As Karoline wrote, our conference experience began with severe sleep deprivation. After three days of serious crisis and not a little trepidation about leaving in a state of crisis, I flew west. For me, this was a big deal. I don't leave my children easily. But I'm so glad I went to Denver and I think my husband is, too. The gaggle we left behind? Rumor has it they ate chicken wings and pizza and ice cream, played incessant games of Wii, and watched four movies (and yes, I did leave them with grownups--just way more fun grownups than your average;-). It's all good.
It's been three years since I've been to a conference and that time, I just buzzed in, gave my talk, and buzzed back out. The year before that, I spent hours and hours signing books between talks. So, it's been a very long time since I've had time to actually peruse vendor tables. I kept sending people over to see Nancy MacArthur at Catholic Heritage Curriculum, so I wandered over to introduce myself. What a warm, lovely lady! I placed my order for essentials for the year and I had a chance to peruse some new items. Two thumbs up on the new level of Language of God. The high school literature study guides looked wonderful.
There are new Latin readers and some new features in the preschool curriculum. I was disappointed not get a peek at Alice Cantrell's promised Tea and Cake with the Saints but Nancy assured me that it would be available as we plan our fall teatimes.
I paid a visit to the Institute for Excellence in Writing as well. What additions they've made in the past few years! I was tickled to talk Thomas Jefferson Education with the representative there and I was particularly pleased to find American History themed lessons for Patrick and Christian. I like to introduce Structure and Style lessons after my children have demonstrated that they can narrate easily and fluently in writing. Then, the structure suits the child and they appreciate the style techniques. We are going to focus on American History as a family this year and these lessons will take quite a planning burden away from me.
I also had a lovely conversation with Linda Nelson from Sacred Heart Books and Gifts. She told me some stories of things she's done with my book that humbled and inspired me. There are some very good people in vendor halls of homeschooling conferences!
While I was scheduled to talk for two hours, once on Friday and once on Saturday, I actually talked more last weekend than I did in the entire two weeks prior. I listened a lot, too. I heard parents tell me that they were grateful to have finally discovered that they can relax and trust their instincts a bit more when it comes to educating their children. I heard them tell me that they are just beginning to understand that they don't need an accredited school to hold their hand--sometimes that it's not hand-holding at all, but bondage. I heard them tell me that they love nature study and they want it to be the centerpiece of education at least for a season (and who wouldn't with the Rockies out your back door?).
I heard the hard stories about trying to educate at home while being called back into the workforce. I heard from the lady who put all her children in school two years ago following the birth of a baby and sold all her curricular materials. The next year, she was buying all new materials and hoping for another baby! I heard about a miscarriage that left deep and painful scars that would not heal. Those are the stories that have been committed to my rosary.
And engraved on my heart.
I had the opportunity to meet some 4Real friends and have them become "for real" friends. I felt like I'd known MaryM all my life and I wanted to take her home with me. Sometimes you know, you just know, that someone is as kindred a spirit as they come and time and distance seem huge and not so big at all, all at the same time.
Kim and I have been at a conference together before this one--many, many years and many children ago. This time, we sang the same song and found ourselves echoing each other. Our husbands and babies got to know each other and we celebrated the end of a glorious weekend by going out to dinner in Downtown Denver before going home. Karoline was enchanted by the street band, the robot, the horse-drawn carriages and the Chinese food .
The unexpected beneft to the weekend was the time I had with my husband and baby. Believe it or not, we don't talk all that often about home education. We've worked out a lot of the big questions for ourselves and Mike leaves most of the day-to-day decisions to me. This was a rare weekend of total immersion in my world. I think he really enjoyed it. And rarely, do Mike and I have Karoline all to ourselves. She floats from one doting sibling to another and our attention is diverted and dispersed among eight children and our other responsibilities. But on this weekend, she was in my arms or her Daddy's arms at all times. She was pretty high maintenance. As long as she was held, she was happy--but there was no putting her down! Mike fell utterly and completely in love with her all over again. On our last night in Denver, I put her between us in the bed to nurse to sleep. She nursed briefly and then turned to Mike, who was sitting with his laptop. She scooted in towards his elbow and tried mightily to continue nursing. I gently turned her back toward me. She nursed again briefly and then scooted back towards her Daddy. She was certain she could find with him a comfort she had heretofore only found with me. It was difficult for Mike to leave her to go to work on Monday morning.
It was such a huge effort to prepare to go and there were mountains made of laundry that rivaled the Rockies awaiting me when I got home. But, oh, I'm so, so glad we went!
(Many thanks to Mary for the pictures.)