Uncertain Future

14457341_10153940369498059_1321782115356490662_nIt’s been a year since I posted to Willow & Birch, yet we continue to homeschool, but there’s been little of note to break from our routine.

We’re expecting another child in August, and we’re not feeling remotely prepared. You’d think after twenty years of parenting, we’d have a handle on things, but no. Our routine will soon change, and we’re working to determine how to rearrange everything to make space for this new little person to fit into our lives. We chose to try for one more, but we weren’t expecting for our decision to become reality quite so fast (that very night).

Given my mixed success with pregnancy, we’re all being cautiously optimistic. It does have me re-evaluating where my focus needs to be, and it may come to pass that this blog doesn’t make the cut. I will continue to retain the archives, but I haven’t had the energy, time, or focus to give this blog the attention it and you, the readers, deserve. Not for some time.

The classes I teach will also be put on hiatus until the little one is old enough for me to feel safe having them in someone else’s care for a couple of hours a month.

I might change my mind at some later date. There are drafts I never completed for posts I thought would be of interest, but lost momentum. I might wish to revisit them, but I cannot say at this moment what may come to pass in the coming months.

Thank you for following me through our homeschooling journey, despite the intermittent and inconsistent posts. I appreciate each of you who shared along, commented, or joined me elsewhere on the web.

For now, my focus is on preparing for the new baby and narrowing the number of places online I spend my energy. If you’re interested in updates about my creative works (i.e. science fiction, fantasy, horror, and poetry), the best places to find me are on Twitter and Patreon. Published works are currently available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Blessed be.

College Prep


Photo from Fit Tip Daily

In last week’s post, I touched briefly on transcripts and preparing for universities.  A number of sites go into detail about transcripts, forms, and requirements by state. What I wish to focus on is how we’re preparing Daughter for her potential foray into Running Start, which begins by taking the Compass test.


In Washington state, Running Start allows students of junior and senior high school level to take college courses at any community college tuition free, so long as they are able to pass the ACT Compass test and maintain a 2.0 for the (up to) two year duration.  If a student completes a full two years, they graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associates degree (Arts or Sciences depending on the student’s choices).

This not only gives the students a boost and offers them great opportunities for transferring to four year universities or heading out to explore other avenues of life (e.g. starting a career, volunteering, taking a one year walkabout, etc.), but also significantly reduces the cost of completing a four year degree.  I took Running Start, and though I didn’t complete either my Associates or Bachelors right away, it both offered me a chance to flourish in an environment more challenging and supportive than my high school, and it brought me to my significantly lower student loans to pay off (around $5,000 thanks to scholarships and only two years at uni).

Also to note, Washington State requires homeschoolers test their students once a year, either with a standardized test with proctor of their choosing, or with a one-on-one evaluation.  The Compass test counts as our annual test.

So, here’s our plan for preparing Daughter for the rigors and expectations of community college life.  Keep in mind, these are lessons we’re giving her to strengthen areas she finds most challenging.  If you’re planning to teach strategies for entering college, whether early in a similar program or post-graduation in high school, please tailor them according to the needs of your children.

This is a long post, so the sections, in case you wish to skip ahead are Discussions, Practice, and The Plan.


How Running Start Works
College Expectations and Consequences
Comparisons between accessible community colleges
Importance of Calculus*

I won’t call these lectures, but sometimes they feel like it, as my daughter’s eyes glaze over.  I broke each of these into different discussions so it didn’t overwhelm her; I wanted her to retain most of the information and that wasn’t going to happen by throwing it all at her at once.  She does participate and ask questions when we stop to breathe, but sometimes it feels like she changes her mind about wanting to go to college every other day.  One day passion, the next day ambivalence or downright resentment.

We chalk it up to the teen brain and move forward, as these discussions, while initially set aside as one-on-one time, are on-going through our process each week.  (I’ll post more on the teen brain at a later date.)

These discussions involve sitting down for twenty or thirty minutes and chatting about each topic.  I actually have the lists in this post on a Drive document and refer to them as we’re talking.  I’ve already mentioned how Running Start works, but if you’ve never been in a community college or university, the expectations are those given adults, not children.  While there’s a great deal of freedom of choice and movement around a college campus compared to formal high schools, it comes with the same responsibilities of having said freedoms.

It’s incumbent upon every student, whether 16 or 65 to keep track of required credits, keep a balanced course load relevant to one’s experience, know what prerequisites are most needed, and how to manage one’s time both in and outside of the classroom.  Since time management and organization are my daughter’s two greatest banes, my partner and I are working to support her growth in these areas.  After all, if she does poorly in Running Start, those grades remain on her transcripts indefinitely and affect her future college GPA.  Having realistic expectations and consequences described ahead of time allow her to go into this program fully informed.

We spoke about what a reasonable course load would be for a first time student.  I told her since her Composition 1 & 2 classes would be prerequisites for almost everything else, she should start with one of them first.  If possible, I added she should try to get in to the beginning Japanese course, since she wishes to travel to, and possibly study or live in, Japan.  I told her it can be hard as a Freshman to get the first choice language, but if she can, she should.  (We checked both community colleges on our bus lines to see if either of them had Japanese, they had both, which means we do still need to have the comparison check, which will include course listings, programs, student reviews, bus schedules, and more, community support, and more).

Since students need to be taking a full course load each quarter, Composition and Japanese (or a different language) would already be taxing in terms of reading, writing, and memorizing.  I suggested she add an elective her first quarter in something that supports her dreams, such as an art class, or similar.  She may still have studio time or sketchbook homework to complete outside of class, but it wouldn’t be in the same vein as the other two and would make her happy and not feel like work.

*This one is entirely on my partner.  While I can talk about how wonderful Calculus is if you’re entering the sciences or you’re an amateur physicist trying to understand the universe, I’ve yet to find myself needing Calculus as a writer, mother, anthropologist, community organizer, housekeeper, personal chef, model, artist, performer, etc.  Algebra and Geometry, on the other hand, now THEY’RE important to have a solid grasp of in daily life no matter your profession or interests.  Thus, we’re leaving this discussion entirely up to him, because he thinks she should take it in case she decides she wants to explore a different path than she’s already expressed wanting to take.  He wants her to have options. I get it.  I do.  But try convincing a 15 year old of that.


Essay writing
Time management
Test taking
Compass Test practice

image-1408610570285Each of these skill sets are necessary to support her learning.  While both of us have tried to teach her note taking and time management skills, she continues to struggle with them.  We’re going back to some basics we went over back in middle school.  How to take effective notes, various methods of taking notes, and trying each of them in turn to see what helps her best.  We even discovered a Japanese method of making best use of notes, which we thought she’d like.  We have a tall stack of composition books now, and she’s using one for math, one for essays, and another for note taking while reading.

Time management is trickier.  I’m still playing around with ideas for how to help her, because most of my personal tricks rely on a certain awareness of time passing, which she really doesn’t have.  I don’t think she ever had it, but neither does her father.  It’s a fact, not a judgment, yet she still needs to find a way to work at some base level of skill or she’ll never make a deadline on an assignment.  I’m playing with calendars — either helping her establish an effective use of the calendar on her phone, or getting her a small day planner she can carry in her satchel.  I’ve even started a Pinterest board just to help me keep track of ideas for supporting her.  Ok, so it’s mostly filled with humorous memes, but there are good, serious ideas in there as well.

Essay writing is an entirely too lengthy topic to discuss in this post, but I’m using an idea from a formal educator’s pin on Pinterest.  It involves using a single composition book at a time to hold all of the reading notes, brainstorming questions, outlines, and essay drafts in one.  With a specific organization laid out on the first couple of pages, she can work on building her ideas, asking questions, drawing up an outline, and writing out her essay, with space for reflection and revision along the way.  Why hadn’t we done this sooner?

I’ve got a number of reasons, but it comes down to a long-term struggle with communication she’s had since her traumatic third grade year at a private school.  Instead of pushing her to write essays in the past, we’ve worked more on getting her to think through her ideas and be able to discuss them, and now, I’m able to say to her, “an essay is simply a discussion with a really good listener at the other end.”  She’s starting to get it, but there’s a lot of hand holding as she builds confidence.  If only essays were like fanfiction, we’d be golden.

The final portion of this list: test taking and Compass test practice are intertwined.  She’s familiar with test taking skills.  My best friend says it every summer when we go to get our kids tested, “Tests don’t tell you how smart you are, they just tell you how good you are at taking tests.”  In general education, this is a fair assessment in my view.  Timed tests are especially stressful for kids with social anxiety, like my daughter.  We’ve given her tools and tricks to use to get through them with ease and panache.  She’s done quite well on multiple choice tests, but the essays might stump her, so we’re working on that (see above).

The Compass test only tests reading comprehension, essay writing (mostly correcting grammatical and spelling errors), and mathematics, although this latter subject is only used for placement.  Maths are not seen as necessary to access Running Start, only the scores for the reading and writing are used for that purpose.  Her mathematics score, though, will determine whether she’s at, above, or below college algebra level.  If she’s below college level math, she’ll be required to take remedial courses at our expense until she’s brought up to snuff.  My partner doesn’t want that to happen, so he’s plodding away through Algebra, Geometry, Trig, Pre-Calculus, and all the other high school maths some of us love and others hate (or like me, have mixed feelings about: Hooray, Algebra!  Bah, Geometry!  Huzzah, Quantum Physics!  Suck it, Proofs!).


Our ultimate goal: get our daughter the best opportunities available to advance her education and help her reach her personal goals (that will hopefully lead to a happy, responsible adult).

To do this, we’re having our discussions, working on our practice, and getting ready for the Compass test.

Both colleges have a recommended Running Start information session, and allow students to take the test once every thirty days for $17 a test.  Not too bad, and it gives her a chance to try, fail, and try again long before deadline, which means a successful test into Running Start by May for 2016’s fall quarter.

She’ll be using practice tests we found online and those provided by the colleges to give her an idea of what she’ll be facing. Any information that’s completely foreign to her, we’ll help her learn. Any skills she’s flagging on, we’ll help her brush up on them.  She’ll take one test in January or February to see where she falls.  If she fails the first one, we’ll practice more in the areas she struggled with, and try again in a couple of months.

Though I know she’s academically ready for much of this test, I’m not convinced of its efficacy in determining her real abilities and obstacles.  Nevertheless, she’ll be trying, and if she succeeds, she’ll enter Running Start next fall.  Should she prove unable to pass the test, we’ll be able to acknowledge a need for more study at home until she’s ready to try again.

No matter what the outcome of the test, I’m still not sure I am ready for my darling girl to be a college student.  It’s difficult enough having her be able to look over my head without standing on her tippy toes!  But this is what parenting’s about.  Making a new life, giving it love, teaching it skills, and hoping it will blossom in the ways it will.  My ex gave me a child; I’m working on giving the world a compassionate, responsible adult.  And boy is it a lot of fun, exasperating work.



Toddler Family Photo Album

Toddler Family Photo Album | Willow & Birch

Toddler Family Photo Album | Willow & Birch

My family grows every year, and more so than most because we have both relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, and chosen family–this friends who have grown as close as siblings, aunts, or uncles.

Because many of the people we love either live far away or are only available to visit a few times a year, it can make reconnecting with them hard on a toddler or young child to cope with. Large gatherings are even worse.

Imagine being a small person again, and these tall people come toward you to hug you, pick you up, give you kisses, or claim familiarity, but you don’t have a clue who they are. You look at them with distrust, and cling to your mother or father.

It takes regular, repeated encounters for little children to remember who people are. When my father and step-mother make the trip from Arizona or Japan to visit twice a year, my son doesn’t remember them well enough to feel comfortable having them hug him. It takes time for him to feel safe around new or forgotten faces.
Once comfortable, he’s incredibly affectionate and loves to perform or engage in some activity.

But some of these visits are short, and he doesn’t get the time he needs to relax around everyone (Christmas Eve is especially stressful). So to help him recall names and faces, I made him a photo album.

I asked my family and closest friends to send me photos I could print off (or wallet photos through the mail). I searched for something that would hold multiple wallet-sized photos, and once I had everything printed and together, filled his mini album with photos in a somewhat cohesive order. I put family or household groups together, featured the kids first in most cases, and did my best to order things in terms of relationships.

Little Fox Hugs His Photo Album ... Again

Little Fox Hugs His Photo Album … Again

After I showed it to him, he thanked me, and hugged it to him. In the first twenty-four hours, he looked through it seven times, three of those times with me naming each person he couldn’t name. I often prefaced each name with relationship, e.g., “This is your cousin Jack.”

Even my daughter found it helpful, since she forgets things easily. It prompted her to ask about clarification of relationships she wasn’t sure of, so I drew up a quick, rough family tree to show her. This is especially fun to do at her generation, because there’s a long string of half-siblings who are only connected to those on either side of them.*

If you wish to make a family photo album, whether for a small family or a big one,  you just need:

  • 31ynqx4mljlWallet-sized photos, generally 2.5″ x 3.5″
  • A mini photo book or credit card holder. I purchased this one in green (my son’s choice): it has a soft leather case, easy snap closure, and plenty of room for pictures. Find one that works best for your needs.
  • Scissors
  • Small labels (optional)**

Make sure the album you choose can be changed should new family members need to be added, and to update photos, especially of children who change so quickly.

*The long sequence of half-siblings: Daughter has two brothers: the Little Fox, and an older brother from her father who lives in Oregon. He has half-siblings of his own, not related to Daughter. My partner has an older daughter, my unofficial step-daughter, who lives in Montana. She’s sister to my son, and has a half-sister of her own she grew up with who has no direct relation to either of my biological children. Six children, all related to each other by one another’s half-siblings.

It looks something like this:
2boys <-> I <-> Daughter <-> Little Fox <-> N <-> A

Meanwhile, my half-sisters are younger than my daughter. Our family tree is interesting, to say the least.

**I intended to label each photo, but decided against it. Should we need to add someone to a household, it would mean moving everyone over and having to peel off labels on the covers. I don’t want to add them to the pictures, either, because it covers too much of most small photos.

Boycotting Build-a-Bear

Our family loves Build-a-Bear products, and since their inclusion of My Little Pony characters, I can honestly state that the whole household likes them (my partner adores his giant Fluttershy doll).  But today I received an email glorifying a horrible person, a person we don’t celebrate in our home or in our region.  Columbus, long-touted a hero by white history, isn’t someone we think deserves a holiday or celebration, yet Build-a-Bear does.


The following is the letter I sent to GuestServices@buildabear.com:

To Build-a-Bear Staff,

I just received this appalling email asking me to celebrate a man who committed acts of genocide, and to do so with my children, no less.

In 2015, when we have a clear understanding of what Columbus and his men did to the indigenous people of the Americas, when my hometown now recognizes “Indigenous People Day” rather than celebrating the heinous acts of a monster who slaughtered, enslaved, and tortured nearly a million people, I would think a company catering to the imagination of children wouldn’t glorify such a person.

Until the items associated with Columbus and his deeds are stripped from your stores, and a public apology offered, neither my family nor my friends will be shopping your stores.


Raven J. Demers

I’m certain there are plenty of people in the U.S. who don’t share my opinion about the matter, who choose to ignore the well-documented atrocities committed by Columbus upon the Arawak people.  But if you share the view that such an historical figure should not be elevated to the status of a hero, please write a letter or call Build-a-Bear to let them know.

Where’s Mama? Over at another blog…

Apologies for my recent silence. The demands of a high needs baby plus holidays plus illnesses and corneal erosion episodes and and and …

I’ve been distracted, delayed, and deterred from my writing in all aspects. The one area I’ve been keeping up in is my at-least-monthly blog for Sage Woman magazine over at Pagan Square. I received an invitation to create Heart, Heart, & Home and have only barely kept up with my minimum quota.  It’s a pagan parenting/hearth-tending blog, so it’s similar to this one with a heavy spiritual bent.  If you’re interested please check it out.

Coloring BooksMy most recent update can be found here.  It discusses coloring books as a form of meditation and as a means for family bonding, so even if you’re not pagan, it might be of interest.

Other blog entries include:

Establishing Traditions in a Changed Family

Honoring Our Ancestors

Her Own Path

I’m working on improved updates across the board, and hope to be back to editing my debut novel shortly (just half an hour a day would be a start!).

Facebook: Public vs. Home School

“Have you heard about Kim?
Did she kiss him and cry?
Did he pin the pin on?
Or was he too shy?”
–from Bye Bye Birdie

Using social media without fear of ridicule for being herself.If only social networks in high school were this innocent. My cousin born the same month and year as my daughter doesn’t have a Facebook account because it’s too dangerous socially, emotionally, and sometimes physically for teens who get caught up in FB drama.

I told her about pseudonyms and only inviting people you explicitly trust (like family and non-school friends), IF she wants to.

I’m proud of her for not getting involved in that mess, but highly disappointed that she even has to make the choice.

Though I’m certain that wherever there are teenagers working through their development there will be some amount of drama, the levels experienced in institutionalized schools with the added pressure of social media tends to escalate and enhance what once was an annoyance, or less seldom a permanent form of social humiliation. There are teens bullied at school who never feel safe, even after leaving campus, because the shaming, belittling, and even threats of violence continue online. And horrors abound if a student is caught on camera phone doing something embarrassing — what once would be forgotten in minutes or days, can last months or more as an Internet meme or YouTube video.

I’m not saying homeschoolers are inherently better people (poor socialization, cruelty, and in humane treatment of peers can happen anywhere given certain factors), but I do suggest that the current environment of public, and even private education, mixed with easy access to technology and social media, creates more opportunities for, and perpetuation of, digital bullying.

Dead Air

My apologies to the 24 people who follow this blog.  March saw us madly dashing around trying to get ready for Norwescon, which we attempt to attend every year.  This one was our biggest — my daughter had worked hard on a costume of her creation to enter into the masquerade competition (and won, second year in a row), and I got a chance for professional critiques of my writing in THREE writers’ workshops — and was immediately concluded at the end of the weekend with frightening news that my mother, only 56 years of age, was heading to the hospital, unable to speak properly and spouting impossible and paranoid things not at all like her.  She had been ill for a few weeks, but her mind had been fit beforehand.

A week later, I was on a plane to Germany, because her condition had seriously worsened.  I arrived an hour too late, my mother passed away on April 16th of an infection she contracted while in the hospital.  Since then, our homeschooling experiment has been bumpy at best, and it’s taken a high toll on both my daily living and my daughter’s ability to focus on anything but her art.

It’s almost two months now, though it feels like days since it happened.  She was an extremely generous, loving, and creative person, and her husband, my daughter, and I are all still reeling from the shock of her sudden absence in our lives. Of the three of us, I’m pushing hardest to avoid allowing my grief to consume us.

Betsy Content Bogert Moelders
Dec. 7th, 1955 – Apr. 16th 2012

That being said, I’m going ahead with a plan I’d had rattling in my head for the last few months.  I’ve talked to my daughter and my friend’s eldest about the almost-two years of Reading Selections I began with them, where it’s taken them thus far, and whether they feel other children would benefit from it.  So, starting in September, I intend to take on new students in a casual environment — a handful of children in the homeschooling group — and give them a more polished and practiced form of this literary critiquing group we’ve been having so much fun with.  I’ve watched my daughter’s awareness of what she reads deepen, her insight into the subtle working of the world around her awaken, and my friend’s son’s critical analysis take on greater nuance.  They’ve become more considerate of the media to which they’re exposed through choice or accident, and I’m so proud to see my daughter’s own test scores in reading and spelling jump far ahead of where she’d been when she was in institutionalized schooling (and flagging) — she’s finally proficient at her approximate grade level!

I went back through this site’s archives and saw how there was nothing posted for the last “school year” of Reading Selections.  Tomorrow, I will attempt to sit down and post the list, complete with the links I can find of sources for the readings we did from September through March (our work stopped when my mother died), so anyone interested in what they’ve been reading, or who are looking for recommendations, can provide the same materials to their own home students.

What I’m most enjoying at the moment in our schooling adventure is how they’ve both taken to this summer’s reading selections project.  Their assignment is to choose three books: one fiction novel (not graphic novels/manga/manwa/etc.), one non-fiction book on a subject they find interesting, and one collection of a single poet’s work*.

Friend’s son has chosen:
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Content by Cory Doctorow
Death and Transfiguration: Poems by Kelly Cherry

Daughter has chosen:
Sky Village by Nigel Ashland
A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year by Ellen Evert Hopman
A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

After reading their three selected books, they are to find common threads, themes, or a single key subject within each of them and create a project based on that element.  They’ve both started reading, and they seem to be enjoying themselves!  I can’t wait to see what they come up with in September . . .

*I decided a single author’s work is more definitive of an individual voice, where as a selection of poems from various authors, usually compiled on a theme (e.g. feminist poetry collections, horror poetry collections, etc.) would dilute the process of seeking a shared connection between the three books.  If one of the books is already a cacophony, it can be hard to make the three books together create harmony, to tie them together.


Guess who just figured out how to add the share button to WordPress?  *points down to the end of this and every entry*


This accomplishment shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it is.  ^_^

Also, I figured out how to manage imports on a multiple authored WordPress blog elsewhere this evening.  My house is still a mess, but I’m feeling particularly mighty.

Those Little Moments

Squirelflight just asked for my attention so she could explain her understanding of a^2 in a problem where 3a is multiplied by 7a to equal 21a^2.  “It makes sense to me,” she said, after a lengthy monologue on the subject.

It’s one of those little moments where, as a parent, your eyes blink a few times, and you realize your child just spoke intelligently about a complex matter that previously baffled them, and you think, “Yeah, she’ll be ok.”