Saturday, February 27, 2010

What happened to my baby girl?

Just yesterday, she was this sweet, precious, perfect bundle in our arms
offering her first smiles,
delighting us with her first words,
taking her first steps.

Now she is a sweet, precious, perfect young lady
who offers her contagious smiles to everyone,
whose words are confident, kind, and wise.
And tonight her steps, clad in my size 9 knee-high, high heeled boots,
accompanied her daddy to the American Heritage Girls
Daddy/Daughter Dance.

Mexican Fiesta!

Doing the Macarena

Conga line

Friday, February 26, 2010

Why I Haven't Been Blogger Blogging

Although my computer and I are attached at the hip, I'm the first to mourn the passing of a simpler lifestyle, a lifestyle where folks sat on their porches in the evening and just talked, where friends visited each other face-to-face, a time when a real letter would bring news of a loved one, a lifestyle a lifetime ago before this frenzied pace of instant messaging, teleconferencing, and overnight delivery gripped this society. This recognition of the benefits of a more personal society, causes in me a reluctance to embrace the newest technological gadget. In fact, I've turned down my husband's repeated invitations to enter the world of the iPhone, and I'm sure I will have no idea how to work the new Blu-Ray player he just traded in some travel points for.

And, while I've been a member of Scrapblog for a year or so, I have resisted with all of my being doing anything with it. I have felt somehow that turning to digital scrapbooking would be cheating, that passing on actual bound, digitally built books to my children would make me a lesser mom than handing over "real" scrapbooks with actual scraps in them. But the other day I decided to give it a try...and that is why I am writing this:

Top 5 Reasons Why Scrapblog is the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread Di-cuts and, Yes, Even My Cricut (I hereby remove the "sliced bread" thing from my Favorite Cliches List because, honestly, are we so lazy that we can't get out a knife and slice our own bread??):

5. One of my favorite places in the whole world is a scrapbooking store. I'd say, in fact, that as far as stores go, a scrapbooking store ranks #2 right under bookstore. Problem is I never go to a scrapbooking store because, well, if you don't have children if you don't have four children, you do not know how difficult it is to browse all the Stuff in a scrapbooking store while simultaneously watching to make sure those four children aren't pulling things off shelves/trying out all the new gadgets/playing hide-and-seek behind all the shelves/running into other customers who have handfuls of paper and little doo-dads which go crashing to the floor when a little person collides with them. Plus it always seems that, while I venture to say the majority of the clientele in a scrapbooking store are mothers, the owners of the scrapbooking store do not really care all that much for children. They want their store to be run kind of like a library, so rules like No loud talking and No screaming, though unwritten, seem implied by the dour faces that get thrown your way when one of your precious children uses his outside voice. But with Scrapblog, you have a WHOLE SCRAPBOOKING STORE right there at your desk. You can shut the door--even lock it--while the children go crazy wild outside the door of your office, and you can peacefully shop through pages and pages of backgrounds and stickers and embellishments WITHOUT STEPPING FOOT IN A SCRAPBOOKING STORE WITH YOUR FOUR CHILDREN.

4. And you know how when you're at a scrapbooking store, you don't just buy one thing. Because, like, walking up to the cash register with one piece of paper in your hand? Well, that just makes you look like a loser, plus you spent all that money on gas for one lousy sheet of paper? Not the mention the fact that that sheet of 12x12 paper probably costs a couple bucks, so adding more sheets of paper just adds more couple-of-bucks on to the tab. At Scrapblog, many things are FREE!! And you can just select one background or one sticker at a time, and no cashier will frown at you as she makes change for your one-sheet-of-paper purchase. Of course, there are things you can buy at Scrapblog, but if you sort your choices by "Cheapest Credit", then you see the FREE stuff first. Even those things that cost? Not so bad.

3. Then you know how when you get home with all your loot from the scrapbooking store and set to work on a page and then look around at all the piles of Stuff and boxes of Stuff and you know that the red 12 x 12 sheet of paper you know you have and that's why you didn't buy it while you were at the scrapbooking store is in a pile somewhere but you just don't know where? Ta da! Scrapblog is on your computer! In one place! No more shuffling Stuff around and having to clean up the big, gigantic mess later.

2. I am hopelessly behind in my "real" scrapbooking. I have baby books at least started for each of the kids, and various family albums are started or were at some point at least a thought in my brain. But there's been this nagging thought in my brain tumbling around with my other thoughts about these family albums. What will happen when the children begin to leave my house? Sure, they head out with their suitcases and their baby scrapbook tucked under one arm (to be cherished and treasured for ever and ever for sure!), but what about those combined family albums? Who gets those? Well, with Scrapblog, you can make as many copies of a book as you please! And making those copies is as simple as typing a number and voila! Multiple copies.

1. And the number one reason why Scrapblog is the best thing even since the Cricut, is because, folks, it's just PLAIN EASIER!! I'm sure no other scrapbookers ever do this, but sometimes I'll have all my paper cut, my photos cropped, letters stamped, doodads selected. I'll get everything all laid out. And realize I. just. don't. really. like. how. it. looks. With Scrapblog, just a few clicks, and you can rearrange until you get it perfect. ALSO, Scrapblog is so much faster! If you've been lurking around here for awhile, you might remember the cruise we took in 2007. Those pictures have not even been printed, let alone scrapped. I wager it would have taken me about 6 months to get that cruise scrapbook completed. Guess what? It took me an afternoon to put it together on Scrapblog! And I venture to say it's quite good. Check it out:

By now you might be wondering exactly what Scrapblog is paying me to write this little post. The answer is nothing. This is just me sharing my enthusiasm with you. And it's just me explaining why I haven't been Blogger blogging. In case you haven't guessed by now, it's because I've been too busy Scrapblogging! If you need me, I'll be in my messy scrapbooking room on the computer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Cowbell and a Song

Birthdays at boarding school were alright. I mean, you were miles from your real family, but there were always lots of members of your school "family" with whom to celebrate. But then again, there was that dreaded lunchtime song. Lunches in the dining room were family style as opposed to the buffet style breakfast and dinner we were served. Family style meant we had to sit at assigned tables and partake in the meal together. At some point, an adult would ring a cowbell indicating we must all be quiet to hear announcements. After general announcements, came the birthday recognitions. If it was your birthday, you had to stand while all almost-200 people sang Happy Birthday to you. It was the longest rendition of Happy Birthday you'd have ever had the opportunity of hearing, and by the time it was over, you'd sit down, red-faced.

Thankfully, I spent all of my school years sharing the lunchtime birthday recognition with Mark. Of course, I never dreamed I would marry him, but sharing that moment always made that announcement so much more bearable. Not only was he a "big kid" and therefore cooler than cool, but it also took some of the pressure off during those few moments of song.

Now, while there is no lunchtime song--unless performed by four adorable children--I still love that I get to celebrate my birthday on the same day as Mark. Of course, I must point out that yesterday Mark turned the big 4-0, while I am 3 years behind him! But there is no one I would rather grow old with, and I am so grateful he was born and that our paths crossed in the just the right place and in just the right time years down the road from those moments following the infamous cowbell!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


If you've known me for any length of time, you know I suffer from Wanderlust. After about two years in any given "home", I'm ready to move on. And I don't really care where we end up; however, I have offered a few suggestions along the way. Like when we docked at the Cayman Islands a few years ago on our cruise, I may have offered a "We should live here" after we had been on the island for only a few minutes. I've wanted to make Miami my home. I've even suggested we move to that charming town in Middle-of-Nowhere, Alabama. And, despite the fact I was so cold I thought I would die, I remember envisioning how beautiful Wheaton, Illinois, would be in the spring, so of course I could make a home there.

Occasionally, though, I adventure to a town I know right off I would not want to order address labels for. I discovered that to be true for Asheville, North Carolina. Mark and I dropped the kids off at their grandparents on Friday and took the scenic route up through the mountains to Asheville. And there were moments along that trail where I may have mentioned that "I would love to live here!" It was a gorgeous ride with snow covering many of the mountaintops and quaint little towns dotting the map.

Asheville itself, however, is one of those artsy-fartsy towns. Since I am not of the artsy-fartsy persuasion in any way, I never feel comfortable in that type of environment. We spent some time exploring downtown Asheville. There is a beautiful building they have dubbed "Grove Arcade", which seems such a strange name. When I think Arcade, I think a child's gaming paradise. But this is not that. At all. It's one of those hoity-toity places, grand as it is, that houses only a few shops. Expensive shops. There was an overpriced quilt shop, an overpriced rug shop, a very tiny farmer's market full of organic anything, a cheese shop, and some art shops where ordinary people like me don't feel comfortable browsing.

Outside the mall, I was excited to see a bookstore. But I wondered what a champagne bar was. We wandered in, again feeling a little out of our element. There was indeed a bar serving champagne, so the name was not metaphorical for anything else. The shelves were laden with books, but they were clearly collector's books because the cheapest one I saw was $90. In the back there was a group of over-dressed (for a Saturday afternoon) what I can only assume were book collectors nursing their glasses of champagne over the dusty covers of some rare books. Where does a person go if he simply wants to read a Grisham novel around here?

Don't get me wrong. We had a wonderful time together. I love to see new things, and this type of environment, though not a comfortable one for me, is fun to observe. And we enjoyed each other besides. We finished whole conversations. Mark opened my car door for me like in the days of yore before he took on the duty of strapping children into carseats. We ate a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant, a cuisine we love but the kids not so much. And we even went to a 10:30 movie which meant we stayed up way past our bedtime.

The movie was an interesting experience. It was a Cinebarre movie. I don't know--maybe the average person is more sophisticated and more experienced in American culture than we are, but we had never experienced a movie like at this theater. At the ticket counter, you can also purchase a drink--not just soda, but wine or a margarita. Then inside the theater, the chairs sit behind a counter that runs the length of the row. Every two or three seats, there is a setting of salt and pepper and other condiments as well as a menu and an ordering tablet. There is full fare offered on the menu. You write down your order, a waiter picks it up, and at some point during the movie, the waiter brings you a plate of hot wings or pizza or chocolate cake. We only indulged in some popcorn and chocolate cake since we had already had dinner. We really weren't hungry for anything, but you've gotta experience it, right?

We saw Valentine's Day, which turned out to be a cute movie. Kind of slow and all over the place at first, but good in the end. Since this getaway was sort of our combination birthday trip and Valentine's celebration, it seemed appropriate. And even if I wouldn't want to put roots down in Asheville, North Carolina, I did have a wonderful time away with my favorite person.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy Birthweek, Michael

Michael's birthday was on Tuesday, which would ordinarily have meant we would awaken bright and early and head down to Bright Futures. They had the day off for winter break, though, so instead the kids piled into the car in their PJ's and we went to Dunkin Donuts.

Then, while the others slaved away over their academics, Michael got to play his DS. And later, for dinner, he was treated to Chili's where he received a complimentary Chocolate Molten Lava Cake.

Of course that was almost a week ago. Since Daddy missed his Chili's outing, tonight we went to our traditional birthday restaurant for a dinner hibachi-side. At the end of the meal, Michael donned the birthday hat while I tried not to think about how many other heads have been in it. And two servers sang a Japanese birthday song, which sounded suspiciously like If You're Happy and You Know It. After the song, he enjoyed another complimentary chocolate treat.

I won't mention that every day this week the kids have also convinced me to pull out leftovers from Michael's birthday cake. I suppose when everyone is willing, there's no reason not to make a birthday party last for a week, right?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Basketball, Strange White Stuff Falling from the Sky, and a Houseful of Kids

Our homeschool group usually has a park day every Friday, but with the cold winter temps we've had lately, we planned instead a day inside. The park where we play volleyball and where the Nazi Pool is located has an indoor gym that allows free play. Well, not free as in you don't have to pay but free as in the kids are free to play as they wish. I went prepared this time, having called a friend from the park's county to ask her if I could walk in with her, thus avoiding the out-of-county double charge. They didn't even ask for my license. Or to see what I was wearing under my jacket.

The kids had a great time. They started out just shooting baskets but soon had a full-fledged game of b'ball organized and underway.

And once they tired of that, they enjoyed pool, ping pong, and air hockey.

Audrey just did Audrey things, though: a purple basketball, which she scammed off of her sister, and her Littlest Pet Shop Pets kept her busy.

About halfway through our time at the gym, the snow began to fall, so our group headed outside to the parking lot. And then migrated to the playground. We moms sat in a car, looked around at the otherwise desolate park grounds, and joked about how we homeschoolers will go to the greatest lengths to avoid crowds.

And then my husband called and told me I should come home. Which is code for, "I know you're not a great driver--especially in this stuff--so please come home safe and sound. Now."

So I arrived home safe and sound, and the kids had a blast playing outside as the snow continued to fall.

I had heard on the news that we were supposed to receive from a dusting to an inch. So I wasn't worried about the birthday party which was scheduled to take place the next morning. But it kept snowing. And snowing.

So I rescheduled the party to begin at noon. This party was for my little man, Michael. At age 9, he is certainly becoming quite the little man. My Lego man, though he had a Lego birthday party last year, asked for another Lego party. And that is what he got.

Per his instructions, I made a Power Miners cake with the good guys fighting against the rock monsters in the midst of a hot stream of lava.

We played some Lego games. The first was a scavenger hunt in which the kids--divided in teams--searched the house for baggies of Lego pieces. In the end, they raced to assemble a Lego castle. There was also a word game in which the children formed as many words as possible from the two words Power Miners. The last game involved building Lego towers to see which team could reach the tallest without falling over.

We had a good time. A group of boys is a wild group, but I think everyone had fun. But I'm Lego'ed and partied out, and I'm headed to bed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

It's a Labyrinth of Highways Out There

For more Weekly Wrap-Ups, visit Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

If there is one main thing I have not enjoyed about homeschooling, it is the teaching of reading. As a high school teacher, my students, in theory, all come to me with a general knowledge of reading and writing. But this starting at the beginning of the whole journey is a tough thing.

Alex was so easy. I taught her that words with one vowel say their short sound, and words with two vowels say their long sound. She was reading within a couple of weeks. I patted myself on the back and told myself what an awesome teacher I am. Then along came my boys.

If you've been following our homeschool journey for any length of time, you know I've taken my boys--one in particular, though the other one usually ends up along for the ride--down many different roads to reading. There was Bribery Ave., Reading Chart Ct. (Bribery Ave. and Reading Chart Ct. intersect at the ice cream shoppe, in case you were wondering), Nagging Blvd., You-Know-What?-Just-Do-What-You-Want-and-See-If-I-Care Ln. Thankfully, when we go down that last one, it's only for a few fleeting seconds in my mind before we make a u-turn. Don't get me wrong, I've done some actual reading training with them, but even those methods change a lot because none seem to be working.

We began with Abeka because that is what I was familiar with, and I liked the idea of the special sounds and all of the phonics training. Alex liked it because she is a workbook girl. Michael, on the other hand, was only discouraged by the tediousness of it. So I tried just teaching basic phonics without all of the laborious circling of special sounds and marking of vowels. And again, don't get me wrong, he has made leaps and bounds of improvement in reading, closing the miles to fluent reading. But his speed limit is achingly slow, and I notice that one of his major problems is that he lacks confidence. He will say "I can't" before he even takes a look at what I'm asking him to read. He's the little old grandpa driver who can barely see over the wheel and who puts his blinker on but won't move over even when there is a space 10 car lengths long. I know he needs something.

I bought something. And I received it from Amazon in record time and ordered the day before I saw the notice on their website warning that shipments would be slow due to the snowstorm, so if that's not a street sign saying "Start NOW", I don't know what is. I purchased Spalding's The Writing Road to Reading. I bought it for several reasons: It's tried and true in its effectiveness; it's been used for decades; it's phonics based; and if Michael does have some type of disability besides Apathy, reviews say this is the program for him. I did not purchase it because it's easy to understand and implement, and I knew from review upon review that this would indeed be a difficult program to wade through.

Unfortunately, googling "implementing WRTR" is not producing many how-to websites, but I'm committed (and may have to be committed once I begin my second read-through). I know there are other programs out there like Senseri's spelling program which use the theories and some of the methods behind WRTR; however, I don't want to spend more money. I've got this, I'm beginning to understand it, I'm going to go for it.

So Monday we begin our Writing Road to Reading. We're going to begin by learning the 70 phonograms, most of which the three oldest already know since they know the sounds of the 26 letters, and many of the phonograms are the same as Abeka's special sounds; there just aren't as many of them. After we master all 70, we will dive into the 29 spelling rules and the Ayre's spelling lists Spalding provides. We will be sound and word detectives and hopefully make substantial progress toward our destination: Fluent Reading.

I'm going to have Alex go through this as well. She learned to read so quickly and so well that in my naivete, I all but abandoned phonics instruction with her. As a result, she does not spell well. Hopefully, this will help her improve in that area.

I'm putting finishing touches on the packing, and we're heading out on our new road on Monday. I'm driving, though I'm sure there will be a lot of backseat driving from the oldest passenger. Spalding is our GPS, and hopefully we won't hear too many rude "recalculating" comments emanating from The Writing Road to Reading. If you see us cruise by, please wave!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Volcanoes, Crushing Dreams: All in a Monday

As promised, we erupted our volcano today, and I remembered to photograph the event. Of course, since it was over so quickly, it was a little anti-climactic, but the kids all oohed and ahhed over it for a few minutes anyway.

Overall, even without taking the volcano into account, it was a productive day for a Monday. And I didn't start crushing any dreams until this evening.

Crushed Dream #1:
A couple weeks ago, we left church on a Wednesday night with Alex full of all kinds of enthusiasm. There is a dance/singing group full of girls her age that practices Wednesday nights and performs at various times on Sunday mornings. This past Sunday, however, we ventured out to a new church where some dear friends from our old church have been attending. We all loved it. In fact, Alex was the first to ask, "Can we come back here next week?"

I worried all day about bringing up the subject of Wednesday night because if we are not going to attend our new old church any longer (to clarify, our Old Church is the one we attended for 7 years before its closing; our New Old Church is the one we've attended since Christmas; our New Church is the one we went to yesterday. Got it?), it is silly for her to practice with this dance group and then not perform. (Besides that, I was just hoping and praying the girl carries a little more groove and rhythm than her mom and dad.) So I broached the subject tonight. I could tell she was disappointed.

However, there are other possibilities for fun on the horizon. Like a possibility of joining American Heritage Girls and Scouts (for the boys). I know. I'm crazy. I don't need to sign up for anything else. But that's just me. Like I said, it's a possibility. OK, so we'll probably be there by next week even though they meet on Monday nights which are crazy for me because of my crazy Tuesday, but sometimes I just have to take one for the team, right?

Crushed Dream #2
I knew it was coming...the question: When do we start soccer? And the truth came out: We never signed you up for soccer. Honestly, it comes down to this (and maybe this is selfish, I don't know): With 3 kids in soccer, that presents the possibility of 3 different nights of practice and 3 different hours of games on Saturday. That, in my humble (and possibly selfish) opinion is a recipe for Chaos and Stress. How do large families juggle sports and other extracurricular activities?

So I feel like a heel, yet a heel who has some preservation of sanity. On the bright side, we're getting closer to warmer weather which means volleyball. We've committed to spending a little extra time at the courts teaching the children to play. As I've mentioned before, we always said we wanted 4 kids so we'd have a volleyball team!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Weekly Wrap-Up: Ramblings

For more Weekly Wrap-Ups, visit Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Clearly I don't know how to write anymore. So indulge me by allowing me to ramble. And I include these ramblings in the Homeschool Weekly Wrap-Up carnival because, well, there's more to a homeschool week than just cracking open the books. A homeschool week in this house is, after all, Life.

**I'm watching the news right now. Well, listening to it. The story of how one of my state's illustrious school superintendents took 400K of the stimulus money to send some teachers and administrators to a California spa. Way to go. I'm so glad my tax dollars help fund things like this. Especially when I don't even use the public school system.

**This was a fairly productive week on the homeschooling front. We finished up Ancient Rome. If I wasn't so lazy, I would provide a picture of our finished lapbooks. We also finished up our read-aloud, The Bronze Bow. Very good, powerful book. A few frustrations still hang over our little academy--the boys, one in particular, still struggle with reading and math. I think it's more of an attitude thing, though, than an academic problem. He really, truly wants nothing to do with school. Never wants to read for pleasure. I'm open for ideas.

**The kids expressed quite a bit of interest in Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, so we added a little to our science curriculum this week and built our first volcano. It is not finished yet, though, and we have not yet erupted it. Pictures next week.

**I bought some sugary cereal for the kids for this morning. If we put junk cereal on the counter, they help themselves and don't bother us on a Saturday morning. Gotta love that.

**My little old lady friend with Jehovah's Witnesses turned up on my doorstep again this morning. I'm afraid I messed up, though. As you know, after she left the first time, I did some JW research and was all prepared to discuss such matters with her--or with any of her fellow JW's--the next time they showed up. However, this morning I met her at the door still clad in my PJs, and I lost my knowledge and words. When she observed my dress, she apologized for coming so early. Which was an absurd apology since it was 10:15. I've asked God to send her back here. And I'll be ready this time. I'll invite her in, and we'll chat over a cup of tea.

**We're trying another church tomorrow. We like the church we've been attending; however, our BFF's have begun attending one they really like. Since we have not made a friend yet at our new church, we thought we'd give it a try. The kids are excited to join their best buddies again. Alex, however, had already made some new friends at the new church, so, while she is very excited to be reunited with Grace, she hates the thought of leaving new friends. When we asked her how she would feel about visiting another church, she shrugged and said, "I don't care where we go as long as we are going to church." Which is code for, "Can't you people make up your minds and stay somewhere?" I'm not too worried about her. In the event that we were to choose this other church over our new church, she would see her new church friends at co-op anyway.

**I signed the boys up for Time4Learning because I thought it would help them with their reading and math, not to mention teach Michael some of the US History we haven't covered yet but that will be on this national test this year. I was also hoping it would be supplemental material they could learn independently. However, I discovered that so many of the activities require fairly heavy reading, I ended up doing it all with them. Twice over. Not fun for them. Not fun for me. So I canceled it.

**I have known about Time4Learning for quite some time but have been very reluctant to sign up for it or for any online program for that matter. The kids already spend as much time as we will allow in front of a screen. Why should I add to that with their schooling? However, I've been looking at curriculum for next year and am discovering that everything these days is online. I mean, I know that that is the direction of our technological world, but it's amazing how quickly the world wide web infiltrates every single aspect of life. I've even come across full curriculum for my preschooler online! Not going to sit her in front of a computer screen for hours! Don't get me wrong. I run my own online class. I'm considering Teaching Textbooks for Alex next year because math is slowing slipping from my not-fond-of-math hands. But I feel that a little one-on-one time with a human being for part of the school day can be a plus.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You Capture - Faces

Two out of five of my favorite faces in the whole world having a little fun at the Bass Pro Shops.

For more Faces, visit I Should Be Folding Laundry.