It’s winter, one of my most favorite times of the year. What’s even better is that it’s Christmas, and time to bake cookies! I have a lot of memories about cooking baking. As a child, my grandmother, Mimi, made a big deal out of baking and decorating cookies. She was alive long enough to introduce the yearly tradition to my kids, which I’m incredibly grateful for. As I sit here, I can recall the smell of freshly baked sugar cookies coming out of the oven, and taste the over-sweet flavor of powdered sugar icing dyed in bright shades of red, green, yellow and blue. The assorted sprinkles in various colors, the crimson and pine hued sprinkling sugars, and the red hots that more often than not made it to my mouth faster than the squishy surface of an over frosted cookie.
My kids and I are Colorado natives. The weather here is predictable in it’s unpredictability. It might not snow much throughout the winter, then dump a foot or more on us in April or May. We might have to wear sweatshirts during an unseasonably chilly week in July, or hunker down through thunderstorms in January. We may shake our heads at whatever sort of weather is happening at any given time, and yes, we do think it’s crazy, but as Coloradoans, the randomness―and the craziness― is all part of the package.
When we moved to North Carolina in early February of 2009, it was smack dab in the middle of winter. I think about that now, but I don’t recall giving it much thought back then. I didn’t give much thought to anything, truth be told, except packing, leaving my family, and trying to figure out how best to approach the subject of breaking a rental agreement with our not so easy to deal with landlord. The decision to relocate was one that had to be made within a couple of days. My kids were nine and six at the time, and although we’d moved many times around Colorado, this was the first time we’d ever relocated to another state. It was a no-brainer, really. Either we went and had a job, or we stayed and we didn’t. We opted for employment and vacated the premises. The only thoughts of weather and winter I had at the time was what we may be faced with on the road as we travelled the 1,675 miles eastward toward our new home.
Setting up our homeschool in North Carolina proved to be a little challenging. The rules for each state are different; some more lax than others. In Colorado, there were letters of intent and record keeping, such as attendance and vaccinations. We were to begin standardized testing at the end of third grade, then again at the end of fifth, seventh and ninth. There were guidelines, but not many, and I followed them all.
There were homeschool support groups, but none of them were near our location, and because my kids were involved in so many activities, I decided not to join any of them. That’s the big thing about those who don’t homeschool. The “S” word always comes up in conversation. Socialization. Are the kids integrated into the world enough? What about friends? What do your kids do all day? Are they active? Are they socializing? I could hear these questions before they were even spoken. So, I was always ready, whipping out the proverbial calendar, prepared to tell them about choir practice, soccer games, gymnastics, dance, piano lessons, swim team … the list went on and on. Quite honestly, it didn’t matter to me that I couldn’t find a homeschool group close to us. With all the socializing we were doing, I doubt I could have found any time to pencil one in.
When we settled into Wake County in Cary, North Carolina, we learned very quickly that the residents there were very unhappy with their school district. They were so unhappy that many of them decided to take matters into their own hands. There were more than 7,000 kids being homeschooled within the county, and there was constant grumbling about the education system. It was the perfect place for us for so many different reasons. Not only was it beautiful there, and we were lucky enough to find a rental house in a wonderful neighborhood, but many of the local businesses catered to those homeschooling families by offering discounts and special programs. We even got an educator’s discount from Barnes and Noble. I went from being the odd woman out to being one of the many moms who homeschooled her kids. Even though my son’s new best friend happened to attend public school, and his mom was a substitute teacher in the county, the idea that Scott learned at home was accepted without question. Merchants and other residents of the town who saw me during the day never asked me why my kids weren’t in school. We’d become the norm. At least in Wake County.
It took us awhile even after we settled into our new state before I entertained the idea of a homeschooling group. I had a lot more to do for North Carolina than I did for Colorado. I had to register our homeschool and jump through a few more administrative hoops to make sure we were legal and set up correctly. Testing was required yearly―something I was in total agreement with―and the kids even had school ID’s administered by the state. We’d added yoga, bowling leagues, book clubs, sailing lessons, robotics and art classes to our after-school schedule, and were busy exploring a whole section of the US that we’d never seen before. Socialization? Yeah. We still had it more than covered.
Another one of the variables we had to get used to in North Carolina was weather. The predictable unpredictability of Colorado had flown right out the window. We didn’t know what to expect. When judging whether a jacket was necessary, we’d take a peek outside. Sometimes it appeared cold, but when we’d touch our fingers to the window, the glass would be warm. What was this wonderful thing called humidity? My dry skin loved it, and my hair … well, my curly, uncontrollable hair was even more so in our new more southern clime, but that’s what hair ties were for, right? There were lightning bugs, and no coats for trick or treating. The kids had perpetually rosy cheeks from the heat in the summer, but could pull out their beloved sweatshirts in the cooler months. The lightning storms and heavy rain proved to be a bit scary, and I was worried about missing winters like I’d grown accustomed to, but all in all, the weather in our new home was close to perfect.
I liked it, but I wasn’t used to this new weather―specifically the humidity. I’d spent some time in Texas as a child, but it was always during the hottest times of the year. I’d visited Florida, too, but during Spring Break when the heat was still bearable. Humidity, in my mind, was a hot weather thing. I never thought about what humidity was like when the temperature dropped.
It took us a long time to decide to join the Cary Homeschoolers group. It was a large group made up of more than 200 families. I still wasn’t convinced it was something we needed, but decided to give it a try. It was winter time when we took part in our first group activity, which was a cookie exchange held at a local park. It was December, and the kids and I reenacted our yearly Christmas tradition of baking cookies. I went through a mental checklist, careful not to forget any of the things Mimi would have had on hand. It was our first Christmas away from her. I wanted to make sure I did it right.
The weather that day was indeed wintry. The kids and I bundled up as we were used to doing in Colorado. In ski country, you learn to layer, and we had our parkas, our hats and our gloves at the ready. We’d been inside all day, in our kitchen with a warm oven, and had gone from there to our car which had been tucked away in the garage overnight. When I pulled into the lot at the park and got out of the car, I got my first taste of cold, humid, winter air. It was … invigorating.
No amount of tepid cocoa could chase away the chill that afternoon. The three of us walked around, introduced ourselves and munched on a variety of different cookies and other sweet treats, shivering and teeth chattering the whole time. Plumes of frost appeared before our faces when we spoke, and by the time we decided to climb back into the car, we could no longer feel our fingers.
I think maybe that memory is such a strong one because it was a day of firsts. North Carolina was a lot warmer than I was used to, but I was happy to realize that I wouldn’t have to totally give up one of my favorite times of the year. I still got winter. I knew Mimi would be happy to hear that the kids and I had carried on her cookie decorating tradition … and that everyone who asked would be pleased to know that, even though it took us some time to warm up later, we had a blast while out socializing.
J.C. Wing has homeschooled her two children since May 2003. She served as a homeschooling resource for Kids 411, a magazine geared toward families in the Douglas County area of Parker and Castle Rock, Colorado. She wrote monthly articles about homeschooling based on her own long term experience on the subject, and did much research about different homeschooling programs and opportunities in the area. She also served as an editor and proofreader for other writers on staff. After moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, J.C. became involved in a large homeschooling group where she worked with kids between the ages of 7 -12, teaching them creative writing and poetry.
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