Forward and back: The school year begins, goodbye Nashville

High school football under Friday night lights in Aurora. Photo by Jennifer Osufsen

High school football under Friday night lights in Aurora. Photo by Jennifer Osufsen

The end of summer looms behind the golden leaves of the aspens. Autumn beckons hesitantly, but persistently. It’s determined to shove summer aside and bring with it a sense of impending rest.

Seasons have a scent. Fall is decaying leaves and notebook paper, warm apple pie and spiced pumpkin. It’s buttery popcorn as fans cheer for a touchdown, and cheesy nachos at the concession stand. The smell of rolled hay drying in the field and bonfires at night make us smile at the memories of sweltering days and dips in the lake.

The music of September is squeaky shoes on freshly-waxed school hallways and lockers slamming in chaotic accord. We hear the laughter of children on the playground, the scratch of pencil on paper. Brakes hiss and squeal as big, yellow buses deliver kids home, where they natter and chatter about their day and the friends they missed for three months.

A doorbell rings, and a package thumps on the front porch. I wave at the UPS driver. Does he know he delivered a year’s worth of education for my oldest daughter? A sharp edge slices through brown strapping tape. Inside, curriculum awaits. Fresh book spines crack beneath my fingertips.



I am probably more excited about school supplies and books than my children are.

This could be the last school year for my oldest daughter. If she completes the plan I have for her this year, she will have enough credits to graduate at the end of her junior year. I want to take it all in, breathe in the transition from school age to graduate. The need to commit this year to my memory with all senses overwhelms me. I do not want to forget it.

The best of both worlds

We have the best of both worlds in our home: the full experience of both public school and home education. Our oldest is educated at home because she learns best in a home environment. Here, she learns at her pace, and can explore subjects which interest and excite her. There are no rigid class schedules to adhere to, except for the one ceramics class she is taking at Mesabi East. She completes assignments and moves to the next. Because of this, we cover more material in a shorter period. It will be a challenging year for her, but she is committed to meeting her goals.

Whether we both end the school year sane is another matter.

The overlap between home and public school has an interesting and unique dynamic. My homeschooled student can take a limited number of classes at the school where her four siblings attend full-time. Many local homeschoolers take advantage of this opportunity. Electives, sports, extracurricular activities: all are available for home-educated students. Our personal experience has shown our school district, Mesabi East, to be a willing and dedicated partner to the homeschooling community, which is a huge blessing.

Our family has a foot on both sides of education. I like to think of it straddling a bridge over a rushing stream.

My other four children walk the hallways of Mesabi East as full-time students. The new school year begins with the scent of new crayons and the whirring grind of the pencil sharpener. Laughter and chatter bounce off hallways and lockers. New shoes squeak on the gym floors. Cafeteria trays clash against tables amidst the cacophony of between-class conversation.

Dedicated teachers brave classrooms full of antsy, reluctant learners. They tame the wild ones, and present information to the slumped-at-their-desks masses. I adore teachers and have an especially soft spot in my heart for the educators and staff at Mesabi East. Teachers, you take my kids all day and help them arm themselves with knowledge and confidence. I teach one. You teach many and amaze me along the way. How you do it is baffling and magnificent.

It is difficult juggling a family of seven. Once more, the season of hectic scheduling is upon us. The calendars of seven people converge into one. Work, sports, extracurricular activities, church youth group, volunteer meetings, conferences, homework deadlines, and more. If life had a sound, I imagine it would sound like the warm-up in a high school band room.

It’s football night. The air is cool, the bleachers colder. A red blanket cocoons me as I yell for the Giants and watch my freshman cheer for her team. The crisp air carries the earthy scent of coffee and stagnant mud. Fans roar and clap beneath the harsh glare of Friday night lights. I breathe it in and hope my feeble memory will hold onto the images. I will need them in the future, when the children have flown and made nests of their own.

Lessons learned in Nashville

My thoughts can’t help but wander the thousand miles to Nashville. The writer’s conference was, once again, a grand adventure.

First and foremost, I did not win the Claymore Award, for which my unpublished novel was selected as a Top 20 Finalist. I thought I would be disappointed. Instead, I felt free. There were many excellent workshops presented by expert panelists. Top authors like Jeffrey Deaver, Anne Perry, J. A. Konrath, and Ellery Adams attended as keynote speakers, giving published and aspiring authors wisdom and knowledge of the craft.

As I mentioned in my previous article, traditional publishing is a brutal industry. I have published my three novels (a fourth upcoming!) independently; and thanks to a few panels and workshops I attended at Killer Nashville, I feel secure in my decision to continue as an indie author.

If my unpublished novel, Timejacked, had been selected for the Claymore Award, it would have been eligible for a publishing deal with a well-known publishing house. To say that I was relieved it did not win might seem like a contradiction. However, because of the sheer amount of information revealed about the industry, I feel confident remaining independent is what is best for my books and writing career.

It is kind of incredible that a loss can lead to a grateful smile.

One of my mottos is, “Learn something new every day.” During our five days away from home, my friends and I gleaned bundles of knowledge.

If there is going to be a motor vehicle malfunction, it will happen on a long road trip. It is good to have someone with a fixit yourself brain. Ingenuity, J. B. Weld, and chemical bonding tape go a long way to silencing a grumbling muffler.

There’s usually a Walmart nearby, critical for snacks, drinks, and the occasional curling iron.

People always stare at a man in a kilt.

Humidity does a number on naturally wavy hair.

It is always a good idea to have a backup dress or outfit for a cocktail party, just in case the dress ordered from Amazon doesn’t flatter the errant, misplaced curves obtained at age 40 after having five kids. Ahem.

Have a good friend who is willing to steal toilet paper off the housekeeping cart and run it to you when you need it.

Accept defeat with a smile and congratulate the winners with genuine happiness … and maybe a little relief that you didn’t have to go up to the podium and make an acceptance speech on the fly.

Writers are a strange, scary, wonderful clan to belong to.

And the biggest lesson of all: The heart explodes into a billion pieces when you open the door, bedraggled after a thousand mile journey home, to see your kiddos’ faces as they jump up and down and say, “I missed you, Mommy.”

Jennifer Osufsen is keeping her head above the water of self-imposed book deadlines and a school board campaign, all with the help of her husband of 19 years and her five crazy busy children in Aurora, MN. She would love to hear from you anytime. Connect with her online on Facebook on her author page, on Twitter, or through email at

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