Saturday, May 26, 2012

get me to the church on time

Our family will not be heading to the beach this Memorial Day weekend, but to the Cathedral in Portland, where Charlie will be making his First Holy Communion and Confirmation (he went to first penance last Sunday) and the older girls will receive Confirmation. With no Catholics in either of our families and not knowing anyone in the Latin Mass community well, Will is going to be the sponsor for all three of his siblings. Afterwards I think we will celebrate with a gastronomic trip down memory lane with a late lunch/early dinner at the only Cracker Barrel in the state of Maine. We used to go there after Mass once in a while when we had to travel an hour to Mass in North Carolina and I just love their meatloaf. Yes, there are a lot of nice restaurants in Portland, but I would prefer to go somewhere familiar and family-friendly. 

Today I have to clean the whole house, pack enough for 4 days, remember everyone's church clothes and shoes, make sure my favorite church hat stays into the car (apparently last week it blew out of the van and Julia Ellen found it Monday in the woods and emerged with it smashed onto her head), and drive 2 hours to the other house. Our house down there is already for sale so I'll have to make sure that one is pristine as well. Living in one house will be a breeze after this summer, it seems that all I do is clean bathrooms, mop floors, and mow the grass.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

a little botanical time travel

Last summer when we came up to the farm I happened to notice some very distinct leaves at the edge of the woods. The flowers were nothing but tatters, but I was sure that I recognized what it was. So yesterday I took another walk down in that direction and amazingly found not one, but six red flowered trillium specimens, Trillium erectum, all blooming. At supper I told the children about my high school AP Biology wildflower project and how it had a huge impact on my education. Our class had 6 months (spring starts early in VA) to find, identify, and collect (either by photograph or pressing) as many wildflowers as we could. We could work in pairs or by ourselves and our grade was determined by the number of points we amassed. Each flower was given a different point value based on its commonality/rarity. Most flowers were given a value of 1 point, only a few were given more than a value of 10 points. My score, if I can recall (it was over 20 years ago) was around 730 points. 

The only student to get a higher total was Albert Lin, a brilliant student who scored a perfect 1600 on the SATs and ended up on the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions. (it turns out, after a quick google search, to find that he is now a professor of law at UC Davis.) He took every assignment seriously and I think had some in with the faculty at W&M to get some of the most rare specimens. I certainly don't hold his besting of me against him. But it was clear that I was the one student who was immersed in the project, traveling to various locales around the state, always on the hunt for a flower I didn't yet possess a picture of yet. It was a project that helped shape who I am; a lover of order and collections, a person who loves to be around plants, and someone who notices the details of her surroundings. I still have my 2 massive albums, filled with little more than dust and neatly printed labels and in the front is a blown up picture of my 16 year old self in a hysterically childish yellow slicker and hat on a collecting trip at a local park. 

After supper last night Charlie wanted to see this 50 point flower so I showed him a picture in my Peterson Field Guide, but he said, "I want to see the actual flower!" So, the three little kids and I left the dirty dishes on the counter and tromped around the rapidly growing hay fields to see this:     

It might not mean much to anyone else, but just seeing this flower brought back a flood of memories. This is the kind of experience that I want my children to have by homeschooling, the opportunity to find some subject of study that sparks something inside them that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

gardening is hard on the hands

Last year we didn't get up to Maine for the summer until Memorial Day weekend and I didn't start planting my garden until the first week of June, so already I'm ahead of the game. But I though I would be farther ahead in my planting by now. We stopped in Waterville at the end of April on tree pickup day and by the end of that afternoon, neglecting all the suitcases that needed to be unpacked, I had planted 8 apple, cherry, and peach trees, planted 20 raspberry canes, and was starting to dig the 18" deep trench for my asparagus crowns. Since then I have planted 3 pounds of onion sets (note for next year that 1 pound will certainly be enough), 20 pounds of potatoes, 25  octopus-looking asparagus roots, tomato and pepper seedlings, and replanted the broccoli and carrot seeds that apparently rotted before they could sprout. My poor hands, with which I already have dry skin issues, look like a 70 year old's due to all the digging, raking, and yanking out of rocks. I own a great pair of gardening gloves, but they constantly are missing or are up in the barn and I don't bother fetching them.  

Out of my four 80 foot long garden beds, I have planted one with 2 rapidly being overtaken by weeds,despite vast quantities of soiled bedding that a local hobby farmer delivered all winter. The old timers say you should plant your corn when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel's ear, but in the past week the tree's leaves have gone from microscopic to huge and I'm not even close to being ready to plant. I should have taken Tim up on his offer to till those beds with the huge tiller, but now I'm stuck since I can't put on the huge attachment on the back of the tractor by myself and he isn't going to be up here for another two weeks. 

Somehow I'll get my seeds in the ground as well as start all the flower seeds in egg cartons, but our lives are chaotic right now with going back and forth to the other house for Confirmation/First Holy Communion and dropping off/picking up Will for various Boy Scout camping activities. But before I know it the traveling will cease, we will be able to purchase farm animals, and my fruit trees will bear. It is such a relief to know that our transient life of being on the farm for half the year and somewhere else for the other half, never settling in either is coming to an end and I can plan accordingly.   

Saturday, May 19, 2012

this is not acceptable

Not for my children, and it shouldn't be for any American citizen's children. What are public schools doing with children for 6 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 12 years, at $10,000 a year if not teaching them how to READ?

Nearly half of Florida high school students failed the reading portion of the state's new toughened standardized test, education officials said on Friday.
Results this year from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test showed 52 percent of freshman students and 50 percent of sophomores scored at their grade levels.
The results came days after the Florida State Board of Education voted to lower the standards needed to pass the writing part of the test, known as FCAT.
The board took the action in an emergency meeting when preliminary results indicated only about one-third of Florida students would have passed this year.
"We are asking more from our students and teachers than we ever have, and I am proud of their hard work," Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson said in a statement.

Does the Education Commissioner know that 50% is a failing grade? Does he know that these are children who, unless they have fabulous parents who tutor their children at home to relearn the material, are doomed to be trapped for a lifetime in illiteracy and poverty? Does he care? 

Public school and any bureaucracy's fatal flaw is the lack of accountability. Homeschooling is the opposite, parents are completely responsible for their children's education, there is no passing the blame if a child does not master the times tables or learn to read. I am very proud that my children not only know how to read, they love to read and they do it fast. Mary's best friend was amazed that Will and Mary had each read The Hunger Games  in one day, "That would take me at least 2 weeks!" Not only that, but they begged and pleaded and then demanded that I get the next two books in the series. Only after I read the book did I understand their anticipation. It might be dicey as to who gets first dibs, but since I have to drive the car home, my bet is that Mary will get hold of it first.

Friday, May 18, 2012

shortened work day for some

Since Tim had to travel for work a few days this week, I had to pack up the kids and animals to go down to the other house and take Will to school. We also came down for 1st Holy Communion/Confirmation practice and Charlie's 1st penance on Sunday at the Cathedral in Portland on Sunday. I didn't want to haul a bunch of stuff like schoolbooks down so I could stuff as much stuff in the van on the return trip (the more I move now the less I have to pay someones else to move later). 

Each child has 2 subjects and piano to work on; Mary: book report and math, Maggie: math and spelling, Charlie: math and reading, Timmy: phonics and math. They have had many hours of free time the past two days to sleep in, play with the neighbors, and run around outside. I, on the other hand, have been getting up at 5:30am to get Will to school, clean the house, and meet with the realtor. My bribery plan seems to be working, if she keeps working hard for another day Mary will have earned a manicure (the piano teacher demanded that she cut her nails short and after I chopped them off I promised her that when she finished the dreaded book report on St. John Masias she could get her nails "done"). Maggie and Charlie aren't too far behind.  I am looking forward to call Miss Lisa and starting riding lessons for the 3 of them both because it means we will have finished school for the year and so I can talk shop with another serious runner.

Knowing that both girls will be joining their brother at Catholic school in the fall has given me a sense of relief at having my days more free as well as dread that I will have to get up every morning as early as I did today to get them all up and out the door by 7:30. Homeschooling gets harder as the children get older because of the amount of material and the sheer number of children to manage and part of me thinks that I'm somehow "cheating" by sending the oldest away to school. I'll still be teaching the two boys and continuing to introduce a preschooler to letters and numbers so I certainly won't be sitting around doing nothing. Tim keeps telling me how this will be a big change in my life, but one in which I think will be beneficial to us all. I just think I'll have to remind myself of that fact over and over on cold dark Maine winter mornings driving the kids to school.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

carnival of homeschooling

This week is my 3rd time hosting the carnival of homeschooling and it also happens to be the 333rd carnival, started over 6 years ago. If I think about what I was doing on that very first day the Cate family published this weekly collaborative resource, it was, of course, homeschooling. My two oldest children were just learning how to read and write the most simple of book reports and I was also coping with a toddler and expecting baby #4. 

Today we have our oldest child in Catholic school, are homeschooling four of the others and still have a toddler underfoot. But it won't always be like this, in another 6 years I will have graduated two children and the youngest will be finishing 3rd grade. 

But we must focus on what today asks of us and so...

A Net in Time shares a fun and educational day in Science, math and more...

Let's Play Math gives us some instruction on how to teach place value in PUFM 1.2 Place Value.

Three Girls and a Minivan shares a trip to the Daniel Boone Homestead and some fun nature study in Lesson Ideas and Activities.

Simply Convivial gives some pointers as to how to improve memory work in Memory Work Binders.   

As for My House shares with us a day of learning up high, doing school in the treehouse in Wherever School. 

MomSCHOOL gives us some pointers about overcoming writer's block in The Fear of Writing.  

Homeschool Programs gives some ideas as to how to not miss sports or the SATs in Can You Homeschool Without Missing Out on Important Moments?

Escape is Possible shares some fascinating pictures and information about a field trip along the shore in Seattle in Tidepools, Bridges, and Locks. 

Mindy at Den School shares all the holidays between now and the end of May and links of resources to use to learn and celebrate in Holidays May 13-May 19.

A Child's Garden has an absolutely wonderful, informative post that all homeschoolers should read about literacy entitled You, too, Can Teach Literacy!

Boys and a Dog share some ideas on how to stay cool in Countdown to Summer Tips.

Juggling Paynes wonders aloud about how some of our children share our interests and some don't in Learning Their Way, Not Mine. I can so relate to her comments about the computer, Will came to the farm for the weekend and set up my new computer just the way I wanted it, though it is humbling knowing that my child is smarter than I am.

Dewey's Treehouse gives an enthusiastic book recommendation in The Big WHAT NOW Book of Learning Styles. 

Our Curious Home gives us a glimpse into an afternoon of fun and earning medals in Jr F.I.R.S.T. Lego League Expo a week ago Saturday.

A Guide to Raising Great Kids shares her ways to keep the kids entertained in Summer Plans, Again.

Time for Learning gives us some tips on planning a homeschool prom in Dashing Another Homeschool Myth.

Barbara Frank Online shares part #4 of how to organize and shop smart after getting home in Keys to a Successful Homeschool Convention Experience. 

Learning at Home gives us some tips to help get our children back on track after play time in Spring Fever- The Cure. 

Why Homeschool shares with us Homeschooling Will Change for Us This Fall. Since our youngest won't start kindergarten until 2015, the year our oldest will be in 11th grade,  I can relate.

Homeschooling Unscripted shares some reasons teens need to shut off the lights so they can focus on their studies in Teens and Sleep.   

Thank you for participating and stopping by the Carnival of Homeschooling this week. Some of us homeschool year-round and some are wrapping up our official academic year. Let us strive to focus on what is important in our daily lives, so that years from now we can look back and feel proud of what we have accomplished in educating our children. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

preparation for life

Every homeschooling family is different, each has their own educational philosophy, but I have always assumed that any mother who takes upon herself the hard task of teaching her children at home has academic excellence as her goal. Yes, not having to rouse children from their beds at 6am to catch the bus is a side benefit, but laziness can not and should not be one's motivator for homeschooling. Ginny Seuffert's latest column in the Seton newsletter reemphasized this to me so much yesterday that I called their counseling department to tell them how much I appreciated her article. It is about tailoring a curriculum and one portion begins,

"Things that are worth doing are often difficult...if a task is difficult and a student rebels against doing the work, the parent can give in because of the complaining. But then the children miss out on some very important lessons. They don't learn to respect and obey their parents, as commanded by God. They don't learn to apply themselves diligently to accomplish a difficult or frustrating task. They develop an incomplete view of the world where they can dictate the terms. Allowing students to direct educational methods can deny them an opportunity to build character."

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the amount of schoolwork my children are expected to accomplish each year. I also have to ride them to practice the piano every day so they can develop their musical skills. Homeschooling is a sacrifice for mothers who could take the easy way out and put their children on the yellow bus, relax with a cup of coffee before tackling the household chores and some free time with their friends. But most of us who choose to hold our children up to a higher standard of excellence realize what Thomas Alva Edison famously said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." One cannot become a concert pianist without thousands of hours of practice. One cannot invent a product that is still used all over the world over 100 years later without a well-trained mind. One cannot become a veterinarian, like Mary hopes to become, without a strong foundation in science and mathematics. We have seen what the low standards in our public schools produce, I want my children to have a world full of opportunity and strong academics is the path to that bright future.  

Friday, May 11, 2012

for better or worse

Tim has accepted a job offer that will allow us to live on our farm full time. It will be a long commute for him and I will be having to set the alarm clock for the first time in many years to get 3 children to Catholic school, but I think for the long-term interest of our family it is the best thing to do. This was a very difficult decision, leaving a job that Tim really enjoyed after only 1 year, leaving behind the only opportunity to attend the Traditional Latin Mass, leaving a vibrant Scout program, and leaving a house we only bought last summer. But once the guilt begins to fade a bit I think we will be able to look forward with optimism about the future. For so many years we have been living here for 2 years, there for 1 year, never in any place long enough to make lasting ties. For our friends and relatives this seems to be the moment to pick up the Sharpie marker and write our information permanently in your address book, no more of this writing lightly in pencil stuff because you know it will just be erased and changed shortly. I love our farm, our piece of Maine and I think and pray that we will finally enjoy settling in and making our house our permanent home. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

10 points

You could say that I'm a little competitive. Okay, you could say that I'm really competitive, but not so much that I'm desperately trying to get pregnant so this Michelle or this Michelle doesn't beat me in the "most kids under the age of 14" category. I'll just stick with wanting to win the Sub5 track club 2012 series in the middle-age ladies bracket.

Saturday was the 3rd race for the year and I was in 2nd place until the 5 mile point at which I was passed by two women. I looked at their thighs to see if they were firm or starting to wrinkle, but no matter which, I just couldn't keep up, despite Belinda Carlisle from the GoGos blasting in my ear, "Get up and GO!" I finished with a new PR in the 10K: 45:23 and was pleased that all 3 women who beat me were in their 20's and 30's. As of now I am solidly in 1st place for my age bracket and in the 2nd place for women overall. 

Charlie came in 3rd in the mile run with Maggie and Mary close behind. For being the first boy to finish he won a sombrero pinata. However, their behavior at Mass on Sunday was so awful that we have not yet celebrated his win. Perhaps by next Sunday afternoon the dreadful rain will stop and they will be good enough to deserve the 5 bags of candy it took to fill the paper hat.

Next race: Garelick Milk Run, a one mile downhill course that will be Timmy's first road race. Lots of great prizes and free chocolate milk at the finish. My goal is to beat last year's time of 6:19.  

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

decision time

I have to make a very important choice in the next few weeks. I feel like I'm on top of the high dive at the pool with 3 options facing me: nailing a perfect pike, hitting my head on the board on the dismount, or climbing back down the ladder. I would appreciate a prayer for discernment.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

back in the blogging groove

My old computer that I was having blackout issues with for the past year finally bit the dust completely the day Tim dropped us off at the farm. Four days with no access to news other than the radio made me so crazy that Tim scrounged up enough money to buy me a new fancy-schmancy laptop that will NOT have children's games/Minecraft/13 year old boys downloading illicit copies of Windows 7... and I think that means it will last longer than the old one that had its inside fried. Just in time because Henry Cate emailed me this morning asking me to host the Carnival of Homeschooling next week.

So, if you have a post relating in ANY way to homeschooling, such as a funny event, a field trip, a craft you taught the kids, a new book or curriculum you bought, please email it to: by 6:00 PM next Monday evening. It will be greatly appreciated if the submissions come in earlier. Please send the following information:

Title of Post
URL of Post
Name of Blog
URL of Blog
Brief summary of the post
(With "carnival" or "submission" in the subject field of the email.)

However, since I have no access to my 13 year old computer expert, I am having trouble figuring out if my Ipod music list is on an account somewhere or lost inside my old laptop. If you know, please let me know.  

Saturday, May 05, 2012

free time

Now that we are up at the farm with a diminishing schoolwork load and no electronic/media devices, the children must come up with their own entertainment. On Thursday the girls were gone all afternoon, having ridden their bikes 5 miles to the town library (to sit at the computer, but at least they got some exercise before and after) and Julia Ellen was asleep on the couch for several hours.

 Charlie just loves building models and found in our extensive book collection a paper model book of boats. Most of the pieces had already been taken out, but he traced the outline of each piece onto typing paper and constructed rather crude models of a submarine and viking longboats, complete with oars. For upwards of 3 hours Timmy and Charlie quietly constructed their boats out of paper and copious amounts of scotch tape and recreated scenes from Homer's The Odyssey which we watched for movie night a few weeks back.

I was able to spend a long drizzly afternoon sewing quilt blocks in absolute peace. Yes, there was a background noise of shooting and bad guys dying violent deaths, but it was a total respite from bickering, fighting,  tattling, and complaining. I'm thinking that our next movie night selection when we go back to the other house in a few weeks is The Hunt for Red October, Charlie already has his submarines at the ready to play Sean Connery and Alex Baldwin fighting it out.

Friday, May 04, 2012

4 children reading under the covers

I can admit now that I have been very worried about Charlie. He is almost 8 years old, in 2nd grade, and has mightily struggled with reading. I was concerned that he would never catch on. We went through the 1st grade readers last year, story by painful story, sometimes tripping on every word. In September we started the 2nd grade set, only to return to the pre-primer after a month to start all over again. This time around he did better and we are now more than halfway through this year's books. Every story is still a challenge, but the other morning I came upstairs from sewing to overhear Charlie reading (not flawlessly, but giving it his best) a picture book about farm animals to his little brother.

My philosophy has always been to surround the children with books, creating a "print-rich environment" as the experts call it. The result is 10 bookcases of children's books, encompassing everything from board books to Latin for Dummies, a huge collection of classics, and Landmark books, as well as a large selection of non-fiction. We also make frequent trips to many libraries in Maine, owning 5 library cards in various towns. My job of organizing and returning books is worth the exposure to new material. The kids are free to read in bed with flashlights, free to curl up on the sofa reading on rainy afternoons, free to play "library" by stacking books all over my living room on occasion. I don't require a certain amount of  reading time each day, I just tempt them with dramatic read-alouds, filling my tote bag with recommendations from enthusiastic children's librarians, and stocking the coffee table with colorful storybooks.

My goal is to have children who love to read, who understand the power of a great story, and benefit academically and emotionally from voracious reading. If I can keep these children playing outdoors daily, reading each day, and praying every evening then no matter what else happens I'm sure they will turn out all right.