Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Just what did we learn? (includes a link to cool free classes)

It's three o'clock.  The time of day when a lot of school kids are getting onto busses... having had their fill of knowledge for the day.  Quadratic equations on top of dangling participles on top of the life cycle of a Great Winged Petrel, all wrapped up in the period table of the elements.  Gawsh.  It's when I start thinking about all the "stuff" my kids' schooled counterparts are learning during the day that I can easily slip into self-doubt.

Especially when it's raining and my tummy hurts.  And we missed music lessons because my tummy hurts.

Orange Flower's
Purple Life
My daughter started the day with a paint brush.  Let me preface by saying that this weekend she really pushed herself... and she created some of the best eight-year old art work ever to grace our cluttered dining room table.

This morning, however, it was as if all the inner turmoil of every starving artist on the planet was unleashed through my little girl.  She woke up and went straight to the easel.  (yeah, no coffee)  She started sketching a cake, which looked like crap.  She erased the cake.  She whined.

She just COULD NOT think of anything good to paint.  I suggested that if she paint a coffee mug, I would buy it if no-one else did (at her future exhibition).

NO WAY, Mom.  She hates painting mugs,  she sucks at them, she said she was a horrible artist and she was never going to do art again. (stomp stomp stomp)

I suggested breakfast.  She was NOT hungry.  (seriously, coffee... I mean for me)

I suggested painting a portrait of her guitar.  She was sure the drawing she made sucked, and could I erase it FOR her because her arm hurt from erasing.

I suggested painting it up really close so you could just see the strings and neck.  That was stupid.  I suggested a break.  She thought a break was good but only if she could watch something.

Lonely Pear in Pink
Sure.  Fine.  Whatever.  But only until her brother woke up, because I was NOT going to start the day with tv and gaming with HIM.  That was a different battle.

And so, the exhausted uninspired artist rested.

At some point Chay rolled out of bed (he had been up late into the night reading an awesome book called "Okay for Now."  He started into a cupcake-baking project all on his own [bonus].

Finally KK, (after asking me to stay OUT) began to apply paint to canvas.  Honestly, I had a hard time withholding critique.  But I did tell her I knew she could do better.  While concentric squares of various random colors were okay... anyone could do that.  (don't be hard on me, she obviously hadn't even put thought into the color scheme) The things she painted, and worked on diligently over the weekend, which showed her talent for perspective and lighting and color, were breathtaking.  I told her if she wasn't feeling inspired then gosh-darnit don't paint.  Start up again when it feels right.

I braced myself for more tears and throwing, hoping she wasn't grabbing for the muddy orange-ish water in the brush-cup.  But she didn't throw.  She didn't say anything.  Had my honesty actually worked?  Yay, something right!  I think I will be okay after all.

Am I getting off track?  It's three o'clock and we are finally at the library, despite my the interesting feelings happening in my stomach.  The kids got in about fifteen minutes of Muzzy language online and each checked out some science and lit magazines before Chay jumped upstairs to get in on the origami-bookmark-making session in the Teen Zone [] .  Pssst... they also offer free tutoring every Wednesday night from 6pm-8pm. AND a free Guys Read Book club.  Check the link!

I sit here on my computer, finally gently sipping a cup of coffee, and writing this blog post.

I have to get KK to jazz at 4:15pm, and we plan on the rec center tonight for lap swimming.  My *hope* is that we will have quiet time tonight to read and such.  The kids will practice their piano and guitar... and so it's not going to be a day wasted.  Let's rundown the learning for today:  music, foreign language, art, culinary arts and phys ed.  Okay, so if we approach this like college... tomorrow we handle math, spelling, science and geography (plus music and phys ed again).

I think I will be okay after all.  I think we all will.

And that bit of art work KK made today... well, I looked at it again... and it was all right.  The beautiful thing about art, I told my daughter, is that everyone likes something different.  Otherwise this world would be one heckuva boring place.

Enjoy the Fall

I did it!  I'm me!  Here I am, world.  No longer am I hiding behind the (albeit very cool) vintage image of the perfect mother in her apron cooking something delicious for her adoring family!  I have to admit, when I started blogging a year and a half ago, I was digging into some very deep muck- often times I was ranting, and melting down, and going through all the turmoil of a new and completely clueless home school mom.  I wanted to be blatantly honest.  I thought the best way to do that was to put myself in a personal protection program.  But who was I hiding from?  My friends knew who I was... because I wanted them to read my blog, I posted it in my Facebook Page as MY blog! (der) 

What about people who don't know me?  (You know who you are.) Is it going to matter if I call myself by a different name, or if I reveal my children's identities?  Is a future employer going to go online, find my blog, and NOT HIRE my child because they once had a tantrum and told me they hated me... or because they have a sensory processing disorder and needed extra help at age ten to get through frustrations?  ...well... hopefully by "job time" my son will have the tool belt of skills he needs to cope without my help... [OH gosh n' golly I hope so]

So to those of you who know me as Kara Muse... "Hi, my name is Melinda and I am a recovering undercover blogger."

It helps to jump with a friend by your side.
This feels so good.  I feel like a new person, literally and not just virtually!  It is very liberating to be who you are, to let your flag fly in all of its freaky glory.  I think it's liberating because I KNOW I am doing what's right for me, for my family, so I am ready to go to bat for my ideals.  And it's also liberating because if I am being honest and open about my struggles, it might just help some other family who feels like they are on a downward spiral... sometimes knowing that someone else has been where you are and survived the jump is all you need to let go and fall.

That's my mantra for now... let go, and let life.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Loony Zone

Today I worked on fancying up my blog!  Do you like it?  You know when you are going out with your partner (as if... hehe) and you put on a little lip gloss, take off the yoga pants, and fluff your hair?  You know... pretty.  My blog feels pretty.  She just smooched herself in the mirror.  And winked.

I have to be totally forthright with you... last night I was about to have a meltdown of epic proportions.  We started out well enough... it was a slow Sunday... the kind that starts out with eggs scrambled by my eight-year-old daughter and freshly roasted coffee expertly French pressed by my adoring spouse.  It was the kind of day that begged for painting in pajamas and plucking the ukulele laying down on our big purple shag rug.  In fact... the day's production was wonderful.  Cady got really into acrylics as she gears up to be the youngest artist on exhibition at our local coffee shop.  See photo right->

Not only that, but the smell of freshly baked muffins wafted through the house... as Asher baked up a batch of his finest.  Sounds like a day of  perfection, right?  So, what the *&%# was my problem?!?

{HEY, my hub just walked in and gave me the PERFECT illustration.}  

He innocently asked, "Why are they screaming?"

I am literally chuckling, my tanked top shaking like a bowl full of jello-shots.   Here's the short-list of an answer.  

My Children Scream Because They Are:
  • being funny
  • being Fred
  • angry
  • hurt
  • pretending to be a baby
  • pretending to sing like an idiot
  • attacking the dog
  • attacking each other
  • ninja stalking the neighbor
  • laughing hysterically
  • pretending to be a parrot
  • trying to get my attention... from the basement when I am in the upstairs bathroom
  • talking in Spanish
  • jumping on the trampoline
  • screaming to fill up the quiet
  • being zombies
  • acting like a chimpanzee
  • acting like a child
  • trying to irritate the pucky out of me
  • making sure I don't try to procreate any more
  • making sure they haven't lost their voices
  • singing first round of American Idol
  • telling me the dinner was good/bad 
  • making sure I know they are hungry
  • tired
  • breathing
Okay... that's just a partial list.  My house is quite often insane.  Which is something I love about my house, especially since my kids don't carry that over into dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.  I guess my house is just a "be as loony as you like" zone.  We are breeding eccentrics over here... but I guess nothing wonderful came of conformity.

What was I saying?  Oh, yes... bed time on our perfect Sunday brought me to hysterics.  My sweet artist, Cady, could not stop being a total goofball... and she had her older brother on the bandwagon.  It was a right old hootinannee.    Except, after ONE MORE ANNOYING SOUND, I was D.O.N.E.  No more pants pulled up to the nipples walking around like Erkel, no more arm pit farts, no more bugged out eyeballs or massive wedgies, no more sliding around on bellies in feetie pajamas making platypus grunt noises, and for Goddess-sake NO MORE SCREAMING!!!!!

I cried.  I did.  I walked out of the room and cried.  Is a little quiet too much to ask?  Is it?

Ahhh.  I feel better now.  A good night's rest (with no alarm clock set), and a quiet talk with myself (oh  yeah, and with the crazies that inhabit my space) has set everything straight.  Today I vowed to spend some time apart from my beautiful children, and to do something meditative.  We went to the gym and swam laps.  Cady was my personal trainer, swimming twenty laps alongside me... but without talking.  Asher swam laps, then did some water-spinning somersaults and stuff before showering and heading to the game room on his own.  On.  His.  Own.  (grin)

And tonight... oh sweet tonight... I got to sit in the lounge at the opera house while Asher rehearsed (on a totally different floor) and work on my own things for two whole hours.  Hence, the blog makeover.  (kisses)  She looks fabu, I feel so much better... and I didn't hear a single scream until just then- when my husband came in- but it came from basement... and it stopped on its own.  I think it was a delighted scream.  The guinea pig is probably in a dress

Yep, I was right.

He hates that... but he looks beautiful. ;)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Focus: Money


I can't deny it... my family has been talking a lot about money lately.  I hate money.  I would live on a commune in a second.  But money is a harsh reality that we can either live with... or live with.  While money can't buy happiness, knowing how to manage what you have can sure spare a lot of headache.

We are a middle income family.  My children have everything they NEED, and much of what they want.  However, last year my husband made less money than the year before. A significant amount less. (Sound familiar?)  So we need to be careful about where we spend or we will end up eating beans and rice at the end of the month.  Not that I don't love beans and rice... just maybe not for breakfast. So, in the spirit of unschooling,  I decided to bring the kids in on the conversation in a very real way.  This is how we did it.


I picked up one game called Real World Math: Unexpected Events. World Math: Unexpected Events Games-game-7804  
In this game, each player has a little check book.  The object is to go around the board, filling out debits and credits in your check ledger... and whomever has the most money left at the end, wins!  Now, thank the goodness that filling out a check book ledger is like riding a bike.  You don't forget how.  I hadn't actually filled out my check book ledger in years, and yearsandyears.  Now, in the first game Cady and I ended up in the red.  I explained to the kids that this was bad.  We talked about why you should not spend money you don't have... but this game didn't allow for that. While the game is fun, and my kids actually WANT to play it, I wanted something to teach them the value of managing money and how to stay within a budget.  How could I make this lesson better?

Make up a game.
 Now, I am a self-admitted enabler.  I have always been the kind of mom that does everything for everyone... until I realized that it was killing me and not doing anyone else any favors in the long run.  This year, I've been better about having the kids do household chores.  But I felt like I was a serious nag all the time.  OR they would say, "I'll do it later."  Part of the great thing about homeschooling is that the kids have all this "extra time."  I had been letting them waste that playing games and watching TV while I turned into an exhausted house frau... and then an angry army drill sergeant.  Time to combine lessons on money  management with job responsibility.

In comes "THE CHORE GAME."  (photo right)

I picked up one of these pocket organizers at The Teacher Store.  On sturdy note cards, I made pictures of different chores around our house.  Feed the Guinea Pigs, Clean the Bathroom, Empty Dishwasher, et cetera.  Each chore has a matching pair.  Each card has a payment value on it.  For example, Clean the Bathroom is $100.  Every Sunday, we sit down and play a game of Chores (which is played just like Old Maid).  There is one card that has no match, but instead of Old Maid, it's Manager.  The player left with the Manager wins the game, but also is responsible for making sure everyone else gets their chores done that week.

Each family member has a line of pockets, each with seven pockets labeled with the days of the week.  After the game is played, everyone distributes their cards into the days they will perform their chore.  Daily chores are simply moved down the line as they are completed each day.  When one-time chores are completed, they are flipped over.  At the end of the week, salaries will be paid (in fake "housebucks") if all the jobs were completed.  The kids can then use those "housebucks" for activities or exchange it for money ($100 Housebucks = $1.00.  Generally their chores add up to about $300-$400 housebucks a week.)  I created a menu of things the kids really like, so they can gauge what to save for.  My daughter loves sleepovers, so a sleepover with one friend is $250 Housebucks.  Why?  Because it costs us money, time and energy to have a friend over.  It is a privilege that must be earned.  Lunch out at one of our local diners is $200 house bucks.  Family bowling night is $1000 Housebucks.  

And yes, my husband and I play, too.  Sometimes he will get Cook Dinner or Clean Bathroom... and it shows the kids that while Dad works and makes the family's money, he also has an important part to play at home.  It takes a team.  YAY, TEAM FAMILY!!!

So far, it has worked really well.  We have added a few more chore cards as we saw a need for them.  Sometimes they don't get their stuff done, and I have to tell the manager to do his or her job.  The laundry still looks like Trash Heap, and more often than not you have to maneuver your way carefully through the bedrooms.  BUT, it feels like we are a team.  We all enjoy the game, and the kids choose their activities wisely... knowing that if they have a sleepover on Saturday, they may not have enough Housebucks to also go out to lunch Tuesday.

The next step in the game is to make checkbook ledgers for each of us, so the "cash" doesn't run out.

Let me know if you have questions on how to implement this game at home!  Also, PLEASE share with us any other money - management activities or resources you have used successfully.

Also, tell us about free and cheap field trips and other home school-ey stuff.  Share the wealth! :)

Monday, February 6, 2012

I'm Back, but Not the Same

I am so sorry, dear readers.  I have been absent for what seems like a lifetime.  Indeed, I feel like a different woman now from when I last posted.  This year of home schooling, or let's just say "living,"  has taken an incredible turn into the sunshine.  Before I start singing "the hills are alive, with the sound of music," let me just ground that in the fact that my feet are fully on the ground and I always carry an umbrella.  But for now, I am happy and my family is harmonious.

I have realized, through a long and unexpected series of events and new relationships, that it's not precisely how you teach your children math and history and science that's the real foundation of education.  More so, it's how you build their relationship with learning that's important.  My ingrained (from 17 years of formal education) adherence to academic rigidity was causing a major chasm between me and my children, and my husband's insistence on a tight schedule was interfering with our loving relationship.  Ugh.

I've recently had the opportunity to be in company with a great deal of unschoolers.  While for a very long time I was afraid of that term, I have now come to embrace its very essence.  It means- to follow the child's lead, to give them a taste of many different learning opportunities and let them run with whatever interests them, to center their education around what inspires them.  I still make sure they do math, and learn proper grammar and spelling... but why should I make Asher do a report about a famous author when he is eager and willing to write an inspiring blog post about his passion for parkour?  When he is in a production of Carmina Burana at the Opera House, it makes sense for him to learn about Carl Orff.  When Cady is busy making organic cotton candy, she is more than excited to look up the history of "Faerie Floss," along the way learning a great deal about the World's Fair and life in the early 1900's.

Asher is taking History of the Renaissance and Physics at our co-op, along with cooking, knitting, felting, and drama.  Cady is taking Cooking Around the World, learning about various cultures as she tastes her way through exotic countries.  The thing I've learned about most home schooled kids is that when they want to learn about something, they do.  Another thing I've learned is that home education in the U.S. is growing by 15% annually, and colleges are actively searching out home educated children because they tend to choose their majors well and become passionate about their work- thus being high achievers in their fields.

An incredible shift has taken place in my mind... from "homeschooling because I didn't have an option", to homeschooling as my chosen option.  I like how we are able to learn in a holistic environment, instead of chopping life into subjects.  For us, for my family (because I have said many times, I would never claim it's the best for everyone), it's what works for now- and maybe for a very long time.

Another exciting thing is that our family is in serious conversation about getting back into the coffee shop business.  The kids LOVE this idea.   I will leave you with a little snippet from one of my other blogs, which highlights unschooling at its finest!

I imagine a cool, funky, eclectic shop with big leather couches and a checker board painted on one of the wooden tables. [Asher] would have a hand in all the baking... because his desire has been (for several years running) to be a pastry chef... and judging by his chocolate death pie (handed down from father to son), he's doin' all right! [Cady] could spin her organic cotton candy in the certified kitchen, re-branding it “Sugar Buzz.” It would give us something to work toward as a family, together. As a home schooling family, it is the perfect platform for learning about life, about economics, about work and money management.[Asher]voluntarily read a book called “Beat the Rat Race” last night, and gave me a run-down of assets and liabilities this afternoon. We also watched a video about coffee production, from plant to cup. They were fascinated.

While Dad gets roasting, the kids and I will be starting a tiny little windowsill hydroponic coffee farm. (No officer, those are coffea arabica plants. Like a cup o joe, Joe?) I seriously think it's the logical next step in the world of the caffeine junky. However, it takes three years to achieve a cherry... In the meantime, the lovely process of growth and germination will provide us with excellent botany lessons! I also hope to plant some various potted tea herbs. Making our own delicious herbal-brews may also be on our horizon. Why do it if you're going to do it half-assed, right?

So we no longer separate school from life.  Our family feels in harmony, happy, and re-energized!  Sure, we have our struggles like every other family.  But now they seem small and conquerable, hills compared to mountains.  I look forward to sharing more of my journey with you!  Perhaps I will eventually give up the pseudonyms so you can also follow our coffee shop journey... Let me think about that! 

So for now,
Kara Muse