Thursday, May 24, 2018

Summer slide

This is evidently my week for being a little irritated at my fellow homeschoolers. For the non-homeschoolers among you, my apologies. I'm sure I'll be back to myself soon. So it seems along with posts telling me why I need to go to my local homeschool convention, I'm also seeing posts asking, with rather alarmist tones, how I was going to stop my students from experiencing the dreaded... summer slide.

Talk about writing things just to generate traffic, and a misuse of terms and ideas to boot.

First, for those who don't know, the summer slide is the term for students who lose academic skills over the course of the summer. The misuse of terms and ideas comes with what the summer slide actually is. It is mainly aimed at low income students. Those students whose parents need to work and cannot be home, and who cannot afford the various summer enrichment opportunities that so many other children are able to participate in. For a child unsupervised for the summer months and who live in areas where it is not safe to play outside, screens are often the default activity. Not actively thinking and exploring and playing and interacting with people is not good for anyone's intellectual development.

For most homeschooling families, and the vast majority of upper middle class children as well, the summer slide is not a thing. Waving the term about to create alarm in parents is more than a little irresponsible. (Unless of course, you're throwing the term about in order to sell your summer enrichment program, then it's just mercenary... and a little irresponsible.)

Let's talk about what the summer slide isn't. It is not that week or two of children getting used to doing formal academics again. Sure, math facts may be a little rusty, but in my experience, after a bit, they come back to mind. They were never lost, just sleeping. All people are like this. Anything we don't use for a couple of months is a little bit of work to get back into shape, but it doesn't take much effort to get the skills back. It is surely nothing to panic about.

More often than not, I have discovered over a summer break... a summer spent playing outside gaining physical skills, exploring, resting, observing, learning to fill ones time, spending time with family... is that after the week of reentry is over, academic abilities and understanding is sharper. Things make more sense and are more easily understood. Maturation has taken place and new abilities blossom. There is a freshness to learning and greater curiosity. Rest is never a bad thing, though it has become rather a concept that has taken a negative turn, especially when it comes to our children.

It is a lie that we must keep our children at the academic grindstone all year 'round or they will become school failures. Of all people, homeschoolers, whom I hope would have developed a somewhat broader idea of what education is and what learning looks like, would understand that the summer slide is not something they need to concern themselves with, and certainly do not need to instill a fear of in others.

So, in answer to the question, what I am going to do to stop the summer slide? Nothing. Not one thing. I'm going to let my children run and play outside, watch things grow in the garden, play with the chickens and ducks, hike in the woods, read stories together, visit interesting places, answer their questions and learn things together that they are interested in, and enjoy their company. Pretty much what we do every day of the year. We may set the textbooks aside, but we do not stop exploring and being curious about our world.
P.'s Go Fund Me page continues to gradually grow. Thank you! She has a online meeting about choosing what academic classes she will be taking. We are continuing with all the requirements as if she will be able to do this. Your help will make it possible.

Story of P.'s plans

Phoebe Curry Go Fund Me

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Unpleasant jobs

There is one job that I dislike more than any other, yet it is vital to the functioning of the household. It's not laundry... it's not cooking... it's not grocery shopping... it's not even dusting or emptying litter boxes. No, it's the paperwork and bill paying. If I had the option of hiring out one household task to someone else, it would be to hire an accountant/secretary to do all the paperwork. Doesn't that sound blissful? I could happily just hand over the bills and receipts and registration papers and insurance stuff and never have to think about it. Ahhh....

Sadly, I do not have a personal accountant/secretary, and it is too bad. Today I spent nearly the entire day organizing checkbooks, paying bills, and moving paper off my desk. It feels good to have it all sorted out, but I know it won't last. There are just so many other things I would rather think about and spend time on.

So tell me, if you had the chance to permanently hire out one household job, which would you pick?
A day of finances also reminds me of how much we are not able to fully fund the program P. was accepted to. Please, I so desperately want this for her. Won't you please consider donating just a little bit to her Go Fund Me page? Thank you!

The story of P.'s gap year program

Phoebe Curry Go Fund Me

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

We went a Viking

One of the things I love about living in a new area is exploring the places that I wouldn't have otherwise known about. We found one of those places yesterday. I had seen a notice on one of the homeschooling pages I belong to about a field trip to see the Viking ship in Geneva. First, I thought, "A Viking ship in Geneva? Who knew?" My second was, "That's so cool!" and signed up.

So, yesterday morning, through heavy rain, we went to see the Viking ship. I had no idea what to expect, and really, other than it was a reproduction of a Viking ship, I didn't know anything about it. I am now more than a little fascinated by the whole story.

In 1880, a 9th century Viking ship was uncovered in a farmer's field in Norway. It is known as the Gokstad Ship, and is on display in Oslo. It was also the model for the reproduction Viking ship which was made, and then sailed, from Norway to Chicago for the Columbian Exposition in 1893. Named 'Viking, she was, according to our docents yesterday morning, the most visited exhibit at the Exposition. After moving from Chicago to New Orleans, and then back to Chicago, she spent time at the Museum of Science and Industry and then at the Lincoln Park Zoo. When the zoo wanted to expand, they requested someone take the ship, which is how it ended up in Geneva, the Fox Valley having quite a large Scandinavian population.

The Friends of the Viking Ship raise money to help preserve the ship, and offer docent-led tours. They sell a book written by one of the crew on the trip from Norway to Chicago. I would have bought it yesterday, if so many people hadn't needed to use the restroom. (I will probably order it, because I am more than a little fascinated by the ship and her story.)

The tour was great. I have been on a lot of docent-led tours, and they can be all over the board. The two men who led our did a great job, were knowledgeable, and did not talk down to the children, nor show surprise at either the homeschooling or the wide age range. (Trust me, some docents just can't get over these two things, and fixate on them for the entire tour.) The only difficulty was the rain was so loud on the roof of the temporary building which houses the ship, that it was sometimes hard to hear.

We had a tour of the ship itself, and an introduction to the Vikings as a people. They even had swords and armor for the children to touch and hold. I think holding the swords is probably what most of my children will remember.

D. with a spear

R. is holding an arrow

L. is in the helmet on the left

The dragon head and tail are not on the ship any longer, and we were told they are in the Museum of Science and Industry. I actually wrote to the museum asking where we could see them, because I really want to.
P. has raised a not-inconsequential sum of money for her gap year program, though she still has a considerable way to go. Thank you to everyone who has donated and shared her page. Keep sharing!

Phoebe Curry Go Fund Me

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why I'm not going to my state's homeschool convention

I've been seeing links to articles about why you (meaning you, homeschooler) should attend your state's homeschooling convention. Right up front, I will say that I haven't read any of them. I've gone to a homeschool conference every year I've been homeschooling; I don't really need a reason to go. I've enjoyed learning new things, meeting friends, shopping for new resources, having a day or two away. I used to love it all.

This year, after the bust of last year, for the first time ever, I'm not going. It's not that I have become a homeschooling expert and can learn nothing else. It's not that I don't think there are nothing new resources for me to look at. And it's certainly not that I no longer enjoy a day or two away. No, there are definitely reasons why I have chosen not to go this year.

Here they are:

1. I'm tired of the lack of joy. You would think Chicken Little was in charge of the conference, because the overwhelming message seems to be that the sky is falling. Or at least the end of life for a Christian as we know it. Sigh. Of all the people in the world, Christians should be the least filled with fear, because we have no reason for it at all. But, to hear the speakers and the keynote addresses and the topics being discussed, you would think that fear, particularly fear about the future... for us, for our children, for our society... is a belief requirement. Everything is worry, worry, worry, fear, fear, fear, and very little joy that we get to spend time with our children. I can dredge up worry and fear all by myself, I don't need someone else to do it for me. I'd rather hear people who will remind me why I don't need to fear and how to find joy in what I'm doing.

2. I'm tired of keynote speakers who are not actually the homeschooling parent. I'm really tired of the non-homeschooling parent tell me what I need to do to have a Godly family. I'm really, really tired of the legalistic bent that the parent is solely responsible for their child's faith in God; that the parent creates that faith by checking items off a list. Oh, so tired. Homeschooling is not the means to salvation any more than public school is a guaranteed trip the other way. Besides being just plain wrong, life is far more complicated than that. If a speaker can distill something so complex and nuanced to something so simplistic and legalistic, I question anything else that speaker has to say. I stopped going to the keynote addresses long ago, but now find I cannot even give money to an organization which can promote that type of thinking.

3. I'm tired of there being nothing for us old homeschooling moms. We don't need to know who to teach someone to read, but we could use some encouragement. How do you keep things fresh after so many years? How do you begin to navigate not having toddlers and early elementary students when you've had them for so very long? How do you make friends when you don't fit in well anywhere? Maybe it's not even a speaker that is needed, but just a space for us to meet and kvetch together. But... crickets. And yes, I've written extensive requests year after year on the conference evaluation form. Surely I can't be the only old homeschooling mom who would appreciate something like this.

4. I'm also tired of the heavy marketing to homeschoolers, especially the heavy marketing with the implication that if you don't buy a certain curriculum you will ruin your children. But that has been going on for quite some time, and I can overlook that. It does bother me, though, when new homeschoolers feel as though they have to buy everything or else. My friends and I have accosted moms as they leave a vendor's stall to correct the information they were given by the vendor. I'll miss that part. I'll also miss stocking up on consumable supplies at my two favorite vendors. But they both have websites, and I can shop from them online when I actually need the things, and save the hefty entrance fee to the conference.

So, there you go. Based on my purely unscientific observations, I am probably not the only one to feel this way. The number of attendees does seem to be fewer every year. But last year, when the P. Family mom and I did our shopping and then decided our time would be far better spent visiting Habitat for Humanity ReStores, it was our sign that we were done. Homeschooling conferences should leave you excited and encouraged, not angry, with a sore jaw from grinding your teeth.
Don't forget P.'s Go Fund Me page. I'm sorry to be a pest, but I'm willing to do it to allow P. this opportunity.

Phoebe Curry Go Fund Me

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Two blue ribbons

P. competed in her first schooling show at the stable she has been riding at. She had done other schooling shows before we moved, but this was her first one here. Since I usually drop her at the stable, go do the grocery shopping, and then come back to pick her up, I don't usually see her ride. Boy, she has improved a lot over the past year. She deserved the two blue ribbons she one. One ribbon was for over fences, and the other was for equitation on the flat.

J. took videos of a couple of her rides, and as soon as we figure out how to upload them, I will share them with you. (Dratted lack of WiFi is sometimes a pain.)

G. and L., saying hi to some of the horses. It's a rather swanky stable.

(I warned you I would hound...) Since I'm talking about P., don't forget her Go Fund Me page. And a huge thank you to everyone who has donated and shared the page!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday bullets, May 18, 2018

You know I write these posts the night before and schedule them for the next morning, right? If any of you think I am up and functioning enough to write a post and publish it by 7 am... well, when I stop laughing, I'll explain I'm not really a morning person. All this to say, this might be a short post because I am very tired.

  • I am tired because I spent the entire day outside, planting things in the new vegetable garden. When I got up yesterday morning, I blithely thought that by spending the entire day doing this, I would be able to plant everything vegetable-wise that I wanted to get planted, and even had plans for what I would do the rest of the day once I was done. Ha! If only... after all day on my hands and knees in the garden, I am not quite half done. Starting a garden from scratch is no joke. Planting was the easy part. It was the chopping, turning, sifting, business that I had to do in order to plant that was the time consuming bit. I just keep telling myself that next year it will be so much easier. 
  • Poor Nefertiti. She would so much love to be an indoor-outdoor cat. She sits in the window, staring out of the screen, and mews the most pathetic mews. She will also dash outdoors at every chance she gets. When she does get outside, she doesn't go far, but I just can't let her be an indoor-outdoor cat. First, her previous owners declawed her front feet, so while she has a terrific hiss, her actual defenses are somewhat compromised. The real reason, though, is the coyotes. We have a lot of coyotes around here, and living so close to a large forest preserve means we have more than most people. Our next door neighbors have lost innumerable outdoor cats as well as chickens to the dratted things; sometimes even in the middle of the day. (Often we will be awakened in the middle of the night by them, they are so loud.) While I am resigned to the eventual loss of a chicken to predators, I just can't let that happen to Nefertiti. And so she mews and mews and mews, poor thing.
  • We have a few eggs to eat, thanks to our neighbor. See?

Those are a combination of turkey, duck, and chicken eggs. Everyone is very anxious to conduct extensive taste tests this morning to see if there is a discernible difference between the three. (For those who are curious, the turkey eggs are the longer, speckled ones; the duck eggs are the larger, rather pearlescent ones, and well, you know chicken eggs.)
  • I've downloaded Duo Lingo onto my phone. I find it feeds my competitive, compulsive nature. Is it over the top that I'm working on four languages at once? They are all languages that I've studied at one time or another... French, Mandarin, Italian, and Vietnamese. The first three are pretty much just a review at the moment, and none of them is moving fast enough to even reach the level of challenging, but Vietnamese? Yikes! That is beyond challenging and hovering on the edge of baffling. I'm continuing to to plug away, though, waiting for it to suddenly start to make sense.
  • There was a moment yesterday morning when I was talking with A. about a wedding we are all going to next month, that we are all going to this wedding. This means that I need to think about what people are going to wear. For some, this is easy, they will pick something out of their closet and wear that. For others, who either don't have any nice clothes that fit or have nice clothes that they are willing to wear, I will have to actually be proactive and go shopping. When I was younger I didn't mind shopping... I even enjoyed it. Now? There is nothing about it that I enjoy. 
  • The evening poultry follies continue. A couple of chickens seem to have figured out that yummy treats await them when I call and shake the bag, but the vast majority don't seem to care. We are getting faster at herding the chickens into the pen, and the more people we have participating in the poultry follies the easier it is. Even me reminding them that there are marauding coyotes out there does not seem to make a difference to them. The ducks we have stopped trying to herd, and instead just resort to grabbing and putting them in. Though, two ducks last night did go in of their own accord. 
  • L. has started to make birthday wish lists. Some of the thinks on her list I have never heard her mention as being something that she wanted. This makes me wonder if the wish list is more a 'random things that popped into my head' list.
  • K. had an orthodontist appointment this week. On Orthodontist appointment days, I like to visit my old grocery store that I still miss on these days, and stock up on items I just cannot find out here. It's a good thing I had other plans for the trip, because the appointment took five minutes. FIVE. A five minute appointment for over two hours of driving time. Was I happy? No, I was not. 
  • I have a new article published: Why Should I Adopt Internationally When There Are So Many Children in the US Who Need Homes? As usual, feel free to click and share.
  • Finally, a heart felt thank you to those who have contributed to P.'s Go Fund Me page. We are extremely grateful! I may be a bit of a pest about this for the next few weeks. I don't like to draw attention to or ask for things for myself, but when it is for one of my children, I don't seem to have the same issues. So brace yourselves. If you haven't already, take a look at Phoebe Curry's Go Fund Me page and consider contributing a little something. Thank you!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Doing some mom bragging and begging

Take a look at this picture.

This is P. when she was about 2 1/2. It is one of my absolutely favorite pictures of her. We had gone with the H-S Family and the P. Family to see the tall ships which had come into the Kenosha Harbor. We had a lovely day of touring the ships, having a picnic, and enjoying the company of each other. Well, except when I was changing D.'s diapers or trying to find a comfortable place to nurse him. D. was only a month or so old. I do remember wondering at times why I thought that outing was a good idea. But I did end up with this picture of P. on one of the tall ships.

Now this child is nearly all grown up and will be graduating from high school. When you have a graduation coming up, the all-consuming question becomes, "What are you going to do next?" For P., this was not an obvious answer. She wasn't sure college right away was what she wanted, but she didn't quite know what the other options were. And then she found a program out of Canada called Class Afloat. Essentially, it is a gap year program where ~60 students help to crew a three-masted ship, sail around the world, and take classes at the same time. This was what P. wanted to do it turns out.

She has been working for several months now to get everything ready to apply to the program. She needed a pretty extensive swim test, medical exam, transcript, and interviews as part of the application process. With very little help from her parents, she sorted out how to do all of these things and got them done. I was extremely proud of her diligence and effort.

Earlier this week, we received an email that she was accepted into the program. I am thrilled. I am thrilled even if one year the ship sank. (All the students and crew made it onto life boats and survived. But still... ) And I am proud of her.

I wish I could just say: And so she'll leave on ____ for her new adventure. I'm afraid things are a little more complicated than that. It seems that American financial aid does not cross borders. Go figure. This makes the rather high price tag for the program far more difficult to manage. It also means that somehow she needs to come up with a staggering figure to secure her spot in the next month. J. and I can help a little bit, but we just cannot manage the whole thing.

P. has done a couple of things in light of this. First, she has decided that going for one semester instead of two makes for good financial sense. It's not quite half the cost, but it is less. Second, she has spent nearly every waking moment (when she is not mucking stalls to earn money) looking for scholarships to apply for. She's found quite a few, including one which required her to read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, and write an essay on it. (That's dedication to the cause.) Even if she was to receive the scholarships she has applied for, she still would not have the money she needs next month. So, she has created a Go Fund Me page.

Here's the begging part of the post. Would you be willing to look at her page and donate a little something to help her along? If everyone donated just a little bit, it would all add up to quite a lot. If you just cannot send anything, then please, please share her page. I want this so badly for her, and it kills me just a little bit that I cannot make it happen. I would so appreciate any help you can offer.

Phoebe Curry Go Fund Me Page

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


The trouble with having children who make progress at such a slow rate is that you can go for weeks and weeks and feel as though nothing is happening. This is where we have been with R. for much of the spring. It is a little dispiriting to feel as though nothing has changed, especially when you deal with the same behaviors over and over and over. I spend a lot of time telling myself it is really OK if this is where she stays. We knew she would be with us for the long term from the start, and are committed to her regardless. But it is not really about me and J. that makes me sad, but about her. I want so much more for her. I want her to be able to do things, to participate in her own life, to have an inner life, to find interest in things. Some days I'm nearly driven wild with the desire to be able to reach into her head and unlock the door she has hidden herself behind. But that door is so well-hidden and so well locked, some days I despair that we will ever be able to do that. As you can tell, we have seen precious little progress recently. She is just so content to sit and not be present.

And then every so often, I will see a small glimmer that gives me hope.

Two days ago, everyone was diligently doing math, so I got out the pattern blocks for R. to work on. As part of the set, I have cards which are different pictures which can be filled in with the blocks. Some have the colors and shapes on them, others are just outlines of the shapes, and still others are just an outline to be filled in however the child can make it work. R. had been able to do the pictures with the colors, though wasn't always able to get the blocks always lined up with the shape on the card. The black-and-white outlines, which you match the shape of the block to, were incomprehensible to her. She could not put a shape inside the outline on the card. It was utterly baffling to her.

So, when I started her on this the other day, we stared with the colored cards. R. did these pretty easily, and actually lined up the blocks with the shapes on the cards pretty darn well. So I took a deep breath, and gave her another card, this time with the colored shapes on one side of the card and a mirror outline on the other. You know what? She did them both. Both as in the side with the colored outlines and the side which required the child to create the mirrored image without benefit of colored outlines. I could barely believe it. I must have been in a state of shock, because I DIDN'T TAKE A PICTURE!

Believe me when I say I will hang on to this particular bit of hope for a good long while. It's enough to keep me trying to reach her.

On the other hand, H. continues to amaze me with what she can do. I can remember all too clearly when I was in the same spot with her that I currently am with R. at the moment. On the same day as R.'s pattern block triumph, H. had a section of her math book which required her to read numbers that were written out in words and then right the same number in numeral form. I gave her the instruction and once again held my breath. When I came back to check, she had done them all correctly. These were not easy numbers, but numbers such as eighty-nine and seventy-three and forty-five. Five years ago, she could not recognize any number higher than five, and now not only can she recognize them and count up to them, she can also read the words and match them to the number. All without help. Amazing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Duck herding

Just in case you might have forgotten that my life is a good part farce, I will share this afternoon's adventures. As you read yesterday, we are now starting to let the chickens and ducks out of their pen in order to meander around the yard in order to eat dandelions and bugs. The chickens, once we herded them out the first time, quickly caught on, and enjoyed their freedom immensely. The ducks on the other hand, couldn't figure out what was going on. The first day, B. went in the pen and encouraged them to move towards the door. Actually, only one was encouraged to exit, the others required being picked up and put out of the pen. Once outside, the little amoeba of ducks happily quacked and waddled and nibbled their way around the yard. Then it was time to put everyone back in. I bought a bag of cracked corn and dried meal worms to encourage the fowl to come home. On Sunday, this was not quite successful. It took a multi-person effort to heard all the animals back into the pen.

Today when I opened the pen door, the chickens knew immediately what was happening, and were quick to flutter out and enjoy the yard. The ducks... not so much. I decided to just let the ducks be and see what they would do under their own power. Well, that looked like all the chickens outside the pen and all the ducks inside. The ducks would see the chickens on the other side of the wire and quack loudly. Eventually TM could not take it anymore and herded the ducks outside. He even filled up their wading pool, which filled their little ducky hearts with joy.

And then it poured.

The chickens all retreated into the coop where it was dry. The ducks? Well, they don't seem to mind the rain. It doesn't seem to matter where the water comes from, they like it. After the rain stopped, the chickens were more than happy to resume their wanderings. This is where the true hilarity begins.

It was just about time to begin making dinner, and I thought it would be good to get in the habit of putting the birds away in their home at this time so they weren't out at dusk. Even though it took several days of chicken and duck herding for them to figure out to go inside their coop at night, I kind of hoped that with the addition of treats, they would have the return home-thing figured out on the second day.

They didn't.

Well, most of them didn't. Some of the chickens upon hearing me call and shake their bag of treats came wandering over and happily started eating. Other chickens just continued to mill around. The ducks were oblivious. In the end, if any of our neighbors happened to be watching, this is what they would have seen.

After it was evident that just calling and putting treats inside the coop wasn't going to be 100% successful, I realized it was time to take action. A had been outside walking Olive, and was watching my attempts of chicken and duck corralling. She took Olive and started to walk around, herding the poultry towards the pen. Olive thought this was great fun. The chickens did not, and it was quite effective for most of the hens. The amoeba of ducks was not paying any attention at all, so A. and Olive went to herd them next. They would come waddling towards the pen, and then take a sharp turn and be heading away from the pen at the last moment. Over and over.

Eventually, with Y. at the pen door to push in any bird which came near and to keep the ones inside from exiting, I started herding birds in tandem with A. Olive got a little too excited at one point, and thought the better way to herd the birds would be to pick them up in her mouth. She managed to grab a duck, who understandably quacked loudly, causing Olive to drop her. In Olive's excitement to continue the duck chase, she lost her footing and ended up sitting on the duck, who managed to get away and went waddling in the other direction as fast as she could. So, just imagine, me running around and around the coop, trying to herd the loose birds towards the door. I didn't expect to be doing this, so I wasn't wearing the most appropriate footwear. It has also rained a lot over the past two days, so everything is more than a little muddy. When you are wearing definitely-not-mud-shoes while chasing birds, you have to be a little careful about where you put your feet. I'm sure I looked ridiculous. With the efforts of three people and one dog, all birds were eventually shut back in the pen.

Since we are all just making this up as we go along, I am pretty convinced that experienced poultry owners are more than a little amused at our efforts. Oh well... it's how you learn, right? Hints for calling them home and having them pay attention are welcome, though.

I will also add that the sound of duck feet on wet pavement as they waddle along is hilarious.

Monday, May 14, 2018

What I got for Mother's Day

I had nearly everyone home. A. had to work, and we missed her. We pretty much spent the afternoon playing and working outside. So along with just enjoying my family and a chocolate bar from Y., I got...

A new vegetable garden

The zip line put up

To watch the chickens and ducks explore the yard for the first time

But the best part was just to be with my family and enjoy their company. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018


Every so often, after we've been happily going along, I discover that one of my children missed something somewhere along the line. This usually happens when a new concept is introduced, and suddenly that child doesn't seem to be able to manage it. Or the child just melts down repeatedly when we pull out that particular book. That second choice more often is accurate. So, I spend  more time than I should cajoling that child into doing that work. Eventually, when even cajoling doesn't seem to work, a light bulb dimly starts to glow in the recesses of my brain, and I start to wonder if something else isn't going on. It's a little embarrassing how long this realization can take, especially given how long I've been doing this.

For the child in question, I have now pulled out a different math book. This book is a little bit less advanced than where we were in the other book, but this way I can try to figure out where exactly the child got lost. And sometimes it isn't even that a concept was missed, but that a child's number sense is just taking a little longer to kick in, and going over things one more time in a different format can help them make more sense.

The trouble is, I'm often so slow in figuring out we need to do this, that the child and I are already in a bit of trouble in regards to whatever subject is the issue. This means that not only am I having to back up in terms of learning, we need to regroup in terms of attitude as well. Because I missed the confusion, a child can be extremely unsure of how to do what is asked.

Enter the white board.

You know, the kind where you write with a dry erase marker and everything is easily erased. I did not have these early on in my homeschooling career, and I'm not sure how I managed without them. They are so useful for so many things.

I've discovered that sometimes things are easier to do if they are written on a white board. With a piece of paper, any work done on it seems more permanent. Even if written in pencil, the act of erasing is never quite invisible, and we all know what happens to paper if you erase too much in one spot. When you erase a dry erase marker on a white board, it vanishes completely and with very little effort. If you make a mistake, it can be made to vanish as though it never happened.

This particular child felt more comfortable trying different math problems on the white board rather than writing in the book. Once we had warmed up with the white board, it was much easier to transfer to the actual book, and there was no problem after that.

I hadn't really been able to put this idea into words before. As I moved onto working with other children this past week, I tried out my hypothesis. When a child would have difficulty, I would grab the white board and we would do it there first. Suddenly, with the freedom that white board afforded, the fear of failure disappeared a bit and allowed room in their brains for better thinking. Doing things with the white board first had multiple successes during the course of the morning.

I can remember when we were being taught to read in first grade. There was a series of graded readers with comprehension questions at the end which needed answering. We were allowed to work at our own pace, as the workbooks were self-graded. What I loved most was that we used plastic overlays and grease pencils. I adored answering the questions, checking the answers, and then rubbing it all off to begin again.

If you are fearful of making mistakes, it can be paralyzing. By offering a way to try different answers out which can be easily erased as if those mistakes never happened, we can offer a sense of freedom to be willing to try something even if it won't be perfect.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday bullets, May 11, 2018

Life has been pretty calm around here, which is extremely nice. One of the loveliest things about homeschooling is the lack of May craziness. I like a nice, calm May.

  • I realized I forgot to share something last Friday. Look who's back!

Yes, it's Gomez. M. was moving studio supplies to our crawlspace, and since Gomez has been living in M.'s studio, he had to come to. This is why I went grocery shopping with a skeleton buckled into a van seat last week. Gomez is now happily residing in our crawlspace since some children are not amused by his presence. 
  • We received our property tax bills in the mail recently. Now, if you have been reading here for any length of time, you know that property taxes were a HUGE issue when we lived in the Big Ugly House, and a very large reason behind us deciding to move. So, it was with no little trepidation when I saw the envelope and realized I should open it. Sometimes in our old house, we would just let the unopened envelope sit there for as long as possible since neither of us really could bring ourselves to face the ridiculously huge numbers it contained. But I was a grown-up and opened the tax bill. There were tears all right, but this time the tears were of a very different variety than they had been for the past ten years of so. This was the first time I cried tears of joy at a tax bill. A tax bill that was LESS than I was expecting. A tax bill that we can actually pay. It still seems more than a little unbelievable to me.
  • Since we are comparing the financial aspects of our move, let me show you a picture I took when J. and I went out to dinner last week. (Yes, I made him walk around to the front of the parking garage just so I could take a picture of this sign.) 

Now, if you don't live in Chicago or Evanston, this sign might not seem odd to you. It stopped me and J. in our tracks for a moment, though. Look at that! It's a whole $2 to park for the day. But not only that, the parking is free, FREE!, on evenings and weekends. Who knew such a thing was possible? And the city still seems to function.
  • L. still refuses to sit on the seat cushions I bought for the dining room.
  • Not much is new in the land of chickens and ducks. This weekend, though, is the three week mark for them living in the coop, so I think we are going to begin to slowly introduce them to the larger world. Since a chicken escaped from the pen today, I think they are ready for bigger adventures.
  • We must be settling in to our new community. Someone said to me today, "Oh, are you the one with all the kids?" 
  • Spring was so late arriving this year that it took some time for us to get our spring picture books out. Actually I thought I was getting out our spring/summer books, so wasn't in a terrible rush, thinking that we had all summer to read them. Well, I had forgotten that I had resorted them into two different categories when I was packing last year, because there were just too many of them to fit nicely on our shelves. So, I guess we'll have these books out briefly before moving on to summer.
  • As I was in the process of getting out the next set of picture books, I realized that it might not be too long before we are through with this season of life. Children were interested, but far fewer than in the past, and there was far less overall enthusiasm upon seeing and remembering the books being taken out. This makes me a little bit sad. OK, this actually makes me a lot sad.
  • I am getting much closer to finally being done weeding and neatening the long flower bed along the drive. What I didn't realize was that my efforts were actually creating a popular play place for children and small plastic toys. Here is what was repeated many times this week.

My only rule is that they must stay on the rocks and pavers and not actually walk through the beds. I've also discovered that it is rare that they find all the carefully camouflaged toys, so the flower bed seems to be perpetually decorated with Playmobile and army men.
  • Shitake mushrooms, when sliced, make excellent mustaches.
  • We've all been spending so much time outside the past week or so, that the inside of the house is... well... let's just say, not pristine. That sounds better than messy and kind of gross, doesn't it? But at least there are no chickens.
Enjoy your weekend and a Happy Mother's Day. M. and B. will be coming out, so I'll have everyone home. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018


A co-worker mentioned to J. that they imagine our family dinner conversations to be very philosophical. I'm glad J. wasn't in the process of drinking a cup of coffee, because if it had been me, I would have spewed it all over whoever was standing in front of me. Truly, I hate to disappoint anyone, but we don't have particularly philosophical dinner conversations. More often than not, the bulk of conversation involves listening to the teens in the house engage in recreational bickering. If that is not the current conversation, then I'm embarrassed to say that dinner conversation veers towards popular parasites far more often than seems normal. Occasionally we will have actual conversations, but TM claims that that only happens when B. is home. M. is far more likely to aid in the popular parasite discussion than not.

But sometimes, there is a lull in the bickering parasite topic du jour and we have to actually make use of this:

That would be the dictionary stand which lives in our dining room. The stand was my grandmother's. The open dictionary was J.'s grandparent's. The large dictionary lying down on the left was my great-grandfather's. And the case with the books is the complete Oxford English Dictionary (OED) which also came from J.'s grandparents. J. grew up with a dictionary in the dining room, and we continue the tradition. This is what happens when two people marry whose respective grandmothers earned Master's degrees in various combinations of Classics and English. J.'s grandmother's degree was from University of Illinois, and mine received hers from Columbia University. Not a common thing for women at the time.

There was some discussion last night over the origin of a word and exactly how old that word was. The claim for newness was quickly overruled by an entry in the OED, which J. found by a combination of squinting and magnifying glass use.

Yes, that's four regularly printed pages reduced to one. There is a reason its case has a drawer for a magnifying glass.

OED - 1
"The Internet" - 0

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Olive at 11 months old

A. tells me that I should do another post about Olive since she is now 11 months old. Olive, not A., that is. Olive got weighed at the vet today, and she is now 92 pounds. That's a lot of dog. What's crazier is that she is actually small for a Great Dane. Want to see?

Here is little, tiny Olive.

Then, for comparison's sake, a picture of Olive in the same chair. Well, sort of in the same chair. It's a tight squeeze.

A. likes to take pictures of Olive, so I have a few more.

She is gradually getting less puppy-ish. She would still really, really like to play with Kenzie all the time. Kenzie would really, really like to not play with Olive. Olive would still really, really like to put Midnight in her mouth. Midnight still doesn't not enjoy that. Olive gives Nefertiti a wide berth. It can be hard being a giant puppy when the other animals in the house don't appreciate your puppy-ness.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Our new favorite book

Yesterday we finished the book we had been reading during tea time. It was one of those books that I had randomly pulled off the library shelf, thinking it looked potentially interesting, but had no information nor expectations for it at all. We had just finished The Secret Garden, so it would be difficult for just any book to follow it.

We were all happily surprised by Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. A 13 year old girl is left a mystery by her grandfather which involves a painting which may or may not be a Raphael. As she solves the mystery, art, self-reliance, World War II, the Holocaust, and friendship and belonging become part of the story. There is an unexpected, rather brutal death in the first chapter which made me think, "Oh no, what have we gotten into?" But it is not graphic, and is the event which drives the story. My sometimes sensitive children were not affected by it.

I also need to mention the Holocaust themes. The fate of the Jews in the Holocaust becomes part of the story. This could be a questionable subject to include in a mid-elementary grade chapter book, but it works. Personally, even since high school, I have had to be very careful about what I read or hear about the Holocaust. The nights of nightmares can be unpleasant. The season where M. and B. were in The Diary of Anne Frank with their theater group nearly did me in. In fact, I very nearly bolted from the theater after B.'s opening scene as Mr. Frank. I could only see it once, and I'm pretty sure if any of my other children happened to be in it, I couldn't see it again. This is the level of trauma I feel from the history of the Holocaust. I just can only let a very little bit in. Given this, I can say that I managed this book without great difficulty. If anything, it began some interesting family discussions and allowed me to teach about that time of history in an honest, but accessible way. I felt it was sensitively, but honestly written.

The other thing I feel I need to address was the author's brief handling of Raphael's life. There were some reviews on Amazon where people objected to her description of Raphael's life. I admit I kind of wondered how these people manage to read anything if one or two lines out of an entire novel were so very offensive to them. It's not as though the author was making things up, historical figures are not always so neat and tidy and unoffensive as we would like them to be. If I can read the Old Testament to my children, I think they can handle the fact that Raphael loved a lot of women. It passed so quickly, that the majority of my children didn't even notice. Frankly, this was easier in my mind than having to constantly adjust racist terms which are found in older literature.

There was a lot I loved about this book. The lessons on art. The determined, smart, and responsible heroine. The interesting characters who managed not to be stereotypes, but have more fully described personalities even though they don't appear for very long. And the other girl who befriends our heroine who happens to be a homeschooler. And not just any homeschooler... an unschooler. An unschooler who manages to be portrayed as interesting and intelligent and socially capable, with nary a piece of foil or granola in sight. It's not even what the book focuses on, it's just part of who this character is. Do you have any idea how extremely rare this is? It was a breath of fresh air to a mother who sees the word 'homeschooler' coming up on the page, and holds her breath wondering how terribly horrible it will be this time. I think it is one of the best portrayals of homeschooling in mainstream middle grade fiction I have come across. It's right up there with Surviving the Applewhites.

Probably the most telling thing about how much we all enjoyed this book is the fact that I would often read more than one chapter at a time because no one wanted to stop listening. This does not happen terribly often.

So, if you are looking for a good read aloud, I highly recommend this one. In fact, I think it would work best as a read aloud (or listened to on recording if adults and children are listening together), because of its subject matter. My children had a lot of questions about what we read, and I think it would have been more difficult for them to manage without the debriefing which took place during and afterwards.
A reader pointed out that my links in yesterday's post weren't working. In order to make them work, I have to do a two-step process, and forgot to do the second step. I've gone back and fixed that, and will be sure to make these links work as well. Thanks for clicking through and using my Amazon Associates link. I appreciate it.

Monday, May 07, 2018

We celebrated another birthday

Yesterday was R.'s birthday and she turned 13... at least chronologically. This makes her the fifth teen in the house. She enjoyed her day, I think. We told her the day before that her birthday was the next day. As you can imagine, she was extremely excited. She also peppered us with questions and comments, averaging about one every two minutes or so, for the rest of the day.

This year she had the whole birthday-thing figured out. She knew she got donuts in the morning for breakfast. Chocolate donuts were specifically mentioned. For dinner she wanted Chinese food. And for dessert, a chocolate cake with flowers on it. I asked her if she wanted me to make one or buy it at the store, and without hesitation she picked store. So that is what we did.

This year she managed to blow out her candles on her own.

This was a little baby doll seat that mounts on her bicycle so she can ride her bike and tote her baby doll along. 

I took this right before she let out an ear piercing squeal. This was because she discovered t-shirts with some of her favorite animals on them. The girl does like clothes.

Looking at the card from Grammy... Y. and L. were reading it to her. They've been reading for a bit now, but it still surprises me.

Thank you, Grammy!

R. also got two new books, which they are all looking at together. They are Press Here and Mix It Up!  They are ingenious books where the child is instructed to do certain things on a page, and when the page is turned, something has changed. They also happen to be right at R.'s developmental level, and she enjoyed them. You can see all the people who were helping her with her new books. It is kind of fun to see what the next page is going to bring.

We now have a brief lull in birthdays for the rest of the month, and then June hits with six birthdays and one anniversary.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Spring surprises

This is our first spring in the this house, so we are still discovering things, such as what is coming up in the garden. It's kind of fun to see what spring flowers are here. I've been a little preoccupied with getting the flower beds all cleared out and neatened up. The long bed along the drive is... long. After many days of working on it, I'm still just about half way done. It feels a little never ending. But there are some pretty flowers that have come up. (Photo credits to TM.)

We have a lot of peonies. If I don't get them all staked with cages soon, it will be too late.

The trouble with cleaning up a garden you've never seen in the spring is that you don't know what is coming up. I very nearly did away with this huge area of grape hyacinths in my fervor to rid the garden of unwanted grass. Thankfully, just in time, I notice the little tiny flowers starting. They are all blooming brilliantly now.

Who can tell me what this bush is? I am absolutely in love with it. It is covered with pink flowers that look very rose like, but they are not roses. It does need a good trimming to clear out old and dead wood after it blooms.

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