Dave Johnson

The Gypsy Schoolhouse Blog

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

 We’re a homeschooling family that moved around the U.S. with mom’s nursing job to find a perfect place to live. After exploring New England, we’ve finally settled in Lebanon, PA. This is the story of our adventures, mishaps, and life as a family. The blog below spans from the start of our homeschooling days through our travels, and eventual settling in south-central Pennsylvania.

(Most recent posts first)

 

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BronyCon

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

As many of  you know, I haven’t posted here in a long time because in August of last year I was implanted with a total artificial heart, came home for a bit on a portable pump, then was admitted full time to the hospital in January of this year to await permanent heart transplant, which happened in May. Most of this is chronicled at my other blog – www.newsofmydemise.blogspot.com as well as at my new website – www.davejohnsonstuff.com under the “LIVE” tab. Most of my blogging efforts have gone there, and school has been pretty routine as our travels and adventures have been very limited. I’m recovering now and wanted to share a bit about our first big family outing post-heart transplant.

So about three years ago, Brennan approached me, very sheepishly, to explain that he’d been watching “a girl show.” I didn’t know what this meant, so he told me about My Little Pony. Which of course, I remember from the 80’s. So I start describing to him what I remember of it (I was more of a G.I. Joe kid so not much) which was something like this:

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He’s looking at me like I’m nuts. “No, it’s not like that,” he says, and insists that it’s more like this:

 

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“I must investigate this,” I thought. But not for the reason you’re probably thinking. I guess years ago I might have thought, “Oh no! My distinctly male child likes something for girls! It has the color pink in it! That’s not manly! HE MIGHT CATCH THE GAY!!”

Actually, no. Me, the guy who enjoys interior design, Fauvist art, chai tea, and French cooking, didn’t think that. Christie and I long ago abandoned this notion that there are “girl things” and “boy things.” Things are just things, and they aren’t “for” a particular gender just because someone else says so. In high school, I was staying at a friend’s house and had forgotten my deodorant. He handed me a stick of Secret. “That’s for women!” I protested. “Do I ever stink?” he asked. “Well…no,” I had to admit. “It works,” he said. “I don’t care who the commercials are aimed at.” Confession: I’ve been using Secret deodorant ever since, and I’d recommend that any guy out there frustrated with his deodorant convert, because it does work – way better than men’s. I’ve found the same thing to be true of women’s razors.

Point being, I asked Brennan who told him it was a girl’s cartoon. He couldn’t remember, but I quickly disabused him of the notion that he couldn’t like things that people thought of as “girly.” Everyone thinks female mechanics and football players are endearing and gutsy. I refuse to apply a different standard to men. It’s all marketing and I’m not falling for it.

Even had I been worried, it was for no reason. Three episodes in, I was hooked. Fantastic artwork, meta-humor, and the writing — holy cow, the writing! What wasn’t to like? The characters were a joy to watch, the jokes and animation were hilarious, and I came away feeling refreshed, peaceful, happy…almost like someone had pushed a reset button on my day. I’ve been watching it with him ever since – we’re on Season 6 now. Rich loves it too.

Turns out we’re in good company. Little did I know at the time that the new My Little Pony was appealing to guys my age all over the world, a phenomenon that’s become known as the “Brony Movement,” a small piece of the larger, “New Sincerity” movement. Just Google “Brony” for a wealth of mainstream articles chronicling and explaining Brony-ism.

When I got out of the hospital, we were looking for something fun to do, close to home, to celebrate and have fun – like a mini-vacation. BronyCon 2016 in Baltimore (or in this case, Baltimare). Done deal.

To really understand Brony-ism and the impact of MLP,  you’d have go to the Con. You see things like the Addiction Recovery reunion for people who credit MLP for helping them beat their addiction, or a lot of huge guys walking around with “Marine/Veteran Brony” t-shirts on, crowds standing in the open spaces singing Journey, Van Halen, and MLP songs interchangeably, and 8,000 people chanting “FUN FUN FUN FUN,” in unison. If there’s one thing I can say about BronyCon, the attendees are bent on having fun. There was no fighting, yelling, pushing, or conflict – just a community celebrating their love of the show and how it’s brought people together from every walk of life.

Waiting for Opening Ceremonies in the ball room at B’more Convention Center

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My camera lens wasn’t wide enough – 8,000+ people. This is just one of nearly 100 BronyCons across the country each summer.

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Many costumed fans – these aren’t hired characters, these are all Bronies who tend to show up at a large number of conventions each year. I ate lunch next to two criminal prosecutors the second day, one of them wearing a costume like this.

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Legit wheelchair fights in the main lobby

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There were seminars, lectures, and panels for three days. Rich went to a lot of gaming design and demo events, while Brennan tended toward writing workshops and critique sessions. I found no shortage of lectures by professors flown in from all over the country to discuss the psychology and sociological implications of the Brony movement, gender studies, and popular entertainment’s impact of self-image and identity. Heady stuff, but fascinating. Christie found arts and crafts workshops and generally walked around in amazement at how happy and nice everyone was.

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There are of course a lot of online crossovers with My Little Pony: Star Wars, Team Fortress, Counter-strike, Final Fantasy, and all types of Anime. A bit like Comic-Con in that sense, with entire blocks of times devoted to Costume Play.

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In the hotel room before setting off the first day. The hotel was overrun with costumed fans. The Hilton was even hip enough to have BronyCon key cards made, and run MLP episodes marathon style over the weekend in the rooms.

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With Andrea Liebman, the voice of Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie

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The boys managed to get their commemorative cards signed by the “Mane Six” character’s voice actors. These cards go for hundreds of dollars on eBay and fan sites.

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Lots of this type of stuff going on in the convention center public areas

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Two of our favorite background characters, Mr. & Mrs. Cake – with all the costumes, these were the only Cake Cosplay folks we met.

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With Ashleigh Ball, the voice of Applejack and Rainbow Dash

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Christie found another Granny Smith!

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PonyPalooza – Pop, Electronic, Metal, Punk, Hip-Hop, and Dubstep, every night from 9pm until…..?

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There were also certain notorious Mandalorians lurking about

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Closing Ceremonies. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 raised for children’s cancer over the weekend

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M.A. Larson hung out a lot with fans. Mitch is probably our favorite writer for MLP. Watch the clip below, for which he wrote the monologue, and no further explanation is needed.

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Yeah. I know.

 

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On the way home (after three days), we had our own CrabCon at L.P. Steamers, our favorite little hole-in-the-wall crab place in B-more.

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What’s Going On

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Hey, everyone. Long time, no post. I (Dave) have an extended hospital stay so I thought I’d update you on what’s been going on with us of late.

First, homeschooling is probably the best it’s ever been. People are always asking what curriculum or method we use. The answer has varied depending on our season of life and the boy’s interests. We all feel like we’ve finally found a good balance of freedom and learning that fits our schedule and the boy’s needs.

  • Math – about 6 months ago we discovered the fantastic Life of Fred series, chronicling the adventures of a little boy who teaches math as a professor at Kittens University. It reads like a chapter book, but incorporates math concepts for the kids to work through, as well as logic puzzles, financial philosophies, and a smattering of geography, grammar, and humanities. The boys love them and are flying through the series. They extend all the way through early high-school so we’re set for awhile. The books are a bit pricey but we were fortunate enough to have a friend who tracked down a used set in near perfect condition, so we’re sharing the books.
  • Reading – We’ve been circling something called “The Thomas Jefferson Method” for years, but didn’t really know it until our Foley friends loaned us a book with that title. The idea is to follow the example of Thomas Jefferson – arguably one of the most intelligent and well-rounded people in human history – by reading lots and lots and lots of classic works, working through the tough texts, and writing about them. So we’re reading like crazy. I read a classic work to the boys at breakfast (so far we’ve done Tom Sawyer, Winnie the Pooh, The Declaration of Independence, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles, The Prince and the Pauper, Rip Van Winkle, Joan of Arc, The Count of Monte Cristo, and currently Robin Hood). Most days, the boys write a bit in their journals about what we’ve read – opinions, reflections, or just summarizing the chapter(s). When we finish the whole book, they post reviews and/or reports on our review blog (LOCATED HERE). Additionally, they both have different classic books they spend time with during the day for an hour or two (Rich has read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Homer’s Odessey, etc., Brennan is reading The Great Brain series, and has read several other classics for his book club during this time). The idea is to read all types of classics – fiction, non-fiction, math and history classics, scientific works, etc. and to reflect on them deeply and often. In essence, by focusing on classics, they study a variety of subjects and it informs further studies or interests that grow from them, which brings us back to the more project-based style that we started out with years ago. Plus, they both have their own age book-clubs once a month, and we always read something fun at night – we’re currently on the last book of Brandon Mull’s excellent Fablehaven series. PLUS, they just started a book/game club (called the Lemoncello club, named after the book the activities are based on) which has them reading at least one other piece of classic fiction between meetings (currently, Agatha Cristie’s Murder on the Orient Express). So when I say we read a lot, I mean A LOT.
  • History – We’re enjoying John Green’s Crash Courses on Youtube. We’re just finishing up the World history series and starting into the Big History series. American history is soon to come, then we’ll watch his science course – biology, chemistry, etc. These aren’t in depth, but entertaining, and they cover enough ground for the boys to latch on to certain aspects for deeper reading and research at later time.
  • Misc. – Art is still a huge deal to us, but the boys seem to express themselves creatively through Minecraft, Robocraft, and Terarria projects more than anywhere else, though they both still avidly create and illustrate game boards and cards for games they make themselves or collaborate on with other homeschoolers (our co-op has a popular game design club that Brennan meets with once a month to flesh out ideas and beta test games).  They attend a more traditional art class every other week. They are involved in a small meal-prep business we started this month, as well as chopping, sauteing, searing, grating, and other things for family meals.

    So that’s homeschooling for us at the moment. It’s fallen into a nice rhythm and the kids can carry on with their studies even when I’m in the hospital – part of their education, as we all see it, is teaching them to set their own goals, be self-directed, and manage their time between academics, play, and chores appropriately.

Secondly, it’s been a pretty busy and scattered time for our family since I last posted.

  • Christie has changed positions around the hospital once or twice. She tried cardiology for a month and found it a rough ride, seeing transplant (and failing transplant) patients every day. She’s since moved back to her original position, but is serving as charge nurse many nights and helping with the schedule, which has made life a bit easier for us all. As a result of that transition she was able to travel to Arkansas in July and be there during the final weeks of her Granny Lucy’s life. This was a huge thing for both of us, as Granny was such an integral and important part of Christie’s life, and mine as well since before we even dated. She passed peacefully a few days before Christie and the boys had to return here for her to start back to work. Best timing ever. Her parents were here for Christmas which really helped us to get through the holiday season after that loss without as much melancholy as we would have experienced otherwise. A few weeks ago she hurt her back lifting a 500 lb. patient and is off work for about about a month while undergoing physical therapy. It’s been nice to have her home, but as usual we have to juggle bills until worker’s comp catches up.
  • Rich is really stepping up around the house to help with things I can’t do. He takes care of the lawn in the summer, the snow in the winter, and takes the physical exhaustion out of grocery store trips and errands for me – he does all the bending, loading, unloading, lifting, and running in and out of places when he can. He continues to be a formidable opponent in online and board strategy games. He spends an inordinate amount of time undertaking huge projects in Minecraft and playing with friends on the server he hosts with Brennan. The rest of his spare time is spent reading, which he does voraciously on his Kindle. He’s fallen in love with the BBC’s Sherlock series and can’t wait for the new season – a whole year away. I love that he’s at the age that we can start sharing things like Big Bang Theory and Firefly with him, as well as certain movies we love – Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, etc. Of course he has his own tastes, especially in music. Unlike dad, he’s not much for hip-hop or metal, but gravitates toward bluesy rock like The Winery Dogs, Sheryl Crow, and 80’s new wave like Steve Taylor and Simple Minds.
  • Brennan is also addicted to Minecraft, but spends an equal amount of time with Legos, board games, reading, and writing. He’s finished his second real novel and is in the process of revising it  – the only one of us to successfully complete NaNoWriMo last year. He’s become a huge fan of the cult classic game, Psychonauts, and wants to have a Psychonauts themed birthday party. He’s great in the kitchen and around the house – he’s responsible for all the dirty dishes and laundry, he takes care of Blitzy’s needs most days (except walks, which are still on Rich). He continues to be mellow, easy-going, and up for a good time wherever he is. Change doesn’t seem to bother him too much and he’s just happy to be watching cartoons, eating together, reading, or hanging out with friends. He enjoys math more and more these days and is (as near as we can figure) almost 3 years ahead of the standard curriculum (as is his reading level). He’s still a huge Michael Jackson fan and likes to listen to Public Enemy when we drive. I think he also discovered that he likes Bluegrass this week so time to pull out the New Grass Revival, Bonepony, Pure Prairie League, and Union Station. He’s a huge Bronie (My Little Pony Fan) and has gotten Rich and I (and a few of his friends) sucked into the show.
  •  I’m in and out of the hospital from time to time, banking hours and days on the transplant list. I find that despite the visits being spread out further, each one seems to have its own challenges and things I have to adjust to. My activities both in and out of the house have become more limited as the symptoms of my heart failure become more pronounced. Nevertheless, I’ve delved deeper into cooking and creating my own dishes, and a few weeks ago, Christie and I started a very small meal prep and delivery service for a few of the nurses she works with. We just cook a few extra meals along with ours and charge materials and labor. It’s nice money to have on the side with minimal effort as we continue to fight medical debt. But at least I’m healthy enough to do it every week, help the kids with homeschooling, and finish little projects around the house. I’m also finishing up a concept album I’ve been working on for a little over a year, while working on new songs with a view to selling them at some point. I’m illustrating a comic for a friend that will be available online in April and continuing to lobby agents and editors to publish any of my three finished manuscripts, which I keep fiddling with and revising from time to time. I’m enjoying some great new progressive rock and pop albums by Transatlantic, Flying Colors, and Mastadon, and well as working my way forward from 1983 with significant hip-hop albums. I’ve also discovered trip-hop and trance music which is a whole new world for me, so I’m trying to get my brain around the mechanics of its song-writing and instrumentation.

    That’s about it. I’ll try to post more often now that I’m not writing as much, but life gets busy and I myself don’t have a lot of time to cruise the blogosphere. Hope everyone is doing well, feel free to leave us a note in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading.

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Birthdays Galore

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

 

Birthdays all around, here in Hershey land. Mark surprised Stacy with a night out at Houlihan’s featuring her mom and several other friends. Happy Birthday to Stacy, and all of that, but honestly, does anyone really need an excuse to eat at Houlihans?

 

 

Sherri & Christie, both avoiding pork for different reasons.

 

 

 

 

Stacy’s a big Lucille Ball fan

 

 

Brennan requested that his party be held at Jack’s house, because, well Jack’s house is cool. He’s gotten into My Little Pony lately (well, all the men in our house have, actually…more on that later), so we went full-on MLP for the party.

 

Everyone made their own hat of their fav character (and poor Jack was like, “what the heck is a my little pony?”)

 

 

 

 

 

Pin the tail on Pinkie (do not attempt in real life: pony becomes violent)
  

 

  

 

  
  
  

 

Big Mac & Granny Smith

 

  
  

 

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Back To Basics

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

We’ve been Cyber schooling. It’s all the rage now. The school district provides you with all the books, supplies, a laptop, and printer and anything else you’ll need to replicate the public school classroom in the home. It’s school at home. A totally different thing from homeschooling.

We started homeschooling as unschoolers. Our days were spent drawing in the park, hanging out at the library, budgeting for groceries, cooking, doing chores, playing games, building Legos, and generally learning naturally from real life. You know, like humans should do.

I’m not sure if it was the restlessness of traveling or lack of motivation or both, but over time, the boy’s taste for this type of learning started to fade, as did my enthusiasm for introducing them to new things. By 2012, we’d fallen into a very bad cycle. I would assign worksheets, reading material, math lessons, and so on, and they would slog through them, unhappy with me, learning, and life in general. Rich is especially resistant to this type of “learning” because he leans so much more naturally when doing things with his hands. He’s become quite the writer and blogger himself and is still honing his skills, but he’d rather be taking apart a hard drive or building a game from scratch. Brennan is much the same, though more content to do traditional schoolwork.

Either way, not the dynamic we were hoping for. I openly admit that my health greatly affects the learning environment because there are days where I don’t feel like interacting much at all, much less doing fun, creative things. But it had gotten to a point where trying to drag the kids away from their laptops to do anything “normal” like cooking, or building a model, or painting was like pulling teeth, and even worse if it involved writing or math. Restricting computer time worked to a point, but I was having a lot of bad days last spring, we were busy trying to plan a move from MA to PA, and they didn’t have much of a social life at all except for hooking up with friends online.

We started cyber school in September in an attempt to give them contrast. We wanted them to see what the average public school student had to do each week, and boy did they get a taste. 6-7 hours of book work every day, followed by 1-2 hours of homework. It. Is. Miserable. Especially when my idea of homeschooling is at the other end of this spectrum – copious amounts of free time, pursuing your own interests, spontaneous learning by being involved in real life. Buy I think cyber has accomplished what we’d hoped. It has given them contrast. It has taken me out of the role of dictator, teacher, and authoritarian as it relates to learning. As the boys have observed unschooled friends doing what we used to, they are seeing things a little differently. I don’t know how long it will last.

They finish up their cyber semester this week. From there, we’ll put together some reading lists, goal charts, and I will engage them in purposeful activities – watching documentaries, volunteer work, cooking, community events, strategy games, real world math…there are so many ways to learn without being slave to a curriculum. I want them to experience that again. Maybe they were too young to appreciate it the first time around. Maybe I was too heavy handed trying to make it work. But I think they’re willing to give it a shot again, and with their friends influence, and me having learned a few lessons myself over these past few years, I hope it will be successful.

We finished out experiment with Cyber school in early January to return to our original plan; a mix of un-schooling and structured learning. There’s tons of info about un-schooling on the web, so I won’t rehash it here. One friend mistakenly called it “unlearning” a few weeks back. It is, of course, the opposite of that. It’s adopting the mentality that learning happens all the time, whether invited or not. Our job is simply to notice it when it happens, expand on it when needed, and create opportunities for it as often as possible. There’s the idea floating around out there that un-schooling equates to letting the kids do whatever they want, whenever they want, for as long at they want, a phenomenon that our friend Mark calls “un-parenting.” Obviously not what’s happening here, though we try to pay a great deal of attention to natural interest and let the kids invest in those.

Part of our return to this involves more reading time, individually and as a family. After some deliberation over what we felt were “important” books, poems, and documents (you can pry my Oxford comma from my cold, dead hands) and some help from The Well Trained Mind and A Thomas Jefferson Education, we compiled a reading list for the boys and for ourselves. Additionally, Christie and I are discussing working through some classic books that we’ve missed along the way.

We’ve always read a lot but never methodically, and we enjoy the idea of having a goal for this. Of course, we all four have books we’re reading that aren’t on the list, but we’re spending about an hour a day reading and writing about a classic book on our list. We started with The Emperor’s New Clothes, and just finished Tom Sawyer. The boys have both written reviews for Tom on their blogs: Rich’s is HERE, and Brennan’s is HERE. We’re going to read The Declaration of Independence next, followed by A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series. I’m especially looking forward to The Count of Monte Cristo and some of the Verne and Dickinson books on the list.

We’ve had some great discussions with the boys as we’ve read; it becomes a bit of a reference point for us throughout the week. And there’s something about sitting in a room together, experiencing the same story. Since Christie’s been off work from gallbladder surgery, we’ve had a lot of time to watch movies, work puzzles, cook, play games, work on projects around the house, and enjoy being together. It’s going to be weird when she starts working again at the end of the week.

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Folsen Time

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

(I wrote this post several weeks ago, but just getting around to adding all the pictures and publishing it).

There are so many references to the Foleys on this blog that I won’t bother linking to them. They have become family to us since we met during our first stay in Hershey back in 2011. We do so many things together that it’s become laborious to say “the Foley’s and the Johnson’s” so we refer to the 10 of us (including dogs) as “The Folsons.” We use it for wait lists at restaurants and for reservations, and just in general conversation.
We talked a bit at the roller skating rink while the kids did their thing and realized we had A LOT in common. On our way out, they recommended a nearby Japanese place for lunch, but alas, couldn’t join us because they had out-of-town company in tow. They’ve mentioned many times that they wish they could have/would have just went with us and spent the day. Us too. So our anniversary of meeting them three years ago was on February 22, 2011 (give or take a day or a week – Stacy will correct me in the comments if I’m wrong. Because I’m horrible, horrible, horrible, at remembering dates as can be attested to by all of you who have received birthday wishes from me on the wrong day, week, or even month. Why can I retain the names of all 17 members of Yes since 1968 as well as the release date for all 19 albums, their producers, road crew managers, and who wrote each of the gabillion songs, yet have trouble remembering anniversaries and birthdays? Yes, I suck). We know it’s our anniversary because there was an INCH homeschool activity that day – one of the first we attended after settling in for a three month stay back then.

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So for our Folson anniversary, we decided to recreate the day, and right the wrong. We started with lunch at Tokyo Diner, the place they recommended that day. Much sushi was eaten. We went a little nuts.

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After that, back to the same skating rink where we met. We stayed for about an hour.

 

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Kate always looks out for Brennan like a big sister. He thinks she is the greatest person on the planet.

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The Foley’s have kind of sucked us into board gaming, and we really love all the new, creative games being published. After years of boredom with Clue and Monopoly, we’ve finally discovered a whole new world of strategy board gaming that’s right up our alley. So as an anniversary gift, we made a Folson board game for them. Knowing we desperately need more recent family photos, they bought us a session with a local photographer that we are very impressed with. Can’t wait!

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The game board is comprised of pictures from various Folson trips, the player pieces have everyone’s face on them, and the cards are all made up of locations where each of us have lived or traveled to at one time, as well as penalty and bonus cards from some of our shared experiences, and likes and dislikes.

Full and skated-out, we headed back to our house to play the Folson game and a few others.

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It was getting late and we were hungry again (we’re ALWAYS hungry), so we headed back to Hershey to eat unhealthy food at Red Robin, another favorite haunt of ours. It was great to just have a whole day together since we’ve all been so busy lately. We used to have days like this all the time when we lived here before or when we’d visit -meaning the Foley’s would have to cram everything they put off into the next week. It’s nice now not to have to pack everything in over a weekend, but days like this are much needed, and we had a great time just being together. We’re so thankful for friends, that our kids get along, that we like some of the same things, tolerate each other’s quirks, and enjoy each other’s company. We feel often that the relationship is one-sided because they do so much to help us out when I’m in the hospital or having a bad week – Mark is always willing to pick up the boys for INCH activities, Stacy always invites them to come play so I can rest, and their home is still open to us even though we live here now. We appreciate them more than we can say. Our lives have become intertwined is so many ways. We cook for each other, give each other much-needed breaks from the day-to-day, date nights for the parents, play days for the kids…the list goes on and on. This time last year, our one wish was that we could live closer to them. Now we’re here, six minutes away – and I’m receiving the best medical care of my life to boot. In the immortal words of Ross Gellar, “Everything’s just WERKIN’ OUT!” It really is. We are all FINE.

 

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Out of the Darkness

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014

All due respect to those for whom Cyber School works, I don’t know how else to describe it. You might remember that I mentioned way back in July of last year that we were going to try it out in the fall. We did. We’ve come to two conclusions:

1) The boys needed a taste of what “real” school is like. Living in Springfield, Mass was difficult for us, and they had largely escaped the loneliness by spending most days playing Minecraft. We think Minecraft is great, but the whole point of homeschooling is to give them things they can’t get at a public school. Time creating in Minecraft is only one of those things, and we were all losing perspective. The amount of work, time, testing, and repetition in Cyber school helped us to get that back.  I think all of us, myself included, had begun to take our good fortune for granted. Many people would love to homeschool but can’t for various reasons.It also gave me a break from building curriculum and cracking the whip, both of which I hate (more on that later)

2) Cyber isn’t for us. Since moving to PA, we’ve found ourselves in a situation much like we had when we began homeschooling back in 2009. There are so many opportunities for the boys to learn and grow just from events and activities available in our area – things that in the end, we believe are far more valuable than tests or worksheets. The amount of time sucked up by Cyber kept us from participating in much of that. Now there’s a vibe of anticipation here as we make lists of activities we’d like to seek out, things we want to learn, books we want to read, skills we want to acquire…it’s nearly endless. We’ve known for a long time that people learn best by doing. So that’s the plan – to do.

This approach is often known as “unschooling” – not because we don’t “do” school, but because we attempt to remove the labels of “school” and “free time” and just replace them with real life. Life is school anyway, or it should be. It’s the outcome of asking such questions as:

*Is it more important for a child to read about making spaghetti or to actually learn how to make spaghetti?

*Is it more valuable to read Huck Finn or Shakespeare, or to read a story in a lit textbook designed to help them pass a test at the end of the year?

*Do we want them to read fast, or to read books that will impact and challenge them? Likewise, do we want them to write fast, or be able to express themselves well on paper?

*Will they learn more by doing money math on a worksheet or by helping to create a grocery budget, leading the way at the store, and learning to balance the checkbook?

*Which is better – days spent in a classroom surrounded only by humans of the same age, or the freedom to interact with people of all ages through volunteering, spending their own money, and taking part in community events? Which is true socialization?

*Is it more valuable to go to a string concert, silent movie, art class, science fair, cooking workshop, Renaissance Faire, and the library several times in a month by choice, or to be forced into choir class, typing, gym class, and have limited library access?

*Would you rather a child hear lectures for years about choosing a career about which they know very little, or have the time for hands-on experience mowing lawns, shoveling snow, volunteering, and talking to professional adults about what they do?

For us, the answers to all of this are a no-brainer. It will not be easy to get back to this mentality. I think the biggest challenge lies with Christie and myself – are we also willing to put down the “important” things we must get done in favor of watching documentaries together, reading a new book, attending a class or workshop, or involving the boys more in our day to day responsibilities? The first step is to challenge ourselves intellectually and lead by example.

It means real books over textbooks, doing instead of watching, pursuing interests deeply rather than gaining a shallow knowledge of everything we encounter, and yes, from time to time – good old fashioned pencil and paper for writing letters, working some math problems, and artwork. Because pencil and paper is also part of life.

This also means there will be more to report here, for those of you following our adventures. Thanks for being patient over the last 7 months. I promise to post more in the future because there will be more to post about.

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HUZZAH!!

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Our first (of hopefully many) Renaissance Faire was a blast yesterday! Accompanied by our Foley friends, we set out for Manheim, Pa around 10:30. The Faire grounds are only 15 minutes from here, and we’re seriously considering a season pass. Christie worked Saturday night, so she didn’t make it until a little later in the day, but even a whole weekend is crammed with more than you can see or do. Next year, we’ll be more prepared and have costumes to wear.

 

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We were greeted at the entrance by characters in period costumes speaking the Queen’s English – they stay in character the whole time, interact with the crowds, and even give impromptu music performances at times. Several times we saw them leading a family through the streets while proclaiming loudly, “MAKE WAY FOR THE FAMILY MARTINEZ, BOUND FOR THE PRIVIES” or running back and forth yelling messages from one person to another. Hilarious! At one point, one of them freaked out because our “iron chariot” (my wheelchair) was empty (I was walking since the path was level). “You’ve lost someone! They’ve vanished!” When we explained, they marveled at my miraculous healing and announced it to everyone within earshot.

 

The festivities began with the Queen’s processional. We were taught to bow and curtsey, and yell “God Save The Queen!” anytime someone prompted us throughout the day. The Queen set herself against an famous Irish Rebel, Grace O’Malley, beginning a competition that ran throughout the day involving a human chess match, and eventually a joust. You could hear characters discussing the odds and who they favored on the streets throughout the day. There were rumors of assassination plots and other intrigues peppered throughout the entire Faire grounds. Each weekend is different – sometimes the theme is pirates or Shakespeare, or any other number of Renaissance-based stories.

 

 

Rich was pulled on stage at one point and announced to the be secret love child of the town hag and the Queen’s sheriff. Keep in mind that a LOT of what happens on stage is improv, and the actors seemed to be trying really hard to crack each other up. The Queen totally lost her composure several times as the pranks were usually aimed at her.

 

 

 

The food was mostly Renaissance themed as well – Turkey legs, Knight’s Ale, Tiger Pies, etc. Lots of pub-type places to sample the local ales and brews, and shows throughout the day. Lots of kids activities as well – sword fighting, mazes, craftsmen exhibits, and tons of shops to buy Medieval and Renaissance-era clothes, weapons, and jewelry. There was a bit of a steam punk theme this weekend as well, so the attendees costumes were brilliant as well.

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Later, Brennan was called up to play a Prince on the kid’s stage. I’m not sure anyone knew what was going on, least of all him, but he was happy to be up there all the same.
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The human chess match was awesome – The Queen and the Irish rebel called out the moves and the human chess pieces had to battle it out for the spot on the board. A nice mixture of sword play, staff fighting, fisticuffs, and taunting, with the crowd cheering on either Ireland or England.

 

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The kids got to sword fight in leather armor. The winner had to pop all three balloons on their opponent. Brennan had trouble with the weight of his armor, but Rich and Kate battled it out for a good five minutes. A crowd gathered to cheer them on, and eventually Kate won. Rich wants to come back and just sword fight.

 

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The Joust was without a doubt the most spectacular part of the production. The squires whipped the crowd into a frenzy, then we got to see some authentic jousting. The Irish champion cheated, and chaos broke out. There were large scale sword fights, explosions, and all together too much to watch all at once. Total spectacle!

 

 

 

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Of course at the end, Irish and English made amends. The day ended with a huge cast music and comedy act at the main theater. The characters all lined up at the exit to bid us farewell on the way out. Exhausting, but the most fun we’ve had in awhile. We’ll be going back in October if we can bear to stay away that long.

 

 

 

Earlier in the day, the kids were given Wish Rags by a beggar, who told them if they ever met the Queen, they should have her kiss the rag and whatever they wished for would come true. Which they did as the last thing before we left.

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Final Destination 

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

It’s been a turbulent few months in the Johnson household, to say the least. We’ve picked everything up and moved once again, one final time, to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where the weather is mild, the trees are green, and the dairy is fresh. I won’t torture you with the tale of woe concerning the buying of houses, the changing of jobs, the unreliability of moving companies, and so on. I would rather talk about how well the boys are doing, how generous our friends have been, and how we finally feel like we’ve found our home after nearly eight years of bouncing around, wondering where we were supposed to be.When we left the ministry in 2006, we felt a bit lost, but we also had a new purpose in getting Christie through nursing school. When she graduated in 2009 we toyed with the idea of traveling, simply to see if there was a place out there that fit our family better than Arkansas. As much as we love the Ozarks, especially Bentonville and Rogers, we felt like we didn’t fit in. We had made good friends and found a healthy homeschool community, but we were restless. If you’ve followed this blog, you know we hit the road in early 2011 to see what the world had to offer.

It brought us first to Harrisburg/Hershey, Pennsylvania where we immediately found friends in the homeschool community, and developed a lasting friendship with the Foley family. We hated to leave, but we felt that our adventure must continue, plus we needed to be closer to Boston. Two years later, we find ourselves back in Pennsylvania, five minutes from the park where we first got to know so many wonderful people, and eight minutes from the Foleys. This also puts us in proximity to a ton of farmer’s markets, local dairies, great restaurants, Penn State (where Christie now works full-time and I will eventually have my heart transplant), libraries, shopping, bike trails, parks and so many other great things I can’t list them all here.

Not our house - the view from the front porch nearly every day

Not our house – the view from the front porch nearly every day

 

As soon as we get a few more boxes unpacked, I’ll put up pictures of the actual house. We’re taking our time because there’s a lot of furniture to buy, but one of the first things we did was paint the boy’s room. I figured they’ve barely been able to hang a poster on the wall in years, so even though there are more pressing things to be done, I was anxious to finish this. Here’s a small teaser, more to come:
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Brennan wanted penguins and Rich wanted turtles, so we’re making that work together, sort of…

 

More than the house, there’s a sense of belonging, and permanency that we haven’t had in so long that Brennan doesn’t even remember it. Now he’s immersed in a world of friends, playing, and a place he can call his own. At 8, it’s about time.
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Brennan with his buddy, Sean

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It was clear that we belonged on moving day. Jilted by our movers, nearly 21 different people showed up to help us unload our van, including two neighbors whom we’d never even met!

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Kirsten Waldron in typical non-plussed mode. Ron Ratcliffe considers stealing Dave’s CD’s, and Avery and Kate goof off for the camera

 

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Jake Waldron mugging.

 

Kristie Waldron, Stacy Foley, and Jen McCurdy. Triple Trouble.

Kristie Waldron, Stacy Foley, and Jen McCurdy. Triple Trouble.

Kirstin and Kate realize there are more of these shelves than any sensible person could ever use...

Kirstin and Kate realize there are more of these shelves than any sensible person could ever use…

 

Mark is probably sick of Dave's books at this point, but soldiered on valiantly in the 97 degree heat.

Mark is probably sick of Dave’s books at this point, but soldiered on valiantly in the 97 degree heat.

 

The best thing is that we feel like we’re finding our feet again as a family. The boys are happier than I’ve ever seen them. We’ve spent a lot of time playing games, at home and at the mall where a local bookstore sponsors a game night once a week. The boys even won some prizes there by participating in a Where’s Waldo scavenger hunt that spanned the whole Lebanon county area.

Brennan wipes out Kate and the Ratcliffe girls at Snake Oil

Brennan wipes out Kate and the Ratcliffe girls at Snake Oil

 

At Infinitos at Rich's early birthday party

At Infinitos at Rich’s early birthday party

 

Brennan loves Eleminis

Brennan loves Eleminis

 

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Rich killed us all at Flame Wars

 

Maxim teaching Rick to play Magic: The Gathering

Rich Maxim teaching Rick to play Magic: The Gathering

 

 

They found Waldo! Rich, Brenna, Kate & Maxim. Brennan won a $50 gift certificate to the game store, and Rich won a basket full of pet goodies for Blitz.

They found Waldo! Rich, Brenna, Kate & Maxim. Brennan won a $50 gift certificate to the game store, and Rich won a basket full of pet goodies for Blitz.

We’ve spent time in the park, read together at night, had game night, devoured the new season of Master Chef, eaten at our favorite restaurants a few times, and spent time with friends. It’s the way life is supposed to be. The Foley’s housewarming gift sums it up:

 

It goes to show that life never turns out how you expected. Here we are in Pennsylvania, in a beautiful old house that’s a bit like us – a little beat up from the adventure, but still strong at the core. A little older, hopefully a little wiser, certainly richer for the experiences we’ve had. The hills of Pennsylvania, downtown Little Rock, a ski resort town in northern New Hampshire, a stone’s throw from Long Island Sound in Norwalk, Connecticut. The metro area of Springfield, Massachusetts. And all the places we explored in-between. The coal-mine towns of Danville and Sunberry, the Poconos, Dallas, St. Louis, Raliegh North Carolina, the visits to Delaware, Baltimore, NYC, Hartford and of course, our beloved Boston. I am hard pressed to not cheer for the Red Sox and compare all seafood to Boston cuisine. Boston, small and over-crowded, opened its arms to us so many times when we were worried and despairing. Our first experience there involved a woman we’d never met giving us her phone number and address if we needed a place to stay. Boston opened its doors and its heart to us and will forever be “our” city. It’s where our kids learned that people are the same, no matter what they look like or what language they speak. It’s where they learned to explore food. It’s where they rode a subway and a taxi for the first time. It’s where we all learned that the world is so much bigger and wondrous than we’d ever thought. The doctors, transplant coordinators, and nurses that held our hands, patiently took our phone calls, and loved and embraced our boys call Boston home. It’s because of their concern for us that we are where we need to be now. And of course, the friends and family along the way that have encouraged us so much. The Johnsons, Bostics, Foleys, our incredible cousins, friends like Lisa and Smitty who quietly pray and hope for us. For all this we are truly thankful.

 

The fall brings new things – an attempt to cyber-school, new clubs and activities for the boys and our family, new friendships, and inevitably new food. These things that are the essence of life, more so than careers or money. We’ve believed that for a long time, but were often forced to re-arrange our priorities to get to this place in time. Now, it’s time to live. And hopefully to laugh a lot more.

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Odds & Ends

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

 

I know I haven’t posted in awhile, but I have GREAT excuses.

 

1) We have a new puppy named Blitzy” (Blitz for short) and there is a lot of pee and poop.

 

2) Our furniture, boxes, books, toys, washer/dryer, etc. arrives here on Tuesday, courtesy of my awesome in-laws who are driving it up to us in a trailer and very uncomfortable truck. I intend to feed them well while they’re here visiting. Total labor of love.

 

3) FM Archive project – you Taffers who follow this blog know what this means, but for everyone else: I help moderate a website called TTLG (Through The Looking Glass) that is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the now defunct Looking Glass Studios (the creators of games like Thief, System Shock, Ultima Underworld, etc.). Imagine something like a Beatles tribute site. So people make their own little game maps and missions (fan missions = FM’s) using the tools from some of these games. This has been going on for 12 years and it’s one of the most robust communities like this on the web – there are literally hundred’s of these fan made missions, custom tweaks, contests, and reviews. Unfortunately, the database has been in neglect for about 5 years, so it’s time to get it cleaned up, organized, repair links, etc. I’m only helping with it but getting all the tools running on my Win7 laptop again, and the research has been a bit of a time suck. (Yes, this is the same game and community I spent 5+ years working on a large fan made project with in the early 00’s. The insanity never stops)

 

4) NaNoWriMo – I’m trying to be more serious about writing every day and sending out samples and queries to agents. With that in mind, I have been working feverishly to complete a draft of a book I’ve been working on since 2005, so that now in the month of November I can begin a rough draft on a project that’s been circling my brain for a few years. The boys are also participating in NaNoWriMo this year so we’re spending a chunk of the day, faces buried in laptops, checking each other’s work and keeping word counts. So much fun, but also time consuming.

 

5) I’ve started singing in the studio with a local band and have been tasked with writing lyrics/vocals to 11-12 pre-existing songs. Lots of time caterwauling here at home and most of my Saturday afternoons are spent collaborating with the band. Lots of fun to be back in a casual, creative atmosphere. I have a lot of pent up lyrics and ideas.

 

6) School – the boys are moving really quickly in math and I’m spending quite a bit of time on Kahn academy trying to stay ahead of Rich. He’s due to start algebra in a few weeks and I needed a major refresher. Brennan is about half-way through second grade math and will be finished with it before the end of the school year. At this rate, he’ll be almost 2 years ahead by the time we start back next fall. Whew!

 

So I know I keep saying this, but we should be back to some semblance of normal life after we’re completely settled in here and sink into our schedule a bit more. My goal is to post at least once a week if not twice.

 

In the meantime, you might enjoy THIS POST over at Sushi & Pizza, the blog of our great friends the Foley’s. It’s their angle on our trip to NYC this summer and it’s a really fun read. We have so much fun with them anywhere we go, so it was awesome to do the Big Apple together, a trip we’ll never forget.

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