Even though I’m “just the photographer” at the homeschool conventions I go to each year, I thought I would share my own experiences with how I benefit from them as a homeschool mama. Of course, that is my main job, even though it doesn’t pay the bills. I wanted to dispel the myth that I wouldn’t be going to at least one convention a year if I wasn’t being paid to be at one.
For starters, I went to two conventions in 2018. It was particularly hard this year, because I lost my mama after the May convention last year. I reached out to a friend of mine who also lost her mama about six months ago, and she graciously offered to attend the May convention with THSC in Arlington with me this year. She said, “We can go and be motherless together on Mother’s Day Weekend”.
Dana, you are such a blessing. She was ON POINT as a photographer’s assistant, too. Not to mention, we had a blast as partners in crime and she knows how to pack good snacks (and shares).
Throughout the weekend there were tears; but there were so many God-ordained moments, she and I had to write them down on a little slip of paper so we wouldn’t forget them. Here are a few of the highlights, and I’m probably forgetting a few…
- Gwen, a homeschooling veteran whose daughter is one of the kid program leaders took me and my friend Dana aside and gave us daily messages she had for us from the Lord. She told us about how God taught her how to pray through being a homeschool mother. She was one of my favorite parts of the convention in Arlington. She was probably praying with everyone in the hallway each day. Who knows… but it sure felt special to me!
- Rick Green’s booth was having a really amazing sale on a 2nd Amendment weekend retreat for the men in Nevada or someplace out west. I got his Constitution DVD and Kevin signed up to be on his mailing list. It was great to see his kids get up and perform (sing) with him on stage.
- I found out about a college in our area I had no idea existed. The admissions counselor told me she would be glad to talk to my big kids and gave me her number. Seriously… they cost less than what we are paying now for my son to go to ACC since we are out of district here. BIG PLUS: They have a Christian worldview.
- Jackie Schlegel, executive director of the Texans for Vaccine Choice told me her story about how her child was injured by a vaccine and disabled. I so enjoyed meeting her and getting to know her. She is from the Austin area, and she is making a difference for all of us with her work!
- My boys found a few pen pals. I’m hoping they will write so we can work on penmanship. Snail mail from friends is always fun.
- I had people that prayed for me right there in the hallway after we talked, or told me they would pray for me and my family. Friends are great, but friends who pray for you are golden.
- My boys managed to behave and even help me some this year, which was such a blessing.
Almost all of the images for this post aside from one or two are from Arlington. I’ll crack open the Woodlands shots for my gearing up post next spring. You can start saving your pennies now, though, and plan your own family or date weekend retreat during either/or convention THSC puts on next year. They probably have the dates set already – they are pretty big about getting information to you ahead of time so you can plan. Just be aware, the kid program SELLS OUT, so you really need to let them know in advance if your children (or teens) want to be part of those programs so they have enough staff and space. This year, the events were pretty packed on Saturday nights, also. The comedian they had was hilarious: Brad Stine.
He even picked on me a little, “You know what you need? A LONGER CAMERA LENS” – ha! If only he knew how heavy that sucker is. It weighs more than my camera body. I need a chiropractic adjustment every time I come home from working events.
He had the entire crowd crying and laughing at the same time. Added bonus: he was clean – family friendly – and had a great added message about freedom (his act was called “Comedy and the Constitution“).
The hotel where they do the late summer convention for THSC was having renovations this year, so they moved the Woodlands “Called to Teach Convention” to May, also. That meant that I conventioned two weekends out of May. The Woodlands is near Houston, if you haven’t ever been. It is a little larger than the Dallas area (Arlington) Convention. The hotel is nicer, in my opinion, and the staff are just amazing. Not that I don’t like Arlington. This year was great – all except the Sheraton Arlington wouldn’t let me take my baggage cart twenty feet into the parking-lot to gather my stuff out of the car. Homeschoolers don’t pack light.
Both hotels have a pool and a lot of nice nooks where you can gather your thoughts and visit with friends. Both conventions have amazing speakers and wonderful vendors. The difference between the two conventions that THSC puts on in Texas are size, accomodations, and maybe a few of the speakers that don’t do both conventions. Another difference that makes a huge deal to me (because I walk all over tarnation): Woodlands Convention is ALL INSIDE THE HOTEL. The one in Arlington is in the convention center, so there will be more walking involved. The kid program, though, is in the hotel there.
This year, they brought the kid program back on site at the Woodlands. I was so happy, I nearly threw a party. [If you consider that I had Lily’s chocolate and REBBL matcha drinks in the hotel room, I DID throw a party.] In the past few years because of the attendance increasing, they had tried doing the program at a nearby church and shuttling everyone between the hotel and church (rotating vehicles every 15 minutes). It makes it so much easier with your kids at arm’s length.
My boys loved the kid program. They start the Mighty Men of Valor tween group off at 11, I think, so Koko only has one more year of THSC in the kid program. Then he will be moving up into the bigger boy group. In case you were wondering what his shirt said, it was “Same Shirt. Different Day.” Ha! That one used to belong to his 21 year old brother. It was in my mom’s closet – she saved it from my Good Will stacks and I’m sure she’s probably looking down from heaven right now saying, “TOLD YOU NOT TO GET RID OF EVERYTHING”.
The teen program starts at 13, if I remember correctly. They keep the teens busy and they get volunteer hours and lots of workshops and fun group activities, worship time, team-work exercises, and chances to build friendships with their peers who come each year. My two older kids loved being in their program so much, they would count down the days until convention and even bring cousins and friends if they could. No one had to pay them to recruit for teen staff! They were on it every year. This year the “gold shirts” were black and the rest of the teens staff were purple at the Woodlands convention. My son was so bummed that they invited him to be a gold shirt this year and he had just started his new job and couldn’t come with me. The “gold shirts” (named after the very first year’s teen staff team leader shirt color) are the teen leaders each convention. Their shirts are obviously NOT gold every year. That would be boring. Some of the leaders of the small groups of teens they organize into are teens themselves (they have to be recommended and are checked out by the program directors), but many are graduated young adults who love the program so much that they come back to help and lead others. So many lasting friendships grow and bloom out of these groups!
It sure is hard to get them all in one photo every year!
We discovered that some of the kids were not in this pic below… AFTER we had already taken it. Bummer! Hope they come back next year so I can catch them then! And Rita – kudos on those metallic ink shirts, woman! So shiny! I’m jealous. They need to make a special shirt for the photographer every year (one that says “I SHOOT CONVENTION ATTENDEES” with a picture of a camera below it – bwahahahahaha)… and a staff name badge, ahem. I would get a lot less “Who are you and why are you taking photos of my kids?” looks if I looked a little more legit.
Because our budget has been tight, we usually budget just a few dollars to spend at the convention hall and each year we scope out what to save for next year. It’s so difficult to be within arms reach of all the pretty, wonderful smelling (yes – I sniff books), fantastic used books, curriculum, and gadgets. I’ve been drooling on those USB microscopes, nature journal supplies, and art curriculum for quite some time. I have a wish list folder I keep with brochures I pick up at the conventions every year. It pays to buy at convention and save on shipping. They also often have special deals that you can only find at convention at many of the booths. THSC offers a huge discount on their membership at convention.
This year, I go the little boys two T-shirts from Retro Outfitters (a new vendor I hadn’t ever seen before). They won out over the microscope (a lot cheaper for sure). I just couldn’t resist. I’m a T-shirt junkie. Kohen has a Tshirt that says “Homeschool is where it’s AT-AT” and has a Star Wars AT-AT silhouette behind it. Kelly’s is the dinosaur one you see above. So much homeschool snark. I love their designs.
Aren’t they cute?
The Retro Outfitters family are from Oklahoma, and we share some red dirt. Their dinosaur was a hit, roaming the convention vendor halls and scaring up business. If you look close, you’ll see their daughter’s smiling face inside Mr. TRex. She was swallowed whole, but seems to be OK with it.
Another new booth they had this year was Living Waters with Ray Comfort. He was such a phenomenal speaker. I got my feet stepped on so bad in his keynote speech that I turned over a new leaf. I’ve been on a roll with my YouVersion Bible app and have really been purposeful about my studying of God’s Word ever since Arlington. I highly suggest listening to his talk at either convention (you can purchase the audio tapes even if you didn’t attend). I was so blessed to meet him and hear him speak this year. He was probably my favorite speaker because I know that the changes I’ve made will make a huge difference in my life for the better – abiding in Christ always does!
I also met some fun ladies who are making a difference for medical freedom in Texas this year. The Texans for Vaccine Choice booth was at both conventions and I signed up for their email list and got a button and sticker. I’m so happy to see them coming to convention and recognizing that the homeschool community in general is a great grass-roots force in Texas politics.
Tim Lambert, attorney and head of the Texas Homeschool Coalition gave some really interesting – yet sad – talks about the state of homeschooling freedom this year. Those talks would be worth a purchase, too… especially if you are engaged in trying to make a difference and keep homeschooling free in Texas. You can sign up for his blog and the THSC emails and/or print magazine also. Staying informed (and invested/involved) can help safeguard our liberties.
They had so many great vendors. Medieval Times came and dubbed some knights and princesses. Some of these little girls were so excited, they jumped up and down with glee. There were kids in capes, kids with blow up globes, kids with paint all over their fingers from creating art, kids using their sneakers to play the flat floor piano, kids playing chess, kids on their dad’s shoulders, and even kids so tuckered out that they fell asleep right there on the black carpet at their mom’s feet.
In Houston, I didn’t have a helper this year. I felt a lot like the little girl above. I had no idea how much work carrying all those lenses and bags would be by myself… but I did it. Whew!
I was so glad that I went. I got to see old friends…
And make new ones.
It was the first time that I haven’t had mom, Kaden, Morgan, or a friend up there with me carrying bags and helping me oversee the boys and get my photo schedule covered for the entire weekend. I was so busy, I didn’t have much time to mope.
Thankfully, Houston is also where my husband’s family lives, so his dad and stepmom came to take the boys to see the Hank the Cowdog concert and read-aloud session on Friday night. That enabled me to be “two places at once” and run back and forth from the Encouragement by Chocolate event for the moms and John Erickson’s show.
They also brought us some food (and I was cooking in the room with my Saladmaster skillet in my spare time). Yes, I’m the weirdo that cooks in her hotel room. It was either that, or chili cheese dogs and/or room service that costs so much we have to split one tray three ways. We are thrifty travelers and healthy eaters, so I find it beneficial to pack coolers (even if that makes me look like The Beverly Hillbillies pulling in to the Woodlands Waterway Marriott).
I get sad every year when they pack up to leave and empty the vendor hall. The weekend is such a whirlwind of goodness and joy. I truly love the vendors and staff and people that all make it happen. Convention is like this big organism made of all these tiny moving parts… each one so very vital and important – even the people sitting in front of the doors to the bathrooms to make sure the kids are always safe. EVERY SINGLE PERSON AT CONVENTION HAS A GOD-GIVEN PURPOSE.
This year I didn’t have to worry about parking my car or paying to valet in The Woodlands because Kevin’s mom came to pick us up when the convention was over. We had dropped his truck off at his dad’s auto shop because it was having some issues, and they dropped me off at the hotel. If you get there the day before convention starts or early on Thursday, you can get a really great free spot in the garage on the other end of the Sky Bridge (my little boys’ favorite part of the hotel). If you don’t get there early, you may, or may not find a great spot – but the valet is handy (albeit pricey for a homeschool mom on a budget like me).
So if you’ve been on the fence about what Conventions are like, whether they are worth it, what you might find there that interests you… encourages you… teaches you… blesses your family…. I hope I have helped you make up your mind that you’ll be there next year! If you mention that you read this post with the Dinosaur in it about 2018’s conventions, I’ll even give you a Texas lanyard pin, free of charge. You might want to remind me to bring them with me in 2019, though… I’m pretty forgetful.
What are you waiting for in making the decision to come to next year’s Called to Teach Conventions? Someone to part the red sea?
Well…. I’ve got you covered…. Moses was there this year, too! Let’s hope he comes back in 2019!