What We’re Doing: Outstanding October and Unbelievable November

It’s been a while since my last update (apologies), let me tell you why …




Our October was almost as busy as our November.  We had our emergency room appendicitis false alarm, my first full Reading Selections class, and a visit to Oxbow Farm’s harvest festival.  A dear friend came to spend a week with us as a house guest.  At the same time, I worked on a new story, and launched a Patreon page, even making an intro video and a reminder on Halloween. (Note: I’m really uncomfortable with seeing myself on video.  Still photos, sure, but videos?  Blech.)

Since the end of October, I’ve been working hard on the third annual Flash Dash Challenge.  Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo (I have plenty of novel projects in various stages of drafts) the past three years, I’ve set myself a goal of writing a new piece of flash fiction every day for a month.  In 2014, I only wrote about a dozen stories.  In 2015, I wrote about two dozen.  This year, I’m going for all thirty stories.  (Thus far, I have sixteen stories for sixteen days).

My son and I have been working on understanding autumn, eggs, our bodies and senses, and we’re heading into American legends and Native Americans.  He recently made a new friend through the library, and we’ve been meeting weekly for play dates.  My daughter’s dating a wonderful young woman, and enjoying her classes, especially the Japanese.  At this point, I think she’ll have a solid B for the quarter, though I’m hoping she’ll swing an A- in at least one of them.  This past weekend, we spent a couple of hours on a dreary afternoon at the Reptile Zoo, petting turtles and a baby alligator, meeting snakes, tortoises, spiders, frogs, and two rather large alligators, Barnabus and Basker, the former of whom was particularly keen on watching my son and I together.  (I’m fairly certain my son was just the right size for a feast.)

Quick tip for Running Start families: We didn’t realize this until it was too late (I swear I don’t recall anyone telling us in the three or four meetings we had with advisors), but the paperwork from the district we’re to take in for each quarter to the college’s Running Start office needs to be in as much as two weeks before registration opens for the new quarter.  So, although the Dragon should be able to register for Winter, she can’t until her paperwork is processed (late because we didn’t realize).  From now on, I’m getting it done two weeks in advance, so she can enjoy priority registration and not miss her preferred classes.



41cm1mfx5el-_sx342_bo1204203200_My daughter hasn’t been reading much outside of her school books and fanfiction, but she recommended the book Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, which is part of her Psychology curriculum.  Though it’s poetry, she said it reads like prose, and puts readers into the shoes of an African American woman, making her experiences relatable to most.

While I’ve been working through rather mature graphic novel series (e.g. The Preacher (big ol’ trigger warnings for this series), Bitch Planetand Saga), my son and I have finished reading books about autumn and books about eggs (and those who lay them).  I’ll post more about the books in the latter category, because we came across some amazing materials!

where-s-the-elephantOne book outside our preschool lessons worth noting is Where’s the Elephant?  While it appears to be a simply drawn and colorful book of seek and find a la Where’s Waldo?, it proves to be a more striking message young children can understand about deforestation and city sprawl.  It doesn’t feel at all soapboxy or preachy, but not knowing what it was about as I was reading it, I had that encroaching sense of dread when I figured out what was going on in the book.  Thankfully, my just enjoyed finding the elephant and his friends among the trees.



One thing that’s been a big comfort through the fall is making a simple side dish alongside almost any seasonal vegetables and meats.  It’s worked well with salmon, squash, Brussels sprouts, sausages, chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and so on.

What is it?

Sage Rice

2 c. short grain brown rice
3c. chicken broth or stock*
2 tsp. sage
pinch of salt
ground black pepper (optional)

Combine ingredients in a small pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, cover and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes.  Serve on the side or beneath the vegetables and/or meats.  Excellent with a mushroom white wine sauce.

*If you’re vegetarian or vegan, I highly recommend mushroom broth as opposed to vegetable broth to give it an earthier body and flavor.

The End of Spring

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant.  Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Dragon in a Hat at a Puerto Rican restaurant. Hat by Sweetheart Toppers

Spring may have ended on Beltane (May 1st), but for us, our spring activities came to a close Monday when my son’s final Tiny Treks adventure celebrated at the instructor’s house.

Monday was the last day of Tiny Treks. We went to the main teacher’s house and saw her bunny and played in her backyard and …

… and C insisted we had to go onto one of the boats. Not the paddle boat. Not the kayak. He wanted the canoe. Understand, I haven’t been in a canoe in thirty years. In fact, it’s probably near the anniversary of my canoe trip at a summer day camp when I was 7. I loved it when I was a kid; I felt like a god of the water. I sat at the back and led our boat safely around the bend.

Finding a life jacket big enough for me wasn’t easy, but there was one. Sort of. It closed, but my breasts pushed it up at a 45 degree angle. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to paddle, so I sat up front. C and another child sat in the middle, and her mom sat at the back. Neither of us knew what we were doing, but we made a good pass around Cottage Lake, and even landed back safely at the dock from which we started not too long after. There was an almost-collision with the paddle boat, but we all stopped and drifted together, then gave the paddle boat a shove to get them off and moving.

It was exhilarating, a little scary, but I’m glad I did it. C is elated. He LOVED it. He wants to go again.

So there you have it. 30 years after my first canoe experience, I finally had my second. And we all survived.  Someone took a picture of us, but I haven’t yet heard back about getting a copy of it as proof.

On the same day, my daughter completed an online orientation and registered for fall classes at the community college where she’ll begin her Running Start journey toward both a high school diploma and an Associates degree.  Since it took longer to register due to miscommunication from three different counselors, she wasn’t able to get her desired courses.  The first quarter REQUIRED course was full as a stand-alone class.  They did have it as an integrated studies course, though, so instead of Engl 101, she’ll be taking a combination of her required class and a psychology course, along with the Japanese we thought she’d not be able to get into first year.

So it’s done.  We pay fees toward the end of summer, buy books in September, attend a third orientation (how many times can you use the word and still leave it with any meaning?).

Spring of this year has gone, and in some ways, the spring of my daughter’s life is heating up toward her many years of summer.  Come fall, my focus will be far more focused on my son, and I’m already trying to find a routine that we can settle into for both seasons.

My partner struggles as well with this closing of a chapter, where we collaborated on educating our daughter together.  Most of her studies will happen at college, and though we’ll be around to answer questions and offer guidance, this is a journey she’ll be walking mostly on her own and the responsibilities and consequences will be far steeper than those she’s experienced at home.  We’ve scheduled eleven weeks of home prep — my partner wrapping up what he most wishes to impart upon her, and me working with her on the final books I think she most needs to read (and the essays she needs to practice).

Good bye, spring.  Hello, summer.

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.



Talking Running Start

Daughter and the Suitcase

Daughter in a wig walking down a street after a wind storm holding one of her antique suitcases. c. 2015 Raven J. Demers

Watching my daughter grow into a young woman who speaks her mind and is finding her own path in the world makes me all the more aware that in a few years, she’ll have the option to take off to far away lands to determine for herself what it means to be an adult.  During this self-exploration, I will remain a support for her and a guide when she wants it, but … I wish there was a word for the longing felt in realizing one’s child will soon not be a constant, comforting presence in one’s home.  My home.  I’ll have a five year old still depending on me, but my daughter has grown into more than a beloved child, she’s also a dear friend and companion with whom I can share inside jokes.  It’ll be a while before Son and I reach this level of complex understanding with one another.

In an effort to prepare her for that looming adulthood, about which she’s expressed some trepidation, I’ve once again brought up Running Start.  I pointed out that not only could she get used to a college environment before heading to a university, get an accredited degree by the time she’s 18, and be able to transfer to multiple schools around the country (and in other nations), but she could learn Japanese for the cost of books. Running Start is essentially two free years of college for youth ready for their junior year of high school.

We discussed how to ease gently into the demands of college, and how to make certain she can get as much from the experience as possible.  She’s agreed to take a Compass practice test and maybe even try taking the real one.  Passing it would be a sign to her that she’s ready to handle the coursework — or at least she’ll understand it.

It may be difficult to think of her leaving the nest, but it’s my job to give her the best tools I can to help her make her life amazing.

If you’re interested in learning more about Running Start, here are some links to help:

State of Washington: Running Start

MyCompassTest.com: Sample Tests

Test-Guide.com: Free Compass Tests