Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thanks a lot, Son

You know it's time to reclaim the New Year's resolution when your son pats you on the belly and says, "Mom, are you having another baby?"

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Slide

We've had sick kids this week. Michael started feeling "the yuck" on Tuesday and was down for the count yesterday. Today we were wondering why Audrey was being so ornery. When she fell asleep perched atop a sofa cushion, we realized she too had succumbed to "the yuck."

Because they're dropping like flies, we've played a lot of educational games for school and downed a lot of soup. In addition, the kids were not able to accompany me today to Max's first veterinary visit. I had planned on taking them so they could see firsthand what veterinary medicine is all about.

Perhaps it was my desire to turn the pricey visit into an educational experience which prompted me to, when informed that Max has worms, request a slide of his fecal matter for us to examine under our microscope. There was a slight pause before the lab tech agreed that, "Sure, that won't be a problem!" And I'm pretty sure the receptionist snickered a little when the lab tech brought the prepared poop slide out to me as I was checking out.

I suppose I could have prepared my own slide, but, well, since they already had one made, why should I be outside following my little puppy around for a sample?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Random Ramblings

I wish I could say that my absence at Treasured Chapters is due to my pouring all of my writing efforts into my class, but that would not be true. I have finished writing my second class and have a few students already signed up in English I for next year. Now I just need to get motivated to begin English III. In fact, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities is at this very moment staring me in the face, daring me to start. Truth be told, I've just lacked inspiration. I wouldn't call it writer's block, but the problem is that my two places and times for inspiration have been a bit compromised. Usually, I get my brilliant ideas in the shower or lying awake in bed. I've been so tired lately I haven't fought sleep like usual, and I've been so rushed in the shower so I can get the puppy outside that I haven't been able to use that time as a source of inspiration either. So with that said, I'll offer a few random ramblings to recap our happenings over the last week or so. Just don't expect anything clever or witty or deep.

Academics - Things at our School for the Gifted and Quirky have been going well. We've really gotten into a good habit and rhythm for getting schoolwork and chores done on a daily basis. Perhaps there could be a little improvement in the chores area, but at least the school part is going well. The kids have been working hard, prompted somewhat by a family rule I posted about always giving 100% in all we do. That, of course, goes for me too; sometimes it's hard to practice what I preach.

There has been significant improvement this year for the boys in the area of reading. Jacob especially has just taken off. Michael still struggles a bit, but I'm not sure if that struggle stems more from apathy or lack of skill. I'll keep plodding on for now. After a bit more time I may look for some sort of intervention to help him out. Audrey continues to love all things school and begs to "do school" every day. She knows all of her letters now and many of their sounds. I'm disappointed that she no longer says "bubble you" for "w" or "wex" for "x"; I never got her on video with her little Audrey alphabetisms. I bought Before Five in a Row for her to use next year, but I think I'll go ahead and start it this year so she has something extra to do.

I know it is early, but I have already received the core curriculum I'll be using next year for the rest of the kids as well. You know me...always the eager planner. I'm so excited to dive into Learning Adventures. It is geared toward children grades 4-8, so there will be some things I do only with Alex, but most things will work well with the boys tagging along. The curriculum is stocked with hands-on activities for my kinesthetic learner; perhaps this will motivate him a bit in his reading and attitude toward academia in general.

Every Tuesday I'm reminded about what a blessing it is to have him home with me. If he was at a traditional school, I would have this type of conversation on a daily basis instead of just weekly after co-op:

Me: Michael, what did you learn in Anatomy today?
Michael: I don't know.
Me: Well, what did you do?
Michael: I don't know.

Of course Alex, who has the same class during a different period, is more than willing to elaborate on all they did and learned.

Co-op for me represents a very tiring part of my week. I spend almost 3 hours with 14 1st graders. I know regular teachers spend much more than that. But let me remind you that I am not an elementary school teacher. I may sign up to help out with the older kids next year. Don't get me wrong--this class is a great bunch of kids. I'm just tired when it's all done. Jacob at least is beginning to open up in class.

Sports - Only two basketball games left, and my two have actually shown marked improvement in the sport. I think what made the biggest difference is that one day Mark and I got them out there in our driveway and ran drills and talked strategy with them for about an hour. I guess that goes to show you we don't need to pay someone else to teach them how to play. Of course, if we didn't, I realize they wouldn't have the opportunity to play a "real" game. Mark's and my little coaching session was prompted by Michael's question Why don't the other boys ever pass the ball to me? It broke my heart. Mark and I were honest with him about the harsh realities of life, though, and he did work hard with us to improve. And the very next game he scored! Alex usually scores a few every game, but she's just too nice. She needs to get in there and get the ball. At least she's improved a bit from last year; at one game in 2008 she stole the ball from another girl and then apologized.

Kids - They're all growing up way too fast, physically and socially. It seems Michael is always wearing highwaters around because he grows out of his pants as fast as we buy them. Same with Jacob. Alex is about the graduate to the Junior department. Then there's Audrey. She doesn't grow much, but that's fine with me; I'd love it if she stayed 3 the rest of her life. She had her first haircut ever the other day. It made me a little sad to see how grown up she looks now. She's certainly a character.
And of course there's Max who is like a child but not in the I love him so much I would give my life for him sense. Rather, I can see some similarities between him and my real baby: they both occasionally have accidents, and they both leave a Trail of Mass Destruction in their wake. At least I'm no longer having to get up in the middle of the night to take him out.

Other Details - Today is Friday at last. TravelDaddy has been gone since Monday and will return today; it feels like he's been gone for a month or so. We're going to take it easy on school today; the kids have been working so hard and deserve a break. They also have all been fighting colds and haven't felt 100%. In fact, at breakfast this morning Audrey said, "Mommy, I want you." I took her up in my lap, and she followed that up with, "I'm not feeling dood." Sweet little thing. So anyway, we'll do a couple of things academic: spelling tests, math tests. Then we'll do a few games. I typed up a list of topics for charades as well as a Scavenger Hunt list, so I know they'll all get into both of those activities. After that, we'll see where the day leads us. Perhaps some reading or board games or baking...whatever the kids want; I'll make today their day.

And tomorrow will be my day! TravelDaddy and I share a birthday (I must point out, though, that he is the older one). Grandma and Grandpa are going to come take care of the kids tomorrow night so we can celebrate. I love my kids, but it sure is nice to get a breather every once in awhile.

And so, with all of the writing energy I could muster, thus closes my ramblings. As I promised, nothing clever, witty, or deep.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

All Partied Out

Honestly, if I have to help my children prepare one more set of miniature cards with candy attached to them, I just may white out 2/14 on all of our family calendars. I actually thought I had everything planned and under control; we have had a Book Club Valentine party on the books for a few weeks now, so each child had his or her own set of Valentines all ready to be passed out to their reading friends.

But then Tuesday rolled day. Around noon, I called a co-op friend about an unrelated matter. As we were hanging up, she asked, "So, are you ready for Valentine's Day?" With Valentine's Day still 5 days away, I replied, "Uhhh, yeah, I guess so." But then I wondered why she would be asking me about Valentine's Day, which was still 5 days away, in such a manner as one asks, "So are you ready for the big trip?" or "Are you ready for the big move?" or "Are you ready for the new baby to arrive?" I mean, Valentine's Day is a fairly minor holiday (in my book anyway, and becoming more and more minor with every box of cards I buy). So I said, "Why do you ask?"

Turns out I had missed an email about Valentine's Day class parties at co-op, and co-op started in an hour. I rushed the kids in to the car and off to Target to grab about 75 Fun Dip Valentine's cards because you just can't go wrong with Fun Dip. We rushed out of Target without even a chance to answer anyone's "Why aren't your kids in school?" questions, and as the car bounced along to co-op, the kids signed their names on their cards. I thought that was the end of the Valentine madness, but then I got an email yesterday morning. I had to bring Valentines for Audrey's AWANA class. If I hadn't had enough left over Fun Dip cards, I think we may have just played hooky from Cubbies.

I myself actually did play hooky from AWANA. Last month, without much thought, I turned our Book Club/Valentine's Day Party into a Book Club/Valentine's Day Party/Michael's Birthday Party. He wanted a Lego party. I made goody bags using brown paper sacks with lettering for each child's name made with my Cricut and Lego scrapbooking paper. As cute as I thought they were, I know of several children who would prefer the bags be filled. There is a candy store at the local mall which carries Lego shaped candies, and I had to have some. I know Lego candies really don't trump God's work at AWANA, but sometimes Mom Duty calls. Thankfully, they had the candies because, really, what would a Lego party be without Lego candy?

And what would a Lego birthday be without a Lego cake to go along with the Lego candy? I kind of cheated on this cake. I only made a sheet cake. No decorating. The decorations were already in a Lego Pirate box, a set I had Michael assemble for me. I did add little mini-muffin Lego bumps on the sheet cake, but I think only I saw them as Lego bumps. When Alex saw the cake, she said, "Mom, WHAT are those BUMPS on the cake??!" At least my son appreciated them. And he's the one who counts anyway since it is his birthday and all.

Another thing my son appreciated was the ample frosting on the cake. I always freeze my cakes before decorating because it makes it so much easier to decorate (no crumbs), plus I can make them ahead of time. I also use butter frosting. Which means I have to spread fast on the frozen cake. If I don't, it becomes like trying to spread a block of cold butter. Usually I'm fast. But usually I don't have to consider the Max Factor. Since we were at AWANA all evening and he was in his crate, I felt bad and let him out after the kids were tucked in. So I globbed on the frosting then had to chase the puppy and let the puppy out and chase the puppy some more. I returned to spread my frosting only to discover it was too late. So I just globbed more on top. What kid doesn't like a ton of frosting?

And the kids seemed to like it, Lego bumps, globby frosting and all. They deserved it because they all did well on their mystery-themed book reports. Michael and Jacob both did Nate the Great books. Michael's was set in San Francisco, so his visual was the Golden Gate Bridge. Although it looked like it may have been through a couple of 7.5s on the Richter Scale, it turned out great. Jacob created a salt dough neighborhood to follow the steps Nate the Great took to solve the mystery. Alex's Boxcar Children boat went with Surprise Island, and Audrey painted several butterflies to illustrate The Case of the Missing Butterfly. They did a great job.

Originally, while my idea of a Book Club/Valentine's/Michael's Birthday Party seemed tiring in itself, I had no idea my week would turn in to days of parties. Thankfully, this afternoon was free--yes, even from school; it is my boy's birthday, after all!--so we took a little breather before we do more birthday celebrating tomorrow at Michael's grandparents' house.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desperate Reading Measures

Before this second half of the school year began, I resolved to make reading the focus for the remainder of our academic time here at the home academy. This focus has really paid off. Alex of course still continues to devour any book she can get her hands on. For Jacob, something clicked seemingly overnight, and he is well on his way to becoming a successful reader. As for Michael, he has improved a whole lot as well; the only obstacle he still has to overcome is his general dislike of reading, an attitude that is difficult for me to understand and therefore near impossible for me to "fix". I guess that's what attracted me to How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell. It's really a book for classroom teachers or for parents with children in a traditional school, but I was able to glean a lot of wonderful ideas from it, and it makes a great resource for any teacher's bookshelf.

Although some of Ms. Codell's ideas--like making a Time Machine--are certainly more "classroom-y", our Reading Corner was an offspring idea from her brainstorming. I took over a corner of the family room, set up a comfy chair, and placed a huge basket beside it that is now crammed full of books and books on tape/CD. Perhaps the biggest allure of the Reading Corner is that as soon as a child is seated in the chair, I serve him or her a special snack to munch on while reading. Since food is otherwise prohibited anywhere but at the table, this is quite a novel idea and thus a huge draw for them. Regardless of the true reason they fight over who goes first in the Reading Corner, they are nevertheless spending a half hour each day reading on their own.
One other idea I wrestled with for quite some time. I heard about the Captain Underpants series back when I taught second grade. I was then appalled by such titles as "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants." However, that was before I realized I had a struggling reader. And a struggling reader who giggles at the mere mention of underwear or poop. While the Captain Underpants series goes against all I value as an English teacher and lover of good literature and all I strive for as a well-mannered mommy, I knew the series was a match for my boys.

So I ordered five of them, and they came yesterday afternoon. The boys couldn't wait to get to them after basketball and showers. Funny thing is the boy for whom I really bought these books said they look too hard for him to read and thus did not even try. Instead, he quickly settled for letting his little brother read the good parts to him....while he zoomed around the house in his skivvies and a cape (sorry--these pictures are reserved for my scrapbook only...and perhaps the wedding rehearsal dinner of a certain young man). I suppose I shouldn't be so critical of books about poop; I did, after all, once write my own little potty book.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Works for Me Wednesday: Ode To My Vacuum Sweepers, Past & Present

I walked into the kitchen one day barefooted. The kids were at the table eating breakfast. As soon as they saw me, they froze, a couple of them with spoons midway to their mouths. "WHAT?!" I asked.

"Mom," one of them explained, "you don't have any shoes on!" You would think that, having grown up in Africa where shoes are generally optional, I wouldn't be such a shoe fanatic in my own house. It's just that the Crumb Factor is so very high in my house, and there is nothing I despise more than attracting crumbs to my bare foot, or worse yet, stepping in a puddle of mystery liquid. So I've learned to just wear shoes around the house. Someday--maybe in 15 years or so--I won't have to be such a shoe freak.

It's not that I don't clean up. I do. Constantly, it seems. In fact, I've also become a sweeping fanatic. But not with a broom, my friends! A couple of years ago, I discovered the magic of broom vacuums. I'm not talking about that Dirt Devil thing that's shaped like a broom but is supposed to vacuum. I've heard that one's a bust. I'm talking about the battery operated sweepers. My first sweeper of this type was my hero sweeper. A green Shark. It died, and I miss it.

After a near-tearful goodbye to my Shark, I got a Swivel of those As Seen on TV things. Honestly, I would have replaced my green Shark with a green Shark, but the Swivel Sweeper was cheaper at the Linens & Things Going Out of Business sale than the Shark, so the Shark was replaced. And I don't like it as much, but it still eats up the usual floor fare--wet rice, wet Cheerios, noodles...anything 4 little people can toss on the ground during any given mealtime.

Of course now our mealtimes have an added little bonus...of the four-legged time. Max. Cute little Max. As much as I will vouch for my sweepers, I'm afraid there is no better kitchen floor vacuum than my new puppy. Funny thing is I just added Kitchen Floor Sweeping as a rotating chore on the kids' chore charts. Last two meals, though, when Michael went to grab the trusty Swivel Sweeper to complete his job, we realized that there really was nothing left to vacuum. So much for teaching responsibility. As for Max, he's definitely a keeper, and he's earning his keep to boot. I just wish we had done this Inside Dog Thing nine years ago when the crumbs first began to fall.