Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In praise of Arnold Lobel

It's no secret that I love reading aloud to my children. It's one area of mothering where I consistently feel like I'm doing a pretty good job. If we accomplish nothing else of note in a day, at least we've read at least one good book together.

When Eliza was about three, she went through a big Frog and Toad phase. At that time, Ian was coming into his own as a reader, and I combed the stacks of beginning readers at the library for quality material. These stories satisfied both needs. Now Eliza herself is in that phase, and once again I reflect on how difficult it is to find Easy Readers that are a treat to behold, and just as delightful for the reading or listening adult as they for the reading or listening child.

Which is why I harbor a deep and abiding affection for Arnold Lobel. You can keep your Dr. Seuss. Give me instead a man who understands the value of wry, understated humor -- humor you can unwrap in layers. A child might think it's silly that Toad wants to write everything on a list and then cross it off -- an adult laughs knowingly, understanding that impulse with perfect sympathy. And so on. Every story in the Frog and Toad collection is a gem -- Lobel doesn't skip a beat.

But the fun doesn't stop there. Did you know that Frog and Toad starred in their very own Broadway Musical? It's called A Year with Frog and Toad, and my friends, it's more fun than a barrel of chimpanzees. Think Big Band-style sound mixed with musical retellings of Frog and Toad's greatest hits. If you step into our home and hear us warbling about Toad looking funny in a bathing suit or crowing, "IIIIIII am not AFRAAAAAAAAIIIID! Well, I am, but I'll be brave!" -- no need for alarm. We're just channeling our amphibious friends.

Mr. Lobel's lesser-known works turn out to be just as steeped in both subtle and uproarious wit. Here are a couple favorites:
Owl at Home (I Can Read Book 2)
Mouse Tales (I Can Read Book 2)
Uncle Elephant (I Can Read Book 2)

They're all a treat. Do yourself a favor and share one with the nearest child in your life. If that child happens to be you, so be it. Permission to giggle aloud hereby granted.

[Disclaimer: When I was high school, my childhood friend Joe told me that I had an "odd" and "acute" sense of humor. Just thought you should have all the relevant facts before proceeding.]

P.S. This post is linked to SteadyMom's 30 Minute Blog Challenge. Whew! Right under the wire, too!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Housecleaning? Bring it on!

I have a dirty little secret.

I'm going to whisper it, so you'll have to lean in real close.

Lately, I've actually enjoyed cleaning my little house. Why this burst of clinical insanity? Well, I simply follow these four motivational steps, and guess what? YOU CAN TOO.

Step One: Have a cleaning schedule.
    Folks, if it's not on the list, it doesn't happen. Wait; correction: If it's on the List, but I don't look at the List, it doesn't happen. The List is key. The List makes my cleaning world go 'round. The List keeps my workload nicely parceled out across the week. The List costs me only $8.00 per year, and believe me, I consider that a bargain, considering that my sanity is worth waaaaaaay more than $8.00. Three Cheers for the List! I get mine from Motivated Moms here.

Step Two: Use cleaning products that make you happy. Not sneezy. I personally use Basic-H from Shaklee, which is so economical it's almost frightening, since one bottle of the stuff lasts me at least two years. In a reusable, environmentally-friendly spray bottle, I mix my warm water, my tiny bit of cleaning concentrate, and whatever essential oils I deem necessary to the psychological health of my family.

Step Three (my favorite): Load up your MP3 player or personal listening device with something fun. This could be something spiritually enlightening or, as is more often the case with me at cleaning time, something quite humorous. I DARE YOU to scrub your toilets while listening to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and not enjoy yourself immensely.

Step Four: Accept imperfection. Resolve to do your best within the time you have allotted and let that be good enough. If you're struggling with this concept, read Mrs. Potter's Pig to your little ones for a sense of perspective. The goal is sanitary and comfortable, not museum-ready.

Remember, we're not just housekeeping -- we're keeping a Home.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Snippets for Your Amusement

In random order:

1. Before kids, two of the things I thought would be a breeze were making one-on-one time with each child and being completely chill about how they chose to express themselves through their clothing. HA! That latter one especially makes me squirm. It's one thing when your daughter decides to wear her princess costume to Costco. That's charming. But when she insists on wearing her taffeta party dress and SNOW BOOTS to the playground? Where every other child seems to have stepped out of Gymboree display window? Folks, it turns out that I am quite shallow, because I felt a great disturbance in The Force. Being chill about their clothing choices? Working on it. 

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that I made strides as a mother on BOTH counts this weekend. Tim, Ian and Caroline sallied forth on a Cub Scout campout, taking our only family car. Eliza wanted to stay behind in order to attend her BFF's birthday party. So yesterday, we rode the bus down to the Children's Museum, bonding all the way there and back. We told jokes. We played math pattern games. We enjoyed the vistas of our fair city. My Love and Belonging child's cup overflowed. Oh, and by the way, she wore an outfit that clashed like nobody's business. I'm still here to tell the tale, and I think I'm a stronger woman because of it.

2. Speaking of fashion -- and then I promise I'll move on -- have you been to Target in the past week? It's been hit by a style tsunami called Liberty of London. Y'all. So fetching. From women's clothing to accessories to pajamas and, ahem, unmentionables, to girls' clothing (oh! the! cute! skirts!) to housewares. Consider yourself forewarned.

3. If you're homeschooling, or thinking about homeschooling, or know someone who does, or passed a homeschooler at an intersection once, you might wonder just how freakishly they're going to turn out, especially if their home barely resembles school. If so, you might find this interview with a homeschool graduate, now on a full ride at the University of Chicago, enlightening, reassuring, or inspiring.

4. I just finished reading Charles and Emma (see sidebar for link). It's a fascinating look at the marriage of Charles and Emma Darwin -- man of science, woman of faith. Can you imagine being married to  someone who not only did not share your faith, but also pioneered the science that would call into question the faith of thousands? What's absolutely amazing about these two is that they made it work -- respecting each other, adoring each other, raising an unusually close-knit family, weathering tremendous grief together, hardly spending a day or night apart from one another for over forty years. She even proofread The Origin of the Species for him! And yet she agonized over the fate of his eternal soul, while he could not hide from her his doubts. If you read it, I'd love to know what you think. (In case you're wondering, I believe that faith and science can coexist harmoniously ... but we won't open that can o' worms tonight.)

Also. It turns out Mr. Darwin suffered from ill health, particularly of the digestive nature, for most of his adult life. I am hereby diagnosing him with gluten intolerance. You heard it here first.

5. Since the Olympics, Ian's enchantment with commercial jingles has ramped up into hyperdrive. To converse with him, you'd think he watches the telly all day ... which, need I even say, is so not the case. So the other morning at breakfast, we were reading about how David, in the book of 1 Samuel, played harp music to calm the troubled mind of King Saul. Ian interrupted in a syrupy voice: "Get refreshed and regenerated with David's (TM) Harp Music today!"

There's just something about that "TM" that unglues me.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Today, like many Thursdays, I'm thankful for our home meeting.

Home Meeting: (n.) A gathering of Christian believers in a home in order to share fellowship, and usually food, with one another in order to encourage each other for the edification of the Body of Christ.

For the past four years, we've opened our home on Thursday nights, often not knowing whether two or twelve will walk through the door with tummies a-growl. Our average demographic has shifted, over the years, from couples around our age with young children, to single folks in the their late twenties who are working for pay or an advanced degree. And this time has taught me one lesson: I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

Over the years, people have come and gone. A very few have come nearly every week for a year, two, three. A few have drifted in and out with barely a blip on our radar screen. A few have become regulars and eventually left, often due to a geographical move or even to answer a call for full-time service, but occasionally for unexplained reasons. I've been known to shed tears when that happens, because it seems almost impossible not to take a departure like that personally. I clean, I cook, I open the door, I try to touch base with everyone who comes through it to let them know their presence is a gift to us, I spend a little time at the table with everyone, then I retire to put my reluctant children to bed. When someone leaves, it not only feels like an uprooting of the almost-family relationship, but also a failure on my part. Was it something I did or didn't do? Something I said? Was the food too spicy, too hot, too cold, too salty, too plain, too gourmet? (Okay, not that last.)

Many times, at moments like these, I've asked the Lord whether we should let the meeting go. And every time, His answer has been something along these lines: Yes, you should let it go. But not in the way you think. Let it go out of your hands and let it be more fully Mine.

In the process of learning that this time is His and not mine to direct, control, and own, more peace and joy have stolen in. With less help these days, I'm doing more of the cooking on my own, but the simple act of chopping vegetables becomes a walk up to Zion. If anxiety pokes its nose in to wonder whether there will be enough for unannounced guests, I remind Him that this time and this home are His and that I expect Him to provide.

This letting go thing is such a hard-won joy, I'm wondering if it would work in other areas of my life as well. You think?

Baby steps. Baby steps.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Math for Jedi Knights

Remember my gushy post about the amazing-ness of my fellow moms?

So. I have this friend. Her name is Elsie. She assists me in our homeschool co-op on Fridays when I teach about Japan to eight delightful girls first period. She is a fabulous assistant. Then, I assist her when she teaches about Ancient Greece to eight delightful girls third period. She is a fabulous teacher. 

What does Elsie do during second period? you ask. Answer: She teaches Jedi Math. Fabulously, of course. And during lunch, she feeds ideas into my brain, where they spin around, breed, multiply, and pop out at home. The result is more exciting than a ride on the Millennium Falcon as it makes the jump into hyperspace. Especially since the Math Facts Drill Hating Force is strong around here. 

For example ...

1. Luke, Han and Leia Vs. the Trash Compactor. Remember that scene in Star Wars (Episode 4) where those three heroes are stuck in the trash compactor, desperately trying to radio C3PO for help before they're smunched to death? Well, we use multiplication flashcards, and we're trying to get through the whole deck before we get flattened. I make the last card the "magic code," and when my young Jedi solves it, he's cracked the code and stops the compactor JUST IN TIME. Whew!

2. Anakin's Pod Race. Again, the flash cards (which we made as an art project). This time, he's Anakin in his pod racer from Episode 1. We use the stopwatch function on my iPod, and his previous time -- the time to beat -- is Sebulba, Anakin's main competitor in the pod race. If he finishes faster, Anakin wins. If the stopwatch finishes faster (hasn't happened yet), Sebulba wins. Go Anakin!

3. Find R2D2. Using the "line drawings" function in Google Images, I found simple images of R2D2 and C3PO, who go together like bread and butter, Gilbert and Sullivan, me and 70% dark chocolate. I printed about thirty copies of each, laminated them, and cut them out. Using dry-erase or wet-erase markers, I write the multiplication (or for Eliza, addition) facts on all the C3PO's, and all the answers on the R2D2's. We scatter them on the floor. Young Mathwalker works to joyfully reunite the matches. Awww ...

4. Word Problems. With a cursory knowledge of the Star Wars Universe, or a little help from a book like Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary - The Ultimate Guide to Characters and Creatures from the Entire Star Wars Saga, one can come up with any number of zany word problems. Here are a few from this morning. Help yourself. 

1. Anakin is checking the fuel situation on his pod racer before the big race. His fuel gauge shows that his tank is three fifths  (3/5) full of fuel. Meanwhile, his chief competitor's tank is seven tenths (7/10) full. Whose pod racer is more likely to finish the race before running out of fuel -- Anakin or Sebulba?

2. Queen Amidala uses white nail polish as a tradition from her native village. This morning she painted half of her nails before being interrupted by a messenger from the Senate. How many fingernails does she still need to paint?

3. Jedi Master Qui-Gong Jinn has been training his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, to use his light saber. Today they practiced for one hour. Yesterday they practiced for an hour and a half. How many minutes in total have they practiced this week? If they're aiming for 300 minutes by the end of the week, how many hours and minutes do they still need to practice?

My nine year old is the only one who does much formal math around here, and he happens to be somewhat obsessed with the ways of the Force. So, how's he feeling about math practice these days? 

Much improved, his attitude is. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Le Migration

And now, under the category of "Netflix-schooling ..."

I hate to even admit this on a gorgeous day like today, but we're watching Winged Migration.

It's almost wordless, at moments poignant, at other moments funny, and overall incredibly beautiful. And yes, it's holding the attention of a four year old.

Have you seen it? If you liked Planet Earth or March of the Penguins, go thou and put this in thy queue. Those French, zey have zeir ways with de filme.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Begin with the End in Mind

The above is the result of a breakfast table discussion between the kids and me on the morning of our departure for a short vacation last week. In case you're wondering, the black letters can only be described as a Learning Experience, which we shall call "Permanent Marker is Not The Best Choice for Dry Erase Boards."

Hey. We all have to learn these life lessons sooner or later.

The four red marks represent everyone's vote AFTER we filled in the grid together. See, I realized that too many times, we depart for a trip in a high-stress flurry, with the Professor and I sulking in the front seat over the kids' failure to pitch in to an ideal degree. "All hands on deck?" Make that a few fingers. But usually, that's because we never quite transferred the thought, "We should all work together to make this trip happen" from our brains to the kids' ears. There's no group buy-in on the "all hands on deck" mission.

So this time, we began with the end in mind. And lo, our departure was both peaceable and reasonably prompt. Larks serenaded us on our way down our street, and angels flew by strumming their golden harps. Fluffy little kittens waved bye-bye.

Fast-forward to the vacation. We take this trip twice a year with my in-laws to a resort in San Antonio. And when I still had a babe in arms or a toddler in diapers, the idea of plopping myself in a beach chair and zoning out for the duration was simply out of the question. But now that all my kids are fairly self-sufficient and like to run in a pack with their cousins, I have more of a choice. Part of me wants to just relaaaaax. (And, truthfully, I do.) To slip the moorings of their demands and needs and lose myself in a book. To not get chlorine in my hair.

But. I have an end in mind. That end is a vision of a family that plays together instead of just making it from one day to the next. Of grown children who include time with their parents as part of their fondest memories. Of time spent deliberately enjoying them, rather than just managing them. Of no regrets, once they enter the years when bobbing around the pool with Mom and Dad has decidedly lost its lustre.

So, the Professor and I both endeavor to strike a balance. We need rest. The kids need independence. We also need them to grow up without us growing old, which means making a point of having fun together. That balance is different for every family, and kids whose loving parents don't play with them on vacation will probably turn out JUST FINE. I mean, they might grow an extra digit and develop a lifelong nervous twitch, but other than that? JUST FINE.

But with faces like these, who can resist?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Four Cups

A couple weeks ago, I enrolled in a parenting seminar. Guess what? It's sort of hard to admit that, which is why I'm doing it. Should there be any shame in admitting your skills in the World's Most Important Job could be honed? 

I don't think so. 

Anyway, the material for this course comes from the rather oddly named Real Restitution (website not so explanatory) and is based on control theory. Rather than diving into tricks and techniques for handling sticky situations with the kids, we've spent the first two weeks looking at big-picture issues like understanding WHY we choose to do what we do, why coercion doesn't work, why and how we attempt to control other people or allow other people to control us, what motivates us to change our actions, what we consider to be an ideal child and an influential adult, and the five basic human needs. 

There's a lot to think, talk, reflect, and write about. For the purpose of brevity and clarity, I'll try to rein myself in and focus on one thing at a time. 

Obviously, the questions we're discussing around a dining room table on a Sunday afternoon apply to any human relationship, including our relationship to ourselves (and, if you're a person of faith, to God). So here's a brief description of the five basic human needs: 

1. Safety/survival -- food, shelter, water, security, etc. 

2. Love and Belonging -- unconditional acceptance, care, connection with others

3. Power -- self-control, competence, capability, effectiveness with integrity

4. Freedom -- freedom from harm and to make choices, express ourselves, etc. 

5. Fun -- playfulness, spontaneity, humor, delight of learning

(Note: these concepts are expanded on in the book My Child is a Pleasure, written by Diane Gossen.)

Here's the kicker: We ALL have these needs, just in different relative capacities. You may have a large love and belonging need, medium freedom and fun needs, and a lower power need. If so, you're a lot like me! Or at least, my best estimation of me. Or you may have a big power need and a low fun need, with the others somewhere in the middle. You get the picture. 

Our need levels (picture four cups of water; the survival need doesn't count because it's a given for everyone) can fluctuate from day to day or from life phase to life phase, or even moment to moment, depending on our circumstances. But they tend to motivate much of how we feel and behave. And … how our KIDS feel and behave.

I'm planning to do this exercise with my husband and kids to see how they view their own needs. But already, I've been observing them to figure out what their needs profile might be. I've realized that one of my daughters, for example, has a huge love and belonging need, so when she comes to me crying, she probably needs a hug.  Nine times out of ten, the crying is a response to hurt feelings -- i.e. a broken connection. The other has a bigger power need, so her tears are more likely from frustration; a simple "Do you need some help doing this?" would fit the purpose. And I think my son's primary need is for freedom. Can you see why my largest need might be for dark chocolate? 


You don't have to answer this, but how do you see your own cups? What's the one of the four you could most easily do without? Which could you NEVER do without?  How do they rank relative to each other? How are your levels right now? What about your kids?

Of course, from there we start to distinguish between needs and wants, which are ways we choose to try to meet our needs. Sometimes the wants can be satisfied; often they cannot. Maybe the temptation to snack all the time is a way to meet a freedom need (our instructor's example). As we understand what's going on, we can figure out other, healthier ways to meet the need. As kids learn this, they can to. 

So, this is a journey my family and I will be undertaking together, not something I'm going to be doing TO them. Without going into any "how to's" yet, this class already seems to be having an effect on our home. Today I chewed one of the kids out for violating a clear rule. A few minutes later, after some reflection and some eating of humble pie, I called him back and said, "I'm sorry.  That is not the kind of parent I want to be. I don't want to lecture you, but I lost my temper and said too much. Will you forgive me?"

Restitution. Peace. 

(P.S.In case you're wondering how faith fits into all of this, I would propose that our deepest need is for something higher than ourselves, which our family recognizes as God. I believe that growing as Christians means allowing getting that need met first, and that over a lifetime of maturing spiritually, filling that need takes care of all the other needs as well. We're all just at different places in that process.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a day early, but since we'll be with our extended family tomorrow, why not "go green" a little ahead of time? 

Can you believe that despite a childhood in BOSTON, of all places, I never understood an iota of what St. Patrick's Day was all about? I had a vague impression of leprechauns, shamrocks, and Irish jigging, and that was about it. 

Then my kids and I learned about the real [St.] Patrick in our medieval history study a couple years ago. If you're interested, Adventures in Odyssey makes a gripping retelling of the story in the episode "Patrick: A Heart Afire" which can be downloaded from iTunes or bought as part of the album Days to Remember. Warning: This episode can be a bit intense, and alludes to the human sacrifices the early Celts made, so consider your child's age and sensitivity. 

Since we'll be with the family, we're going to do it up Irish style for dinner. I'm planning to make colcannon, soda bread, and "Shamrock Shakes," and I'll be lucky if all six kids eat anything but the Shamrock Shakes. Should be fun! 

Monday, March 15, 2010

When the World is Puddle-Wonderful ...

(Name that poem)

Signs that Spring Has Arrived:

1. My children play outside for hours. It helps that the neighbor has a trampoline and an open-gate policy. .

2. The Professor does his semi-annual rant about Daylight Savings Time. Sometimes he actually writes to our Congressperson about it. Sometimes he just threatens to. It's an important family tradition, I guess.

3. Trees that looked barren a week ago have burst into blossom. Particularly the Bradford Pears. Beauty and pollen allergies walk hand in hand.

4. I begin working in my flower garden again, pondering spiritual parallels and making mental apologies to our home's former owner, who had the time and know-how to keep the landscaping in tiptop condition. (When we bought the house, he made us a TWO HOUR VIDEO about how to take care of the house and grounds. I'm still waiting for the Professor to make the popcorn for that one.)

5. I think about spring cleaning. Then I go outside and read a book.

6. I feel a deep sense of gratitude that we longer reside in my state of origin, where March usually comes in like a lion ... and goes out like one too. Believe me, when you live in New England, by the time March rolls around you are JUST SO READY for winter to be over. The cold is old. The snow is old. The short short days are old. The slush is old. The hacking cough is old. But wait! There is still MARCH to live through! It's like a cruel joke, somewhat akin to our infernal Septembers.

7. My toenails have been painted, flip-flop ready, and are exactly the color you might expect when a four year old insists on choosing the new nail polish. Out of respect for my readers, I'll spare you a photo. Just picture ten little piggies chewing pink bubblegum.

8. The mourning doves have returned to serenade us through our still-cool mornings.

9. Warm-weather clothes emerge from their boxes, like old friends that have, after a few months' welcome absence, become new again.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Chat with Tom Hanks

Dear Tom Hanks,

I read the cover story, "History Maker," about you in this week's issue of Time Magazine. About that cover photo: Gosh, you look really concerned. Or is it just gas?

Anyway, I've always -- meaning, for the last several years -- thought it was really cool that instead of just gracing the screen with your amazing comedic/dramatic presence in everything from Philadelphia to Forrest Gump to You've Got Mail, you seem to have a voraciously curious mind at work on projects of intellectual substance. Do you ever feel a bit alone in Hollywood?

So in this article, after telling us how bored you were with history during your schooling years, your profiler makes the following statement: "What differentiates Hanks from academic past masters is his conviction that the historical experience should be personal."

Well, you can get an Amen here! Here in our home school, we are all about making the historical experience personal. That's why we're currently using Sonlight -- we love the emphasis on historical fiction. Sure, we could read a sentence like "The Civil War was particularly terrible for our young nation because it pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, often for causes they weren't entirely sure of," in a textbook. But why not read books like Across Five Aprils or The Perilous Road instead and understand those feelings at a gut level, the way our flawed-yet-heroic protagonists do? And so we do.

And that's why we've amassed a collection of Greathall CD's for the car, or the Story of the World CD's, which capture my kids' attention and, I suspect, tend to spoil them for my own voice. Let it not be said in this household that history is boring.

So, you and I, Tom, we're simpatico in our approach to history. In fact, I think you'd make a great home educator! Are you free some Friday soon to guest star in my co-op class?

But. I do have a small bone to pick with you. I loved Band of Brothers
-- a perfect example of making history personal. And John Adamswas also quite good. And I was happily working my way through From the Earth to the Moon - The Signature Editionuntil I decided to let the kids watch the fourth episode with me while I ironed some clothes one day (FYI, ironing is the way mortals like us get wrinkles out of clothes. You use this hot metal thingie, and it's kind of rare around here). Hot diggety dog, the language in that episode could make a sailor blush! I had to turn it off halfway through!

I know, I know -- HBO. And Band of Brothers is pretty salty as well. But for the sake of all of us parents moving heaven and earth to make history come alive for our kids, couldn't you come up with some expurgated version we could show during afternoon teatime? I'm thinking a landing on Normandy,  punctuated with "Great Scott!" and "Oh, snap! My parachute's not opening!"

Please. Do it for the children.

A Fan

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Family Games

Angela at Homegrown Mom is hosting a blog roundup of Family Fun Night ideas. I'll be the first to admit that my efforts in that department aren't going to win any creativity awards, but I thought I'd share a few of our favorite family games. It ain't easy, pleasing a six-year age spread. But bravely we soldier on, determined to HAVE FUN AND BOND.

1. Don't Eat Pete!
   You can download this game for FREE, y'all, and print it out for hours of rowdy enjoyment. Yup, I said "free." God bless the lady at Sparkle Power.

2. Harvest Time and  Secret Door
   I'm listing these two together because they're brainchildren of the same company, Family Pastimes, and -- here's the kicker -- they're what's known as cooperative games. As in, everyone works together toward a common goal. As in, no one loses. As in, no tears and no drama. Hooray.

3. Apples to Apples Junior - The Game of Crazy Comparisons!
   Great for a group, ideally of four or more. My oldest child tends to eschew games of strategy in favor of more verbal, open-ended options like this one (if you know him, you're not shocked). And whaddya know, so do I! We sometimes get this one out to play around the dinner table, and refrain from pointing out that they're learning the difference between adjectives and nouns. A guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

4. ThinkFun Zingo!
   Like Bingo, but with a zippy little gadget. No reading required; one of the few that's equally fun for all the ages that comprise our offspring.

5.  Somebody Board Game
   It feels funny to include this one, since it's really more "educational" than recreational, I suppose, but all I have to say is, we ALL had the giggles about the pancreas the other night. Eventually the pancreas sang them off to their bedtime routines, which was deemed totally hilarious. I guess you had to be there.

6. You've Been Sentenced!
   Ian's current favorite. See item #3 for a description of his taste. More fun if you're flexible on what constitutes a logical sentence. Also, more fun if you can read -- unless you team up with an adult. Still, more fun if you can read.

7.  Snorta
    Don't even think about maintaining your dignity while you play this. You're going to be making barnyard noises, and there's just no way out of it. Your kids will laugh at you, and is there any more important ingredient for a Family Fun Night? (Good for a range of ages because younger ones can play at a slightly easier level.)

8. Wig Out!
   Fun. Quick. Cheap. I rest my case.

Do you have any favorite games in your family? I'd love to hear more suggestions!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Two Cups of Coffee

"You're going to post that on your blog, aren't you?" my friend Greta teased as she watched me snap this shot.

It had been too long since we'd caught up, so, thanks to her initiative, we arranged to meet this morning at Starbucks while the girls were at their co-op and Ian worked math problems in a nearby armchair.

The conversation rambled from my persistent sinus headache (Greta was a doctor in her pre-homeschooling life) to Michelangelo to Mel Gibson to living by faith to Greg Mortenson to mothering challenges to Islam to not judging others to my dad's ALS to Les Misérables to skiiing. Not in that order. Now you know why Greta is one of my favorite people to talk to. Why does she insist on living a whole twenty minutes away? I mean, really.

You know, there are days when I feel like the home educating lifestyle is pretty isolating for a mom who craves a certain measure of adult interaction. But there are many more days when I know the truth: This life we've chosen to lead has actually strewn any number of amazing people across our path. Including amazing mothers. Mothers who are dedicated to their children and yet remain fascinating persons in their own right. Mothers who read, who self-educate, who knit, who write romance novels, who played college ice hockey, who ride horses, who do triathlons, who struggle with their weight, who are never caught up on the laundry, who work part-time, who weave baskets, who knew almost from conception that they would homeschool, who dragged their feet into homeschooling after a school disappointment,  who hold the fort during a husband's 80-hour-plus work week, who all have a story to tell.

It's just a matter of making the time to listen.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Explore UT

Because I am like an eager puppy who always wants to be taken out for a walk, the Professor dragged his tired bones out of bed on Saturday to take his wife and children to Explore UT. This is an annual event at our local university campus that offers opportunities galore for kids to experience hands-on learning in a huge variety of subjects, and also to eat lots of sugar. Because as we know, where two or three children are gathered together, there is a candy bowl in their midst.

Highlights included the water-balloon-hurling trebuchet:

The building of "sweet structures" (do I even need to tell you that Caroline did her own hair stunts?):

The playing of Medical Jeopardy (Uncle Peter, you'd be so proud of your niece's performance!):

Checking out some algae up close and deciding to add "microscope" to the Birthday Wish List:

Admiring some stuffed birds and a feather collection (remember our current bird study?):

The crowd favorite -- ice cream made with liquid nitrogen! 

Walking in paint and plotting stride length on a huge graph:

Blowing freezing bubbles:

And getting behind the wheel of a student-designed car:

We were supposed to meet our friends and traveling companions, the Dixons, but since they couldn't tear themselves away from the liberal-artsy side of campus and we were spellbound by the science and engineering end, the connection never quite happened. Disappointing, but less so when you consider the implications: our children were completely entranced by the experience they were having. 

It's easy to see at an event like this that children are naturally inclined to learn. Learning is both their job and their joy. Of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of children I passed or rubbed shoulders with, not one was whining about boredom or casting about for a DS to play with. A little effort to engage them by adults who love their subject material can pay off in evaluations like this: 

"When I grow up, I'm going to bring MY kids to Explore UT." -- Eliza

"That place was JUST LIKE A FAIRYLAND." -- Caroline

Friday, March 5, 2010

The 3 Little Pigs Go to War (Keeping Kids Safe)

There's been one of those in the news this week. You know, one of those horrific stories of the disappearance of a teenage girl in a San Diego park, followed by news of the arrest of a sex offender in connection with the crime, followed by news of a lifeless body recovered. And guess what? The sex offender they arrested? Already served time for a crime several years ago. When he came up for parole after five years, the court psychiatrist stated that -- wait for it -- he was NOT rehabilitated and would probably strike again. How would you like to be the judge who overrode that advice?

Be still, my boiling blood.

Like any parent, I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this crime -- about the innocent victim, about her heartbroken parents, who have to endure the remainder of their lives knowing their daughter experienced intense fear and pain and they were unable to protect her.

But when I step back from the disturbing thoughts, I realize that the media actually, in a twisted way, loves these stories. They're lurid, they're sensational, they prey on every parent's worst fears. They sell. We can wallow in that kind of fear, like the little pigs in their houses of straw and sticks. We can believe the lie that there's nothing we can do to protect our children, especially our daughters, from the Big Bad Wolf who lurks out there. Or we can take action.

Here are a few things we have begun in our family and will continue to do. Don't misunderstand me -- I place zero blame on parents who lose their children to this kind of tragedy. Our circle of control only extends so far. But why not do everything we can within that circle and have as few regrets as possible?

1. We pray for our children, that they would experience the Lord's mercy and protection every single day of their lives. We pray the words of Psalm 23, that the Shepherd's goodness and mercy would follow them unceasingly. We know their angels work overtime for that job.

2. We know that most violence against children actually comes from sources known to the children, NOT strangers. So we do our best to teach them to trust their instincts. There is a time and a place for good manners. There's also very much a time and place to assert yourself and say NO.

3. We (I) read Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane)by Gavin DeBecker. Highly recommended.

4. We expect our daughters to become proficient in self-defense. They will both have the opportunity to train in martial arts for as long as they have the interest (our taekwondo dojang includes self-defense as part of the normal curriculum). If they stop short of a high belt level, they will still continue their self-defense education, learning physical toughness and agility.

5. We teach our son to show respect for girls and women. Non-negotiable! We will have age-appropriate discussions with him about the dangers of pornography and other influences that promote violence toward women.

What about you? What current practices or goals do you have to help keep your kids safe?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Way We Were

Do you ever wonder which of your children's personality quirks are already permanently packed into the suitcase they'll carry with them into adulthood?

For example, Eliza loves to make pancakes. She'll stand at the griddle, flipping 'til the cows come home. She's a feeder, that one. If given the chance to watch cable, she chooses the Food Network. She soaks up whatever wisdom Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee or Lidia Bastianich has to share. I'm totally in favor of this interest flowering for years to come. Or would that be "flour-ing?"

Then there is her four-year-old sister.

I know, with a pang of regret, that the days of things being "ri-dick-lee-ous" are numbered. One day, I'll realize with a jolt that it's now "ridiculous" and have no idea when that started, and I will be tempted to weep, as I was when her baby feet thickened into toddler feet or her breath stopped smelling like milk.

But it's hard to fathom that she'll ever stop being the person who asked for, and received, a set of real tools and a workbench for her fourth birthday. Or the girl who jealously guards her low-temperature glue gun. Or the child who, yesterday at the chiropractor's office, seized upon the February issue of Martha Stewart Living and ended up asking the receptionist to photocopy two pages' worth of projects for her to take home.

I've learned, conventional bedtime wisdom aside, that when it's eight fifty five and the girl asks for a piece of paper and her scissors, it's the better part of valor to JUST BRING HER THE DARNED SCISSORS and her snip herself into somnolent oblivion, rather than waste ten minutes on tears and high drama.

I've also learned that we cannot read If You Give a Pig a Pancake at that magic hour. For one thing, meltdowns ensue over her longings to own a Polaroid camera YESTERDAY. For another thing ...

Well, here's the story with which the shell-shocked Professor greeted me when I arrived home from tonight's tutoring session:

In a flurry of prebedtime activity at the craft table, Martha Junior could not open the bottle of tacky glue on her own. Rather than employ a minion for the task (remember, the Chief Minion was out), she thought "What would The Pig do?" (cue lightbulb to left of head), remembered the line, "feeling sticky will remind her of her favorite maple syrup," and headed for the fridge. One entire squeeze bottle of real maple syrup later, she had her adhesive surface ready for glitter. Why not just liquefy a wad of cash and use that?

So if you find us slathering a batch of Eliza's pancakes with tacky glue by the end of the month, you'll know why. Blame it on her little sister, that little sister whose soft, warm cheeks I need to go kiss right now, as if kisses could keep them just so for a little longer, beyond this too-brief breath of time.