The ‘Ralston Academy’

Vivian Hogue

A native of Conway, Vivian Lawson Hogue graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a degree in art education. A retired teacher, she worked in the Conway School District for 23 years. She can be reached at vhogue@conwaycorp.net.
Vivian Hogue

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by Vivian Lawson Hogue

In that place in everyone’s life when they determine their future, some take the high road to get there. Timothy and Lindsey Ralston were fortunate to meet, marry and agree on their high road early in their adult lives. Although their upbringings were different, it was their resolve that combined to create the family life they now enjoy.

Timothy grew up on five acres with his parents and brother in Hackett (Sebastian County). His grandparents lived at the top of a hill, and the street on which he lived was named for his grandfather. With horses and a pond on their land and relatives living on the same street, there was plenty of activity for a young boy. 

The homeschool center at the Ralston home.

Lindsey grew up on a quiet street in Sherwood with an older sister and younger brother. They colored the street with chalk, rode bikes, camped and played in their backyard fort. Her memories are of lake campfires, swimming and fishing.  

Timothy and Lindsey graduated from Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Timothy in 2007 with a degree in graphic design, and Lindsey in 2008 with a degree in early childhood education. Upon graduation, Timothy accepted a job at Little Rock Air Force Base. Lindsey began teaching first grade at Lonoke Primary School, living with her parents so she could use her paychecks to repay student loans.
“During Christmas break of that year, God led me to believe that I should become a homemaker and homeschool my children when that day came,” Lindsey said. “Little did I know I would meet my husband a few months later.”

Timothy was living in an inexpensive rental house in Jacksonville and saving to buy a house with cash. He discovered that Lindsey was attending a church in Little Rock and their paths crossed again when he arrived there one Sunday night. “In time, I found him to be a strong man and good leader and I knew I wanted to marry him,” she said. “It was soon time for teachers to sign contracts for the next year. Because I felt I should be a homemaker, I knew that IF we were going to get married, I couldn’t sign my contract!” Timothy settled the issue when he proposed three weeks later on his grandfather’s land with its beautiful bluff and view of the Sugar Loaf and Poteau mountains. 

Wanting a simple wedding, they married on Timothy’s parents’ land outside a cabin near the pond. They began living in Timothy’s rental house, but they soon decided to purchase a small house and invest their money in it instead of paying rent. With the help of a government first-time homebuyer’s tax incentive and the large down payment Timothy had saved, they aimed at paying off the mortgage in three years.

“We purchased a small house, moved in and began crunching numbers,” said Lindsey. “I posted expense sheets on the refrigerator. We had pre-paid phone plans and no TV service, and still don’t. I planned our meals frugally. We had pancakes for dinner twice a week because I estimated the entire meal to cost around 25 cents. Carbs weren’t the best way, but were cheap and not for a lifetime. We didn’t eat out or take trips. I would make homemade lunches and sell them to Timothy’s co-workers who always commented on the lunches I packed for him. We ended up paying the house off in 15 months!” 

The Ralstons had their first child while living in the first house. They sold it and used the cash and savings to purchase house No. 2 in 2013. The ultimate plan, however, was having a house with acreage. They eventually found five acres in Sherwood. After the long search, they felt the Lord had provided it.

“I was pregnant with our second child who was born at home, attended by a mid-wife,” Lindsey said. “A few months later, we sold house No. 2 and had the cash to build our dream home. We contracted the house ourselves and I drew house plans on graph paper. We read books and got advice from acquaintances and my talented uncle, Tom Staggs. A year after moving in, we welcomed our third child, another daughter.”   

Their new home is also the site of “Ralston Academy.”  

“It is actually my homeschooling program which we all enjoy,” Lindsey said. “In designing our home, I made sure I carved out a space for all things school and art related.” 

The slightly expanded laundry room adjoins the kitchen so the washer and dryer can be on one side with a small project table on the other side. The room is filled with shelves containing references, workbooks, art supplies, manipulatives and educational software. “Our daughter used the money she saved from birthdays and Christmas to purchase a non-Internet supported computer for educational purposes.

“One small bookshelf is filled with children’s books. They can spread them on the rug to read or play with magnetic letters on the dryer. I have found that if you build a school room, ‘they will come!’ I can usually find either of the two older children there coloring, painting, reading, spelling with magnetic letters, or doing self-directed activities.” Not all “school” happens there, however.  

The Ralstons believe all of life has learning experiences, so they try to capture teachable moments. They bake while discussing fractions, build snap circuits while explaining electricity, and have sat around their fire pit and discussed controlled burns in forests. They observe their woods and have conversations about seasons, the water cycle and woodland animals. 

“We get our children out of bed at night so they can watch an opossum outside or see a blood moon. We read living history books like the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series, then color butter with carrots and put it in a mold like Ma Ingalls did. We take them on cruises or go to the library and explore new books and other media.

“Our 7-year-old has been to the Cayman Islands, where she rode in a submarine, touched turtles at a sea turtle farm, held star fish, swam with sting rays and sailed across the North Sound on a small yacht. She has had lunch with Jamaicans, played in the sand in Mexico, seen Mayan ruins and had fresh squeezed juice and homemade cookies from women in Roatan, Honduras. She helped make chocolate in Cozumel, visited a sugar cane plantation in Jamaica and observed birds at the aviary. 

“It is important to note that we would not have made any of these trips had our house and amenities not been paid for first.”

The Ralstons are avid readers, with the youngest pretending to sound words he sees. Lindsey finds it relaxing to make soap. No artificial ingredients there! If Timothy is not starting water gun fights, winter ping-pong games and Wii contests, he enjoys photography, kayaking and “off roading” in his UTV.  

“We have our dream home, three beautiful children and 10 years of marriage celebrated this summer. We see God’s faithfulness through it. Our story doesn’t end here, though, as there must be more the Lord has for us. We avoid getting too settled, and I have dreams of traveling the United States in an RV and collecting Junior Ranger badges while our children are young!”  

So stay tuned! In fact, you’re welcome at Lindsey’s blog at bighouseinthewoods.com.