Thursday, September 30, 2010


So tonight's post is mostly perfunctory. I am exhausted. Recovering from being sick, plus a two hour Brownie meeting, followed by late night groceries and home to kids who were still wide awake! But I'm already at the computer, sooo...

Things seem to be getting better, more solid, around here. Dad has really stepped up to the plate, it's like the whole family is home schooling! Tomorrow, trebuchet-building with Dad while mom sees her friend star in a play (Girls Night Out)! I can't wait!

Setting firmer limits, with absolutely no bribery, no guilt, and a firm but loving hand has really improved my relationship with the kids. I've known all along that kids (especially mine) appreciate and need firm limits.

My limits, up until this point, have been like Jello on a paper plate. Wiggly, kind of transparent, but when the plate breaks... LOOK OUT, there's gonna be a mess! Kids don't like messes, and neither do moms.

So no more Jello-limits. That's my mantra from here on out. My kids finally, after weeks of pushing me over the brink (who am I kidding, seven and ten years of pushing), understand that I mean business!

It's amazing how much work they get done between two o'clock and four o'clock KNOWING, beyond a shadow of a Jello mold, that they will absolutely not go out and play with the other kids when the bus arrives if their planner-work isn't finished!

And guess what? They still love me. And guess what else? I still love them... maybe even more now! (Is that wrong?) And guess what else what else? I think my husband loves ME more now. He's been pushing for my guts for years. (I openly admit, I am quite often the culprit in the spoiling game.)

Hmmmmm, do you think "unplugging" and tighter discipline (unspoiling) could possibly do what therapy, ADHD medication, chiropractic, food elimination, and herbal remedies could not? I'm starting to think it was never my SON that needed "fixing." It was me.

Hi, my name is Kara Muse... and I'm a spoiler. Recovering. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Sick Day

Don't expect anything prophetic today. Nothing incredibly deep or enlightened, instructional, comic, or inspirational. My bones feel like rubber, my eyelids like lead, and my throat like the dry underbelly of a dust-grubbing pig.

I am sick.

It was inevitable. Several very late nights with early alarm clocks and jam-packed days is a sure recipe for immuno-dysfunction. I'm there.

We all slept in until 9:30am today. My son was the first one out of bed. A very, very rare event indeed. My daughter made me breakfast (a buttery fried egg atop a wheat bagel) and hot tea. Then we all snuggled on the couch under fluffy warm blankets reading our books. Oh, joyous moment of a home schooled family's day.

Today, mostly because I was exhausted, I didn't continually pull out their planners to see how we were coming on projects. Asher stayed in his jammies until 4:00pm when I insisted he dress if he wanted to go out front and play. Cady dressed to the hilt, as usual. I donned my sweats and warm sweater, fuzzy Crocs, no makeup and purple slipper-socks.

Yeah, I'm sexy. Don't be jealous, girl.

When I sat down to write this I was thinking that we hadn't accomplished anything real today. But upon evaluation, I realize we did!

Cady wanted to make a Key Lime Pie (one of daddy's favorites). We happened to have all the ingredients, so I told her, "Go ahead. You and Asher. Not me." They made a delicious pie all by themselves. They pretended they were on a cooking show, and I watched! It was hilarious! They decided they wanted to make an actual cooking show video to put on Asher's blog. The one that I practically have to beat him into submission to write... but that's another story. (For those who don't know me, the sarcasm factor in that "beating" comment is about 99.6%!)

Then they practiced their archery and juggling sticks, which they made yesterday evening as a project for the Medieval Study. Asher initiated the Mock Meade making, and it was also delicious. The honey-saturated orangey nutmegish drink really soothed my throat, too!

Cady used fabric markers to make a t-shirt for our four-year-old neighbor boy's birthday. She also made a great card and wrote notes all over it for him. This was probably enough writing for her today, because she wrote FIVE letters yesterday all in proper letter format!

We read aloud two Canterbury Tales, and the kids practiced their parts for their respective plays. They ended the afternoon with their hands deep in dough for pizza and trenchers (the crispy bread used as a substitute for a plate in the Middle Ages). The pizza was delicious.

This paints a really rosy picture of today... and let's just say, it smelled like roses even if there were parts of the day that felt like thorns. I had to utitize my newest tool: If you aren't listening to my words, I won't speak! The kids had to miss their scouting groups as a consequence for refusing to do their work yesterday. Tears ensued... becuase they "forgot" about that. Tough. There's no more bending, and they will do their work next week if they want to go to class. There were definitely thorns in the rose garden.

I will tell you, however, that the absence of the screen-magetism has been a godsend. Since the kids have realized I am QUITE serious about the "one hour total screen time" limit, they no longer whine or have fits about it. They actually don't really even go to the screens. Asher used to run to the computer first thing in the morning, but he doesn't do that any more. Instead he found an old wooden boat that he built a long time ago and painted it! He read a book and played with the dog.

My kids are more pleasant when we are all unplugged. I like pleasant... energetic... time-consuming... arguing... fun... belly-laughing... game-inventing... growing and learning... unplugged kids!

More on my recent reads, "The Plug-in Drug" and "How to Unspoil Your Children" in tomorrow's blog! I am really excited to be the parent I want to be so my children can be all they want to be!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ebb and Flow

So I set a goal at the beginning of this endeavor... one blog post a day except Saturdays. Alas, I have not lived up to my own ambition. But that's life, right? And that's exactly why I'm home schooling. It allows you to ebb and flow with the tides of life.

There was a time when I would have beat myself up over missing those couple of days (about my homework being late or not getting 100% on a test). I would have come back on line apologizing and blubbering and making excuses about being incredibly busy, sick, tired.

I've learned that it does no-one any good to act that way, especially not yourself. I'm a bit wiser now, thank God. Imagine if we went through life with a teenager's depth of wisdom?

Today was an ebb and flow day. I wasn't feeling incredibly well, and Asher had the beginnings of a cold. So a relaxed day seemed in order.

We did things to move toward our Medieval Feast coming up this weekend. We made butter out of cream, by hand! We built and lit a bonfire. The kids were incredibly focused as they used saws to cut up branches to add to the flames. When we had nothing but a pile of coals, we cooked some chicken legs... just like Medieval people might.

The kids ran a little wild for a while, then I pulled Asher into a spiced-roasted-almond-making project. He got them in the oven... then all Hell broke loose! Neither child wanted to do ANYTHING but jump on the trampoline.

I asked them to pick something off of the list. NOPE! I told them that if they had any creative ideas I would honor them. NOPE! When I demanded they sit on the couch, calm down, and listen to me read another of the "Canterbury Tales," Cady listened. Asher freaked!

Oh, wait! One little thing I forgot to mention... after the almonds I let Asher have thirty minutes of free time on the computer!!! What's wrong with me? Where's that wisdom now? I always think, "He'll be able to handle it this time." NOPE! The screaming started when his timer went off. It went in fits and flurries until finally, after he told me to "shut up" and threw a plastic chair outside, I sent him to his room until his father came home. He was in there for an hour.

If you don't know us well, we have been dealing with Asher's mood swings for many years. We've gone from therapy to chiropractic to food elimination to magnesium supplements to more therapy and now to neurofeedback. Time to try good old fashioned stiff discipline? Methinks so. Along with screen detox.

After greeting Dad and updating him, I went up to check on Asher. He was reading his book, and some music was playing. He didn't want to talk, but he knew what he did wrong. He was released from prison, with the consequence of being grounded to the house until Thursday's dance class.

Now, don't think Cady is a princess in all of this. She still refused to finish the Medieval Fable she is writing and illustrating. If it's not done by Wednesday, she won't be going to her much-anticipated scouting group. It's time for tough love. (And time to love mine own selfeth.)

Tonight we are going to sit together and fill out our planners for tomorrow. I don't think I'll be using any more online interactive lessons. Staying away from screen stimulation seems to be a great healer for our family. We'll write letters instead of blogging. (Uh, I mean the kids will.) We'll buy math workbooks and continue to study history through library books, and science through the kitchen!

Now it's time for hot tea, maybe some popcorn, and a little cozy-up time! It's always good to end the day on a loving note.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Drastic Measures

Funny how often thoughts that have been rumbling around in your head, or just loitering in your subconscious, can sometimes pop out and smack you on the forehead. Often this happens just when you need them to do so. Universe, you are not so mysterious after all.

I went with my husband and my close girlfriend, to the screening of a documentary about the "achievement culture" called "Race to Nowhere." The kids in the film, a representation of the children in our academic culture today, were stressed to the max... and some were in the THIRD GRADE. I'm talking stomach and headaches, anxiety attacks and bouts of depression. Among the high schoolers the symptoms worsened, to anorexia and prescription drug abuse, cutting and even suicide.

Our society has gotten to a point where we judge our worth by the size of our stock portfolios, and our children's worth by the size of their GPA! Not to mention the extracurriculars, community service, AP classes and peppy attitude. Oh, and as one astute girl pointed out, somewhere in there they are supposed to find something unique about themselves. Our elementary aged children no longer have time to play... which brings me to the other brain-stalker that finally jumped out to scare me.

Not only do the reminiscent pass times of yester-youth (play, boredom, chores) have to step aside for academics to whiz by, they also have to compete with television and electronic games for valuable real estate in the world of present day childhood! As I said in yesterday's bulleted points two, three, four, and five... we need to cut the cords... to our computers, iPhones, Nintendo DS, Wii and Netflix (sweet, sweet Netflix). And I don't specifically mean the collective "we." I mean the "we" that indicates MY FAMILY. I take no ownership or responsibility for you and your family.

However, judging by my loss of control and inadvertent use of under-the-breath profanity this morning, screen time competing with "other" time (oh, and mom's authority) is not going to fly in this house any more! "One hour a day, combined all screens, NO MORE and no bartering" is going to be the new norm. Time for creativity, self-directed fascination and learning, chores, boredom, and Yahtzee...

Oh, just so you know that this idea marauder didn't just materialize out of thin air, I am reading a book called "The Plug-In Drug." An excellent and stirring read. When combined with "Race to Nowhere" it could cause drastic changes in attitudes and actions. Beware.

Okay, my final thought and then I promise I'll sign out for the night... After seeing the movie and coming home to read a few chapters in the book, I realized that I am doing no service to my children if I stress them out about their academics at home JUST as much as they would be stressed at school. I need to breathe and relax, and then they will too.

Their end of the bargain is that they remove the "false experience boxes," and my end is that I ease off and let learning flow... perhaps with just a few aqueducts and channels, and maybe a moat (we ARE studying the Middle Ages, you know)!

You read it. I said it, plain as ink on a page (or pixels on a screen). Now maybe you can help me keep myself to it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Just the Highlights

Since my biggest lesson learned today is that I NEED to prioritize my time, I am going to just do a brief bulleted list of the day's highlights:

  1. Stick to the schedule that works.
  2. TV is bad for Cady.
  3. Computer games are bad for Asher.
  4. It is absolutely essential that we refocus our family from electronics to some other unifying hobby... Like Yahtzee or Rock Climbing.
  5. We are giving away one computer to a friend who needs it right now (well, on Sunday).
  6. I need to prioritize my kids' time until they are able to do it themselves.
  7. "What the wise man does in the beginning, the fool does in the end. " -My Dad, Book of His Revelations, Chapter Two, Line Six (I am finally starting to understand.)
  8. Laundry doesn't do itself.
  9. Good friends are the foundation for a good life.
  10. My kids don't always think my "fun" projects are fun. (Ego, step aside.)

Speaking of prioritizing, I have to run and finish the renaissance dress... and now I'm crunched for time!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

iPhone to Thomas Edison: How a visit to the Village relieved my technostress.

As we were going up the stairs to start the bed time routine, my son said to me, "Mom. You're a busy lady!" Yes, yes dear. I am.

Today started out insane. I hate technology (says a girl who sits blogging while her iPhone is plugged in on the desk and her laptop is at a dear friend's home being repaired)! Okay, what I mean is that I have a love-hate relationship with techno-gadgets. While I think in some ways they make life easier (blogs, research, interactive math curriculum, Netflix... what?), I also think my relationship with my son would be much better without them.

This morning was insane because we had to set our alarms early so we could all get up and take our dog to the vet for her scheduled yearly checkup. What was I thinking? Asher and alarms? I should have known! But we made it on time. Well, mom-on-time... three minutes late!

On to the grocery store where the kids were starving and I was seriously deprived of my morning caffeine. In come the doughnuts and chocolate milk. Seriously, bad mommy moment.

One sugar rush later (and still no food or coffee down mom's gullet), I found myself witness to an epic iPhone battle! It went something like this: Asher has the phone and is playing a game (with his sticky icing fingers no less). I say, "It's time to go." Cady grabs the phone out of his hands. He grabs back and... oops... iPhone free fall! It didn't actually break, this time. But I'm glad the windows were shut.

Here's a fun kitchen-experiment for all you home schooled scientists. Take one mommy (said mommy must be empty of all caffeine and sustenance... and for best results, sleep deprived). Add one sugar-hyped ten year old and one bossy seven year old. Shake well with a "drop" of iPhone. What do you get? Instant explosion! It's really cool to watch! Everything within a twenty foot radius freezes in place!

Okay, bad mommy moment number two. (I told you this was uncensored.)

It seems to me that most arguments and temper tantrums in my house are caused by electronic devices and their hold on my children. One child in particular, but we won't name names. So what's the best medicine for an electro-overload? A day without. At Greenfield Village... another one of those Detroit gems!

I needed a break from being "teacher." After the kids made their own sub sandwiches, and I filled my travel mug with hot coffee loaded with cream (organic, of course), we were off to the village. And I was so grateful for our Henry Ford pass today! I got to be a student right alongside the kids. The first cool lesson learned was map-reading! Asher held the map, and I told the kids I would be a follower on their quest. First time reading a map, he got us safely to the candy store! Bravo!

Now I'd like you to meet some of our teachers:

Rick, the machinist, helped the children make their own brass candlesticks! I took a video of Asher doing this... but I don't know how to download it and add it to the blog post. Oops, I let the cat out of the bag (sick, sick saying). I'm not that computer savvy. But I'm okay with it.

Tinsmith Lady (whose name I have forgotten). She thought my kids were so thoughtful and inquisitive that she gave them a special little "gift" as we were leaving. (Shhhhh, it a secret.)

Then there was Bob, the gentleman who taught my kids how to card wool, and told them that it used to take twenty-five hours to knit one pair of wool socks!

And of course, Dave the glassblower is one guy the kids definitely want to come back and see when they are fourteen so they can make their own glass flower!

These were just a few of their "teachers" at Greenfield Village today. One of my favorites was Ted the Model-T driver, who gave a such a wonderful personalized "tour" of the different neighborhoods. Asher even sat in the front next to him, asked him questions, answered his quick math scenarios (i.e. If the light house was built in 1632, how old is it now?), and joyfully treated him with the respect a teacher is due.

It made a mommy proud. Even a "bad," busy mommy!

We all ended up enjoying ourselves so much, that we agreed to go back soon for the Taste of Autumn weekend so we can sample apple butter, cider, and other such delicacies!

When we got home, Asher jumped right on the computer as I conjured up some delicacies of my own for dinner. But, he was still full of surprises! When the neighbor boy knocked at the door, he quickly logged off of his game and went outside to play. For a point of reference: The neighbor kids now ask, "Can Asher play, or is he on the computer?"

It's not that he spends a TON of time on there (we DO limit it to one hour a day, sometimes a little extra). But he was always doing it first thing after school when the other kids were outside! Now I generally let him take his hour before the bus pulls into our neighborhood! Anyway, today a milestone was passed... he chose to go out instead of play in virtual goblin world.

By the end of the night (and after we watched a movie about peace and interconnectedness at the library), I hope to keep my windows open at all times... the real kind made of glass that let the breeze in and the noise out!

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm Going to Tell You Something Surprising

Today I'm going to tell you something surprising.

The best thing about home schooling so far is: my husband.

He has changed, and I'm not talking about his shorts (although, that might be a good idea). I'm not saying there's been anything wrong with him up until now. Well, aside from the obvious. He doesn't have a shirt with the word "inapropriate" emblazened across the chest for no reason! Then there's the devil costume, the "proud to be awesome" t-shirt and the addiction to... electronic toys... Anyway...

Like any other couple, we've had our fireworks... and our sparklers... then there's the moments that were more like the lighter with just barely enough fluid left to burn your thumb when you flick your Bic.

But this last week or so, it's been more like a laser light show! He made his first real dinner in probably thirteen years! (Lasagna, mmmm.) This weekend he cleaned out the fridge and washed the tub and shower... to which Cady responded, "Where's my tub crayons?" (My little artist, every clean surface a blank canvas.) He's taken the kids on field trips and been involved in the lessons we didn't get done during the day.

He's pledged to help Asher make a trebuchet before our Medieval Feast... although, I'm sure there are some sort of ulterior motives behind the project. Can you say, "punkin' chunkin'?"

One day last week, he even sent a disciplinary video of himself (wise, talking head) to the kids via his iPhone letting them know that Dad had Mom's back. Not that I lost my composure or was teetering on the edge or anything... it's all cool. Asher's response: "I HATE that video!" Guess Jay will have to work on his cinematography! No body's perfect.

Asher sees a neurofeedback specialist to help with some "issues." Another entire post on those later... and then some. Not the point here tonight, though. The point is that Dad actually took the specialist's advice and did some "natural play" (a.k.a. controlled wrestling) with his son tonight. Yay for natural play! Yay for taking professional advice! After a run with mom, sister, and two dogs followed by a round of natural play with dad... sleepytime came quick to a kid who struggles with night-time fidgets. Yay for sleepytime!

Another change in Jay (and also in me), the one that will probably have the most profound impact on our relationship and this whole experience, has been the release of guilt. I'm not talking about, "Release the GUILT!" I'm talking, the abolition of guilt. I am now free to participate in my self-fulfilling activities in the evenings, and he is free to participate in his. (All right, I KNOW there are a few of you with your minds wallowing in the filthy gutter... not THAT kind of self-fulfilling activity!) With NO strings attached. Daddies don't babysit. They parent, just like moms. Nor do moms and dads need to always be together, to parent together.

Sometimes taking time away to do the things that I enjoy, and likewise for him, can be just as beneficial to our relationship as taking a night out together... wherein one of us might have to suffer through a movie the other hates, and the other is forced to eat Ethiopian food when all she wants is a burger or some dang quesedillas! Sorry, I digress.

Why the sudden change? I think, and of course it's just my speculation, that he realized the heavy responsibility that was hoisted onto my shoulders when we decided to educate our kiddos at home. It's like a full time job that I love (and hate, and love, and then hate, and then love). ALWAYS ending in love. I also think that my husband loves to learn. He's usually up for any opportunity to think and grow. You see, it doesn't matter what the seed looks like when it's just a seed. It holds all the potential for growth within it.

The reason I'm blogging about this particular thing tonight? Daddy made great tacos and cleaned up the kitchen! I'm so proud of him! (So much for growth and learning and seeds and crap. It's gotta be the tacos.)

See, home schooling is a lifestyle decision, not just an educational method. I can see the positive effects on our family, even when the kids refuse to do their math! Uh, oh. Do I see another video from the infamous "talking head" in our near future? Mwuhahahaha!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How an Ethiopian Meal is Like Home Schooling

The first time I tried Ethiopian food, I was less than enthusiastic. Give me authentic Mexican chilies rellenos and a margarita with a sugar rim, or tofu Pad Se-ewe and a creamy Thai Iced Tea. But Ethiopian? I know there are certain spices that don't always sit well on my taste buds and certain textures that transform my epiglottis into an instant trebuchet. I was concerned about anything heavily curried or squishy like baked beans, either of which had the potential to ruin my dining experience.

However, on this particular date night, my hub really wanted to go to "The Blue Nile" for Ethiopian. I was pretty sure that the words "Ethiopian" and "cuisine" should not be used together in the same sentence. But I knew that, at the very least, the experience would broaden my horizons... an educational opportunity, if not a gastronomical joy.

We ordered some kind of feast for two. Seated on cushioned chairs around a tiny round table, we sipped our beverages while taking in the Ethiopian decor. When our food came, the round tray piled with steaming goopy heaps of unidentifiable meats and pulses dripping in various sauces was positioned between us along with a pile of pancake-like bread, apparently for scooping up mouthfuls of morsels.

Okay, I'm game for anything once.

I cupped a thin piece of bread in my hand and scooped up something that I think was chicken. It was tolerable. I swiped the rest of that slice of bread across something yellowish and popped it in my mouth. It was nar-sty! I quickly washed it down with sweet, sweet honeyed wine and noshed on another piece of bread. Mental note: Never, ever, eat that yellow stuff again.

Moving on, the beef was tasty. I liked the spices and it was quite tender. Some of the veggies were fine. I worked my way around the saucy, drippy, messy color wheel of food products... tasting them one by one with a full glass of wine ready and loaded for quick defense against the narsty-food-reflex.

Meanwhile, Jay sat across the table from me engaged in nothing less than the intense pursuit of getting his money's worth from the all-you-can-eat-Ethiopian feast. (I'm sorry, there just HAS to be a joke in there somewhere.) He was savoring every morsel of it, even the chicken and the yellow mosh that was probably some kind of lentil.

By the end of the meal, I had found enough foods on the tray that worked for me, and even a few that I really enjoyed. The samplings that repulsed me were washed down with the nectar of the Ethiopian gods, which truly came to rescue my soul several times that evening.

Today is the Sunday at the end of our first full week of home schooling. As I pondered the week's events, I realized that the start to our new educational process has been a lot like my first Ethiopian meal. I learned that we need to eat more of the delicious beef and tolerable veggies, but leave the yellow stuff to the guys that relish it.

We are finding out how to walk out of the restaurant with full bellies.

But most importantly, I have come to understand something integral to the success of the experience...

It's the sweet honeyed wine that makes the nasty bits easier to swallow.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Best Dress

I know, today was supposed to be my "Saturday Slack Day." But I was so tired after the Masonic cocktail party last night that I dropped into my bed and fell fast asleep, and alas, did not get to my blog. The regretful part of the story, however, is that I had something I really wanted to tell you!

But no regrets, I'll tell you now!

Yesterday, as the kids and I were eating lunch, I was going over our list of errands. "So we need to go shopping. Daddy needs a tie for the dinner thing tonight, and I need a new dress. This thing is fancy." To which Asher responds, "Mom, you know what the best kind of dress for you to wear tonight would be? The kind that you already have!" Touche, my love.

Nevertheless, I spent an hour with kids in tow trying to find a nice cocktail dress that didn't cost a fortune, but looked like it did... to no avail. I came home empty-handed (except for the two dollar tie from The Sal, and a pair of like-new Nine West camel knee-high boots that I adore and got for ten bucks). But no dress.

So I ransacked my closet. I whipped out everthing that I have ever worn to a wedding or cocktail party or graduation or concert. NOTHING seemed suitable. I was getting stressed out over this thing. The old comic line came to mind, "If I can't find something nice to wear, then I'M NOT GOING!"

Finally, with a bed completely smothered in clean clothes and an acceptible (albeit not perfect) possibility in mind, I went out front where I often enjoy hanging with my neighbors while watching kids run amock on the court. My amazing women friends (reliably, once again) helped me find my ground.

After telling them about what Asher said earlier in the morning, we began talking about the lies women often believe... a topic one of my friends happened to be speaking about that very evening. It got us going on the myth that we have to look perfect all the time, have the right clothing and the right "look" in order to be accepted.

By WHOM, really? Who are we trying to impress? I mean, I am all for a little makeup and fun clothes that make me feel good. But should I really be taking it to the point that my blood pressure is rising because I don't have the perfect outfit for a fancy mixer?

So I went to the cocktail party in one of my old standbys, a maroon wrap dress with cream colored bursts spattered across it (kind of a seventies throwback) and my new camel colored high heal boots. I threw on a little mascara and a bracelet and was good to go.

I'm sure I stood out like a daisy in a bed of roses. Every other woman there was in black! It was like a funeral! But I quickly put my dress (faux pas? Maybe. Who cares.) out of my mind and began to do what I do best... mingle and meet new people! I engaged in many conversations with all kinds of folks.

At the end of the night, as my hub and I were saying our goodbyes, an older gentleman touched my arm and said, "I have to meet you before you leave. Your laugh is incredible! Make sure this guy (gesture to my hubby) brings you along whenever we get together!" I shook his hand and told him it was a pleasure.

I wore a genuine smile, an honest interest in what everyone had to say, and baubles of laughter. In the end, nobody noticed that I was wearing the "wrong" dress.

Last night my son's words taught me a valuable lesson about a way of being in the world that takes most people a lifetime to realize. I will hold them close to me whenever I start to feel stressed out over superficial things.

The best dress for the evening really was the one I already had.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Different is Good

Different isn't always good. For example, if your husband tries a bite of your new shrimp-fried-rice recipe and says, "Hmm, it's different," that's not so good. But today, different has been good to us.

I know, it's dark and drizzly. It's Thursday. Not Monday, not Friday, not even Hump Day. But today was a good day. I mean, I'm writing my blog at 3:13pm. I hear no screaming or whining. The house is... well... a mess... but I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment today.

I think switching up our routine really worked well. We didn't quite make it to the book store before 9:00am. But we did make it by ten. We stationed ourselves at a table in the cafe, laptop fired up and hot beverages in hand.

With a little bit of prodding (by me) and some help setting up the internet connection from the barista, Asher was on his way to completing an online lesson about geometric symmetry. Cady completed a whole lesson of math, wrote a letter to her Grammie, worked on her "Princess Book" and read aloud from "Dick and Jane and the Vampire." (Which, by the way, is an excellent spoof on the Dick and Jane primary readers!)

By 11:30am, Asher completed a fourteen-sentence blog post about World of Warcraft. (Hey, we have to learn to pick our battles). Then, with my homeschooler's discount card in hand, we roamed the store for new books.

When we got home a little after noon, Asher spent a good chunk of time hunkered down on the couch with his new "Calvin and Hobbes" book. Cady and I sat at the counter making bottle top magnets and jewelry. Then we all gathered for a game of "Lego Magick." We played three rounds and only had one bout of tears! (I win!)

Now the kids are nestled under blankets while the rain beats down outside. They are watching "Robin Hood." (Good period peice for the Middle Ages? Maybe. Doesn't matter anyway, it's a good story.) Tonight we're going to finish our Medieval Town project with dad...but he doesn't know this yet. He won't mind, especially once he samples the brownies the kids made!

Hopefully this different will become the new normal.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

...and now for something completely different.

Day 3: ...and now for something completely different.

I have come to the realization that I am going to have to wean my children off of the silver spoon. That is to say, for the years that they have been in school, their time has been scheduled from bell to bell. They have essentially been fed their assignments with the expectation that they will fill in the blanks by a given time. Now, I completely understand that there are exceptions to that "rule." Some projects have had room for creativity, and some teachers are better at giving the children academic license to roam than others. But in my experience, school (both public and private) is a factory system with stricter rules and guidelines than I'm sure some teachers apreciate. But how else would a teacher possibly be able to educate so many children at once? (Teachers have my utmost respect. I say that in all honesty.)

I digress. My point is that my children do not know how to feed themselves! I thought that writing down their daily "requirements" in a planner would be enough. They could do their work when they pleased throughout the day and everything would be wonderfully layed back and simple. Uh-huh. Chalk it up to blissful ignorance on my part.

When left to their own devices, they watched Netflix and played on the computer. When the time limits on those were severely curbed, they chased eachother around the house screaming until someone got hurt. (Only a flesh wound.) Today I had that wonderful project, you know the one where we made "wanted" posters of Medieval social positions. I was so excited about this project, I knew they would love it!

They didn't. Sure, Cady loved the cutting and gluing.... She made a fashion model princess who dressed up babies and sent them down the runway. NOT what I was looking for! I wanted a princess with a thought bubble that said, "Duh, it's my job to look pretty and lavish," or "Mommy Queen, I'm fourteen! I should be dating, not getting married already!" You know, something that shows what they've learned about people of the Middle Ages!

And Asher, well... he just cut out pictures of characters from "Halo" claiming he wanted to make up his own assignment. I asked him what he'd do for that. When he said he'd just glue them to our Medieval City (which was, alas, starting to shape up), I said that wasn't quite what I had in mind.

Finally, an invitation to attend our neighbor's scouting group at 7:00pm, and the demand from me that their planner work be finished if they wanted to go, sent them into a self-propelled work tizzy! Whew, Asher finished a math worksheet, a half hour of silent reading, two Medieval figures and dinner all in an hour and a half! Aha, they have clearly exposed their motivators!

And now for that something completely different. Tomorrow we are going to get up and ready to go by 8:30am (Asher has been hitting his snooze until ten.) We are going to pack our backpacks and head to Barnes and Noble where Asher will complete all of his online lessons on my laptop, and Cady will complete all of her worksheets and language/reading work before we do anything else. Then I think I'll have them each pick out a math workbook... they both need to brush up on their basic skills.

Maybe we'll become regulars at the book store. Or maybe this won't work at all. At the very least, I'll start my morning with a good cup of coffee!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Case of Emergency

Day Two: I sat on the couch with my feet firmly on the floor, tucked my head between my knees and kissed my--Oh, wait, wrong euphemism! What I meant to say was-- "and realized I needed to put the oxygen mask on myself first." Okay, well maybe initially I did mean that "kiss my ass goodbye" one. Then I realized, shortly after I pulled my head up from between my shaking knees, that all I needed to do was breathe.

Sure, I'll get to that... right after I completely lose my mind for just a sec.

All right, I know all the books and experts say there is a transition period when you bring your children out of school to educate them at home. Many people like to use this time for "deschooling." But didn't they just have summer for that? And when did "deschooling" include pummeling your sibling on the trampoline and incorporating the word "no" into every spoken sentence?

Come on people, this is supposed to be fun. Why can't we just enjoy learning? Look, look at me! I am really excited about this stuff! Where is your natural curiosity and inner drive to learn about the world around you? Oh, oh, I know... you dropped it somewhere in Webkinz World, or on the battlefield in the World of Warcraft.

By the way, if I hear the words "Two Week Free Trial, pleasepleaseplease" one more time I can not be held responsible for what happens to the computer... or my son.
Whew, thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Right-o. Anyway, back to our day. All of this craziness was happening... and my reediness only bends so far before- ssssnap! I really. Did. Sit. On. My. Couch. Very. Very. Quietly. Like one of those creepy ceramic clown dolls resting in shadows in the corner of a dark, silent room. I think my children actually held their breath.

And then, an epiphany descended upon me like a yellow plastic oxygen mask dropping from the airplane's overhead compartment. I had to make this work for me just as much as for my kids. I realized at that moment that I didn't have to stick to the lesson plans that I wrote in the planners. That's why we home school in the first place... it's flexible! And, unlike the passengers on an AirTran flight to Orlando during spring break, we are sitting calmly at the controls with no-place to go fast.

I finally asked my kids to sit on the couch with me. I think they were terrified, because they were watching me sit quietly with blank and quizzical expressions frozen on their sweet little faces. They squished in on either side of me... and I... read them a book. It wasn't the historical fiction chapter book I had planned on reading out loud to them each day. It was a picture book about a Medieval feast. It was funny, and we laughed. The pictures were great, and the descriptions of every station in life from Duke to the Privy Scooper were incredibly entertaining.

I had to really stop caring about weather or not other people, including you dear friend, think we are doing enough work. Or doing the "right" work. We had to just do what felt right for us in that moment, during this one day. I think after that, we all breathed easier.

Later in the evening, the family gathered around our chalk board wall (complete with world map and time line in progress). After a little rallying of the troops by dad, Asher and Cady were able to spit out tons of facts about Medieval Europe... many of which came from that story on the couch.

Tomorrow we plan on taking the Medieval "jobs" and making them into crazy, funny "wanted" posters and comic strips. Or not. We'll let you know at the end of the day tomorrow.

Oh, on a delicious side note, Asher made an apple pie entirely by himself today. For the most part, I wasn't even in the kitchen! He wanted to go back on the computer because he had absolutely nothing else to do, and I arbitrarily blurted out, "Why don't you make a pie?" He did. After dinner and a play date at the park, he served it to us himself- a la mode. He did Grandpa's recipe justice (mmmm)... you know what they say, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Day One

The Goal: One school year's worth of blog posts about my journey into the lifestyle of home schooling my two beautiful children: Asher, my ten year old son, and Cady, my seven year old daughter.

Day One: It's close to midnight and I finally have a few quiet moments to myself. With the pull of social networking at my fingertips, it's a wonder I resist and am actually blogging right now. The kids and Jay are fast asleep. Downstairs, my house lies in shambles... peices of fabric with a pattern pinned haphazardly onto it are strewn across my dining room floor. The desk is cluttered with markers and books. Dishes from bed time snacks are abandoned on the kitchen counter. I put the shame of my horrible housekeeping practices out the back door like a struggling alley cat, kicking and scratching and hissing... No time for shame. I need a sign by the door that says, "Excuse our mess, children in progress."

Now I won't lie, when the group of moms and children gathered at the bus stop (which happens to be right outside my door this year) I envied them a little... envied their quiet houses after the big yellow child-mover chugged away. Envied their time to clean, to surf the web, to take belly-dancing classes, to watch chick-flicks and eat Edy's Dulce de Leche ice cream out of the tub. But at the end of the day, what I envy the most is their seven hour stretch during which they don't have to tell anyone to, "Stop smacking her," or "Stop annoying him," or, "Pleaaaasseee stop whining!"

We made it through all the lessons I had written in their planners: Math, history, writing and reading. But the real lesson wasn't learned from computers or books. The real lesson was mine: A way of being with my children that fosters learning in a healthier way for them, for us.

If you know my son, you understand that we struggle with his temper. He is extreme in every emotion, from love and tenderness to anger and frustration. He hides nothing. He lets it all out, weather you want to hear it or not. So today while he was doing his online math lesson, he began to cry (or wail, if you will). It was hard. I asked if he wanted help, to which he replied angrily, "GO AWAY! LEAVE me ALONE!" My tendency in the past has been to tell him to calm down, to push the help on him... for his own good.

This time, for my own sanity, I walked away. I left him in the office crying and muttering to himself. After about twenty minutes I heard an elated call from the computer, "MOM, I did it! I finished the lesson and took the quiz and got six out of ten!" The pride in his voice was apparent. He cried his way through the frustration. And who am I to tell him he shouldn't cry when he's frustrated. For Pete's sake, I often feel like crying when I'm frustrated.

Cady learned how to pin a pattern fabric! She is making a royal dress for our upcoming Medieval Feast. But as easy as it sounds... we had an episode of huffing, arm-crossing, and self-beration before we conquered the elusive pin-fabric process! As I calmly sat, waiting for her to stop her fit, I realized there are really about forty-two steps to placing one pin. Okay, well maybe not forty-two... but there are at least three. I am just practiced enough to slip it in. For her, I broke it down into three steps and she got it! She was so proud of herself, and has now placed at least a hundred pins (it's a big project)! She will really be able to say that SHE made her dress. What an accomplishment.

So, our day wasn't perfect. It wasn't amazing. It wasn't all I thought it would be. But it was our own, a day of our making, and we learned some incredibly important things today. I am looking forward to whatever tomorrow has in store, especially those lessons not written in the planners.