to figuring out what our homeschool will look like this upcoming year. I want our days {and our overall goals} to include more structure than previously {i.e., more pre-planning on my part, less winging it}. While I am sure we will need to make some adjustments as we go, I like the idea of knowing what we intend to cover long term and how to get there.

 We will continue to Read All The Books per our usual, but this time I am starting with book lists for each subject rather than simply recording what we finish after the fact. {Our Goodreads Want to Read list is at just over 200 right now.} I am working on ordering sufficient written materials {math, language arts, Spanish, etc.} to carry us through the entire year, so we can plan our pacing accordingly. 

Details remain fuzzy. I have not reached the month-to-month or week-to-week calendar how stage yet, but I have narrowed down what I think we will do for most subjects. The goal {as usual} is to have all three students {grades 8, 6, and 3} exploring the same topics within each major area {and using the same books} while completing grade-level appropriate written work. This is not an exhaustive list and subject to change. It only discusses our at-home “book” studies; it does not address field trips or documentaries or other educational supplements.

{Note: Each of the headings below is a link to our Goodreads list for that subject, except for Spanish, which will take you to the Radio Lingua website instead.}

Math 
I really want to make more of an effort to focus on particular math topics each week, as opposed to hey here’s a math workbook for your grade, do something. Even though the Agents work at different levels, we can all look at perimeter one week, graphing the next, fractions another, etc. With the exception of some of the things Agent E will be doing as we delve into algebra, most math can be adjusted accordingly for age.

Language Arts 
As with math I would like to have themes be more consistent across my three students. We will begin by reviewing basic grammar and sentence/paragraph structure, and then focus on creative writing. Many of our books in this category are re-reads, because they are simple and funny yet effective. 

Spanish 
Finally breaking down and ordering the premium version of Coffee Break Spanish halfway through last year made the difference between giving up {again} and powering through. The video lessons and translation guides help immensely. We will start the year with a review of the information in the first 20 lessons. Our goal is to complete lessons 21-40 before Christmas. All three Agents will be doing more written Spanish vocabulary and grammar as well. In addition, we have a trip scheduled for October where we hope to surprise a Spanish-speaking acquaintance by upping our conversation game. 

Geography 
Our focus will be on human geography and countries of the world. We spent a good deal of time in previous years working on physical geography and map skills, so this is a nice change. After an overview of the continent, we will review each country individually for at least a lesson or two, depending on the resources we have available. Ideally this would include also learning about noteworthy individuals as well as a few words or phrases in the native language. This may possibly evolve into a two-year study.

American and World History
History tends to be an area where we struggle to find good spine texts, become inundated with too much information, and essentially give up before the end of the year. In an effort not to have that happen again, we have decided to use the Big Fat Notebook series as read alouds. These books give a brief overview of American and world history for middle schoolers. They are simplified and decidedly not overwhelming, which is exactly what we need to build interest without burning out. In addition we will spend some time looking at Native American and African American history specifically.

Myths/Tales/Fables 
So many good choices here! We spent most of last year on Greek mythology, with a few rabbit holes along the way. This year I just want to read as many stories as we can get our hands—from as many unique sources as we have time for—without necessarily concentrating on a particular culture. We plan to start the year with In the Beginning: Creation Stories From Around the World. After that we will simply be working through our book list. I have added a few repeat favorites—such as The Iliad and The Odyssey—but  I am not positive we will get to them.

World Religions 
While we will likely revisit favorite stories from our most-studied faiths—Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism—we would also like to take more time getting to know Taoism, Confucianism, Paganism, Shinto, Jainism, and others. I feel like we have done a lot with the “core six” that most texts tend to include, and we would like to expand. The problem is, many otherwise excellent resources rarely address these less-prominent faiths in detail. We plan to try a few new sources as well as read biographies of several prominent religious figures. 

{Note: For my non-religious students, making a distinction between what constitutes a religion and what constitutes a mythology can be unclear. Is mythology simply a religion no {or very few} people currently practice? Since myths can be just another word for stories, you could say that all religions have mythology, but not all mythologies are religions. I make the distinction between the study of the two only to emphasis which ones the Agents are likely to know real live practitioners of and which ones they are not.}

Science 
Our chosen primary text will be DK Publishing’s Science Year by Year, as we consider the history of scientific discoveries and advancement in more or less chronological fashion. Per Agent E’s request, a secondary focus will be chemistry. Science has always been a favorite around here, so despite our best intentions we will end up going off path here, I am sure.

Health and Physical Education 
For health we will be completing a detailed study of the human body. Last year we spent a good deal of time working on self-care, what to expect during puberty, and sex education. While we will likely review a lot of that as well, we plan to get back to a more academic study of body systems and disease prevention and anatomy. Yoga was a big hit this year, so we will continue to try new poses and attempt to incorporate it into our daily routine {perhaps starting each school day with a 10-15 minute session}.

Art and Music 
After some internal debate, I have decided to consider art and music half-year courses going forward. Truthfully this will probably play out more as three-quarters art and one-quarter music. Only one Agent maintains any interest in playing musical instruments, and we can only cover famous composers and the orchestra so many times. They have no desire to learn to read music or to study modern musicians. Art history and art techniques, however, they find way more compelling. Our intention is to use the 13 Artists series {first up: 13 Women Artists Children Should Know} and aim for one artist {and creative art project based on said artist} per week.

Have you outlined your 2019-2020 homeschool year? What is on your agenda?

Option

I honestly believe everyone—from an early age—should be exposed to as many world religions, mythologies, creation stories, and folk tales as possible. It is beyond eye-opening to watch the similarities unfold. From the proclaimed deities and religious figures, to the nearly identical tales being told by different cultures, to the overwhelming sameness of the core principles outlined in the various writings—seeing the connected threads in these “unique” religions is definitely an enlightening experience.

Children believe some religious stories to be true and others to be false because we convince them of such when they are young and trust us implicitly. Can you imagine what a different world we would live in if future generations were instead exposed to myriad mythologies and as they grew were encouraged to draw their own conclusions about their similarities, incompatibilities, and logic?

In our homeschool we aim to present many different tales in a neutral way, so my students can appreciate the lessons offered in these stories without bias. Sharing various approaches to how humans have attempted to understand the mysteries of our world—without implying that any one explanation is “more true” or should hold more “weight” than another—has allowed them {and me} to both appreciate the journey that has kept these words alive throughout time as well as clearly see the improbability of any of them being 100% correct.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the Agents do not believe any one religion to be true, but are quite fascinated by the different beliefs and worldviews folks hold. They know they can extract insights from these myths; the fact that they are fictional does not diminish their value. They note the connections all faith stories share {lots of “a-ha” moments in our reading when they come across a familiar tale, such as the flood myth}.

I want their life path—wherever it may lead—to be treasured, even if it doesn’t look like the majority. I am grateful they feel comfortable with their own convictions, because I was most definitely not at their age. Of course, inevitably someone is going to come along and try to tell them that their spiritual place is wrong, incomplete.

While my children readily embrace their atheistic conclusions as valid, I spent years struggling to acknowledge non-belief as a possibility. This sounds silly when you think about it; I mean, of course it is. But realistically, growing up in a culture where virtually everyone you know is of some religious stripe or another {mostly Christian/Catholic, in my case}, and following the religion of your parents is expected and encouraged, this is not something most people even have on their radar. I certainly did not. It took much contemplation and time to internalize this as a worthwhile and legitimate viewpoint.

Books

This month marks four years since we started keeping track of our homeschool reading using Goodreads. Our current book count is just over 3100. 

This total includes everything we have read for the past four school years, as well as all of the Agents’ independent reading during that time. While each individual book can only be counted once, we have read some multiple times. There are also about a dozen flagged as duplicates, mostly because we read the same book in Spanish and Goodreads is not distinguishing between the two.

The number of books read each year has gradually increased. In June 2015 the girls were starting 2nd and 4th grade, and my youngest was still four and not yet reading independently. For the 2018-2019 school year, we recorded about 1000 books. Agent J’s independent reading accounted for 435 of them. Agents E and A read 272 and 223 books, respectively. Separate school subjects rounded out the rest. 

In the past I have usually not added a book to the appropriate shelf on our account until after we completed it. For instance, if we read a book about evolution, I would add it to “Read” and “Science” once we finished the whole book and put it on the library return pile. For the 2019-2020 school calendar, however, I plan to do things a bit differently.

Instead of waiting to see what we find at the library each time, I am starting with a prepared collection of titles. {Hence the lengthy Want To Read list.} Each subject has its own shelf labeled with the year {e.g., language arts 2019-2020}. Some favorites we read in past years have circled back to Want To Read because we intend to use them a second {or third} time. Many, however, are brand new to us.

We are still in the planning stages for this upcoming year, so I am continually adding {or moving, or deleting} books from these shelves as we figure things out. We have dozens of books on request at the library right now to take a better look at them before definitely deciding to keep them in our plan. 

Do you use Goodreads in your homeschool? Or for personal use? If not, how do you log books read? 

Changes

This year our homeschool will not look the way it has in previous years.

In the past we always seemed to coast through the year on good intentions and lots of books. Instead of extensive pre-planning, I mostly recorded what we did after the fact. We followed tons of rabbit holes, and got off track {and then back on again} all the time. 

Lately, however, I am craving more structure to what we do. I have two middle school students this year {6th and 8th} and my youngest has reached the grade where expectations {at least in our homeschool} tend to be kicked up a notch {3rd}.

I do not want to simply come up with a list of topics to study  and order some workbooks and wing it. I want to lesson plan. I want to have a list of books prepared before the school year starts. I want to have a plan of what we will explore when, and approximately how long it will take. I want to start with some sense of order. I want goals.

Of course this means a lot more work for me. But, it is exactly the kind of “work” I enjoy doing, so, yay?

We still have about ten days left in our current school year, and then we will be taking a brief break before diving back in. I am using this time to research, write notes, check out potential new spine books, and compose a reading list for each subject. 

What does your homeschool planning look like? Do you have any lesson-planning tips to share?

Lessons

I learn something new every time I travel.

Not in a deep, philosophical, uncovered a previously unknown character trait about myself sort of way. Not even in a I went to a new place and now I have a better understanding of it sort of way. I mean I know more about what my travel limitations are—and how to prepare for them—with each trip.

Last week the Agents and I flew to Orlando for five days with our favorite Mouse. We met three of my four siblings and their kids there, so it also served as a mini-reunion. Hubby did not participate, as the US Navy had other plans for him. This was a first—traveling by air with all three kids solo—and the longest vacation we have spent by ourselves. A final hurdle in the game of what can we realistically pull off with only one adult, if you will. 

Spoiler alert: It all turned out fine. 

Yes, there were a few hiccups along the way: a bit of jet lag, some rain, a lunch reservation mishap. We did not spend as much time with the bigger group as we had envisioned, and I regret that now. But, in general, we nailed it and would totally do it again. 

We did, however, figure out some things along the way that will prove useful on future Disney escapades. {Although some of these relate to travel in general, I am specifically thinking of a Disney vacation with the following list.}

Change is good. Before we left, I found myself feeling nostalgic about certain aspects of the parks that have been phased out, but once we arrived I realized how much I love when the parks change and grow. Even though a favorite ride might be gone, or another might be made over, or a new twist is presented with a show or character—I no longer feel like I am missing anything. I am excited to see where they go with it. 

Humans are weird. By the end of the week, we had a running joke about Humans of Disney. The anthropological observations one can make while at Disney World know no limits. Instead of getting angry at the outright cluelessness of the population, we decided instead to accept it and then move on. If there is one guarantee about traveling, it is that someone, somewhere is having a bad day and might try to take it out on you. I think we have finally reached a point where we have embraced this and can bounce back from negativity without it ruining the moment.

Space is needed. Because we were a party of four, and trying to be conservative with our vacation club points, we booked a studio instead of a one-bedroom. In the recent past this would have worked out swimmingly. However, now that the Agents are older {currently 13, 11, and 8} I can honestly say that the extra square footage would have made a huge difference. More room to spread out, a washer and dryer in the room {only an option at that resort for one-bedrooms or larger}, and the extra bathroom space would have been extremely helpful. 

Patience does improve. This visit was game-changing as far as the stamina and tolerance of our party and what we could reasonably do in one day. We wisely still built in rest periods, and we had a pretty firm deadline for when we retired to the room each night, but overall we kept up a fairly quick pace and did things {longer lines, different parks on the same day, earlier starts} that would have been deal-breakers on past trips. Dare I say Disney with teen/tween/big kid is even more fun than Disney with wide-eyed littles. Instead of balancing all decisions based on what is novel without being overstimulating for a young child or baby {and basically dragging them around to activities I wanted to do}, we actually could decide together what to do next and plan on the go and roll with it. 

Packing is hard. I have been on many excursions all around the world. Whenever I pull out the suitcases I think, this is going to be the instance when I get it right. I will only take exactly what I need and no more. I will not forget anything essential. I will plan everything out to the last detail and travel light yet prepared. Guess what? I make mistakes every. single. time. However, with rare exceptions there are few ways to really screw up. We can do without, or buy something when we get there if it is critical. 

There were more tips picked up along the way, but these were the biggies. I have no doubt that our next vacation will provide even more insights.

Empathy

I have never been pregnant when I did not want to be. I have had three relatively uneventful pregnancies resulting in three healthy children. I do not have any idea what it is like to live through anything else. I never had to consider more pressing pregnancy-related matters than feeling extra tired, occasionally wanting to puke, and not fitting in pants for a few months. I had the same supportive partner all three times, and we were financially stable with no major health concerns.

If I had been in a situation where my well-being {or the well-being of my fetus} were at stake, or if my pregnancy were the result of a sexual assault, or if I were living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet—I cannot fathom a stranger holding the power to decide how to proceed. The very thought that an uninformed, science-averse politician or judge who knows nothing of my personal experience can maintain control over an organ inside my body and my life’s trajectory is completely and utterly abhorrent. 

An embryo or a fetus is not the same as a live baby; it has no sentient personhood. And even if it did, the rights of the pregnant person always need to take precedence—regardless of whether or not they make a choice you agree with. Let me say that again: Even if you claim we are dealing with two patients, the feelings and needs of the living, breathing, fully developed human being standing in front of me gets priority. 

No one should have the authority to tell someone else how to handle an unplanned or nonviable pregnancy. One cannot justify this view by supporting exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. All that tells me is that you find it acceptable to shame {or punish} select women for not having “good enough” reasons to not want to be pregnant. However a woman became pregnant—even if she and her partner didn’t use birth control, even if alcohol were involved, even if one person were having an affair, even if she simply considers it a mistake—it is not your call. You do not get to assign arbitrary blame to make yourself feel superior in your own choices. The circumstances of conception are irrelevant. You do not get to deem certain cases defensible and others not.

Louder for the people in the back: It. Is. Not. Your. Call.

I encourage you to read the stories of women who have had abortions {you can look here, here, here, and here} and then decide which one of them you would have made a different decision for. Which ones had an “acceptable” reason to terminate and which ones did not?

While you are at it you may want to read some information from actual medical professionals who deal with these cases. Dr. Jen Gunter’s website is a great place to start.

The truth is, there will always be exceptions—fetal abnormalities, rapes that go unreported, previously undetected illnesses—and I personally will never be in a position to judge whether or not someone else’s basis for wanting to end a pregnancy is “good enough.” I cannot make these decisions for other people. Neither can you.