Friday, May 1, 2009

Not to Us

As I mentioned in previous posts, my boys and their teammates participated in a birding competition last weekend. This was their third year to compete, and though they were the champions in their age division last year, it seemed as though the cards were stacked against them this year.

I usually begin training my boys in January. By the end of the month, they have memorized or refreshed their memory on at least 50 bird calls. They have been outside and observed birds every day the weather conditions allow. But not this year! Instead, we fought the croup and respiratory infections while I packed everything we own in preparation for our house remodel.
Here is our house in the beginning stages of the packing process. A few weeks later, this room was filled with boxes and furniture, from floor to ceiling.

In February, we always participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Last year, we traveled around our county all four days of the count and tallied over 1,000 birds by the end. But not this year! Instead, our house got flipped inside out and upside down as practically every part of it was renovated. Our days were filled with buying materials (I think we helped keep Home Depot afloat during the economic crisis), solving unexpected problems that arose (almost everyday!), and struggling to finish the basic skills elements of our schooling.

You can see what was the first round of remodeling supplies stacked on either side of this room. There was much more to be bought.

March is usually team-building time. We always set aside several days to bird watch with their teammates. These days are so important because they must communicate well as a team. For a bird to be counted on their tally, two members of the team must identify the bird in question. During our team building sessions, Molly and I dedicate a lot of time honing their communication skills so they can explain to their teammates quickly and quietly where a bird they see is located. If they do not direct their teammates well, the bird can be scared off or just decide on its own to fly away before another teammate sees it and can confirm the sighting. But not this year! Instead, I spent the month, painting, cleaning and clearing messes, and restoring order to my home.

April is crunch time. By then, my boys have memorized over 100 bird calls. Their spotting skills and communication skills are well honed. They can flip through their field guides with ease and even recognize a large number of birds visually without the aid of a guide. The month is dedicated to fine tuning the skills in place, spending huge amounts of time outdoors, getting them excited about the competition and ready for the fast-pace and long-haul of a twenty-four hour trek with only a few hours sleep in the middle. But not this year! Instead, we battled another round of croup. Then the hot water heater developed a leak and destroyed a third of our brand-new flooring in the kitchen. In the midst of re-doing the kitchen… again, I coordinated our local homeschool association's Spotlight Night (another post about this is in the works). There was barely time, once again, for covering basic skills, and we found ourselves heading to the competition with very little preparation.

You can see the edge of the new flooring in the top right corner of this picture. The flooring in the foreground is what was two flooring layers beneath. It is covered in sticky residue that I have tried to remove for three weeks now. We put the towels down as a walking path so our feet won't stick to the floor!

The first night of the competition, we took the boys to one of our favorite birding locations. It is a prime birding spot in our state, and there are always so many birds there. But not this year! Not the night we were there! It was a real struggle for the boys, and we all felt discouraged. After four hours, we left the prime spot and headed toward our lodging.

Team Birds of a Feather Working Hard to Find Birds

(from left to right) Wilbur, Orville, K, and C

We normally spend the night at a really nice lodge located at the finish line site. The accommodations are excellent… a bed for everyone with linens provided, a private bath, and air conditioning. Plus, it is so quiet and peaceful and there are always night birds in abundance. But not this year! Because of our state's budget crisis, we were not able to get the room for the normal, affordable price. We found a "yurt" at another state park for a good price. It fit our budget but there were not enough beds for everyone and no linens and the not-so-clean, public bathroom was across the street. There was no going to the potty in the middle of the night! Plus, it was very close to a highway and a "honky tonk". The music was so loud as was the traffic that there were no birds around.

Yurt Camping

The next day was much of the same. The weather was clear but hot, so the birds were not very active. The boys really had to work to find anything to identify. It was tough and at times discouraging. There were good moments… finding swallows under a bridge, a great devotion on 1 Cor 13 in which the Lord convicted and encouraged us all, the cows, and a short birthday party at Dairy Queen. But overall, we thought this was going to be our year to lose, and we were ready for it.

The boys had just identified swallows which had nested under this bridge and were enjoying a break in a shady, cool spot.

As we headed to the finish line, I talked with my boys about how winning is not the goal. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We believe in His sovereignty and providence. A loss for us is not really a loss. When the Lord is pleased to bless others, even if it seems as though He is withholding from us, we rejoice in His will, knowing that He is to be praised.

We turned in our tally with 73 birds, nine less than last year's total (I will post this list later), and enjoyed a lovely banquet. For me, it was a relief that it was over. I was prepared for them to lose, thinking it might actually be in their best interest. This year they had to move to the next age bracket. The competition was more intense, and I thought they needed a year to"get their feet wet". After a great birds of prey show, it was time for the awards.

Orville and Wilbur pose in front of the championship trophy. Their team's name is engraved on the 2008 plaque for having won the Primary Division that year.

First, the event coordinator announced the winners of the birding journal competition. In the midst of all the remodeling, I had managed to get my boys to complete one each to submit. To my absolute shock, Wilbur won in the Primary Division. Orville won in the Elementary Division. Unbelievable! (yet another post in the works)

Wilbur with 1st Place Journal and Prize

Orville and His 1st Place Journal and Prize of New Binoculars

Then it was time for the team awards. For fundraising, they received first place, not just in their age division but among all teams, K-12. The coordinator then began to announce the winners in their age division for the most species spotted. I sat back in my seat and said a quick prayer… not that they would win, but that the Lord would enable them to give Him glory either way. The coordinator announced the 3rd place team. Their total… 62 birds. My eye brows raised. "They got second?" I thought. 2nd place was announced… 71 birds. My jaw hit the floor. By two little birds, found very late in the day, one just steps before the finish line, they had won.

Team Birds of a Feather Receiving New Binoculars for 1st Place in the Elementary Division
(from left to right) K, C, Wilbur, and Orville

The day before the competition began, I taught my boys Psalm 115:1. "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory." This verse became the theme for the weekend and sums up our experience. There was no "super mom" residing at the Olive Plants house this year. Most days, I was covered in paint and dirt, struggling to get through the basic requirements of home life and school. Though I believe in the value of hard work, there is no glory due to men. It is the Lord who blesses the work. I have shared so many details in this post because I want you to know just how unremarkable I am, how very normal and human my boys are, and how very great our God is.

I like what Orville had to say after the banquet. He approached me and said, "Mom, I used to say Birds of a Feather (their team name) win together, but I think we have a new team motto. Birds of a Feather praise God together." Glory to God for He alone is worthy to be praised.

Birds of a Feather... Praise God Together!


argsmommy said...

I'm sure the awards were just icing on the cake after seeing your boys really experience the truths of Scripture! Even so, I'm very impressed with what they accomplished. If you take blogging requests, I would love a Birding 101 post.

Oh, and I'm so sorry about the kitchen floor. :(

Christy@MercyEveryMorning said...

Wow. God works in amazing ways, doesn't He? I loved this post. :)

Homeschool Dawn said...

Thanks, ladies.

Kellie- I have been considering writing about that for some time but wondered if it would be that interesting. I'm glad you requested it. Now I will give it more serious consideration.

Heather said...

Please tell us about the writing workshop!