Sunday, April 30, 2006

Homeschool Links...

Learn in Freedom - for older homeschooled kids, or any teenager interested in homeschooling themselves.

Maggie's Earth Adventure - lots of learning games.

Discover This - science-related toys and learning kits.

Sea and Sky - explore the oceans and space. Very cool.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Unschooling with curriculum...

I don't really think there is a name for our particular style of homeschooling. We have textbooks, and use the math book every day. I tell my kids when to do math, and how much to do. I give my son books to read in X number of days, and demand at least a 3-paragraph book report due the day after that. We discuss the spelling, grammar, and sentence structure in his reports and he corrects them if necessary. I've even been known to make him practice a few spelling words he frequently gets wrong by writing sentences and quizzing.

We also own a social studies book which has never been opened. We did the first chapter of the science book before deciding it was silly and retiring it to the shelf for the rest of this school year. My son has a reading and language book which is so dry and lame I can't imagine making my son use it.

We watch biographies and historical documentaries on television. We visit the science museum, the zoo, and the library. We get a map at the mall or the amusement park and play orienteering-type games. Most importantly, we talk. My son is a neverending well of often unanswerable questions. I explain complicated things to him that most kids don't learn about at his age, like how electricity works, the causes and benefits of evolution, and the effects of our everyday activities on those around us. Why beavers have flat tails. How long elephants are pregnant. How birds know how to migrate. Anything I don't know the answer to, we look up on the internet or check out a book at the library.

I love the idea of unschooling. I just don't fully support the idea of leaving my children's education entirely up to them. Sure, if they realize they need to learn math to count money, they'll learn it. But will they ever learn how to do anything but count money? I want my children to have the opportunity to do anything they want as an adult. So if, for example, they never learn advanced math, they're limited in their career choices to things that don't require that knowledge. I agree that kids learn better when it's a subject they're interested in, but I also think that an 8 year old isn't capable of understanding the long-term benefits of multiplying fractions.

Next year, I plan to work in geography, and teach some history at the same time. I think studies of overseas voyages can really only be appreciated when you understand how far they travelled. I'm just wondering what the hell I'm supposed to do in a couple of years when the district requires "proof" of his studies in language and social studies.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Complete lack of organization...

Every 3 or 4 months, I go through a phase I call "getting organized". I go through the stacks of bills I haven't even opened, let alone paid, and throwing out all with postmarks older than the last 30 days. I sort clothes and gather bag after bag of stuff to donate to Goodwill. Sometimes I pick a room to paint or replace curtains in. I rearrange the books and get rid of those that nobody reads or that are torn beyond repair. I clean, and clean, and clean. All this is good, right?

Sure. Except it doesn't stay that way. I would love to keep my house in a state of organized cleanliness, but I don't honestly think I'm capable. I'm concerned about the message this sends to my kids: that cleaning is only a quarterly project and organization isn't even necessary. I know my life would be far less hectic if I could get organized and stay that way, it just never happens. My intentions are good, but I'm lacking something in the follow-through. The constant state of guilt this produces is enough to make a person insane. I find myself vacillating between giving up and endlessly researching life-changing organizational schedules, like suggested at Flylady.

I really think Flylady has some great information, but I'm also a bit disturbed by the idea that a SAHM's "job" should be relentlessly cleaning and organizing to the point that a schedule is not only helpful, but necessary. Not to mention I don't want to encourage the idea that Mom is equatable to Maid, and nobody else in the house is responsible for maintaining order and cleanliness. Get up and make coffee and breakfast, then get my husband up? Make breakfast for everyone, then eat myself? What does that teach my daughters about the female role in the family? What is that teaching my son about what kind of woman he should be looking for? It's this kind of feminine ideal that leaves so many women confused about their own opinions of equality and feminism. The very feeling of compulsion to keep a clean house and be a "perfect woman" is what staunch feminists are talking about when they say the SAHM endangers the feminist movement.

So, I give up. I'm lazy, and that's how I am. I embrace my laziness and accept my quarterly oranizational sessions as an alternative to perpetual exhaustion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Cultural style differences...

In a country where people are supposed to be the same, regardless of color or culture, it's interesting to me how much difference there is between us.

Every so often, a friend of mine passes along a gigantic amount of clothes for my son. She has two boys about 12 and 14, and (thankfully) I'm the only person she knows of with a 10-ish year old boy that the hand-me-downs would serve a good purpose with. I love her gifts, since there is usually a ton of stuff, and it's usually at a time when my son has grown out of or destroyed almost everything he owns. The only unfortunate thing is, this friend is black, and her sons wear stuff I couldn't possibly imagine my son wearing. Not just because I don't like it, but because it goes against my son's style. My son is a simple boy, not drawn to adornments or decoration. Lots of these clothes, especially the jeans, are covered in great patches of color, lots of pockets, and large brand labels.

My friend obviously doesn't think the style gap is an issue, or she wouldn't be giving me this stuff in the first place. I thoroughly appreciate her gifts, and I usually manage to convince my son to keep several things despite his protests about "his" fashion. I'm just confused about the differences. The world is full of so many different styles of clothing, so everyone can find their own way to express their personality through what they wear. So why are so many styles exclusive to certain cultures?

The funniest part about all this is that this particular friend and I share basically the same clothing style. Of course, rag on the head with t-shirt and jeans is hard to top. You can't beat classic style.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The "natural" dryer...

I'm not entirely sure what to think of these. You're not using chemical fabric softeners, but the things are made out of PVC rubber. Would it be possible to make them from natural latex rubber with the same effect?

And do they work? I'd like to find someone else who's even heard of these, let alone tried them.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Happy Easter, you godless heathens...

My parents invited themselves to my house for Easter. I'll admit it wasn't really deliberate. It was more of a miscommunitcation. We had talked months ago about visiting a state park for Easter, which we did a few years ago and had a great time. There had just been no more talk of it since, and when my mom called to tell me she thought the park would be too wet and muddy, she finished with, "So I guess we'll just come over. Do you want me to bring the meat?" I stammered a bit before saying, "Um.. well, I guess so." This was all last night, with less than a day to plan for dinner at my home.

Thankfully, the grocery store was open today and I managed to get a dozen eggs, a vegetable, some fruit and cheese. I threw together a pretty nice spread in two and a half hours, complete with frosted birthday cake and cranberry muffins. My kitchen is a complete disaster, but I'm too busy basking in my own accomplishment to care at this point.

I realized in the midst of mixing and baking that Easter is a holiday we celebrate simply out of tradition. I understand the importance of the holiday, but it seems that most Christians only observe that point in church on Easter morning. Over dinner, we talked about the Easter Bunny, the ingredients of the muffins, and the kids' schooling. What is the point? Sure, we get together with family and all, but can't we do that any old day? Easter is supposed to observe the rising of Christ and the saving of everyone's sins, not just an excuse to get together and gorge yourself once more. I may have to rethink Easter dinner for next year.

In the meantime, Happy Easter to those like me who celebrate it for no good reason at all.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Happy Birthday to my firstborn...

My son turns 10 today. In case you didn't notice, my own birthday was just yesterday. We won't get into the fact that my 10th wedding anniversary is still 10 days away.

My son has bragged to everyone he talked to today about being "a decade" old. Not a lot of gifts, but we try to keep birthdays to 50 bucks. I think he's had a pretty good day anyway. I just found out my parents are planning to come tomorror for Easter dinner, so I'm sure he'll get a few more gifts then.

Funny, I didn't feel as old yesterday when I had a birthday.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My last birthday...

Today was my birthday. According to my friends, I've now reached the last age I'm ever going to be - 29. Birthdays used to be a reason to get excited. Growing up is the ultimate purpose of childhood, isn't it? The problem is, once you are grown up, there's no more reason to get excited about getting older.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all worried about getting older. I think there are too many women so obsessed with youth that they lie about their age. There is no point. If you're married, nobody cares. If you're single, do you really want a man to date you based on how young he thinks you are? And don't you think if that relationship becomes more permanent, he will eventually figure out you're not as young as you claimed. If he loves you, he's not going to care what your age is. He might care a little about being lied to.

What bothers me is what usd to be a huge celebration is now only marked by the "major" birthdays. I'm sure I'll get a helluva party next year when I'm 30 (oops, I mean 29 again), but this year I got dinner with the fam at a local steakhouse. Nice enough, really, just a bit distracting with a 3-year-old climbing all over my lap and a whiny 6-year-old who should have gone to bed half an hour before we ate. We won't even get into my husband's complaints about how "selfish" I was being. Ugh.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My problem with religion...

This morning I was saddened to learn that Doc, a well-seasoned homeschooler and an intelligent, invaluable resource for such, has given up her blog after ceaseless internet harassment by so-called Christians. Doc was blogging against the Pearls and all supporters of abusive child "training." Too many blog-spammers cared more about the fact that she happens to be gay than they do about preventing child abuse, freedom of expression, or even common decency.

Let me just say I was raised in a Christian family. My mom spent so much of her time working so we rarely had time for church. We were Chreasters - Christmas + Easter churchgoers. I was raised to believe that going to church does not make you a Christian, nor is it mandatory in order to claim to be a Christian. I was read to from the Bible. We prayed. The problem I had as I became an adult, however, was realizing that not all Christians behaved as myself and my family did. We didn't judge. We believed that the values associated with a religion were more important than religion itself. My grandmother always said, "I don't care what church you go to as long as you go to church," or "I don't care what religion you have, as long as you have it." It was important to her that her descendents lived with a good system of values. She was also very fond of the phrase, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

But as I grew, I came across more and more so-called Christians, and fewer and fewer of who I believed to be "real" Christians. The so-called Christians use token bible verses to justify and empower themselves, while judging and condemning others. It's the all-too-common "I'm better than you" attitude. It's like they're 4 years old. They completely ignore those bible verses that contradict this behavior. As a matter of fact, every Christian I know, good or bad, picks and chooses certain parts of the bible to cling to, based on how well those parts fit into they way they were already doing things. In the last couple of years, even my "safe" Christian family has become infested with some insensitive, judgmental, self-righteous asshole Christians. Also in the last couple of years, I've decided religion is not right for me or my family. Coincidence?

I challenge any judgmental Christian to stop and think. Are you judging me because, according to your beliefs, I'm going to hell? Why do you care? You don't believe you are, and my behavior doesn't change that, right?

Are you concerned for me because you believe I'm going to hell? Are you acting out of love for the fellow man? Then, is shouting, insulting and harassment any way to show your love?

Harassment and degradation are not things any good Christian participates in.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

You know you're old when...

.. a day of errands leaves you completely wiped out.

1) I went computer shopping today, only to find out most of them are completely out of my range of affordability. My computer is a piece of crap, but I guess a piece of crap is all I can afford to have. 2) I had to get a new phone too - do they even make plain old ordinary phones anymore? Everything I saw had zillions of buttons and blinking lights and glow-in-the-dark numbers. 3) I had movies to return that were 4 days late. Again. Seriously thinking about Netflix. 4) I had a bunch of stuff to drop off at the local Goodwill. That stuff's been living in the back of my car for weeks now, waiting for me to get around to donating it. 5) I needed groceries, cleaning products, and sandals for my girls, so against my better judgement I got these things all at Walmart. Very bad idea with all the last-minute Easter candy shoppers.

The funny part at Walmart was when my 6yo daughter was begging for some dressy Easter sandals. "Those are just for Easter," I told her. "But I can wear them for Easter," she argued. "They're for church," I clarified. "So I can wear them to church on Easter," she said. I sighed loudly and told her, "We are heathens who don't go to church, even on Easter, so there is no reason for you to have those shoes." The bustle around us suddenly stopped, the voices ceased, and when I looked around, every single person in the shoe department was staring at me like I had just declared my intentions to blow up the building.

After 5 hours of driving from this place to that, wrestling 3 kids in and out of the car, 4 trips into public restrooms, and a french fry fight in the back seat, I was DONE.

*Sigh* I still have to go shopping for my son's birthday in a few days.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Mom's Frustration Tally...

This morning's math work for my almost-10-year-old son: 6 workbook pages
Time spent on this morning's math: 45 minutes
Number of complaints about the math work: 4
Number of reminders to get back on task and finish math work: 9
Number of fatalist comments (i.e. "I'm too dumb"): 3
Number of crying sessions: 1 (related to fatalist comments, not sure if it counts alone)

Number of days left until I completely lose my mind: indeterminate

Friday, April 07, 2006

A History of Violence...

An interesting thought.

During the latest uproar about To Train Up a Child on almost all the homeschool boards and websites I visit, people understandably discuss whether hitting a child at all is ok. I really think there is a difference between physical discipline and abuse, and whether or not you spank, "thump," or otherwise physically punish your child does not determine what kind of parent you are, or how your children will turn out. I try to avoid these discussions because either the majority of parents think you're a monster if you ever lay a hand on your child, or they're just the most outspoken. Whatever it is, my opinions aren't welcomed with much warmth, and in the heat of a public flogging, nobody gives a shit if you actually DO spank your kids. Or how often. Or for what. I have never claimed to spank my kids, but everyone assumes you're a child abuser simply because you defend "the spankers." Whatever, I digress.

Last night we watched A History of Violence, where a simple small-town man is revealed as an ex mobster. When his son beats the crap out of a kid at school, the man tells his son, "We don't solve our problems by hitting people." Just as I'm thinking that's a not-so-bad message in such a movie, the kid said something offensive, and the dad slapped him. What?!?

I really did enjoy the movie though. It was the kind of movie that ends with you mumbling, "wow.. that was messed up," which is my favorite kind. I honestly think violence is a natural human response. For the record, it's also something unacceptable in my home.

I know a homeschooler...

Something strange occurred to me last night, as I went through the bedtime routine of talking instead of sleeping (my poor husband).

We went to the dreaded mall to get my wedding ring fixed. I think I wore it for a year before the solder holding the engagement ring-part to the wedding band-part broke. I tried wearing them together, but the separate rings tended to pinch, which sucks. I wore just the engagement ring for a while, until the bottom became bent because it was so thin without the support of the wedding band. The whole set has lived in a jar for the last 5 years or so. We stopped by the store where the ring was purchased, only to be talked down to by the bitchy saleslady. "Well, you could have the band replaced, but gold is expensive now and I don't think you would want to do that." The next jewelry store had some decent people in it, and we left my ring for repair.

While B.S.'ing with the store manager, he asked my kids about school. I held my breath as the kids said they were homeschooled. You never know if you'll get a nice answer or an, ".. Oh." The guy smiled, turned to me, and began telling me about guy who used to work there whose wife homeschools their 7-year-old twins. "The nicest, well-behaved kids you could imagine," he said.

So while lying in bed last night, I realized how common a response this is. Why do people feel the need to tell you about someone else they know who homeschools? And then, always, the attitude or general behavior of the aforementioned homeschooled children? Are they trying to make me "feel better" about homeschooling? As if I'm afraid to tell people I homeschool because its so weird and shameful? My husband's last irritated mumble before he rolled over was, "Maybe they're just trying to make themselves more comfortable with it."

On a side note, I'm wondering why every stranger I ever meet knows someone who homeschools, yet I don't personally know anyone who does. Except the Evil Sister-In-Law, but who's counting her?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Eew eew and freaking EEW!...

We left the window open when we went out last night. There is no longer a screen on that window, but it faces the back of the house, and we live in an area that people rarely drive through, let alone stop. The weather was decent and this stuffy house could use some air.

Anyway, when we got home I discovered its Baby Rabbit Season. I knew this because there were two of them, dead and mangled, on my livingroom floor. Nasty bloody mess all over the place. Gross disembodied rabbit parts here and there. YUCK! Apparently my cat, a.k.a. The Great Black Hunter had discovered a recently motherless nest of rabbits somewhere near my yard.

Last year about this time, we rescued two baby rabbits from the jaws of The GBH and kept them safely in a box, only to discover after an internet search that they were old enough to live on their own. We released them in the neighbors yard, but an hour later The GBH had one of them again. After three or four rescues, the boor babies were beyond saving. The next several weeks it was not uncommon to hear a rabbit screaming in the back yard. We chased the cat off the few we could.

I feel bad, but only because my cat has no intention of actually eating them. I understand predators kill other, sometimes cute and furry, animals. But their instincts tell them to do this because, instinctively, they eat them. My cat's only objective is to prove her prowess by leaving dead things for me to find - you should see the way she proudly parades around the dead thing, while I freak the hell out. Currently The GBH is under house arrest until the baby rabbits have a chance to get clear the heck away from my yard.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Finally some nice weather...

It's finally spring in Iowa. Actually, its been spring for a couple of weeks now, but its been the raining all the time kind of spring, which sucks. Today, however, its nice outside. Gorgeous sunshine, if not a tad windy. I've been wandering in and out of the house in a tank top and I'm quite comfortable. Ahhh.

If I could move somewhere that was warm year-round I would do it in a heartbeat. I don't care if I never see snow for the rest of my life. I'm not at all one of those people who loves snow at the start of winter and then just gets sick of it by the end. I hate it all the time. Anything associated with cold is just plain bad in my book. You say snow is pretty; well, I'll give you that one. It's all sparkly and innocent looking. Until you have to drive in it, or walk in it, or otherwise BE in it. Then its just cold. And worse, it's cold that sticks to you, melts on your skin leaving cold red marks on you. Blech!

But the sun shining warmth all over your back.. that's just heaven. I love how my skin feels warm as the sun shines on it (and burns it into cancerous oblivion, but let's not think that way). I love the inviting cool of the grass (except the biting damn chiggers). I love the smell of heat and the thick perfume of flowering trees. For me, spring is long overdue.