Monday, December 30, 2013

Invented worries

One of the biggest pieces of baggage you pick up when you get on the homeschooling train is worry. We all worry about our kids to varying degrees and for many reasons. Even the most laid back moms and dads are bound to find themselves prey to the worry monster now and again. Am I feeding them well? Are they getting enough activity? Should I enroll them in that class? Should I let them quit the team? Am I reading to them often enough? Do they watch too much TV? Am I doing a good enough job?!?

Adding "primary educator" to an already lengthy job description packs on a lot of room for more worries. Are we doing enough schoolwork? Are we doing too much schoolwork? (Often two worries you'll have in the same day). Do they need more time with friends? Do they need more challenges? Do they need a new activity? Should I enroll them in something else? What about a co-op? Is this homeschool group a good fit? Am I moving them ahead too quickly? Too slowly? Am I doing a good enough job?!?!?

Once in a while it is helpful to stop and look at things with a wee bit more logic than emotion. It is easy to get wrapped up in all those worries and what-ifs and let the image you have in your head of how things ought to be get in the way of seeing how things really are.

Case in point, I have been worrying lately that my kids aren't getting enough opportunities to make new friends. We moved, and while our new homeschool group is nice, but we haven't made a lot of strong connections, especially for David, who is certainly the more social of my minions. I kept thinking about whether to try a small co-op, or jump into the rather large one in the area; or find some other activity to sign him up for that will give him the chance to make more friends. There are some options, but I kept going back and forth on what would be best, what would work with our schedule, and so forth.

I wasn't happy with any of the options, really, and it was bugging me that I couldn't find something that seemed like the perfect fit. Add in my already dramatic propensity for overthinking and I was running myself in mental circles over this one. What I had forgotten to do was probably the first logical step - ask my kids what they wanted.

Today I randomly asked them if they were interested in something like a co-op or other group that meets regularly. The boys both looked at me funny and said something along the lines of, "Not really."

I was stopped dead in my tracks. Didn't they need more time with other kids? Aren't they both pining for more opportunities to meet and hang out with other kids around their age? Aren't they feeling left out and sad because they have only met a few kids they have connected with since we moved?

Nope, apparently not. I asked David more specifically about whether he felt like he needed somewhere to meet more kids his age and he said no. They have a few friends in the neighborhood to hang out with in the afternoons, and he's made a couple friends through our new homeschool group. As I was prodding him, he looked up at me and said, "Mom, it isn't like I'm some lonely kid with no one to play with. I'm good." Grayson echoed the same sentiment.

So here I was, googling and researching and worrying about a problem that didn't even exist. Literally. I spent all that energy on something that wasn't even a problem to begin with.

Yes, I know Mr. Spock. Highly illogical.

So cross that worry off my list. We are starting some new things in the new year - gymnastics for Grayson and Ella and kung fu for David - so that will be a new experience and we'll see where it takes us. And both boys are clamoring for team sports, so I see that in our future as well. I should probably chill myself out and not go from under scheduled to over scheduled. My conversation with them today was a great reminder for me to get out of my head once in a while and take into account their actual needs, not just what I think their needs might be. If they're feeling bored, or lonely, or want something that we aren't doing, they'll speak up. In the meantime, I have enough to worry about without inventing new problems to fret over.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A few holiday confessions

I love this time of year. There is so much to love about Advent and Christmas, and from about Halloween onward, I feel like I'm in holiday mode. But I'm not one of those moms who seems all put together and ties everything with homemade bows and has a house full of Pinteresty decor.

With all the blog posts I'm seeing about great holiday crafts, unit studies and activities, I thought I'd go the other direction and keep it real up in here. Without further ado, or any ado at all, a few holiday confessions from my neck of the woods:

I haven't sent out Christmas cards in years
Usually I'm a traditionalist and I hate to see things change due to modernization or technology, but this is one I haven't kept up with. I love the idea of sending out an adorable photo of my kids to friends and loved ones, but I never wind up actually doing it. I have sent them out a few times since having kids, but not regularly and not in the last few years. I used to use the excuse that I had babies or toddlers and it was too much work. Now my kids are old enough that probably isn't such a good excuse. For now, I'll stay with "I'm keeping things simple." True enough.

Painting projects with my kids make me want to drink heavily
This isn't necessarily holiday related, but it seems like the requests for projects involving paint multiply this time of year. I so want to be that mom, who has arts and crafts going for her kids all the time, regardless of the mess (because my kids LOVE that stuff), and in some ways I am. I'm pretty free with the art supplies and David especially makes so many projects, I'm surprised we aren't buried in them. But getting the paint out always stresses me out. They painted ornaments recently and it was... trying. Maybe when Ella is older and less prone to getting paint all over herself and subsequently touching everything, it won't be so tension inducing. But for now, ugh.

I love to bake, but I rarely bake lots of cookies
This one is easy. If I make them, I eat them. Don't tell me that I can simply give them away, be a friendly neighbor and give away plates of cookies and all that. I would do that (and have, in the past), but it wouldn't stop me from eating my weight in sugar. There's that block of time from mixing bowl (because yum, cookie dough) to packaging for distribution and my willpower is exactly zero. Especially for my own baking. If I want to fit into my jeans by Christmas day, I can't spend a month baking dozens of cookies.

We buy too much stuff for our kids
Every year - every single year - we say we won't do it. We say we'll be more moderate, more mindful of our gift choices, and we won't go overboard. And every year, we still do. We are getting a lot better. Compared to some of those early Christmases as parents, we've scaled back. But there are far too many guilt inducing blog posts and articles out there, touting the merits of "simple," "thrifty," and "scaled down," Christmas giving. We certainly aren't extravagant compared to many people, but I always wind up feeling like we did too much. I'll go ahead and throw my husband under the bus on this one. This is clearly his fault. (OK, not totally.)

So what about you? Are you a shouter? A crier? A pouter? What's putting you on the naughty list this year?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The homeschool mom's guide to sick days

I'm sick. Its just a cold, so I'm not going to die or anything, but being the mom and being sick ought to be mutually exclusive, in my opinion. No one gave me the number for the homeschooling sub line, so I guess I'm stuck being the one in charge, despite my deep desire to do nothing but curl up with my box of Kleenex, a hot cup of tea, and watch the rest of Downton Abbey season 3 (which I have not watched yet, so don't you dare give anything away!).

So what do you do when you're the mom, and the teacher, and there's no hope of a replacement? There are a few go-to things that can help the day go by smoothly and keep you from feeling too terribly guilty that your sick day is turning into a total day-off for the kids. (Although if it does, don't beat yourself up. This kind of flexibility is one of the benefits of homeschooling).

1. Audio books or stories

We enjoy a lot of audio stories, especially in the car. But at home, they can be a great quiet time activity, allowing you to not only get some much needed rest, but expose your kids to great language and literature at the same time. Picture this - you, on the couch with your tea (or beverage of choice), doing nothing while your kids soak up rich language and literary awesomeness. That sounds like a win-win to me.

Check out the tons of great stories by Jim Weiss, and we love all the wonderful free stories on

2. Netflix

Yes, I am suggesting TV. Gasp! But the screen! The mind-melting effect of television! The horror!

Let go of your mommy-guilt, and turn the darn thing on. No, I don't normally let my kids watch lots of TV, but I do let them watch some and there are days when "some" turns into "a lot." Like today. But maybe use that time to watch that documentary on ancient Rome you thought the kids might enjoy. Watch March of the Penguins. Let them watch episodes of Magic School Bus. Let your preschooler watch a Leapfrog show. There are a lot of pretty great shows available, and whether you have Netflix, or some cool DVDs in your collection, declaring a movie-afternoon isn't a bad thing once in a while.

Even non-educational movies can have value. Watch The Little Mermaid, then listen to or read the original version later. Talk about how they are the same, and how they are different. Watch a fun family move, then use it as a springboard to talk about characters, plot and conflict. Movies have the ability to distill an entire plot line with character arc, conflict and resolution, all in one sitting. Use the movie to point out some of these very literary elements in a new way.

3. Art

Get out some art supplies and have at it. Make recycled material robots or cars. Cover your table with a table cloth, put out your paints and paint brushes, a big stack of paper, and let them go to town. Get out the play dough, or even just a bunch of paper, crayons, markers, scissors, tape and glue. Don't worry about how much they use - let them use the supplies freely. Many kids love to create and giving them free access to supplies and the time to use them is a great use of an afternoon.

4. Music

Do you hear about those families who regularly play classical music while the kids copy lines from the Declaration of Independence or the Bible? Have you been wanting to include more music exposure in your homeschool? Use the sick day to give it a try. Don't make a production out of it - just log into Spotify, or grab a classical music CD you already own, and hit play. Let it be on in the background while they play with their toys and let the melodies and magic of great music soothe you.

When all else fails, just do your best. Throw some food at them now and then, make sure they have access to clean water, and know that you'll feel better soon and a few days thrown off by illness isn't going to hurt them in the long run.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

An open letter to mothers everywhere

Dear Moms,

What I want to say to you has nothing to do with whether or not you work outside the home, inside the home, stay at home with your children, send them to boarding school, or public school, or private school or homeschool. What I want to say isn't dependent on whether your life looks like mine or affirms my life choices. It doesn't matter whether those children of yours grew in your womb, or grew in your heart and in the womb of another; whether you had the chance to hold your babies or had to say goodbye to them far too soon. What I want to say to you is simply based on what I know to be a Truth, one with a very intentional capital "T," as it is one of those truths that simply is.

You are a mother, and that matters.

There was a time when us women did not have very many choices. We could be wives and mothers, or nurses, teachers or secretaries. Brave and unrefined were the women who sported pants and dared to stand up and say something ought to be different. We are more than bodies to bear children, hands to cook and clean. We are bright and thoughtful and wonderful creatures and you should set us free in the world. Just you wait and see what we can do.

And we did. We cast off the shackles of cultural expectations and changed things. And in very many ways, this is good. Free will is one of the cornerstones of human existence, granted to us by God Himself, and not tread upon even by Him. A woman today has choices in things she would not have once had. She can be so very many things, do so very many things.

But regardless of what you tell people you "do", mothers - you matter.

Somewhere along the way, things went off course. The choice became the expectation. The superwoman can do it all! The truth hits us hard in the face, as we realize something is amiss with that vision. The right choice for one may not be the right choice for another. But instead of that being OK, there is judgment, or the fear of judgment.

What was once a cry for liberation has become a cry of confusion. If I stay home with my children, am I worth less than my sister who earns a salary? If I work and earn money, am I neglecting my kids to do so?

With either choice, you matter.

There is no one like a mother. She fills a certain place in a person's heart that simply cannot be filled by anyone else. Ask anyone who has lost her. It feels much like the phantom itching of an amputee, reaching out to scratch a leg that is no longer there. She was so enormous, so important and irreplaceable, when she is gone, the loss is breathtaking. I know this because my husband knows. She is gone, and he will never be the same.

You, dear mother, you are the boo-boo kisser, lullaby singer, fixer of broken trucks and builder of paper airplanes. You are the one they go to in the night when their tummy hurts; the one they snuggle up with on the couch in their most innocent, tender moments. You are their strength, their soft place to land, their roots and their wings. You are a piece of your children that no one else will ever be. And that matters. It matters to your children in ways that you might not realize. It matters to those around you, as you pour yourself into your children, loving them and nurturing them, teaching them and molding them.

You may go your whole mothering life and never get the thanks you deserve. The people around you might never understand or appreciate what it is you do. Or they might. But your worth, your value, your dignity as a person don't hinge on them. It isn't the size of your paycheck or the grades your kids get that make you worthy. You are worthy simply because you are, because you exist. You are a totally unique and irreplaceable human being and God loves you with a love that defies the understanding of our comparatively small hearts.

And your children? They love you almost that much.

However it is that you fill your days; whatever you'd write on a resume or in a letter to an old friend - you matter. You matter to those kids who call you Mommy. The very mundane tasks of caring for a family are so very, very valuable. The hard and unglamorous work of mothering - the dirty diapers, soccer games, messy faces, misplaced socks, piles of laundry, snotty noses, Curious George books, and toys on the floor - those things feel so terribly ordinary, and yet are so terribly important.

Mothers, you are the glue that holds us all together. With your love and care, each generation of humans rise up to inhabit this earth. It is at your hands, and figurative apron strings, that these little people grow up and become our replacements. That matters.

You matter. And the next time you question your worth, question your decisions or question your value, look into the eyes of one of those extraordinary little people you gave your heart to, and I promise you, you will see it. You'll see that you matter, and that what you do has value and great worth.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Monster Green Smoothie

This is super random, but has me rather excited. I am on a mission to feed my family better. Rather than being one of those sexy super spy missions that requires a black spandex bodysuit and lots of tiny gadgets, this mission looks more like me sitting at the computer a lot. I read a lot about nutrition, and I search for new recipe ideas a little bit obsessively. But feeding a family with three children who have not been raised on 100% healthy food for their entire lives, and a husband who has some, ahem, pickiness issues, is a challenge. Perhaps if I'd been one of those moms who never pulls through a McDonald's and whose kids have never had anything with sugar in it, I'd have them happily eating nothing but broccoli and brussels sprouts. Alas, I am not that mom, and my kids will chose crappy chicken nuggets over almost anything else, any day of the week.

I've had a recent success, however, and when I come up with a recipe or food idea that is not sugar laden, and all three of them will eat, I get a little excited.

Enter the Monster Green Smoothie!

(I totally made that name up just now)

There's really nothing revolutionary about this recipe, and I'm sure you'll find numerous versions of a green smoothie that are basically the same. So to say I "created" this isn't quite accurate. Mostly, I just threw a bunch of stuff in a blender and hoped for the best. But this combination has proved to be delicious, and although it does contain orange juice as a base (aka, sugar), it is healthy enough for my liking.

And my kids are drinking these with breakfast. Cue Hallelujah Chorus in my head.

Monster Green Smoothie

  • Handful of spinach and kale
  • Lime juice
  • Coconut milk
  • 1/2 to 1 ripe avocado
  • Frozen banana chunks
  • Orange juice
  • Lemon juice
  • A few ice cubes

Short version of the directions: throw it in a blender and turn on.

Longer version:
I blend the spinach and kale first, with a few squirts of lime juice and enough coconut milk to get it to blend. The lime juice cuts down any bitterness in the green stuff.
Once it is nicely liquefied, I add the other ingredients - the avocado makes it creamy and adds healthy fats, frozen banana is awesome in smoothies, and they like them really cold so I still add a couple ice cubes. Grayson came up with the idea to add a squirt of lemon juice, and usually another squirt of lime juice, at the end. The kids seem to think those little squirts of acidity to be essential, but bet they can be left out and probably not alter the flavor a whole lot. Add enough orange juice to get a good smoothie consistency and blend away.

I have a Ninja Kitchen Prep, which is a pretty cool blender, but not one of those crazy expensive ones, and it blends everything up just fine.

The smoothie ends up a fabulous green color, and it is full of some good stuff - and best of all, my kids happily slurp them up. This has vegetables in it, people. That is huge.

I realized I probably should have taken a picture, because blog posts look better with pictures, but I didn't and my kids already drank theirs down. If I think about it, I'll add one later, but chances are I won't - so I submit the lack of picture as evidence of this smoothie's yumminess - gone too quick to photograph!

Friday, September 20, 2013

How we "do" history, and an early middle ages booklist

History is a favorite subject of mine. There was a time I thought I'd be a history major, naturally going on to teach in a prestigious academic setting, igniting young minds with the passion for learning from the past and appearing on gritty History Channel documentaries as the resident expert on the Middle Ages.

Too far? Yeah, probably.

In any case, I love history, and I'd like it if my kids at least had a passing interest in it. There are so many great stories, interesting people, and fascinating events. But how should we study history with kids 8 and under? This isn't really the time for in-depth analysis, and I'm not big on memorizing names and dates. And, given that this year my mantra is "Keep it Simple," grandiose plans that include building ourselves thatched roof cottages in the backyard probably aren't the best idea.

Besides, Trogdor the Burninator might show up.

(Please, please comment if you're geeky enough to get that reference).

Enter my strategy for completely fabulous, yet very simple history studies. This is something even non-homeschooling parents can do with their kids, in the evenings or whenever you have some family time. Are you ready?


Yep. Just read. Seriously, there are so many amazing books out there that will bring history alive for you and your kids. Books that are beautifully written, and many with lovely illustrations, that ignite the imagination and transport you back in time in a way no textbook could. (Keyword for homeschoolers: Living Books!)

Is that enough? Well, that is the quintessential homeschooling parent question, isn't it? We berate ourselves with "Is it enough?" constantly. Taking on the responsibility for educating your children does that to you.

I'll argue that yes, it is enough. Reading aloud isn't where it ends in our house, I'll be truthful about that. There is always discussion and questions about what we've read - some of it falling under what you'd call "narrations," or Julie Bogart of Brave Writer would call, "Big, Juicy Conversations." Good stuff, all of it, but none of it has required fill-in-the-blank worksheets or memorizing dates or reading comprehension questions. And we are making a very simple timeline notebook this year, which I'll probably detail in another post. But the bulk of how we're studying history is really that simple - reading great books.

What are these great books you speak of, you ask? Ok, so maybe you aren't asking, but I'm telling nonetheless. I won't list everything I have lined up for the year, because that would be prohibitively long. So I'll start with our first "Unit," if you will, and I'll share what we read on later topics and time periods as we go. Right now, we're reading about the early middle ages - from around the fall of the western Roman Empire to about the 8th century - covering things like the Celts, monks and monasteries and the preservation of knowledge, and King Clovis.

To that end, we're reading:

A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich
This is our "spine," if you will. I organized our other reading to correspond with chapters from A Little History. We started with Chapter 19, The Starry Night Begins. Once we read that, we started on our other books.

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane
About a monk who isn't satisfied with the plain brown inks his monastery uses to copy books, this gives a poetic look into the life of early monks. Brother Theophane is something of a misfit, but his imagination and ingenuity turn books into works of art.

The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica
Beautifully illustrated by Tomie de Paola, this story follows the lives of Saint Benedict and his twin sister Saint Scholastica. Benedict wrote the Rule of St. Benedict, a set of rules for life in a monastery that is still in use today.

Brigid's Cloak
Brigid's Cloak is a lovely ancient Irish legend. Brigid's mother receives a blue cloak for her daughter when she is born, and it has a surprising purpose in Brigid's life.

Celtic Fairy Tales
I picked this book up years ago at Half Price books for a few bucks, and I'm so glad I did. This is a lovely book with some wonderful Celtic stories.

Saint Patrick, Patron Saint of Ireland
Did you know Saint Patrick wasn't Irish? Knock me down with a mug of green beer, I had no idea. He was born a Roman citizen in Britain. This book tells the fascinating tale of his life and how he wound up the patron saint of Ireland.

Caedmon's Song
Based on the true story of Caedmon, who became the first English poet. Caedmon was a cowherd who froze every time it was his turn to sing a song. This gives a nice look into the world of oral tradition, poetry and song.

Across a Wild and Dark Sea
A legendary tale of the exploits of Columcille, also known as Columbia, an Irish monk, revered in Celtic history.

Favorite Medieval Tales
This treasure of a book has versions of many famous tales of the middle ages, adapted for children. We just read Beowulf. Beowulf, people! Do you know how thrilling it is, to read Beowulf to your little boys? They eat this stuff up with a spoon. (And like I said - adapted for children, so it is quite abbreviated and not nearly as graphic). The book also includes tales such as The Sword in the Stone, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Robin Hood and the Chanticleer and the Fox. Good stuff here.

Brendan the Navigator
This book explores the mystery of whether Saint Brendan "discovered" America, long before Columbus or even the Vikings. It relates some legends of Brendan, and gives a nice look at how things that are legend may indeed originate in truth, and how sometimes history is still a mystery.

The Sword in the Tree
This is David's chapter book of the moment, a story taking place in the era of king Arthur.

And audio stories! If you're actually still reading (phew!, nice job!), and if you haven't heard of Jim Weiss, you can thank me later. Jim Weiss is a fantastic storyteller who has audio stories of all kinds. You can buy MP3 downloads (easy and instant!), or CDs. We've listened to everything from American Tall Tales to Bible stories to stories from Ancient Egypt. So far this year, we've added:

Celtic Treasures
Dashing legends from the ancient Celts - Finn MacCoul, Cuchulain and more. These are a lot of fun.

King Arthur and His Knights
These tell the stories of Arthur and the sword in the stone, Excalibur and the story of Sir Percival. Lots of fun without a lot of the more adult drama that comes later in the tale. In other words, you won't find yourself having to explain the world "adultery" or what on earth Lancelot and Guinevere were up to.

So that's our look at the early middle ages. We'll be diving into the next phase soon, with stories of Charlemagne and a look at the world of the Vikings next!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Art and Music Fridays

I'm trying something new this year - Art and Music Fridays. I've seen different variations on this theme from other homeschoolers, so this certainly isn't an idea I take credit for. I looked at how our days and weeks flow and instead of trying to cram things like art projects, artist study, music appreciation and so forth, into our mornings as an "I hope we get to this regularly" subject, I thought we'd try putting aside our regular work on Fridays and focusing on something else.

Art and Music Fridays doesn't quite encapsulate all of what I have on the agenda for Fridays, but "Art and Music and Freewriting and Games" is a bit of a mouthful. Fridays will be a day for things like art projects, as well as learning about music and great artists. We'll also do some things like freewriting, and playing some language and math games.

I'm hopeful that having a day that is set aside for something different, and admittedly more fun (despite my pie in the sky hopes that ALL our learning is super fun, darnit), will be a refreshing end to the week and help keep us from experiencing too much burnout as the year progresses. Sometimes you just have to put away the regular stuff and do something else!

I also love what Charlotte Mason, a 19th century British educator whose writings are popular in the homeschooling world, had to say about providing children with a "feast of ideas." We can draw from everything from great books to beautiful art to lovely music, and it gives the child a feast for their mind and heart. So often, providing the feast takes a backseat to making sure our kids know their math facts and grammar - even at home where we aren't faced with the teaching-to-the-test dilemma so prevalent in public schools.

So bring on the feast!

Here are some of the resources I'm using to help make this happen. I like a bit of handholding, because it makes it more likely I'll follow through with these ideas, but much of this would be easy to organize and put together on your own, for free.

Artist Study
Picture Study Portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason. These come with prints to look at, as well as a biography of the artist. We're beginning our year with Monet. This is one of those things that isn't hard to pull together on your own, but I decided having it all done for me was worth it. I'm also including a few children's books from the library, such as The Magical Garden of Claude Monet and Monet Paints a Day. We'll spend the next couple of months learning about Monet and looking at his art, then move on to another artist.

I'm using the SQUILT curriculum from Homegrown Learners. We'll be focusing on the Baroque period (and I'm hopeful she'll come out with more soon!). SQUILT is Super Quiet UnInterrupted Listening Time. Again, this kind of music appreciation isn't hard to put together on your own, but I am in love with having it all laid out for me, including YouTube links and notebooking sheets for the kids to fill out. We'll be learning about different Baroque composers, as well as things like dynamics, tempo, rhythm, instrumentation and mood.

Art projects
I have a handful of books, and a mess of stuff on my Pinterest boards to draw from. I also recently discovered Art for Kids, which is a FABULOUS site with lots of great (and many simple and not super messy) projects. Deep Space Sparkle is another great website for art lessons. The book Discovering Great Artists has art projects that introduce the style of great artists, so we'll definitely be doing some of those that tie into our artist studies as well.

We do some freewriting a la Bravewriter (have I mentioned I'm a Bravewriter fan?). David is really the only one participating in this writing exercise, and in the spirit of setting a good example, I write with him. We pick a topic, set a timer for five minutes, and write without stopping until time is up. There are no rules, except you keep writing the whole time, and no correcting of errors. We just write. If he wants to (which he always does) we share what we wrote. As the year progresses, we'll use the freewriting exercise to help with writing projects as well.

Math games
We use Right Start Math, so there are TONS of games built right into the curriculum. The hard part is making time for them. The games are fun, and wonderful for practicing math facts and working with numbers. Even if you don't use Right Start, you can get their book of math games. I highly recommend them!

Word games
Bravewriter has suggestions for word games using magnetic poetry. We also have Scrabble, and I'd like to add Bananagrams to our repertoire. I recently found Star Wars mad libs and about died. Mad libs are fun and a good way to reinforce parts of speech, but Star Wars mad libs? Are you kidding me? If you have a Star Wars fan, get thee to a store and buy some, stat.

So that's our plan. There will be some Fridays where we have other activities, and as always, our routine is ever evolving. But the kids were pretty excited to have something different to do today, so if the very first week of school is any indication, this should be a hit.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

And we're off!

First day of school! First day of school! (I can't help but read that in the voice of Nemo)

Today marked the first day of our school year, here at the very prestigious Frank Academy of Awesomeness. We had a rather, ahem, busy summer and I think all of us are happy to be settling back into a normal routine.

I seem to have done a fair job of prepping our work, at least for the beginning of the year, because there was a definite lack of, "Oh, we need that today?" or "I guess we aren't doing that project now," from me. Books are on the shelves, notebooks are ready, science supplies are, well not organized per se, but at least all in one place in a big tote, and our first day was actually rather relaxed.

Without further ado, obligatory first-day-of-school photos!

My big third grader. He wanted an "action shot" so he grabbed the pencil sharpener :).

First grade!!! I can hardly believe it. Grayson with his beloved jaguar and blankies.

Yes, this is what she chose to wear today. Awesome.

My three sillies

Oh my goodness, one of me! I'm usually behind the camera, but this shot is courtesy of David.
Happy school year everyone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bedtime drama and the permanent sleepover

Shortly before we moved, the kids wanted to have a "sleepover" in the boys' room. With all the craziness of moving, and being summer and all, we figured, why not? So we threw a mattress on their floor and Ella started sleeping in there. We thought it would be for a night or two, but they kept it up until we moved and asked if they could keep sleeping in the same room in the new house.

We figured it was a decent enough idea. They were going to bed (mostly) ok all together, and we figured we could have them all sleep in one room and put toys in the other bedroom. This house is laid out very differently from our old one, and the bedrooms are considerably smaller, so we were struggling a little to figure out toy storage (the fact that they have *that* many toys is not lost on me, even though I swear we donated a TON before we moved). Having a "playroom" and a "bedroom" seemed like it would solve some storage problems. What the heck?

No, seriously, what the heck?

Now that we're attempting to get back to a normal routine, which includes going to bed at a decent time, I am questioning my sanity in allowing the three of them to share a bedroom. We have not had one single night where they all went to bed, were quiet, and stayed in bed until morning. Usually it is Grayson and Ella (sharing the bottom bunk) who are up to all sorts of shenanigans and David is the one getting up to rat them out. But at this point, I'm getting ready to haul her bed up to the other bedroom and be done with it.

And yet...

Last night they came out together because their fan (for white noise) had suddenly turned off. They figured out on their own that the plug had simply come loose and fallen out of the socket, but it startled them and they needed some hugs. Ok, fair enough. And as I was inwardly imagining tying them to their beds with duct tape sighing a heavy sigh for yet another out-of-bed-after-bedtime experience, they all hugged and kissed me goodnight. They then all clasped hands and walked back to their bedroom together, giving each other little hugs and squeezes as they went.

And then...

The tiny, sweet chorus of "I love you's," not directed at me, but at each other, as the entered their bedroom and headed back to bed.

Those silly little people, they love each other a lot. They bicker a little and fight sometimes, like siblings can do, but mostly they get along and they really love each other. They even like each other, which is something else entirely when you're talking about brothers and sisters. They didn't beg us to keep sharing a room so they could get on my nerves with their bedtime antics; they simply like being together.

In this new place, they're taking comfort in each other. Now, the little turkeys need to sleep and they need to go to bed without so much drama, and I'm hopeful we'll get there. But I don't know that I want to separate them at this point. They need each other, and they know it, and I want to encourage those relationships in any way I can. I love how close they are.

Just when you're ready to tear your hair out in frustration, kids will do something so impossibly sweet, you can't resist them....

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tips for moving with kids

I'm very happy to report that THE GREAT MOVE OF 2013 is almost entirely finished. I think we almost died a few times, but thankfully God had mercy on us and we survived. Mostly. I wish I could say with any sort of seriousness that we are never. moving. again. Alas, we'll be doing this all over again in a year or two. This is definitely a lesson in keeping tomorrow's worries for tomorrow because the thought of doing this all again makes me break out in hives. For real.

In any case, since we did just survive a move with kids, and one that had us packing up after having lived in the same home for nearly a decade, I have a few tips to share for those of you foolish enough faced with moving. I figure most people think of the basics - things like, start organizing and cleaning out closets early, check for used moving boxes on Craigslist, and so forth. So I thought I'd share some slightly less common tips for moving, especially if you have children.

1. Put a sign up somewhere prominent that says, in very large, clear letters, "IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHERE IT IS, IT IS PACKED." Below that, in smaller lettering, you might include, "Why? Because we are moving." Then you can direct every question about where some particular item is to the sign, saving you at least some wear and tear on your vocal chords. Somehow, despite the fact that your house is full of moving boxes, half the furniture is cleared out, and you've read every picture book ever written about moving to your kids, they will still ask, at least 800 times a day, if you know where to find their blue truck or white teddy bear or Lego instructions to make the Hobbit Warg Attack set. Instead of allowing yourself to become exasperated with answering the same question multiple times a day, simply point to the sign. And if you have children who don't read yet, you can accomplish the same thing with some cute clip art pictures. I'm filing this one under "do this next time," because I didn't think of it until it was too late, and found myself rather frustrated with the results.

2. Bring your sign to the new house and post it prominently (and perhaps make two) because questions about where particular items are will undoubtedly begin 10 seconds after you walk in the door, even while people are still hauling boxes and furniture into your new house, the whole place is in chaos and nothing is even remotely close to being put away.

3. This one might sound crazy, but if you have a day of work to be done (such as, cleaning your old house from top to bottom) and your kids are going to be with you, a new Lego set can buy you a few hours uninterrupted work time. Yes, I realize giving your kids something with 8 billion little parts during a time you are trying to pack and move and clean sounds crazy. But, at least for my kids, a new Lego set means hours (not minutes, as with so many toys) of occupied time. There is the initial build time, and then lots of time playing with it afterwards. If the thought of breaking out a new Lego set during a move makes you question my sanity, the principle applies to a lot of toys - the novelty of something new and interesting can give you some much needed packing/working/cleaning time.

4. When you can, enlist the kids' help. My kids did great with things like spraying weeds in the patio cracks with homemade weed killer (vinegar, salt and dish soap, thankyouverymuch Pinterest), and wiping walls with those magic erasers. Seriously, magic erasers are not only magic because they work pretty well in getting walls clean, but magic because the kids think they are super fun to use. You can go behind them and clean up the streaky parts later.

5. Ella had a lot of concerns about what we'd be taking to the new house. It was helpful, and reassuring, to walk around and point out the things we were bringing with us. It was a little bit tedious, as she needed to point out every last small thing she could find and ask, "Are we taking THIS to the new house?" But indulging a little child's curiosity and helping ease her anxiety was time well spent. Yes, we are taking the pink kitty. No, we aren't taking the closet door. Yes, we are taking the box of baby doll clothes. No, we aren't taking the toilet.

6. Plan ahead for things like where you'll sleep and what clothes you'll wear, during the big moving days. We used Door to Door Moving and Storage, so they put moving pods in our driveway, we filled them, they picked them up and dropped them off at our new house. That whole process definitely does not happen in a day, so we had to be without our stuff for a couple of days. We had to make sure we thought ahead and kept out things like sleeping bags, air mattresses and overnight bags with a couple days' changes of clothes. Otherwise, we would have found ourselves with nowhere to sleep and nothing clean to wear - not a happy prospect when you're no longer a carefree couple with no one to worry about but yourself (ahem... like last time we moved).

7. Lower your standards for a while. My kids have watched an enormous amount of TV and played more levels of Candy Crush and Angry Birds than I want to admit, even to myself. But we have been in survival mode for the last couple of weeks and sometimes the magical screen of flashing light needs to babysit the kids so you can get things done. I don't usually want to rely on massive amounts of screen time, but in the short term, you kind of do what you gotta do and let go of the guilt. It won't last forever and I don't think their brains will melt.

8. Finally, don't forget to pack your sense of humor and ability to breathe deeply. Or should I say, don't pack them so they are easily accessible and not buried in a box in the garage. The past couple of weeks were seriously busy and hectic and stressful and above all, exhausting. We had days on end of packing, loading, moving, cleaning, and then doing it all over again. It was a huge amount of work, but letting myself get snippy with the kids and slipping into "grumpy Mom" certainly wasn't going to help.

And when all else fails, go out for ice cream.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Pinterest fail? Or fabulous?

The other day me and the kidlets were hanging out, doing our thing and I had the brilliant idea to take one of those many ideas I have pinned on Pinterest and, you know, actually do it. Go me. So I take a peek at the blog post I pinned, and find the instructions to do shaving foam marbling. It is simple enough - a tray, some shaving cream and food coloring. Swirl the food coloring in the shaving cream a bit and then lay some paper over the top. The color is supposed to stick to the paper, making a nice marbling effect. Once it dries, you can cut up the paper and make fun things with it. I had all the supplies, a nice sunny day so we could work outside, and three kids eager to have some fun.

Here's where I say I really wish I would have had my camera out from the beginning, as if I knew I'd want to blog about this little project later. I'd love to have pictures of the kids as they started to swirl the shaving foam around, mixing the colors a little.

The next picture might be a close up of the foam with the food coloring mixing in; maybe another of their little fingers trailing along, making a totally unique pattern, impossible to replicate.

Here, I'd show them gently laying a piece of crisp, white paper along the top of the shaving cream, and lifting it, ever so carefully, revealing the amazing work of art underneath. I'd finish up with some neat shots of all their various pieces, lovingly set aside with little river rocks to hold them down in the sun to dry.

But wait, that was how I thought the project might progress.

Instead, they did this:

And this:

And this:

Yes, instead of swirling the shaving foam gently and carefully imprinting it onto paper, they started squishing it in their hands, and that felt pretty neat. So they smeared it up their arms, and that was even more fun. Shaving cream demands a beard, so they painted their faces. And since their arms were already covered, why not their legs as well? Pretty soon they were covering themselves in green-tinted shaving cream from head to toe.

And then they thought they looked a lot like zombies, so they did this:

And this:

And then Ella chased her brothers around, moaning, "Brains! Brains!" Honestly, I have no idea why my not-yet-four-year-old daughter knows about zombies, nor that they moan and say, "Brains!" I swear, we're not letting them watch zombie movies.

So what do you do with three kids who are covered from head to toe, quite literally, in shaving cream? Turn on the sprinkler, of course!


The sprinkler got the worst of it off, but I did have to hose them down myself before they could go back inside. I'm not gonna lie, that was pretty fun. For me, I mean.

Our project didn't quite turn out the way I was expecting, but hey, they had a blast anyway. And really, I should have known. Shaving cream + sunshine + outside just has to = big giant mess. These are my children we're talking about.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hard to say goodbye

There are so many reasons I don't want to say goodbye to this home and community. Today was a big one.

Our lovely homeschool group hosted a picnic for us. As I looked over the RSVP list last night, it hit me how many great friends we have all made since we started out with this group two years ago. My kids have made such good friends, and I have too! Over the last several months I have thought more than once that I need to quit meeting so many great people I want to hang out with - it is making it too hard to leave!

We had a great day at the park. My sweet friend Liberty put it together, and even brought stuff for root beer floats for everyone. So fun! The kids ran around together and had such a good time.

Totally stole this picture from Liberty, who posted it on Facebook.

Although we are only moving about an hour and a half away, it is far enough that we'll be out of the regular gatherings and meetups of our group. We won't be going to our nature club every other week or seeing friends at park days or museum trips or the zoo. We aren't moving so far that it would be impossible to see them again, but far enough that it won't be a regular thing anymore. And that's hard.

David and Grayson with their good friend, Holly.

People have told me that it is great that I'm homeschooling during this move because my kids don't have to change schools. That is true, but this means we're starting from scratch in terms of a homeschooling support system, community and friends. With school, you hope they will make friends with kids in their class, even if it is hard at first to be the new kid. With homeschooling, you don't have that ready-made way of finding other kids to hang out with. You have to work harder to create that social network.

My homeschool group has shown me that the work is well worth it.

Climbing "the hill" is always a favorite at this park.

This group of people have been so fun and supportive and accepting of each other.They've been so welcoming and I will always treasure the friendships I have made. My kids are going to miss their homeschool friends so much.

And that's the crux of it, right there - what makes this so hard. I will still get to keep up with my homeschool mom friends online. We're all on Facebook and they can read this here blog and we can stay connected, even if we go months without seeing each other. My kids? They will be far more disconnected from their friends. My kids aren't on Facebook and they don't have their own phones - and neither do their homeschool friends. They will only see their homeschool friends when we, the parents, make the effort to get together. And I hope that will happen once in a while - but I also know life gets busy and it probably won't happen nearly as often as we'd all like.

Playing in the water is fun!

Whatever the future holds for us, I'm grateful for the wonderful group of families that added fun, excitement and friendship to our last couple of years. And thankful for the Internet, so they can't get away completely!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

For those of us who fail at chore charts

One of the bittersweet realities of parenting is that you're preparing your children to leave you. As much as I like to dream of them being little forever (and always thinking I'm the coolest person ever), they are going to grow up. And when they do, I'd like them to be able to take care of themselves.

This is one of those areas of life where what I believe in theory is often different than what happens in practice. I believe that kids should contribute to the running of the household in an age appropriate manner. I believe kids should learn to do things for themselves as they are able. I believe kids should have responsibilities and be helpful and do meaningful work in their home.

The biggest obstacle to achieving that with my kids is most certainly ME.

Yep. This girl, right here.

The best way, that I can envision, to make sure they know how to take care of themselves and contribute to the family in a meaningful way, is to be consistent. Come up with a system, or at least a set of expectations, and stick to it. Do it daily. Be more like that mom, who can keep her house beautifully clean with the help of her little minions, checking off their ten daily chores on their Pinterest-inspired, vintage, hand-made chore charts.

I fail at chore charts.

Why? Because I'm kinda lazy. I'm not great at being consistent with housework by myself, let alone when you add in the drama that comes with trying to make kids do it. And yet, I know I'm doing my kids a disservice by not making them do more around the house. I've even tried to tackle this problem before, and we did great for a while. The problem is, I get lazy and inconsistent and don't really want to deal with it, so I let it slide once in while. Once in a while turns into most of the time, which turns into they don't know what the word "chores" means anymore.

I've tried chore charts and stickers and magnets and rewards. The biggest problem with all of those things is, of course, me. I don't follow up with them. I don't check them off or move the magnet or make sure the kids pay attention to them. I love the idea of chore charts - they look so nice and organized! But I have yet to implement a system that we stick with for more than a couple of days.

Seriously, why do I suck at this?
I am also resisting the urge to tell myself that I'll make everything perfect after we move. It is a trap that is all too easy to fall into. "Once we're in the new house, I will completely overhaul our lives and everything will be organized and perfect and wonderful!" Riiiiiight. Are you forgetting the chaos of boxes and unpacking and for the love of all that is good, where is the white kitty with the pink collar because she won't go to sleep without it!

But I will not give up!

My mantra this year is "simple and real." I'm not trying to win any awards for "Most Amazing Homeschooling Mom." I just want to find ways to accomplish the things I think are important. One of those things is getting my kids to do chores. I don't expect them to love it, or flit cheerfully around with their Swiffer dusters and cleaning rags (although they do love those dusters, let me tell ya). I do expect them to help with the things that need to be done to have a nice home to live in. And that has to start with me.

Although I don't have a solid plan, here's what I know:

KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid (that "stupid" is not directed at you, but squarely back at me). Fancy isn't going to get the job done around here, regardless of how nice it looks in photos. If I go with any kind of chore chart or routine, it needs to be simple.

Give the kids ownership: I think a solution that puts the responsibility for checking off their chores on the shoulders of the kids is the way to go. If I'm the one who has to keep up with what has been done, it won't happening consistently. Been there, done that. But maybe if they have a check box or a chore card to move, and it is their job to do it, they will actually, you know, do it.

Do chores together: This has been successful for us in the past, again, I just need to be consistent. Instead of assigning a bunch of separate chores, we all work together on something. It might be vacuuming, and we take turns with the vacuum while the others move things out of the way. The kids actually like cleaning bathrooms, with their squirt bottles of a water/vinegar solution; another thing we can work on together. There's a nice sense of working as a team that occurs if we tackle a chore as a group, rather than sending them off to do separate things. It also cuts down on the whining, negotiating, and "It isn't faaaaaiiiiiir!" that comes with assigning separate chores.

Take it slow: Better habits won't be built all at once. We can start with just one thing when we get settled in the new house. That will probably be having the boys help empty the dishwasher. Once that becomes routine, we can add something else - whatever else is simple to implement and will have an impact on our daily life. But slow and steady will build good habits - a big overhaul won't have staying power.

So what works in your home to get the kids helping, and keep things running smoothly? You know, aside from the cleaning and laundry fairy, who consistently shuns my house. No amount of clapping and chanting, "I do believe in fairies!" seems to bring her here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A friend with an urgent need - please help!

In an effort to try to get the word out in any way possible, I'm sharing this here - just in case someone else might see this.

A dear friend of mine left her abusive husband about six months ago. She is now a single mom to three young children. Her courage in leaving him was great - it was a terrible, terrible situation and it still amazes me she lived through it, and is now on the other side.

Only, she isn't really. Not yet.

Her legal fees are mounting rapidly. He has caused her to spend an enormous amount of money already (with incessant phone calls, emails and requests to her lawyer, which her lawyer has to respond to, and thus charges her for), and now he is trying to get custody of the children. This man, who abused her in every way imaginable for over a decade is still trying to victimize her. Because of the protection order, he can't get to her physically, so he's going for her where it really hurts - their children.

She needs to raise $1200 by Monday the 12th. Because of his constant emails and phone calls to her lawyer, she's spent all her money and more. There is an important hearing on the 12th and it is critical that she continue to have legal representation. This man CANNOT get custody of those children. She needs help so she can continue to protect herself, and them, from his violence and abuse.

Please consider donating to help her with her legal fees. This is a chance to help a family in need - a family who has already suffered so much. Please consider helping, and sharing on Facebook, Twitter, your blog - anything. The more the word gets out, the more people who can possibly come to her aid.

I know her - she is a dear friend and in desperate need of help. Please consider it. The link is below.

Thank you!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The weight of all this stuff

It is only a couple weeks until our moving day, and I am knee deep the process of sorting, organizing cleaning out and packing... everything.

We've been here for over 8 years, and it is rather astonishing how much junk one family can amass in that time. It almost makes me feel a little ashamed. There is so much waste around me; things that sat useless for years, taking up space and weighing us down. We've already taken two loads of donations to our local St. Vincent de Paul store, and there is likely to be more. And don't even get me started on how much stuff we are simply throwing away. It makes my skin crawl, to think those bags of trash were strewn about my house. Granted, we're not talking fly infested, rotting food garbage. It is more like old, broken things that aren't worth donating. But still. How could we have produced this much stuff?

I feel the weight of these possessions, and have for quite some time. Knowing that a move was on the horizon brought the enormity of what we own into stark relief. I walk into any room in the house these days, and find myself making mental notes. "Do I want to move that?" Often the answer is no, and I'm hauling things into the garage left and right.

But how did we get so much? Why is it here? We're not huge shoppers (except for maybe Legos... and books, but books don't count). Some things are items we've had for years and no longer need, but perhaps were useful once. Others are things given to us that we can live without, or things we thought we wanted that have fallen into disuse; clothes that don't fit quite right, extra sets of sheets for a bed we no longer have, many things that seemed like we might want to have "someday" so we kept them around. It is easy to do that when you have space, and aren't moving.

The truth is, at least in part, that I'm kind of lazy and tend towards procrastination. I tuck things away to deal with "later." But later didn't come until we decided we needed to move, and now later is most certainly here. And I have eight years of junk to sift through.

I'd love to say that, going forward, I will be more mindful of what we bring into our house; that I'll be willing to part with things we don't need and bless others with them. I don't know how true that is, in reality. It is a lesson in letting go, of the things that weigh us down, and I'm glad we've been forced to go through this process. In the future I need to think about the usefulness of the things we buy and bring home. Maybe we can begin to live a little more simply and not let the urge to buy and store and amass so many things overtake us.

We shall see.

In the meantime, the process continues. I'll keep tackling rooms, cupboards, closets and shelves and weed out what we don't need. Hopefully as we unpack in the new house, I won't be left wishing I would have downsized more.

Except for books. They still don't count.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

When you are raising a worrier

My oldest, David, is a worrier. He worries about the strangest things, and his worries manifest most strongly at bedtime. Lots of kids worry about monsters under the bed (and we've had that one here too). But David manages to take things to a totally different level. Over the last few years, we've dealt with worries like:

Fear that he has touched two separate substances with his hands that, when combined, form some sort of poison that has infected him through later touching his food.

Fear that Mom has been abducted by aliens and replaced with a robot Mom that looks and acts exactly like the real Mom; and is, of course, lying when she insists she is the real Mom.

Fear that bad guys will climb through his second story window, in the front of the house, using a ladder, to go downstairs and steal things, hauling them back upstairs, through his second story window, and down the ladder again, waking him in the process.

Fear that he only maintains breathing, and therefore life, by sheer force of will and when he falls asleep his body will forget to breathe and he'll suffocate.

I could go on and on. It is really rather heartbreaking, and simultaneously maddening to deal with. The thing about a kid with anxiety, no matter what you tell them, they don't feel better. You can't "talk away" their worries, or tell them to "just calm down." They probably want to calm down, and really wish they could, but they are completely terrified and don't know what to do about it.

After struggling with this off and on for the last several years, I did what I tend to do when faced with a perplexing problem. I bought a book. I found What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety. The reviews were good, so I figured we'd give it a shot.

If you have a child struggling with anxiety, I definitely recommend "What to Do When You Worry Too Much". It is an interactive workbook that you read and work through with your child. Right off the bat, David felt so much better when he realized, "I'm not the only kid who worries too much!" I assured him there are kids who face far bigger, and more frequent worries than he does. He was even amazed to learn that his Daddy used to be a big worrier as a child too. There's certainly something about realizing you have a shared experience that makes a challenge feel a lot less daunting.

Some of our big take-aways from working through this book:

Talking endlessly about worries makes them worse
Talking about the worries and answering the endless string of what we started to call "worry questions" doesn't help - it does the opposite. I couldn't figure out why he wanted to ask me, every single night, if monsters are real, if he's been poisoned, if he's going to stop breathing, etc. The answers didn't seem to do any good, because he'd continue worrying about the same things, no matter how much we reassured him. Talking about the worries and answering all his questions was like feeding them, making them grow in his mind. That was an eye opener for him as well, and has proven to be quite true. When we don't spend time talking about his worries (at bedtime), we don't feed them and make them worse.

"Scheduled" time to talk them over can be helpful
Giving the child a time to talk about their worries when they aren't in the grips of anxiety is helpful, as long as you don't allow worry questions at any other time. We had to go cold turkey with the worry questions at night, but after the first night passed and nothing terrible happened, he started to realize that his worries were more pronounced at bedtime, and talking about them during the day made them seem silly.

Use logic
Kids can understand logic. One of the first things you learn to do in the book is "use logic." I find myself repeating that to David quite often. He'll ask about something that scared him, or some other elaborate scenario he's concocted, and I respond with, "What do you think? Use logic." He'll think it through, and realize that yes, every night he does continue breathing, therefore he has every reason to believe tonight will be no different (or whatever the case may be). It doesn't always work, but often logic is a good first line of defense when the irrational worries start to grow.

Kick out the worry bully
The book also likens worries to bullies that are mean and lie to make you scared. You can kick the worry bully out, stomp on it and make it leave. We've practiced talking back to the worry bully ("Be quiet! You're lying! I won't listen to you!"). We've pretended to flick it off his shoulder and stomp on it. There's something about making the worries something that is outside the child that can be kicked out that seems to be empowering.

The book goes into more detail, and has a lot more suggestions and techniques. It has taken some work, but David's bedtime worries have definitely begun to improve. If you have a child who worries a lot, something like this might be really helpful.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Preschool planning, and considering your needs

Looking to the year ahead with the littlest of my learners, I have been stuck in a quandary. On a philosophical level, I subscribe to the notion that you don't need a preschool curriculum to successfully "do preschool" at home with your 3 or 4 year old. When I think of purchasing a preschool curriculum, the first thing that springs to mind is a package designed to push academics too early on a little child (although of course they aren't all like that). I want preschool to be full of fun, and reading great books, and doing crafts and messy art projects. I think to myself, "I can pull that together on my own. I don't need a curriculum to follow!"

So I've labored under that premise - that preschool should be simple and fun, and I don't need a curriculum to accomplish that.

Ask me how that's been working for me.

The problem here, is that I have two other kids and I tend to make a lot of modifications to their work. I don't follow a program to the T (except for math), and that requires a lot of preparation. What am I not good at? Preparation. I've said before, I'm great at big picture planning, and rather lousy at short term preparation.

My vision for preschool requires a LOT of preparation. What it winds up looking like, in practice, is something like this.

Ella: "Mommy, I want to do school wiv you!"

Me: "Um... ok honey," as I begin shuffling through some papers, wondering if I have anything ready to go. I laugh out loud, because the idea that I'm prepared is THAT hilarious. "Just a second, let me see what we can do today..." and I trail off as I wrack my brain to think of something that might work. I know I had some ideas... where's that Pinterest board...

So while I am perfectly capable of coming up with fun preschool-ish ideas to work on with her, with everything else I have to plan, prep and execute, I could use a little help.

In my internal insistence that I don't need a preschool curriculum, I was forgetting a key principle in homeschool planning - considering our actual needs, in this moment. It is fine and dandy to feel that preschool doesn't need to be formal and have a desire to emphasize fun over pushing academics. But what does our family need this coming year? I have two older kids working at different levels, and a little girl who very much wants to be like her big brothers and do schoolwork with Mommy. Looking at the books and resources I'd gathered to use with her, I realized that being prepared for the coming school year (something I am working hard on improving) was going to take a tremendous amount of work. While other moms I know are great at this stuff, the idea of getting a box in the mail with a manual and supplies sent shivers of relief up my spine.

I doubt I'll use a preschool curriculum completely as written, but imagine - a book that will tell me, "Here, do this," and a materials package that gives me the alphabet cards and stencils and stickers and worksheets, all ready to go. Could I make a set of alphabet and number cards for her to use? Sure, I could. But if I don't have to? I feel the stress melting away already.

That was the final bit that made me realize a preschool curriculum was the way to go. As I looked over what is included, I felt far more relaxed and confident of my ability to pull off this school year. Anything that actually lowers my stress level is worth it's weight in... well, in chocolate at least.

Hip Homeschool Hop Button

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The truth about curriculum planning

One of my favorite parts of homeschooling is research and planning. I know, I know, I'm supposed to say it's all the quality time with my kids or watching their eyes light up with wonder as we discover new things. Sure, those are great and all, but give me something to research and I'm a happy camper. It's a bit of a disease.

No, really. It's like crack to me.

In the beginning, the choices are overwhelming. You start searching and come to realize that there is no one way to do this homeschooling thing. There are about a billion. Or so. There are full package curriculums that include everything for an entire grade level. There are subject-specific choices. There are methods and styles that differ. And there are more reviews, recommendations, books, blog posts and articles than you could possibly read in a lifetime.

Believe me, I have tried.

Eventually you start to narrow it down. You're attracted to a particular style, or perhaps a melding of two or three styles of homeschooling. You can eliminate certain options based on your goals, your teaching style, your kids' personalities and learning styles. Some choices begin to stand out and your list shortens.

And then, just when you think you're getting somewhere, someone on your homeschooling Facebook page posts about a new book they found, or asks for reviews of curriculum you haven't seen yet. Cue what I have dubbed "HPIADD" - Homeschool Planning Induced Attention Deficit Disorder.

Oooh, shiny!

You absolutely MUST research this new option. After all, it might very well be the perfect fit! This could be the curriculum you've been waiting for! The book that will meet your every need and ensure massive amounts of delighted learning on the parts of your children, while you flit from child to child, looking stunning in your tea length circle skirt and kitten heels with the smell of from-scratch brownies wafting in from your sparkling clean kitchen.

You will love my brownies, OR ELSE.

Alas, you discover that your latest rabbit trail has led to naught, and in your fervor to uncover the Greatest Curriculum Ever, you are still wearing pajama pants and a tank top, the kids may or may not have eaten lunch, there is a  pile of dishes in the sink, and your kitchen mocks you with it's lack of sparkle and shocking lack of brownies.

Not that I would know.

I am guilty of chasing the shiny new curriculum all too often. I am getting better as I gain more experience, but I still have an irresistible urge to research and read far too much. As I work on plans for our upcoming year, I'm having to restrain myself and remember that finding a groove for US is what is important. Our homeschool isn't going to look like someone else's and just because everyone is raving about a particular curriculum, doesn't necessarily mean it is something I must spend money on. We can ease into our year, work with the plans I have made, and make adjustments from there.

Until one of my friends posts about something they are using, and I'm all... SQUIRREL!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In David's words: How I ate a Scorpion

We went to a museum and at the start, there were these suckers that had bugs in them. For example, scorpions and cockroaches and grasshoppers, and they were edible, like the carcass. After the trip to the museum, my mom let me buy a scorpion in a sucker.

At first, I was going to just lick it and keep the carcass for myself. But it started to break. So, I ate it.

It didn't taste like much. But what I did know - it was crunchy.

That is how I ate a scorpion.

By, David

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Super Sweet Blogging Award

Aw, the sweetness! I've been awarded a sweet 'lil blogger award - can you believe it? And then I went and took forever to post about it, but ah well, such is life. The very funny All Day Mom was kind enough to pass the sweetness on to me - THANK YOU! This one is a fun way to spread the bloggy love. I haven't followed the trail to discover where this one begins, but someone started by passing out the Super Sweet Blogging Award, attaching a questionnaire to it (wait for it - crazy seriousness and lots of self reflection ahead), and then winners of the award spread the sweetness by choosing 13 blogs to award it to. See how quickly that can add up? This is all exponential and stuff. Sweet.

(And yes, I'm using various forms of the word "sweet" over and over on purpose... in case that wasn't obvious).

Without further ado, my very first ever and no kidding kind of made my day, Super Sweet Blogging Award!

As these things go, there are rules attached, to keep the fun going.

1. Thank the Blogger who nominated you (yep)

2. Answer the 5 Super Sweet Questions (coming next)

3. Include the Super Sweet Blogging Award in your post (there it is)

4. Nominate a baker's dozen (13) other deserving bloggers (coming up)

5. Notify your Super Sweet nominees on their blog.

(Is this too much like a chain letter? Or one of those, "Repost if you love Jesus" things you see on Facebook all the time? I hope not.... Nah, nothing like that.)

Five Super Sweet Questions

1. Cookies or cake? Both?
I have never met a cookie or cake I didn't like. Except maybe those store bought ginger snaps - you know, those crunchy ones that make your tongue tingle? Not a huge fan. But otherwise, I gotta go with both.

2. Chocolate or vanilla?
I'm sorry, is that a serious question? Chocolate. Always chocolate.

Poor taste? Perhaps. But you know you laughed.

3. Favorite sweet treat?
Do I have to pick one? Depending on my mood... sea salt caramels, homemade chocolate chip cookies, or chocolate ice cream with caramel in it are all favorites. When I'm being less naughty, I love strawberries with fresh whipped cream.

Aaaaand, now I'm hungry.

4. When do you crave sweet things the most?
Probably when I'm tired and stressed. Or when I'm posting about sweet treats and searching for sea salt caramel pictures.

5. Sweet nickname?
My husband calls me "Girl." I know, it sound super boring, not super sweet. But it started when we were teenagers and he'd jokingly say things like, "Gee golly, Girl," in his best imitation of a preppy 1950s boy scout. Eventually, it got shortened to just "Girl."

So the last part of this here award, is to pass it on to a baker's dozen other blogs. This part was harder for me than I thought, and truthfully the real reason I have had this post sitting as a draft for so long. It isn't that I didn't have ideas for Super Sweet blogs to pass it on to - I just started overthinking what the bloggers would think when I posted my little "nomination" to their blogs. A lot of the blogs I read regularly are "Big, Important Blogs" that have huge readerships, and I balked at sending them a message from little old me. And I'm not a frequent commenter on other people's blogs these days, so I felt a bit awkward at sending messages to 13 other bloggers, who basically don't know me at all, and telling them I nominated them for this award, and if they could just follow the instructions and keep it going, that'd be greaaaat... yeah....

But I decided to stop being silly, not worry about it, and just put it out there. So if I nominated you, and you found this post, and you're like, "What the heck!?!" Sorry. But, if you're like me and you thought, "Cute and fun!" well, then you're welcome. So here we go, in no particular order, a baker's dozen of Super Sweet blogs, deserving of pink swirly cupcakes:

1. This Ain't the Lyceum
2. Amongst Lovely Things
3. Garden Tenders
4. House Unseen, Life Unscripted
5. My4kiddos
6. Toasty Marshmallows
7. Zing Day
8. Messy Wife, Blessed Life
9. Barefoot and Pregnant
10. Rebecca Frech
11. Clan Donaldson
12. Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
13. Martin Family Moments