Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When you're Sean....

"Hands on" also means, feet, knees and whole body...

monitor lizards defy your two-year old frame of reference... icing is wearable... you always have someone to 'fall back on'.

you have brothers to copy...

and you are pretty certain that you have this all under control.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Different Strokes for Different Folks

A few weeks ago I read a blog post that got me thinking (really, it happens alot or I wouldn't read so many). One of the points in the post was how the author's decision to homeschool her kids was not a commentary on other people making other educational decisions for their kids or a commentary on anything, quite frankly. I am thinking about how any or all of the decisions we make for our families on a daily basis are not, in fact, commentaries on other people's decisions. I suspect that very feeling gets in the way of what could be otherwise rewarding relationships and good friendships.

I know families that choose no guns, no Disney, no sugar, no media, no meat, or no Spongebob? Are those people implying that my decisions to the contrary are wrong? Should it make me feel inferior that I do not make the same choices? There was a time when I may have questioned that, but now I respect those choices, possibly learn something new and move on. I had an experience one afternoon when I showed up at a playdate with other moms and their kids with our lunches. I sat next to mom who had lovely, little boxes full of homemade, organic food. My kids came in toting Wendy's drive through. "I was just in such a rush today", I said to the other mom. She looked me directly in the eyes and kindly said, "I was never judging you, don't feel like you have to explain." That experience gave me a chance to sort through why I felt the need to do that and how to handle those feelings in the future. I now take the time to think about why I feel like I needed to defend my choice and I occassionally find that it is irrational, but sometimes find that there is something I would like to change or a new idea I would like to adopt.

Most of the time, when I meet someone or am exposed to an idea that is so different from me and mine, I ask questions, and spend time sorting through what I believe and why. Sometimes I even change the way I look at something. Sometimes I am more committed to my beliefs. Sometimes it is an earth-shattering epiphany. I love to know how other people live. There are people who nurse their children until age 5, who live with only 100 items, have lots of kids, travel the country in RVs, and make thousands of other choices that I may never make. But that is ok with me and you can count on me to read their blogs! I homeschool my kids - my sister works in educational reform and her kids attend public school. We are mutual supports to one another in our current choices. Many of my friends and I have very different ideas about food, education, cleaniness requirements for our homes, money, schedules, chores and discipline. It makes the exchange of ideas that much more enlightening.

Would you like to come over to our food dye-free, weapon-laden, meat-eating, homeschooling house for a visit?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ugly, little secret

We have a really ugly secret. It is not something I ever wanted to share here. I try to avoid it in all my posts. It's not something I really wanted you all to know about. But, since Dennis and I are now willing to work on it, open it up and make some changes, I am hoping we can receive as much love and support during this difficult time. So, here it goes. We have been living like this: I know, I know, we should have admitted to this earlier. I think the kitchen was built with the house (circa 1952) and refaced, judging by the grade of plastic vaneer used to cover the entire kitchen, in the 70s. These are not easy things to admit, but sometimes outing yourself helps move along the healing the process. The beginning of any twelve step recovery program is admitting you have a problem. We have a serious problem! As you can see, our family has WAY outgrown this space about 3 kids ago. The cabinets don't hold enough supplies to prepare meals for the 6 to 8 people who eat here daily. Dennis keeps reminding me that the floor cannot double as extra counter space. But with the help of our dear friends, one of who is an excellent contractor and one with a flair for the aesthetic, we have decided it's time to work through this problem and when we come out on the other side, we hope to see something that looks more like this: This means we will also be utilizing the room that we have been using as a den, which means the living room needs re-purposed, which means the china closet needs moved, which means we need better entryway organization, which get it.

We know you are our good friends, and are not judging us for hiding this for so long. Please encourage us along the way, and invite us over for dinner often. Thanks!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hey! That's not learning!

Over the last two years, we have moved to a more relaxed, informal method of homeschooling for now. I say for now, because I never thought we would be here, so I expect that it is completely possible to need and desire another method at another time. Some days, it is very obvious to see what lessons are being learned and what activities have resulted in new information. Some days, it's surprising to see where it comes from.

I am learning that when I stand back, and become a spectator, and do not take personally the slights to things I have offered them, things I think they should be interested in, I can watch where they are headed with an activity and build on it. When I can take an interest in the things that interest them it builds relationship bonds, I can also help them expand on it from an 'educational' standpoint. I have assumed, maybe like many of you, that there are certain activities that have intrinsic, educational value, while other things are 'fun' or even 'a waste of time'. I have been reading articles and blog posts that challenge that concept. What if I viewed all their time as 'learning', each tv show, every trip to a store, car-conversations, playdates, role playing, legos, whittling, sibling arguments, dinner time, cub scouts, video games, fort building, etc. Each time watching for sparks that I can nurture and fan into fire. I expect some things will die quickly, but I believe that because their interest is so high in self-directed activities, chances are, there will be fires (literally and figuratively). A current obsession is NinjaGo. It is a lego game based around 'spinning Ninjas'. Could sound like nonsense, right? I found a book called Why Doesn't the Earth Fall Up? that discusses lots of topics the NinjaGos exhibit such as center of gravity, Newton's Laws, and centrifugal force in a humorous and fun way. I also found Forces Make Things Move that illustrates inertia, friction and gravity - all things "taught" by playing with the NinjaGos. Gavin has been using a stopwatch to time (train) his guys and recorded them on paper. He wanted to time them to the hundreth of a second - off to buy a new stopwatch. He then asked me how to work to calculate averages. I can assure you, if I tried to pull out a book and tell him we were going to learn about averages, he would not have been excited.

Mikey has been learning to navigate the website and doing tons of reading about rules and tips (all reading is good reading!). He has also been trying to copy the guys from the site (good practice for him in visual discrimination) and working with tiny objects (great for his fine motor). They have asked for help finding 'stop animation' software (the learned about and tried that at Liberty Science Center).

I will look for books, documentaries and museum exhibits about Ninjas and Japan. We'll see how long it lasts. It could fizzle very shortly (and has with other subjects), but I'll give them as much as they'll take. I love the concept that I don't have to fight against them, and I can trust that they want to learn and uncover how this world works.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Visiting Midland

It was parent visitation day at Midland. Although I am there often, it was a chance to sit in Ethan's class with him, participate in an activity, hear a lecture and eat lunch with the kids.
The first thing you notice about Midland is that it is situated on a beautiful, secluded, 54-acre property. The grounds include little rolling hills, walking paths (alot of the kids walk everyday in a structured walking program), gardens, basketball courts, a soccer field, and the crowning glory - a brand new pool! There are tons of grassy areas, a picnic grove and a large play-park called "Rainbowland". The physical plant reflects many of the core beliefs of Midland, including a huge emphasis on physical activity, and a holistic, hands-on approach to education.
  The school itself is in immaculate condition with bright, open hallways, a state-of-the-art gym with a rock wall and a stage for the schools many performances. It boasts a brand new professional kitchen used by the younger kids for cooking and the older students for job readiness. It has an 'independant living suite' that has a bedroom, kitchen and sitting area used for all types of independance skills (thanks, now Ethan is trying to do *my* laundry!) as well as sleepovers (Ethan will attend his first is May.) Midland has every type of opportunity for Ethan and his classmates - including a top-notch woodshop. Their sports/physical eduction program and staff is award-winning.

Everything I have mentioned ranked very high when we considered where Ethan would be spending 6 hours of his day. We saw other schools that had very good programs, but were housed in what we considered terrible locations/buildings. Many of the school's teachers have been at Midland for 10, 20 and 30 years! Staff there seems very satisfied and we have experienced teachers who truly understand children with special needs (and their families). The academic program is a very good match for Ethan's needs and our desires for him. There is a 'no-homework' policy! We are grateful. This is the view from the window at Ethan's desk.

His classmates vary in their needs and abilities - I feel that gives Ethan someone to be empathetic/helpful too and someone to look up to. We feel that private special education gives Ethan the chance to rise to the best of his abilities in a setting where he is never "second best". His peers have similar needs and desires and deep, lasting friendships (and marriages!) are formed at Midland.

No one 'sits the bench' at Midland (metaphorically speaking), but each student is encouraged to participate in the capacity the he or she is able. Teaching staff is geared and ready to assist each student in a small class setting with experienced support staff. Now I sound like a commercial! This is Ethan's first year in the high school. His teacher has provided just enough support to help him mature and gain new academic skills, but not so much support that he isn't required to 'rise to the occassion'. You can tell we love it, we can tell Ethan loves it. Is it perfect? For Ethan and our family - it is.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I dislike the cold and hate the snow - but I like the Iditarod! There is so much that is interesting about it from the logisitics to the human stories. We have spent time reading bunches of books like "The Great Serum Race" and "Iditarod: The Great Race to Nome" and others, as well as watching "Balto" - the disney version. We watched Steven Rinella in the Alaskan wilderness on The Wild Within and other shows about Alaska. Since it's a least an 11 day race (the 'official' start being today from Willow, AK) we have plenty of time to keep reading and doing other activities. There is so much to talk about - mileage, speeds, weather, topography, and of course, the dogs.

We are using part of our dining room wall to add things that are interesting, like the Balto statue that we will visit in Central Park this Spring. We have our map, mileage and the mushers we are each rooting for! We purchased GPS coverage for the event and we can track their every move throughout the entire race. We also got access to watch the mushers leave downtown Anchorage live.

It is fun to get excited about something so big, and so far away. It is great to think about something other than what is right in front of you. It gives us something to talk about all together as questions come up about everything from what the mushers are going to eat and wear, to how you raise a kennel of dogs for a race like this. We have read rules and visited the mushers/kennels personal websites. We are going to look into the sleds and whatever else comes up this week.

Special thanks to Jennifer, Ethan & Emily, from Toadhaven Homeschool, who inspire us to "Observe, Explore, & Experience" (I told you I might make it our motto!) Can't wait to try another project.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wah! Wah!

Agh! I've hit a wall. It doesn't happen often. I feel like I have a pretty high tolerance for lack of sleep and the physical demands of running this household. But right now, I'd like to run up the white flag.

The baby is throwing up, has been for days. He was already treated once in the ER for dehydration, and from what I can tell, might be headed there again. The hot water heater has been acting up and "the dishwasher of my dreams" has turned into the 'dishwasher of my nightmares' which necessitates *LOTS* of washing dishes. The laundry monster, which is daunting on a good day, is weilding a special brand of terror. There is so much dust on the tv and tv stand that the baby told me to use a baby wipe to clean it. The boys have cabin fever (oh yeah, me too) and Ethan is intent on covering every square foot of open floor with objects. He also acts as if denying him dinner in a restaruant every evening constitutes child abuse, thus calling me 'meany-mom' or 'poopy-hair'. Whatever.

Although I have bananas, apples, pretzels, and goldfish crackers, I lack actual ingrediants for dinner. I don't have any spray cleaner and until last night I didn't have any dishsoap - thanks, neighbor! I hear lack of sleep, speaking here, but although I can admit that rationally, it does not seem to helping my real life, current struggle of feeling pretty defeated.

I didn't get a shower yesterday and have not made it there yet today. The bathroom is dirty, and I don't really want to go in there anyway. There are piles of papers with things in them that I know I am overlooking. Slingshots, magnetic letters, geosolids made out of pipecleaners, Valentines chocolates, and snowclothes all need put away, only they don't really have 'spots'. So much for "a place for everything and everything in it's...." - oh, shut up!!

There doesn't seem to be any amount of vacuuming that keeps the dirt, dust and crumbs from sticking to my socks, the Wii is not working. We should be working much harder on a kitchen remodel we are planning (a post for another day), but the minutia keeps getting in the way of all the errands I need to run. I took some pictures of the mess, but my photo downloading software isn't working - of course.

I know everyone has their moments, I do. But for one minute (or two) can we just have a small and intimate pity party for me?

Post Script: at 3:30 this afternoon, I pulled a vomiting baby out of his crib. Another round of wiping, bathing and disinfecting when I looked at the clock and it read 4:23. Ethan was due to be picked up at his afternoon school program at 4:30, 30 minutes from home :( Throw all kids in the car and *speed* to Midland. The baby fills his carseat with "puke-ups" on the drive. Suddenly I notice that the "Distance to Empty" display reads "0" on the car. The huge success of the day was that I found my wallet on the floor of the car!