Monday, April 29, 2013

Cars, Proms and Fun a good word to describe life. I am sharing a few photos of what we've been up to the past two weeks. After almost three years of being this environmentally-great, one-car family, we came to the conclusion that we really needed to acquire a second one. The photos with Grama and Grampa are of the day they helped us find that special automobile (the requirements were: cheap and clean, with cute as an option; all three fulfilled.)  Thank you!

Tuxy the dog had his 2-year birthday; Sophie was his gift.  G. and a friend wanted to "do chemistry" one day, so we got out the test tubes and they made potions, to which I added vinegar and baking soda to see if they would bubble over.

C. went to her first and second proms with friends from two different schools, and in some cases, different countries. This new way of looking at prom as a fun dance is so much better than in my day. Kids go with their friends, they have a great evening, they go to an after-prom party that has hypnotists, scavenger hunts and bouncy houses. I hope the tradition continues and the pressure of post-prom drinking and couple activity is forever lost. You're only a teen once, let it be fun when it can.

Little Kid Chemistry

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Sweetness Personified

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The Day of the Great Car Hunt; thanks Mom and Dad!

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Time at Grama and Grampa's

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A Family Tradition: Sophie la Giraffe for the Babies

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Pre-Prom Preparations (5 minutes, tops)

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Prom International

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Pre-Prom Photos with Mama and Dad

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Prom Night

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Homework and Teens

This topic, a hot and spicy one in our family these days, has been under deep scrutiny and debate over at Blogging Bout Boys. This is my take on the subject, but Jennifer has some well thought-out remarks on homework and boys. You will want to read these if it is a problem at your house, or if you have male children at all.

In a homeschooling family, there may very well be no such thing as "homework" or you may consider everything you do together as is all a question of attitude and vocabulary. When one of those homeschooled children goes to high school, the pressure to perform, for both parents and child, could feel rather intense all of a sudden. 

In our case, when D. decided to go to public school this year, entering high school as a freshman, there were, at first, two terms of straight A's, glowing reports from teachers and no worries. When the A's dropped down to less desirable grades...a lot husband and I felt compelled to intervene as the "responsible parents" and the ones who knew what this kid could do, when he made the decision to do so. This went against our whole homeschooling philosophy of gradually allowing a child to take responsibility for their own education as they mature and find interests to pursue, but he was no longer at home, was he? If one is going to play the school game, one needs to participate in all obligatory parts of it or be "left behind." Up until now, in order for the world, (or the educational system) to know what amazing children I have, I need only show them some of their work and write about what we are doing. Now the grades only will stand as evidence of the whole of his worth. It freaked me out.

Weeks of harping, cajoling, punishing, stress; both marital and household in general, had no tangible influence, except perhaps to let our son know we cared about what he DID more than about who he was. We gave a good lecture about college admissions, the main thing worrying me at the time, and let him know we were here for any help he would ask for, and that the math tutor was standing by, should he need either or both.
Now, I will admit to one caveat that has been put in place. In December, D. joined the show choir pit at school, as a guitarist. This meant a huge commitment for us as his family; afternoons and weekends of rehearsal, hours of volunteering and early morning rides to the tour bus on Saturdays...really early. What seemed overwhelming at the start turned out to be an incredible experience for D.; he was awarded "Outstanding Pit Member," he had a ball at every competition, the directors made a positive difference in his life, and he made great progress in both guitar and performance skills. I was glad we made the decision to let him try it. 

However, before the show choir season had even ended, he began training for next year's football program. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, came the motherly wail. This began when we were still badgering him daily about missing assignments and poor results on tests. Our first reaction was; "no football, ever." The grades had descended during the show choir season, but he was so happy to be playing guitar that we considered pulling him from it a cruel and unusual punishment.

The kid talks a great game. T. decided, after a long conversation with him, to let him train and to talk with the coach about the program, if D. set up the interview for us. However, on the question of school work, instead of either letting it go completely  or continuing with inefficient tactics, we chose to address training as a privilege to be earned. The grades need to go back up to par before he can start staying after school for anything else. Staying after or arriving early implies that he misses the bus and that someone must then come pick him up. "Allo, Mama?"

Permission to lift weights before or after school has not yet commenced, but I noticed last night that the grades have taken a turn for the better. I do not see this as coercion, more as encouragement and a natural consequence; before beginning something new, first fulfill your original responsibilities that you freely chose to take on. 

How about your house? Homework woes? What do you see as the main difference between homeschooling and school in this regard? What is your basic philosophy regarding "work" and your input as a parent? Has this changed as they've grown older? What are your best strategies/ worst problems?  Is your hair still its original color? Chime in and we will share solutions and stories together.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Purpose-Fiiled Weekend: the Basement; all your idea!

Don't all weekends have a purpose? Even if it sometimes just chilling together after a long week, or driving kids to 500 different places and making sure the pizza is in the oven before 7 on Saturday for family night. This weekend, however, was a working weekend, with a parade thrown in.

Two weeks ago, at a family meeting, the need for a space of their own was expressed by my two girls who share a room. Doesn't that sound mature and calm and well-thought-out? Actually it was more like: "I can't stand it when she is in my room. She is always: typing, singing, clicking...breathing!" and: "She is so mean to me, her stuff is always in my space.  I am going to throw her stuff in the fireplace and light it!"  We allowed for the expression of frustrations, lectured on getting along with one's siblings and helped them develop some sensible guidelines and rules they could both live with. We also wished we had a house with six bedrooms, but we do not.

My husband has long talked of creating a teen hangout in the basement, a cozy space that one would want to be in, that could be their own. We got to thinking that this could be a great place for one of the girls to go during the school day as well, to get away, have a table to write at, etc. I suggested that we proceed on a smaller scale than originally planned and do it during the days we had off for spring break. The idea has been greeted with enthusiasm usually reserved for the coming of Santa or the Easter Rabbit.

This weekend was the beginning...Phase: sort, break and toss. We finally dared to remove the old built-in storage units that were really just full of things we could either give or throw away; sort and break phase. Next we set the big stuff out on the curb. I love our neighborhood; you set it out, someone will most likely happen by in an hour or less and find a new use for it.  A new neighbor even stopped by and introduced himself as he left with the sofa. The clothes went to Good Will, my reclycling bin is full, there are too many bags for the garbage can to hold. A great purge. Why DO we keep so many things? There is the great fear of perhaps needing it again someday, linked directly to the dread of spending money on the same thing twice. That would explain the history books, 14 years of National Geographic and moisturizer you buy and never use again, still there 10 years later, "just in case." Then there is the deeply nostalgic need to keep everything your child's hand ever drew, created or sucked on. Not too much of a problem when you have a large house and one child, but multiply those baby shoes, crayon doodles and glued-on noodles by five in a medium-sized house...overwhelming. (I am still keeping the baby shoes and a lot of doodles, So there.)

Everyone pitched in to scrub walls and shelving. We now have one clean basement, ready to be transformed. 

Paint swatching came next. Unfortunately, this phase was ready for implementation early on Sunday morning. No paint stores are open just then, so I drummed my fingers, plotted and stewed, and finally went online and found a fancy ap for this very thing. After a lost hour of playing with the ap without success, I gave up on the high-tech stuff and waited for the paint store to open. I brought home sample quarts of color to slather all over the basement walls in different spots; there's nothing like swatching. No one agreed with anything but the basic neutral background color, so when I returned for paint, I bought a totally different shade for the trim; orange! A red-head's nightmare color, but the basement trim doesn't seem to mind.
We would move on to the actual painting the following weekend.  Stay tuned for photos before and after. What's happening in your decluttering/decorative world?

Thursday, April 11, 2013


That season where one wakes up full of life and enthusiasm for cleaning and decluttering and new beginnings...and immediately gets whacked with the fact that it IS warmer, the kids will want to go outside...inbetween the periods of intense rainfall. They will come back in full of mud and your house will soon look the same way.

But this is not to be a humbug post, just an intro to the annual spring happiness and madness invading the house. We began with a basement renovation; details to follow. I have moved on to removing as much as I possibly can from the house so it can look fresh and welcoming and comfortable. I'll tackle the decorating as I go along...or later. Windows were done on Saturday. On Sunday it began to rain and it has not stopped is Thursday.

Schoolwise, the only things that make sense right now are beginning botany with Valentine and reading aloud "Farmer Boy" with visions of growing things, riding horses, baking and knitting. I attended a conference on immigration and language last weekend and ended up in one session all about Montessori math. It was inspiring and has led us to lessons with lots of cuisinaire rod use this week, with the intention of picking up some Montessori-style hundred and thousand blocks of beautiful beads.

A book I am in love with, geeky me, was loaned to me by a friend, and I will eventually give it back, but it is so much fun. Everything from the much-disputed history of Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall to obscure rhymes that I am discovering for the first time, in all of their written and remembered oral versions, like:

Right fol de riddle del,
A yard of pudding's not an ell,
Not forgetting didderum hi,
A taylor's goose can never fly.

This last is the version recalled by George Bernard Shaw from his childhood, which differs from another three versions. How could I not love it?

In my springtime zeal, I also checked out the entire homecare and decluttering section of our library last week. There are three books on hold for me that were not available, I will give a succinct review of my faves next week.

Coming next: more about our basement makeover, maybe even with pictures. Happy April!