Thursday, June 30, 2016

Marriage Focus: Weekend Away

My husband and I were able to get away for a long weekend recently. It is one of those things I wish we'd done more of when our children were younger. Money and childcare were definite obstacles. But even if you can't go away together, it is so important to find time to focus on being friends and lovers, not just parents, housemates, etc.  The marriage relationship needs to be nurtured in order for it to thrive, and since it is the foundation of your home and your family, it deserves priority over other activities in your life.

Mark took a day and a half of vacation, and we left on Thursday afternoon, headed 4 1/2 hours west to Asheville, NC.  We both love the mountains and our oldest son lives there.  My travel-savvy daughter suggested we try Airbnb instead of our normal Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn,  and although Mark was skeptical, I went ahead and booked us a place in Swannanoa, between Asheville and Black Mountain. Airbnb is an online marketplace where people list homes, apartments, or rooms to rent to travelers coming to their city.  We were able to rent a lovely "in-law" apartment with a full kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom in a home on a peaceful, quiet, and beautifully landscaped country lot. The owners have renovated their home into a "duplex", and they live on one side and rent out the other side when their grown children are not visiting. The cost was less than an average hotel room, with much more comfort and convenience!

Jade Tree Place

view from the front porch 

We spent Friday at the Biltmore Estate, America's largest privately-owned home, built by George Vanderbilt II in the 1890's.  Sitting on over 8000 acres of beautiful gardens, meadows, and woodlands, the gorgeous Gilded Age limestone mansion was modeled after French Renaissance chateaus,  with steeply pitched roofs, turrets, and much sculptural ornamentation, complete with gargoyles.  The home has 250 rooms, including 45 bathrooms,  33 bedrooms, a bowling alley, a 70,000-gallon swimming pool, 4 kitchens, and a gorgeous banquet hall,  flanked by a triple fireplace at one end and an impressive pipe organ up in a raised gallery at the other end.  Tours through the house are self-guided, and audio headsets are available for a fee.  We did that once, and learned a great deal of fascinating information about the construction of the estate,  the Vanderbilt family, the lifestyle of the very rich at the turn of the 1900s, the workings of a large estate home, and much more.  This time we just wandered through, admiring the furnishings and architecture.  There was a exhibit going on, of wedding fashion featuring costumes from iconic movies such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Out of Africa, and more.  The house was decorated with gorgeous floral arrangements to go along with the wedding theme as well. 

This type of day is really my "thing", and not so much my husband's.  My right-brainy self loves history, architecture, art, gardens, romance... all that wandering through a gilded castle in the lush Blue Ridge mountains on a perfect June day invokes.  My engineer, left-brained, very practical husband is not much impressed with all that,  BUT this outing was his idea, and he participated gladly,  noticing many of the details and early uses of technology - electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.   And he knew that visiting this place makes ME happy.   I appreciate the effort, because more often than not, we wrangle over what to do together, trying to find things we BOTH would choose, instead of deferring to and enjoying what the other person prefers for a time.  It feels good to know that my man spent a day doing something I enjoy, simply because he wanted me to enjoy it.  

On Saturday, we spent the morning walking through lovely downtown Black Mountain, exploring some of the crafty shops ~  well, me exploring the shops while Mark sat on a bench outside;  he can only tolerate so much, after all.  Then we met up with our son, Alex, and drove to Chimney Rock State Park. This is the kind of thing we did a lot of in our younger, camping years with our family. But Mark and I are both out-of-hiking-shape.  Still, we pushed ourselves up the 500 very-structurally-sturdy steps from the parking area to the top of Chimney Rock and were rewarded with amazing views.  I struggled a bit more than my hubby, but the boys were patient to wait for me when I needed to pause for a breather on the way up, and down, and again on the 1.5 mile trek to the waterfall that we somehow thought was a good idea.   I did it though, although my back hasn't been quite the same since.  I probably need to do a little physical training ahead of time before I attempt something like that again.  I really feel pathetic even saying that, but age and relative inactivity means I'm not as sprightly as I once was. 

It was a fun trip.  Not perfect, because we are imperfect. We fussed a bit too much over trivial things, but we enjoyed exploring some new places, spending a day with our first-born, and just spending time together away from the pulls and routines of being at home.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Why I Take a Long Summer Vacation...

... a.k.a  why I don't do year-round schooling..... a.k.a. Mama needs a break!

Homeschooling looks different for each family.  Some are early risers, some sleep in.  Some are textbook fans, some prefer "living books".   Some keep a strict daily and weekly schedule, some ... don't.

Some families follow a year-round schedule, and others love their summer break!  I fall in the latter category.

Perhaps it is because I am the daughter of two public school teachers, but I grew up with a deep appreciation for summer vacation.  In case any other summer lovers are feeling pressure to keep at the books during the sultry months, here are some of my reasons for taking a summer break. 

1.  Break from the routine: When my kids were younger, our school-year schedule was full of piano lessons, band practice, sports practices, field trips,  Co-op days,  enrichment classes, volunteer work, clubs, etc. etc.  All that was suspended for the summer months, and our schedule was our own!  We would go to the lake or the pool,  turn on the sprinkler in the yard, watch movies,  have play dates with friends,  do craft projects, play board games, build forts,  and just be free to relax.  I would usually make myself a calendar with an idea for each day, and  a poster with a list of "possibilities" for when the kids needed suggestions.  A few times I tried doing "school work" during the summer, but that never stuck, and honestly, I never worried about  "losing ground" over the summer.   We still read books; we still played educational games, we still went interesting places, we still learned something each day... how could we not? But it was different kinds of learning than what we focused on the rest of the year.   If we had to review some math at the start of the new "school year", that was no big deal to me.

2.  Visiting faraway family: Every summer we spent a week or two or three with the grandparents in Massachusetts, building family relationships and making memories. Some of my kids' favorite summer memories are of visits to Grammy and Grampa's antique-filled house with the big grassy yard, badminton net, and tire swing.   Special time was spent with cousins and neighbor kids.  Family traditions included going to see a movie at the Drive-In;  going to Dunkin Donuts with dad every morning;  visits to Southwick's Zoo and taking the train to Boston;  visiting Aunt Chris's cafe in Putnam; dinner at Wright's Chicken Farm; sleeping out on the screened porch;  sewing with Grammy and listening to Grandpa's stories.   Although we live hundreds of miles apart, these summer visits created strong bonds between the generations.

3. Summer Camps:  Summer camp was not part of my youth, but it has been a huge part of my children's growing up years!  The older boys enjoyed a week at Boy Scout Camp, usually with Dad, for many summers.  Basketball camp, Runners Camp,  Science Camp, Worldview Academy .... lots of specialized learning of all different kinds.  From age 8 on up through high school, my kids have spent a week every summer at New Life Camp.  From age 13 on, they also spent several weeks volunteering there as CITs, and eventually got summer jobs as counselors, program staff, lifeguard,
First Aid provider.  Leadership skills and a servant's heart, spiritual growth and maturity, mentors, best friends, and even a spouse have come from the time spent at this camp.

4. Family Camping: I grew up camping with my family during the summers, and continued doing that with my children.   We aren't rustic, back-country hikers, but enjoy a nice family campground with running water, flush toilets, and showers;  a playground and/or swimming pool /lake/mountain stream were nice bonuses!  Some camping trips were just lazy weekends swimming and fishing at a lake;  some involved exploring national parks or historic sites.  Some trips were nudged to the spring or fall months, since sleeping outside with no air-conditioning, in the South, during the summer,  requires a strong constitution! We camped with a big tent for many years, but upgraded to a pop-up camper the summer that we took a cross-country trip.  When we camped, each member of the family had certain responsibilities during set up, mealtimes, fire starting, break down, etc;  there was lots of family bonding and fun adventures and memory-making!

5. Cleaning/Organizing/School planning:  I am undeniably a "casual" housekeeper, and organization is not my strong suit, so things tend to "stack up" when life is super busy.  Summer break gives me a chance to find my bedroom floor, reorganize the school bins and bookshelves, sort through the piles of paper, clean out the closets, and study catalogs and websites as I plan for the coming school year.  Then throughout the year I can manage with occasional "Home/School Organization" days to keep things from getting too out of hand.

Enjoy your summer, whatever you have planned!

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