A Tree For Many Christmases

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We put up our tree yesterday, as we always do on the day after Thanksgiving.  It is starting to lose some of its very-fake branches.  We could get a new tree, but I’m too cheap to spend a bunch of money on something we only use for a month out of the year and totally cover up anyway.  We bought the one we do have in the off-season at a going-out-of-business sale right before we moved into this house 15 years ago.  We inherited my mother-in-law’s ornaments, mostly a ton of hardy red plastic balls.  I know they’re hardy because she had them before she got married.  They’re probably about 50 years old and I really like them.  (Whoever invented glass Christmas balls, by the way, didn’t have pets or small children.)  That Christmas I bought a bunch of musical-themed gold-colored ornaments, golden garland, and had a beautiful, music-themed red and gold tree.  It was very pretty, and it reflected my elegant musical self very well.

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 I remember setting up the tree that first year while my oldest, then 3 months old, spent some quality time around the corner at his grandparents visiting his aunt and cousin who were in town for Thanksgiving.  I played Christmas music and merrily dreamed about Christmases to come filled with children, laughter, and beautiful Christmas trees.

I then invented and implemented a tradition that I love.  Every year for Christmas I give each child (we have 5 kids now, by the way) a new ornament that is their very own.  I write their initials on the back of it and the year it was given.  They are not for me, but for them, so they have ranged from fake gingerbread houses and cupcakes to lacy pretty dolls.  No musical instruments have been given.  Whimsy trumps elegance in the decision-making every time, and it shows.

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So gradually, our tree has changed from golden musical instruments and musical symbols to teddy bears and sock monkeys.  This process has greatly picked up speed as we have gone from 1 child to 5.  I figure we have added 56 new ornaments up to this point.

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It’s obvious that we have both boys and girls.  As the kids have gotten older, the ornaments have transitioned from teddy bears to basketballs, Veggie Tales to purses.photo 6

I’ve made other changes too.  We’ve changed from gold fuzzy garland to wide wired ribbon (which I also found on an after-Christmas sale).  We have traded the elegant white bulbs that went out every couple of years to colored LED lights.  And there are still a few musical instruments here and there and plenty of red balls.  One day, when the kids move out on their own, I’ll give them each their personal ornaments and I’ll be left with my elegant tree again.  Our Christmas tree reflects who we are as a family: economical, jam-packed full, reflecting the past, and willing to change with time.   One day the kids will be gone and I’ll have my elegant tree back.  Then I’ll start giving new ornaments every Christmas to the grandkids so their parents’ trees can become the joy mine has become.  But they better not count on it being elegant, because life with kids isn’t elegant.  Surprising, exciting, and fun, yes, but not elegant.

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An Interview With My Grandpa Moss

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This is the latest installment of a series about family history interviews.

In my last blog post, An Interview With My Grandma Stafford, I shared the notes of an interview I did with my maternal grandmother before she passed away.  This was a follow-up to the original post, Something You Won’t Regret, in which I discuss family history interviews.

This post is to share a similar interview that I did with my paternal grandfather a few months before he died.  It’s been edited a little to make an oral interview make sense in written form.  This interview focused more on stories because we already had most of the pertinent dates of birth, full names of parents, etc.  Just to give you some context, he was born in 1916 and grew up around Willow, Oklahoma before moving around during the Depression and ending up living most of his adult life in Monahans, Texas.  His father was a moonshiner, hence the references to how to make whiskey.  Enjoy the stories!

Roy Moss at home O

Memories by Roy Lee Moss Sr.

As recorded by Regina Moss in April 1991.

I turned 14 in December of 1930 near Willow, Ok.  There were 8 brothers and sisters at home.  Daddy was a farmer and made corn liquor and also was a horse trader.  Times was real hard.  We moved to Delhi in 1932.  You couldn’t get a job, and if you did it didn’t pay anything.

At 17 years old I decided to go to the West Texas Oil Fields.  I nearly starved.  At 18 years old, in 1935, I got a job washing dishes for $5/week.  I got a job milking cows by hand, getting up at 4:00 am for $5/week.  I also worked on a ranch for $15/month.  I got a job on a pipeline, but I can’t remember how much that paid.  At about 20-21 years old, I got a job with the state highway department for 28¢/hour.  I stayed with this job for 2 or 3 years.  I got a job in a machine shop and learned how to run machines until 1942 for 65¢/hour.  In 1942 I went into the air force for 42 months.  Some other things I did was I worked on a tank farm tearing down 85,000 barrel oil tanks in Wink and Pyote.  I worked on drilling rigs all over West Texas. I killed hogs for meat as well as cows and chickens.  I pulled bolls (cotton) for 35¢/100 pounds.

I lived in rented rooms in Monahans, Pecos, Orla, Pyote, Sanderson, Wink, and Hobbes.  Sometimes I ate; sometime I didn’t.

I got married on Oct 15, 1941.

I got my first car in 1938.  It was Model A Ford.  It wasn’t worth 35¢.  I loaned this car to Ed Cox for his first date with his wife.  He’s now a multimillionaire, and I have $100 too.

A loaf of bread was 5¢.  A 1/2 gallon of milk was 10¢.  The price of a Bull Durham sack was 6 for 25¢.  Gasoline was 8¢/gallon.

The government bought cows and came and butchered them to can the meat and give to the poor.  It was very good.

I had a job most of the time after age 19 (which was Dec of 1935).  Everyone was in bad shape.  During the dust bowl, my mom would wet washcloths for over our mouths.  That was in Delhi.  Sometimes we couldn’t see (from the dust).  I had one pair of good overalls.  At home I would take them off.  For lunch I took a biscuit, sorghum, and sausage.

Moonshining – You put mash in a barrel.  When it’s through working, you put the mash in a copper still.  You wrap the top of the still in cloth sacks and flour paste.  A copper tube coming out of the top of the still coils through a wood keg filled with water.  The vapor goes through the tube and condenses into liquid (whiskey) caught in a jar.  We were doing this in barn with me sitting in a window at the top of the barn watching for T-men (a special law-enforcement agency of the US Treasury).  The top blew off the still and blew me out the window.  It was about a 15’ drop.  I was age 15.  Daddy bootlegging sold the whiskey in pint bottles.  He cut a trap door to hide the whiskey between the floors.  The T-Men caught on and searched the house one Sunday and found it.  Daddy knew they would find it so he took off.  He was gone several days that time.  I knew where he was so I took him some food.  In all the years, the T-Men never caught him.

Daddy was nicknamed “Fox” because of a game “Fox and Goose” & no one could beat him at it.

Daddy used to buy wild horses and mules and we would break them.  I used to be ticklish and Dumas, my brother 4 years older than me, would get me down and tickle me.  Papa wanted a well dug in the middle of the horse lot.  Dumas had tickled me unmercifully that morning in the barn where papa couldn’t see it. When Dumas was down in the well, about 12’ deep, I pulled up the ladder and got a bunch of rock to throw at him.  I nearly beat him to death that day.  I was probably 12 and he was 16.

I killed 26 rattlesnakes 1 summer on Haystack Mountain (in Greer County, Oklahoma).

Every Saturday, a bunch of us went to Willow and some boys from Granite would come over to whip us.  We had a fight every Saturday night.  Sometimes we won.  Sometimes they did.  This was our entertainment instead of going to a picture show.  Willow was a big place then, probably 1,000 people.  On every 180 acres there was a family, and they would all come to town.

 

To read another blog about my Grandpa Moss, go read A Tribute To (My) Grandparents.


An Interview With My Grandma Stafford

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OllieStafford 18 OIn my last blog post, Something You Won’t Regret, I mentioned interviewing my maternal grandmother before she passed away.  Following is most of that interview.  It’s been edited a little to make an oral interview make sense in written form.  As you can see, it helps during the interview to have someone who knows enough about the person’s life to ask leading, open-ended questions.  This interview focused more on stories because we already had most of the pertinent dates of birth, full names of parents, etc.  Just to give you some context, she was born in 1912 and lived her whole life in and around Morris, Oklahoma with the exception of the few years during the Dust Bowl that they went to California for work.  Enjoy!

The following is a transcript of tapes made by Ollie Mae Hurt Stafford on January 2, 1998.  Interviewed by Barbara Stafford Moss and Regina Moss Beardsley. 

Q.  What games did you all play back then?

A.  Flying Dutchman.  Did you ever play Flying Dutchman?  You would have two strings of people, one on one side and one on the other, facing each other.  You would hold hands and somebody would call for someone to come over and break the string (Note: If they could not break through, they had to stay on the side where they couldn’t break through.  If they could break through they chose someone to go back over to the other side.  They kept going until everyone was on one side.  This game is also known as Red Rover.)  We played hide and seek and Annie Over, a game where some would stand on one side of the house and the others on the other side.  They threw a ball over and the one that threw it would try to get it and run around to the other side before they would get caught.  Sometimes the older ones could play Rack Jack (maybe Rap Jack?).  They would cut switches; Mr. Vaughan would keep the switches cut for them.  They would form a ring and if they caught anyone out of that ring they would hit them with that long switch and put him back in the ring.  Ola Faye Vaughan used to play it; Albon Vaughan and all of them.  They would hit them around the legs.  It was too rough for me.  Of course Gayle Vaughan and Albon Vaughan was in on it; Daddy (“Pete” Stafford) and all of them; Zelan and Ola Faye Vaughan.

 

Q.  What is the story about the Limburger cheese?

A.  It smells like when you go to the bathroom.  Someone put some on Bro. Hamilton.  I wonder where the Hamiltons went?

 

Q.  How old were you when you got married?

A.  I was 17.

 

Q.  How did you two know each other?

A.  We were raised up together, just across the field.

 

Q.  They didn’t move there until Daddy (Pete) was a good-sized boy?

 

Q.  Did Aunt Fannie get married before you did?

A.  Yes.   Me and Lucy stayed with Fannie when Alma was born.  She was born on Christmas Day.  She was a doll.  She was so sweet.

 

Q. What was the story about Grandma falling off the car into the mud?

A.  A long time ago after we got into the church, Dad and all of us, were wanting to go to church one night, and Dad didn’t know if we could make it, so he said, “I’ll go out and see how muddy it is.”  He went out and we didn’t have a sign of a light.  We had those old mag lights.  It wasn’t a battery light.  They wouldn’t last very long.  The roads were real bad, the ruts and all.  Dad hadn’t been driving very long, and he went just as fast in a crooked rut as he did on a straight road.  We were going from one side to the other in the car.  Momma said, “I’ll tell you what we can do: We have a lantern.  I can shine the glow in front of the car and I can stand on the fender and hold the lantern.”  We wanted to go to church that bad.  People now don’t want to go that bad.  Well, we started.  Mud, my there were big mud holes between our house and the church.  We were going down the road.  Dad was jerking us from one side to the other.  The roads were crooked and like I said, he went just as fast down a crooked road as he did a straight.  So Momma was on the fender holding the lantern.  Of course Dad was going, not paying any attention.  Well, she fell off in a big mud hole, lantern and all.  So Dad kept right on going.  I said, “Dad, Momma’s away back there.”  He said, “Where?”  I said, “Away back there.  She fell off.”  He didn’t even know she fell.  The lantern was in the mud, with Momma right on top of it.  Well, she got up.  We always carried a bunch of rags so when we got to church we could clean our feet off.  We didn’t want to go in there with mud all over us; our hands too.  Well, so Dad finally stopped.  He just hadn’t learned to drive very long.  Finally, he stopped and backed back to where she fell off.  She got back on again and held the lantern.  She wasn’t going to be outdone.  Well, we made it to church with her holding that lantern.   Now, don’t you know that was a light from that lantern. Dark.  We got to church and cleaned our feet off.  We all went to church and had a good meeting.

 

Q.  I wonder how you got back home.

A.  Roy Wesley (Grace’s husband), he was working for the cotton gin here in Morris and he happened to come down to church.  He said, “Did you all make it all right, and dad said, “Yes, we made it,” and he said “I can drive you home without any light,” so he did.  He drove us home without a sign of a light.  He said, “I can see,” so we made it home that night.

 

Q.  One time did Grandma Stafford fall out of the car?

A.  It was Gussie and Jake.  They went to church.  They had to pick up something at the store.  They were parked there on the side of the street.  Jake had already gone in there and Mrs. Stafford kind of leaned on the door and it came open and she fell out.  And Gussie fell out on top of her.  After they went to church they both got tickled in church and they both had to get up and go out and stay there until they got their laugh out.

 

Q.  Did one time Grandma Stafford go to church without her shoes?

A.  She forgot.  She went without her shoes in the wagon.  She wore her dresses clear down here (Note: to the floor).  I stepped on her dress tail many a time.  She said, “Oh, I don’t have my shoes on.  I don’t care.  I’m going on anyway.”  So she went on without any shoes and I don’t guess anyone ever noticed it.  Yeah, people had a time then, but they went just the same.  I’ve seen Momma lift the back end of that old car by herself and Dad was just pulling.  Of course he would kill the engine and stop right in a mud hole.  He didn’t know too much about it.  Momma would say, “Quit killing your engine.”

 

Q.  Was it Grandma who got in it and Grandpa was sitting by the porch?

A.  Momma said, “I believe I can drive that thing” and Johnny said, “Well, get in it and I’ll get in there with you.”  Dad was leaned back against the corner of the house reading his Bible.  He always got out there late of the evening and read.  So Momma did real good.  She drove around the house and when she came back around she just made a straight lunge for Dad.  He was leaned back, looking up and saw her coming and took his chair, his Bible and all and away he went and that car hit right in the corner where he sat and skinned a place on the house.  If he had sat there it would have mashed him.  He sure went.  He saw her coming.

One time he was driving and we had to go down a lane with a fence on each side and he was headed for the fence and he hollered, “Whoa, Whoa,” like he was driving the horses.  He was used to driving the horses.  We had a time, but we made it.

 

Q.  Name off your kids and the dates they were born.

A. (Note:  To respect the privacy of those still living, I have left out this section.)  (The last two children were twins weighing 9 lb 2 oz and 8 lb 4 oz.)  I could hardly walk before the birth of the twins.  Daddy had to bring water to me.  Jr. had to tie my shoes.  We lived out in the country.  All of our children were born at home.  I had a Dr. when they were born.  (Her second child, Raybon Dale, died at about 14 months old)  We thought Raybon Dale was healthy but he was hydrocephalic (they called this condition water head baby then).

 

Q.  Did you get sick after the twins were born?

A.  Part of the afterbirth did not come; part of it was left, and Dr. Burnett confessed he goofed.  Dr. Burnett fixed it in his office, which was very painful.

 

Q.  Was there a time when you were blind?

A.  Yes, it was when Bro. and Sis. Parks were pastors.

 

Q.  What happened?

A.  I don’t know.  I just got to where I couldn’t see.  I don’t know what was wrong.  But then I went to the doctor when I was able to go and he didn’t know either.  The pastor and his wife and a bunch of the people from the church prayed all night nearly one night, and the next evening I got to where I could see, so I have been through it; just a little bit.

 

Q.  Tell about Junior and the Korean War.

A.  He was drafted.  He was about 18, just a boy.  He got hurt really bad.  He went right to Korea after basic training.  While in Korea he stepped on a land mine.  It blew up.  Behind him a soldier was killed, and the soldier would have gotten to go home the next day; he had a little girl.  It broke both of Jr.’s arms and legs and tore one of his toes off and tore one of the muscles out of his upper legs.  They took him to Okinawa Hospital.

 

Q.  How did you find out about it?

A.  They sent telegrams notifying me.  I got more than one telegram.  One of them was notifying us of a minor injury.  One of them arrived while we were out in the cotton field picking or chopping cotton on Charlie Schultz’ land; (we had that land rented).  I don’t know who brought the first one; maybe George Adkins.  He brought the telegram and he said, “Don’t worry.  I’ve already looked at it.  He’s going to make it.”  That was when he just had a minor injury.  George Adkins brought the telegram when he got hurt bad.  I said “Good or bad?”  He said, “Well, good and bad too,” and then that way I had hope that he was still living.  That’s bad, I’ll tell you.  While he was in the war I lost weight down to about 128 lbs.

One night while he was in Korea I had a bad dream.  I said “Daddy, there’s a monster on my bed.”  It had big eyes and claws, and I don’t know what all.  I said, “What are we going to do?  I see something that’s going to get me,” but it didn’t.  I was worried so bad.  I would just go to bed at night and I would say, “Lord, you know where he’s at and you know you can take care of him,” that’s what I’d say.  He did His part.

 

Q.  Tell about the tornado.

A.  It was in 1984.  I hunkered down all right.  I was scared to death.  Daddy was too.  We were just squatted down on the floor.

 

Q.  How did you know it was coming?

A.  We heard it coming; from the Southwest.  We were standing on the front porch of the little house that blowed away where this one is now.  Daddy said, “I don’t know what it is, but I hear something coming,” and we came in the house and we sat down by the big buffet, right flat on the floor, next to the wall.  Dishes were falling from the cabinet and busting wide open.  I don’t want to go through that again.

 

Q.  Did it blow the chickens away?

A.  It blew away my chicken house with all the chickens.  (Note: none were ever found.)

 

Q.  Did it blow your house away, too?

A.  It took part of the roof and blew part of the windows out.  The dishes would fall out of the cabinet and bust and I thought, “Well it’s our time next I guess,” but it didn’t.  Daddy was praying and I was too.

 

Q.  What happened right after the tornado?

A.  We got a big house in Okmulgee with Sheron Kay and Freddie; a big old house.  We all lived in it until they could get our new house built.  We had a good time over there; all of us and Joey.  But we were wanting to get back over here.  It was about 3 months until the house was finished.  After that Daddy had a cellar built.

 

Q.  In the confusion in getting up in the middle of the night you got your dress on inside-out didn’t you?

A.  That’s what it was. I didn’t know it until the next day.  Somebody noticed it, and I said I hadn’t noticed it.

 

Q.  You were on TV, weren’t you?

A.  I told the man who was talking to us that we hunkered down by a big old buffet when the tornado came.  He said, “You hunkered down?” and I said “Yes.”

 

Q.  Tell about the Red Cross helping.

A.  Yes, they did.  They came and they said, “Have you had anything to eat?” and I said, “Yes, we had a little something to eat.”  Of course, there wasn’t any grocery store.  It was gone.

 

Q.  So the Red Cross helped you out?

A.  The Red Cross gave us $75 and some new sheets and things like that for the house.  I never was so scared so bad in my life.

 

And one more story:

A.  A long time ago we were moving to a different house.  I had all of my dishes in a big tub with towels around them to keep them from breaking.  I had them in Johnny’s pickup and we were following behind him in the car.  He was going about 90 miles an hour and the tub tipped up.  He would go over a bump and a plate would fall out.  He would go over another bump and a bunch of glasses would fall out and Daddy couldn’t catch him.  When I got home I didn’t have hardly any dishes.  Hazel (his wife) said, “I said Johnny, slow down.”  He lost all of  my dishes nearly and I had to buy some new dishes.  I got home with some knives and forks.  They were the heaviest.  They fell to the bottom.

 

Notes in parenthesis are added for clarification.

In this narrative, “Dad” is Ollie’s father, Josiah Hurt.  “Momma” is her mother, Georgia Weaver Hurt.  “Johnny” is her brother.  “Grace,” “Lucy” and “Fannie” are her sisters.  “Jr.” is her son.  “Daddy” is her husband, Arvey Olen “Pete” Stafford.  “Gussie and Jake” are “Pete’s” sister and her husband.   “Grandma Stafford” was Pete’s mother.

 

To read another blog about my Grandma Stafford, go read A Tribute To (My) Grandparents.


Something You Won’t Regret

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Listen up!  I’m about to tell you something that you will not regret, and you’ll definitely look back on it and thank me for nudging you to do it.  Are you ready?  Here goes, but first let me tell you a little story.

When I was a senior in high school I took American History.  I had a teacher who certainly wasn’t my favorite for various reasons I shall not go into here.  But he did something for me for which I will be forever grateful: he assigned extra credit.  This was wonderful not because of the few extra points it earned me, but because of the assignment itself.  The assignment was to interview an older person about their life.  The lucky thing about this assignment was that my paternal grandfather happened to be visiting us at the time from Monahans, Texas.  He came for a few days twice a year, and luck was on my side.  Since my grandmother had passed away the previous year, this was one of his only trips by himself.  I say “only” instead of “first” because as it turned out, he passed from this life unexpectedly a few months later and never made the trip again.  He seemed healthier than ever at the time of this interview.  Anyway, it just made perfect sense to interview him.  I think that at the time extra points were my focus more than any motivation to preserve the family history.  The post An Interview With My Grandpa Moss contains that interview.

Several years later, as my maternal grandmother started to succumb to dementia, I sat down with her to do a similar exercise.  The post An Interview With My Grandma Stafford contains that interview.

Both of these lovely human treasures have now passed from this life, but I have some marvelous jewels written down from these two efforts: dates, names, and mainly stories.  These are stories that couldn’t be made up; they’re much better than anything that could be made up.  In the next couple of posts I’ll be sharing some of the great true stories they told me.

So how does this affect you?

Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming up.  Chances are, in the next month and a half, you will see people from your family that you haven’t seen in a long time and may not see again for just as long.  This may even be the last time you see some of them.  So, as you gather with loved ones this holiday season, please take a few minutes with a matriarch, a patriarch, an elder, and let them talk to you about “the good old days”.  There’s a good chance you’ll wonder why in the world they’re called “good old days”.  You’ll likely hear some amazing stories.  Some will be funny, and others sad, amazing, heroic, and surprising.  You may even find a skeleton or two in the closet.  Whatever the case, record those memories on an iPhone or on a piece of paper or some other way of recording these priceless gems.  It doesn’t really matter how you do it.  Just do it in a way that can be saved and passed on.  Most people, especially older ones,  love to talk about their lives and will be glad to have someone listen to their stories.

Below are some possible questions to ask.  (Many more can be found with a quick Google search of “Family History Interview Questions”.)  These are meant to be simply a starting place.  Add other open ended questions to get them talking.  If you don’t already have them, get birth dates of siblings, parents, and grandparents.  I personally already had most of than, and the personal stories were what I was looking for.  If you are young, it may help to have another person older than you (maybe a child of the person being interviewed) sit in on the session and help by feeding leading questions such as “Tell us about the time that you…”  But if nobody is available that fits in that category, do it anyway.  Here are some questions to help you along your way.

What is your full (maiden if it’s a woman) name?

What is your date of birth?

What is/was your spouse’s full (maiden if it’s a woman) name?  When and where were you married?  How did you meet?

How many brothers and sisters did you have?  What was your birth order: were you oldest, youngest, or in the middle?

Where did you live?  What was the house (apartment, farm, etc.) like?  How many rooms? Bathrooms? Did it have electricity? Indoor plumbing? Telephones?

What kind of games did you play growing up?  What was your favorite toy and why?  What was your favorite thing to do for fun (movies, beach, etc.)?

What world event most impacted your childhood?  Adult life?  How did it impact your life?

What was your final level of formal education?  What was your profession?  What was your first job?  How much did it pay?

What were your parents’ full names?  What were your grandparents’ full names?  What did they do for a living?

Tell me some funny stories that happened to you or someone in the family.

What else would you like me to know?

Come back and comment on this blog and tell me how it went.  If I forgot something, tell me that too.

Then share it around.  If it’s in an audio file, transcribe it or get someone else to.  Make copies.  Pass it around.  And you will not regret it.


We Can Finally Eat Waffles

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Occasionally I like to serve breakfast food for supper.  Oh, I know it’s not the most healthy, low-fat, low-carb, or low-sodium meal, but it’s yummy enough to make me compromise that for one night.  So a few years ago I asked Santa for a waffle-maker for Christmas.  That and a large blender.  Yeah, I’m a pretty practical kind of girl.  Any gift that will make my life easier on a daily basis is just fine with me.

I imagined fluffy waffles smothered in butter, syrup, fruit, nuts, whipped cream…..  Reality was something quite different.  You see I have 5 kids who at that time were quite small.  The picture below was taken around that time.

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Reality was that I cooked the waffles, I buttered the waffles, I put syrup on the waffles, and I cut the waffles.  For 6 people.  For at least one of the children I even placed the waffles in the mouth.  Then I cleaned up all the spots where syrupy hands had left sticky mess all around from touching things.  This was not fun.  So I learned that waffles were not for that stage of our family.

Several other things were also discovered at about the same time.  We quit going to buffet restaurants because at a buffet, I became the waitress.  Well, between taking children to the bathroom, I was the waitress.  I could hardly get a bite in my mouth for all the “can I have some more of this” and “I’m done, can I have dessert now?”  It would have been easier for me to cook a dinner than to do that.

I did my grocery shopping online.  Have you ever tried to go grocery shopping with 5 small children?  IMPOSSIBLE!  At the time there was actually a store that did home delivery.  I got my money’s worth out of that small fee they charged.  But it also meant that there were weeks when I only left the house for church.

My husband was at that time (and with my blessing) working a full-time job pastoring our church, teaching part-time as an adjunct professor at a seminary in St. Louis (we live on the East Coast, by the way, so that required some traveling), and earning his PhD.  We agreed at the beginning that we would do the traditional roles, with me being a full-time mom and homemaker and him bringing home the bacon, so to speak.  So he definitely carried his weight, more than his weight actually, but it was just different from the weight I was carrying.  When he was home I wanted it be positive time for the family, not him helping me with the things I had agreed to handle, though he sometimes did that anyway.

He still pastors and teaches, but the PhD is done.  Two children are now old enough to babysit the others, so I can go out for a few hours alone.  We have 2 cars now, and we can actually use them due to the babysitting teenagers.  I regularly run errands, go out for a lunch alone, or have a lunch with friends.  Hubby and I can spend a day out together without planning it a month ahead of time.

We both look back on that phase of life and say, “What were we thinking?”

He was thinking that to reach our goals he needed to get that “Dr” in front of his name.  I was thinking that I loved having babies, and I asked for each of the 5 children.

That time was hectic but rewarding.  I don’t get near as many cuddles and snuggles now-a-days.  The joy of discovery is waning.  Pots and pans or an empty box are no longer acceptable toys.  The kids’ clothes aren’t nearly as cute as they used to be.

Each stage of life and raising children has good points and bad.  Each coin has two sides.  I try to look at the positives of whatever stage I am in.  Those hectic tiring times taught me an immense amount.  I learned to work, and keep working, even with little sleep.  I learned that I can function, even with a migraine.  I learned that I can do WAY more than I thought I could do.  I learned that there are things more important than my comfort or free time or a spotless house or perfectly done hair.  Those are lessons I wouldn’t trade for anything, for they have made me the confident woman that I am today.  They taught me to prioritize, manage time, and focus on what REALLY matters.

So yesterday when I decided to cook breakfast for supper and pulled out the waffle-maker that my children didn’t even know I had, I was a little excited.  At the dinner table I only had to cut one child’s waffle, and I was able to make her pieces larger than a pea.  The kids even cleaned their plates and put them in the dishwasher, which 2 children later emptied after they were clean.  I haven’t found any sticky spots around the house today.  It is wonderful!

But we’re in a different stage now.  If I could just get the kids to not argue about who gets to make the waffles…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Curriculum I Use: A Review of The Well Trained Mind

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downloadI often have people ask me what curriculum I use.  I think they are expecting an easy response like “I get these DVDs from Somewhere Corporation and they teach my kids everything they need to know.  The program is all laid out nice and easy like, and it can teach any child.  I don’t even think about it; I just pull it out of the box, and voila (which is French for “there it is”, by the way), the child is smart.”  Well, it’s not quite that easy.

One of the main reasons I homeschool is because I want a different experience, not cookie-cuttered, and not patterned after a brick-and-mortar school somewhere.  If I can make school personalized to exactly what I want my kids to learn, why would I turn that over to anybody else who doesn’t have any idea what I’m wanting?  So, though it would make things easier in the short-term, I don’t use a packaged, pre-boxed, curriculum.  I put it together myself.

During the Preschool and Kindergarten years, I used the Montessori Method.  We all enjoyed it very much, and the kids learned a lot.  It is very child-directed and enjoyable, as I think learning at that stage should be.  However, I think that there are certain things that students need to learn whether they like it or not, so as they enter elementary school we transition to a more structured method and we chose the Classical Method.  After making that choice, we found a book that fits us perfectly and lays out a structure with plenty of room for customization.

This post is a review of that book.

TWTM

The Well Trained Mind: a Guide to Classical Education at Home was written by Dr. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise.  Jessie happens to be Susan’s mother and homeschooled her 3 children for most of their education.  She is trained as a teacher but chose to homeschool her kids because she didn’t like how their education was turning out.  Jessie taught Susan, as I said before, and you can read her narrative bio if you click her name above.  She has done too much learning for me to list it all here, but let me say she has several degrees from prestigious universities, and she has written many books ranging from The Well Trained Mind to a couple of enjoyable novels to The Art of Public Grovel: Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America.  She is currently writing a several-volume history of the world for adults.  She is on the faculty of The College of William and Mary teaching American Literature.

But enough about them.  Let’s talk about their book.  First of all, there is a website devoted to it where you can get more information.  This book is very popular among homeschoolers, not that I pay a lot of attention to that.

The Well Trained Mind is a combination of several things, giving their personal story and how they came to homeschooling, a basic description of the classical method, and then step-by-step instructions about how to do that at home.  They finish by addressing some loose ends that need to be tied up.

I really like this book.  I have used it for the last 11 years to school kids with several different learning styles and attention spans, and with some adaptations, it has worked for us.  It takes each level of the trivium, which is a classical idea of breaking up 12 years into 3 sets of 4, and drills it down by subject, giving everything needed, including suggested schedules, possible different ways to do the subject, and a list of places to buy book and supplies mentioned.  It is comprehensive enough to tell how to school a child for all 13 years while all fitting within 864 pages.  I get it out every summer and re-read sections of it again, and I’m not bored yet.

For example, it talks about the first 4 years in general (the grammar stage), and then it devotes a chapter each to the major subjects that need to be taught during those years.   Each chapter finishes with a “How to Do It” section as well as possible schedules and a list of resources and where to get them.  Then, after covering those 4 years completely, it moves on to the next 4 years (the logic stage), repeating the same process.  The last 4-year stage is the Rhetoric stage, and it is given the same treatment.  For example, the math section for the grammar stage (that sounds a bit confusing, but remember that “the grammar stage” is simply the designation for 1st-4th grade) begins with a discussion of the philosophy of how a classical education approaches math (learning the times tables, not using calculators in elementary school, etc).  Then it gives several possible math curriculums like Saxon, A Beka, Math-U-See, and Developmental Math.  They recommend any of these programs, but in this section they give suggestions about the positives and negatives of each one, telling things that can be cut (too much busy work) or weak spots that may need to be supplemented.

The last part of the book is a potpourri of several things like how to supplement a traditional school education with extra home training, grading, athletics, standardized testing, and using outside resources.

Things I Like:  This book was written for those who want to do a rigorous, structured, but personalized education.  It gives plenty of room for personalization without leaving the parents/teachers to figure out everything for themselves.  Some of the resources recommended (grammar, writing, history) are written by the authors, which always makes me nervous.  However, having used them while also looking around for anything better, I generally think this is a good thing.  They knew what they wanted and couldn’t find it, so they wrote it exactly as they wanted, which I have generally found to be pretty good.  My kids are doing VERY well using this curriculum, and that is the best recommendation for it.  I like the way they put formal logic as a subject of the 2nd stage (which happens to be called the logic stage).  I also like the way they don’t assume all homeschoolers are conservative christians.  Though many, including myself, are, I like the way she states whether a resource is coming from a secular or religious point of view, and if so, what the religious point of view is.

Things I Dislike:  There are weaknesses in some of the resources they recommend, some of which they mentioned and some of which they didn’t.  I will take those one by one in later posts.  Generally, these 2 authors are not scientists or mathematicians.  Their recommendations for science could be better, in my opinion.  They want the student to have exposure to science, but the science recommendations are not as rigorous as I would like.  This is probably partly a reflection of the classical method, and partly a reflection of the authors’ strengths.  Luckily, with my nursing background, I know enough about science to work that part out myself.  I will write that all out at some time also.  On a different note, I pitched out the Latin and replaced it with Spanish.  Again, that is an argument with the classical method, not just this book.

As they acknowledge in the book, this is a skeleton, a suggestion, that should be personalized.  I have not done everything they say, and I have added some, which is the strength of this book.  I would say that if someone uses this book exactly as it is lined out, they will end up with an excellent education with the possible exception of science.