Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Alex on the Edge Extras

A short piece for you today, written before Alex was published. This one is a little story from Jill's high school days, about an event that shaped some of what happens in the novel. I can't remember why I wrote it, perhaps to reach into Jill's character a little more deeply. It's interesting to me, as I work on the sequel to Alex, how defined her character is in my mind. It doesn't work like this with all my characters, but I usually know exactly what Jill will think or do in any situation! I have one from Alex's perspective to post next, also from his high school days.

Be warned: there might be some slobbery teenage spit-swapping in here.



The Choir Concert - And Colin


The girls in Jill's boarding school choir can't contain their excitement - they are doing a joint concert with the boys' school. The girls don't get to meet boys too often, so this is a big deal. Jill isn't especially excited to meet boys, but at the first rehearsal there is one who is friendlier than most. 
“Really, girls," Miss Webster was saying over the buzz of whispers and squeals. "I know you don't meet too many boys in the normal course of events but honestly, this is a little extreme!"
"But Miss Webster!" said Zikho, literally bouncing up and down on her seat next to Jill. "Have you seen the boys in the choir?"
Miss Webster was trying not to smile. Jill could see it and she liked her better for it. "Of course I have, Zikho. They sing very nicely." There was more excited giggling from the thirty or so high school girls in the room. The teacher sighed and put her hands on her hips. "I don't suppose we're going to get anything much more done today," she said, closing the plastic flip file on the music stand in front of her. "We'll continue with that cantata next time. Now off you go."
Jill and Zikho closed their music files and stood up, then helped to stack the chairs at the sides of the music room. It was after four in the afternoon and they were glad for the early finish today. Exams were looming and they both still had work to do. They trudged up the path from the music block back to the boarding house.
"My cousin is in the choir," said Zikho. "Do you remember him from the Valentines Dance?"
"I remember," said Jill. She shifted her heavy school bag on her shoulder. She was at least a head taller than Zikho, and many shades lighter - their friends teased them and called them "Day" and "Night" when they were together. They certainly were opposites in almost every way. Zikho was round where Jill was lean; Zikho's skin was dark, flawless and glowing, Jill's face was milky white and peppered with freckles; Zikho's hair was a thick mass of neat, even braids in a perfect ponytail while Jill's was between red and blonde, scraped into a paintbrush ponytail with a regulation green hairband.  
"I know you remember Jaden," said Zikho, in a small voice. "Do you think he's in the choir?"
"I hope not, for your sake," said Jill. "It's not worth thinking about him, Zeeks. He just used you."
"I know," said Zikho, scowling. "Boys are such idiots."
"I hope they aren't all idiots," said Jill. "But let's not get all funny about them, okay? We're only fifteen. There's lots of time for all that. We should focus on other stuff - like that History project."
"You're right," said her friend, sighing as they reached the hostel and paused at the steps before they went their separate ways. "The boys in the choir are probably all music nerds anyway."
Jill laughed as she headed upstairs to her dorm room. A music nerd sounded quite interesting, actually. She dumped her bag and lay on her bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering what kind of boy she would like one day, when the time came. She closed her eyes and tried to picture him. Someone kind, someone friendly. Someone who had something interesting to say. Someone who believed in God, as she did. That was important, of course. She had never had a boyfriend, unless she counted her little friend from primary school who had kissed her on the cheek and told her he was going to marry her one day. She had boys who were her friends back home in Marshall Bay, the small beach town where she lived, but she had never felt romantic about any of them. 
The first joint rehearsal was a fiasco. Miss Webster found her voice not up to the task of calming down and controlling thirty boys as well as the girls in her own choir. It was a Saturday afternoon at the girls' school, and although they had to wear school uniform, much to the kids' disgust, some of the girls had clearly spent hours on their hair and had ignored the no make-up rule. Jill sat with Zikho in their spot with the second sopranos, feeling simultaneously sorry for Miss Webster and frustrated at her inability to get anything done. The boys' choir master was unfortunately down with the flu and couldn't make the rehearsal, and the boys were accompanied by a young boarding house master who sat on a chair looking at his phone the whole time, oblivious to their disruptive behaviour. They were performing a selection from Handel's Messiah for a concert in a couple of months' time, and by the time Miss Webster sent them out for a break they had done little more than sing haltingly through the Hallelujah chorus a few times. Jill thought it sounded awful. 
Jill found a sunny spot outside on the grass with Zikho and another friend, Nicole, a day girl who sang alto. 
"That boy is looking at us," said Nicole, who had taken out a nail file and was neatening up her already perfect nails. "The zitty one over there next to that guy who looks like a gangster."
"Aw, Nicole - just because the poor guy has lost his belt, and his underpants are showing, doesn't mean he's a gangster," said Zikho. 
Nicole raised her eyebrows at Zikho. "Put the pants situation together with the hair situation, and that earring story, and I rest my case," she said. "But never mind him, it's the one next to him I'm talking about."
"That one with the glasses?" asked Zikho, peering at the huddled group of guys leaning against the tennis court fence. 
"Yes," said Nicole. "He keeps looking at us. It's super obvious."
"I believe you. Chill!" said Zikho. "I think he's looking at Jill."
"He is not," said Jill, blushing hard. The truth was that she had noticed it too. For the past few minutes she had been trying not to look his way, because every time she did she seemed to catch his eye. "Okay, he is. I think."
"He is so watching you, Jill - and he's coming over!" Nicole put her nail file away and brushed the dust off her lap. Before Jill knew it, the boy had reached them and was standing there awkwardly, his hands in his pockets.
"Hi," he said.
"Hi," said Nicole and Zikho. Jill was silent. She didn't know what to do. 
"We're just ... going to throw our rubbish in the bin," said Nicole, getting up. She grabbed Zikho's arm and pulled her up too. Jill tried to glare at them but they hurried off. She was left alone, sitting on the grass with her lunchbox in her lap, a boy she didn't know standing nervously beside her. She was wondering if she should stand up, but he sat down instead, his arms resting casually on his knees. 
"Did I chase your friends away?" he said. 
"I don't know," said Jill. "I suppose you did."
He grinned. "Sorry. I just ... I've seen you running with the cross country team, past our school. I wanted to come over and say hi."
"Oh," said Jill. She didn't know what else to say. She turned her head to look at him. He was a bit zitty, but he had a nice face, she supposed. She liked the glasses. And she did sometimes run past the boys' school during cross country training. He wasn't making that up. He really had noticed her. 
"I'm Colin," he said. 
"Okay," said Jill. She felt frozen, as if she was in Science class and the teacher had just asked her a question she didn't understand at all. She knew there was something she should say but she didn't know what it was.
"Are you going to tell me your name?" asked Colin. He looked a little amused at her silence but he didn't seem embarrassed. 
"Sorry," said Jill, feeling ridiculously stupid. She was bombing this, she knew. She wasn't sure if she minded bombing it - but she knew she must seem really silly and childish. "I'm Jill."
He grinned. "Jill." He nodded. "It suits you. I'm glad I have finally met you, Jill."
Jill blushed again, smiling back. This wasn't so bad, she thought to herself. She was talking to a boy, he was nice and he seemed to like her.  He was in Grade 10, a year ahead of her, and he was a boarder too. His parents lived on a farm about an hour away. That was about all they managed to say before Miss Webster appeared at the entrance to the music block, calling them to come back inside. Nicole and Zikho materialized from somewhere behind them, and the conversation was over. 
"See you around," he said as he joined his friends. She could only nod stupidly. 
Jill didn't sing much for the rest of the practice. She felt strange, grown up and surprised and just strange. She couldn't see Colin from her place in the choir, and she wondered if he could see her. Did she like him? She had no idea. But the whole idea of liking him grew on her as the hour passed, an hour of poor Miss Webster trying to get the boys to stop talking  and the girls to stop giggling, and to get them all to sing something half decent. When it was over the bored housemaster shuffled the boys into the two school minibuses that had brought them over, and Colin was gone before she had a chance to talk to him again.  
There were three more practices before the concert, and she saw Colin at every one. Fortunately the boys' choirmaster had recovered and the next rehearsals were much more productive. The kids worked hard and by the last run-through Jill thought it sounded incredible. When they sang the Hallelujah chorus she got goosebumps all over her body. She imagined that there would be something like it in heaven – it was beautiful. Every rehearsal Colin would seek her out and find something to say to her. At the third one he gave her a hug when he had to leave. That surprised her. She had just stood there in shock and managed to pat him awkwardly on the back before he let her go. One time he told her she looked pretty, which she didn't really believe seeing she was in her green school uniform as usual. But she enjoyed hearing it. 
The concert went well, and the combined choir got a standing ovation for their performance. Jill enjoyed the whole thing so much she felt buzzed and excited afterwards, as if it was Christmas or the last day of term. They trooped out of the boys' school hall, flushed and excited. For most of the kids the best part was yet to come – a little party in the quad. There was ice cream and cake, and hot chocolate, and most exciting of all, they were allowed to change out of their school uniforms. The girls got a lecture from the housemistress who was their chaperone as they changed in the stark cloakroom that had been allocated for the purpose. No disappearing out of the quad, no eating or drinking anything that wasn't provided, and they had to be waiting by the bus at ten. Jill was done changing into her jeans and T-shirt in five minutes and sat waiting for Nicole and Zikho while they put on make-up and fussed over their clothes. 
"It is so ironic!" said Nicole, peering into the little mirror she had brought while she put on her mascara. "Jill is the only one of us who might get anyone's attention this evening and all she's done is put on a T-shirt."
"It’s my best T-shirt," laughed Jill, as she helped Zikho zip up her top. "I don't know why you are making such a fuss. It's nearly nine now. There is one hour to hang out and eat cake and then we're going home."
"I'm determined to talk to that cute guy I met last time," said Nicole, scooping all her make-up into her bag and standing up to go. "If it's just a good first impression it won't be for nothing."
"I suppose," said Jill, looking around at the cloakroom of excited, busy girls. It smelt strongly of deodorant. "Let's get out of here. I want some ice cream before the boys eat it all." 
 As usual Colin found her and in a few short minutes she found herself standing alone with him, her friends nowhere in sight. 
"You look nice," said Colin. "Different."
"You too," said Jill. She couldn't decide but she thought he actually looked better in his school uniform. He had changed into scruffy jeans and a shirt with a band logo on it, and he too smelt strongly of deodorant. He got her some ice cream and they ate together, not saying much. Jill stole glances at him, wondering what this all meant. Did he like her, or was he just being friendly? Did she like him? She supposed she must like him. This must be how it happened then, this boy/girl thing.  It was kind of nice, but still kind of weird. She still felt as if a different, older Jill had swapped places with her for a while. Wasn't she just a kid, really, doing homework and listening to boybands with her friends? 
They finished their ice creams. Colin wiped his mouth, adjusted his glasses and looked at her. "You want to go for a walk?" he asked. "It's kind of crowded here."
"Okay," Jill found herself saying. Colin looked pleased. He took her hand and led her to a corner of the quad where there was a door leading onto a dark passage. He looked around and put his finger on his lips. 
"Not supposed to do this," he said. He ducked through the door, Jill following, her hand in his. All she could think was that she couldn't believe she was doing this, breaking a bunch of rules all at once, and holding a boy's hand for the first time. And that his hand was too slack in hers, and sweaty. Kind of cold, and clammy. 
They emerged on the outside of the building, and Colin took her across a parking lot to a cricket field. It was dark but there were lights on the outsides of the closed-up buildings. As they crossed the grass she saw another couple heading in a different direction; the guy put his hand up to greet Colin and Colin did the same. They reached a big grandstand on one side of the field, and Colin led her behind it. 
"Here we are," he said, turning to face her. "Are you cold?" he asked, noticing her shiver a little.
"A bit," she said. "But I'm okay." 
"I can help you get warm," he said. He stepped closer and put his arms around her. Jill leaned forward too, tentatively, completely unsure of what to do. She put her arms around his waist, resting her face on his shoulder. He was just a little taller than her, and it was kind of nice standing there, leaning on him. And he was right, she did feel warmer. It was better than holding his damp hand.
After a few seconds Colin moved his hand a little on her back. Then he turned his face and put his cheek against hers. She knew he was going to kiss her, and she knew she was going to let him. I can't believe this is it, she thought, as he maneuvered his face into the right position. For just a second, she wondered if she should stop and pull away, if this was actually a terrible idea, and so not the way she wanted it to be, but it felt as if it was too late. Then his lips were on hers, and she didn't know what to do. It felt weird; soft and slimy and wet. She realized too late that he was pushing his tongue between her lips and she fought an urge to laugh. It reminded her of how she and a friend, at the age of eight or nine, had once dared each other to touch tongues, and had recoiled in disgust at the funny squishy feeling. Now she was doing this on purpose. Was this what all those kisses she had seen in the movies felt like? She tried to like it, she tried to tell herself it couldn't be all that bad, but soon she had to pull away. Colin smiled, his arms still around her, but he didn't meet her eyes.
Why doesn't he say something? thought Jill. She thought maybe this should be the part where he said how lovely she was, how much he liked her, that he was longing to know everything about her. But he said nothing, just put his cheek back against hers as they stood there in a silent embrace. 
After a minute or so he kissed her again. This time wasn't as wet and slobbery but still Jill felt that he was definitely enjoying it more than she was. Again she had to pull away. 
"This is nice," he said, still not meeting her eyes. Jill nodded, her head still spinning. It had been more gross than nice, actually. She pictured what might happen now. Was he her boyfriend? He must be; he had kissed her. Twice. He would phone her and visit her. They would go on dates. She wasn't sure. It was all a bit overwhelming. And he didn't exactly seem to want to chat now.
"Should we go back?" Jill managed to say. She suddenly thought that she didn't know what the time was and if she missed the bus she would be in huge trouble. The thought terrified her.
"Okay," said Colin. They walked back across the field, their arms around each other. That part was nice, and by the time they ducked through the dark passage and back into the quad, she was feeling less freaked out and more excited. Colin, she thought, looking over at him. My first boyfriend. As she got onto the bus he said he would call her, but Jill didn't have her own phone so it would have to be on the boarding house landline. She didn't mind. We'll make a way, she thought. Colin and I.

Jill felt a little nauseous when she woke up the next morning. She told her curious friends as little as possible, wanting to keep it private, still not sure what she thought of it all. She went to church, and felt funny when the minister asked them to spend a while confessing the wrong things they had done. She wondered if that strange experience on the cricket field had been wrong. It hadn't crossed her mind before, but it did now. She didn't know if Colin went to church or even believed in God, and that wasn't great either. She would have to talk to him about that when she saw him. But when would that be? She felt nervous and edgy all day. She didn't even know his last name. And whenever the phone rang in the passage, it was for someone else.
Monday was windy and grey and miserable. Jill went to her classes and did her work, still feeling nauseous and restless. Zikho, Nicole and her other friends knew something was up and guessed what it was. Colin didn't phone. Should she phone him? Maybe he had tried but he couldn't get through? But she knew that wasn't likely. He hadn't phoned because he just hadn't. By Monday evening she felt stupid. By Tuesday morning she felt ashamed. She shut herself in a shower stall and stared at herself in the mirror, watching the tears well up and spill over. She was angry, ashamed and stupid. Angry with Colin, and angry with herself. So, so stupid. On Wednesday evening she put away the last of her hope and knew that she had been used. She had warned Zikho not to let it happen to her again, but she had been duped, tricked, played. She pictured Colin going back to his friends, chalking one up on his tally, as they slapped him on the back and made comments about her nice legs or something. This was not how it was supposed to be, and she knew that now. 
On Saturday morning Jill sat on her bed, opened her journal and stared at the blank page. She knew she could put it all out of her mind if she really wanted to; intentionally forget and file it away with the other painful things she had to live with. She glanced over at her Bible on her bedside table, and she knew that she needed to learn from this.  There was love in the Bible, there was romance, there was passion and of course there was marriage. There was a path to follow, not always easy to figure out but the only path worth following.  And there was also Jesus, holding out his arms in forgiveness for all her silliness and thoughtlessness, urging her to find a way to live her life for him. She bent her head and started to write, the jumbled thoughts of the last week sorting themselves out in her mind as they made their way onto her page. Love was not something that she was going to let happen to her. She was going to be intentional from now on, and not let a silly boy shmooze her and flatter her into sneaking off with him behind the grandstands. The next time she kissed a boy it would not be an awkward slobbery embrace with a guy whose last name she didn't even know. It would be much more than that - it would mean much more. And despite the memory of the first one, she still had faith - that the next one would not be gross. 


Saturday, October 12, 2019

Tell Me, Darling




When I finished my first novel, Alex on the Edge, I wondered if I had another book in me. I wasn't sure - the idea for that first book had been in my head for so long. But I had enjoyed the process of writing it so much that I gave it another try. Tell Me, Darling was the result.

For this story I drew on my experiences working on a summer camp in England when I was in my early twenties. I had a rough time on the camp, mostly because I was lonely and very homesick! I don't make friends quickly or easily and everyone was so different to me. I was the only South African and the only Christian. I wondered what the experience would have been like if my personality had been completely different, and the idea for the story was born. Sadie is petite and extroverted and way more of a risk-taker than I ever was!

It's a sweet, romantic story and I think there are parts that are quite funny.  I especially love Sam the crazy Ozzie, Linda the uptight best friend with horrible taste in bridesmaids' dresses, Eleanor the interfering mother and Andre the Dermatologist from Pretoria. The title was inspired by this song, Waiting, by South African singer Majozi:


I love this song so much! When I hear it on the radio it makes me think of Sadie and ... oops, can't give away the name of her romantic interest!!!

And once again, if anyone is an Amazon customer and would like to read this for free in return for a review, let me know via the contact form.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Giveaway Winners!

Reposting from Se7en.org.za today. To read the original post, click this link
 Thank you so much to se7en for hosting this! If you didn't win, never mind, you can purchase a copy from me or download an e-book from Amazon. Alex on the Edge is also available to download for free from this link. If you read it, please consider leaving a rating or review on Amazon or Goodreads. Clink the Books tab above for details. 
From Se7en:
A couple of weeks ago we posted a Giveaway, and today I am posting the winners…
Two books gifted to two lucky followers, from my friend Kate Le Roux, who has written these fabulous books… easy weekend reading, set in sunny South Africa. Absolutely fantastic, easy reading. Alex on the Edge, the story of Alex, who is a bit of a go getter and Jill a serious and earnest gal, who is not interested in a relationship just yet. I am midway through reading Teacher, Teacher and I am really enjoying it. It is the story of day to day life of two teachers, Jack a biology teacher and Amy an English teacher, who work at a school in Cape Town. On weekends they volunteer at a school in Mitchel’s Plain on the Cape Flats, only to discover that you can’t easily separate your life into neat little categories.

And the Winners Are…

Mrs FF, you have won a copy of Alex on the Edge.
Sue, you have won a copy of Teacher, Teacher.
Congratulations to our winners!!!
And for all of you that are looking for a great weekend read… the books are readily available on Amazon… the images below are Amazon affiliate links.
 
Huge thank you to our author, Kate Le Roux, for gifting us with books to read and giveaway… all the best to her and looking forward to many more great reads in the future!!!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Rollercoaster



Writing for today's Five Minute Friday Linkup
where bloggers free write for five minutes based on a prompt.

Today's prompt is  start




When you start off on a rollercoaster ride, you know it's not going to be a gentle trundle down the tracks. You know you are going to feel scared, maybe just physically, even if you know it's safer than driving in the traffic down the highway. You know at the beginning that it will be hectic but there's nothing you can do about it. You want to do it, you bought the ticket and it's happening. But anticipating the craziness doesn't help you not to want to throw up when your stomach gets left behind at the top of the track. 

I haven't felt well lately - nothing serious, just a cold that took a while to get over. And in my experience, there's nothing like feeling weak to get those contemplations going. If anyone ever asks me what the hardest part of parenting, or homeschooling is, I will have to say this: that when you aren't WELL, when all you want to do is crawl into bed and obey your body's screaming plea for REST you just have to keep going. I knew that when I started these journeys, when I chose to have more than a couple of kids and to homeschool them. I knew it would be a bumpy ride and that I would not always be strong for it. I don't regret anything. I don't think I was naive. But parenting is pretty relentless, and when I think back I know that I had no idea at the start what it would really be like to be at this point on the ride. 

My precious children - filling my life so full that sometimes I forget there was ever a void I hoped to fill with mothering. I am so glad I began this journey with them and I am grateful that now when I am weak they help me, even as they still need me so much. This rollercoaster ride has been a journey worth starting, and even though my stomach has been left behind somewhere I'm still happy for it not to be over quite yet!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Testimony




Writing for today's Five Minute Friday Linkup
where bloggers free write for five minutes based on a prompt.

Today's prompt is Testimony


I seem to be feeling poetical again today ...


The church is full of sound
The singing is rich and heart-felt
I stand beside friends who raise their hands
My sixteen-year-old self-consciousness
keeps mine firmly by my side

Life has been kind of rough lately
I am busy and tired
School is hard and I am sixteen, after all
My heart is confused and lonely
I have so much but I am often discontent
I long for things I do not have

As I sing, the words begin to die in my mouth
My tongue will not form them any more
I am doubting
It swells in me like a dark wave
Is any of this real?
Do I really belong here?
God feels far away
I wonder for the first time if I am really a good girl
If he really loves me
And that thought is terrifying
I feel adrift suddenly
Out of the blue
something heavy and black is pressing down on me

I am nauseous
Afraid of what it means
Too confused even to pray
The service ends and I begin to walk out
A friend greets me
Asks me what is wrong
I confess - I don't know
I just ...
Words will not form
But he knows
Something tells him to say what I need to hear

Go home
Decide
Yes, Lord or No, Lord
Just that

I hold the words in my mind as I am driven home
I run to my bedroom and close the door
I open my journal and hold the pen above the paper
my cheeks damp with the gravity of this moment
There is doubt but there is also the grace of certainty
That there is no other way
But Yes, Lord

And in the years since then
He has kept me
There are still doubts but not about this:
That when the church is full of sound
I belong in his house
With his people
Singing his songs



Monday, September 2, 2019

For Inge

Sharing some poetry today.

Yesterday marked eighteen years since one of the students I taught was killed in a terrible, tragic incident that was part violent encounter, part accident. She was only seventeen, in the wrong place at the wrong time, a completely innocent victim of someone else's problem. There was a picture published in the paper the day after her death that showed her slumped in the car where she was shot, glass all around her, a thin line of blood visible beside her mouth - such bad taste and insensitivity on the part of the paper, an image that I wish I had never seen and will never forget. She was pregnant at the time too, with a little boy who was unexpected and inconvenient, I am sure, but would have been so loved and welcomed into her large family. Every now and then I see one of her four sisters around - she doesn't know me but whenever I see her the resemblance takes my breath away and takes me right back to the shock and grief of what happened eighteen years ago.

I wrote this poem shortly after she died. For a long time afterwards her name was in my book of marks/grades with all the numbers in a row beside it (before the days of recording everything digitally!), and seeing it there was always so jarring. She was there, in my class, writing essays and doing grammar tests, and then she was not. It was not okay then and it is still not okay now, eighteen years later, that she is not here on earth with those who loved her. I drew on the experience of her death and especially her funeral when I wrote Teacher, Teacher, and so was reminded of this poem.


For Inge


Fragile was your pretty hair
Your impish, laughing eyes
Fragile as a whispered tune
Fading as it dies

Fragile is the shattered glass
The angle of your head
I fear to see beside your mouth
That fragile line of red

It only took a second
A second - it was done
For a hand to squeeze a trigger
For the shot to leave the gun

So fragile were the doll-like hands
The tiny baby heart
Your life was taken much too soon
His never got to start

How strange to see the row of marks
Just numbers by your name
How strange that life for those you loved
Will never be the same.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Attitude Shmattitude


Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is Chapter 5 of 

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my Young Adult Christian Fiction novels for free!)

This will be the last chapter I'll be sharing on the blog. The other chapters will deal with topics like curriculum choice, how to keep going with a new baby in the house, the socialization issue, me-time, and a few others. The full short book will be available as an e-book on Amazon in September. 

Chapter 5: Attitude Shmattitude


Newsflash: Most kids don’t particularly like schoolwork. They want to play.  You are just Mom or Dad and they will let you know it.

There might be some little girls out there who love colouring and cutting out, who sit quietly while Mom or Dad reads them literary classics and remember to get their snacks when it’s break time. I never had any of those. My kids complained about Maths and Afrikaans and anything involving actually picking up a pencil to write. I have a child who desperately needs to go to the bathroom whenever we sit down to read, and is always ravenous the moment a workbook is put in front of him. My daughter, who is now happily writing fan fiction and entire novels on Wattpad, used to cry a river every time I gave her a creative writing assignment. “I don’t know what to write!” she would wail, rejecting every one of my suggestions as fast as I could make them. 

My kids all have their own ways of rebelling against schoolwork. One of my sons goes limp and silent when he has to do something particularly distasteful to him, and twenty minutes later all there is on the page are tears. Another one gets a scowl on his face and punishes me by jabbing his pencil onto the paper so hard that it rips, and the other one just flat-out refuses. “No,” he says, as if that is that. Teaching your kids school stuff is no easier than getting them to pick up their clothes and eat their vegetables. I admit it: the attitude battle is the hardest part of homeschooling. The tears that have fallen onto our dining room table … let’s just say that twelve is not too old to turn on the waterworks because your horrible parent thinks you should be doing something you don’t want to do. Yes, twelve. I know. I didn’t think so either.

I don’t worry about it these days as often as I used to. There are still times when I have to put my head in my hands and take a deep breath. The one who thinks he gets to say “No” to me is learning subtraction now, after all.

If homeschooling was the only thing in my life I might spend hours thinking of ways to make it all fascinating and fun. I could provide flour trays and playdo and kinetic sand every day and turn the seven times tables into a game that is so much fun they will choose it over playing Minecraft. That might happen every now and then, but contrary to what many may think, I am not a superhero just because I homeschool.

Staying up until midnight making puppets and mazes and treasure hunts would not be good for my family, my marriage or my sanity. Yes, there was that time where we wrapped up a teddy as an Egyptian mummy and the time I made up a song to teach them the provinces of South Africa. There was a day when we mapped out the distance between the planets in the Solar System with toilet paper in the garden, and once my son was in ecstasy when Science turned out to be a bug hunt. I have been known to print out huge maps and get out the paints, and once I even baked cookies to teach fractions. But most days are ordinary, and they have to learn things the good old way, by reading, thinking and actually picking up a pencil. I try to see it as a lesson in itself – there will be many times in their lives when they have to do things they don’t like, and they won’t get to moan their way out of it. There will be plenty of times where they don’t understand WHY exactly they have to do something, but they need to submit to authority and get on with it. It’s an important lesson, to do what your mom says and to do it without complaining. I won’t say my kids have learnt it yet, but we persevere! Homeschooling is part of parenting, after all.

But … there’s the kids’ attitude, and then there’s mine. I can’t control their moaning, but I can control mine. It is so important that I don’t get into a cycle of feeling sorry for myself and bringing everyone down. To a large extent, my attitude determines theirs. It’s the same in traditional school – an enthusiastic teacher who actually looks happy to see her class is more likely to have a good day than the one who clearly does not want to be there. Unfortunately that is true for the rest of family life too.

I believe there need to be consequences for bad behaviour. We probably all do, it’s just putting that into practice that is hard! For some kids, a stern word is all it takes. Others are bulletproof until privileges are taken away. For us, three chances and then an appointment with Dad when he comes home usually does the trick. “Do we need an appointment?” The instant effect of those words when my husband says them is almost magical.

If your kids are really struggling with attitude it may be worth looking at the amount of work they are doing. It might genuinely be too much for them. Many boxed curriculums provide a huge amount of work for kids who want or need more than others. In my experience, less is usually more, and I feel nothing for taking two years to get through a year’s worth if it’s working for us. I have been a teacher in a school and I know how little actual work gets done in a day. Younger kids do not sit for five hours straight poring over their books in traditional schools. There is assembly and lining up and homework-checking where they are not “working”. There are whole chunks of class time devoted to getting one unruly kid under control.

My kids spent about an hour or two a day on formal schoolwork in the first few years, and we never really did schoolwork past lunchtime. We read aloud and did lots of other things for the rest of the time and it worked well that way for us. When I had a fussy baby and a needy toddler I used to worry about my older kids and think I would have to catch up when we had more time, until I realised how much they learn in the rest of the day too. When one of my kids was learning to write, he hated sitting down at a desk, but on his own one afternoon he set up a shop and wrote out inventories and stock lists. He cut up paper to make into money and figured out the change when his siblings bought apples and peanuts and plastic animals from him. That is gold, people, the stuff of a teacher’s dreams! He was motivated and interested and he was learning like mad all afternoon without realising it. It’s called playing! Don’t give your kids so much work that they forget how to play.

That said, there are ways to improve the mood on a bad day when nothing is going right.
·         Turn on some music and have a dance party.
·         Switch things out. Put down the Maths and do some Art or baking or Pilates on the carpet.
·         Take a break. Call time out and give the miserable kid a hug and some non-school attention. Walk the dog, unpack the dishwasher, whatever. Stop and come back later.
·         Bring out the snacks! Hangry kids are no fun.

And if all else fails … cancel school for the day. Yes, I have done it. Sometimes finishing some work on schedule is not worth the fight and your own sanity. You will, however, have to do this in a way that does not make them think that they have won, and you have given in! So I wouldn’t suggest playing this card too often. It might come back to bite you!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chapter 4: The Daily Grind














Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is another chapter of 

I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my novels for free! I'll be sharing the first few chapters of this book over the next while but the whole (short) book will be available on Amazon in September)



Chapter 3: Curriculum isn't quite ready so it will need to wait for another day. So here is 

Chapter 4: The Daily Grind

If homeschooling is going to work for you, you will have to be proactive about setting up your days to make that happen. I think the most important principle when it comes to what happens daily is this:

A little every day adds up to a lot.

Teaching young children to read or write is an amazing thing. You sit with them for ten minutes a day, sometimes more, sometimes less. One day you are showing them “a” and next thing they are spelling out words. Little by little, it starts to sink in. It’s incredible to watch and I feel so privileged to have witnessed that four times over.

My son just finished a phonics program. I remember when he began it at the start of his Grade 1 year. On the first day he wrote cat and pat and sat. I skipped to the back of the book and wondered if he would really be spelling skunk and twist and stick in a few short months. All it took was a few minutes a day and we got there. If you establish a routine where your children do just a little of something every day, or most days, they will amaze you with what they learn over the months and years.

Sometimes the “little” that ends up happening in a day feels like too little. There are not many areas of homeschooling where my teaching experience has helped me, but this is one of them. Let me tell you a secret: children at school do not sit at their little kid-sized desks for hours each day working, working, working. Maybe they did in Little House on the Prairie but those must have been a different kind of kids! It takes time for a teacher to get them settled, to get their books out, to check their homework. Then someone needs to go to the toilet and someone is pulling someone else’s hair. Finally the worksheet is handed out and they begin, and when some have finished someone is only just realising that he doesn’t have a pencil. Your ten minutes sitting with your child reading or doing sums might be as productive in terms of learning as an hour in a classroom – maybe even two or three!

Consider this list of things that in my experience can be learned in 5 – 10 minutes a day over a year or two:

  • Reading
  • Maths facts
  • Handwriting - both the initial learning to write and cursive
  • Spelling
  • A second language
  • Drawing skills


Homeschooling happens in a HOME. That means that there is laundry and cooking and postmen at the door happening at the same time as school. The dog will bark and the cat will puke on the floor. The baby will cry and the dishwasher will need to be unpacked. A totally fascinating truck will be resurfacing the road outside and there will be no way to drag your five-year-old son away from the window without causing a meltdown. For years the arrival of the rubbish truck outside our home caused an immediate halt to all educational activities that happened to be in progress at the time. Life is happening all the time; home is not, and by its very nature cannot be an environment dedicated to formal education. If I expect to have five hours of dedicated school time where I am not distracted by the other things that need to happen in my home, I will only be frustrated.

So should you make lists? Should you have weekly goals that take priority over everything else? When your sister is sick and needs you to take care of her baby do you turn her down because you must do schoolwork?

This is my advice: Plan your year, your term, your week and your days however you want to. Make lists and schedules if that is what makes you feel in control. But leave room. Leave LOTS of room. Expect interruptions and disruptions and don’t be put out by them. If you are using a boxed curriculum schedule, don’t let it rule you. You can leave some books for next year, or for the holidays.

An example of the (very) flexible schedule that works for me at the moment:

About 8.30 am: All three do Maths and one other workbook such as phonics, handwriting, Afrikaans or vocabulary. I do a spelling programme with my middle son which takes about ten minutes. Youngest needs breaks every five minutes so he is going from the desk to the garden and back again all the time. He is also constantly hungry (especially during Maths) so he is regularly fetching carrots and hunks of cucumber. My oldest child at home is reading a book about materials engineering so he reads a chapter, or practices his trumpet. If someone finishes early, he can play a Maths game or carry on learning the map of Europe using an online game.

10am: We watch a ten-minute Bible Project video and talk about it. Kids read aloud to Mom. Youngest reads his readers, middle one reads a bit of the Bible or our read-aloud. Oldest reads Afrikaans library books. (Sometimes!) Mom reads aloud, a chapter or two of a History or Science book and whatever novel we are reading. The youngest is free to go and play if he has by now lost his energy for keeping still and can’t follow. Afterwards we might search YouTube for a video about whatever we have been reading.

11.00: Everyone back at the table (after a snack break) for more formal work like Afrikaans, creative writing or Science. Or not. Sometimes we have gym or our homeschool group.

12.00: Let’s do some Art! Where are the paints? Okay, after you make yourself a sandwich. Yes, you may hammer some pieces of wood together instead.

1.00: We are done. Unless we are not, in which case we carry on or leave it for tomorrow. 

Afternoon: Chores, playdates with friends, visits to the Kids Gym we have joined, the occasional reluctant trip to do errands with Mom, walking the dog. And more playdates with friends.

Evening: Catch up whoever didn’t read aloud, maybe to Dad. Show Dad the Maths worksheet/story/picture of the day.

This is what is working for us at the moment. There were times when this would not have worked for me. When I had small babies, things were different. When I had a three-year-old who thought my sitting down to read to the others meant I was rejecting him, and chose that time to climb all over me and wail, things were different. When we were doing renovations to our house and there were angle grinders deafening us all morning, things were different.  Just as you figure out a way to do things, something will probably change. And that’s okay.

And don’t forget that your homeschool “schedule”, if you have one, is just one part of your “home” schedule. It is very important, but not more important than other things that will crop up. It may sound corny but it’s still true: the more flexible you are, the less likely it is that you break when something hits you.

Remember:
  • A little every day adds up to a lot
  • Work out a flexible schedule. Leave room in it. LOTS OF ROOM
  • Expect to change it when life changes
  • School is important but not always the most important thing in a day

Friday, August 16, 2019

Five-Minute Friday again: Hospitality

This post is part of the Five-Minute Friday link-up :)

Today's prompt is: Hospitality



I'm feeling poetical today so here goes:


My little car chugs up the steep hill to the gate
Open for us, waiting
I walk up the familiar crumbling driveway
past the old green VW Beetle
Inside the door and into a room as familiar as home
I know all the pictures on the wall
The little sculptures on the shelves
I know the fringed tablecloth and the comfy old couch
I know the blue bathroom and the photos on the fridge
In all its wood-panelled old-fashioned glory
Your home feels like home to me

There is warmth in the busy kitchen
Steaming from the pots of chicken soup
There is love in the wooden bowls of crusty rolls
The glass jugs of sweet juice
The endless mugs of tea
You open your home
It is full of all of us
Its welcome does not discriminate

Years of meetings, workshops, bible studies
Years of lunches, dinners, planning days
Have made this house more than your family home
It is an extension of the church building down the road
It is a home for lost hearts
For searching minds
It is a picture of your humility

Through your open door
Through your open hearts
God has loved me.

Chapter 2: Comparison sickness



Hi there homeschooling parents! As promised here is Chapter 2 of


I DON’T KNOW HOW YOU DO IT!

How to homeschool your young children without losing your mind

(And if you enjoy my writing, how about popping over to the "Books" page above? You might be interested in reading one of my novels for free! I'll be sharing the first few chapters of this book over the next while but the whole (short) book will be available on Amazon in September)


Chapter 2: Comparison sickness



“You’ve chosen not to have regular school goals, so don’t expect to have regular school achievements.”
-Se7en

This could perhaps be the wisest thing about homeschooling I have ever read. (And so is almost everything else this homeschooling mama says. Check out her blog at se7en.org.za) It makes so much sense, but I suspect many of us homeschooling parents could make a sport out of stressing over whether or not our kids measure up to kids who go to school.

I have felt deep stress about my kids’ Afrikaans and their handwriting. I have felt genuinely embarrassed of atrocious spelling. But when I remind myself that I chose to focus on other things, I don’t regret those choices. I chose not to begin teaching my kids a second language at the age of six just because that’s how it’s done at school. It made no sense to me to confuse them with a different set of phonics rules before they could even write in their home language, so I chose to delay that. I can’t expect them to be sprouting Afrikaans like their friends; there is a pay-off for everything. I choose not to push my kids into the tantrums-and-tears zone. I choose to keep the volume of written work low and give them more time to play and be kids. I can’t expect them to have perfect cursive skills by age ten if this is what I choose. Our children cannot enjoy the benefits of both home and traditional school at the same time.

Every term your friends’ children who go to traditional school get a report card with a list of numbers or symbols on it. But you know, I am sure, perhaps from your own experience at school, that the report card is not an exhaustive summary of what a child knows. It cannot report back on everything he has learnt or all the skills he has developed. In many ways, reports are for teachers more than they are for children and their parents. One of the wonderful advantages of homeschooling is that your child can learn and grow without being measured against anyone at all except for himself.

I don’t think that grading and marking and reporting are useless. When academics becomes more important, at a high school and tertiary education level, they are necessary. Marks can be a great motivator. But I don’t believe that younger children benefit from knowing how they measure up to each other. They will most likely do it in their play. They have a natural interest in how they compare to each other. But they do not need us to do it for them, and as parents we need to focus on the progress they are making and the areas they need help with, and avoid comparing them with other children, homeschooled or not.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t have conversations with our fellow homeschoolers or our non-homeschooling friends where we talk about what our children are doing. We love talking about our children. We need encouragement and support from others and to get that we need to talk about our successes and our challenges. The key is not to let it bother us when another child can do what ours can’t.

When my kids were babies I had a book that was permanently beside my bed: Marina Petropolous’ Baby and Childcare Handbook. I pored over that book so much that it was dog-eared and breaking by the time my fourth child was past the toddler stage. I wanted to know: is my child doing all right? Did she smile at the right time? Is she crawling early or late? When will she start playing with toys? Is it all right to give her solids yet?

I wanted to know if my kids were doing all right, and I wanted to know if I was doing all right. That book was wonderful; it was so gentle and helpful and encouraging that I needed it even when I was doing the baby thing for the fourth time. We tend to want the same when we homeschool, and there is nothing wrong with that. A list of milestones that extends beyond the baby years is useful. Cutting a straight line with scissors, writing a whole paragraph, being able to spend ten whole minutes concentrating on a Maths worksheet – these are all “milestones” just like the baby ones. And the advice when you have a baby is almost always that you needn’t worry, your baby will get there in her own time.

We all took our babies for check-ups just to make sure they didn’t have challenges that needed special attention. If you’re anxious about something your child seems to struggle with, then there is no harm in getting advice and help. Schools are good at picking up eye problems, hearing loss and learning challenges like dyslexia, because there are so many children for comparison! If you think your child is struggling with something more than you think he should be, then do what the school would tell you to do and find an educational psychologist or a friend who is a teacher to talk to. There are many people out there who offer assessments to homeschoolers, and they can be invaluable to parents who are feeling they need someone else’s perspective and wisdom.

Think of “school” milestones in the same way as baby milestones and it will cause you less anxiety than if you think in terms of grade levels. There is no law that says a child must learn to read by six and must be subtracting with borrowing by seven and a half. You have the luxury of being able to take a year and a half do finish a grade’s worth of Maths, or to get through it in six months.

It’s easy to say all these things but often the reality is difficult. It’s hard to swallow when your child’s friend who is the same age can read when he can’t even remember his letters. It’s even harder when a younger sibling begins to outpace an older one! This is an area where we have to reflect the attitude we want them to have. We want our children to do their best and be satisfied with that, but still desire to learn and grow and stretch themselves. We want them to feel encouraged when they achieve something or learn something new. But there are so many things we can spare them: the “dumb kid” label, the disappointment in themselves, the frustration of having tried their best only to discover it wasn’t good enough. I think we can combat this by applauding little milestones as they are reached, whether they got there at the pace of the tortoise or the hare. I think this is what a child who is behind his peers needs to believe: I could learn that if I tried. I haven’t tried enough yet, but if I do I can learn it. I’ll get there. There are lots of other great things I know and I can do.

You might need to pause and examine your own deep beliefs and motivations here. Are your children’s achievements connected to your own sense of self-worth? Are you rushing them to finish Maths books, paint wonderful pictures and master new skills for them or for yourself? If you feel deeply distressed about your children not measuring up, you might be guilty. I know I have been. But this way of thinking is so unhelpful for everyone. Your children are not extensions of you. They are their own unique, individual people. You are there to guide them to adulthood, and although their behaviour may reflect on you, their God-given talents and challenges do not.

And remember how it was with babies: your baby may have crawled at six months but only slept through the night reliably at the age of eight. Someone else’s baby happily ate broccoli and spinach but took a year to learn to use the toilet. That doesn’t change when children are older. So talk about your children, get advice and tips and encouragement from others, even your traditional-schooling friends. But don’t feel like the worst mom in the world when your kid doesn’t seem to measure up. Again: you have chosen not to have regular school goals, so don’t expect to see regular school achievements.

Is there someone you stalk on the internet or social media because she seems to have the homeschooling family/routine/workspace you wish you had? We all know blogs and Instagram usually only show the good times. Be inspired by what you see out there on the internet, but don’t let it make you feel like a failure. That’s not always easy to do. You might need to do some unfollowing for your own sanity’s sake.

    How not to fall into the trap of unhealthy comparisons:

·         Remember that you chose the benefits of homeschooling over the benefits of traditional school
·         Compare for encouragement and support and don’t let any "shortcomings" distress you
·         Ask a professional for help if you are concerned
·         Think of school milestones as you thought of baby milestones
·         Don’t make it about you
·         Watch who you are watching