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Friday, December 28, 2007

Remembering

Two anniversaries down, one to go. And, yes, I'm still thinking about "that."

My grief and sense of loss has extended past the parameter of the accepted societal norm. Apparently, the shelf-life for sadness over miscarried babies is about a year. Anything beyond that is somewhat self-indulgent and really ought not to be acknowledged. Or at least this is what I gather from the way most people gloss over any mention I make of my loss and charge right on ahead with Topics of General Interest. (Usually of their own general interest, mind you.) No one told me that this would happen. No matter--if they had, I wouldn't have believed them.

I am blessed to have one friend
(that would be you, Sarah) who still remembers that amazingly blessed Christmas of 2005 and that cripplingly awful January of 2006. Of course, ours is a bond that was forged in the fires of her own loss just weeks before. I guess those kinds of ties just knot tighter, somehow. Sarah is the one who is not afraid to close an email with a mention of the names we have given our missing children. She remembers ... where so many others can not or will not.

There are others in my life who watch helplessly as I bottom out on these anniversaries. Some seem to not connect A with B; they don't seem to realize that though I carry the weight of two years of mourning with a relative sense of peace through most days, there are other times when the burden makes any joy seem like a dim, elusive prospect that can never be as bright as it should have been to me. There are empty places at the table! I want to shout at them. But I realize that this would only come across as selfish. After all, my loss is not theirs. Their lives have gone on, just as mine has.

My husband--who has distanced himself from the pain in that typical manly fashion that allows for some long, retrospective glances without too much emotional involvement--sees me hurting and wants to help. He is gentle and careful of my heart during this time, especially, and I thank him for that. Even though he is not still grieving with me, he is more than willing to acknowledge--with words even!--that our family will not be complete this side of heaven.

Honestly, it's the lack of words that makes this remembering hardest. Two years later, there are so few people who can actually bring themselves to say, "I am so sorry that your baby died." I suppose it is too uncomfortable. They are probably just thinking that it would hurt me or, worse yet, send me off the deep end they fear I am already teetering on. Their hesitancy tells me that it would be completely inappropriate for me to ponder aloud what our Christmas card photo would have looked like this year, let alone give voice to how hard it is to see any and all children in the range of 18 mos. right now.

I walk through these anniversaries with awe at the depth of loss one person can feel when there are so many other brilliantly bright spots in their life. Am I depressed? I can honestly answer no to that question. I have been depressed and this most certainly is not what it feels like. There is no black hole threatening to swallow me, no darkness that light cannot pierce. I feel the Lord alongside me as I journey through the shadow of this remembering, and I reach out for His comfort when the sadness threatens to steal my peace. And there is peace here. It's a peace of knowing that some day, I will gather my entire family in heaven and see all my children dancing together. What I feel in the here and now is the loss of a dream that slipped from my fingertips, of a future not planned, and of a mother's heart bruised and battered, but not fully broken.

I guess that December and January will always give me pause. I will never again see December 12 on a calendar and not think of the positive pregnancy test in my upstairs bathroom, or the impromptu trip to the sporting goods store to buy the arrow I wrapped to signify my husband's growing quiver. I will never sit amongst the discarded wrapping paper on Christmas morning and not recall the pregnancy countdown calendar that I so carefully created for my children to both announce our news and to help them understand exactly when our family would expand, or the tears of joy Jo shed. And I will never celebrate Epiphany without remembering how far my emotional pain overshadowed my intense physical pain, or how startled I was to be saying goodbye so soon.

Perhaps I should be thankful that I have these precious few memories just to myself, and that I can feel their joy mingled with sadness on my own terms. Perhaps if someone else tried to comfort me, I would find myself saying, "It's o.k." or, worse, assuring them that they are o.k. There are worse things, in my opinion, than being forgotten--such as being fake.

So excuse me if I use this blog to muse over the raw spots that are too unseemly for the public at large. And pardon me if I revisit old hurts from time to time. While the official expiration date for my grief has passed, the feeling of loss itself has not. And I have to have a safe place to show all my bruised spots and tears.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lost!

Logan has lost his very first baby tooth. At 5 years, 7 months, he is the youngest of my children to begin the shedding of milk teeth. Emotions are mixed--for all of us. Logan keeps saying that he feels "new," a sentiment he seems unsure of. As for me, well ... my baby is no longer a baby. ((sigh)) Further proof that when all those well-meaning ladies saw me out and about with my little ones and kept telling me to enjoy their childhoods while they lasted, they were right.

Another bright idea

Per our Sonlight schedule, we read a short biography of Thomas A. Edison this week. Actually, the book was scheduled for three days in my IG, but it was written on such an elementary level that we flew through it in one afternoon.

Being somewhat disappointed with the book--especially since I knew that Edison would hold endless appeal to Atticus--I began gathering resources to supplement the topic. It was one of the easiest mini-units I've ever pulled together; Atticus already owns not one, but two electricity kits that contain various experiments (basically reenactments of Edison's own trials), and our library is chock full of books and videos on the man and his work. I also found some websites that my children found fascinating. They spent an excited hour or two just tooling through the National Park site alone and enjoying the interactive features, listening to snippets of recordings and watching original clips filmed in the Black Maria studio. The online quiz that Edison used to stump his potential employees with was enlightening, to say the least.

We had basically moved beyond the topic as of today, and were settling--to my glee-- into the remarkable and infinitely engrossing period of the Reconstruction (guess what my area of academic concentration was?) when I realized that one of the recessed lights in my kitchen was out. Normally, this is what I would do:

Nothing.

It's my husband's job to manage the facilities, so I allow him to do so as he sees fit. This sometimes means that a burned out bulb remains in place for several days, but frankly, I'm o.k. with that. I have no desire to usurp the man.

Today, though, I saw this dead bulb as what it really was: a hands-on learning experience. And so, with all the drama I could muster, I started barking orders:

"Logan, get me a chair! Atticus, paper lunch sack! Jo, three magnifying glasses! Let's move, people!"

The children all clambered into action, and before they knew what was happening, I was perched on the kitchen counter unscrewing a big bulb from the 9 foot tall ceiling. Being of fairly sound mind, they knew what I was doing, but not why. As I've said, they don't see Momma doing this kind of thing very often. Curiosity was high.

After I made it safely back to the ground, I let everyone examine the bulb. Then--still cashing in on the drama factor--I proceeded to slip the bulb into the sack and smack it on the counter until I heard the glass shatter.

As you can imagine, the kids were all atwitter at this point. When I pulled the remains of the bulb back out, though, they ooohed and ahhhed. There, naked before them, were the inner workings of an incandescent light bulb.

We spent quite a while poring over the details. Atticus ran out to the schoolroom and returned with our handy copy of The New Way Things Work. We used the magnifying glasses to get a closer look at the coiled filament and to track the thin wires that led the electric current to and from the filament itself. The New Way Things Work explained the gases involved and talked about metals and wattage.

The children were enthralled. It was random learning at its best. A very bright idea, if I do say so myself. :-)

It's official

I just received an email from our agency letting us know that their offices are now closed for Christmas break. They reopen the second week of January. Now, I knew from our homestudy process last year that this was the case, and frankly, I had given up hope of any calls at this point in the season anyhow. But seeing it in writing just made something pop in my brain. (Or maybe that was the flu bug that my body is valiantly trying to fight off.) 2007 really will not be the year that our family expands. The last page of the calendar will flip, and we will keep on waiting. And so it goes ...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Homeschool Family

Disclaimer: The owner of this blog parents (and schools) only three children, none of whom show any professional aptitude in the areas of surgery or the legal arts. Blogger denies owning white conversion van and will display title to '99 black GMC Suburban upon receipt of written, notarized request. Said blogger freely admits to receiving wry glances from her neighbors, having in her home one set of Speed Staxx cups (complete with instructional video), not supporting establishments with owls for mascots, and having a child who is the proud owner of two spelling medals.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Et tu, Atticus?

In the past week, Atticus has developed a fascination with Latin. As best as I can tell, this newest interest bubbled up as he was studying one of the countless books we have lying around that covers the period of Rome's prominence. It's not unusual for my children--and Atticus in particular--to lounge around with a nonfiction book just as happily as they lounge around with a novel. They seem to go through phases with them--one week all of the books on Medieval history are strewn all over the coffee table, the next week, you can't walk for tripping over yet another child with his or her head in a book about the presidents.

The current topic of interest is Rome. Having recently borrowed "Warrior Challenge: Rome"
from our library, and now owning copies of the terribly funny "Drive Thru History" series, there's been a bit of visual drama reinvigorating the Usborne and DK books that I am fairly certain even Logan knows by heart at this point. Atticus has seemed the most smitten with Rome; I know this because I eavesdropped on one of their little pow-wows and heard the following conversation:

Atticus: "Let's play Roman Senate."
Logan: "Not Roman Senate again! I want to play Inventors."
Jo: "Yeah, let's play Inventors. What should we build?"
Atticus: "We could invent indoor toilets, like the Romans!"

I guess somewhere along the line, my son decided that he wanted to dig deeper into the whole Roman world than even indoor toilets allowed. Language, he figured, was a pretty good next step.

For the record, my children are in various stages of learning enough foreign languages to make your head spin. A sampler: Jo spends about three hours per week on Spanish, two hours per week on French and another hour and a half on Greek. Atticus devotes two hours a week to Spanish and the same hour and a half to Greek. He also dabbles in Japanese. Poor Logan is stuck with just Spanish, though I suspect that by next fall he will be asking to start formal Greek.

There are times when even I think that we've lost our minds allowing this whole language thing and we really ought to reign it in. A prime example of one of those panic moments would be when I realized that, at 4, Logan was writing notes to his friend in phonetic Greek rather than English. I gently quit including him for a while in the coaching sessions I was offering the older two children, and within a month or two, he was right as rain.

Most of the time, though, I view their interest in languages as a hobby of sorts. They progress at their own speed through Rosetta Stone Spanish and Japanese as well as Hey, Andrew, Teach Me Some Greek! with minimal instruction on my part. My husband tutors Jo in French using Le Francais Facile! I have not been called upon to tutor as none of my children are the least bit interested in learning the German I labored so long over through high school and college.

Logic seems to insist that shoving such varied vocabulary and competing grammar rules into a child's head would result in very little retention. At best, a strange amalgam of sorts seems like it would form in their minds--a kind of Spancheekanese, if you will.

I'm happy (and a little shocked) to report that this has not happened. Jo can hold an entire (though quite elementary) conversation with her father in beautifully accented French without slipping into Spanish. And while my children get a kick out of purposefully making mommy's head hurt by referring to items by their Greek or Japanese names, that kind of back and forth thinking doesn't seem to threaten them with an aneurysm at all. No, it's just my age-addled brain that can't handle the new material.

Being brought up in this linguistic environment seems to have given my children one clear message: learning another language is fun. And while I doubt that any of them will be fluent in adulthood in more than one of their favorites, the exposure doesn't seem to be hurting them.

Which brings me back to the idea of Atticus and Latin.

What does one do when one's seven year old son insists that he wants to learn a "dead" language? Start researching curriculum, I suppose.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dear Husband

I realized while writing out a blogging how-to to my beloved cousin (who really ought to start a blog as she has a lot of experience to share) that I have committed one of my own pet peeves. Yes--I have continually referred to my husband as "dh" on my blog.

This is a habit, really. For speed's sake, I use all of the common abbreviations on forums: "dd," "ds," and yes, even "dh." We're all on the same page in forum-land, and while it stumps newbies for a while, eventually even they begin to understand some of the more convoluted abbreviations, such as "dsil" (dear sister in-law for the uninitiated).

But here on my blog I have tried to be more authentic. I wanted to create a relationship here that allows readers to begin to feel a sense of who my children are, and how we interact with one another. When I moved this blog from its original site on homeschoolblogger.com, I spent a good deal of time casting around for names that would convey to folks who have never met my family just who these wonderful little individuals are. Being a literary type, I decided to go for a theme of characters whose personalities were close to my children's.

Matching "dd10" with "Jo" was a no-brainer. My darling girl is adventurous and passionate, slightly tomboy-ish but still a lady. She is fascinated with the written word and fancies herself quite the playwright and authoress. At the time, she was also completely smitten with Little Women and its author, Louisa May Alcott. Oddly enough, people who know my "Jo" IRL and also read this blog have commented that it suits her so well that they have almost begun to think of her as truly being named Jo.

Atticus was easy as well. The boy who could be called "ds7" is a very logical, reasonably and painfully compassionate young man. He kicks against injustice in all of its forms and patiently weathers the ignorance of those around him while trying to educate them on the very simple (in his eyes) rights and wrongs of this world. Some day, he will read To Kill A Mockingbird and its painful truths about man's nature will literally bring him to tears. Thankfully, like the character I named him after, Atticus has a trick or two up his sleeve, and is far more resilient than anyone guesses him to be.

For my five year-old son, I found myself at a loss. The only character that came to mind came not from a great work of literature, but from a comic book series I had read in high school so as to have a common bond with my brother. The series was "X-Men," and the character was Wolverine, whose real name was given as Logan. The series has, as you probably know, been made into a trilogy of movies. The Wolverine of the movies is far more shallow than the Wolverine of the comics (I can't believe I'm writing this). In the comics, Logan is conflicted about who is, looking for a place where his particular strengths and weaknesses can be appreciated and constantly battling a passion inside of himself that threatens to boil over if stirred too hard. Added to that is his super-power: the ability to heal himself, and to be almost oblivious to pain. This pretty much sums up my boy, believe it or not. My Logan has more fire and talent and desire packed into his little body than any person ought to have to suffer through. Because let's be honest: intensely creative people are a little funny in the head sometimes. They aren't like the common worker ant, content to carry the crumb back to the hole, drop it off and join the que for the return trip. No--they are always bashing their heads against the authority that told them to go and get the crumb, or trying to find a better route or, heaven forbid, giving up the search for crumbs altogether to pursue acting or some other such oddness.

Oh, and Logan does have a super-power. He doesn't feel pain. O.k., he does feel it a little ... but that's usually only when bones are broken.

As you can see, a lot of thought went into this process. And somehow, dh--I mean, my husband, got left out. Which just isn't right.

So now I'm looking for a name that suits him. I thought I'd stick with the literature theme (if you're the type that can accept a comic book reference as a continuance of a literature theme). Unfortunately, I'm even more stumped than I was in naming Logan. I've got to find a character who reflects all of these qualities:

-devoted to family
-academic
-traditional
-committed to spiritual growth
-strong sense of social justice
-world traveler
-passionate about life
and
-really cute (o.k., that's just me talking!)

Any suggestions?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Homesick much?

I don't care who you are--setbacks and disappointments make you think of home, right? Well, imagine that you're me. Over two thousand miles separate you from home (2594.94 miles, according to mapquest, not that I'm counting). You see jagged, snow-covered mountains where there are supposed to be rolling green hills. The accents are all wrong. Your kids think oceans are supposed to be cold. And no one will serve you a sweet tea, no matter how much you beg.

Today, I just want to go home. But I can't. I'm a grown up now, and no matter how bad the sucker punches of life sting, you stand up and take them. Big girls don't go running home to their Mamaw, even if they want to so bad they can hear the sound of the coal cars rattling on the train tracks. Instead, we cry when our kids aren't looking and we make corn bread whether it goes with our supper or not. And, when we're really lonely, we fill our blog with the images we want to see most of all.










Thursday, December 13, 2007

We weren't chosen

Just got the word that we were not chosen for the little girl we were submitted on last week, and it hurts like heck. I thought I was doing such a great job of keeping all these emotions right where they needed to be. Well, I guess I'm not. I want to curl up and cry. Actually, I think I will.

Home


I am not certain exactly where my love of old houses began, but I think it has something to do with my relatives, Thanksgiving and the company of other children.

I grew up in a very typical suburban neighborhood. It was a nice enough place to spend your early years. Our house was on a cul de sac. The streets had sidewalks. Everyone had a backyard complete with ChemLawn green sod and a front yard finished off with a four foot-tall red maple or two. My one window--which was in a sturdy and efficient aluminum frame--was located perfectly in the center of the wall of my Holly Hobbie bedroom. Our kitchen was shiny and modern, and we had a dishwasher. Every surface in the house screamed suburban happiness.

Of course, the sad end to this tale is that my home was anything but the picture of suburban happiness. My father had an affinity for indulging in after-hours drinking with his buddies, which led inevitably to an affinity for a particular lady who is now my stepmother. My mother, while presenting a face of domestic bliss to friends and family was, I realize now, vacillating between mania and depression for years. While the actual physical structure that was my home is still standing somewhere in Suburbia, USA, the house of cards that was my family trembled and quaked long before it finally came crashing down.

As a small child, I couldn't put a finger on any of this, of course. I knew that being with my parents was a mercurial thing, at best. My dad could scoop me up and treat me to ice cream and hugs on the same day that he berated my mother for hours over a burnt meatloaf. The same mom who snapped the overhead light on in the morning and barked "Get up, dam*it!" as an alarm clock might later on invite me to listen to her read a Laura Ingalls Wilder book while sipping her special orange rind tea. The four walls of my house began to symbolize confusion for me long before I ever heard the words "dysfunctional family."

In my mind, even as a child, I began to contrast this with the experiences I had when visiting with my mother's sisters. Two of my favorites lived just one state south, within a day's drive. I can still remember the sensation of unfolding my six year-old body from the back seat of my mother's Dodge Charger and stepping onto the curb just outside of the house belonging to one of my aunts. As I stretched my legs, I would always look straight down at that curb, which was ridged--not rounded--like the curbs in my neighborhood. Not to mention the fact that in our subdivision, no one parked on the street. Our ample driveways were never so full as to resort to something as common as street parking. From the moment we arrived at this old place, the whole flavor of living was different. More colorful, more alive. You could sense this all from that curb: you were no longer in safe, sanitized suburbia.

My aunt and uncle had five children living in their home at the time of my early childhood Thanksgiving memories. This was always significant to me for many reasons, not the least among them the fact that their front door always seemed to stand at least partially open--presumably because it was constantly in motion admitting a stream of people into their home. I loved walking through that front door. In fact, I can barely picture the exterior of their home, and have only vague memories of their steps or porch. No, the main focus to their house was the inside, and that was always where I wanted to be.

This particular old house had everything that I have come to love about pre-1920s housing: odd nooks built into walls where nothing larger than a vase could fit. Staircases that switched directions almost precariously, without taking into account the needs of either the very old or the very young. Floors that were knicked with age and creaked as you walked. Doors that needed to be lifted slightly as they were fitted into their frames. Leaded glass windows that were far more interesting than what could be seen through the glass. Rooms that were clearly built without any uniformity of size in mind.

The family that turned the glass doorknobs in that house, the family that filled its oddly-shaped dining room to overflowing, was one of the most joyful I can ever remember spending time with. And while I doubt sincerely that it was simply living amidst all of that beauty and curiosity that made them such a jolly, tight-knit group, I knew somewhere in my heart that it certainly couldn't hurt.

This seemed to be confirmed for me when I visited yet another of my mother's sisters. This family should have been the polar opposite of the first. After all, they had only one child. And instead of squeezing into a narrow, cozy Folk Victorian (or at least I remember it as a Folk Victorian), they had room to sprawl in what I recall as more of a Foursquare. Not that I had any idea what a Foursquare was at the time. But I digress.

This family had the same softness to it that I loved to bask in at the other old home. My aunt's kitchen in this house, as I remember it, was a warm place that smelled like clean floors and baked goods. The stairway in that house seemed to go on forever, and always made me wonder whose feet had stuck the planks in the hundred years prior to my own. My cousin and I wandered through that house, exploring tight spaces and cavernous-seeming rooms. It was heaven.

I always returned to my own home and felt every angle of its walls, every cool surface, every new thing that worked perfectly. And I always felt cheated.

And I still feel cheated, truthfully. I have only owned two homes in my 33 years. One was built in 1982. The one we currently own was built just five years ago. When we were still renting, I was an absolute sucker for old homes, and we ended up living in several that still give me a smile to remember. My favorite was the upstairs apartment we rented in a beautiful home that had been built at the end of the 1800s. Though the floors slanted visibly in the kitchen and the place was cold enough to see your own breath in the winter, I didn't care. The kitchen was literally a wall of windows, and the fireplace mantels were gorgeous. A Christmas tree looked like it belonged there, and every meal tasted better in that kitchen.

Dh shares my love of old houses--actually, I suspect that he just indulges me, but that's o.k. We have attempted on two separate occasions to buy historic homes in our area and have been unsuccessful both times. The first one was a Folk Victorian that would have required major renovation that we realized just in time would be too much for our novice skills. The second one was an eclectic Queen Anne in nearly perfect condition, but the estate of the previous owners had no patience for our contingency offer. I've since watched that unique home deteriorate as the new owners have allowed it to fall into disrepair.

I do believe, on some level, that we'll own one of these old gems some day. Until then, I hang stained glass windows in my clearly modern, cookie-cutter tract home and try to give the place some personality with my own idea of warm colors and fabrics and whatnots. I'm the first to admit that the effect is clearly eclectic and probably a major style faux pas. I'll also admit that I really don't care. I like the carved wooden panel that hangs on my living room wall. It's actually a section of an intricate molding panel that came from a Charlotte, NC church, and it makes me happy to see it softening the edges of my unsightly (those clearly useful) sliding glass door.

I do occasionally see--and covet--old homes. It doesn't happen much in person, because the area where I live is sadly deficient in this area. A handful of homes built from 1900-1910 dot the area, and the majority are "remuddled" beyond recognition. But I do haunt internet sites dedicated to Old House Lovers, and they feed both my joy and my desire to call one of those places my home some day.

I guess I will always equate "homey-ness" with the details and elegance of a much-older house. The concept was so burned into my brain through early exposure that I'll probably never shake it. But at least I can admit now that I don't have to have heart pine floors to have a happy family. The floors would be nice, don't get me wrong. But the family, well ... that's even better.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

End of an era

As of tomorrow, my husband will no longer be a member of the media.

This is a very strange notion to me because the man has been a reporter longer than he has been my husband. His first newspaper job was at a tiny little publication run by a hard-working staff of about ten folks who literally did everything from running the presses to writing the ad copy. It was the money from that first job that bought my engagement ring. Over the years, he steadily moved up the newspaper food chain, finally landing his current spot five years ago. When we moved here, this was to be just one more rung on the ladder; two years, and we'd be moving on to bigger and better yet again, we thought.

And here we are half a decade later ... putting down the closest thing to roots that our family has ever had. By the time Jo was five and a half, she had called five different places (and three states) home. In comparison, Logan took his first steps in this house. He has slept in the same bedroom since shortly before his first birthday. I never dreamed of this kind of stability from my journalist husband.

A new venture for him means no new adventures for us--not for a while at least. He is leaving behind the media job and striking out into the unknown territory of public relations for a rather ambitious, successful young political hot shot. He's a little nervous as to what this means but, hey, it has to be better than the last three years or so of reporting. Frankly, I'm a little nervous, too. I've never stayed put for so long before. What if my ever-present shadow of homesickness threatens to overtake me? What if I get bored of the landscape? What if my children decide once and for all that they are Washingtonians?

I don't know what the next few years will look like. Heck, I don't know what the next few weeks will look like. But looking back, I had no idea what the future would hold when I accepted that .25 karat diamond from a man making $14,000 a year, either. All I knew was that I loved him, and that the joy of being together was worth whatever it took to make sure his was the face I saw every morning when I woke up. I still feel that way... with or without the title "staff writer."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kindergarten, revisited

This is my third trip through the world of educating a five year-old, so one would think that I'd have the whole thing tied up. So how come I feel like I'm brand new to the whole concept all over again?

With Jo, I felt like kindergarten was a proving ground of sort. And in truth, it was. My husband wasn't 100% on board for the idea of homeschooling--his mother is a kindergarten teacher, after all. After finally admitting that chances were good I wouldn't ruin our little girl's odds of getting into college by forgetting an invaluable nursery rhyme, my husband offered up a compromise: teach her at home for one year. At the end of that time period, we'll take another look at how this is working.

With that as my mandate, I approached kindergarten with a ferocity I had never mustered before or since. Assisted by by our overly helpful Calvert script, I led Jo through counting exercises, tracing letters on felted cards and creating patterns with small, primary colored bears. We sang songs, laced cards and completed a weekly craft. We read books, attended story times and counted a weekly gymnastics class as PE. This was one well-rounded 5 year-old. By January of that school year, she was reading Little House on the Prairie chapter books and asking me why salt made things float better in water. She had also lost the tiny shred of interest she had had in the Calvert curriculum and was starting to be one very bored, very over-workbooked little girl. Realizing that I was soon going to have a rebellion on my hands, I ordered the Sonlight Core C (then called K) IG, and a handful of books that I couldn't get at the library. We passed the remainder of that year reading wonderful books and impressing my husband with facts about indigenous people in countries that he knew for a fact most kindergartners had never even heard of. Homeschooling, we decided, was a good fit for our family.

Atticus's kindergarten experience was very, very different from Jo's. With nothing to prove, I no longer felt compelled to cram as much into each day as I possibly could. Add to this the fact that Atticus had essentially taught himself to read the year before (with a few hints thrown his way via 100 EZ Lessons) and the not insignificant presence of a second grade sister to tag along with, and it was a very different picture indeed. He had already tucked an entire year of Ancient History under his belt and was happily chewing away on the fall of Rome. Still, I put Atticus through many of the motions that I associated with the proper way of teaching a five year-old: phonics instruction (adjusted somewhat begrudgingly to a first grade level), a handful of small-motor skill practices, a kindergarten math workbook and Little Golden Books as read-alouds. He cringed his way through my efforts, then dashed off to digest the latest
DK Eyewitness Explorerer book he had checked out at the library. The lesson of that kindergarten experience was, I have since reflected, that some children are really not cut out for sing-alongs and cutting practice.

And now I have a five year-old again. This time around, formal instruction is kept to a bare minimum. Earlier, I used 100 EZ Lessons to help him get his sea legs, and then set him free with actual books. While Logan can read with fair proficiency, he rarely chooses to do so on his own. Instead of challenging him to read at his level (which I would have done with my older children) I let him select any of the books that we have on hand to read aloud to me. He routinely chooses a title like Will I Sit? even though I know he could be tackling Frog and Toad Are Friends. When he feels like it, he will pull out The Beginner's Bible and read a story from it to his dad. Does this lack of interest in the written word bother me? Not especially.

Unlike my previous kindergartners, Logan's seat work is also minimal. He works through the little phonics letterbooks my mother-in-law sent as it pleases him. These require cutting and pasting and reading and writing and coloring, and he works on them far more often than you might think he would choose to. He and I do a page from the A Beka kindergarten Letter and Sounds book each day, and that's my nod toward that entire genre. The bulk of his handwriting is done either completely self-directed ("Look, mom! I wrote a story about a Civil War soldier!") or in imitation of his elder siblings, as he tags along with Sonlight Core 4. I have cooed generously over quite a few phonetically spelled signs warning of impending battles to be held in my general vicinity.

With my older children, I felt that math was some massive, potentially destructive topic that I had to handle with absolute care. Someone had once described the subject to me as a pyramid--the base must be broad and solid, they said, or anything you put on top will just crumble down. This made sense to me at the time, and so I placed that little tidbit of knowledge somewhere in my brain, where it mutated into "Must Use Age-Appropriate Math Text Or You Will Fail Your Children."

Having debunked this myth quite soundly with Jo, I have been freed up to let Logan progress as it seems logical to him. Right now, what seems logical to him is Math-U-See Alpha, interspersed with Usborne Sticker Math and games from Family Math. It's an eclectic mix, but he enjoys these sessions and I count that as a win-win situation.

Logan has also enjoyed far greater latitude when it comes to indulging his own personal interests than either Jo or Atticus. With Jo, I was so busy orchestrating every moment of her day to maximize learning experiences that the poor girl just sat by and let kindergarten happen to her. Atticus' personality is such that he couldn't bear to be left out of anything Jo was doing, so he literally jumped from preschool to second grade in the space of about a year. That doesn't leave much time for puttering. But Logan has truly had the chance to explore and tinker and discover: on his own, with all of us as a group, and just with me.


I think I really like this kindergarten thing. Stretched out on the floor this morning, playing the "Balloon Ride" subtraction/strategy game from Family Math with my favorite five year-old boy, I had the realization that he and I were both having fun. This was no one-sided exercise in "how it's done." This was a hands-on, warm, giggly moment of the two of us enjoying each other and learning at the same time. Logan, for his part, was learning how to calculate mentally fast enough to win a game. And I was learning how to teach kindergarten.

Again.





Monday, December 10, 2007

Fantasy versus reality


We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you MG's annual rant on how her children really aren't all that difficult to buy for ... if you simply follow her suggestions.

Every year about this time, I start receiving a flurry of emails from the extended family, usually written in the dreaded ALL CAPS (grrr) barraging me with questions designed to gauge my children's interests in whatever current trends are reaching their peak.

A recent example from my mil: "I AM SENDING YOU A LINK TO THIS WEBSITE TO SEE IF JO WOULD LIKE SOME OF THESE SHOES FOR CHRISTMAS. THE NEIGHBOR'S DAUGHTER WEARS THEM AND THEY ARE SO CUTE."

Go ahead, folks. Click that link. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

If you actually came back after that little trip into "Say wha'?", I'd like to paint a picture of Jo for you. You decide if she'd like shoes named "Gumdrop."

At just under five feet tall, our little fashionista is fond of Old Navy jeans, layering solid-colored cotton t-shirts and the occasional knit hat and scarf. Her favorite wrap? An oversized grey 4-H sweatshirt with her name emblazoned on the back in John Deere Green. She prefers Converse All-Stars in all weather, she's rarely seen without her Princess and the Kiss box, and the idea alone of piercing her ears makes her slightly nauseous.

Do you think she's a Rocket Dog kind of girl?

Now, my in-laws ought to know this. And deep down, I think they do. They just spent an entire week with her in November, and it wasn't exactly like the girl hid in a closet the whole time. They refuse, however, to admit that their fantasy image of Jo (hipster in training, runway model in the making, celeb-obsessed tweener in the offing) is light years away from the reality (4-H girl, classical music aficionado, reader of many a missionary tale). The two just don't add up ... but they want to keep reworking the math on this one. Maybe, if we get her the cool shoes, she'll become who we want her to be.

Yeah, right.

This extends to Atticus. Would you like to know what item tops Atticus' short list of heart's desires? A copy of the oversized tome entitled "Washington River Maps and Fishing Guide." Before you start picturing A River Runs Through It, let me clue you in: the truth is, he just really likes wildlife guides in general, and he has yet to find a good one on the area's fish, so he's resorted to checking this particular fishing companion from the library every couple of weeks.

Clearly, when my in-laws asked what Atticus wanted for Christmas, it was a no-brainer. "Washington River Maps and Fishing Guide." I didn't even have to ask the child, because I had watched his eyes cataloging fish for hours and knew that it would save him a whole lot of heartache to have a copy he didn't have to return.

My in-laws, of course, bought him a Lego kit.

Now, granted, Atticus will adore that Lego kit. He enjoys playing with Legos, and he is always happy to expand his collection. What seven year-old boy isn't? But the simple truth is that Atticus would have felt loved and truly accepted on a far deeper level with the acknowledgement of one of his passions. Unfortunately, my in-laws missed a wonderful opportunity to hum along to his tune, to see the world through his eyes. Instead, they opted for what he ought to be.

Logan is an ever harder nut to crack as far as our family is concerned. Logan would love any one of the following:
  • another coffee table book of masterpieces
  • a copy of the London Philharmonic performing the Nutcracker
  • or
  • a wooden manikin

I have, of course, sent the list to all who have asked for ideas. This afternoon, I received this reply: "I REALLY WANT TO GET LOGAN SOMETHING FUN. DOESN'T HE LIKE TOYS?"

((sigh))

I could explain to this extremely loving and kind and well-meaning person that to Logan, a massive hardbound book of Homer Winslow paintings would be better than any toy you could ever wrap up for him. I could go on and on about how we've been trying to keep this kid distracted from the idea of actual canvas for the past year since we really can't afford a little habit like oil painting. But the fact is that folks who can't fathom themselves enjoying something as mundane as one of those quirky little wood guys aren't very apt to rush out and buy one for their favorite five year-old.

I really ought to save myself a whole lot of time and frustration and just start answering these emails with two words: "Gift certificates." Maybe we'd all be happier. Our family can pretend that Jo used her Barnes and Noble money to buy copies of Teen Beat, and that Atticus used his Toys R Us card to buy himself some Batman figures.

I guess that still leaves Logan a little out of the loop, though. As far as I know, people aren't lining up to buy five year-old boys gift certificates to Ben Franklin Crafts.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

All I want for Christmas is my dignity

Last night, we attended a Christmas gathering for the leadership of our church plant. Now first, understand that my idea of a party is to find a lovely spot at a table and wait for people interested in talking to me to wander their way over. This isn't an egocentric thing, really. In fact, it's quite the opposite: I just can't fathom that folks want me sidling up alongside their ongoing conversations and jumping in. It's a handicap, I know. But hey, I'm an otherwise happily adjusted person.

This particular party was planned out (to the minute, mind you) by one of our more Type A personalities. This woman is a wonderful, warm and funny lady, and to be honest, she was probably just trying to save us all from the extremely ADHD ramblings of our lead pastor. Picture a distracted professor type, crossed with a ghetto-ized hipster and shaken--not stirred--with a touch of hyperactivity. That's our lead pastor. If he was left to plan out a Christmas party, the nibbles would be Cheez Wiz and crackers, the background music would feature Christian rap and the party would last about ten hours.

So really, it was a good thing that this person elected herself Chief of Christmas Proceedings.

Still, it was a bit of a giggler to be handed an agenda for a Christmas party. I, for one, have never walked around palming a poinsettia-decked postcard with words like "Socialize," "Dining," "A Word from Pastor A.," etc. The saving grace here is that no boxes were provided in which to check off our participation in each event. That would have been some real pressure.

When I finally got around to making my way down the to-do list, I noticed a particularly ominous line that strikes fear into the hearts of many Public Hermits like myself:

"Games."

Ack. Games.

Party games are often the stuff of nightmares for me. I am the last person to taste the baby food from the unlabeled jars at showers. I abhor ice breakers. And if you ask me to pin a little puzzle piece to my shirt, then wander around a room and try to find the person with the piece that will fit mine, well ... I'll probably take a really long bathroom break. Or feign a kidkney stone. Anything to get out of feeling like a pet poodle jumping through hoops.

Seeing as how our group consists of eight couples, there was very little chance of me not being missed during the humiliation fest--I mean, festivities. So I brooded my way through dinner with my shoulders around my ears, wondering if there was any possible way that I could will our babysitter to suddenly call us home to, I don't know, unstop a toilet or something. Thankfully, I had the distraction of our dinner conversation. We sat at a table with another couple that unschools their three sons and a couple of newly wed, starry-eyed public school teachers who are bursting at the seams with ideas about how they're going to save the world 28 children at a time. People pay premiums for entertainment like that, folks. For us, it was free.

But then it was time for the games.

We started off with one of those awful games designed to make us all look like idiots. "But we're all idiots together!" I can hear you saying. No, I was not an idiot. There was absolutely no way this side of heaven that I was blowing up a dozen thin, monstrously small mini-balloons and them shoving them into a pair of pantyhose so that I could wrest the crotch of the thing onto my forehead and walk around looking like a demented reindeer.

Thanks, but no thanks.

My lack of enthusiasm was noted. Thankfully, dh knows how strong my gag reflex is when confronted with this kind of thing, so he stole the limelight by letting everyone know that he prefers his women without antlers. Ha. Ha. Ha. Everyone laughed so loudly you would have thought that someone had spiked the punch. Being good Baptists, I can assure you that no one, unfortunately, had.

Braced for yet another trip down stupid lane, I joined the group as Type A explained the next game. This one, she said, was a quiz. A written quiz, testing our knowledge of all things Christmas. Being someone who has always tested extremely well, I saw my opportunity to save face. Dh and I filled out our multiple choice worksheet in just a few minutes, while everyone else was probably still trying to clear the spots of of their eyes from all that balloon blowing.

Here's where I have to admit: homeschooling pays off, y'all.

On a 20 questions quiz, I knew eight answers that stumped my nowhere-near-ignorant husband. Why? Because they were all things I have taught to my children at one point or another. Dh was pretty amused that I knew the year that electric Christmas lights were first used, but he's used to me spouting various useless trivia bits. When we got down to things like being able to trace the origins of specific Christmas tunes, he was downright impressed.

Sure enough, we won that particular game--and a grudging bit of respect from our lead pastor (who was still wearing his pantyhose antlers). He's always been quietly anti-homeschooling, so when I told him that the only way I knew some of those things was through providing an education for my children, he gave me a raised eyebrow. Maybe a seed of respect was planted. Who knows?

Dh and I won the next game, too--but only because it, too, did not require me to hum "Silent Night" with rum balls in my mouth or build a creche out of only the items I could find on the moon. It happened to be one of those "Twisted Song Titles" games, where you have to be able to tweak "Jingle Bells" out of "rapidly gesticulating half-orbs comprised of whitish metal." Dh and I are both writers, people. Vocabulary games are our thing.

But no worries. We lost the next game horribly, mostly since I refused to play. Even on a two-win high, there was absolutely no way that I was racing around to different stations with a big bell on my head.

If homeschooling has taught me anything, it's to know my limitations. And when it comes to party games, I'm very limited.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Indiana

If you'd like a refresher of previous posts, here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5.

Mamaw’s memories of Indiana are far-off and hazy, the kind of recollections that many people have of their very earliest years. Naomi was not a young child when she crossed the state line riding shotgun in her stepfather’s pickup, so the only reason she has come up with for the lack of concrete memories is the sleep-deprived state she recalls enduring for months on end.

Sarah and Andy had already made a name for themselves in rural counties all over eastern Kentucky and on up into southern Indiana when they had lured Naomi away from the safety of her grandparents home. Their reputations as hard drinkers, reckless drivers, good dancers and fast fighters attracted a very specific element wherever they traveled. It seemed as if a Triple-A Guidebook to honkey tonks had been burned into their very DNA; wherever Sarah and Andy Pope found themselves, a party was sure to be happening.

These were no tame “please pass the tea cakes” parties. Naomi’s vague recollections center around Mason jars being emptied of their clear “likker” and of fist-fights that didn’t come to an end until someone was down--usually for good.

The three of them drove through back-water towns for a few months, shacking up in unpainted cottages with folks who were apt to open their homes to the likes of Sarah and Andy. More often than not, Naomi found herself sleeping in the dirty floorboard of the truck, hiding from drunk men whose eyes looked at her in a way that she couldn’t quite understand.

If she’d had a whit of sense, she would have gone to a pay phone and called for someone in the holler to come and get her. She knew she could call collect, knew she that there were a handful of people in the holler with their very own telephones who would gladly get the message to her grandparents. Her Papaw would ride up to get her--probably with the pastor--and he’d take her home.

It wasn’t pride that stopped her from calling, she remembers. It was shame.

“Seems I never could get my mind out from under the fact that that wild thing was my own momma,” she says now. Seeing her mother dance on top of the hood of a Chevy with her own two eyes was bad enough. But the shame of her grandfather seeing it was too much to bear. She figured the hurt of it would probably kill him.

The months of sleeping in the daylight and drinking boot-legged moonshine at night came to an end when an unsuspecting truant officer knocked on the door of a particularly fallen-down shanty where the threesome had been invited to spend the night. The man was making his rounds to check on a pair of wild-as-a-buck ten year-olds who hadn’t darkened the door of a school in more than a year. When he caught sight of Naomi--playing cards in the middle of the day with two men more than twice her age--he asked to speak to her parents, too.

“He threatened to put the law on ‘em,” she says, “for keeping me out of school for so long. Now, I’d seed my momma cuss out a revenuer over the state line, and she weren’t no more afraid of him than she was of me. But something in that truant officer put the fear of the Lord in her. She told him right off that yes, sir she’d have me signed up to the school the next day. And she did it, by golly.”

Naomi was excited to return to school. She thought that somehow, the normalcy of it all might rub off on her mother and stepfather. Maybe they’d rent a little house of their own, settle down and live like people should. Sarah seemed excited, too; she took Naomi into town and bought her two new dresses with money she’d won shooting pop bottles off of a log behind the beauty salon in town. The only problem with the dresses, Naomi told her mother, was that they fit too close in the chest. Sarah said they looked fine.

The next morning, Naomi walked to school alone. It was the biggest schoolhouse she’d ever seen: a huge stone building with students segregated by grade. She found her way to the office and was walked to a class.

“I thought I’d died and been sent to the hot place,” my Mamaw tells me.

The children in that class were all two or three years younger than Naomi, but all light years ahead in their schooling. The boys were mean, and wore tight, short trousers and slicked back their hair with something that stunk like coal oil. The girls wore dresses that reminded Naomi of the ones she had seen in Sears catalogs. They looked at the gangly new student as if she had just arrived direct from another planet.

“And that was what broke me,” Naomi admits. She cried all the way to the phone booth in front of a Davis Drive-In Motel that afternoon after school let out. Calling collect, she got Lucinda Miller’s mother on the line and managed to choke out her wherabouts. To this day, she has no idea where she was exactly.

“Just some little town in Nowhere, Indiana,” she says.

She can’t remember where she had been, but she recalls the scene of her homecoming well.

“My mamaw came out on the front porch and was waitin’ on us to pull up. I reckon she heard us on the drive. Anyhow, she had a big old afghan quilt in her hands, and she wrapped that around me the minute I got out of that pastor’s car. Didn’t even look at me, just wrapped me up and took me in, like she knowed already that I wouldn’t be wearing nothing decent.”

Two weeks later, my mamaw met my papaw for the first time. She was twelve years old now, but wiser in the ways of the world than most 20 year-olds in the holler. When she first laid eyes on the boy with the jet-black hair and the dirty overalls, she saw trouble. What kind, she had no idea. But trouble was trouble just the same.

Review: Bluegrass Peril

Everyone has their own favorite genre when selecting reading material. For me, it's Southern fiction, preferably written by a woman and preferably not of the syrupy "still reliving the War of Northern Aggression" variety. But, because I love books--all kinds of books--I like to vary my diet from time to time. I was in just such a mood when I picked up Bluegrass Peril, by Virginia Smith.

The categories on the spine weren't encouraging to my discerning literary palate: Inspirational. Romance. Suspense.

Immediately, I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?" I settled down to read with about as much enthusiasm as I could muster. I admit, it wasn't much.

To my surprise, there were a few things that I liked about Bluegrass Peril. First and foremost, as one who has deep ties to the Bluegrass State, I was relieved to see that Smith chose to concentrate the bulk of her prose on the finer points of Kentucky color instead of denigrating an entire state based on a few stereotypical people or places. The Kentucky of Smith's novel is a fantasy place, to be sure, but it's a place that almost feels familiar. And that familiarity is not bad.

While many of Smith's characters feel wooden, heroine Becky Dennison--a woman who finds herself at the scene of a recent murder just a few pages into the book--has a strength that's very real, and her dialogue is convincing without resorting to a lot of the lukewarm catch-phrases that one expects in a paperback mystery.

Coupled with Becky is Scott Lewis, a handsome figure from a nearby horse farm who--oh, you get the picture.

Added into the predictable mix of "whodunnit" fiction is the horse racing industry and its prestigious animals. Players in their own right in this tale, it's a mix that nonetheless adds some depth to an another-wise reheated plot line.

Bluegrass Peril is exactly what it says it is: inspirational, romantic and suspenseful. It's not deep, thought-provoking fiction; neither is is horrid bubble-gum fluff. Smith's book lands somewhere right in the middle--exactly where it was intended to fall.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bee unit on the fly

I came up with this one-week unit study on bees in less than 45 minutes--hence the "on the fly" portion of the title. :-) Loosely using a "In The Hands of a Child" lapbook unit I had downloaded for free from homeschoolestore some time in the past year, I was able to cobble together a fairly cohesive study that hit on several academic areas. Daily time spent on this was no more than thirty to forty-five minutes, except when my children got carried away and demanded more.

Day One: Discussed the what makes an insect and insect, then moved on to the anatomy of a bee, using the brief descriptions found in the HOAC literature. Filled out the “Bee Anatomy” sheet, colored it, and got our lapbooks going. Introduced the different types of bees within a hive (Queen, Workers, Drones), and made small lift-the-flap booklets for the lapbooks, detailing their job descriptions inside.

Day Two: Read “The Magic School Bus Inside A Bee Hive,” then talked about the life cycle of a bee, including what makes a Queen into a Queen. Assembled the HOAC life cycle wheel and attached it to our lapbooks. Came up with a totally new use for the cute "The Hive" mini-book included in the HOAC unit--each child wrote out their own first-person story of being a worker bee in a hive.

Day Three: Read the HOAC section on how bees communicate, then danced like maniacs to “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Tried, in a charade-type style, to point one another towards specific objects in the room. Finally filled out the small “Communication” flap-book and glued it into our folders.

Day Four: Read about the process of pollination. Watched a video of bees pollinating flowers on United Streaming, and discussed how this is part of God’s plan for making things work in the natural world. Described pollination in our little petal brad-books for the lapbook, then built paper hexagons and talked about the cells of the honey comb. Enjoyed bread and honey for a snack, and talked about beekeepers and their job.

Day Five: Talked about predators, and discussed the ramifications of having a hive pillaged. Created our own little petal brad-books on “Predators” because everyone just really liked putting the brads in place. :-) Talked about the imagery of honey in the Bible, and various phrases that use the image of honey that we hear even today (ie, “Sweeter than honey”). Looked in an international cookbooks and found zillions of recipes that use honey, and looked up different types of bees found in those countries on the internet. Celebrated the end of the unit by watching a video of our Magic School Bus Bee book and eating honey buns.

Covers of lapbooks:
Inside of lapbooks:



Jo's lapbook, complete with her own "handbook of bees," a collection of tidbits she assembled on her own.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Interest-led learning

The best thing about homeschooling--well, except for the time we spend together as a family, being able to read wonderful books together and, of course, being able to count household chores as home ec.--is the ability to fine-tune your child's education to fit their specific interests. In our family, this has looked like an entire year's worth of math geared towards the theme of a veterinary clinic, an ongoing study of the flags of the world and a rather in-depth and involved investigation into the science of the submarine.

None of this was scripted--not in the earliest stages, at least. Each of these things that has contributed to the uniqueness of our own homeschooling journey came about primarily because one (or more) children developed a deep interest in a topic that held enough mystery for all of us that we decided to give it a go. In most of the instances when I have followed my children's lead, I've had to be especially creative in crafting resources into usable materials. For instance, when Jo was especially anti-math, but extremely pro-animal science, I did a bit of legwork and wrote a math text of my own for her. It was nothing more than a spiral-bound notebook that I titled "Country Doctor Case Files" and filled with scenarios and story problems that forced her to add, subtract, estimate, weigh, measure, multiply and divide. Each of these skills were ones that she had the ability to do, but not the desire. Seeing the problems presented in the context of something she was most definitely interested in gave her the chance to see that those skills were important--and so was her passion for all things hoofed and pawed.

Most recently, I've found myself dabbling in the world of lapbooking--again, following my children's interests. While I am not a huge fan of the genre I call "Cut! Color! Paste!" just for the sake of cutting, coloring and pasting, my children seem to get something out of lapbooking that they really enjoy. I think it's an outgrowth of the fact that we are a very oral-driven family. We read a loud for a good portion of the day, and the children have found wonderful ways to keep their hands busy. Coloring, drawing, playing with Lincoln Logs or Legos, knitting and sewing are all activities that have become the norm around here. Lapbooking seems to take the coloring and drawing bit and fuse it to the reading; more often than not, they are asking for lapbook ideas that go along with what we're reading about. In that sense, it's sort of a glorified extension of the Dover coloring book collection we already have in heavy rotation.

In addition to the lapbook addition to our family homeschool routine, we've also been hearing from Jo that she would like to pursue piano lessons. Her best friend is a very gifted pianist, so perhaps the interest stems mainly from the desire to have yet one more thing in common with R. I don't know. She says that it only makes sense; her life's calling--stated since she was 7-- is that she wants to be a missionary in Chile with Christian Veterinary Missions. Of course, she says, she will have to be able to conduct some sort of worship service, right? Hence, the piano lessons.

The main concern I have here is that, to date, Jo has showed no sign whatsoever of having a shred of musical talent. She comes by this honestly; both dh and I played instruments in middle and high school, but neither or us rose to the cream of the crop, if you know what I mean. While Jo adores classical music (right now, of course, she's a Tchaikovsky fanatic), I have no reason to believe that she's any more talented in this discipline that either of her parents.

(Logan, however, appears to be a different story. This boy is nothing but recessive genes, I tell you!)

Since we first began this homeschooling journey, our family has been dedicated to following the talents, interests and gifts that each child is called to. So far, that has never steered us wrong. A steady diet of wonderful literature, thought-provoking culture and history, new ideas, sound doctrine and ample opportunity, coupled with the fact questions are enthusiastically encouraged has produced children who are not afraid to try new things and, if need be, to fail.

This is why--despite the fact that owning a piano was certainly never on my list of things to do--we're scanning Craig's List and checking out our options. Another interest has called. We owe it to our children to answer, if at all possible.

Attn: Sonlight Users!

If you're a blogging Sonlighter, and would like to join our blog ring, click here to fill out a submission! To put some sort of standard into effect for the ring, I am asking that you currently be using at least some part of a Sonlight Core in order to join the ring. If you have any questions, please contact me while I'm a homeschoolingmom3 where the yahoos are.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hope is on the line

I can't say anything about it, other than we're being submitted on a child. I can't tell you how much hope that one little call has beamed into my day. I have been almost afraid to think about the adoption since the beginning of the Advent season--it feels like poking a bruise to realize that another year will drop away from the calendar and we will still be waiting. But this one call ... one little call ...

If you've never been through the process, it probably makes no sense at all. But if you have, you are sighing right along with me, nodding your head and saying, "I have so been there." Because whether or not this is our child, this is the proof that God is moving. And today, I needed to see that. And my God answered.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Nutcracker

To prepare for our upcoming trip to see a performance of "The Nutcracker," I have been collecting resources. Since my dear friend E. tied up the extensive collection of "Nutcracker" books, recordings and videos available through our library system almost single-handedly (grin), I'm left culling the best of the 'net. Here are a few of the gems I've found among the offerings:

History, story, review and more:
Official Nutcracker Ballet Homepage
Lessons Plans to pull from:
NYC Ballet plans for 4th-5th grade
PBS Great Performances "Nutcracker" page
Telling A Story Through Dance (Kennedy Center)
Fun Lessons (plans with a craft)

Music clips:
Nutcracker Suite Overture
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies
Russian Dance
Chinese Dance
Arabian Dance
Dance of the Reed Flutes
Waltz of the Flowers

Tchaikovsky:
Wikipedia bio
Tchaikovsky visits America
Tchaikovsky Research

Video clips:
Chinese Dance
Arabian Dance
Dance of the Mirlitons
ABT/Baryshnikov Dance of the Children, more

Nutcrackers:
Steinbach factories & nutcrackers

Books:
DK Illustrated Ballet Stories
PNB Presents: Nutcracker
Nutcracker Nation


Time to vote!

I admit to feeling a bit like a heel for posting this, but a SL friend told me that everyone actually expects you to post a reminder like this, so here goes:

Voting begins today for the annual Homeschool Blogger Awards. This blog was nominated for both the Cyber-Buddy and Variety categories. If you're so inclined, zip on over and check out the nominees, then cast your vote!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Jesse Tree

Whether you are Catholic or not (we're not), here's a great site to get you started with a simple version of a Jesse Tree. Not being a super-crafty homeschooling mom, I like the easily printed ornaments (I print them out in black and white so my dc can color them while I read) as well as the simple, unscripted lead-ins to each day's reading. The format has allowed me to have a reading prepared with no research on my behalf, explain what the ornament symbolizes, and then let the discussion follow the children's natural interests. Then, the children use glue sticks to post their ornaments on their own, individual butcher-paper trees.

How was your in-law's visit, MG?

It went really well, thanks for asking.

Dh's mom seems to have discovered the wisdom of taking hormones (which I have maintained that she needed for the past decade). Say what you will about those little faux woman-stuff pills, but here's my testimony:

Dmil had only been on the things for six days when she arrived on our doorstep. She was a bit catty, but still a far more tame version of herself than I have come to expect in recent history. Her nasty comments, intolerable hot flashes that cause her to rage at innocent bystanders and generally foul mood were in shorter supply than I can recall since dh and I tied the knot. Still, there were more than a few snide side comments, mostly pointed in my direction, and nearly all having to do with the fact that I ordered our turkey dinner from a grocery store.

By day eight on the medication, she was almost mellow. No joke, guys. She averaged one nasty comment a day from then on, and was so darn amiable that dh and I let her take our kids to the movies without us. We were that certain that she wouldn't pull a "Grandma Dearest" on them. She even ate a meal at a restaurant without sending any portion of her meal back. You really can't grasp how unlike her that is.

This was an earth-shattering difference. Prayer and hormones. A winning combination!

Friday, November 30, 2007

What's that sound?

File this under "Will somebody just give that woman a kid already?!?!"

Due to dh changing jobs we now have to have an update done on our homestudy. Keep in mind that we actually have two homestudies (one for our agency, one for our state license) so that means two updates.

It's looking like we will have our files pulled from placement options until the updates are completed.

Our coordinator thinks we should have it all finished in February.

February.

Hear that? That's me laughing manically.

ETA (12-4): We have since found out that our agency is pushing for an addendum to our homestudy, rather than a full-fledged re-write. Since this change improves our "marketability" as a family (ie, we will be more financially sound), they are pushing for the less-intensive addendum process. Praise God!!!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Part 2: Stealing Space

From its humble beginnings as a garage, my family's school room took shape. In an earlier post, I shared photos of the what we moved in to in late August of 2006--a 9x11 room with unfinished walls, lined with books, a wicker couch and my children's let's-pretend-we're-in-school desks.

A lot of people asked me if being in that unfinished room bugged me. Truthfully, no. Moving in and actually doing school in the space before it was completed gave me the unique opportunity to finish the room according to how we used the space--not how I thought we would use the space.

Case in point: my plan had been to add a hinged table-top to one wall. The table, when set up, would act as a community workspace, and could be lowered for times when we needed the floor space. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, in my mind's eye, it would have been. But what wasn't taken into account in that plan was how strong my children's affinity for those desks they occupy actually is. (Can you tell that desks are a bit of a homeschooling killjoy for me?) My children adore their desks. They love their own individual little work areas. And the idea of a group table is absolutely repugnant to them. Really.

I also hadn't foreseen the need for as much extra light as we ended up using. Having no windows, our school room can get mighty dark. A friend swapped out the old hanging lightbulb that had been the only light source, installing a wonderful, large fixture that made the whole place glow. But as it turned out, we like to switch on our
ambient floor lamp, too. :-)

Here are Jo and Logan's desks today:

Another thing I thought would be vital is the white board you see hanging here above our little art shelf. It is used probably twice a week--and usually not by me. Atticus
likes to practice his Greek vocabulary on it, and Logan gets a kick out of spelling new words where he can wipe them away easily. Good thing I didn't break the bank for it. :-) (The tall boxes you see there are Ikea shelves waiting to be put up, by the way.)


Another adaptation was putting up a timeline on our longest wall. You can't see it in detail here, but running above and below the posters on the bottom is a timeline wide enough for the children to write on. The posters are relevant to our current studies, and are placed above the corresponding date on the timeline. (That's Logan's famous easel below it!)


Another shot of the timeline, this one farther to the left, showing Atticus' desk. The bookshelf there holds our Bible resources, foreign language books and Language Arts.


Below is the last unpainted area of the schoolroom. (You may have noticed that lovely shade of creamy yellow that finally went up in these newer shots!) Why is this area unfinished? No good reason, but I promise you, it will be painted soon. Anyhow, these two shelves hold our current SL Core (4), math, science and general reference materials.


Had I not used the room for a full year prior to finishing it, I would have missed out on how to fit the room to our needs rather than how to fit us into that room. Would it have been the end of the world? Certainly not. But it would have forced my children to conform to my idea of what homeschooling is, and frankly, I'm not about that. So desks it is. :-)

Another interesting side note to the schoolroom was the ways that the room wasn't used. I had never envisioned utilizing the room all day long, and I wasn't disappointed. Plenty of reading and other activities were still centered in the main section of the house, with the school room acting as our organization point for "seat work" and the main home for our burgeoning
resources. Because of this, I relocated the wicker couch and brought in a rocking chair for myself to pull alongside the child who needed me rather than having them come to me.

I also quickly came to see that during the time we were in the school room, Logan often wasn't. Still a preschooler, Logan preferred to spend the bulk of his time at his easel just outside the schoolroom door. When he wasn't painting, he was often building elaborate works of architecture with the over sized blocks of pine his dad had cut from the remaining pieces of framing wood. These activities all took place in the chill of the drab garage. He didn't seem to mind, but I did. He was being left out of what was going on with his siblings, and isolated from me. This was the last thing that I wanted. When we got closer to finishing our adoption paperwork and that whole idea became more real to me, I saw what a disadvantage our little schoolroom was; anyone not engaged in the business of school was decidedly left out. Not catastrophic for a 4 year-old who likes to entertain himself in worthwhile endeavors, but a horrible idea for a woman looking at adding a toddler and infant to her brood.

After talking with my husband, we agreed to extend our plan. Which leads us to the next phase of the 400 square foot project ...

Review: For Parents Only

I don't have a teenager. Jo is only now flirting with the pre-teen thing, much to my surprise and delight. Looking in my own personal rear-view mirror, however, reminds me that I will most likely not be cashing in on this extended goodwill for terribly long. At some point, those occasional bouts of hormonally induced mania become more the norm than the exception. It's just the design of things biologically. Might as well be prepared.

Part of being prepared--even for those of us who still feel young enough to be shocked that we aren't carded when we order a glass of wine--is getting inside the mind of your child. For Parents Only, a cooperative effort between Shaunti Feldhahn and Lisa A. Rice, attempts to do just that.

Written in a casual, conversational tone that takes on a kind of "Girl's Night Out" cadence, For Parents Only looks not only at the trouble spots that have become an expected part of the teenage landscape these days (eye rolling, disrespect, and the search for freedom) but also tackles some of the deeper issues shaping the how and why of parent/teen interaction. The writing team deals with some sticky topics (such as sex and drug use) delicately, and offers some tips for ingratiating yourself into your child's life ... even when it's the last place you want to be. Especially helpful are the personal interviews, which present attitudes and information from a teen's point of view.

Once again, from the perspective of a homeschooling parent, there is much in this book that simply does not apply to the experiences of my family. (Plenty of information is, however, universal.) Peer pressure, emulating pop culture and access to drugs and alcohol are not on the radar of the vast majority of homeschooled teens that I personally know. Unfortunately, their parents still face the hurdle of assisting their teen in their coming-of-age ... only without the benefit of a solidly written guide like For Parents Only to help in their own specific instance.

I have copies of this book to give away to the first two folks who leave a comment!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Stolen Space (or how to add 400 square feet to your house without breaking the bank)

When I officially started homeschooling, I was an optimistic mother of three little darlings; Jo was a month shy of her fifth birthday, Atticus was two and a half and Logan was three months old. Since I had every intention of being the perfect homeschooling mother, I drew up extensive lesson plans integrating seasons, crafts, holidays, appropriate literature, community helper jobs, and phonics in one elaborate amalgam that left me beaming with pride over my resourcefulness and also very, very tired. After all, I realized quite quickly, it was one thing to draw up all those plans; it was another thing entirely to actually complete each little item on my daily check list.

But organization was most definitely on my side. Since we would be using our dining room as the main school area, I carted a small, two-shelf bookcase in and began to fill it with books. There was the small library of craft books I had acquired. The preschool curriculum I had used with Jo (Every Day in Every Way) and wanted to have on hand in case Atticus showed any interest in beginning his own educational career. And there--on its own special shelf--was our entire, $450 Calvert School kindergarten program.
(Go ahead and laugh. I know I do.)

This was the extent of the space our homeschooling endeavor took up that year. One small bookcase in the corner of the dining room. I smile just thinking about how official that bookshelf made me feel.

Nowadays, of course, homeschooling is, shall we say, a far more
space demanding enterprise.

While my family refuses to be confined to our specific area when it comes to our schooling, I have found that for my own sanity, our resources must be. Two years ago--with a 3rd grader, kindergartener and very eager preschooler--I reached my breaking point, space-wise. Our small family room had been slowly taken over by an ever-growing wall of bookcases that were brimming over with books, science supplies, books, math manipulatives, books, art supplies, books, paper, educational games, books and more books.
(I blame my own bibliophile tendencies as well as my discovery of the Charlotte Mason approach to schooling.) If all those resources had remained neatly on the shelves, then our story might have a different ending. But they didn't. My children--devious little things--insisted on pulling them out and using them. The family room was constantly awash in mounds of literature on topics ranging from ABC's to Elephants. And the trend showed no signs in reversing.

And that was when I started eyeing the garage.


We'd never actually parked in our garage, despite living in the wet and wild Pacific Northwest. The truth is that while I am a parallel parking ace, I cringe at the very thought of cruising into what is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my house. The entire space had been used as glorified storage, doubling as a both pantry and a covered play area for my children in the more stir-crazy days of February and March.

In other words, wasted space. And when you have five people and one very large dog living in a 1,500 square foot house, wasted space is--as Jo used to say
--unsmart.

It didn't take long for my husband to catch on to my idea. I'm
that persuasive. Actually, I think it was just that he was beginning to tire of moving the massive Sonlight IG off the coffeemaker every morning. At any rate, he began asking around and soon found not one, but two homeschooling dads that were willing to donate their expertise and time to get us on our way to what had become my dream: an actual school room.

Within a few weeks, we had this as our view:



A completely framed 9x11 room within our garage! The next step was wiring the room for electricity. Again, a neighbor stepped in and offered up free labor in installing outlets, lighting and even a space heater to make our room more livable. After that, it was on to hanging drywall.
(We have since learned that we could have saved ourselves time and $$ by using paneling instead of drywall. Live and learn.) This was not a fun project. I don't know if you have any drywall experience or not, but trust me when I say that I don't really relish the thought of doing that again.

At this point, the exterior of our schoolroom was still exposed framing, and the interior walls were unfinished drywall. The floor was covered in a large piece taken from our family room carpet when we installed laminate. But it was time to get school underway for the year, so I covered the walls in some of the National Geographic maps and posters I'd been collecting for years and we moved in.

Here are books waiting to go on the shelves. The wall that the shelves are on is the house side of the garage. And that desk is Atticus'. Behind him is a topographical map that his daddy brought home. All three of my children like to do independent work at their own little desks. Go figure.


This is the other side of the room, with Jo's desk. The couch across from the desk was donated by a dear friend, and eventually recovered.


And this was how we started out the school year of 2006-2007. Total cost of this room: $750.

NEXT UP: Adapting the room to meet our needs, and expanding the project further.