Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Heart & Soul Homeschool Mama ... By Gena Suarez

Thank you to TOS Magazine for asking me to share this wonderful & funny article. Makes me feel so much better to know that I'm not alone ...

I am sitting in a coffee shop today, working away like a busy bee. Lately I've had so many emails to respond to, I feel like a hamster on a wheel (the emails are never-ending). I need to create at times, too, not just stay buried in "send and receive" all day long. So I thought I'd put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write you a letter.

So . . . what to write? I need a prompt. For now, as I start my "magazine work" day, I've just come across a Facebook message sent to me privately by a homeschooler who had some questions about "balancing it all." She said she has four kids she's trying to homeschool and is wondering how I (with my six kids AND a magazine to run) am managing. How do I do it; how do I keep it all together?   

That's Hilarious

After sliding out of my cafĂ©-style, overstuffed chair laughing maniacally, I cleared my throat and started to type. And here I am. [Chuckle] This is funny. Me, balanced? Me, organized? I don't think so. I mean, I am blessed—Paul is home full-time with me. We both do the magazine and manage the staff and handle the travel and everything that comes with publishing a magazine of this size. But guess who is teaching Sani to read? (Paul) Guess who handles all the house errands and takes care of me? (Paul) Guess who is teaching Levi to drive, helping Paulie fix his motorcycle, and talking about quilting with Julia? (Paul—and yes, he quilts. LOL) Okay, so that aside, I still have a lot on my plate. There is the staff and all that comes with TOS, but there are also (far more importantly) my kids: their hearts, their relationships, their high school credits (only two of our kids are being homeschooled right now; two are graduated and two are babies).

So how do I do it all? Like I said, I don't.

We're Just Slobs . . .

I think I've come to realize after all these years that first and foremost, I want to be a "heart and soul homeschool mama." That's all that really matters. My house is a mess (stop by unannounced and I probably won't answer the door—my living room is a disaster). Take a look at my kitchen; normally you will be hard pressed to find the counters. My couch (what couch—where'd it go?) is overrun by clean laundry waiting (patiently and forever) to be folded and put away. Hey, at least it's clean! My bedroom door stays closed, because, well, never mind. I won't even go there because to describe the clothes behind closet doors, make-up spilled on the counters, and a toilet that looks a little . . . well . . . not as white as it used to, would just be embarrassing. Seriously. My house is pretty messy. For the most part it's really sanitary, though. I have an obsession with "cleaner wipes," as we call them. My kids are constantly wiping down furniture and doorknobs, tables, chairs, and the counters—when we can find them. I love to cook and wash my hands too many times. We're clean. We're just . . . slobs. Epic success!

I'm Not That Smart

So I am not a "house-cleaning super mama." I gave up that dream long ago, like four minutes after I said, "I do." Nor am I a "brainiac homeschool mama.” My kids have gaps, holes, and stops in their education. They did alright; the two who have graduated went on to do a few semesters at college and got straight A's in everything they took, even all the math (yuck). Well, Lukey got ONE B (history). Other than that, they are 4.0 college boys. So something went okay in the homeschooling, I guess. But yeah, there are holes. We didn't dissect a frog—ever. That is just sick and I am not going there. My house is gross enough as it is, and knowing us, someone would lose a liver in the clean laundry and we'd never find that frog. One of my friends ordered a cow's eyeball and it was delivered via MAIL (oh, my, gross). She rolled that puppy right onto her kitchen table and sliced and diced away with her kids. Then they stored the thing in her fridge. Okay. Well, then.

I am not a "brainiac homeschool mama"—sorry, just can't do it. First of all, I'm not a brain like my cow eyeball-wielding friend. I have another friend who is a homeschool mom who also happens to be our lawyer. Her child probably could have graduated when he was 13. She's a constant stream of brainpower, and she imparts it all to her lucky boy, who is almost as smart as she is by now. Crazy. I can't do it. I am simply not equipped. But we did the basics and had loads of conversations and put the time into a bazillion documentaries and traveled around on business, plus read books aloud when we could. We also did loads of reading comprehension. Epic success!  

My Hair Is Whacked and I Can't Match My Clothes to Save My Life

I am not a "fashion-ado homeschool mama." I'm chubby! My hair gets brushed (and I am serious) two to three times a week at best. It's frizzy—why would I want to comb it out? Then it would be an afro that would touch the ceiling and put people in danger of being static-shocked. My babies would get lost in it. So keep it tight, leave it alone, slather it with gel if someone is coming over—good enough. I'm like a female version of Ronald McDonald and I am NOT the only person who's told myself that. So, fashion is not really me. I'm not beautiful like some of my homeschool friends who look so well put together. They have gorgeous manes that they probably comb out every day. Their shoes match. And their teeth are straight and white. Makeup? Can you believe some people wear it daily (more maniacal laughter—sorry)? Fashion Gena is just not in existence. Never has been. This homeschool mama cannot even match her necklace to her shoes (although I did try once). My hair is kinda clean and I wear deodorant. Epic success!

Field Trip? You Wanna Go WHERE?

I am not a "field trip homeschool mama." Okay, these mamas are great, but I cannot keep up with them! They have a field trip experience for every other day of the week. Their kids have been to the Grand Canyon (mine have not). Their kids have visited flight museums and experienced Jamestown and all the reenactment festivals for both sides of the Civil War (mine haven't). They can recite the Gettysburg Address and know all the historical/educational landmarks of Philadelphia (mine don't). Busy, busy learning by experiencing. They'd fly to every planet for a field trip if they could. And my hat is off to them! Look at the investment they are pouring into their children! Hands-on learning—can't beat it. Just wish I had time for such a thing (I think). Sounds exhausting and I'm tired even thinking about it. I am not a "field trip homeschool mama" like several of my better friends. But we travel when we can, visit faraway places in books, and get out here and there. Epic success!

What kind of mama am I? I don't have the corner on a clean and lovely home. I am not a brain who can pontificate over my children, pouring set-to-memory knowledge in their craniums (I don't have that much stuff memorized!). I am not that well put together—Mrs. Ronald, remember? (I stopped dyeing my hair red because the resemblance is then even more uncanny and it's disturbing.) And I am not constantly whisking my kids away to the Alps for P.E. or to the Golden Gate Bridge or Crater Lake for geography. I am a "heart and soul mama." I'm here for them when they need me; relationships are first and foremost, and I want them to know the Lord their God with all their heart and soul. I want to get to their hearts and have an impact on what happens with their souls. I want to bare my own heart, and I want us to build on that as our family continuously draws closer to each other and to the Lord.

It's the Lord who reaches the heart and soul, and He uses us moms in many ways to do it. By REGULARLY speaking to their hearts and guarding their souls, we are creating an atmosphere for flourishing growth. Is that a perfect picture? If comparing it to fine art, it may look very abstract or even Impressionistic in style (crazy swirls and wide brushstrokes) and sometimes quite messy, but keep walking (even if you're not as organized as you'd like to be), because it IS a form of fine art, divinely inspired and very much a part of His sovereign plan for our lives. He directs our steps if we follow Him. And He values your children even more than you do. He loves them. He loves you. Keep walking.

Here is a poem I wrote JUST for you!

I am a little chubby,
My house is never scrubby,
Still we eat good grubby,
And the kids make it to the tubby (once in a while).

My hair is sometimes brushed,
And often we feel rushed,
The babies have to be shushed (if we DO make it on the occasional field trip),
But our homeschool spirits are never crushed!

Always someone with a runny nose.
The dish pile in the sink needs a pressure hose.
Look at all my wrinkled clothes!
But the love in our house grows and grows.

My house is the black hole;
Forget the toilet bowl.
In the mornings I look like a troll,
But we have heart and soul!

Sing it with me!

We have heart and soul!  [grin]

Did you like my poem? I made it up while listening to weird music the coffee shop is blaring. I think it served to inspire the quirkiness of the poem (if you can call it poetry—I tend to liken it to prattling babble). Anyway, so I was thinking about the lady who asked me how I "do it all" and I thought, "Hmmm, I wonder if a lot of others are feeling bummed that they don't ‘have it all together’ or that they're just not well put together enough as a homeschool mom?” Perish the thought! Here, make a list if you need to. You want to be organized and that's a good thing. Being orderly is right and necessary. But don't beat yourself up if you can't do everything you think should be happening. That's where your list comes in. Make three categories, maybe something like this one of mine, below. We're talking priorities here. What's the most important, then second most, and then wishful thinking (but may be possible by 2019 or something). Okay, so like I said, here's mine. Now you make your own.

Heart & Soul Homeschooling: My List!

A. Highest Priorities—Must Happens (And don't get me wrong—I fail here too.)

• God's Word and prayer daily in me
• God's Word and prayer daily in the kids
• Love my husband—treat him right as head of home and family and make sure he knows he's better than Superman and Batman put together.
• Relationship with the kids—are there clear channels of communication with each one? No barriers? If any walls up, break those down NOW.
• Halt everything and do "Talk Time" with anyone following me around staring/frowning with that "need-to-talk" face.
• Siblings loving each other (or at least I should be threatening that they'd better or else, heh heh)
• Some kind of food (preferably nutrient-dense) for everyone at some point (preferably three times)
• Schoolwork—is learning taking place even if at a slow and steady pace?
• Kids clean and teeth brushed with happy faces at bedtime
• House is sanitary enough in case health department stops in (they better not)

B. Pretty High Priority but Not Die-Hard  

• All school topics covered within reason
• Exercise to point where heart rate is up and muscles are being toned
• Tidy house, even the dishes all washed and couches exposed to daylight
• Decent meals (3 times) with more than one item on plates
• Read aloud with the kids, play games, maybe cook together, lengthy conversations throughout the day
• Sweep something, maybe even mop a floor and wash the tubs
• Friends who need help/counsel—be there  

C. Would Be Nice (Dream On)

• Take a trip to Greece to see ancient ruins and the Colosseum
• Fix the house up
• Clean my bedroom
• Dress to actually match
• Brush hair more than three times per week
• Have a yard sale and get rid of all this JUNK
• Roller skate
• Just for fun, let's see if EVERYONE can wear shoes today (even me)
• Create some sort of diet that makes sense (these things take time/planning)
• Watch a great film or a play in a real theater with Paul and the kids
• Go on a date with Paul and ditch the kids

So, yeah, I think I've droned on long enough, and I thank you for staying with me up till this point. I don't have much more to say. In fact, I have nothing left to say. You already know what you've been called to do, and you're walking securely with the One who loves you most. He has your family in His Palm and your kids are doing fine. Are they perfect? Of course not. Whose kids are? Are you always dressed to kill and ready to throw open the doors of your home to any friend who comes knockin'? Three hot meals on the table with nary the nagging word, day after day? Do you bestow upon your husband a perfect love, greeting him each day paradisiacally with fluttering doe eyes and a sparkling smile? Not really? Okay, good; you're normal. So, strive for betterment always (wherever you're at on the journey); work on your list, taking care of the priorities (heart and soul, my friend!); and keep walking. Your Heavenly Father will never leave you. Walk with Him.

Love and hope,

Your heart-and-soul friend,

Paul and Gena Suarez reside in Gray, Tennessee, where they homeschool(ed) their six children: Paul (21), Luke (19), Levi (17), Julia Rachel (14), Susanna Hope (3) and Chloe Abigail (18 months). They enjoy long country drives in the van while listening to books on CD, hanging out with good friends, and staying up late. By the grace of God, the Suarez family publishes The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC. Let Gena know what you thought of this article at her personal email address,
Copyright, 2011. Used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally published by The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine.

Visit The Old Schoolhouse® at  to view a full-length sample copy of the magazine especially for homeschoolers. Click the graphic of the moving computer monitor on the left. Email the Publisher at

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Homeschool Post ...

7th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards!!!

by Sprittibee on September 4, 2011
7th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards

The Homeschool Blog Awards will soon be here!

This post will be the main page for the awards. We’ll be updating it (in the section below) throughout the awards season. If you are a vendor, check out our prize section. If you are a homeschool blogger this is the post to bookmark from now through December to keep you in-the-know about the goings-on of the Homeschool Blog Awards.
Homeschool Blog Awards Dates
Homeschool Blog Award Updates
September 1 – All the busy behind the scenes work has gotten well under way and we are gathering prizes for the awards!
Homeschool Blog Award Spread the Word
This year we’ll be adding a page of various sized buttons for you to snag so you can spread the word on your own blogs. Be watching this post for an update and a link! For now, if you add the Homeschool Post button in our sidebar, it will auto-magically be updated to tell you when nominations and voting begin. Just be sure to use our html code provided.
To make the awards even better than ever, we call on everyone each year to SHARE the news about the awards on their blogs, twitter accounts, facebook pages, and other social media platforms. Shoot, you can even spam your homeschool friends via email – whatever works! The more nominations that come in each year, the better… as the number of eyes we have determines the number of prizes we get for our winners.
social media icons
So be sure to let everyone know about the awards and subscribe to our feed so you get regular updates and don’t miss anything throughout the season!
The Homeschool Blog Awards FAQs
While our site brings encouragement and and great parenting and homeschool-related content to the web all year round, we especially enjoy rewarding our fellow community bloggers during the annual awards season. We are partnering with some wonderful homeschool-friendly products and services to bring our winners prizes and introduce the homeschool community to a whole world of excellent blogs. Be watching for our prize page to pop up so you can see what the winner loot will be!
For those of you who haven’t been a part of the blog awards before (and I’m sure there are a lot of you since blogs tend to multiply and many don’t have a long shelf-life), here are a few FAQs about the Homeschool Blog Awards that you might not know:
1. There are 20 categories (see below) and we’ll have that many winners. Not all categories will win the same prizes.
2. You can nominate yourself and you can even vote for yourself. We won’t tell.
3. Authors of this site (whose faces you see on the sidebar) are not eligible to win the awards, nor can the collaborative sites they write on if there are more than one Homeschool Post author writing on the site. Blogs that are nominated must abide by simple rules – to be stated when nominations begin – but the main rule is that the blogs must be ‘family friendly’.
4. This year, to make it easier to manage votes and make sure all is fair, we might require a brief registration. This will be decided as the polling begins – and depends entirely on whether there’s a great new poll widget for the new version of Word Press or not. If we do require this, it will be as easy and painless as leaving a comment.
5. If this is your first time visiting the Homeschool Post, please don’t just stick around for the awards. We’re here ‘encouraging, informing and connecting’ with the homeschool community all year long. We love supporting homeschoolers all around the web. Not to mention we offer give-aways every month. You can even guest post here! Shoot us a comment to find out how.
6. You can subscribe to our feed by email and join our Facebook page on the sidebar so you don’t miss out on important updates during the awards season (and all year long). You can also follow @hsbapost on twitter. The official hashtag this year is #hsbawards11.
7. Check out our legal page for specifics on the rules of the contest (we’ll be updating it with 2011 links very soon), and you can check out our About page and the individual bios of our authors to find out more about who we are here at the Homeschool Post. We even have a page dedicated to our past blog winners from 2005-2010… and we’ll move 2011 to that page as the new winners emerge. You’ll find a lot of great blogs there (at least the ones that are still blogging!) – and that’s what the awards are about – getting us connected to all the great homeschool blogs on the net to make this homeschooling journey more enjoyable. [As always, if you find a dead link to a dead blog - be sure to let us know. Sadly, that does happen over time.]
8. Check back here at THIS post for updates (see update section above) that pertain to the awards and link to THIS post for the awards season to share information. We’ll be compiling all of the information you need here so you’ll only be one click away from everything awards-related.

prizes and sponsors for the homeschool blog awards
We will have multiple prize pages. At the bottom of each page there will be a link to go to the next page! Be sure to visit them all! Better yet – click over to see the vendor’s sites and get to know them even better. We are thrilled that they value homeschoolers and homeschool bloggers! Right now the link below is linking to the 2010 prizes, but we will be updating behind the scenes each day with prizes that are coming in… and on September 15th, we will link up the 2011 prize pages!

Handy Link to Prize Page 1 of 2010′s Loot

As you can see at the bottom of this post, we love our sponsors! We have a special PDF put together for companies and individuals who would like to offer prizes for the awards. Just send us a note at our email address (thehomeschoolpost @ gmail . com) and we’ll get the details out to you.
Here are the ways you can partner with the Post:
- You can purchase ad space on the site (ask us for our ad kit and we’ll email you the details)
- You can offer prizes to the winners (and get your name on our sidebar for the year, get mentioned in a post, and have the gratitude of a bunch of fabulous bloggers)
- You can spread the word about the awards or get together with other bloggers and go in together to award a prize (some of our prize awarders are other homeschool bloggers just like you… one year Sprittibee’s AUNT offered a prize she made herself)
You don’t have to have 20 prizes to participate. You can offer only ONE prize to ONE category winner if you want. It is all up to you.
categories of the homeschool blog awards
Make sure to read through the descriptions carefully for each category and give us ALL the information required (if you nominate someone in the methods category, you MUST tell us what homeschooling method the blog advocates). Be taking notes as you surf the web from now until nominations begin and make a list of your favorite blogs that fit these descriptions below. You’ll be able to nominate them together – all in one comment – when we open nominations on October 10th!
2010 Homeschool Blog Award Categories:
1. Best Homeschool Mom Blog
Everyone is the best homeschool mom for their own children. With thousands of homeschool bloggers out there, please know that there will only be one winner online – but EACH OF US are winners in our own homes. If there’s a blogging mom out there that has been a particularly good example to you and you want to let her know… consider her for this nomination! [Her blog does not have to be exclusively about motherhood or homeschooling.]
2. Best Homeschool Dad Blog
We love to hear what dad has to say. Especially if he includes homeschool posts off and on. [Blog doesn’t have to be exclusively about homeschooling.]
3. Best Blog Design
Here’s your chance to nominate your favorite blog design and give your favorite blogger a pat on the back for her talent (or give her web designer some credit!).
4. Best Photos
This blogger has photographic talent and makes her posts pop with eye-candy. We want to thank those of you who post pictures and graphics that inspire us! The winner of this category will be one that takes her own photos – not someone who only uses stock images.
5. Best Crafts, Plans & Projects Blog
Do you turn to the blogosphere for a steady supply of great craft ideas, lesson plans or projects that you can do with your homeschoolers? Why not share your favorite how-to blogs that provide us with things to be inspired by and ideas to use with our kids and in our homes.
6. Best Family or Group Blog
Nominate your favorite Homeschool Family blog or your favorite group blog that is either run by Homeschoolers or discusses homeschool issues. [Blog doesn’t have to be exclusively about homeschooling. Remember that if more than one of our authors are part of the group blog, it is not qualified to win. THIS BLOG MUST HAVE MULTIPLE AUTHORS.]
7. Best Encourager
It is time to say thanks to those bloggers out there who lift you up out of the homeschool “blahs” and help you get back on track. The winner of this category doesn’t have to be perfect or always in a good mood… just someone who makes you feel as if someone else cares and has a positive attitude overall.
8. Best Current Events, Opinions or Politics Blog
We don’t want a strictly political blog that is run by a homeschooler unless quite a few posts have relevant information pertaining to homeschooling. News clips that affect our freedoms as homeschoolers and how homeschooling is portrayed in the media are ideal. We love to hear what other homeschool teachers are thinking and reading and their views on things that affect us all. [This blog does not have to be exclusively about homeschooling, current events, or politics… just a blog that often shares opinions on matters that you enjoy learning from.]
9. Best Homemaking or Recipes Blog
This blog should have content regarding homemaking, housekeeping, tips, ideas for making your life easier, information about raising multiple kids, or recipes that you enjoy trying. [This person should be a homeschooler but the blog doesn’t have to be exclusively about homeschooling, homemaking or recipes.]
10. Best Teen Blog
Let’s encourage those young bloggers to speak up and be a good example for their peers. I have seen so many wonderful teen blogs out there that deserve recognition. Let us know what some of your favorites are! Teen blogs can be any blogs run by teens who are at least 12 years of age. The winners will have to submit permission slips signed by their parents – see legal page at HSBA for more details. [This blog does not have to be exclusively about homeschooling, but homeschooling should be mentioned often or it should be obvious from the template that the teen/s are homeschoolers.]
11. Funniest Homeschool Blog
We all need a laugh in-between laundry, lesson plans and losing our cool. It is nice to get your smile back so you can share it with your students (who can only take “so much gloom” as Ma Walton said so eloquently on The Waltons television series). Nominate your favorite crack-pot or crack-up homeschool blog here.
12. Best Special Needs Blogger
These are the moms that have the extra challenges – they go above and beyond to help their children succeed. We have had so many requests to add this category that we not only added a category for you, but we also added a new author who is a special-needs advocate: Miss Tammy! Say Hello to her by stopping by her bio/blog link in our sidebar!
13. Best Curriculum or Business Blog
Let us know your favorite homeschool business or curriculum blogs so we can read them, too!
14. Best Variety
This blogger is one that could fit in any of these categories … but they just can’t be pinned down in ONE. This type of blogger is the ADD hyper-focused type… always moving on from one thing to the next… and always keeping you interested in coming back for more!
15. Best Thrifty Homeschooler
Most of us are homeschooling on a shoe-string. Nominate your favorite money-saving blogger so you can share her tips with the blogosphere and bless a bunch of homeschool children in the process! [Blog doesn't have to be exclusively about frugality.]
Ever feel like a looser after reading someone else’s lesson plans, seeing their field trip photos, listening to them talk about what they got done today, or seeing pictures of their children’s accomplishments? You were probably feeling the effects of visiting a SUPER-HOMESCHOOLER’s blog. These are the A-list homeschool parents that just BLOW YOU AWAY with their enthusiasm. We all have our good days, but this blogger has us all beat.
17. Best Nitty-Gritty Homeschool Blog
Since we included a category for the Super-Homeschooler… I figured we would add one in for the homeschooler who is brutally honest and open about her mistakes and failures. These are the moms that make you feel better and let you know that it is OK that we aren’t perfect. What would we do without them???
18. Best NEW Homeschool Blog
It is hard making a name for yourself in the blogosphere. A lot of times, you feel as if you are writing and no one is out there. If you have stumbled upon a great new blogger who has a lot of potential and you want to share them with the rest of us… please consider nominating them for this category! [A new blog is one that appeared on the scene during or after last awards season.] If you don’t know many new homeschool blogs, check out the linky on our Welcome Wagon post from this year. We’re introducing them to you ahead of time!
19. Best Homeschooling Methods Blog
There are a lot of methods used to homeschool. Are you a boxed curriculum gal? A Classical homeschooler? An unschooler? Do you thrill on Unit Studies or spend time outdoors doing Charlotte Mason-type nature walks? Are you a mixture of everything (eclectic)? Make sure you tell us what TYPE of method this blog showcases so we can list it on the voting page!
20. Best Homeschooling Nature/Field Trip Blog
Have cabin fever? Looking to get OUT and see the world – sketch it, research it, photograph it? Who inspires you to take the kids out and enjoy Creation? Who makes you scratch your head in wonder while showing you all the fascinating things they have discovered outdoors?
contact the homeschool post
If you have any questions or need to get in touch with our authors, please email us at the following email address.
homeschool post email
We are blessed to be able to serve the homeschool community with these super-fun awards each year and love getting to know so many GREAT homeschooling bloggers and product vendors!