Monday, February 20, 2017

What my family does when I'm away

 They go to the park.

They work on fairy houses. (Thanks, to M. for the additions.)

And J. got to listen to the question, "Mommy, airplane, come home?" probably at least one million times.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

What I didn't know I needed

If I had unlimited funds and unlimited room, this is the little souvenir I would be bringing home from my little judging jaunt.

Do you not love it? It's a panda piano. Who doesn't need and love a panda piano? It's made my Pearl River Pianos. (It's a  Chinese business out of Guangzhou, hence the name Pearl River, since it runs right through the city. I've seen it. The river, not the company.) The recital halls where I was judging are attached to a piano store, and are owned by a friend of my mom's. He has two of these pianos in his store. I love them.

Sadly, even just one will not fit into my carry on.

Friday, February 17, 2017


It doesn't always pay to go out of town. Because when you do you miss exciting events. Exciting events such as having a snake arrive via FedEx to your house. I mean, how often does that happen in a person's life? Not many, I think, unless you happen to be a snake breeder. And how many people are snake breeders I wonder. (Yes, I'm kind of punchy of the moment. I've spend five hours listening to piano students play and writing encouraging comments to each of them. It leaves you feeling a little loopy.)

But back to the snake. M. bought a snake. For various reasons, the snake was to be delivered to our house. This morning. Evidently there was some drama involving the snake arriving. Or not. But I wasn't there, so haven't gotten the full scoop yet, which means you don't get it, either. The most you get is third hand news without any amusing details. Sorry. Oh, and you get a picture of a snake, which then puts you and me on the same level of knowledge regarding the snake.

Here's Geb. The banana ball python.

As you can see, Geb, the banana ball python did arrive safely in his box. I suddenly have visions of old Disney movies... The Jungle Book, Robin Hood (wasn't there a snake in that)... running through my head when I look at him. Geb is not living at my house. I wasn't there to be sure, but I'm pretty sure that several of my other children are disappointed by that fact. No, Geb went with M., his rightful owner. I am told his is in his new snake enclosure hiding under a rock. It must be tiring and upsetting to be sent through the mail and then not delivered correctly. But all seems to be well now.

My day was not without it's own merit, though. The weather was beautiful and I did get a chance to be outside in it for a bit before going back to the piano students. My mom also took me out to eat at my very favorite Mexican food restaurant. I ate all the Mexican food. Well, I think all the Mexican food was at least on my plate... it was a sampler of eight different mini-versions of different yummy things. I had a little taco and a little enchilada and a little chile relleno and a little flauta and a little tamales... you get the idea. I think I took one bite of each one and then decided I couldn't eat any more. The leftovers are here in the refrigerator and I will enjoy them over the rest of the weekend. It truly is my comfort food.

So now it is late. The morning comes early and my mother does not share my time challenged-ness, which means I must try my hardest to be punctual or else I will be putting my shoes on in the car as she is driving away as I did for much of my adolescence. I do not care to visit that time in my life again (who does?), so I must go to bed in order to get back up.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leaving on a jet plane

I am heading to Arizona for the weekend, both to visit my mother and to judge a piano competition for her. It's two o'clock now, and we need to leave for the airport at 4:30. At some point in the next two and a half hours, I suppose I should pack. In order to pack, though, I need the clothes that are currently in the dryer. It's been that kind of a week.

I am also seeming to continue with my phenomenal track record of bringing rotten weather with me on vacation. Get this... so it's February, a month usually known for its miserably cold and grey weather in Chicago. It is also a month in Arizona where the weather is starting to warm and spring is already springing. Except for the three days I will be there. This weekend? It's due to be 60's and sunny in Chicago, and 60's and rainy in Phoenix. Trust me when I say the 60's feel completely different in each location. It's a gift. A gift I'd be happy to pass along to someone else.

Of course the biggest issue regarding this trip is... what book do I bring to read? This has occupied quite a bit of brain space over the past week. You see, there's two 4-hour plane rides plus three nights. That's a lot of reading time. I'm not checking a bag which means I can't throw in several extra books as insurance. I don't really want to drag out the Kindle because I don't really like it enough to warrant its use for such a short trip. I do have a book my sister-in-law loaned me which both she and J. liked. It's long and a writing style that will slow me down for just a bit. I haven't read it yet because it seemed like a commitment and I just haven't felt as though I wanted to commit two weeks to the same book. It should be more than enough book for the hours I have. The problem is that I am also in the middle of a mystery and don't really want to leave it behind, either. I guess I'll have to see what the carry on looks like once it's packed. The fear of running out of something to read is real, people.

I will be bringing my laptop with me, mainly because this is one of the few downsides to not having a smart phone... without it I won't be able to print my boarding pass for the return flight. If there's a chance to check-in with all of you, I will, but don't panic if it's pretty quiet around here for the next few days.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017


Let's talk about the point of tests and exams. That's always a nice, calm, unemotional topic, right? One of my children and I were just talking about this a bit ago, and I thought it might make an interesting discussion. Now, before I begin, I need to say up front that I test extremely well. This post is in no way sour grapes. Taking tests and doing academic work is definitely a strength and I played the school game quite well. Perhaps I was able to play it too well, and that has more than a little bearing on my thoughts about tests and testing now.

The stated purpose for tests and exams is to determine how much of the material the student learned and understood, often so that a grade may be given for the class. On the face of it, it doesn't sound too bad. Students are in class to learn, and it is not unreasonable to ask them to show that they've done that. Seems reasonable, huh? In fact, for a very long time, I was right there. Teachers teach. Students learn. Tests are taken. Grades are given. That's education.

Or is it?

There was that moment while I was researching homeschooling, before we had actually taken the official plunge, where I came across this statement by John Holt**, "If a student fails a test, it was the wrong test." Unless you are a fairly radical homeschooler, I imagine that you are currently reacting rather negatively to that statement... possibly even sputtering a bit. I did. I sputtered a lot. It was wrong. I just knew it was wrong. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance going on.

Here is the crux of the problem. Testing assumes that students are not doing their best. It is the entire foundation behind testing. Think about it. The 'best' in a testing situation is 100%, because that is when the student gets everything correct, thus they did their job to learn the material. But everyone does not get 100%, do they? In fact, if everyone does get 100%, then immediately the accusations are leveled that the test was too easy, and the tests are adjusted accordingly for the next time. What kind of system sets out to discover what the students know, then rigs the system so that not everyone can succeed? It becomes clear that it stops being about what the students know or not, and becomes about something else. I'm not even sure what the something else is, but it certainly isn't about learning.

I'll let you in on a secret. Those of us who are good, very good, at taking tests, can usually do quite well even if we don't know the information. This is especially true if the test is multiple choice or true and false. (This is also why straight fill in the blank tests were never my favorites.) I'm great at the informed guess. Even as a child, though, I knew that my test results had nothing to do with what I actually knew. I wasn't fooling myself into thinking I had the information down pat; the test was just another game that was played in school. Every so often when I would voice this thought to a teacher, the inevitable reply was, "You need to stop being so hard [critical] on yourself." Pfft. If they only knew. I tried to tell them, but since they wouldn't listen and take me seriously, I just stopped trying and continued to study the least amount possible.

So what is the correct test? It's not one that's out to get the student; to show them exactly how ill prepared they are. It's not a measure of commitment to the information, and it's certainly not a measure of intelligence or potentiality. It is a window into a sliver of time, when, assuming the student was in top form and not distracted by other areas of life, the teacher gets to find out how well he communicated the information and how well the student was able to guess at what was deemed important. Sometimes a test doesn't even give that much information.

The right test (if we still have to use a testing model), is one that sets the student up for success. It is one that allows the student to share what they have learned, what they find interesting about the material, what they want to focus on next. It would be more of a personal diagnostic tool than anything. A bad test assumes the student doesn't want to learn and needs to be threatened into doing so. A good test, would aid both teacher and student to discover what is clear and what still needs to be worked on. It represents a partnership and not a dictatorship.

But I'm still not convinced that we need to have them at all. And if you're curious, I've never given a test to any of my children in the name of education.

**I was in one these books, I can't remember: How Children Fail, How Children Learn, or What Do I Do Monday?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hi, My name is E. and I am a craft supply hoarder

At least that is the only conclusion I can come to based on yesterday's little extravaganza in my craft supply area. After five bags of garbage, seven bags of donations, and six or seven boxes packed for moving, the craft area is empty. (In my defense, not everything in those boxes was craft related, but junk item which belonged to other people which ended up in there for one reason or another.) Still, there was a lot.

I suppose this is the trouble with having lots of different activities that I enjoy doing and am vaguely successful at. This and my wide-swinging whims of what I feel like doing at any one time. I go through seasons, where one particular thing is all I want to do, then I'm over that for a while and on to something else. But I know myself, and eventually I will swing back to many of those crafts. The storage of multiple crafts and their needed supplies is an effort to save myself money when I cycle back again.

While cleaning out, I came across all my hand spinning supplies, you know, as in spinning wheels and wool and (hopefully) beautiful yarns. It's been quite a while since I had it all out. But suddenly, I'm feeling like rejuvenating my spinning skills is exactly what I want to do. I'm afraid it is going to have to wait until after we move, but I do have everything I need to pick it up again. I'm kind of excited.

The things I gave away were the few crafts that I picked up at one time and have never cycled back through again. Once was enough and it has no pull. It was pretty easy to give it all away. I even gave away fabric. (Gasp!) Either it was fabric for much younger children or yardage I had already made something with or I just didn't like any longer. Out it went. This was made even easier because a good friend stopped by on a whim and lent a hand to the cleaning effort for a while. She was great at reassuring me that I didn't need it, and someone else would be thrilled to have it.

Of course, there is one more aspect of my craft hoarding tendencies. Am I the only one who secretly worries just a little bit that somehow one day I will be held in my house by some outside force and I will need things to fill my time? Does anyone else plan for this imaginary contingency? Does anyone else harbor some small secret hope that this will actually happen? You know, someone brings you food and you have no other responsibilities, but you are stuck with whatever is in your house? Please tell me I'm not. Though sometimes it does sound glorious. Of course, I'm usually alone in this little fantasy. It wouldn't be quite so fun to be trapped indefinitely in a house with many small children.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Move Update

I've decided to limit myself to writing about moving and packing to just one a week, to spare, you my readers, the monotony of reading about it every single day for the next six months. It would give you sense of what it is like inside my head, but it's not a lot of fun in there, so I won't subject you to that.

The surrealist feeling of life continues. It will be months (if we're lucky) before we move, and yet nearly every single waking moment is spent thinking about or doing something towards that event. And then when you add in children whose sense of time is a little shaking to begin with, well... At least one child is convinced we're moving tomorrow and other are convinced that as soon as the weather gets warm, a moving van will pull up in front of our house as if it were a part of some odd seasonal migration. They just cannot wrap their heads around the idea that I am boxing up almost everything we own, yet have no idea when we will move. Sometimes I have a hard time with that myself.

With so much left to do before the end of March, I want to focus on a moment as to what we've actually accomplished. Here's our list:
- Boxed up all extraneous possessions in three bedrooms (H., R., and Y.'s; G. and L.'s, and K.'s)
- Boxed up nearly all of my sewing supplies, with just a little left to do
- Cleaned out the gutted rooms on the third floor to act as a staging area for the boxes we are moving
- Moved all the so far packed boxes (~30) to that staging area
- Started a significant pile of stuff to give away
- Tore out the ugly, crumbling vanity in the children's bathroom and J. ordered a new one to install when it arrives
- A. has made a good dent in the room over the garage and in packing seasonal items

The biggest item of that list is definitely the clearing out of the children's bedrooms. So far, they have been able to keep them looking pretty spotless (I check every night, and we practice getting things put away before bed), mainly because they have so few toys left. Surprisingly, no one has complained at all. I am keeping the toys out on the third floor, so they do have things to play with, but somehow I think there is probably a lesson for all of us in there. I will start having times games as soon as the house reaches a certain point of neatness, and we will see how fast we can go from comfortable to spotless. So far, the bedrooms have taken no more than five minutes each for their occupants to completely straighten. I'm thinking that many of these boxes that are all packed up will be opened slowly and carefully (meaning, I will probably open them first, by myself), when it comes time to unpacking.

Today's item on the docket to conquer? The craft porch. It is an unheated area of the house, and it's not frigid outside, so I think today is the day. It is bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that happens when a room becomes the place for people to stash things that they don't know what to do with. I anticipate we will end up with more garbage bags and give-away stuff than actual boxes. And it will feel good. When it's done.

Oh, and the answer to Saturday's little word count game was 25, though, clearly, the game was a bust.

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