Monday, November 30, 2009

How a tradition is born

When I was a little girl, we had a Christmas tree forest in our back yard. Not a tree farm, but a random bunch of evergreens. Every year we would go out into the forest with a red rag, pick out a tree, tie the rag on it, and at some point Dad would go cut the tree and bring it in the house.

It wasn't till we moved to the suburbs of California when I was 10 that I discovered that most people actually had to buy their Christmas trees. I found that quite shocking and upsetting. So, every year we drove to the mountains to cut down a tree. As I think back on those days, I suspect that my Dad hated that. I think he would have preferred to go to a tree lot and just toss one in the back of the station wagon. But, that would never have done.

When I had kids I assumed we would all love going out to the tree farm to find the perfect Christmas tree. But in Oregon it was always raining in the winter - or at least on the day we chose to get the tree, so it was just wet and muddy and unpleasant. We tried it a few times with our kids and no one ever seemed to have a good time. Oh, I think my girl understood that there was something rustic and a little romantic about cutting down the tree and having hot chocolate afterward, but... it never seemed to work out as well as the fantasy.

For the past several years we've just gone to Lowe's or a local lot for our tree. It's worked out OK - we always have a tree!

This year we reached a new low. Or, started a new tradition. Last week my girl and I were in our local produce outlet buying our Thanksgiving veggies. While I waited in the long line, she explored a bit and saw lots of Christmas wreaths and garlands and such. She begged to go back on Saturday to get a wreath for the front door.

So, we did, and we saw trees. Cheap trees! Pretty good-looking ones at that. We bought our wreath and pondered. Dare we just buy a tree at the produce market?

At home we floated the idea with the men. Sure, they said, why not? We decided to wait till today and go to a branch of the produce outlet that's near piano lessons. We agreed that Dad didn't have to be there. The kids and I could pick out the tree ourselves.

I thought they'd be a little disappointed. It seemed like the whole family should be there. But they were happy enough when we left the house today. As we walked up to the trees my girl said "that one's perfect!" We had to agree. I went in and paid while they stood guard at our tree. When I came back, I double-checked to be sure it was still the one. "Yes!" she said, "it was love at first sight!" 5 minutes later we had the tree in the back of the truck.

I hadn't expected this operation to be so quick. We had a lot of time to kill before piano lessons. I thought about hot chocolate and how that really goes along with getting the tree. We drove along, looking for a quaint cafe. (We were in a quaint town.) I saw a McDonald's and was about to suggest that when my boy and I both spied the sign that thrilled our hearts. At the same moment we both yelled "Wawa!"

Wawa is the local (regional?) convenience store chain. Like 7-11 only ever so much better, Wawa is clean and always smells like hot coffee, chocolate, and hazelnuts. They have pots of various coffees ready to pour, a hot chocolate dispenser, fresh-ish donuts, and many other delights.

The kids got their cocoa while I fixed up my coffee. It takes a few minutes because they have containers of various dairy and non-dairy products to enhance the coffee experience. I let the kids pick out a donut and we went back to the car. As we sat there for a few minutes sipping and munching and wondering if we really did know the way to piano lessons after all, and why the GPS is in the other car, I thanked my kids for being so easy-going about the tree acquisition. I pointed out that we probably saved $25 on the tree and $10 by not going to a cafe for a fancy treat. I don't know who said "this should be our new tradition - getting the tree at Produce Junction and hot chocolate at Wawa!"

And, as long as we're living here, that is exactly what we will do.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The weight of weight

The other day I had one of the oddest conversations of my life. An acquaintance was telling me about a relative of hers who was underweight and having a hard time gaining. This individual had nothing but sympathy for the skinny young woman as she told how she ate all the right foods for gaining, yet couldn't put on a pound. Yet, when the conversation turned to someone who is overweight, the tone changed. No more sympathy. The overweight person didn't try hard enough, she said. She could lose that weight! She saw no disconnect between her reactions to the two people.

Underweight = good and deserving of sympathy; overweight = bad and deserving of scorn. I guess that's the way most people think.

I thought it was kind of funny that she went on that way with me, as I am definitely not an underweight person. I can only remember one time in my life when I was close to being slim. It was during a period of my life when I was working full time and carrying a full load of classes at night. I lived on happy hour food and white wine spritzers; microwave popcorn and diet coke. I wasn't very healthy. But I was somewhat happy with my clothing size. It was a short period of my life.

My first date-like event with my husband was at a brewpub. We had a beer and then decided to eat dinner. This was a meat sort of place, and I agonized. A sausage dish looked good, but did I dare? What if he was afraid of food, like so many others I knew? Throwing caution to the wind, I ordered what I wanted.

At the next day's debriefing with my girlfriends at work, they were horrified: "Sausage? You ate sausage? You will never see him again." And yet, I continued to see him, often, and now see him every single day. We still eat sausage, sometimes. I didn't know till much later that he had his own agonizing moments that evening. "What if she's a vegetarian? Oh please, let her not be a vegetarian." Ordering sausage over salad turned out to be the right move.

But, still. I have known what it's like to have every bite scrutinized, to feel self-conscious eating a particular food, to have disapproving eyes calculating the size of that slice of pizza. It's not pleasant. It must be worse for truly obese people. I remember a woman telling me about going out for ice cream after losing 50 pounds. She had more weight to lose; she was still pretty big. But she hadn't had ice cream in a year and felt like she could finally have it, just the one time. But she heard the tut-tutting of people around her and wished she'd stayed home. Of course they didn't know her story. It was none of their business. But they made it their business to judge her.

How much worse will that be with ObamaPelosiReidCare? Once everyone is on the financial hook for everyone else's healthcare, how much more tut-tutting will we hear? Will restaurant employees become mandatory reporters, snitching on fat people who order cheeseburgers? Will people in line at WalMart feel entitled to comment on the ice cream in the cart ahead? "Hey, you should take that back and get some fruit. I don't want to pay for your bypass."

Most overweight people I know work, to some degree, at losing weight. (Oh, of course there are people who do not. I don't know anyone who is happy to be overweight, though, whether that person is actively trying to lose weight, or has never tried, or has given up.) For some it's easy; for some it's not, even to the point of impossibility for some percentage. Just as it's not easy for some people to gain. Odd that one person gets sympathy and the other doesn't.


My boy spent almost the entire day happily reading. He only emerged from his room to eat, do some chores, and walk the dog. I'd picked up Eragon from the library for him. He started it last night and is likely to finish it tonight. It's a hefty book, written, by the way, by a homeschooled teen.

It's amazing that only 4 years ago I wondered if this boy would ever really learn to read and enjoy reading. Teaching him to read was so hard! And here he is, reading the day away.

Aah, what luxury. I wonder when was the last time I could spend the entire day reading. I wonder if I ever will again!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Misbehaving librarians

Joanne Jacobs links to a story about a couple of library workers (not technically librarians) who were fired for mishandling a book they found offensive. (Apparently the book, a graphic novel instended for adults, includes explicit sexual images.) One of the employees checked out the book to keep it off the shelf. She kept renewing it, over and over - till someone requested the book, and the computer wouldn't allow the renewal. The library worker checked on the requestor, and found it was a child, so she canceled the request. At some point, her plan was discovered, and she and a complicit employee were fired.

These two library workers' actions were wrong, but I understand their motivation.

When I was a kid, I had free access to the library. I got there on my bicycle, and had my own card, and could check out (or read in the stacks) whatever I wanted. Of course this was a long time ago now, before DVDs or even videos, and when graphic novels were mostly called comic books (Archie and Veronica, anyone?). But still, I can remember wandering in the "adult" section and reading books I shouldn't have been reading.

Now, my kids have their own library cards. They can check out any book, as far as I can tell. But they can't check out movies except those in the children's area. That means they can't acccess the MacGyver DVD they are watching right now, National Geographic nature documentaries, and R-rated fiction movies. That's a little inconvenient for me, mainly because once in a while we'd like to get more than the 4 DVDs we can take out at once. But, we manage to get by.

It would be nice if each book or movie could be assessed on its own content and coded in such a way that a child can't take it out if the content is too adult-oriented. But that's just impractical. I suppose there are parents who wouldn't want their 10-year-olds watching MacGyver. And it wouldn't stop anyone from reading something they shouldn't while in the library.

Most of the comments on the news article were very critical of the library workers. Many pointed out that it's the job of the parents to monitor their child's reading material. Yes, that's right. But I don't think people can depend on that. I look over the books my kids check out, but I doubt everyone does. And if my kids were, say, going to the library on their own after school, I might never know what books they had.

I'd like to think my kids wouldn't hide inappropriate books from me, but I know it's a possibility. Actually, I wish that there were no inappropriate books in the public library, but I guess not everyone would agree with my decisions on what could stay and what would have to go. (Yet, they should. I'm so reasonable.)

Words, and images even more so, stay with us. You can't unsee something. Kids do need to be protected from their own curiosity sometimes.

I don't have an answer to this problem, except to be vigilant with my own kids as long as I can.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Fast food wasteland

Tomorrow is my girl's last soccer game of the season. It's also the earliest: 8:30 am. Ugh! We've been really bored with breakfast lately and I thought about taking the kids through BK on the way to the game. They like those nutrition-free but tasty french toast sticks. But no. Here in the fast food wasteland the nearest Burger King is 4.6 miles away, and in the opposite direction of the soccer field. There is a McD's close by, but my kids despise the Egg McMuffin. (Sigh) They find the pancakes pretty nasty too, as they are used to Dad's hearty (not rubbery) whole wheat beauties on Sunday mornings.

Back in crunchy-granola Oregon, there were fastfoods everywhere. I can still picture 2 BKs within a couple miles of my house, and on the way to just about anyplace I could be going. But then again, Chick-Fil-A (closed on Sundays) can't survive there. Heathens. But we don't like the idea of the chicken/egg thing they serve at breakfast anyway.

So, I guess it'll be oatmeal tomorrow. But there's a bright spot: the coach is bringing Dunkin' Donuts for after the game. I'll bring a big thermos of coffee.

My little soccer player wondered today if the trophies will look the same as last year, with every girl the MVP. I can't imagine any reason they wouldn't be.

This page unintentionally left blank

Abandoned blogs are a little troublesome. When I come across one, I always wonder what happened to the blogger. I imagine all sorts of terrible things.

But I don't have an exciting abandonment story. More like, a lack of exciting stories.

I thought about relating the story of our standardized test day, but ran out of time and then - it was old news. Or maybe about "dvd school" which is a way to get some schooltime in when everyone is sickly. Hey, if kids are watching "Finding Nemo" in science class, then surely Nova episodes are OK. Then there was the anniversary of the Berlin Wall, which brought up a lot of memories, but... the day passed and it seemed irrelevant. (Not those kinds of memories - I've never been to Berlin.)

I could write about how sick my Boy Scout and I have been, and how he missed one of the most super-fun campouts of the year - for the 2nd year in a row! - but why record that memory? Better to try to forget about it. And hope for next year.

I could mention that I'm starting to get spam comments and had to add word verification to stop it, but... no one comments on abandoned blogs anyway.

There are always books to write about, but that requires actually reading the whole book. I've been enjoying Alison Weir's bio of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Not a fast read, but a truly fascinating one. My kids would like me to get off the computer and go read The Poisons of Caux, right now! If all goes well we'll finish that one over the weekend.

But next week is Thanksgiving and we're planning a great feast with some friends and life is looking more exciting. So maybe this isn't totally abandoned after all.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Better keep your Boy Scouts out of public school...

... because zero tolerance policies may have a harmful effect on their futures.

Matthew Whalen is an Eagle Scout who is hoping to go to the US Military Academy. Maybe he won't be able to, though:

Seventeen-year-old Matthew Whalen, a senior at Lansingburgh High School in Troy, N.Y., says he got in trouble over a survival kit he keeps in his car that includes a sleeping bag, water, a ready-to-eat meal and the small pocketknife, which was given to him by his grandfather, a police chief in a nearby town.

When Whalen acknowledged he had the knife locked in his car, he was barred from school for a calendar month. Now that he is getting just 90 minutes a day with a tutor instead of 7 hours of instruction in class, he says he is worried that the suspension will mar his academic record and affect his application to attend the U.S. Military Academy.

From Fox News via Commentary.

This comes just after a Cub Scout was suspended (though the suspension was later reversed) for bringing in his new fork/knife/spoon utensil he was given in Scouts. One of the defenders of the decision said:

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board. He defended the decision, but added that the board might adjust the rules when it comes to younger children like Zachary.

What, they don't use pencils in that school? Do they have someone checking to be sure they don't get too sharp? I'd have loved to have been the pencil-sharpener monitor in kindergarten!

The community center where Derrion Albert was killed probably had a zero-tolerance policy too. But he wasn't stabbed with a pocket knife, just beaten with fists, feet and 2-by-4s.

I think kids are safer around pocket-knife-toting Boy Scouts than they are around zero-tolerance administrators.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Even a kid can figure it out.

Yesterday an off-hand comment turned into a major discussion. The words "Nobel Peace Prize" were uttered and set off a few questions by my girl. My kids have heard of the Nobel prizes, of course, though they are not usually major topics around here. I told her that President Obama had won the Peace Prize that very day.

The boy was walking into the room at that moment and only heard a few words of the conversation. He asked, "Is he up for the Peace Prize?" I told him that he'd won it. The boy's eyebrows contracted. He looked puzzled. "Really? For what?"

Friday, October 09, 2009

Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird lately?

Last week (or maybe the week before) was Banned Books Week at the local library, and To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the featured books. I am not sure why I don't own a copy, but I picked up both a hardback and an audio book version.

Why don't I read this book more often? It is one of the best books, ever. Sweet, funny, heartbreakingly sad... It's a story of racial tension and prejudice in small-town Alabama in the 1930's. Of two kids growing up. Of bravery, honor, hatred and acceptance. There are wonderful characters. It's a huge book - not in size, but in all that the story holds.

I realized as I read that most of my memories of the story come from the movie. The book is, as usual, much much richer than the move - though the movie is very good and true to the book. Still, there's just not room for everything.

I probably listened to about a quarter of it and read the rest. The audio was perfectly read by Sissy Spacek. She captured the narrator's voice beautifully. Still, there were certain things I heard in the movie voices as I read.

This is not a book for kids even though the main characters are children. I can't wait till my kids are old enough for it. I know they'll be in high school then, but I plan on reading it to them, if they'll let me.

Cooking improv

Last week we were in the mood for fall-ish food so we made some pumpkin scones. They turned out really badly. Very bland and dull. It is not often any sort of baked good is disliked in this house of carbs, but these were not going to be eaten.

Still, I wrapped them up and put them in the freezer, thinking there had to be something I could do with them. I hate throwing out edible food, even if it's not very good.

Don't know where the inspiration came from, but tonight we enjoyed them as pumpkin bread pudding. It was pretty simple: just a basic bread pudding recipe with scones instead of plain bread, the usual eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla, and the rest of the can of pumpkin I opened to make the scones.

It came out custardy and rich and very delicious. Perfect for a night when half the family is a little sickly. The kids convinced me that it's healthful enough for breakfast tomorrow - as long as we leave off the whipped cream. Perfect, since the seminarian is having breakfast out tomorrow, and we need something special too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Insomniac dog

Last night the dog couldn't get to sleep. So, I couldn't either.

Most nights he sleeps happily (or at least silently) on the "foot table" (kids' name for an ottoman) in the living room, or curled up at the end of the girl's bed. Sometimes he'll wander through the house at night, checking out each room before settling back down. I don't mind hearing him clicking his way through the house on those nights. It's kind of a comforting sound: the watchdog on patrol!

On rare occasion he will come into my room and whine, softly at first, then with increasing insistence (he is a very polite dog). That usually means "please let me outside for a minute." We do, and then it's back to bed for everyone.

But last night was different. He was cranked up and ready to party. He came into the bedroom and whined like crazy till the seminarian took him out. After they came back in, he was still wandering around, seeking attention. So after a while I got up and took him out. He seemed happy enough to be outside, but came in when I was ready to. But he wouldn't go to bed.

So I decided to treat him like one of my children (almost) and lied down on the couch next to his bed. He came up to me and stuck his snout in my face like dogs (and kids) will do when they want attention. Finally I convinced him to lie down. Seemed like we both slept, off and on, through the night. But every time I woke up and went to check the time - and maybe go back to my own, more comfortable bed - he'd jump right up and go with me, staying close.

He had just taken some hookworm medicine and I wondered if insomnia was a side effect. But tonight we stopped in at the vet to get some other medicine and asked. She said that he might have felt nausea from the medicine and was just uncomfortable and didn't want to be alone.

How about that? Just like those children.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

One-car family no more!

When we moved from Oregon to Pennsylvania two years ago, we came with only one car. We left behind the beloved yet too-old-to move 1988 Camry. (Actually, it wasn't beloved by me, but it was a good car, and paid for and all that, but pretty worn out and not worth moving.) We figured we'd try to live with one vehicle for a while. Maybe a couple months, no more than that.

After about a year we figured we'd had enough of the one-car life. Here in the suburbs, and without good public transportation, it's just hard. There are very few useful places we can walk: the post office, car repair shop (and that's a very good thing), a crummy yet overpriced grocery store and a deli. Oh, and a Mexican restaurant we've been to just once.

So we started looking for a car but nothing really turned up. Oh, we'd have opportunities now and then, but it never worked out. We didn't want to buy in a panic and make a mistake, so we tried to be patient. Of course we prayed about a car, and for patience till we found a good one. But it was getting pretty tiresome. I'd have to drive the seminarian to school most days, then go back and pick him up. We had to coordinate every activity carefully to be sure we could get everyone there and back again on time. We had to skip some things we'd like to have done because we just couldn't make it work. And, perhaps worst of all, we had to bum rides from people.

Two years went by and I alternated between hating my one-car life and loving it. Sometimes it was nice to send the seminarian off to school and be housebound; it took away the temptation to go out unnecessarily. But then there were those times when someone had to be disappointed because transportation just wasn't available.

Two weeks ago another opportunity came up. We tried not to get too excited about it, but it sounded pretty good. We were given the chance to drive the car for a couple of days and have our mechanic check it out. It was very cheap, because the owners believed that the car needed a lot of work. When the mechanic's report showed that the car needed only minor (and inexpensive!), we were able to seal the deal. And now we have another car!

It hasn't even been two weeks but I can feel that a huge burden has been listed off my shoulders. We don't have to choreograph every move we make. We don't have to bum rides and we can drop off and pick up one child from an activity without having to worry about leaving the other kid stranded at another activity somewhere else. (As in soccer practice on Monday nights, same time, different fields.)

This is one of those times when I can truly say that God cares about His people. In the big picture of life, there are many, many things worse than being a one-car family. He kept us going through the difficult times. We figure those deals that fell through were protection against future car troubles. (Of course we don't know that, but, looking back, we can see that.) This car we waited for was cheap, oh so cheap. A gift, really. And that's how we are looking at it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Book Disappointment

For the past couple of weeks I've been reading, off and on, Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale. I saw it on the new books shelf of my library; it fits in with our loose study of ancient history this quarter.

I read the first few chapters eagerly, thinking this would be great for my boy. There were a couple of vulgar sexual references in the introduction, but I figured he could skip that. I assigned him to read the first two chapters which were about Themistocles' plan for the Athenian navy, and the building of the trireme fleet. My boy loved it and it led to more research on the trireme ship.

I continued to read, partly for my own edification and partly to see if it would work for him. I was thinking I'd buy a copy to have around for him to read when he wanted to. And then, about a third of the way through, I just had to stop. For there is one paragraph that just ruins the book. It is just a paragraph, but the graphic sexual imagery in it makes it impossible for me to hand the book off to my 12-year-old, or to recommend it to anyone other than an adult. Actually, I'm not going to recommend it to anyone at all.

The paragraph added nothing to the book in terms of the history of the navy. I suppose it might be interesting to some, this bit of information about Greek culture. But it was completely unnecessary. And I understand that the book was written for adults, but it was very readable for my guy and would be for most middle- or high-schoolers with an interest in the topic. But, forget it. It's just not suitable.

It's really frustrating to find a book - a really well-written and interesting book - that has to be ruined like that. Finding good books for a middle-schooler is hard. The books in the kids' department are not detailed enough. The "young adult" area is mostly useless; the focus there is on supposed "teen interest" with loads of books on self-esteem, drug use, and dating problems, but not much in the way of academic subjects.

This seemed like a near-perfect book. What a disappointment, and what a waste.

Feels like playing hooky

Both my kids are a little bit sick today: slightly feverish, alternating between feeling hot and feeling cold, "gunky throat," all that stuff. So we are staying home from church. They are not so sick that they are flat on their backs or sleeping all day, just feeling crummy.

I hate those borderline sicknesses. I'd almost rather they were sicker so I could be sure they are sick enough to keep home. I don't want them spreading illness. But I don't want to stay home for every little symptom.

My boy keeps saying "H1N1?" every time we take his temp or ask how he's feeling. We don't talk about the flu much around here but I guess he hears enough little things to start worrying.

Today is our Pastor's last day at our church. He accepted a full-time position at the seminary where he has been a part-time lecturer. Of course his family has to find a new church home, so we'll not only miss him as pastor but will miss having his family as part of the congregation. Maybe it'll be easier on me not to have to hear all the goodbyes today. We know we'll be seeing them again, just not at church every Sunday.

For someone who hasn't updated this blog in a long time, I'm not making a very good comeback, am I?

More about books and reading tomorrow, maybe.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Things I never thought I'd see

Woodstock Paper Dolls.

Does anyone really want their little girl playing with Roger Daltrey paper dolls? Note that each doll comes with a groovy extra outfit!

(Dover Books does have lots of other, and good, stuff.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Yesterday I had one of those moments wherein I wish I was more quick-witted. I was at a small dinner party and during dessert talk got around to the pros and cons - mostly cons - of Facebook. Then someone commented on the waste of time that is the blogosphere: how odd it is that anyone - imagine, just anyone! - can express their opinions electronically to the world. A few others at the table joined in agreement; a few of us just stayed quiet. There was a sort of "what is this world coming to?" vibe about the exchange. Then a moment of silence as a few people (maybe all the bloggers and Facebookers) got up for more dessert and coffee and the conversation moved on.

I can never think of what to say in those moments. Certainly "I blog!" would not have been the right thing. But, why couldn't I have said that I find some blogs helpful and interesting and not a waste of time at all? I could have gently reminded the critics that they don't have to read any blogs, but some of us don't consider them all a waste of time. I probably should have defended Facebook too, in support of the lone user at the table. When asked if I use it, I truthfully said no, but I probably gave the impression that it's due to disapproval, not to my fear of losing hours of my day looking for high school friends and former coworkers.

But I can never think quickly enough.

Those are also the times I feel like a young person trapped in an old person's body. I might have been the oldest person there, but I felt like I was sitting with a bunch of old fogies grumbling about the all the new-fangled ways of the world. At least no one said "back in my day..."

It makes me want to (finally) learn how to upload photos and get going on Facebook. First people I'd look for? The other silent ones at the table last night.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Personal reading challenge

There was a time when I considered myself a reader. I was one of those bookworm kids and I continued to read a lot as an adult. Somewhere after becoming a mother, personal reading fell off the daily agenda. Homeschooling didn't really help; I read (both past and present tense) a lot, but it's not really the personal reading that I crave.

Then I read Susan Wise Bauer's essay "Stop Cleaning the Kitchen and Read a Book" in "The Classical Teacher," a magazine/catalog put out by Memoria Press. That did not help me feel any better about the lack of reading in my life.

I've read and used some of Mrs. Bauer's books. I can't say I run a classical homeschool though I use some of the recommendations I've found in A Well-Trained Mind. I disagree with some of her philosophy - which means I agree with some of it. Like this:

In order to embark on the project of classical education— not just for our children, but also for ourselves—we have to rediscover a much older way of thinking. For us to really enter into the project of classical education, we have to change our perspective from “I could be educated if I could go through school again" or “I could be educated if I had time to enroll in a graduate program" to “I can educate myself." We have to think about how we will enter into classical education along with our children.

In order to get educated, we do not have to go to graduate school. We have to read, take notes on what we read, and discuss ideas with our friends.

The article has much more to it; there is practical advice on how to read (as in, to get a lot out of a book), and how to get over the feeling that there is simply not enough time to read. There are no recommended booklists; she covered that in her book A Well-Educated Mind, and there are plenty of other places to find good books to read.

Regarding "there's not enough time to read," she says:

The biggest difference between electronic media and books is the way in which television and the internet can insinuate themselves into every spare minute. I have never once sat down to read Plato, lost myself in it, and looked up and found that two hours have passed. But there have been a lot of times when I've just sat down to look at email ... and have suddenly discovered that a huge amount of valuable time has slipped away from me.

I read this article at the end of July, so for August I set myself the goal of spending an hour a day reading. Real books - the internet and magazines don't count. Homeschooling books and curriculum don't count either.

The first week of August was pretty easy for me; one child was away at camp and one was at a daycamp for 5 hours each day. But that first easy week reminded me of how much I missed reading, so it was a little easier to keep up after the camp week was over. I probably missed my goal a few days here and there, but overall I found or made the time. I read quite a few books of my own, and previewed a few for the kids. I read parts of some books that have been kicking around for ages, only to find they really weren't worth finishing after all.

During that month, the house wasn't any messier than usual, the kids and husband didn't go hungry, and I was probably more content and relaxed than normal because I was reading again. Actually, my kids probably stepped up to help more than before, because I was asking them to - so I would have more time to read.

Some mothers I tried to talk to about this were dubious. They couldn't get past the "stop washing dishes" part. Some are just in the wrong season of life for this right now. It's true that I don't have babies and toddlers who demand constant attention; I wouldn't be typing this up right now if I did.

What I do have, though, are two young people who need to see, in a concrete way, that reading is valued in our house. I can talk to them all I want about the importance of reading good books but at what point do they look at me and say "if it's so important, why aren't you doing it too?" I might think I don't have to worry about that; they are good and enthusiastic readers. Well, that's today. What about tomorrow?

Someone might say I'm justifying my own selfishness because I simply want to read. (Actually someone did say that.) I am not always reading Plato and Aristotle and Homer, it's true.

But, that is a challenge for another month. August was my month to get started. I haven't decided on any changes for September. It's enough for me right now just to be reading again.

Friday, September 04, 2009

When you go to the fair...

be sure to look for the racing pigs.

They swim too:

I knew the racing pigs would be on youtube. We didn't take any pictures of the racing pigs when we saw them today; we were laughing too hard.

It was the highlight of the fair for us!

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

Last night I reluctantly put Prayers for Sale down with only 30 pages left to read. But it was late, and I felt like I didn't want to rush the ending. This morning I did a few morning things, then hunkered down with it to finish it off. I'm glad I didn't rush.

This is a book I would never have picked up if I hadn't read Smallworld's review. It just looks like "women's fiction" which I typically don't like. It is a woman's story, but also much more.

The story is set in during the Great Depression, in a Colorado mining town. But Hennie, the main character, loves to tell stories, so it really goes back to the time of the Civil War when she was a young woman as she tells her story and the stories of many others. (She also quilts; it's not a quilting book but quilts and quilting figure prominently in the story - making me want to do some sewing.)

Some of the stories are funny; some are heartbreakingly sad; some are gruesome. I often stop reading a book when the tragedies start piling up and the story becomes too bleak. But the author never lets this book get to that point. There are lots of surprises in the story, and some coincidences, too, but they never come off as contrived. The ending is quite satisfying. Endings of books are very important to me; I really hate when a book seems to stop abruptly with an outlandish ending, or when the loose ends are neatly and improbably all tied up. This ended so perfectly. I wil look for more books by this author.

As I started reading the book I kept thinking that I need to read Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose next. Now it's been at least 20 years since I read that, so I don't remember much about it; the only connection I can come up with is the setting of western mining towns. But I guess it's time to get that one back out and take a look.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Why we start our school year in July

Some people think I'm crazy to start our homeschooling year in July. They have fond memories of their own long summer vacations and think I'm cruel to have my kids doing math before Labor Day. That's OK; they can do things their way.

We have over 30 of our 180 required school days done. Some of those were accomplished over 2 half days. We didn't have to spend a lot of time reviewing math concepts forgotten over the long break. (We have enough trouble with math after a short break.) We continued on with our history and "language arts" and started some interesting science work while I continue to search for a good, "regular" science curriculum. (Nothing I come across seems quite right, but they're "doing science" in any case.)

But here's the real reason: today is a gorgeous late-summer day. It hasn't been a terribly hot summer by most standards, but my kids wilt when it gets over 85 or so. They don't mind being inside reading and doing other work when it's really hot out. (I'm not pretending that they enjoy all their schoolwork, but they know they have to do it, and why not on a miserably hot day?) But today, it's mild and beautiful. They went out to bounce on the trampoline (a recent hand-me-down gift from some friends) and are now playing commando with all their duct-tape-and-cardboard-tube weaponry and backpacks full of canned goods. I love it that my 12-year-old will still play this way with his sister.

And I can let them do that because in the hot days of July and August they were doing their math.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Earlier this summer we met a boy, about the age of mine, in the neighborhood. Actually my boy had encountered him a few times while playing street hockey with some other kids, but he'd never really known him. He was going through the neighborhood soliciting yard jobs when he came to our door.

We stood out on what passes for our front porch and chatted a bit. Right from the start the boy seemed eager for a friend. He was up front about being bored this summer. He wanted to know if he could come in right that minute and hang out. No? How about tomorrow then? When I made a vague reference to maybe sometime going to the local pool, he wanted to know if we could go right then. His mom was standing there but she didn't do anything to rein him in a little.

A day or so later we invited him over. The kids hung out together while his mom and I chatted. I had been careful to set an approximate time when we had to do something so it wasn't an open-ended visit. They were here for a couple of hours.

The next day, and the next, the boy called, but mine was not available. The boy called every day, sometimes more than once. Every few days they'd get together for an hour or two. But usually I had to remind my boy to call him, and he really didn't always feel like it.


I have been on the wrong side of a one-sided relationship before. It took me a while to clue in to the fact that I was always initiating the get-togethers and when I decided to stop trying, the relationship ended. That was not fun. And I saw how hurt my girl was when girls she met soon after we moved here showed no interest in her. She invited them over, they seemed to have a good time, but there was no reciprocation. She's made some other friends now, but it was hard for her to understand why the neighborhood girls didn't want to befriend her. Of course we talked about the long hours kids are at school, and the fact that piano lessons and such have to come after all those hours. Those kids are busy, very very busy. We also talked about compatibility: they didn't like dolls; she doesn't like talking about tween celebrities. She understood, but was still lonely.

So, I try to be aware of these issues with my kids and their friendships. We don't want to be hurt, and we don't want to hurt others.


So I asked my boy why he didn't want to call this neighbor and he told me they just didn't have anything in common. There were no shared interests at all. They would get together and talk at each other about things they wanted to talk about. I tried to pay attention during one visit and I could see the problem. They didn't really have anything to talk about, and didn't enjoy the same activities. I also learned that the neighbor is familiar with, and comfortable using, some pretty vulgar language. Once when my boy was at his house and I had to call to have him come home early, the neighbor argued with me a bit; he didn't think my boy should have had to leave early. So I wasn't too inclined to promote this friendship either.


Kids have to spend a lot of time with people they are not compatible with. I have a friend who has kids the same age as mine, but our two boys don't really get along. They are mostly nice to each other when they are forced to be together, but they are very different in temperament and interests. One loves sports and is very competitive; the other enjoys a casual game now and then but cares more about having fun than winning. It can be frustrating for both of them. Yet we expect them to be friends because their mothers are friends.

Of course schoolkids are not compatible with all their classmates.


Now my boy doesn't appear to be someone who needs a lot of time with friends. He has his Boy Scouts and another kid around the corner he sometimes gets together with. He has his sister, and the dog, and books and the computer and now his soccer team. He does not spend a lot of time sitting around bored, wanting someone - anyone - to come over.

How and why was I supposed to make him be friends with this neighbor?

Finally, that last time the neighbor called, he just told the semi-truth: that he has been having a busy summer, that we have started our school year, and that he would call when he could. In other words, don't call me, I'll call you. Harsh, isn't it?

Of course as Christians we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we might consider that that command might include befriending a lonely kid on the block. I still don't feel great about all this, but I still don't know what I would have done differently.

Public school is starting soon, or has started already (I never really know). This neighbor is or will soon be busy with his classes and school friends. I assume he will, or has, found kids he is compatible with. I hope he has.

And I hope we learn how to do this better next time.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

Homegrown Mommy is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling this week.

I think every homeschooler ought to check out When Homeschooling is Hard at The Architect and the Artist. It's a good list of reasons to be thankful for homeschooling.

Of course there are many more good posts to read at the carnival. Check it out.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Check out "Homeschooling Strengthens Families"

at Why Homeschool. The Cate family adopted a foster child some time ago. This post describes the many ways their homeschooling lifestyle has benefited their new son along with their three daughters. It's really beautiful and worth the short time to read.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Another thing to love about Boy Scouts

Last night and this morning my boy was out helping a fellow Scout work on his Eagle project. (This is a large project required to become an Eagle Scout, the highest award in Boy Scouts.) Last winter he helped put up a deer fence in a local park. This time the project took place at several local playgrounds. The boys - young men, really - spread new wood chips on the playground areas.

The projects represent a lot of hard work. But they are always fun. A group of men together can have a lot of fun accomplishing something.

My boy always comes home from these work days tired but happy. That sense of accomplishment just doesn't come from helping mom do the dishes. Mowing the lawn is a better example of similar work to do at home, but it still isn't quite the same as doing it with a bunch of other guys. I mean, young men.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sometimes, we just have to get to work

We went bowling earlier this week, using the kids' free bowling coupons. There was something new in the bowling alley: big banners advertising a "Moms Open House." It's taking place during the first weeks that schools are back in session, and is designed to introduce moms to the joys of league bowling. The flyer promises fun, and prizes, and gift bags.

My kids asked if I wanted to go. No, I said, I'd rather be home with you.

Homeschool moms sometimes feel conflicted this time of year. We are happy to have our children home with us. We don't like seeing other mothers rejoicing at getting their kids out of the house when school starts. We don't join in the champagne celebrations at the bus stop. (I truly did see someone's blog post describing such a thing.)

Of course every mother needs to get away from her children sometimes, and kids need to be away from mommy (more and more so as they grow up). But it is kind of ugly, the way mothers are so eager to get the kids out of the way so they can get on with their lives. I have to wonder how a kid feels, watching his mother do a happy dance as he gets on the bus to spend most of his day away from home.

(And of course I am not talking about all mothers of schoolkids. Just those that are sick of their kids after summer vacation and can't wait till they're out of the house for eight hours a day again.)

But then, after we stop feeling superior, the envy can set in. Those other mothers, the ones with the kids out of the house all day, have free time. They could go bowling! They could have cleaner houses, more beautiful yards. They could go shopping and out for coffee; or just sit on the couch and read. All while we are staying home fighting over math while the dishes stack up and dust bunnies frolic.

So we go to our homeschool mom friends and cry out our frustrations: "I'm overwhelmed. I can't do all this." We are tired, we are burned out - and that's just from the planning. We're not even doing anything with the kids yet; they're still out in the back yard on the trampoline. We plan to "start school" real soon now, but keep pushing it back because we're not ready, not up for it yet.

And we pat each other on the back and say "oh, yes, of course you feel that way. Take some time off, let the kids stay on the trampoline a while longer, rest and relax, and you'll feel better. You are trying to do too much." And we believe we are offering encouragement.

But sometimes that's not encouragement. That's enabling. That's letting us revel in self-pity and giving us reason not to get on with with what we need to be doing. Real encouragement says "yeah, we're all tired. But we have a job to do. Get to work."

Christian homeschoolers often like to quote Jesus's offer of rest. Yes, His yoke is easy and His burden is light. It is important to remember that; I am not making fun. But we tend to forget the parts about hard work. Jesus didn't let tiredness, or being in a bad mood, or feeling down keep Him from His work. He got up when he was tired. His disciples worked hard too, and they didn't wait to get started till they felt up for it. They endured greater hardships than any tired homeschooling mom.

Years ago when my sister's four children were small, I was amazed at the amount of work she did for them. She wasn't homeschooling, but she helped with Girl Scout cookie sales and Boy Scout fundraisers, made the girls' dresses and everyone's Halloween costumes - and these were elaborate, sewn-from-patterns costumes, not cardboard, felt, and duct tape creations. She was always busy and she didn't get much sleep. When I expressed concern for her lack of sleep and rest she always said "I'll sleep when I'm dead." She wasn't being cynical. Her rest wasn't important to her. Maybe her rest came in the satisfaction of seeing her girls wearing pretty dresses, in watching them have a great time on Halloween, in helping them enjoy their activities in Scouts.

Her kids would have turned out fine without the cool Halloween costumes, but it was something she chose to do - no, something she felt she was supposed to do. It was important to her. And she didn't complain about being tired while she was doing it.

Of course the costumes and the lack of sleep are not the point. Of course we are supposed to get our rest. (For all I know, my sister is one of those people who only needs 4 hours sleep a night.) Of course if we are sick we should stop and take care of ourselves. And of course we all need a little downtime. This month I finally set myself a goal of spending one hour reading each day. Real reading, in real books - not magazines or websites. It's been wonderful, and refreshing, and motivating. But I'm still doing my other work. I'm still homeschooling.

So if we're homeschooling because we feel it's the right thing to do, or feel called by God to do, then we need to stop talking about how hard it is, and go do it.

This morning I overslept. When I got into the kitchen, I remembered some things I had let slip the night before, so I had work to do right from the start. Because I overslept, bread dough I'd left rising in the refrigerator all night wasn't going to be in the oven when I wanted it to be. I was pretty annoyed with myself for my poor planning.

I could have called on some girlfriends who would have sympathized with me. They may have told me that I must have needed the rest and that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. They most likely wouldn't have said what I needed to hear, which was, "why didn't you go to bed earlier, and set the alarm to wake you up?" Or, "why are you calling me now instead of getting things done?"

So, I didn't call (or write); I looked up a Bible passage. No, not Matthew 11:28 - 30. Instead, I went to the first chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus has just ascended into heaven, and the disciples are standing there:

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

In other words: "Why are you standing around? You have work to do. Go get to it."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carnival of Homeschooling

The "We've Got Style!" edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Homeschool Bytes.

It's a beautifully illustrated edition, too. I'm looking forward to getting some ideas for lunch from Homeschool Talk: School Lunches at Aimee's Land. Around here lately it's been a little hit or miss, with nachos the most requested (though not most granted). But then I've never done lunch well.

I like the sound of "How to Educate for Beautiful Results" at Pajama School. And "Using Nature Study to Study all Areas of Science" at Katie's Homeschool Cottage has some great ideas for expanding science learning.

Of course there's lots more at the Carnival.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Semi-schooling history

After finishing the 4-volume, 4-year cycle (that we took 6 years to complete) of The Story of the World earlier this year, I decided that this would be our year of unschooling history. Not because I don't like studying history with my kids. We love history. I have never understood people who say they dislike history. I stare slack-jawed at homeschool moms who say they don't know how to teach history. I can't even comprehend their problem.

But we have some other things to focus on right now and we really don't need to move right back into a full-on study of history. Except I really can't unschool very well, so, we have a bit of a plan. I can't manage without some sort of plan. I don't have room for all our history books to be out of boxes and available all at once, for free perusal during the year. So, we're dividing up the year, and world history, by quarter:

Q1, July - September: Overview and Ancient
Q2, October - December: Medieval
Q3, January - March: Renaissance through Civil War
Q4, April - June: the rest

Obviously no one can effectively teach world history in a year. But I'm not really trying to teach it. I just want to keep the history fire burning till our next academic year when we will focus on American history.

Our read-aloud is a wonderful narrative history book: A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich. It's an overview, designed to create a love of history in kids. It's written a little below my kids' reading level right now; I've had it a long time, and foolishly waited till we were finished with Story of the World before starting it. (That was a dumb thing to do and I regret it. I frequently remind homeschooling mothers that they should not make themselves slaves to the curriculum; why didn't I listen to my own advice? I should have just taken a break from SOTW to read this beautiful book.) But they are enjoying it, and I am happy to say that a good bit of it sounds familiar to them. My boy retained more of ancient history than I thought he would, but then I shouldn't be surprised, he's always had a good auditory memory. My girl was little when we started our history cycle so it's not surprising she doesn't remember so much. Still, she's taking it in now.

As I read, I am having the kids make a simple outline of the book - just writing down the important people and events of each chapter. These are skills they haven't really picked up yet.

We're also watching the dvd course World History: The Fertile Crescent to the American Revolution by The Teaching Company. This is a series of 30-minute high-school level lectures. It's a one-man show - the teacher presents his lecture in period costume, and assumes the role of a character of the time he's lecturing on. It's engaging, sometimes funny, and the kids are getting a lot out of that too. There is a student workbook to go along with the course, but we're not using that now. Maybe in a few years we'll come back to that.

For the rest, the kids are mostly reading on their own. They're using the internet, too, more than they have in the past. The Usborne Internet-Linked Encyclopedia of the Ancient World is a great tool for this. Lots of text and great illustrations, and links on (nearly) every page to find out more. I hear "hey, come look at this!" a lot when one of the kids is reading it or looking something up.

Of course we use lots of good books too. I read them The Children's Homer by Padraic Colum - one they could have read alone, but my memories of The Iliad and The Odyssey had faded a little and I wanted a refresher. I'll probably read some others along the way, too. But mostly they are doing their own reading. Narrative histories, biographies, historical fiction. Lots of books I wish I had time to read too, like The Bronze Bow, The Golden Goblet, Mara, Daughter of the Nile, In Search of a Homeland (children's version of the Aeneid), and Black Ships Before Troy. Some I'd like to reread: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, among others.

One fabulous library find is Battle At Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare. This is keeping the boy really engaged. It's a gorgeous - and useful! - book and might have to find its way into our permanent collection.

Our box of ancient history books is overflowing. Some books might get a cursory glance as they really are for the younger set. There might be some sentimental value attached to Growing up in Ancient China but I don't think it will really be needed. Maybe I can put that and a few others into my pile to sell at a curriculum fair next year. Some books won't be used for a few years yet. I can't wait to get into the Greek plays but have to be patient for a little longer. But I also found my college edition of The Epic of Gilgamesh which we read in a picture-book version years ago; I think it's time for the real thing now - I'll read this one to them. And the "Oxford Profiles"- Ancient Egyptians: People of the Pyramids, Ancient Greeks: Creating the Classical Tradition, and Ancient Romans: Expanding the Classical Tradition - are a good fit for this year, at least as "browsing books" though likely not for complete reading yet. (We will use them more extensively next time around.) We bought these years ago for much less than they are priced now. Probably as we were packing to move I wondered why I was carrying these books around, but of course now I'm so glad to have them.

Browsing through the "Profiles" book on the Greeks, I came across the listing for Pytheas, who is believed to have voyaged from Greek Marseilles up to what is now England. That reminded me that some time ago I picked up The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek so I'm previewing that to see if it's a good candidate for reading aloud.

Yeah, it'll be hard to fit all these books into the next month and less-than-a-half. But I'm not looking for comprehensive reading. I have to remember I am just keeping the fires burning.

So far it's working out pretty well.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The weirdest birth announcement I've ever seen

This fits into the "too much information" category: announcement of the birth of a new boy, including, among all the usual vital stats, the fact that he will remain "intact." Also included were links to various websites about the evils of male circumcision.

Now I don't have an opinion one way or another on male circumcision. And I'm all for people educating others about controversial topics that are important to them.

But, please, not via the birth announcement.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I don't love my health insurance company. We have a fair number of claims, and it's a rare occasion when someone doesn't make a mistake; they either reimburse the wrong person, or incorrectly reject the claim altogether. It can take a few frustrating phone calls and a bit of a wait to get reimbursement. Writing the premium check every month is pretty painful, too.

Still, I don't ever, ever think to myself: This sure would work better if the government took healthcare over.

I can't even imagine the problems I would have with those claims then, assuming the services were even covered. And I don't believe anyone, from the President on down, who tells me "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan." I'd actually like a better plan; wouldn't you? But the government isn't going to give us one.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's the Lolcats edition...

of the Carnival of Homeschooling, at HomeschoolBuzz. Lots of funny animal pics along with the usual wide variety of homeschool-related writing. I am particularly interested in Taking Science to the Next Level with Engaging Online Explorations at ChoosyHomeschooler.

PS: Being more of a dog person myself, I prefer Loldogs.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer Reading: The Ingenious Edgar Jones

It's been a long time since I read a book quickly, stealing time as often as possible to sneak in a few pages. My reading has been sporadic for so long; I pick up a lot of books but rarely finish them. Or, I finish them but it's slow going. I haven't been totally lost in a story for a long time. Finally I found one to race through, eager to get back to it when life interrupted my reading.

I was attracted to the cover of The Ingenious Edgar Jones (by Elizabeth Garner) at the library. I love beautiful covers but of course am often disappointed by what's between them. In this case, I wasn't... and I was.

The story is beautifully written. Edgar Jones is born, mid-19th-century Oxford, on a remarkable night. He is a remarkable boy. The story is his, from birth to about age 14, and his parents'. His mother was the daughter of a tavern-keeper; his father a porter at Oxford University. The father sets great store by books and learning; Edgar displays a different kind of intelligence, one his father cannot understand and thus cannot respect. Eventually, things go badly.

It is not a happy book, but it's not grim either. Well, it's the story of a family's disintegration; how can that not be grim? That's how good the writing is. The parents, in particular the father, show a complete lack of understanding of their child and how to help him grow up. The father's expectations of how his son should turn out render him unable to see his boy for who he is. The mother seems a little more able to see and understand the boy, but is unable to help him either. It is a sobering book for parents: could these things happen to my family? Am I paying attention to my kids, to their talents and skills? Am I trying to fit them into a box of my making?

There are beautiful moments too. Did I already say it's beautifully-written?

The disappointing part came at the ambiguous ending. Suddenly, elements of magical realism were introduced into the book. (I like magical realism, a la Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, but not when it's inconsistent with the rest of the book.) Perhaps they'd been there, in a subtle way, all along. Certainly there was something magical about Edgar. But at the end, it felt as if the author couldn't quite decide what to do with some of the characters, so... well, I won't say what happened but it was not what I was expecting. I'll just say I'd rather have a realistic unhappy ending than a completely contrived one.

Still, I found a lot to like, and to ponder, about this book. I'll look for others by Elizabeth Garner.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Growing up and away

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the freedom we have not to assign our kids into a single grade level. We know that grade level in the American public school system is an artificial construct, developed to facilitate mass education. In the adult world, the people in a college classroom, or in an office, or on a construction crew were not all born within a year of one another. We know that within a group of 8-year-olds, skills and knowledge will vary widely. So, we don't need to separate everyone out by age. We can have classes covering multiple grade levels or ages.

We've participated in some multi-age classes and they've mostly worked out well. For the past two years we've been part of a reading and writing group wherein the kids read books, wrote on a variety of topics and shared their work. It was great because each child could work at his own level. The proficient writers encouraged those less so. A piece of writing for our monthly "magazine" could be as simple as a description of a day at an amusement park, or something more involved: a book review, instructions on making a craft, or a complex story. We also read books and shared them via oral reports, posters, dioramas, Legos projects. Of course, there are Legos.

The group of kids consisted of toddlers up to 11-year-olds; most kids were in the 6-8 range. No, the toddlers didn't participate. But, they were always there, in all their noisy glory. Last year a sweet 3-year-old gave her first oral report. I don't remember what she talked about; I couldn't understand much of it anyway. But it was good for her, to get up and speak to this group of kids and mothers.

Multi-age classes are so nice. They are helpful to the mother: all the kids in one place at one time! Learning about the same thing! It's also good for kids to be together with their siblings, and with kids of other ages.

One of my favorite homeschool memories is of our Greek Olympics day, about 6 years ago. Another friend and I were introducing ancient history to our kids, using the same materials, so we got our two families together for some Olympic games. The group consisted of 2 boys, aged 6, a 5-year-old boy, a 5-year-old girl, and a 2-year old boy. Everyone had a great time, especially the 2-year-old who won the applause of all the big kids. On the same day we did this, a friend whose kids went to school told me how her 6-year-old daughter and a friend from her class shunned her 5-year-old daughter while playing. It was, of course, the effect of being in a classroom with kids all of the same age. The younger child wasn't welcome anymore.

But sometimes homeschooling mothers start thinking that there is (almost) no limit to this. Some in our reading/writing group want to start adding more classes into the mix. Science, maybe PE, art... But the mothers of the newly-turned-12-year-olds are pulling back a little. We (as I am one of them) and our older kids are not so interested in a science class with this group. Nor PE. Art? Maybe. The mothers of the younger kids don't understand this. They see how well it's worked before and want to do more. They don't get that the older kids are moving on, growing up. They need something different, not more of the same.

Some topics lend themselves well to wide age ranges; some don't. It's great to have mixed ages and abilities in a writing class; the older and/or more experienced kids can encourage the younger/less experienced while working at their own skill level. The little kids' presentations might be a bit boring, but older kids should be learning how to show interest and kindness to the little ones. The reading projects were set up so that everyone read on the same topic, but not the same book. So when the subject was "boats"- intentionally broad so everyone could find something of interest - the little kids read and talked about picture books like Gail Gibbons' Boat Book; the olders worked with "bigger" books such as Men of War: Life in Nelson's Navy. Everyone had something to share.

But other topics don't work out so well. Can someone really teach a science class that is accessible to 5-year-olds while not being a complete waste of a 12-year-old's time? I'm not talking about particularly gifted little ones, though some of the younger kids in the group are really bright. Nor about severely learning-disabled older kids, though some (such as mine) do have some problems that hinder them a bit. A well-read 12-year-old will usually have a lot more science and history knowledge than a 7-year-old. They are tired of watching baking soda and vinegar volcanoes erupt, bored with making and playing with flubber. They want to dig deeper. They have learned lots of facts about, say, World War II; now they need to connect those facts to the past, and the future.

(Fans of classical education might say this is the difference between the grammar stage and the logic state. Exactly right.)

It is so easy to take something that works and apply it too broadly. The sweet vision of kids of all ages working and learning together is so beautiful, so tempting. And it works well, sometimes. But when it doesn't, we need to set aside that vision and move on. The kids grow up; mom needs to grow her educational plans with them. We may be happy and comfy in our group, but the day comes when we need to step out and find a new one.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Googling school days

By far, the most common google search I see on my sitemeter is a variation on "how many hours of school a day." It leads people to a post I wrote during my first school year in Pennsylvania, which is when I had to start tracking "school days."

I always wonder about the motivation behind that search. Who's asking the question? Are they kids wondering how long other kids are in school? Mothers trying to plan their lives once their kids get to school age? People considering homeschooling? People who are worried kids aren't spending enough time in school - or too much?

Are they trying to find out how many hours the child is actually in school, or the amount of time educational activities are going on? It's not the same thing.

Last month we started our third homeschooling year here. We still have to count our 180 days of educational activity. Both kids are getting 5 full days in this week: the boy is at Scout camp enjoying swimming (PE), rocketry (science), stream pollution (science again), hiking (more PE), working in the kitchen (community service), maybe doing some building projects. All with a bunch of other boys (socialization). There's more, I'm sure.

My girl is home but going to a history day camp at one of the many local historic houses. She's making crafts (art), playing active games (PE) - yesterday she got to try walking on stilts! - learning local history, learning about plants (science), and hanging out with other kids (socialization).

So, if you want to know how many hours a child spends, or should spend, in school each day, it's probably best to call the local school district. But, if your google search brought you here, go ahead and ask about homeschooling too.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Fabric scraps and memories

One of the boxes that got wet when the basement flooded was full of fabric. We pulled it all out, thinking I would have to wash it all. Imagine my delight when I got to the bottom and found that it was all dry. There was a layer of styrofoam at the bottom of the box, protecting my precious fabric.

Because we paw through the fabric a lot, it was a disorganized, wrinkled mess anyway - but at least a dry mess. My girl and I stood together, sorting and folding - there was no room to sit, since so many boxes from the basement had to be moved into the rest of the (small) house. I was hoping we'd find some to get rid of at a garage sale we're planning with our Girl Scout troop.

There were large pieces, enough for a girl's dress, and small pieces suitable for doll's clothes or quilt squares, and everything in between. But even small scraps of fabric may be useful, someday. And so many have memories:

"Look, Mom, here's a bit left over from that the first Easter dress you made me! Oh, I love this fabric." I wondered what happened to the dress; she remembered that we'd given it away to a sweet two-year-old when we left Oregon. I hope she's worn it, or will wear it when it fits. Or did her mama put it in a garage sale?

"Oh, here's some from that picnic blanket project that never worked out! Do you think we'll ever make a real quilt?" I sure hope so, Honey.

"Mmm... feel this fleece from my pajama pants. Do you think there's enough here for something for Sarah [the best doll]?" Oh yes, fold it up and put it on the pile.

We found scraps from the "art quilt" that the boy helped me design a few years ago. It was a sea scene, with a pieced boat, a fussy-cut lighthouse motif (where did I ever find that fabric, anyway?), appliqued rocks, and fish buttons. We still have it, though he doesn't really want it hanging in his room anymore. Scraps from the one and only Barbie dress I made; scraps from a gorgeous piece of fabric that was to be the centerpiece of a fall quilt, but was turned into a special doll dress. Leftovers from making 24 matching napkins for the crowd coming to Thanksgiving dinner one year. (We still use those napkins, though they're getting a bit frayed.) Bits and pieces from so many projects, some we've made, some still in our imaginations.

We only found one piece, out of hundreds, that we could stand to give away.

Some things just have to stay with us, no matter how hard we try not to care about them.

The bright sides to a flooded basement

1. Finding things that can be donated to the Girl Scout garage sale.

2. Rediscovering old picture books we'd forgotten about.

3. Realizing that some of those old picture books are not as precious as we'd thought (see #1).

3. Discovering that we stored the cardboard boxes of books in the driest end of the basement.

4. Finding a cooking magazine with a recipe I'd been missing and thought was lost forever. Once I found the magazine it was in, locating it online was easy, so I never have to lose it again.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Clunkers and other stimulus ideas

So I looked into Cash-for-Clunkers and I found my '97 Suburban would qualify (duh). I could get the full $4500 if I spent $20,000 on a new car.

Or I could just keep the truck and save $15,500. It would take a while to spend that much on gas.

If we got rid of the truck, we couldn't loan it to our church youth group to haul kids to activities. There would be more cars on the road. We couldn't help people move furniture. They would have to spend money (stimulus?!) to rent a truck. We wouldn't be able to help out a friend whose kids need a ride home from daycamp next week - she's in the hospital on bedrest during a difficult pregnancy. Not many people can add 3 more kids to their vehicle.

Anyway, there are other things the government could stimulate me to trade in.

How about bookstore vouchers for trading in books? We have some boxes of old sci-fi paperbacks I'd be happy to get rid of. Extra $ if the traded-in books are politically incorrect? But I guess there might be books I want that "they" wouldn't want us to have. I need a new copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Could I trade in my crummy Revere Ware saucepans for some new All-Clad?

I'm sick of my living room furniture, and it's getting worn out.

Lots of potential here!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who's watching the kids?

A family returning home from a trip leaves their sleeping child in a cab. They remember after being home for a few minutes; the cabbie is called, the girl found and returned home. The parents are not angry with the cabbie, in fact they give him a big tip for returning their child. All's well that ends well. Except...

The cabbie gets suspended - then the suspension turns into a warning and a reminder that he is supposed to check the vehicle after every fare.

And the parents?

Police would not release the names of the parents but said they were not being investigated.

No child neglect here? No endangerment? The cabbie is more responsible than the parents? I wouldn't expect prosecution or punishment for the parents, but: were they given a warning? Were they put on notice that they need to be at least as careful as the cabbie with their belongings? Were they asked to pay the cabbie's legal fees (he had an attorney with him at the suspension hearing) since they are the ones who forgot their own kid in his cab and caused his problem in the first place? I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with the fact that the parents are not being investigated; I think there is something wrong with the article. It's incomplete. What about the parents?

I guess I've done my share (or more) of dumb things as a parent. I've never left a child in a cab, on a train, or anywhere else a parent shouldn't leave a kid. I don't understand how that can happen. It just seems impossible to me.

At least the parents aren't suing the cabbie for his neglect. That would really be something.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fiddly keys and teachable moments

Our boy has reached the age when he needs his own housekey. He's not out and about alone much, but every now and then he comes home from a camping trip while we're at church, or has to walk over to his Scout patrol leader's house for a meeting when I need to be out. So, we got him a new key.

As sometimes happens, the new key doesn't fit into the old lock perfectly, so we have to fiddle with it. I hate fiddly things, but I put my old reliable housekey on his ring and took the new one. Better that I have to fiddle than he does.

Recent events got me thinking about his coming home alone and having to mess around with an ill-fitting key. In the fall when he might walk to Scouts with another guy, and come home after dark sometimes. I doubt we'd be away from home, but what if we were? What might he look like to the elderly lady across the street - this 5'5" tall boy (he'll be 5'7" or more by fall, the rate he's going), standing at our front door, struggling to get the door open?

So the new key gave us a teachable moment (har dee har har). We talked about what to do if he came home alone and the police knocked on the door. We related, without getting into details, the story of a man arrested in his own home after police were called about a possible break-in. We talked about the unlikely chance it would happen to him sometime, but that it could - because anything could happen. We asked what he should do if an officer asked him to come outside. Our girl smartly (as in smart-alec) interjected "ask if he's got a search warrant!" OK, well... he's not asking to come in. Do you go outside? How do you know it's a real cop? Why would he ask you to go outside? How would you prove you live here since you don't have a photo ID? Why should have have to prove you live here anyway - isn't it enough to say "this is my house?"*

We don't want to scare our kids. We know the chances of such a happening are so slim it's probably not worth thinking about. But, unexpected things happen.

It's an academic discussion, mostly. The circumstances of such an occurrence just don't happen. But, we want our kids to know what to do if something ever does. Without giving them nightmares.

*Even a 12-year-old sheltered homeschooled kid knows that a police officer who has been called to investigate a possible burglary can't just go away if a person standing in the house says "yeah, I live here; go away now."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My new favorite homeschool resource

Last week my Boy Scout came home ready to work on his first merit badge: Space Exploration. He had a booklet to read and a 6-page worksheet packet to complete. There were questions to answer about the history of space exploration, space pioneers, and rocket parts and functions. He had to draw a diagram or make a model of an inhabited space base and describe how it would work. Design a mission to another planet. It looked like a lot of work, and he had one week to complete it. (The short time frame has to do with the upcoming summer camp, at which the boys working on this badge will build and launch rockets.) Along with the questions, the worksheet packet included a list of websites to use for additional research.

This boy does love to read and learn about space (and many other topics as well), but does not like to write, and the thought of filling out those worksheets by hand was very daunting. I started looking around online, and did I ever find a treasure: Boy Scout Merit Badge worksheets. Worksheets for all 100+ Boy Scout merit badges. Stuff for Cubs and Webelos, too, though I didn't really look at that. Printable as .pdfs or Word documents.

Whew! My boy was happy to learn he could type his up. Still a lot of work, but not as tedious as hand-writing it all. I was happy to find this great resource. The worksheets are free printables. The booklets are available for less than $5 from the Scout website (and, maybe, Scout stores).

Now I'm dreaming of the ways I could use these as study guides for various topics for both my kids. (I looked around the Girl Scout website but couldn't find anything comparable.) Art, Bird Study, American Heritage, Citizenship, Chemistry... lots of great stuff to study.

My Scout is also working on his First Aid badge, and while his leader is not requiring the worksheets for that, I am. He needs all the opportunities he can get to improve his written communication skills. It's an area in which he struggles. But this is a great way to combine two "subjects." Compare assignments: write a book report, or write an explanation of the proper way to treat a shock victim or devise a splint in the wilderness. For my kid, anyway, there is no comparison. If one of the goals of the assignment is getting a child comfortable and proficient in composition, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, the result is the same. (If literary criticism is a goal, go for the book report.)

Of course a Scout working on a merit badge has to have a leader on board and use the official Scout booklet to work on a badge. But I think a non-Scout who wanted to use a worksheet as a sort of "study guide" for learning about a particular topic could do without the booklet, though the two I've seen have lots of great information and are pretty cheap. The worksheets I've seen include links to useful websites, and of course most kids have their own books, library books, and google at their fingertips for their own research.

Sometime back I'd heard about a homeschool mom who keyed her curriculum to her Scouts' badge work. I didn't really understand that at the time. Now I get it, and as I've looked around the 'net the past few days, I see other homeschoolers have had this idea long before I did. I'll give my Scout all the time he needs to work on his badges. Besides learning about the topics themselves, all the writing required is going to help him more than any "language arts" curriculum I could toss his way.

Let's see, I think I'll start my girl on the Dog Care, and then go on to Nature. Hmm... maybe I should work on Home Repairs and Gardening myself...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Without further ado, I bid you adieu...

No, I'm not going anywhere. But after my last post I'm still feeling a bit peevish, I guess. So, without further ado...

I guess it's always been fashionable to toss French words or phrases into the conversation. But "adieu" is not French for "ado." So why do I keep seeing "without further adieu..." in blog posts?

If I am in the throes of cleaning out my closet, I might throw everything onto the floor. If I am in the throws of throwing everything on the floor, I think I'm in trouble.

Allot/alot/a lot: I love this explanation. Looks like a great site all around. No, we wouldn't say "alittle" so why do we say "alot" when we're talking about how much time we spend online?

Irregardless of what you may think, regardless is the word you are looking for.

What are your word peeves?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Would we let our kids get away with this?

A discussion on a new homeschool board I've been reading hit a pet peeve of mine: poor grammar and spelling in blog and message board posts. One woman wondered if it bothered others as much as it bothers her. Of course there's a lot of misspelling, bad punctuation and bad grammar out there. (She wasn't and I'm not taking about the occasional misspelling, misplaced apostrophe, or wrong their/there/they're, but a posting full of errors.) People don't always take the time to proofread, or don't care to. I know I miss mistakes even when I try to proofread before hitting "send" or "publish." Of course it's worse when trying to be quick about it.

The general consensus seemed to be that it's a bit troublesome but in a casual setting, when people are often in a hurry, it's understandable and we should just let it go. I was surprised by a minority who felt that in the setting of message boards, etc., they don't care, are just relaxing and "being themselves" and so didn't worry about it. I don't see part of "being myself" as writing in a such a way that it's hard for others to read, but OK. I get that sometimes people just don't want to spend the time and effort to edit.

I wondered, but didn't ask, if these same folks would accept that from their kids. Would they want their homeschooled kids posting and blogging using grammar, spelling, sentence construction, etc., that made them look uneducated? Or worse, stupid? I think they'd be embarrassed. I guess I hope they'd be embarrassed.

Do they not get that people considering homeschooling read their message boards too? And people who are skeptical about it, or against it altogether? Do they not see that readers might wonder about these homeschooled kids - or their mothers - who can't spell or punctuate?

It's particularly troubling to see in posts and articles about the superiority of homeschooling. I can just hear the snorts of derision as homeschooling skeptics read those. Like it or not, homeschoolers who engage in discussions in the public sphere are held to a higher standard of scrutiny than parents of children who go to school. It may not seem fair, but it is: we are the ones saying that we don't need the school system; we are taking responsibility; we are competent. More than competent: we are superior, many say.

The more we allow ourselves to be lazy, the lazier we will get. This is especially true of our kids who are still learning and building their skills. If we say that good writing habits don't matter in some venues, eventually they won't matter anywhere at all.