Thursday, December 30, 2010

The After Christmas Season

Well, Christmas is over and I'm still recovering from it. My annual battle with the Christmas present aftermath is underway as I'm trying to find places for the kids' new things while trying to convince them that they really can do without a few of the things that they got four years ago. We have taken the week off from school work mainly because we would have all out rebellion if they didn't get some extra time to enjoy their new stuff. It also gives the benefit that I have time to sort and wash and clean and organize.

The holiday itself went pretty well for us. We still managed to have conflicts with the same individuals we usually have conflicts with. I am trying to come to terms with the idea that this will probably never change. What was different this year was that it was one of our kids causing the problem instead of my husband or me. The next generation seems to be following in the steps of ours. This fact and a chance conversation has Tim and I wondering if there is something more going on than just normal blunders. As a result we looked up information on Aspergers syndrome. I must say that the description sounds awfully familiar to us. It begs the question of how far off normal do you need to be to fit into a category like this. We have begun to wonder if we need to have our child evaluated for this syndrome and whether it would make any difference. After all the treatment for this syndrome is exactly what we are already doing, training our children how to interact appropriately with others. It is something to consider.

In other news I have had my first thorough eye exam. As a result, I get to pick up my first pair of corrective glasses in about a week. I get to wear them for driving and for distance use. We'll see how often our baby grabs them off me during church when I'm trying to read what is on the projection screen .

It is also about time to come up with a nickname for our littlest one. Tim is voting for "Little Chunk." He is a big kid. He'll have his two month checkup next week so we can see how he is progressing. But from our perspective, he may always be the biggest of our kids (for his age). He has an appetite that doesn't seem to want to quit. I wouldn't say that he's roly-poly, but he is simply big. I haven't come up with a better nickname for him, so we might as well go with that one for now.

This morning I noticed Little Chunk was not just sucking on his fist, he was trying to chew on it. Hmmm.... I tried an experiment. I gave him his pacifier and he spat it out. I held a small nubbly rubber teether up to his mouth and he chewed with a vengeance. Could it be that our baby is teething already. We've had a history of early teethers. Our oldest had her first tooth at three months. Our others were a little later, but not much. Let me tell you, it is not always fun having a teething baby before they have the ability to hold their own teethers. Thank you Rick and Wendy. The teether you got him is right on time.

Also, thanks to Great Auntie Jean, for the toy that is replacing "Spore" in our kids lives. We are now the proud owners of a Wii. The kids are constantly begging for it. Tim and I opted for a Wii Fit add on and have begun a new exercise regime. It will be helpful during our cold/wet season. It is pretty fun. But it was a nice day today so we all went for a walk outside for our exercise.

That is all I can think of for now. I have plenty of other posts I could do, but they will have to wait.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Christmas is coming...

It's that time of year again. Christmas. I've seen it coming for a couple of months thanks to advertisers. For many years, Christmas has become less and less of a favorite holiday of mine. Crisis after crisis during the holidays ruined the holidays for me several years back and the overdone consumerism of our society beat into the ground what little glimmer of joy I still retained about this time of year. Usually I just try to smile and go through the motions to try to make the people around me feel more comfortable.

This year I surprised myself by actually being in the mood to sing a few Christmas songs just for the fun of it. Maybe it has been a long enough time since I was last roped in to perform at a Christmas musical that I actually cared about the music again.

I've been in the mood to bake treats (not much time for it mind you). That has always been a favorite part of the holidays for me. Food employs our senses and brings back memories of former times. Each family has some special food they like to celebrate with and many are saved to be used only on special days. I don't have many specially reserved foods like this, but just the fun of having special treats brings happy memories back to me.

The presents have been a bit of a love/hate thing for me. I like getting presents just as much as the next person. I like giving a present to someone else with their happy surprise being the only reward. I hate gifts prompted by obligation, yet I realize that their are good reasons for such gift giving.

My family is highly non-conformist when it comes to Santa. "We don't do Santa." Those simple words have stopped some conversations in their tracks. I don't try to ban Santa from our home. I don't try to hide the story of Santa from my children. I just treat Santa as a story, just like the other stories we read in books. I would prefer that my children learn the story of the birth of Jesus as "the" Christmas story. I would prefer that my children learn the story of Saint Nicholas (the real person) as an example of a faithful christian who put his faith into practice by being generous to those in need. The modern day Santa is a fairytale that can be used to teach generosity, but is just as likely to teach lessons you don't want your kids to learn as anything else.

Tim and I don't really have many Christmas traditions. We usually buy each other gifts without keeping them secret, because we can't stand to keep such happy things a secret from each other. We spend Christmas with one side of the family and Thanksgiving with the other (switching back and forth to give equal time). We like food and family to be part of the holidays with lots of visiting time. We frame little pictures of the kids to put on our Christmas tree every year to accompany our ornaments. We open presents Christmas Eve, or Christmas day, or a week later if that is when the gathering happens.

This year the Power family Christmas has been moved from it's traditional location to be shared by us and Rick and Wendy. The family was good enough to not insist we travel with wee little ones. As a result our two households are hosting. Now neither one of us has to handle the whole of Christmas, but it dawned on me that my preferred traditions may not always mesh with the preferred traditions of others. So with that in mind... I hope my family will be flexible this year. I'm not providing a fairytale Christmas, but hopefully it can be a fun one even so. For those of you non-family readers, I would like to remind you that Christmas is not always a happy time of year for everyone. Please handle people with care.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The World Has Changed Once Again

Two days before Halloween, the world changed again. I had my second son. He was a big fellow, too, at 9 pounds, 10 ounces. It was a relief to finally have him in my arms and not in my abdomen.

I had been convinced that I was ready to have that baby "any day" for at least two weeks before he came. From what we learned during delivery, he was probably delayed by an oversupply of amniotic fluid. Basically, he kept floating in the fluid instead of dropping down and being pushed down the birth canal. Although he felt late to me, he was actually born the day after the due date.

My last couple of posts were in October. Now it's the night before Thanksgiving. My side of the family were altruistic this year and told us to stay home instead of trying to fulfill the family tradition. That has turned out well, since we are all at different stages of a cold right now. The silence from the last posts don't convey the activity we have been trying to cram into our lives.

We have replaced our broken flowered sofa with a new queen size futon. We had a rat die in the vent tube of our above stove hood, resulting in a very unpleasant dismantling operation and eventually a new hood (the old one was due for replacing anyway). We have our pest control service alerted to the rodent issue and are in the process of trying to make sure that unfortunate event does not get repeated. We had a bedroom doorknob fail (with no way to dismantle it from outside the room) so we had to break down a door, and then fix the resulting door frame. We had our pomegranate harvest to seed (waiting in the freezer for a convenient time to make jelly). We made a emperor penguin costume for our oldest child for Halloween (the other kids got hand-me down costumes). We started up schoolwork again on a half day schedule out of self defense. It turns out that our kids behave better when they aren't left to their own devices all day. I started out breastfeeding the baby and by the end of the first week I was almost exclusively using a breast pump. By the end of the second week I was doing half breast milk and half formula. By the end of the third week, he was completely on formula.

It has been nearly four years since we last had a new baby to take care of. Some of the time, we are easy-going and calm veterans. Some of the time, we are playing the "Oh yeah, I completely forgot about that" game. Our other kids love him and want to play with his toys. They like to pet his head and occasionally hold him. Thankfully, he can sleep through the pandemonium of a typical day. And like most babies, he has problems sleeping enough of the night to let his parents feel rested. Tim and I have arranged a schedule so that we take turns doing various feedings so that each of us get the bare minimum sleep that we need. That fact and the fact that our baby seems fairly good-natured is probably the only reason we are still somewhat sane and able to function.

I find myself being very philosophical about some of the difficult parts of being the parent of a new baby. Yes, it's exhausting and difficult. However, it is also temporary. In another month or two we'll all be sleeping better. In another month or two, he'll be more fun to play with. In a few months more he'll be trying solid food. We'll only be doing formula for a year. His wardrobe will only last a few months at a time at first. Someday, Tim and I will have our bedroom to ourselves again. Someday, I'll be able to give away my maternity clothes. Someday, I won't need to keep baby clothes. Our family finally feels finished to me. I also can't picture myself going through another pregnancy. It really does get more difficult as you age. On the other hand, these precious moments with a tiny baby go so fast when you are an older parent. I sometimes wish I had the leisure to enjoy each moment more with each of our kids. The reality is that with four kids, you take what time you can with each one as the moment is upon you. There is not any time for the ideal, so you spend the time you have.

I do picture a difficult few months ahead, especially with the schooling. But thankfully we can be flexible. It will take us a while to learn the next new set of parenting skills we need for new family dynamic. Our lives are still in constant change.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Quick pregnancy update

I had an appointment today. I have another two weeks until the due date. I have made minimal progress since my last visit. I am losing energy quickly. I'm getting annoying clusters of contractions that average 15 minutes apart. I feel like this baby could come anytime... but it doesn't. Sigh......

I have another appointment next Friday.


Friday, October 08, 2010

One third done!

I always enjoy getting to one of my goal points in the school year. It reminds me that we are actually getting somewhere. This past week we finished week 12 out of 36 scheduled for our school year. That means we are a third of the way done. I am pleased with the progress, but the schedule has been hard to maintain lately. I'm expecting a baby by the end of the month and am slowing down considerably.

Since we will be taking time off from school after the baby comes, I don't want to take our usual break just yet. But, I can't keep up the schedule as is, so we are starting to do half days until the baby comes.

So what progress has been made?

The Pillowfight Fairy is covering the following subjects: Bible reading, spelling, Latin, piano, grammar, writing, literature, history (1600-1850), chemistry, mathematics, sewing, drawing, and crafts. Her favorite subjects seem to be Latin, grammar, and chemistry. Latin is liked because it is a different language and she enjoys other cultures. Grammar is a favorite because she enjoys diagramming sentences. With chemistry, she loves science and doing experiments. She least likes reading in any subject, spelling, piano, and mathematics. This is mainly because although she reads very well, she doesn't like assigned reading, and doesn't like repetitive practices. However, she still must do these things to improve and make progress. I have seen improvement in her writing abilities. Mainly that she is writing smoother and quicker. She is progressing steadily in all of her subjects, though from my perspective , her best subject is mathematics. It is a pity she hates it so. She picks up the concepts very quickly, she just hates practicing it over and over. For literature we have completed elementary school level adaptations of The Stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and The Three Musketeers. We are currently reading Gulliver's Travels. I've come to the conclusion that although she has liked parts of all of these books, she gets bored with chapter books that take this long to read. Her least favorite was the Three Musketeers. I think that this was because it has had the most complicated story-line so far. There were so many plot twists and little details that show up at one point then are important later on. She didn't like trying to make sense of it all and simply decided that she doesn't like the French. She also has a weakness in her reading, in that she tends to read what she expects the words to say rather than what they actually say. It can be quite difficult at times to make her slow down and read every word exactly as written. She wants to read quickly, but then simply fills in what she thinks it ought to say. This gets in the way of reading comprehension for obvious reasons. So, I make sure that I am there with her with readings still, instead of letting her read on her own. I probably need to find a way that works for her to improve her comprehension abilities. We have already tried a few methods to prompt her retention of the material, but so far they haven't worked well. I think this is because of her incorrect reading to begin with, rather than in recall or memory which she has demonstrated to be rather good in general. She has made good progress with her sewing project (a patchwork pillow) of which I will include a picture when she has completed it.

The Adrenaline Junkie has been doing much better with her schoolwork this year. She is doing phonics reading practice, spelling, mathematics, Bible story book reading, and piano. Her favorite subjects are reading and spelling. She hates piano practice. The rest of the subjects she considers an interruption to an otherwise fun day. She is reading and sounding out words better this year. She seems to understand the spelling better this year too, although she has always had an interest in it (she has an urge to express herself). Sometimes she picks up on the math quickly such as addition or telling time, and at other times she seems to have a mental block with it. She can pattern match most symbols and shapes very well, but when she comes to numbers and how they are written, she sometimes acts as if she has never seen one before. She confuses which number comes first in a multiple digit number such as confusing 15, 50, and 51. When counting she mispronounces the 30s and 40s so that they sound almost identical and gets lost on the way through her count to the higher numbers. But I'm impressed with how quickly she is picking up addition of numbers like 14 + 3. She seems to be catching on to these faster than her older sister did. I suspect some of her math confusion is related to her lefty-righty issues. Her hatred of piano practice is rooted in her preference to simply play at other things all day. But she gets frustrated by mistakes and being asked to work her brain so hard. Even so, she is making progress. Her greatest weakness right now is her preference for joking around. She has class clown tendencies. She wants to make people laugh and to get them to join her in play. Schoolwork interrupts her preferred activities, therefore it is bad. Her biggest self-motivation right now is her desire to express herself. She wants to talk and write all of the time. In that her lessons help her do this, she likes them. If they require her to be quiet or to absorb information, she doesn't like them.

The Happy Boy mainly plays. He will sometimes join in his sister's phonics lesson. He likes to draw and play with playdough. He can spend several hours clipping tiny pieces of paper with scissors to make "treasure" for his miniature treasure box. He loves being read to. He likes to play simple games. He keeps asking for someone to give him piano practice too (The Adrenaline Junkie sometimes helps him out here). He has an obsession with letters and numbers. He loves to run and jump. For now, all of this is appropriate for a three-year-old boy. I try to be flexible when he wants to join in with the girls' schoolwork.

Some things that please me are when I see all three kids being able to play with each other. They all like to role play (love of acting from their Daddy's side of the family). They take turns saying lines of their favorite stories for entertainment. They like telling jokes (even if they are only knock knock jokes that don't make any sense because they just made them up). They all like to sing (they all prefer to be soloists, too). None of them are plagued by shyness like I was as a kid. I like to see them starting to help each other as they should when one of the others gets hurt. I like it when I see the willingness of the older kids help the youngest when he wants a crafted toy like theirs, or wants to play some of their games.

Some of the things that need improvement are attitudes about work, using good manners, learning self-control, and following instructions. I realize that all kids probably struggle with these same issues, but sometimes I wonder if our kids just have a little tougher time with some of these (whether by personal inclination or because of the way we've raised them thus far). I am trying to rectifying some of this by making manners more a part of how they are to behave every day here at home, making them have more work assignments that are their responsibility (instead of Mommy being their servant), and insisting on consequences for them not controlling their behavior or following instructions. It has been particularly hard for me to be consistent about this lately when I'm so tired. But I try.

Since I'm right there with the kids as they do their schoolwork, I am in a good position to see if they are understanding their lessons. Still I find it a better measure to see what is getting through to them, when I see them practicing, or reciting, or describing, or creating something that uses their new knowledge. Mostly, that is done in their off-time, when they are just playing.
Because of this "playing of their schooling", I sometimes wonder if I'm giving them enough off-time to help them use what they learn. Well, with us shifting to half days for a while, that may help out that area a little.

That is the end of my little homeschool report on our progress. I've taken more pictures that I will probably share soon that illustrate our adventures with pumpkins lately. For now, I'm tired and need my rest.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Pregnancy news

I promised another post after my doctor's appointment, so here it is.

As of this Thursday, I am eight months pregnant. I am slightly on the big side of that. The doctor said that my abdomen measures at about 37 weeks instead of 35. The doctor doesn't think we will be having a small baby, but he's not huge yet. We have a month yet, if the baby comes on time. A baby can gain another couple of pounds still.

The baby has turned head downward, which is of course a good thing. Especially because the baby was transverse when they last checked. The baby has not yet "dropped," as they say. I have been feeling stronger contractions from time to time, but they are still widely spaced and not a concern. Although the doctor told me I was 1 centimeter dilated and 25% effaced, I take that with a grain of salt. In earlier pregnancies, I have had widely varying measurements from different practitioners this early on, so until I feel the contractions at 5 minutes apart I don't get very concerned.

I'm still in good health, but am much more uncomfortable. My out-of-whack posture is causing sciatic nerve problems. The advice for treating this is ice packs on the lower back and walking around (avoid sitting much if possible). I also had a rambunctious little three-year-old Happy Boy bounce onto my foot Friday night (while I was propping up my feet), which had the effect of breaking my right pinky toe. The advice for treating this is ice packs on the injury, staying off my feet and propping up the foot as much as I can (avoid walking as much as possible). Now, I'm sure you can see just as well as I can, that there is a bit of conflict in what I need to do to treat these problems. I do the best I can. I have to walk around to take care of the kids anyway, so that is exercise for the nerve problem. I use an ice pack on my lower back when I can barely walk anymore from pain. When I don't need to walk I sit to get off my foot, or lay down for a nap. I can't reach my foot to do ice packs there so, there you have it. Tim tells me I'm a trooper.

I am looking forward to my parents' arrival to help out in the near future. However that is still about two weeks away. In the meantime, I'm still managing to do the basic housework, getting the kids to do their schoolwork, and trying to remember that if something is on the floor, the kids can pick it up. Naps are getting to be a necessity again.

Coming up soon, we will be off to our local flu shot clinic this weekend. The kids (and Tim) hate that I insist upon this every year. Although we homeschool, we are not isolated. We get everything that's going around. Having some protection from the worst of it is helpful. Also, if I get the flu shot before the baby is born, he'll have some protection. Babies aren't allowed to have the shot until they are 6 months old. So, anyone who spends time around tiny babies, should have the shot if they can to help protect the little ones (thinking of our brand new baby niece here).

As mentioned in my last post, we need to find time to shop for a sofa, too.

Then we need to plan a birthday party for the Pillowfight Fairy who is approaching age 8 at rapid speed. She is a little worried that the baby might be born on her birthday, and she doesn't want to share her day. I am just trying to figure out how to schedule a party with contigency plans if I need to make a trip to the hospital.

One good thing that has fallen into place in the schedule is that our neighborhood clean-up is going to be early next week. We will be able to set out all of the carpet and other flooring debris from our remodeling projects and the clean-up crews will take it away for us. Just in time for us to clear off the RV pad for my parents arrival. I hope all of the other appointments and needed things will fall into place just as nicely.

We are only three days off our homeschool schedule (courtesy of sick kids a couple of weeks ago), but we should be able to make that up by delaying our next break a little while. We'll be taking a few weeks off when the baby comes anyway. So, that will kind of reset for us what "on schedule" means for us this year. We will probably be finishing the school year at the end of May rather than the end of April. I can live with that.

I think that gets me up to date on most of our news. We are nearly one third of the way through the school year. So my next post will probably be reflecting on how that is going.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Update with Pictures

We've been pretty busy lately. So I've been having trouble picking what to post for you next. I'll start with the beginnings of our autumn colors. It has been cooling slightly and we are starting to feel autumn coming around the corner.

Our pomegranates are ripening. I don't know how much jelly we will make this year since our crop is much smaller than in the past.

Our garden is almost done for the season. We have potted our pepper plants, the pumkins are ready (a month earlier than we intended), we have one lonely canteloupe ripening up and a couple of overgrown tomato plants at the end of their productive season.

Here is another picture of that nice big pumpkin in the garden. I haven't measured it, but it is between 18 inches to 2 feet tall. We also have a slightly smaller orange pumpkin and a much smaller white pumpkin.

With the pumpkins ready a month before Halloween, plus the fact that the baby is due about that time. We will probably be cutting these lovely things up for cooking. We got ourselves a real pressure canner to handle canning vegetables. So we plan on trying it out by preserving our pumpkins for later use. The kids love pumpkin muffins and we will be able to make a lot of muffins with these.

Now we haven't just been gardening. After we replaced our livingroom/diningroom floor recently, we were planning to make changes to our kitchen floor next. You see the poor floor has looked nasty since we bought the house, it was discoloring, and we were tired of it. This is one of the few pictures we have taken that shows the old floor.

You can't see much of the floor. It was linoleum that had a white/cream tile print on it. It had at least a couple of deep cuts in it that went all the way down to the cement slab. It had scorch marks on it of all things. It was slowly discoloring to a grayish color and had been for a few years. About a month ago, while we were canning salsa, we were running our dishwasher more frequently than usual to clean canning jars. We noticed that when we did this we had water seeping up from the cuts in our floor. This should not happen. After checking for leaks under the sink (nope) we tried living with out the dishwasher for a few days (everything dried out), then ran the dishwasher (wet again). Yep... we had a dishwasher leak that was seeping under the flooring. Apparently the flooring only went a few inches past the front of the dishwasher then the machine was sitting on the bare concrete slab. When the leak happened, it was dripping on the concrete and seeping under the flooring. This must have been an ongoing leak for some time because I have been noticing the growing grey discoloration for at least a couple of years now. We were growing mold under our floor.

With our intentions of changing out the floor soon already firmly set in our minds, plus the added incentive of a leaking dishwasher, we decided that this was one change that was not going to wait until after the baby was born. So last weekend, Tim and a friend from work moved the appliances so we could do the replacement. We touched up the cabinet paint while we were at it. We also bought a new dishwasher. So our kitchen is back together, it is fully functional again, and the floor looks good for a change. It is relatively inexpensive vinyl sheet, but that is perfect for a kitchen. What do you think?

We are still eyeing the remaining floors. Perhaps we can finish up the floors in the family room and our tile entryway sometime this spring. We will progress as we can afford it. In the meantime some springs in our most heavily used sofa just gave out last night. We will be in the market for a sofa next.

That's probably enough for now. I'll do another post soon giving an update on the pregnancy. I have an appointment on Monday.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Right brain, Left brain

All is well. I have approximately 7 more weeks before the next baby arrives. We are on schedule with the schooling. And if I want a working dishwasher in the near future we will be doing some much needed work in the kitchen in the immediate future. So the battle between order and chaos continues.

In the meantime, Tim and I are still trying to think ahead to the next step in homeschooling, so that it doesn't sneak up on us and take us unprepared. Two things we have been considering are first, what kind of physical activity do we need to get our kids into so that they don't turn into blobs, and second, what kind of art do we need to teach. As a result we are keeping our eyes open and asking for advice from those we know. Tim's brother suggested some art books to help with teaching drawing. They are "Rapid Viz" by Hanks & Belliston, and "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards. We've taken a look at them and think that these books will be helpful, but to do it right, we will need to learn the techniques ourselves to be effective teachers of them. So we are starting now (particularly Tim) in working through the lessons and exercises so that next year we will be better able to teach them.

Each book has a different slant. Rapid Viz teaches methods to take ideas and to quickly get them on paper using perspective and other technical skills. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is about teaching a person to better control which part of the brain is doing the artwork. It talks a great deal about what the left brain does and is good at, and what the right brain does and is good at. Reading through this information has helped to explain some things going on with us and our kids that we thought puzzling. It turns out understanding left and right brain function can be helpful in education.

OK, that's not really a huge surprise. But, until you actually learn what the left and right brain functions are you miss a really big piece of the puzzle. For instance, I knew that my two daughters seem to operate and think completely differently. I chalked this up to personality and individualism. But, now I see a left brain, right brain element at work that I had not realized before. And although I see it as useless alter a person's personality to educated them, I can evaluate whether they are operating more left brain or more right brain and tailor instruction to meet them where they are. Personalities are tricky and complicated. brain function is quantifiable and much easier to adapt to.

So what have we learned about left brain and right brain you might ask? Well, many of these things we knew in some fashion. Left brain is where language use takes place. Left brain is where logical methods of thinking take place. Left brain thinking is orderly. Right brain is more comfortable with symbolic understanding, intuition, and chaotic thinking processes. What I didn't realize so much is that the left brain likes to be the boss of the two and tries to take over even when the right brain is better able to handle the task at hand. Also, some people have a more shared way they use their left and right brains. The more we read the more we realized that although I am very left brained (no surprise there), Tim actually is one of those people that has a left-right sharing going on in the brain.

Then that got us thinking about our kids. Are they lefties, righties, or shared as far as brain function goes? The Pillowfight Fairy shows strong signs of being a left brained kid, a bit like her Mom (puzzling since she's so much like her Dad). The Adrenaline Junkie shows strong signs of being either right brained or shared like her Dad (even though she's much like her Mom in other ways). We are not sure about the Happy Boy yet. It is easier to tell when they are older. It helps if they read and write some, as well as some other older kid things, to be able to diagnose how their brains are functioning.

So now we understand better why our oldest kid does so well with language, prefers routine, and gets upset when she is asked to try something different or learn something new. Now we understand better why our second kid has more trouble recognizing patterns, can't stand to write a letter of the alphabet the same way twice, gets more confused about her left and right, and likes to move about and experience her learning, rather than hearing, or reading it. So now that we know where their strengths lie, it is tempting to just keep to those strengths. However, we need to help them overcome weaknesses too. If we just right them off as left brained or right brained, without helping them to compensate for their weak areas, we are not doing them favors. So a left brained kid can learn easily in left brained ways. But we will also have to do things to teach her how to access her right brain for some useful skills in life. A right brained kid can be very creative and intuitive, but will encounter lots of bumps and road blocks in life if she can't learn to maneuver in a world set up for left brained people.

We are already helping the left brain side of learning with our emphasis on rigorous academics in language arts, mathematics, science, history, and religion. I like to think that we are also already helping some development for the right side of the brain with teaching music and art. But even so, you can teach mathematics in left brained ways (pattern matching, counting, logic) or right brained ways (spatial perception, symbolic representation, role playing). You can teach music and art in left brained ways as well (scales, notation, perspective). So is it better to teach these subjects only to the student's strengths, avoid the strengths and work on the weaker area, or a little of both? I am currently of the opinion that you start with strengths when you can, but don't completely leave out areas where they function in a weaker mode. We may start to teach drawing from a more left brained method for a left brained kid (like perspective) and then later teach some right brained methods after progress and success has been gained the other way. We may teach dance and music appreciation to a right brained kid first, and then move on to mechanics of dance and musicals instruments to round out their learning.

It has definitely got us thinking about how we do our teaching. It also explains a lot of things that just seemed strange. Like how our Adrenaline Junkie who has trouble remembering which hand to use in playing the piano will suddenly break down and weep at the piano, not because of the mechanics of playing the piano, but because the song is so sad (in a minor key). She has a feel for the music that her older sister, who masters the mechanics more easily, misses.

Friday, August 20, 2010

One thing I like about starting school early...

We typically start our school year in July. This works for us for several reasons:
  • We are inside doing schoolwork during the hottest time of the year.
  • Our kids change to new grades at church in July, so if we change at the same time, there is less confusion about what grade level they are in.
  • We take more breaks throughout the year and stretch our school year out a little, so starting early allows us to end in the spring instead of summer.
  • When everyone else is experiencing back to school season, we are already one sixth done with our school year and are taking our first break.

Currently we are in our first week-long break from school after successfully completing six weeks of school. I like to review how things are going every time we take a break.

So far, it looks like I planned the Fairy's 3rd grade year well. It is slightly more relaxed and better organized than last year. She is covering more subjects, but never more than eight per day. I am also trying not to over plan the art projects. We are concentrating on sewing skills this year, allowing her to work on drawing, crafts, and educational coloring books on the side as her interests take her. I have also decided that this is a good year to increase some household chores for my two oldest. After every school break they will get an additional household chore to do until they are doing one job every day by the end of the school year. I think they are old enough to learn to sweep, dust, clear the table, wash dishes, and clean in the bathroom. So by the end of the year, I will have some semi-competent help with keeping the house cleaner than it usually is. Frankly, I've been so busy with other things, I haven't been keeping it as clean as I like. It is time for that to change. My kids need to learn that their mother and father are not the maid and janitor and that keeping the house clean is a job they need to do too. I do not intend to raise my kids to be well educated, but be unable to function on their own.

The Adrenaline Junkie could probably handle a bigger school load, but she is doing well with what she has. She has a very short attention span still. But she is a year older than her sister was in Kindergarten and is doing more as well. I have been keeping her work to short blocks, and that has been working well. She is also more social and needs playtime with her little brother (that helps him as well).

The Happy Boy has his good days and bad days. It helps that he can play with playdough or draw on his own. Then he has playtime with whichever sister is available. He sometimes listens in to the Kindergarten phonics lesson, since sounding out words is interesting to him now. He understands more than I realize. I get clues about this every now and then. The other day he was drawing on a tablet on my lap and spelled the word "monday" all on his own. That surprised me.

That is where we are right now.

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Simple Comment and Where It Leads...

I didn't expect to have anything interesting to blog so soon. But these things often come up when you least expect them. Last Sunday night, I was visiting with a new acquaintance at the church playground while watching kids play. It turns out that their family also homeschools. So the topic turned to what methods do you use and are you with a group, etc. In the course of the conversation she made a little commonplace comment that I've heard often enough before. It was a comment that seems completely ordinary, but the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. The comment was that she didn't feel comfortable teaching her own kids after they reach 7th grade level work, so she sends her older kids to a charter school/homeschool arrangement where they are at school two days a week and then do independent study at home the rest of the week.

Now, please don't mistake my concern with this. I am not a purist that thinks my way is the only way. I have no problem with charter schools or independent study programs. I think that parents should be in charge of their own kids education whatever path they need to follow. The part of the comment that bothered me was not regarding method of schooling. The part that bothered me was about a person's comfort level in teaching their kids past a certain level.

Now, I understand that not all people feel like they can teach. By all means, if you don't think you can teach, don't teach. Though, I sometimes wonder if that is sometimes used as a cop-out so people can do as they please instead of sometimes making the occasional sacrifice to do what is best for their family. Personally, I don't feel that I am tempermentally suited to teach in a classroom situation where I would be teaching other people's kids. I am perfectly fine with teaching my own kids one-on-one. I have friends who are public school teachers who are just the reverse... they'll teach a passel of other people's kids without batting an eye, but can't imagine teaching their own kids. There are plenty of valid reasons to not teach. I'm O.K. with that.

What I keep coming back to in this comment that bugs me is, if you can teach up to a certain point, what prevents a person from teaching past that point. I didn't get into a deeper discussion with this acquaintance on the topic, because I thought that might be a little bit too much for a new acquaintance. What I started thinking about was what makes a person qualified to teach.

Knowledge about particular teaching methods may equip a person to teach better than if they were ignorant of those methods, but methods don't make a teacher. To my mind, understanding of the subject matter is a key element to being able to teach it. Though there are times when prior knowledge isn't necessary if the teacher is learning along with the student. Perhaps the student is outstripping the teacher's abilities. That would be cause for a different teacher indeed. But let us say we are not talking about extraordinary abilities. When a teacher gives up teaching at 7th, 8th, or 9th grade, there are probably lots of reasons for it.

But to my mind, in my usual way of thinking, anyone who has mastered a subject themselves should be capable of teaching it. So I keep thinking back to the comment and wonder about the teacher's mastery of the subject matter. With what little was said, I got the feeling in the conversation that the mother felt that her writing and composition skills would not be able to keep up with what her kids needed. Instead she is finding a way to keep the best of both worlds so to speak by using additional teachers to fill in the gaps while still keeping a workable homeschooling situation for her family. That is commendable. I don't want to imply with what I say that I am tearing anyone down. But, the comment about not feeling competent to teach what you yourself should have learned in school, should really prompt some self-reflection. If I cannot teach someone what I learned in school, did I really learn it or did I just punch my time card and manage a passing grade on a report card that didn't really mean anything? If I cannot teach someone what I learned in school, am I functionally below that level in education myself? If I cannot teach someone what I learned in school because I forgot it from lack of use, is it necessary for my child to learn and necessary for me to relearn? If I cannot teach someone because I never learned it myself, is it a good thing for them to learn or am I trying to give them something I never had (whether good or bad)?

Now comes the follow-up questions to all of that self-reflection. If I had what is considered a basic education (whether public or private), and am not qualified to teach those same subjects to someone else, does that mean that my education failed to reach the mastery stage and therefore failed. How many people who are educated in these "normal" methods of education (most of us were not homeschooled after all) are not well enough educated to be able to teach what they were taught? If a large percentage of people have this problem, what does that say for the education they received? What does this say about the educational systems used in our society?

I would love to tell you right now that I have all of the answers to the above questions. I don't. I do think these are some of the questions we parents should wrestle with as we figure out what is best for our families. I think I know some of the answers for me. I will share with you some of the answers as they apply to my teaching.

I had an excellent public school education. Two of the four colleges I attended were public and two were private. They were all good schools and I had many good teachers. I have studied four widely diverse subject areas at the college level. I should be well equipped for teaching others what I have learned myself. For the most part I am. Yet, I too have strong areas and weak areas. I remember upon receiving my bachelor's degree, thinking to myself, "why didn't I learn all of this in high school?" I felt a little let down that my good education wasn't better. Those of you who follow my blog may have seen my tendency to think deeply from time to time, but I do not claim to be a great writer. I have a masters degree in information science. I am a proficient researcher by training. I relate well to college level studies. I like the give and take of a deep and challenging conversation. I find the basic steps of early education kind of boring, but I understand the necessity of them. So I work hard at helping my kids understand them. I am actually looking forward to the time when I can teach logic and deeper topics about our world. I look forward to guiding a teen through their own studies and deep life questions. Will I come across things I simply cannot teach? Yep. My seven year old is already beyond my musical abilities with the piano. I never learned to play the piano. I played violin for just over two years. I picked up most of my basic music reading ability during that time, which isn't much. When she passes up my husband, we will need to find her another teacher for piano or whatever other instrument she chooses to learn. I am an active person and I like to walk, but I am not a good swimmer. Our kids will get swim lessons from someone else since we see that as a matter of personal safety as well as a good skill to know. I learned French in school and never completely felt like I could speak it. I struggle learning languages. This year we are beginning to teach our oldest daughter Latin. I am learning it with her and my knowledge of French helps me a little. At some point, I expect she will surpass my abilities, since she seems more gifted with languages than I am. We will still teach her, but probably through independent study style lessons where she is learning from someone else, instead of being directly taught by her parents. It is completely possible that with her love of language she will surpass my English abilities. My husband has better skills there than I do, but she may end up needing another teacher for that. We seem to have very independent minded kids and they may all go in directions we never imagined or had any training in whatsoever. That's O.K. We are equipped to handle the basics. And we know how to find appropriate training for the other stuff.

As for the broader implications of people not being able to teach someone else, it worries me. I remember back when I was working at a Christian College library, I got a phone call one day from a man who was very concerned. He worked at a church where they had just received their new quarter curriculum for their children's classes. They were scheduled to start using it the following Sunday, but nobody he talked to at his church knew much about the publisher of this curriculum and he wanted to talk to someone who was familiar with it so they could tell him whether it was O.K to use, in other words, was it doctrinally sound? I truly wished I could have helped him out, but I couldn't. I wasn't a specialist in Sunday school curriculum and the person who might have helped him was unavailable at the time. After talking with him I realized that if he didn't understand his own faith well enough to read a child's Bible lesson and analyze it for accuracy, then he had a much bigger problem than "should we use this curriculum?". He didn't know what he believed. People who don't have a good understanding of what they should know, don't know how to operate at the level that society says they are qualified to operate at. It is easier to be scammed when you don't understand things like finances, advertising, religion, and politics. When people are not able to think logically and critically in many areas of life, they run into trouble. When this is a widespread problem, society runs into trouble.

For myself, If I find an area that is important for me to improve (whether for training my children, or for my own needs), I would wish to make changes and improve. I would not relinquish my ability or right to teach my own children lightly. So, to finish up... I would like you to consider your own answers to those self-reflecting questions and consider what is going on in our society when people consider themselves or others as unfit teachers.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Picture Post...Finally!

I intended to get this post up a little earlier, but life sort of got in the way for awhile. I needed to recharge the camera battery for the longest time. So here are a few pictures to show you what we've been doing lately. First, a picture of Tim and the kids taken in our backyard one evening. It is noteworthy mainly because it is a halfway decent picture of four of us simultaneously.

Next comes further evidence that our backyard is keeping us busy. Here is a picture of the vegetable garden currently providing tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cabbage, and perhaps in a couple of months cucumbers, cantaloupe, and pumpkins.

Here is a picture of our grapes (up close) with not yet ripe golden plums in the background.

We just finished up a harvest of nectarines. This is what the tree looked like after harvesting several dozen.

I finished dehydrating the last ones this past week. We will have nectarine chips for several months. Lots of plums too. The Santa Rosa Plums finished up just as the nectarines came ripe. I think that peaches will be ready next, but I have a bit of a breather before then.

For the last month, we have had regular visits from some wild guests. These fowl seem to like our yard. They hang out in our front or backyard for several hours every few days. We seem to have some tasty bugs and we let them eat what blueberries are left at this point. In this picture you just see the mom and one chick. There are three chicks altogether. They have gotten more feathers in and are now about two thirds their mom's size. The mom stands about three feet tall when standing sentry.

I mentioned in previous posts, that I was quilting up a storm to make a baby quilt for my brother and sister-in-law who will soon be having a baby. I managed to get it ready for the baby shower with one day to spare. Tim did the design work and I did the construction. We are pleased with how it turned out.

Here is another view:

I also include for your enjoyment pictures of the fancy dresses that I made last year. I promised pictures of them so long that the girls have outgrown them and I didn't get pictures of them wearing them.

That's the Pillowfight Fairy's choice of colors. She fell in love with the lemon yellow golden color and the overskirt and shawl are sheer with glittery sparkles.

The Adrenaline Junkie just likes pretty stuff and didn't care to choose her own fabric so I got to pick out the fabrics unhindered. That's a flowered satin with golden overskirt. They looked very lovely in them, but The Fairy started to get annoyed how often people called her "Belle" in her dress. They were thoroughly overdressed for everything except perhaps the ballet.

Next for your enjoyment are a couple of pictures giving a before and after view of our livingroom. This past weekend, we went nuts, enduring more chaos than normal, and changed out a floor. Here is a before picture from last year (the people are fun, but notice the carpet):

Now for the after picture (once again, I like my husband, but notice the laminate on the floor):

We love having the new floor. We like it so much we are planning what will be next, since we don't really like any of the flooring in this house and never have. So when time and resources are available, we will be making more new changes.

So, with all of the gardening, sewing, remodeling, and oh yeah I'm six months pregnant and four weeks into the new school year, I hope you don't begrudge me the time to rest a little and not take the time to blog. I've been really tired.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Rather busy lately

Hi everyone. Just a quick note to let you know what I've been up to and why I haven't posted more.

  1. I finally finished getting everything ready for our new school year which starts this Monday. And no the kids don't want to hear about it.
  2. I've been madly working on a baby quilt with the hopes I'll have it ready in time for my sister-in-law's baby shower. (I plan to post pictures afterward, since the actual subject of the quilt is to be a surprise.)
  3. My seven year old had a week at church day camp which completely messes with our normal schedule.
  4. Currently my five year old is having swim lessons which completely messes with our normal schedule.
  5. Our backyard orchard fruit season is just starting with plums that need to be picked every couple of days (I've been drying them this time).
My latest library homeschool/teaching book review is short. It is titled "Homeschooling Step-by-Step" by LauraMarey Gold & Joan M. Zielinski. It was published in 2002 so its not too far out of date. It is a great place to start if someone has questions about homeschooling, whether they are wanting to homeschool or if they are curious because someone they know is doing it and would like to understand the movement better. It covers how one starts homeschooling, dealing with legal issues, how to teach, educational philosophies, curriculum, parent/teacher confidence as a first timer, learning environment, balance, challenges, support, and graduation. I can't say that I learned a lot, although I appreciated some parts of the educational philosophy section that explained Waldorf method and Montessori method which I have heard about but never had explanations for. I see the book as a one stop shop for information. By reading it, you get a better idea what you want to look at further. It is potentially very useful if you are needing lots of general information. It is also helpful at pointing the way to more information on each subject. I found it an easy and interesting read (particularly since I'm already homeschooling).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Latest Pregnancy News

Since I had a doctor appointment on Tuesday and an ultrasound on Thursday, I should probably give an update on how the pregnancy is going.

I'm at the half-way point, twenty weeks, and all seems to be going well. My doctor says that the baby's growth seems to be on track, and he agrees that I've been more reasonable with my weight gain this time. My second trimester blood test has come back testing negative for problems.

The ultrasound results won't be ready until Monday, but we are fairly experienced with ultrasounds by now. We know that the technician isn't allowed to tell us how the baby looks to them, but we can ask questions like, "are we looking at the stomach?," "Is that the division in the brain?," and "Are we looking at the left side or right side?" According to our own view of the ultrasound, the baby's body parts seem to be in the correct number and positions. The brain is divided and formed properly, the heart is on the left side, and there are two kidneys. We did not see any sign of the problems that baby E had. If I don't hear any results on Monday, I'll email my doctor to get an official report from him (since I'm not scheduled to have another appointment until July).

My doctor was a little peeved that I didn't have an appointment with him until 20 weeks. I had been scheduled with nurse practitioners (and not my usual one at that) since they were having trouble scheduling me. I've had this doctor long enough through enough pregnancies and memorable events that he knows me by name and face. He told me not to let that happen again, if I'm having trouble with appointments, I'm to email him and they will work it out. He's been a good doctor. That's all of the pregnancy news.

Now for my homeschool update:

The book I picked up this past week wasn't as useful, but I was distracted at the library with a misbehaving three-year-old. I picked up "Making the Grade: Everything Your 3rd Grader Needs to Know." I thought it was one of those guides that covers what subjects are usually covered in third grade. It is not. It is a set of supplemental lessons to be used to reinforce the traditional curriculum (though it doesn't spend much time covering what that curriculum includes). I thought that the most useful part of it was the introductory material. It has a section describing how the book should be used, a note for homeschoolers, a section talking about ideal communication between home and school, and finally a section describing what a third grader is like. Perhaps if a parent was not happy with their child's current schooling, a book like this might be helpful to supplement the regular school day. If a homeschooler is trying to scrounge up more lessons to teach their kids, this might be helpful. However, we are pleased with the lessons we already have planned and don't see this type of supplementary lessons as a helpful thing. I did find the section describing a typical third grader to be helpful. I haven't come across descriptions like this for my kids since they were preschoolers. I had noticed various ways my oldest was growing and changing, but I had no idea how typical some of this was. Now I know that she's actually acting normal (for her). Who knew! I'll try to find a better book next time.

Combining pregnancy and homeschooling, my husband tells me that I'm already nesting. That's because we discovered that our baby is a boy and now I can sort through all our baby things to give away the girl stuff. I'm also getting the "Boys" room reorganized to house two kids and revamping the "Girls" room to have room for desks. Four and a half months early is only early if you don't realize that we will be starting our new school year in only three more weeks. Once school is in session for us, I will not have nearly this much time to organize and move furniture. I will be doing third grade for the Pillowfight Fairy, kindergarten for the Adrenaline Junkie, and keeping track of a preschool Happy Boy who will soon not be taking afternoon naps. Desks for the girls are so they can have a quiet place to write, color and do lessons when they need the quiet. We are going to have four kids ages eight and younger, quiet places are getting harder to find.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What does a teacher do during summer vacation?

Teachers take a much needed break. I am doing that. But I'm also doing something else that teachers do on their break. I'm doing a little professional development (so to speak) by checking out books on education from my local library and reading. The idea hit me as I was at the library with the kids. I was letting each of them check out two books, why couldn't I? There happened to be a shelf in the kids section dedicated to parents and educators, so I looked through it. I checked out a two inch thick tome titled, The Educated Child: A Parent's Guide from Preschool through Eighth Grade, by William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn, Jr., and John T.E. Cribb, Jr. Despite the daunting size, it was actually an easy read and I finished it in just a few days. So here is my book report:

Their audience is intended to be very broad. Any parent of school age children or educators of children in any setting are encouraged to read it and use it as a resource as necessary. It tries to address what makes a good education for kids in those age levels. How to recognize the signs that your school choice is either achieving or not achieving this and what you can do to improve any problems found. It discusses what is an appropriate core curriculum for children in these age levels in the subjects of English, History and Geography, Art and Music, Mathematics, and Science. It discusses how parental involvement helps a child succeed in school and how specifically to do this. It discusses how to provide a good education to both special needs and specially gifted children. It addresses common school problems and what to do if your school or child is dealing with these. It makes a case for the need for character education, health education, and extracurricular activities in addition to academics. It also includes a very useful chapter describing a variety of issues currently debated in education such as : Education standards, skills vs. knowledge, multiculturalism, discovery learning, multiple intelligences, self-esteem, cooperative learning, public vs. private schools, charter schools, home schooling, religion and schools, social promotion, tracking, uniforms, year-round schooling, bilingual education, teachers unions, and more. The final chapter addresses the issue of becoming involved in education reform. This is not talking about theoretical reform but the nuts and bolts of bringing about change from the local level to the national level.

So after reading this I should ask the question of "what did I get out of it?" The book talks a great deal about the public school situation so does it have anything to say to a homeschool mom? The answer is yes. I related well to their repeated emphasis that the parent must be involved in their child's schooling and the person responsible for seeing to it that their child gets a good education no matter what choice of school they decide on. I found the discussion of core curriculum helpful to me so that I can gauge whether we are making good curriculum choices for our kids. I found the section about parents helping their child succeed to be very good practical advice for any parent and several areas gave me food for thought. One was teaching good study habits. A weakness we have doing school at home is that it is difficult to provide a quiet area for study when some kids are in school and some are not. I will need to find some better solutions for this problem. The Pillowfight Fairy already complains about the distractions bothering her and I know the Adrenaline Junkie is even more susceptible to the problem. So I have some brainstorming to do on this one. They talked a bit about testing, reasons for and against it, how to develop test taking skills, and how to do authentic assessment. I'm not big on doing a lot of testing. I am wary of teaching to the test instead of making sure real lasting learning is taking place. However testing is useful in some ways. We already do spelling tests and math tests on a regular basis. I verbally quiz her on her readings to see what she is getting from them. But, I have been reluctant to do any official, comprehensive tests, partly because they are not required in our state, and partly because I don't want to pigeon-hole my kids into a category and instead think in terms of individual skills and knowledge rather than grades. However, at some point we will probably do more testing, so I need to consider how to train in test studying and test taking. They also presented the idea of the IEP (individualized education program) that is used in special education programs and bemoaned that it isn't available for all kids. This is the idea that every child's progress is reviewed at least once a year and a new plan put in place for how to give that child the best chance at a good education. I love this. This is what many homeschoolers already do when they are tailoring the education to each child. Perhaps we don't all do it in a formal fashion, but it encourages me to continue to make my plan every year and review how we are progressing frequently (I need to review more frequently than I do). I was reassured in the school problems section that we are so far avoiding the problems that they mentioned. In the area on non-academics, I was challenged that I don't have a plan in place for teaching character, physical education and other extra-curricular subjects. It's not that we don't do this. We are simply doing it haphazardly. Having a more specific plan with clear goals would be a good thing. I liked the section explaining the various educational issues out there. I already have my personal gut reaction to each debate, but it was helpful to get more background on it and a better understanding of why the opposite side holds the view it does. It didn't change my mind about anything, but it helped me clarify my position on each debate.

All in all, it was a helpful book and I'm glad I read it. If anything it encouraged me that our choice to homeschool is going to give our kids a good education. Not because homeschooling is inherently better, but because of the seriousness and effort with which we approach our task. So I'm ready for another book to read, but have no idea what it will be. The shelf I had look at wasn't very big. I may have to check their online catalog and ask them to hold one for me that I find more interesting (leisurely browsing doesn't happen with three kids seven and younger at the library).

Friday, May 14, 2010

End of school! Yea!

The Pillowfight Fairy is quite pleased to know that we finished her second grade year today. She has some very unrealistic ideas about doing whatever she pleases for the foreseeable future. What she doesn't realize is that her Mommy is at least as excited as she is. No more prep. work. No more being the bad guy by making her get back to her studies. It is a well deserved break.

Unfortunately, I tend to look ahead and know that the break isn't really all that long. A mere month and a half. But, I have nearly completed next year's lesson plans for both girls, so I can spend that free time doing other things. I think my general priorities are getting financial information in order again (it's amazing how fast I get behind on that when my attention is elsewhere), cleaning, organizing, discarding, and one craft project promised to be done in August. All that cleaning, organizing, and discarding is my normal personality but it tends to go into overdrive when I'm pregnant. You could say that I have a perpetual nesting instinct.

So, now that school is over again, I can look back on the year with satisfaction. The day to day schoolwork didn't always go smoothly, but it went anyway and with fewer bumps than in the previous year. I think that I am getting better at the teaching side of things. I also think that the Fairy is appreciating her schoolwork more (even though she still complains). I will probably be spending a fair amount of my free thinking time to mull over the best ways to work with the Adrenaline Junkie. I need to cover the same material as I did with her sister, but now I need to present it differently to a very different girl. I have noticed signs that the Junkie is making a mental transition that comes between preschool and grade school. That gives me hope that she'll be a little bit more able to learn academic subjects. The trick will be how to incorporate ideas that she relates to in order to retain her attention.

I also don't know how far along the Happy Boy will be in the next year. He will still be a preschooler of course. But, he is beginning to be able to draw semi-recognizable things and likes to have people write words for him. I suspect that I will be encouraging him to do lots of drawing this year. He will probably want to participate when I'm reviewing phonics with the Junkie. I would not be surprised if he ends up being another early reader. He will probably stop having afternoon naps this year too. So, I'll probably need to break out the playdough and paints again (much to everyone's joy).

I don't know if you have noticed, but I talk a lot about what I see or plan for the future. I like to think about it. I think it just helps me prepare myself for the real thing if I can visualize it in my head first. Then I end up writing it in this blog. That gives me a chance to put it outside of myself and look at it from a different angle. Sometimes I'm simply planning what I need to do tomorrow. Sometimes, I'm wondering how the next year's schooling will progress. Other times, I'm trying to glimpse a distant time yet ahead (like when I no longer have to change diapers or potty train). I have learned that my looking ahead can be both good and bad. I have been known to plan something too far in advance and had to redo all of my work to get it right. But, when I plan ahead, I do accomplish so much more than if I didn't.

Besides school, there have been a few other things going on. I've finally been making jelly from last year's pomegranate harvest that has been taking up way too much room in my freezer. I bought myself a new food dehydrator to prepare for this year's fruit harvest. I've been making plans for summer camps, swim lessons and road trips. I've been potty training the Happy Boy for about a month now (with mixed results).

I'm now into my second trimester. My visit to my health provider last week was uneventful. It was mainly checking the heart beat of the baby (in the 140-150 range for those who follow such things) and scheduling my next blood test to look for abnormalities. The blood test I took care of today. I won't have the results back right away. I'll probably have them by my next appointment in June. I will also have my ultrasound in June. We are looking forward to it because we are curious about whether we are having a boy or girl. But, we are also dreading it, because we have already had bad news from ultrasounds twice in previous pregnancies. I am forcing myself to assume the best until told otherwise.

We also took a cat in for surgery today. One of our three cats has had a nasty growth or abscess on her tail for a while. After several vet visits, we finally had to have them remove most of her tail. I'm not sure what the recovery time is on tail amputations, but we'll have to be keeping an extra close eye on her for a while. So far she seems to be doing well, but she is a bit wobbly from the medication she is on.

That's all of my news for now.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Pregnancy update

I saw a nurse practitioner today, so I have a small update on the pregnancy. I'm at 12 weeks so the first trimester is ending. I heard the baby's heartbeat, which is reassuring. In the last month I've been poked with needles several times to determine whether or not I have diabetes. The multiple pokes are a result of failing the one hour glucose test (1st poke), then I had to take the 3 hour fasting glucose test (4 more pokes), and finally a final fasting test minus the glucose (6th poke). I only had one number off on my 3 hour test. My fasting blood sugar seems to run a bit higher than normal. My reasoning is that it was caused because they wanted me to have a half sandwich and milk snack at a time when I would normally be going to bed instead of eating. Of course my level was slightly high. So I tried to counteract the effects of the late snack by taking a brisk walk around the neighborhood the morning of my final test. It worked. Now I only have to get exercise and healthful meals to keep myself as healthy as I appear to be now.

I am happy to say that I've been better about the healthful meals this pregnancy. I have only gained about five or six pounds so far and haven't got out the maternity clothes yet (although I am in a size larger pair of pants). In my former pregnancies I would have gained about 15 pounds by now. I've decided that my body reacts to hunger differently when I'm pregnant. It just skips the "hmm... I'm starting to get a little hungry" phase and jumps straight to "I'm starving." As a result, I would tend to eat much more than usual since I listened to what my body was telling me. This time around I'm wise to the problem. I consciously eat normal portions and then wait a few minutes to give my body time to realize that it's had some food before I start to decide if I should have seconds or dessert. I also have been snacking on protein or veggies instead of sweets and breads (I love my carbs!). As a result my weight gain has been moderate. Though I think about food a lot more. Tim says that he eats better when I'm pregnant.

Unfortunately, I haven't been doing as well on exercise. This has been a very wet, dreary winter and spring keeps turning wet and cold. I haven't gone walking much. Then those times that I put it in the schedule, I have to deal with either three kids competing to be first or pull two of them in a wagon behind me. If the Pillowfight Fairy is walking, she tends to walk at a decent pace and I'm only pulling about 70 pounds of kids in the wagon. If the Adrenaline Junkie is walking, she tends to walk right in front of me and too slowly, talks so much that she isn't paying attention to where she is going and I'm pulling about 80 pounds of kids in the wagon. If the Happy Boy is walking (well... actually running) he has to be watched like a hawk to make sure he stops before crossing streets and stops to wait for us and stops when a neighbor wants to talk and no he may not pick the neighbor's flowers, all the while I'm pulling about 90 pounds of kids in the wagon. Under such circumstances, it is no wonder I haven't been all that enthused about going for walks. As the school year winds down, I am going to make it more of a priority.

In the meantime, we've finally started potty training with the Happy Boy. We know we should have started much earlier with all of our kids, but every time the timing seemed right to do it, I was having another baby and was beat. So all of our kids have been late potty-trainers. With the Happy Boy, we used cloth diapers at first, and he seemed to have the concept of being wet and not liking it. But when he was too big for a changing table, we switched to pull ups and we were lazy, so he learned a bad habit. Now we are trying to change the bad habit and we know it will probably take a long time. I will say it now, to commit myself to an audience who can keep me accountable, that I have no intention of using pull-ups with my next child. I intend to follow a majority cloth diaper regimen straight into potty-training.

Oh yes... our girls have decided that we don't have enough girls in the family and they are lobbying for this new baby to be a girl and keep trying to get us to agree to their favorite girl names. I know that they can count, so I'm considering them just a bit biased on this issue. Though to be fair, the Happy Boy could probably hold his own just fine either way.

So that's our latest news, such as it is.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Observations from a week off from school

We have just finished our final holiday week of the school year. The end of the school year is approaching fast. Typically in these final few weeks of school the actual work tapers off as we end some subjects before others. We have two more weeks of math, three more of grammar, and so on. As some topics drop out, I can lengthen the lessons for the remaining subjects and speed up their completion. So sometime in the next six weeks, formal lessons will be replaced with a more relaxed schedule that is more typical in our holiday weeks.

During the school year we take a week long holiday about every six weeks with a two week break at Christmas. This helps us keep our sanity knowing that a break is not too far distant. For mommy these breaks give me a chance to catch up on long term chores (like clutter management, or toy retirement) or schedule otherwise difficult to fit in shopping trips. For the kids it is a chance to play an extra video game, work on that craft project, read a book for fun, do some coloring book time, and play outside more (weather permitting). Mommy gets to just enjoy some down time, too. After a week break, a return to the usual schedule is refreshing. Much more than a week and the kids start to show signs that they need more schedule "boundaries" to feel comfortable again. I think the week off helps clear my brain too. It helps me have time to reflect on our progress, plans for the future, what works, what needs to improve and just who are these kids of mine.

So here are a few random observations from a week off from school.

  • The Pillowfight Fairy likes piano enough to play it for fun when she doesn't have to.
  • The Fairy and the Adrenaline Junkie like to play games together.
  • The Adrenaline Junkie and the Happy Boy have the same energy levels and a similar interest in running all over the place.
  • The Fairy has made substantial progress in her needlework craft to the point that it is now entirely her own. She can usually thread the needle, she can start her thread and end it properly and she can follow the pattern of stitches to completion. Mommy is only needed if some unforseen disaster occurs.
  • The Junkie reads and spells better than she realizes. She assumes that she can't read things or spell them, but when prompted is pleasantly surprised that she can after all. She just doesn't like going to all that work when there is an easier way (such as ask someone else to do it).
  • The Junkie has no perspective. Specifically she doesn't understand why Mommy can't teach her how to make a video game during her brother's naptime or drop her off at her grandparents' house (2 hour drive) whenever she feels like it. She has grand plans of inviting everyone we've ever met to our house for a party. She suggested we make a child sized wooden train and railroad in our backyard. Then this has to compete for space with the life-size castle she is planning to make out of cardboard. She is very eager to wash dishes and clean house except that she can't reach the sink properly and she doesn't have the patience to do the job as instructed. (I remember my own attempts at dishwashing at her age and do not wish to recreate the mess and the work needed to straighten it out again.)
  • The Fairy and the Happy Boy can actually play together sometimes and enjoy themselves. I've noticed how the two younger kids play well together. But, the oldest kid tended to want to do her own things when not doing school work, or to play with her sister. But this week I actually saw her initiating a game of catch with the Happy Boy that gave them both some fun. It was good to see them get along so well.
  • All three kids are actors. They will all re-enact any favorite scene at a moments notice. They will "quote" videos with each other during lunch (each taking turns saying a particular character's lines). Even the three year old does this.
  • When the Junkie gets an idea into her head it is hard to get her to let go of it. She is tremendously stubborn. She doesn't take no for an answer and she gets in trouble for being overly persistent.
  • The Junkie is normally very unfocused in her manner of living. She flits from one thing to the next on average every five minutes. She forgets what she is doing and makes mistakes because she is distracted or overly playful.
  • The two previous observations seem to be contradictory, but I suspect that they are simply two facets of her personality. As she gets older, I suspect the stubborn persistence will give her drive and focus to do the things that are important to her. The unfocused, distactableness in her personality is a combination of her love of fun and an untrained mind. Fun and humor are often a result of the spontaneous action or word. This can be nutured and encouraged to result is a well-developed sense of humor. However, some of the lack of focus is purely, lack of training or discipline (not discipline defined as punishment, but discipline defined as planned growth toward a goal). I see a great deal of potential in this little bundle of energy and contradictions that are my daughter. She will be a challenge to train. May God give me the wisdom I need for this little girl.
  • The Happy Boy is firmly in his routine is good phase. If the day goes along his normal routine (even if everybody else's routines are off), he is content and cooperative. If his routine is off, he is argumentative, grumpy and quick on the tantrums.
  • The Happy Boy likes to snack. I don't generally allow my kids to have snacks, because it usually ruins their appetites for the regular meals. But if a kid has eaten his/her last meal well and is hungry early, I might allow a snack (growth spurts usually do it). But the Happy Boy seems to be like this all the time. He likes a big breakfast, snacks, and smaller meals the rest of the day. It makes me wonder what the teen years will be like.
Those are pretty random thoughts. But I like to mull them over in stray moments. Eventually, I may come up with educational goals, house rules, or wise precepts based on these disjointed ideas. Like a cook does with a recipe, I like to let my thoughts simmer on the back burner, so to speak, for a long time. From time to time I stir or add a little seasoning. Then I taste to see if it is ready serve yet. Eventually these little morsels add up to something useful and perhaps helpful to someone else.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Doctor's appointment

For my faithful readers (mostly family), I have an update on the pregnancy. It was confirmed at my doctor's appointment today that the baby has a heartbeat and is appropriately sized for 9 weeks. That means that we are looking at a due date very close to the Pillowfight Fairy's birthday. We won't have more substantial news for a while now.

In the meantime we have both our daughters suggesting girl names and telling us that we don't have enough girls in the family. Our son has not given his opinion of all this, probably because he is still under the impression that he is the baby.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Scattered and Miscellaneous Update

So much has been going on lately, I feel like I need to do several posts on different topics to keep from having a horrendously long post updating things. But it is difficult to decide what to start with. I'll start in and see where it takes me. I might be able to do an all-encompassing update after all.

Tim and the Pillowfight Fairy have completed practices and performances of the Mikado. They thoroughly enjoyed it and will probably do more play productions in the future. The Fairy is apparently just as much a ham as her Daddy. Tonight she told us that her favorite actress is herself.

I have managed to get our taxes prepared, but need to sit down with Tim so he can check my work. That's been hard to manage. Partly because, after all, who really wants to do taxes? But we also seem to be taking turns being absolutely beat soon after the kids go to bed.

We are very close to the end of the school year. About seven weeks left to do. As a result, I have a pretty good idea what the Fairy needs to do for next year. There is a part of me that relishes the planning stage of a new school year. But, It is a lot of work the way I plan it. I do a complete year lesson plan in detail down to what lessons on what day. I've bought curricula for spelling, grammar, writing, history, math, and latin (that's right... latin). I've gone through and planned out the flow of the lessons and what pages will be on what days. In addition, I have some lessons I plan on my own (literature, religion, art, and science), which takes a good deal of time to plan. Then Tim plans out the music lessons. Seeing as we typically start our school year in early July and spread it out over 10 months (breaks every six weeks), I like to start my planning in the spring to have time to get ready for the new school year. I really like how the new year is shaping up. For literature we will be reading classic literature from the time period covered in her history in the form of chapter books adapted for elementary age readers. She will be reading Robinson Crusoe, The Three Musketeers, Alice in Wonderland, and many other wonderful books. The Latin lessons are very basic and not too onerous. I think I have discovered a way to balance out her spelling, grammar, and writing lessons so that they aren't all heaped on top of each other, but instead spread out a little bit more. She also gets to learn some chemistry in the coming year and kitchen/backyard science experiments are way cool.

As for the Adrenaline Junkie, she will be continuing Kindergarten until she gets a little better with the reading, writing and math. She actually can read a decent amount when she tries, she just doesn't like to do it. She loves writing, she just isn't very consistent with her letter formation. She is getting better and doesn't write her letters and numbers backwards as much as she used to. She also doesn't like to sound out words while spelling. It's the same issue as reading. With consistent practice she will get more comfortable with it. The biggest challenge with her is slowing down her overly active body and brain to be able to think through a complete thought at a time. If any of my kids is a kinetic learner, she is probably it. That means I need to be a little more creative in how to approach her lessons. That is something else I need to put into a lesson plan.

The Happy Boy is all about play. But his schoolwork will be art (drawing and writing practice in disquise), having books read to him and when he is ready, phonics (he is already wanting to sound out some of Hop on Pop).

Changing topic again: We planted a spring garden last weekend. This year we are doing snow peas, cabbage, radishes, carrots, lettuce, spinach and cantaloupe. I'm going to try to stagger plantings for a more prolonged harvest. The kids also planted some flower seeds. Tim replanted our strawberry patch, too. Too early to say how it is going, but we are watering every day. The kids love that part.

My craft binge has slowed down tremendously the last few weeks. Partly because of all of the previous items in this update. I am still working on a needlepoint and a quilt. I'm just taking my time. I've been very tired. Even though the weather has turned nice again, I haven't wanted to go for walks much either. I let the kids play in the backyard for exercise (keeping track of them and checking the garden is my exercise). I've also been very, very hungry. Tim keeps telling me that he's eating better these days. I've been spending more time thinking about and cooking food. These are some clues for you. This type of behavior is not normal for me. I usually like to get out for walks in nice weather. I usually couldn't care much about food as long as I'm fed three times a day. I usually hate cooking. What has gotten into me lately?


If you haven't guessed yet, I'm pregnant. Yep. That's another one of those big things that is happening lately. If you have followed mine or my husband's blogs over the last year, you know that this is momentous for us and a little scary. Having a baby die not quite a year ago, we know that so many things can go wrong. But, we would rather hope than live in fear. So if you can spare a prayer for us on this journey, it is much appreciated. I am still in the first trimester. My first doctor's appointment to check the baby is going to be at the end of next week. We are a bit nervous to say the least.

So that is the latest news from our family. I think I did manage to give an update on all of the main things without making the post too horribly long. Life is sure to stay interesting for a while. I'm sure I'll have more to post soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life continues to change

I have been pondering lately how things have changed. I like to do that every so often so that I don't just let life pass by without notice. Birthday season has just ended for our kids and I've been noticing that having a 7 year old, a 5 year old and a 3 year old is different than what we have experienced before. The Pillowfight Fairy (age 7) is acting like a second grader in her love of silly and gross things. She also has been showing a lot of teenagerish angst. This of course makes me wonder what is in store for the future.

The Adrenaline Junkie (age 5) is making the preschooler to kindergartener transition. She is becoming slightly more aware of what's going on around her and she finds it upsetting. No longer does she see her brother running away from her and think: "oooh... a game of chase!" No, now she starts wailing and crying that she's going to lose her brother. Instead of enjoying the Fantasia 2000 video like she used to, she cries for a half hour over what would happen to Donald Duck if he didn't get on the ark. Our older one went through a similarly emotional transition. But, I try to take it in stride and see it as part of her development as she grows older and gains maturity. The constant tears are annoying, but it shows that she is starting to make connections and think more deeply than she previously did. I suspect this means that we will probably be able to make more progress with her schooling in the coming year. Ironically, I was an extremely emotional child growing up and found that my tendency to give in to tears constantly, hurt me in the long run. As a result I don't have much sympathy with the constant crying and whining.

The Happy Boy (age 3) is not a toddler anymore. He is acting more like a big kid. He enjoys many of the same things that his sisters enjoy. They even play well together on occasion. One of his biggest strengths and also one of his biggest weaknesses is that he is more self-sufficient than his sisters at that age. In other words, he will do what he can for himself, instead of asking for help. While a good thing in general, sometimes problems would be prevented if he would simply ask for help.

It feels a little odd not having a baby or toddler anymore. We do miss having a tiny little child in the family, but they sure are a lot of work. I understand why people stop after having only one or two kids. As the kids get older, the physical labor I was doing gets easier. Two of my kids can mostly dress themselves, are potty trained and can take their dishes to the kitchen when they are through with them. I see that as a tremendous help in my work load. My youngest enjoys helping me bring in the groceries and sorting the laundry. I can tell you, that I look forward to the day when I've taught the kids to cook and to clean the house effectively. A shared load is so much easier to bear.

Of course with older kids come the more complicated problems. Relationship issues, hormones, power struggles, mind games, are some of the things I am not looking forward to. As with all things you lay the foundations of the later lessons while they are still small. So I keep trying to teach them how to treat people with respect and kindness. Though I sometimes think just teaching good table manners and that not every activity is a competition is far harder than I imagined.

When my parents used to complain that I was stubborn, I would respond that I came by it honestly from both sides of the family. Sigh.... I suspect Tim and I will hear and see a lot of ourselves echoed in our children in the coming years.