Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rambling Thoughts from a Homeschool Momma Before 7am

We've been doing this homeschooling thing since August and I finally feel like I have a partial handle on things. It's definitely a process that is continually being refined, rethought and revamped.

We went into this very eager, but very naive and blind. Sure, we have friends who homeschool (more now that we're involved in a homeschool group) and they were fabulous at giving pointers, but it's still largely your show. Part of my special ops team is Delinda, a constant source of encouragement and support and "Girl, I have SO been there!" and "It's okay, next week will be better". We try to get her crew and my crew together every six weeks or so and it's like a party when we do. The kids immediately begin doing very rowdy, loud things (Well, except Abby who is so above loud and rowdy) and Delinda and I just sit back and watch while we visit. I'd be lost without her.

We're involved in a homeschool group, too, and these ladies are amazing. Support, resources, and just being there -- they're pros at all of that. Back before Christmas we had a kids bowling day and we moms literally pulled our chairs into a semi-circle and just vented. It was hilarious and cathartic. Bug (Yes, my youngest is blogging!) (And yes, we call our child Bug. There is a plethora of Katie/Kady/Kaity's at church and Kadybug got shortened to Bug and stuck.) (Oh and please know that we are diligently working on grammar and spelling, although her blog wouldn't show that) looks forward to homeschool group every Friday because she has made a friend. (I know, homeschoolers have friends?!? Who knew?) And she went out and made that friend on her own. Socialization WIN! She and her new friend, Alex, have figured out each other's daily schedule, and lunch break usually involves at least a phone call and about 700 text messages in the 45 minutes we're taking a break. Abby and Sam usually dread homeschool group day, but last week, although I heard all the way to town, "Can't I just sit in the car?" and "Do I HAVE to go?" by the time we got into a few icebreaker games with the other teens and tweens, they were fine. I just know that Momma needs to see other human adults occasionally, so we go. Whether they're kicking and screaming, pouting or busting through the door to see their BFF, we go. Because if no one else needs it, Momma needs socialization.

We abandoned Abby's English/Grammar before the first semester ended because as she put it, "If I didn't already know what an adjective was, I sure wouldn't now -- this book would have me so confused." I admit, it was very....wordy. (in an English book?! The horror!) And confusing. The child has a grasp on grammar and sentence formation and can even get commas in the right place, so taking a cue from what she'd be doing in public school, we dropped Grammar and are focusing on writing and literature. My very favorite writing exercise for the two bigger kids to do is a 100 to 6 word essay. They write an essay containing 100 words, no more, no less.  Then they have to cut it down to 50 words without losing the concept of the original essay. Then they have to cut it to 25. Then to six. Abby's last one was about how badly she wanted Sonic that day. Her six word essay was "SOMEONE PLEASE TAKE ME TO SONIC!" Which was essentially what she had said in 100 words originally. Speaking of I'm hungry. It's 7am and I need a steak Toaster and tots. ANyway....

Bug and Sam are doing Grammar using curriculum written by the Amish. They loathe it with the white, hot passion of a thousand fiery suns. I think it's phenomenal curriculum and plan to continue it at least through Sam's 9th grade year next year. It's very old school, lots of sentence diagramming and repetition and review. What cracks us up, though, are the names. Instead of seeing folks like Suzie, Jimmy and Bobby going to the fair or the zoo in sample sentences, we see  Brother Ezekiel, Sister Martha and Pastor Hezekiah saving lost souls and going to the pie supper -- sometimes all in one fell swoop. It's a total crack up for our twisted minds. Kady's Reading book is also Amish. The last story she read was about a judge who killed a whole bunch of Anabaptists by burning them at the stake. She was horrified. I gotta say, it did seem a little intense for a 5th grade book. Of course, by 5th grade, most Amish girls are on their way to the alter to be married off to Brother Jedediah, so I guess they consider a good cautionary tale of stake-burning to be part of growing up.

Science has gotten better now that they're on the Biology part of the book. Gotta admit, we skipped the chapters on fossils. None of us were quite feeling it. So if they both bomb the fossil section of the ACT, I take complete responsibility. Today our science experiment is a classic: putting a chicken bone in a jar of vinegar and seeing what happens over the next seven days. Last week we watched yeast decompose a slice of banana. After five days Paul made us throw it out -- he said it had gone far past educational to possible biohazard or flesh-eating zombie banana. Spoil sport. Kady's on the second chapter of Ungulates in her Zoology book. Last chapter dealt with horses, rhinos, mules and the like. This one is starting out with cows. She is less than thrilled. Soon we'll move onto dinosaurs. Hopefully. I gotta say, cows are less than stimulating for me as well. Her sister, who has two years of Ag under her belt, has been helping her along with it.

Bug is nearly done with her math book. She has positively whizzed through it. We'll finish it up probably next week or halfway into the week after that. Abby and Sam are slowly plodding through Saxon Algebra I. Since Abby took it in public school last year, she wanted to do it this year as a review. For Sam it's been more of Pre-Algebra. We didn't get too far into the book before I discovered they were seriously lacking some basic math skills, so we have done a lot of review, going back to Algebra, then breaking for some review again. Next year Abby is doing Accounting and Bookkeeping and Sam will do Algebra fo' realz using a totally different curriculum which practically guarantees success. Each lesson has a video to watch and again uses repetition and review to really teach to learn. Our experience with the curriculum for Bug this year has been phenomenal.

The history book I got for Abby and Sam was utterly HORRIBLE and college-level dry. We made it to chapter 15 before we just stopped. They hated it, I hated teaching it, no one was getting a thing from it and it was torture. We're now doing more Social Studies/Current Events type lessons. Since I had never really found a curriculum I liked (and could afford) for Bug, she's been doing that type Social Studies all year. We've done unit studies on Harriet Tubman, the 13 original colonies, a big unit on the election and electoral college, the Bill of Rights, etc and just kind of whatever interests her at the time. It's a subject we are kind of relaxed on. For instance, last week the big kids had to make Facebook "profiles" for two famous/historical figures. Sam chose Napoleon Bonaparte and Christopher Columbus. Abby researched Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson (Note to self: Remind 16 year old that culture and pop culture aren't exactly the same). They really got into it and the pages turned out neat. I struggle with interest in history/government and the kids do as well, so I try to keep it as interesting and exciting as I can. For all of us.

And now the public school bus has just rumbled by and the sun is fully up. I'm pretty sure there is a pot of coffee just begging to be consumed by me, and the hamsters (We now have FOUR! EEK!) are all scritching around in their cages which means it's time for their hamster parents to get their rears up and pay attention to them. Time for another day of homeschooler awesomeness which generally includes pajamas, PE for Hamsters 101, a nutritious lunch which more often than not includes macaroni and cheese and oh yeah....learning.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Have a seat. I'll make you some bread while I crochet you some new underpants out of recycled bread wrappers

I hate to admit it and I resisted as long as I could, but folks, I fell prey to The Pinterest.

(By the way, I am following the Code of the Midwest and probably for the South, too, that some nouns must always be preceded by "The" in order to sufficiently convey their importance. For example, The Walmart, The YouTube, The Sonic, The Diarrhea. You must always capitalize both words, in writing and in speech. It's a real rule. Look it up.)

Anyway, I heard the hullaballoo over The Pinterest and I thought, "No way it's as awesome as everyone says it is and therefore I shall resist." And I'd hear people talking about their homemade laundry detergent and see these amazing party decorations and wreaths of every shape, size and make-up for every imaginable holiday or occasion and think, "Nope, still not jumping on that crafty bandwagon of crazy," and then carry on with my life. I mean, some days it's all I can do to keep the children alive and not burn the house down myself, much less create homemade salsa and gluten-free tortillas. In the words of Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time fo' dat!"

Abby got to where virtually every sentence the child spoke began with, "OH MY GOSH, the other day on Pinterest I saw..." or "MOM! I totally saw this thing on Pinterest where you..." and would go into an excitedly animated speech about the scarf made out of old t-shirts or the headband made from "upcycled" six pack rings and expired medication (I totally made that second one up.) (Or did I...) and I would smile and nod and think, "My child is a crafty lemming zombie," and then carry on with my life. Then my cousin, Courtney, whom I was babysitting for at the time, came in one morning wearing an adorable scarf made from t-shirts and was going on about the wonderful-ness of The Pinterest and she thought she could get me an invitation (yeah, we're talking about back in the beginning where it was an exclusive club for the crafty-est of crafters) and I said, "No, thank you, but I do love your scarf!" And I did love her scarf. I just didn't have time for crafting what with all the other really important stuff I was doing at the time which included watching her son, but for the life of me I can't think of much else I was doing back then....but still, I didn't have time for crafting. Or homemade laundry soap. Or The Ultimate Valentine's Day Party Decorations made entirely of those little slivers of soap no one will use. Or a necklace holder made out of an old yard rake.

And then one day I looked.

Just a look. I typed in the dreaded URL and I looked. First off, it didn't look threatening in any way, my soul still felt intact, but all I saw were just rows and rows of picture after picture. Most of those pictures weren't even of crafts. There were a ton of Channing Tatum and some of those snarky eCards and photos of seascapes and mountainscapes and tablescapes. I saw one t-shirt scarf and no garden rakes. I was confused as all get out.

Something seemed amiss, so I quickly closed the browser and decided to cleanse my brain with some Facebook stalking browsing. Soon The Pinterest once again became something I heard people talk about and still held no interest in joining. Besides, Abby was out of invitations.

Then I heard through the grapevine that The Pinterest Powers That Be had opted out of crafting exclusion and had just opened it all up for any Suzy, Jane or Martha Stewart-wanna be to join. Still, I didn't want to be so .... cliche' by joining. I mean, I kind of pride myself on going against the crowd whenever I can. I mean, I liked black nail polish before everyone liked black  nail polish. That right there makes me cool. So I still resisted The Pinterest even though ALL my friends were doing it. Well, I have like three friends and actually none of them were on it, but ALL of other people's friends were doing it and I wasn't having any of that.

So here I sat with no t-shirt scarves, no faux-paneled walls, no belly detox slim-down drinks ("Straight from Dr. Oz!"), no pins, no boards, no copycat Sonic Cherry Limeades, no baby shower centerpieces shaped like a tractor and made entirely of diapers, no flourless chocolate cake, no refinished kitchen countertops and definitely, definitely, definitely NONE of THE PINTEREST.

Then you know how sometimes you're just sitting around avoiding some major task like housework or fixing dinner and the internet is having like a super unexciting day where Twitter is boring and Facebook is annoying and even though you've refreshed it a hundred times, no one is sending you any emails? And you have played Spider Solitaire, read about the actor who played Buckwheat on the 1990's movie Little Rascals, organized all of your church camp photos, cleared your brower's cache, changed your desktop background and still don't want to go make dinner? And you decide to re-type your Christmas card list and create a spreadsheet for this year's taxes even though tax season is like, eight months away? And then you accomplish all those things and you still just don't want to fix dinner?

That was when The Pinterest got me. I was avoiding work and boom, I was suddenly a Pinterest user.

I downloaded the app first and found it engaging. Then I checked out the actual website.

Did you know you can find approximately 458,792,444,201 pinned recipes for Cracker Barrel's Hashbrown Casserole on The Pinterest? They're all the real thing. Just ask each person who pinned it. You can also find the "only" way to poach an egg, make a single-serving microwave brownie in a coffee mug and yes, make scarves out of t-shirts. Also, skirts, headbands, bulletin board border, socks, stuffed animals, tutus, quilts, wall hangings, baby slings, purses, toddler rompers, wreaths, bracelets, necklaces, vests, bibs, pillows, baskets, and rugs from t-shirts. Seriously, when the zombie apocalypse finally happens it won't be Twinkies or bottled water we're all killing each other for - it will be t-shirts.

I've had to cut myself back from the rapid onset addiction that ensued after that first fateful day, simply because our internet bandwidth is capped each month and we've discovered that because The Pinterest is so image-heavy, it was sucking our bandwidth down like crazy. That is actually a very good thing. It keeps me from spending all day, err' day in front of the computer in my upcycled t-shirt pajama pants and t-shirt scarf and headband set, pinning recipes for homemade Mod Podge, marshmallows and mayonnaise. I check it once a day, pin what catches my eye since the last time I checked it and then go about my business.

It's a controlled addiction.

I've discovered Black Magic Cake (so to die for it's not even funny), the most amazing beef tips and gravy recipe, cinnamon roll cake (yes, seriously), TONS of homeschool resources and am systematically ridding my home of chemical-laden cleaners. I am not even joking when I say I am saving money, learning a lot and making the most of what I have in my house without having to buy unnecessary things.

I also now have a heartfelt, deep and meaningful relationship with baking soda. And vinegar is my new BFF. Now, when we have a cleaning day (or "Home Ec" day to us homeschoolers), the house smells like tea tree oil (a natural germ-killer!) and the showers have never been so white (thanks to baking soda!). Abby's allergies are better and she isn't continually broken out in hives. Our grocery bill has dropped. We spend more time together. We aren't eating as much junk and the "junk" I do make is preservative free and made with love. Everybody needs more of that. Love, not preservatives.

Sam, my outspoken 14 year old, calls me a hippie. He says it's not fair we have to do without store-bought Oreos now that I've pinned a recipe for homemade ones and one of these days will get around to trying it out. He hated the fact that when I attempted to make homemade body wash, the house smelled like Irish Spring for a week until I finally gave up on the non-sudsing jellied mass lurking in my stock pot and dumped it all out. He doesn't care much for the fact that his sister and I are constantly concocting, creating and collaborating, but I think he's starting to warm to the merits of it because the dude is a junior prepper (Doomsday Prepper for those not as neurotic and paranoid in the know as we are) and I've been sharing some tips and how-to's on how to survive when the zombies attack and the government is thrown into anarchy and we all have to learn the value of a good head shot and the boy is reluctantly intrigued.

It won't be long and he'll be right there with the rest of us, crocheting himself a machete holder out of his old t-shirts and discussing the proper way to create fire-starters from dryer lint and candle wax.

We'll bring him over to the Pinterest side before long. In the meantime, I'll just keep pinning those "authentic" Cracker Barrel Hashbrown Casserole recipes and saving used dryer sheets and soap slivers while I wait for him to wake up and smell the tea tree oil.

We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...