Wednesday, January 31, 2007

That Y chromosome!

Last night at dinner, while Tim and I ate grown-up fare the kids were served grapes and apples. Charlie sat in his high chair with two grapes talking to one another, then shooting at each other, then proceeding to blow each other up. "Aye, ah, boooom!" came from that end of the table. Maggie took a cue from her brother and started making her grapes talk, "Hi. How are you? I'm foooood!" as she popped the grape into her mouth. With this, Mary and Will started pretending they were toddlers too and, true to gender, started chatting and pretending to blow up fruit. I looked at Tim, "The Y chromosome is showing, big time." Of course Will wanted to know what I was talking about. But how can you explain chromosomes and DNA to an 8 year old? I tried the best I could, but then Tim popped the question I hate, "Know any more than you did before?"
They were all being obnoxious!
Let me just say that if after dinner a contemplative convent offered me a haven I might have taken them up on it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

birthday parties

As Mary's 7th birthday draws near I am grateful that we have not succumbed to the pressure for elaborate birthday bashes. Part of the reasoning is that we homeschool, we don't have a class full of little girls to easily invite. Another is tradition, our family didn't have parties, we simply had dinner at Grandmother's and a cake. A third reason is my own sanity; my days are spent feeding, dressing, changing, and educating 5 kids. I don't have the time or energy to plan and execute a fancy party.
Birthdays at our house consist of homemade cake with the birthday child getting to pick the color and decorations. One year Will wanted red cake but no matter how much food coloring I put in the batter it wouldn't get darker than Pepto Bismol pink. Another year he wanted green cake and frosting. One word: Yuck! Any child 3 or younger automatically gets Tim's favorite: yellow cake with chocolate frosting. My birthday is highlighted with pumpkin pie. The traditional singing is accompanied by a few modest gifts.
Mary's big day is a stark contrast to the festivities of the little girl the same age across the street. One year she had a puppeteer at the house with over 30 guests. Apparently they outdid themselves for last year; her party and gifts totaled $5000. Even her parties pale in comparison to the elaborate affairs described in the above article. Part of me feels redeemed when I read quotes such as this:
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who last year wrote a report The Importance of Play for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said children did not need lavish birthday parties.
"Children don't need toys that do everything for them and it is much better to get back to the basics and to have parents engaged with their children," he said.
"Parties should be a time to celebrate the presence of your life with family and friends and not a competition. It just makes one more expense that you don't need to have."

57th homeschool carnival

Is up at Palm Tree Pundit.

Monday, January 29, 2007

heretic quiz

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Homeschooling overseas

When we were stationed in Italy there were two homeschooling familes in our building. Instead of learning about Roman times from books and videos, they took field trips downtown to the Pozzouli ampitheater and drove to Pompeii for picnics. They went on a tour of the local pasta factory and went to the abbey with us to help harvest olives. I'm not saying that the DOD school kids never went to the Archeological Museum or Herculanium, but my neighbor's kids left base every week to visit an educational site and often went to the local markets to pick out fruit, chat with the vendors, and enjoy an Italian pastry (yum!). They were exposed almost daily to the local culture, not shut off behind a steel fence.

This article's writer twists, perhaps not deliberately, a mom's words on the positives of homeschooling overseas.
With her husband in the military, Kim said her family, like many other military families, has had to move around a lot. They lived in Germany for seven years, and not knowing the language or culture, made homeschooling Kody an even better option.

"A lot of military families homeschool because they move so much," she said. "But with homeschooling you don't get the learning gaps, because every school uses different curriculum. They can pick up where they left off."
Our family will soon do the PCSing thing again. I am so grateful I don't have to worry about looking for a house in the right school district, or the kids being behind/ahead because our school will move right along with us. We will continue to have the same quality books, the same strict teachers, and the same high expectations. I'm already excited about new opportunities to visit local sights and learn new things. While North Carolina might not be as historically rich as Southern Italy, I'm sure we can find lots of neat places to go and interesting things to see.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Flying with babies

A recent article popped up about a family that was ejected from an AirTran flight because of their 3 year old's behavior. Supposedly the child wouldn't sit in her seat. Then yesterday I heard rantings about this from Neal Boortz on the radio and promptly turned the dial. (my rule of not taking child-rearing advice from people with fewer children than I had been violated) His take was that this girl was acting badly because her parents didn't whack her on the bottom. However, I have flown over 8 trans-Atlantic flights with infants and toddlers and know how difficult and frustrating it is to fly with little ones.
Children are not little robots that do exactly what they are told, especially in unknown situations (like flying). Think about how scary it must be from a 3 year old's point of view. A normal toddler wants to cuddle with Mommy, not sit in a strange seat on a crowded plane, knowing their ears are going to pop, that they won't be able to run around for a long time or play with their favorite toys.
Some suggestions for flying with small children:
Read several stories about airplanes and flying the week before the trip. At the airport and on takeoff remind him of what you read. Describe the steps the pilot must perform to get the plane to fly, to navigate, to land. Distract him from his fears by gettting him interested in the crew's job.
Bring lots of snacks that the child likes as well as asking for juice or milk (bring own sippy cup) as soon as you are seated.
Bring small and quiet new toys, wrapped, in a child's backpack to keep him occupied throughout the flight. Coloring books, etch-a-sketch, small books, magnet games, matchbox cars... I found some spinning light toys once that occupied my toddlers for over an hour on a trip. He is allowed to open one gift per hour or so.
Plan on spending all your flight time taking care of the child. This isn't the time to catch up on reading or sleeping. Your child is likely anxious and scared of all the strange sounds and sights, reassure him that you are taking care of him. You will likely have to read Scuffy the Tugboat 800 times during the flight, but will emerge at your destination with a cheerful toddler, a grateful plane-full of fellow travelers, and no ejection from your flight.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sweat and Peace

Yesterday was our first snowfall of the winter. Nothing stuck of course, but the kids got all excited, bundled up in coats and snow boots to run around outside for 20 minutes, only to come back in and dump all their muddy items at my feet.

It is a beautiful thing to go for a run in the snow, especially bundled up in sweats, a hat, and bright pink gloves. The flakes swooped down, pelting me in the eyes. It was almost magical and so quiet I kept going beyond my normal turn-around point, ending up running almost 7 miles. The other reason was to try to burn off those 2 pieces of homemade apple pie I snitched for lunch. Snow and cold weather just makes me want to eat, even when the total number of flakes that fall is about 10.


A Rhode Island Catholic elementary school has recently implemented a "no talking" lunch after 3 choking incidents. The quote that gets me:
Christine Lamoureux, whose 12-year-old is a sixth-grader at the school, said she respects the safety issue but thinks the rule is a bad idea.
"They are silent all day," she said. "They have to get some type of release."

This is socialization? This is the great unspoken reality of schooling these days. Children are constantly shushed and hushed all day so they can "learn." What is learning without asking questions? Without discussion? If they must be silent, perhaps the school could adopt a practice of our household, reading aloud to the children during meals. When we are in the middle of an exciting tale, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth then the children beg for me continue, even while they are shoving peanut butter and jelly into their mouths. If I stop for a sip of water or to pick up Timmy they will impatiently urge me to get back on task.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

My first Catholic faux pas

Tim and I converted to the Catholic faith while stationed in Naples, Italy. Only about 90 minutes away from both Naples and Rome is the monastary where St. Benedict wrote his rule. The abbot of Montecassino owns several abbeys in the district, one of which, San Volturno is home to some American Benedictine nuns. We became friends with the sisters and would visit often during our tour, bringing groceries, working in the fields, pruning and harvesting olives from their 2000 trees.
My favorite chore on the farm was climbing into the stubby, fragrant trees and sawing branches that were out of control. There was a sense of mission, that I was helping do something for God by helping his nuns produce more olives. It was also a chore that once completed, I could say, "I pruned 15 trees," and they would stay pruned (at least until the next year). It was a far cry from my daily tasks of changing nappies and filling sippy cups for 1, and then 2 babies. (what I am still doing, 6 years later!) It was such a peaceful place, away from the dirt and crime of the big city.
Shortly after we started visiting, I decided to attend one of the 6 daily services of the Benedictine sisters. I had never been to Vespers so Tim kept baby Will at the guest house so he wouldn't cry and interrupt. Another visitor was present behind me, an older Italian lady who kept staring when it became obvious that I didn't know when to kneel or stand. As a high church Episcopalian, it was impressed upon me to follow the service and kneel, stand, and sit at the appropriate time. Since I didn't have anyone else to take cues from, I simply tried to imitate what the nuns did. However, when the nuns bowed over the table in the center of the room toward the meager congregation and the back wall, I turned around and bowed too. The woman behind me began to stare at me like I had just sprouted two heads. I did this two more times during the course of the evening.
The following morning I went for a walk with Mother Miriam, the foundress of the reconstructed abbey. She gently told me that the sisters were bowing toward the altar in the chapel, not the East wall. My face flamed with embarassment and I quickly apologized as I realized that it was Muslims who face a certain compass direction in their prayers, not Catholics. Even though I still cringe at the thought of my first Catholic faux pas, I am grateful for the grace and compassion of the kind nuns. Mother Miriam certainly never mentioned the incident again and I fondly recall my days of harvesting that bitter fruit that turns into such sweet, luscious oil.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It is time to pull back the reins

I forgot to pick up Maggie at preschool this morning. Now, I was only 30 minutes late and luckily her teacher was very sympathetic, but I know that this should be a warning with flashing red and blue lights in the rear view mirror that we are seriously overdoing. Currently my scheldule includes: swimming lessons, riding lessons, piano lessons, CCD, preschool, Cub Scouts, Little Flowers, watching 2 homeschooled children once every other week, taking a correspondence writing class, running, blogging, and homeschooling. Oh, and art classes are starting soon.
Oh. My. Goodness.
How do I get back some sanity?
Yesterday I cancelled our membership at the Y, so 1 only more month of swimming lessons. It takes so much energy getting there, getting everyone situated and then finally getting back home. Last week Will wouldn't come out of the men's locker room for 35 minutes. It was a bad scene with the little ones racing around the lobby, me hollering in the door, finally having to send two staff members in after him. 8 year old boys are not responsible enough to change in a timely manner and the worry of sexual assault is always looming in such a situation. Yesterday's disaster was that Charlie's diaper had slid down and he wet; not only his pants, but his socks and shoes. Of course I had no spare clothes for him handy. Luckily it wasn't that cold out.
I have also decided to not train for the 1/2 marathon that caught my eye the other day. I will have my hands full in the next few months getting ready to move, and all that it entails. One of the benefits of moving is that it requires me to start over, to reevaluate our goals. While I don't think I can pare any more stuff right now, by lightly tweaking, I hope to be able to just make it through the Spring. In our new home I can sit down and decide: Is X activity worth the hassle involved? Is Y activity really necessary? Just because some class fits in our scheldule doesn't mean we have to sign up and if something isn't working we can stop.

56th homeschool carnival

Monday, January 22, 2007

March for Life Day

This morning thousands of our fellow Christians are arriving by bus and car in Washington, DC to protest the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs Wade. Two generations of Americans have been decimated from the rush to embrace the Culture of Death that came with the passage of this law. Think of the millions of fellow citizens, perhaps young mothers and fathers, concert pianists, artists, singers, priests, and nuns we might have if they had not been murdered before they were born. How would our country look today if we had never allowed abortion?

Pray for the safety of the marchers and that they may change hearts today. Also, pray for those who are carrying children in their womb. Our little, tiny parish is bursting with 5 pregnant moms (2nd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th children in the families!). The pressure is getting intense here guys! Also, please pray for those who have lost children due to miscarriage, including Margaret, over at Minnesota Mom.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

peanut butter and jam

Will and Mary and I just got back from the symphony. It certainly wasn't high tone or fancy since the orchestra played selections from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Jurrasic Park.
We had watched a video a few days ago about music and an orchestra practicing to prepare ourselves for a study in classical music (in 52 easy lessons, no less).

The conductor was superb, before each piece he asked the musicians to play snatches of music to explain how jungle, heroic, or cowboy sounds are created with music so the children could understand better. What a wonderful treat on such a rainy, cold day.
I knew exactly what was coming as soon as the lights went up after the Raiders piece, "Mommy, when we get home can we watch Indiana Jones?" So Tim and all the kids are watching while I get a few moments of peace. Oh, Charlie is already scared and is bailing out of the movie. There goes my quiet time!

Debate match

The other evening at dinner Maggie piped up, "I want everyone to call me Charlotte."
"Why do you want to be Charlotte? You have a lovely name," I replied.
"Because Charlotte is a movie star!" Which one you ask? The only movie Maggie has seen in the theater: 'Charlotte's Web'.
"You want to be named after a spider?"
"No, Charlotte is the girl," she insisted.
"Fern is the girl's name." I declared adamantly. Back and forth it went for several minutes. Finally, I thought I had the clincher, "Sweetie, Charlotte is the spider. You see, the movie is called Charlotte's Web and only spiders can spin webs."
Tired from this pointless debate, Will used my standard line, "Mommy, stop arguing with a 4 year old!"

Saturday, January 20, 2007

torturous race!

I ran this morning in the biting cold a 5K that went up hills, down hills, up again (actually it was the same, very large hill) with very few flat stretches. My achilles tendon injury from a previous race finally healed after 9 long days of limping about so I was a bit hesitatant about injuring it again. Due to the hills and not training I got my slowest time: 25:36.
(I checked the results on-line and found that I came in 4th in my age group. I compared my time with other ages and found that if I was 5 or 10 years younger I would have placed 2nd. Younger is not necessarily faster!)
While I was bopping around the race organizer's website I found a 1/2 marathon in a few months. Should I go for it? I wouldn't even know how to train for such a race. But I do need to lose those last 5 pounds....
(lots of edits on this, I was mistaken about my time, by 2 minutes!)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Too much pressure, too early

This article from Newsweek explains one of the myriad of reasons we began homeschooling. We had a boy who was late maturing and just not ready for the high-stakes testing and competitive atmosphere of our local Kindergarden.
"In the last decade, the earliest years of schooling have become less like a trip to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and more like SAT prep. Thirty years ago first grade was for learning how to read. Now, reading lessons start in kindergarten and kids who don't crack the code by the middle of the first grade get extra help. Instead of story time, finger painting, tracing letters and snack, first graders are spending hours doing math work sheets and sounding out words in reading groups. In some places, recess, music, art and even social studies are being replaced by writing exercises and spelling quizzes. Kids as young as 6 are tested, and tested again—some every 10 days or so—to ensure they're making sufficient progress. After school, there's homework, and for some, educational videos, more workbooks and tutoring, to help give them an edge."
At the beginning of second grade Will was slowly reading one-word-at-a-time with my finger under each word in his reader. It amazes me how slowly it took the child of two voracious readers to get to that moment where everything clicks together. Now he reads real chapter books and enjoys the experience.
I can only imagine what would have happened if we had stuck him in public school. Instead of an active boy who enjoys creating a rocket ship with "bomebay doors and regulr doors" out of a waterheater box he procured from the neighbor, I might have a sulky, tired, drugged little boy who hates learning because he doesn't care to spend all day doing writing exercises and taking spelling quizzes. Once we finish our required daily schoolwork the kids have the rest of the day to play outside, make stuff, do puzzles, play games, and read. Today they are making play mats for cars out of long rolls of paper, complete with roads, buildings, train tracks, and parking lots. It is urban design at its most simplistic.
"Lately, some experts have begun to question whether our current emphasis on early learning may be going too far. 'Early education, is not just about teaching letters but about turning curious kids into lifelong learners. It's critical that all kids know how to read, but that is only one aspect of a child's education. Are we pushing our children too far, too fast? Could all this pressure be bad for our kids?'"
Yes. Enough said.
"First grade is like literacy boot camp. Music, dance, art, phys ed—even social studies and science—take a back seat to reading and writing. Kids are tested every eight weeks to see if they are hitting school, district and statewide benchmarks. If they aren't, they get remedial help, one-on-one tutoring and more instruction. The regular school day starts at 7:45 a.m. and ends at 2:05 p.m.; about a fifth of the students go to an after-school program until 5:30, where they get even more instruction: tutoring, reading group and homework help."
When the children were little and we were living on-base in Italy, Tim would drive by the daycare every morning and evening. He told me that he was so grateful I stayed home with the children when he saw toddlers dropped off at 6am in their jammies, some still asleep. Now I feel sorry for children who are awakened by an alarm clock to get ready to catch the bus. These poor kids have the rest of their lives to be dictated to by a clock.
"What early-childhood experts know is that for children between the ages of 5 and 7, social and emotional development are every bit as important as learning the ABCs. Testing kids before third grade gives you a snapshot of what they know at that moment but is a poor predictor of how they will perform later on. Not all children learn the same way. Teachers need to vary instruction and give kids opportunities to work in small groups and one on one. Children need hands-on experiences so that they can discover things on their own. "If you push kids too hard, they get frustrated," says Dominic Gullo, a professor of early education at Queens College in New York. "Those are the kids who are likely to act out, and who teachers can perceive as having attention-span or behavior problems.'"
I am such a believer in the connection between sleep deprivation, electronic stimulation and hyperactivity. I also know that if I push Will to finish all his given work when he starts late, is tired, or for too long he gets cranky and doesn't learn much. It is far better to work for 2 hours with a good attitude than to be miserable just to say we checked off everything in the lesson book. Kids learn so much with a blend of work and fun in their day, just as we all do.
"There are signs that some parents and school boards are looking for a gentler, more kid-friendly way. In Chattanooga, Tenn., more than 100 parents camped out on the sidewalk last spring in hopes of getting their kids into one of the 16 coveted spots at the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences (CSAS), a K-12 magnet program that champions a slowed-down approach to education. The school, which admits kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, offers students plenty of skills and drills but also stresses a "whole-child approach." The emphasis is not on passing tests but on hands-on learning.
Two weeks ago newly minted kindergartners were spending the day learning about the color red. They wore red shirts, painted with bright red acrylic paint. During instructional time, they learned to spell RED. Every week each class meets for a seminar that encourages critical thinking. At CSAS, students are rarely held back, and in fourth grade—and in 12th grade—more than 90 percent of students passed the state's proficiency tests in reading last year."
This sounds like daily learning in the homes of many homeschoolers. Hopefully more public schools will develop programs like the one described above and reduce the obsession with pressuring children too early.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

10 minutes of bliss

All of us have an image in their head of homeschooling perfection. For some it is everyone sitting on the sofa listening to mom read. For others it is a trip to a museum where the little kids behave perfectly and the older children amaze the docent by their amazing knowledge of historical facts. Mine? A mental snapshot of all the children in the schoolroom peacefully together: baby Timmy cooing in the swing, Charlie on the floor silently pushing a car, Maggie coloring her workbook, Will and Mary intently writing and figuring.
For the first time in our 3 1/2 years of schooling, I saw that moment. Perhaps 10 minutes worth. Oh, it was lovely. Then Timmy started fussing, wanting milk and a nap. Charlie wanted some juice, Maggie got bored and bugged Will. Mary started whining about not wanting to finish her page of arithmetic and Will became frustrated with the noise and banged on the piano.
Perhaps I will see another flash of homeschooling perfection. My guess is that it will happen in 2010.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

nature studies

Not being from an old Yankee family I only recently learned of life books, what bird watchers keep as a record of species they have spotted. However, I am helping the children learn to identify birds at our feeder, conveniently hung in front of a window in our schoolroom. We have seen lots of chickadees and sparrows, house and purple finches, and cardinals. In the backyard they can identify rock doves and robins, bluejays, and ravens. Yesterday we got a real treat perched on the wide trunk of a river birch tree- a downy woodpecker. Everyone's faces were pressed to the glass to watch it slowly hop up the tree, peck, cock its head around, and hop some more.

Up in Maine we have several birdfeeders as well, I can lie on the sofa, reading a book and look up periodically to spy goldfinches flitting in to eat thistle seed and perch in the branches of an enormous maple. Beside it is a hummingbird feeder, but I'm not as good about climbing the ladder to replace the syrup so we only had a few visitors this past summer. I don't make studying these things a required subject. Basically, mine is the lazy man's method of exposing the children to the wonders of nature. It might be working despite my reluctance to add more to our school day. Will told me the other evening that his favorite thing to do in the world was be on our farm in Maine- running around, making paths through the woods, climbing hay bales and trees. Maybe I will encourage them to keep a nature book, like a journal, to write and draw their nature discoveries.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Homeschool carnival #55

This week's carnival is up at Dewey's Treehouse.

The dangerous age

When my babies are 6 months old they just become the essense of adorable, I simply want to eat them right up. Timmy is now chubby, with a real "budda belly" that simply asks to be zerberted. Mary and I take turns after his bath tickling his armpits and under his chin making him laugh and show off that toothless grin. He has huge blue eyes, with large lashes, looking just like the Gerber baby on his box of rice mush. To top it off he started moving in a coordinated fashion a few days ago after Maggie put out a few toys a foot in front of him, "Come on Timmy, crawl to the toy. You can do it. Yeah!! What a smart little boy!"
What is dangerous when they become so cute, reliably sleep through the night, and smile all the darned time is that I forget that "this too is a phase" and start thinking about having another baby. Because they are easy to care for and give megawatt smiles at everyone, so more of such a good thing must be better, right? Plus, the protection against ovulating from breastfeeding seems to naturally fade right around my 6-9 month mark. It is almost like a giant conspiracy to bring more children into our family. But I am overwhelmed some days with the children I already have. I don't want to balloon up again right after I have worked so hard to lose weight and become fit. Moving while pregnant? Yuck. And I simply don't like maternity fashions, at all.
However, part of me deep inside wants another baby and at that moment when I trudge into the doctor's office with all 5 rambunctious children behind me to get the official test I will develop an inner calm. The nurse will looks at all of us incredulously, "Lady, you do know how this happens, right?" I will smile right back and say, "If everyone had children this lovely, they would all have 10 kids."

Monday, January 15, 2007

400 years ago

We just returned from a very exciting and tourist-free day at Jamestown. For the past week I read aloud a few pages a day about the first permanent English settlement in the New World to prep the kids. I do have to say it was almost all stuff I already knew. Being from Virginia I started every school year for 10 years with the history of Jamestown, as if that was the beginning of the world itself.

With our picnic lunch and the children packed in the car we drove through the countryside and rode across the river on a ferryboat. Knowing the children would not stand for a 90 minute guided tour we wandered around on our own. In the Indian village we watched the costumed interpreters (one even wearing her hair shaved on the sides in the style of an Indian brave) explain how the Powhatan Indians lived. The kids pounded corn into flour and sharpened a deer bone for a spear.

All the children clambored in and out of the bunkbeds reserved for members of the crew on the three cramped ships. They were encouraged to try out the huge tiller and ring the bells to signal the half hour. Tim and I tried to listen but most of our energy was spent trying to keep the kids from going over the sides.

The fort itself was filled with timber and mud buildings, including a impressive church and a blacksmith's forge where a large, friendly man was making hinges for a door. Charlie was terrified of the fire so he ran off and spied a chicken. He enthusiastically spent the rest of his time chasing, looking at and chatting about the small flock of "oosters and ickens". The other kids really enjoyed a presentation of muskets and the fort's cannons and later trying on armor.
The drive home was spent listening to me read aloud (though I got a little car-sick in the process). Half of our crew fell asleep before we even got back onto the ferryboat. There were many improvements in the exhibits and facilities in preparation for the 400th anniversary this year. I highly recommend visiting Jamestown for anyone wanting to experience America's historical beginning with lots of hands-on kid friendly activities.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

What do you wear to school?

Reason # 456 to homeschool. We can wear whatever we want to school with no police involvement.
Though we have several clothing issues to address in our household, all can be handled by me if I deem them inappropriate. For instance, Mary has taken it in her head that school goes by faster if she does it before breakfast in her flannel nightgown. Maggie has hit the dress-to-the-hilt phase and wears a fancy gown, my nice high-heels, and a feathery crown to roll out play-dough, and Will has been know to wear the same 2 sizes-too-small t-shirt every day for a week. The rule is that if we are leaving the house everyone has to be dressed in decent looking clothes with hair and teeth brushed. No jimmy-jammies, no crowns.
Our local Catholic school has pajama day several times a year with staff and students participating. This kind of thing I strongly disapprove of and I do understand that the average school needs to be more strict about what students can wear. However, this story proves that common sense and decorum are absent from both administrators and students. A male assistant principal enters a girl's locker room, and chokes a girl?

"17-year old Sabrina Herndon was wearing a jacket and strapless top and was changing in the girl's locker room at Palm Beach Gardens High School. A teacher noticed the strapless top which is a dress code violation. A male assistant principal then entered the girl's locker room, and within minutes Herndon was in a choke hold. "He came behind me and he picked me up with it and he tried to carry me out of the locker room and then I fell, then he came from under me and choked me a second time."The question of course is what prompted the assistant principal to resort to such tactics?
"The school district also has witnesses who say the assistant principal was justified to use force. They're not telling us specifically what happened because Herndon is a juvenile. They are saying her behavior warranted felony battery charges. Herndon says she doesn't understand why she's the criminal, when she's the one who was choked. Herndon is now facing expulsion and her college career is in question. "For the whole thing to go out of proportion over a dress code issue is ridiculous," she says."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Books, books, books

I rarely buy books by mail-order because usually when I succumb to a glowing blurb in a catalogue and order it, I end up disappointed. Poking around bookstores, comparing titles, actually cracking the book open is much more preferable.

Before Christmas I found several gems in our local Catholic bookstore (run by a couple that homeschool) from Sophia Press.
First is The First Christians, The Acts of the Apostles for Children by Marigold Hunt. This retelling of the deeds of Sts. Peter, Paul, and Barnabas is easy for 8-12 year olds to read and full of stories of arrests, shipwrecks, and miracles.
Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar was a facinating read that shows how throughout Christian history the Church has plowed on with God's Grace, despite facing almost insurmountable odds and persecutions. The subtitle says it all: The Divine Surprises and Chastisements That Shaped the Church and Changed the World.
The last I haven't read yet, but Tim has. He highly recommends Momorize the Faith and Most Anything Else, Using the Methods of the Great Catholic Medieval Memory Masters by Kevin Vost. Using St. Thomas Aquinas's method of recall to create a mental "memory mansion" and a way to store information you can recall hundreds of Church teachings, Bible verses, theological terms, and other elements of the Faith.
A friend up in Maine showed me her 3" thick Rainbow Resource catalogue for homeschoolers. It contains long descriptions of offerings and is currently not charging for shipping on orders over $150. It took forever for the catalogue to arrive after I ordered it on-line and then it took another few weeks for my box to show up after I sent off the check, but it finally came yesterday. I am pleased with my purchases and wanted to share a few here.
I filled out my Little House shelf with the newest Martha Years books by Melissa Wiley and several Caroline Years by Celia Wilkins. Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant fills in the two "lost" years between Plum Creek and Silver Lake in Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood.
Volume 4 of The Story of The World by Susan Wise Bauer was on my wishlist since we are currently on Vol. 2, studying the Black Plague. I love this series for an overall history that children can understand. Also by Mrs. Bauer was The Well Trained Mind, which I had checked out of the library so often and paid so many overdue charges that I could have paid for my own copy and so I did! The Well Educated Mind is a grownup book by Mrs. Bauer so that those of us who did not receive a classical education can read their way to one.
The Harp and Laurel Wreath by Laura Berquist is another homeschooling classic, poetry to memorize at each stage of learning and study questions to help understand. I heard Mrs. Berquist speak at the IHM conference a few years ago and highly admire her work.
I agonized between buying the new Kingfisher History Encyclopedia or trying to find the supposedly superior previous edition, but after comparing $20 for the new to over $80 for a used copy of the latter, I saved the difference.
Some other selections include How to Introduce Your Child to Classical Music in 52 Easy Lessons, Professor Noggin history games, and some cute You Wouldn't Want to... (Be Sick in the 18th Century, Be an American Pioneer, Be an American Colonist, and a dozen more titles I didn't get). I'll check them out and write later what I think of them.
Scouring the library, the used book store, the local homeschool and Christian stores, and catalogues can yield an enormous volume of quality reading material for your children and your homeschool use. Choose wisely and you will learn much. I hope I will!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

6 weird things...

Michelle over at rosetta stone passed this tag along.
I don't know if I want to do this, reveal 6 weird things about myself. All my peculiarities will come out and the image that I have portrayed in my blog as a "got it all together mama" will be shot!
1. I love making compost piles. I spend hours each summer shredding stuff with my gas-powered shredder to put on my homemade log-cabin style pile. I also collect stuff to put in it, including going down to the beach at low tide to fill up the back of the truck with seaweed and once filled the back of my brand new pickup with horse manure to increase my nitrogen content.
2. I plot charts of my weight when I am pregnant (going up) and post-partum (going down). I also weigh myself every day, right before I get in the shower in the morning, because everyone knows that wet hair makes you weigh more.
3. I am a slacker mother. I have never properly childproofed my house by covering all the plugs that break your fingernails, installing latches on every cabinet that leave guests perplexed as to how to throw the trash away, and installing a latch on the toilet that leaves it impossible for a preschooler to go potty alone. I am also not overly neurotic about car-seats, letting the children sleep on the floor on long trips. Despite all this, we have only made trips to the ER for one broken arm, several sets of stitches, and a splinter in the past 8 years. No calls to 911 or poison control have been needed.
4. I seek thrift store bargains for almost all our clothing needs. Yes, I could shop retail, but perhaps I inherited a cheap gene or the lure of the hunt gives me an adrenaline high. I even bought my wedding dress at a bridal consignment shop. When we were stationed overseas I was a manager of the post thrift shop. It was heaven! Coach pocketbooks, Liz Claiborne sweaters, Gymboree outfits for Will, all for less than $5. Last week I found a lovely blue softer-than-soft cashmere sweater for only $1.50.
5. I have a tattoo. (not telling what or where!)
6. I am not a dog person at all. I don't like animals that sniff my crotch, require walking in the rain and snow, and poop on the lawn. Maybe they are man's best friend to millions of others, but I'm scared of big dogs and think little yip dogs are plain silly. And those people who treat their dogs like children? Now, that is strange.

I'm not that kind of homeschooler

Creative, that is.

The curriculum we use, Seton is very traditional. I love to check off the subjects after we finish our work each day in Phonics, Reading, English, Vocabulary, Spelling, Math, History, Science, Art, Music, and Religion.

However, art is my tough subject because it requires hauling out supplies, free time, and cleanup. Therefore, we are officially about 3 months behind in Art. I read on other mom's blogs about lots of creative projects that they do with their kids to learn and highlight their faith, but that is as far as I get. The reading about it part. I do teach the kids cooking and sewing, let them loose with art supplies and they do produce lots of creative things such as catapults, homemade cards, and lots of drawings and paintings. But, sitting down with one child to do a specific project? Perhaps I am lazy or perhaps I realize that the odds of any project being completed without a smaller sibling destroying it are almost nil.

Yesterday, Will had completed all of his requirements for his Parvuli Dei Cub Scout emblem except for making a banner that showed what he had learned. The babies were taking a long nap so we brainstormed, drew pictures on heat-n-bond paper, ironed them on fabrics, and stitched them onto an old sheet. It was a very creative and productive 2 hours, without a single fight, complaint, or whining episode. There is a photo transfer of Will in his Cub Scout uniform, images of the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, animals and plants God created, and things he is thankful for such as his family. It was a group effort and Will drew, placed, ironed, and sewed all the images himself. I am very proud of him for working so hard, of Mary for helping and keeping paper scraps away from baby Timmy, and of myself for suggesting it and seeing it through.
Maybe with such a good experience under out belts, we could try something else creative in our homeschooling like a 6 week unit study on The Middle Ages. Foods, crafts, building our own castle out of sugar cubes....
Then again, no. I know what would happen to those sugar cubes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sewing lessons

This past week we started making a king-sized quilt for our new bed. I say "we", because Will and Mary are helping me piece the blocks. It is a split 9 patch design in blues and creams with over 180 blocks so I need all the help I can get.
Previously the kids liked to contribute to my quilting by going into my scrap basket and tying bits together to make giant spider webs all around the room. Uggg! The thought of having to untie all those knots still raises my blood pressure. On occasion they like to lay scraps across the floor to make a design and we talk about color, contrast, and shapes. They also like to look through my quilting books and pick out ones they would like me to make.

Will and Mary have proven to be very good at pressing and while it frees me up to cut and sew, ironing tends to get boring. "Can I please sew? Pleeeeease, Mommy?" Their piecing leaves a lot to be desired with wobbily lines and bits that mysteriously get sucked into the machine. I am spending a great deal of time on this project so far ripping out seams and redoing. While the blocks are not as well done as I would like, I am finding that it is worth it when I hear Mary exclaim, "Daddy, I am learning to sew! Mommy says I'm a big help!"

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

54th homeschool carnival

is up at homeschoolbuzz. Lots of great posts!

Urgent Action Needed Before January 11, 2007

Please Contact your Member of the House of Representatives, asking him/her to oppose H.R. 3: To amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research, and to request that they support ethical alternative stem cell research methods that do not require the killing of human embryos.
The National Catholic Bioethics Center has provided the attached written testimony in opposition to H.R. 3, which would fund embryonic stem cell research, requiring the destruction of conceived human embryos. On Thursday, January 11, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on H.R. 3. A similar bill passed both houses of Congress last year and was vetoed by President Bush, because it would fund research which required the killing of human embryos. A vote in the Senate is expected on such legislation at some time in the future.
Please contact your member of the House of Representatives asking the Congressperson to oppose H.R. 3 and to support ethical alternative stem cell research proposals which do not require the killing of human embryos. Contact information on your Congressperson can be found at

Monday, January 08, 2007

Vacuum cleaner shopping

In the past week, both our cheap Dirt Devil and expensive Hoover vacuum cleaners bit the dust- literally. The Hoover was only 15 months old and had been taken in to be serviced two times in the first year. It was a real lemon and I am upset that we paid over $300 for it.
A purchase must be made quickly with our crowd of 4 dirt-tracking children and one just-beginning-to-crawl baby. In addition, our priest is coming tomorrow to bless the house so it must be clean! After doing school today we hit several stores to check out models and prices. My finds: the commerical Sanitare, which is very durable and pretty inexpensive and the Eureka The Boss Smart Vac, which is about the same price and has good reviews. I am going to the library tonight to check out Consumer Reports before doing any purchasing, but come Wednesday or Thursday (at the latest) we will have two new vacuum cleaners (maybe one of each)!
update: The Eureka works well and was easy to assemble, even at 6am! Okay, I didn't put it together, my dear husband did that job, but isn't that under their job description?

Hope for school reform?

There has been plenty of talk about what is wrong with government schools in recent decades, but now there are increasing mentions of not "fixing" what is wrong with the current system, but starting over again.
"What if the solution to American students' stagnant performance levels and the wide achievement gap between white and minority students wasn't more money, smaller schools, or any of the reforms proposed in recent years, but rather a new education system altogether?
That's the conclusion of a bipartisan group of scholars and business leaders, school chancellors and education commissioners, and former cabinet secretaries and governors. They declare that America's public education system, designed to meet the needs of 100 years ago when the workplace revolved around an assembly line, is unsuited to today's global marketplace. Already, they warn, many Americans are in danger of falling behind and seeing their standard of living plummet."

Sounds good, right? But then they get into specifics of the plan:

"In its place, the group proposes a series of controversial reforms:
*Offer universal pre-kindergarten programs and opportunities for continuing education for adults without high school diplomas."

Shuttling them into school earlier? We have tried that over the past 30 years with K and now preschool- studies show it doesn't help 90% of children. Our test results are fine in comparison with other countries for the first few years of school, it is at the 3-4th grade level that we start to fall-where students have to learn specific skills such as math, spelling, writing, grammar, history, and science.

We already have an extensive system of community colleges in our nation- anyone can take a myriad of courses to improve themselves at little cost.

"*Create state board exams that students could pass at age 16 to move either on to community college or to a university-level high school curriculum."

"Graduating" students before they drop out would only improve statistics. The last stumps me: is this admitting that today students don't learn anything in the last 2 years of high school? Are they saying that they would track 14-15 year olds to graduate early (meaning drop out), technical program (CC), or professional program (university)?

"*Improve school salaries in exchange for reducing secure pension benefits, and pay teachers more to work with at-risk kids, for longer hours, or for high performance."

More pay with no benefits discourages burnt-out teachers to hang out until retirement. The economics of having to pay more for harder-to-fill spots also sounds good, but who decides which are the at-risk kids? Special education teachers already get the same pay for 8-10 kids in a class. (I worked with LD and ED students for several years) Where is the incentive for the teachers of the high achieving students- the ones who will be our future professionals? And which kids always get left out? The ones in the middle, the majority of kids. What determines "high performance"? High test scores?What we really don't need is more testing. What we need are more answers to the question "What is the point of all this schooling?" asked by the children and therefore more learning.

"*Create curriculums that emphasize creativity and abstract concepts over rote learning or mastery of facts."
We have been trying this for 20+ years and all it has created is a class of people who don't know their basic skills. They can't spell (substituted with creative spelling), can't do simple arithmetic (new math has replaced drills), can't write or speak well (dropped grammer and diagramming entirely), and can't remember much (eliminated memorizing poetry and speeches).
You can't learn how to break the rules without first having learned the rules. An artist must learn the basics of form, design, and color before he strikes out in new direction. An engineer must learn the laws of physics and mathematics before he can design a new product.
A 3rd grader must memorize the multiplication tables before he can learn division, before he can learn algebra, before he can learn calculus, before he can go to MIT and major in mechanical engineering, before he can design a rocket ship motor to get us to Mars. If no one sits down and makes that child (and every child) learn his times-tables (and all the other basic skills) by rote we will become (as we are slowly becoming) a nation of service workers and low-level drones rather than a creative, energized, and productive nation.
So, same old "reform" suggestions= same old results. What should the nation do? Bust the unions, eliminate the Dept of Education, make local areas more independent, and find creative solutions such as integrating home study with optional tutor led classes, and creating more magnet-type schools that emphasize specifics such as the arts, math, and science.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Day Out

Yesterday afternoon, after Mass and Little Flowers I took baby Timmy out for some retail therapy. An hour at the thrift store produced a new wardrobe for Tim, several smaller skirts and pants for myself, and jigsaw puzzles for the kids. We made a swing into the commissary for some salad fixings and went to the education store for a little poking around. It was such a beautiful day with one easy-to-care-for baby. No whining about new toys or a treat. No demands of "I have to go potty, NOW!" If I wanted to I could have even eaten lunch at a place that doesn't have a drive-through.

The other day at the grocery one of the checkers said, "I saw a bit on the TV about a mom of 2 complaining about how hard it was to go shopping with her kids. I laughed, because I thought of you doing it with 5 so effortlessly." Thanks Kim for the compliment. However, I do recall how hard it was many years ago with 1 and then 2 children. Experienced mom that I am now, spending a few hours with just one infant is a breeze. Thank you my dear husband for taking down the Christmas tree and letting me have the day out!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Are You a Blogging Convert?

VERT is a new carnival of sorts- a list of weekly topics and links specifically for converts and reverts to the Catholic Church. The first week's topic is conversion stories. Check it out!
VERT is intended to compliment other online Catholic communities with an extra special and specific focus on converts and reverts to the Catholic faith. If you know what those buzz terms signify, you blog, and you are looking for like minded people who will encourage and challenge VERT may be for you.
VERT COMBINES the purpose of a gathering place like
St. Blog's Parish and Amateur Catholics with weekly themed writing prompts that I hope is complimentary to the un-themed Catholic Carnival while being specifically geared for converts and reverts. While I am an amateur and I think most members will be amateur Catholics VERT allows pros to join too.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Library day

I love books. I read while nursing the baby, while relaxing on the sofa, in bed before I turn out the light. I have been surrounded by books my entire life, raised by a reading teacher and even worked my senior year as a page. So we go to the library a lot. So often that the librarians are apt to call us and ask if we are sick if they don't see us for a week. Usually they are not thrilled to see my little crowd coming, but today was different.

After getting everyone up, dressed, fed, teeth brushed, beds made, and a bit of school done we went to our local branch. They have a pretty big children's section and librarians who eagerly help find obscure books even when I can't quite remember the full title.
In our 45 minute trip the kids read to each other, played on the computer, and sprawled on the floor of the aisles looking at books. It was the perfect outing, no bickering, just a peaceful large happy family. Grateful for the quiet, I perused the non-fiction section. When everyone was strapped back in the car I handed out my finds. "I want fossils!" "I want the horse book!" "nmals!" (animals)
I am so thrilled that the kids love to read and spend time at one of my favorite places in the world- the library.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is this how the "professionals" think of us?

Here are some bits from an article out of a North Carolina paper.

Two million students are being home schooled in the United States and that number is rapidly growing. No longer a taboo topic, parents now admit they'd rather keep their kids at home to teach lessons they won't find in public schools.
You mean lessons in phonics, math drills, diagramming sentences, memorizing speeches and poetry, art, music, and recess? All of these have been dropped or scaled back from public school curriculums in recent years.
But are they harming their children?
How? By sacrificing any/all free time we have to teach our children and giving them opportunities to learn and interact with others?

"We are professionals, we know how to teach and you need to be their parents,” said high school history teacher Diane Birdwell.
I was one of these professionals before I had children. I know what is taught in many university Education Departments and the quality of many "professional teachers". (Yes, I acknowledge that there are many wonderful teachers) I prefer to teach my children myself.

"I have seen the results of when they don't do it right and they fail or give up and the kids come into the public school system and they are behind their peers both socially and academically,” Birdwell said.
Most of the children who are behind socially and are academically labeled as failures are public school students. There are many examples of children who have been deemed deficient by the professionals, pulled out of school by their parents and have gone on to become successful learners.

However, studies show home schooled students score up to 30 percent higher on standardized tests than public school kids. But what about their socialization skills?
Okay, now we will concede that homeschooled kids are usually smarter, but....

Most homeschool parents overcompensate for their child's social "isolation". My two school-age children are involved in swimming lessons, riding lessons, piano lessons, art lessons, Cub Scouts, Little Flowers, CCD (Catholic Sunday School), serving Mass, co-op field trips, and have siblings and friends to play with.

High school history teacher Diane Birdwell says there are some lessons parents aren't qualified to teach. ...most teachers say parents can give Bible lessons after school, as long as they leave the reading, writing and arithmetic to them.

So, you suck up the best 8 hours of a child's day (and assign 2 hours worth of homework) and we are supposed to fit in religion class, sports, and music lessons in the remaining time? You fill their heads with secular humanistic philosophy, multiculturalism, and sex ed, leaving little time for parents to instill their values and morals to their children (but maybe that's the point).

I don't see the public schools doing a fantastic job teaching those reading, writing, and arithmetic skills to the students they already have. I wouldn't buy a car that is known to be hard to start, belches black smoke, and breaks down on the freeway. Why would I buy an education for my kid that is just as much of a lemon?

Learning is a slow process

I mentioned on a previous post our elaborate, beautiful ceramic holy water font I bought in Italy. Yesterday I was looking through the kitchen and spotted Maggie (4) looking up at the painting of Mary and Jesus on the font, dipping her finger in and making a sign of the cross. She did it once, twice, then a third time, always getting the cross backwards (first going right, then left). This is a dramatic improvement from her gorilla beating-on-his-chest sign of the cross that she was doing 6 months ago.

Slowly, slowly it comes and it brings a smile to my face.

Nothing is as easy for children to learn as we think it should be. It is simple for me to know the times tables, I have been doing them for 20+ years. It is a struggle for Will to memorize them for the first time. It is difficult for Mary to learn the Act of Contrition, and for Charlie to learn NOT to touch his brother's model plane. It is even challenging for Timmy to sit up. My goal is not to rush them, but patiently give them the instructions and tools they need to learn.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I am so bad

Every year for Christmas one of the aunties gives tins of homemade sugar cookies. The passing over of the gift involves a little ritual, lifting the lid, sniffing and saying, "I will promise to savor each and every bite of these cookies." They are so thin you can almost see through them, crispy and sweet with just a touch of vanilla and cinnamon. I have begged and pleaded for the recipe, but she refuses to share, knowing that the gift is so much more special because it is only available once a year.

I hid the tin from my family and ate every last cookie myself. I even swallowed before I came downstairs so no one would ask,"What are you eating?" and then entice me into sharing.

Should I go to confession for such a thing?
Only one thing can help, I somehow need find the recipe on the internet and make my family a new batch of these cookies.
Plus, I need another one myself.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling

The First Anniversary Edition is up at Why Homeschool.
I have really enjoyed reading this carnival over the past year, and find it even more fun now that I'm blogging and seeing my own posts included. It's a great way to see some creative aspects of homeschooling, find new blogs, get new perspectives, and have a laugh. Check it out!

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years Resolutions

Michelle over at rosetta stone reminded me that I need to think up some New Year's resolutions- and fast. Today is Jan. 1. I haven't made any resolutions in a very long time, mostly because I see that people make the same one every year: lose weight and never follow through. Well, I lost the baby weight from Timmy but still have 8 lbs to go (it was from the third pregnancy, I think), so maybe I'll jump on that bandwagon.

Resolution #1: lose 8 lbs.

Now, I'm inspired by Michelle's running log so I think that I'll try that too.

Resolution #2: keep running log and run (hmmm, some achievable goal) 250 miles

I need a goal for my spiritual life so, let me think...

Resolution #3: say morning prayers every morning (I always forget and then breakfast is on the table, kids need to get dressed, baby needs to be changed and nursed...and by then it's 10 am)
Okay, resolutions done. Now, help keep me honest, ask every once in a while if I'm doing them!