The Mother of All Road Trips - Leg One

Not sure if I mentioned it in any previous posts, but we are spending the last week of September and the first two weeks of October on an extended field trip of sorts.  The first two weeks of October we will be touring New England hoping to take in the peak of fall leaves changing...among many other adventures, educational and otherwise.  This week, the kids and I are at Grandmom and Grandpop's house in Maryland while Sam travels to Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City for work. This means, if you haven't already deduced, that the kids and I were on our own getting to Maryland from Georgia.  After we dropped Sam at the Atlanta airport, we continued on our could-be 12 hour, 722 mile adventure to White Marsh, Maryland via Greenville, South Carolina, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Roanoke, Virginia.  

It wasn't 12 hours.

It was more like 14.5.

But since I don't want this blog post to take as long to read as the trip took to drive (and because typing on an iPad is harder than I thought), I'll try to hit the highlights.

More than once while I was driving, particularly through the seemingly endless 323 miles of the great state of Virginia, I thought to myself, "Man, what a grueling drive." It wasn't until I was better rested this morning that I had time to reflect on that thought.

Naturally, I thought about the game Oregon Trail.  (Wasn't "grueling" one of the options for the pace?)  And when I thought about it from that perspective, there wasn't much that could be counted as grueling about my trip.  At all.  

Instead of a covered wagon, we were riding comfortably in the Honda Odyssey, which, let's face it, is a pretty bombin' mom-mobile.  They are designed with large families hauling loads of crap necessary vacation staples in mind.  

When we got hungry, we pulled off at an exit and enjoyed a leisurely fast-food meal at whatever establishment boasted a playground.  Those poor souls in the covered wagons could pull over just about anywhere (after all, they weren't really traveling on real roads), but once they did, they had to prepare their own food.  I can hear my kids now, "Not salt pork and cornbread again!" Funny thing is, none of them complained that they had McDonalds nuggets for lunch and Chick-Fil-A nuggets for dinner.  I guess those are two entirely different things.  

The majority of our trip I traveled on interstates with a speed limit of 65 or 70 mph.  Those wagons covered 15-25 miles a day.  I'd literally be in Virginia for no less than the duration of our entire planned vacation.  (Don't get me wrong, Virginia is a lovely state and gorgeous along the mountains, but good grief it's bigger than you realize...especially when you travel through it diagonally.)

Bathroom breaks were, of course, not fun.  With four kids, one of which is a different gender and one of which is an infant, it makes things interesting.  We survived, however, without any fear of contracting dysentery or cholera.  We even stopped at a beautiful rest area in the mountains of (you guessed it) Virginia and didn't get killed by a serial killer.

To pass the time, we had a large collection of books, things to color, printable scavenger hunts I found online, the exciting views of a new, uncharted route, and a plethora of electronic devices, including a DVD player for which I rented a new movie from Redbox which I returned in Roanoke and rented another one.  What did the wagon kids do for fun?  Who knows?  Something about a pig bladder?  I think need to re-read the Little House books.  (Clearly.)

As with any adventure, there are always unforeseeable events.  In the case of the wagon people, it might have been a broken leg, or a snake bite, or even death.  For us, it was just Sarah falling out of the van and cracking the back of her head on the Chick-Fil-A parking lot, which, fortunately, was forgotten about by her first sip of sweet tea.

We did have something really cool happen whilst traveling. No, we didn't find any wild berries, or have enough grass for our oxen, but we were able to meet up with some dear friends at dinner that we hardly ever get to see for a brief, but awesome bite to eat. Even if, in the process, my penned-up children erupted from the van onto the CFA playground like Banshees and taught the innocent, onlooking children how to scale the poles that aren't exactly meant to be climbed. You win some, you lose some.;

One thing my trip did have in common with those wagon folks - coffee. I know we both drank coffee. The best things never change.

Well, now I know, I can successfully drive the kids halfway up the coast. I won't call it a rite of passage, but I will call it an accomplishment. And I certainly came to appreciate Sam in his absence.

Sam, if you read this, Sarah prayed for your safe travels tonight. The exact prayer was, "Keep daddy safe on plane so he won't get in trouble, and he will be happy." I hope you were able to keep yourself out of trouble in the air, given your apparent history of doing otherwise.

For those of you who prayed us through our adventure yesterday, I sincerely thank you. Your prayers were felt. Perhaps the most amazing testament to that fact is that I did not raise my voice a single time. I can't manage that on a good day at home, let alone on a "grueling" 14.5 hour road-trip whereby I have to drive and care for our 4 kids all by my lonesome. God is pretty neat like that. That's good grace. He was watching out for my sanity.

Maybe I will add some pictures when Sam gets here on Friday with the computer. Maybe I will keep trying to post on this iPad. Maybe I should go to bed.

Goodnight all.

PS - Don't even think about robbing my house now that you know I won't be there for 3 weeks.


Homeschool Honeymoonin'

I don't know if it's really a milestone, but I'm counting it as one.  We've made it eight weeks in this grand experiment called homeschooling.  While I think it's too early to speak of the success we're having (or not having), I can say with confidence that it has surpassed my expectations in nearly every way possible.  This, once again, is one of the benefits of being a pessimist.  I am learning so much.  I can only assume the same for the kids.  Being the realist that I am, I'm still waiting for the day to come when the bottom drops out.  Maybe it won't.  Maybe that's not the spirit to have, but I still can't shake the feeling that we are still honeymooning.  One of these days, I suspect one (or all) of them will be begging to go back to school.  I'll cross that bridge when and if we get to it.

I won't deceive you.  Homeschooling is not always a walk in the park.  It's not always sunshine and rainbows.  And one thing I can say with absolute conviction is that come bedtime, I am finished.  Love you lots, kids, but it's been a long day.  Long days aren't always necessarily bad.  Just tiring.  This happens, I guess, when you pour so much of yourself out from the moment you wake up until the moment they (and you) go to sleep.

Here's the way these next few posts are going to work - I'm going to show you a bazillion pictures from the past 7 weeks, and attempt (through the process of captioning) to cover (or at least touch on) the topics of curriculum choices, homeschool perks, building family bonds, and general life as a Sheppard.  Hold on to your seats.


I'm beginning with this because it is my favorite subject, to teach anyway.  I never appreciated it coming up through school.  Maybe that's why I feel like I'm learning so much.  We are using The Story of the World beginning with the ancient history - studying, well, the entire story of the world chronologically over a four
year cycle.

We probably spend too much time doing projects and not enough time reading.

Our studies have taken us from Ancient Egypt to the first Middle Eastern cities to the origin of the Jewish people which included (but is not limited to) time spent on hieroglyphics/cuneiform, making our own Rosetta stones, learning and carrying out the mummification process on some excess Barbie dolls, drawing Pharaoh from our Funny Faces book, covering the entire book of Genesis in one week by making our own coat of many colors, building a ziggurat, and watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (on VHS even). 

Can't even tell you how much Ben enjoyed destroying Barbie dolls.  The poor kid is surrounded by girl toys 24/7.
Betcha can't figure out whose is whose.  (Hint:  I helped with Sarah's.)

What?!  How did that picture get on here?  (Apparently, I show up to school in my jammies too.)

 We are using Apologia's Exploring Creation through Astronomy.  In the first 8 weeks of school we've covered the Sun, Mercury, Venus, and we're about to begin the best of all planets, Earth.

Sun Collages

Dropping asteroids on Mercury.  It's not a pretty planet, that's for sure.

Exploring molten rock versus lava versus volcanic rock as it pertains to the landscape of Venus

Oh my goodness, this is long.  And I've only covered two subjects.  Well I guess we know what the next posts will be about!  

What do I do with Sarah (the 3 year old) while all of this is going on, you might wonder.
I just let her make her own trapeze equipment.  She'll make a great circus performer some day.

Until next time - which will hopefully not be weeks and weeks - I have so very much to put down in writing!!!  
Be blessed!

Mom Things - Because I can take a 6 month break from them if I wanna

I've been slack on the Mom Things - not that there haven't been millions, but for some reason I've been busy.  I always sit down to type them out, and someone beckons me from the nursery or from the grips of one of their siblings or from the bathroom.  Such is life!  Since most blog posts of late have taken over two days from start to finish, I'm considering it a success that this one took just the better part of a single day.  Without further ado, after a way-too-long hiatus...How to Know You're a Mom...

During an intense game of "Doctor", you realize your child has a lot to learn before she can expect a successful career in medicine...
Dr. Abby: Your brains are coming out.
Me:  Sounds serious.
Dr. Abby:  Let me check my computer.  (comes back holding toy hammer)  My computer says the only way to get them to stay is to hammer them in.  (begins tapping on my head)
Me:  Whoa, whoa...you don't put me to sleep first?
Dr. Abby:  (without hesitation) No. But you can have a teddy bear to hold.
Me:  I'll take it.

As you and your son head out to the dentist for one filling apiece, your six year old starts crying because she wants to go to the dentist.  What?!  Oh that's right, she gets a prize from the treasure box if she's good.

Because it's free and because the projects are pretty cool, you and the kids head out to Lowe's and/or Home Depot most weekend mornings.  The kids get to play with hammers, and bring home a toy.  On one of the first trips to Lowe's, your five month old was in the mei tai carrier when you heard her start wailing.  That's right.  Your three year old had taken the hammer to her head.  Not violently, but tapping - and enough to make your sensitive baby flip out.  After explaining to the three year old that this is far from acceptable, she offered a sincere apology a little later in the form of, "Leah, I'm sorry I hammer you."  And you wholeheartedly admit to laughing right out loud at that.

[I just realized that not one, but two, of these involve hammers to the head.  I promise this is not something we teach them.]

As is often the case with older children on a power trip, your nine year old was trying to demonstrate his superior academic knowledge over your six year old.

Ben:  Abby, who's the president of the United States?
Abby:  (without hesitation and with matter-of-fact conviction) John Franksmin.
Ben:  (confused)  Maybe she meant the other guy who might be the next president.
Me:  Mitt Romney?
Ben:  Mint Romney?!  That's even worse!  What kind of a name is Mint?  I thought that was a candy.

(At your infant's 6 month checkup)
Doctor:  Let's put you on your belly and see if you can roll over. WHOA!  You're crawling off the table!
You:  Yeah, I forgot to tell you that part.

Over Labor Day you went on an overnight trip to the in-law's house and came home to a backdoor wide open that someone failed to close behind them when they when out to get their shoes from the back porch before church.  By the grace of God, no one stole anything, but you did have some vagabond mosquitoes take up residence.  You're still killing strays a week later.  This is your Public Service Announcement.  The 9 year old should never be the last one out of the house before vacation.  (And your mom's voice echoes in your head, "Do you think we live in a barn?!")

Your three year old takes away the most interesting things from your nightly devotions.  One time there was an illustration using a bear (no one even remembers the specifics anymore), which convinced her that rogue bears were going to walk into the house and eat her.  For weeks she feared this.  You finally explained that bears only live in the mountains (okay, so that's totally not true), and that you don't live near any of those.  Her prayers changed to "Thank you, God, for the mountains being far away."  Then she added, "Thank you for Daddy killing all of the bears."  Hmm...things you didn't know about how your husband spends his free-time...

Your three year old has taken up bribery in an attempt to get what she wants.  Her latest offering, "I'll give you a trophy if you set up this Polly Pocket world in the living room."  Tempting...

The beauty contests.  Your five and three year olds bedeck themselves in various dresses and accessories, tap me on the hip, and demand that you tell them which one is prettier.  You are forbidden from calling it a tie.  This seems like something that would cause lasting damage to their little psyches.  Even if you choose them both every other time, there is no shortage of tears.  Worst game ever.  You ultimately decide to just deal with the wrath of not playing with them on that "game."

While cleaning the seat on your doorway jumper, your three year old seizes the opportunity to use it as her own personal trapeze.


Nine Years Ago (plus one day because I LOVE to be fashionably late)

I can't believe it's been three years since I wrote my last "Dear Ben" post.  I can't believe it's been three years since Ben was six years old.  I really can't believe Abby will be six in less than a month.  Such is life with kids though, and they do say

The days are long, but the years are short.
(Can I get an Amen?)

Since I'm feeling nostalgic and inspired on his birthday (plus one day because it apparently takes two full days to compose a single blog post anymore), I'm going to write another one.  Whether blogs are meant to be personal diaries for the world to read, I don't know, but this one seems to be just that.  Someday I hope I don't regret it.  I don't think I will. 

My Dear Son, Benjamin,

Nine years ago, at almost exactly this time of day (10:55am to be exact), you entered this world.  After waking up just seven or so hours earlier with what I thought were gas pains, I soon figured out you were on your way (but not as quickly as you might think).  The next nine years would have plenty of gas and a few pains, but on the day you were born, all I could think about was how completely and totally responsible for you your father and I were.  Having you taught me that there is more to life than satisfying my own selfish desires.  In fact, you taught me to think of myself last.  I think God teaches us so many lessons through children.  You have been an excellent teacher, and you probably don't even know it. 
 You continue to soak up whatever knowledge you can gain, preferring non-fiction books to works of fiction.  You remind me of Grandpop when it comes to how much you retain after one pass through a book.  It's like you're a little sponge with a photographic memory. I don't know if it's because you read so much, or because you have an innate sense of right and wrong, but you have the gift of conviction.  You know what you believe and why you believe it.  This will serve you amazingly well in the realm of apologetics.  It's one of the reasons why Aunt Julie has been guessing that you'll be a litigator at some point.  That may be true, but I think you might also be suited for a seat on the bench.  I suspect one of your spiritual gifts is that of "Prophecy", not in a foretelling type of way, but in the fact that you have an ability at such a young age to discern right from wrong.  This is a gift.  Use it!  I admire this so much about you.  I hope and pray that this sticks with you through adulthood.

You are so much like me it simultaneously terrifies me and makes me smile.  Not that one can have an objective opinion of oneself, but I see you destined to exhibit both my best and worst character traits.  You are human, just like your mother.  Uncannily like your mother.  You prefer not to be surprised.  Depending on your mood, you can take a joke very well or not so well at all.  You get frustrated when things don't come naturally to you, and tend to not want to do them.  Your first reaction if you're not happy is to get angry.  I feel like I'm looking in the mirror when I look at you and your reactions to life.  Sometimes it makes me smile, sometimes I want so much more for you, and I wish I knew how to break you of your patterns.  I just remember that God created us in His image, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we too can embody Christ-like qualities - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. 

Having you has challenged me to do things I never thought I would do - read the Harry Potter series so I would be able to converse with you about it, make Minecraft creeper cupcakes for your birthday, and perhaps the biggest leap of all things - bringing you and your sister(s) home from school to learn with me as your teacher.  Thank you for your faith in me, for your unsolicited encouragement, for setting a positive example for your little sisters, and for your enthusiasm for learning.  You make homeschooling a joy (except when that 10:30am sugar drop occurs, but we're learning that a little snack helps, aren't we?).

Since I last "wrote" to you, you have accomplished and experienced so many things.

~became an accomplished boogie boarder.
~grew out of your intense, mysterious hives breakouts.
~scored the first goal of your soccer career.
~perfected the art of making sweet tea.
~became a big brother to yet another baby sister.
~performed your first speaking role in a church musical.
~went to Disneyworld and Busch Gardens where you discovered your deep love for all thrill rides.
~were, perhaps, the most convincing Harry Potter look-alike ever for Halloween 2011.
~won 3rd place in a derby car race.
~went camping and wore the same clothes for 3 solid days straight....just like a little boy.
~accepted Jesus into your heart.

I have relished in watching you grow in wisdom and in stature, just like Jesus.  I have just relished in you.  People always told me children are a blessing from God.  They were empty words until you proved them to me, and you continue to prove them daily. 

I love you, Ben.  With my whole heart.  Just the way you are.

My nine year old boy.

Forever your biggest fan,

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