Thursday, March 29, 2007

10 Things My Kids Learned From Dad...

.. or "Reasons Not to Leave the Kids With a Redneck Ex-Marine Dad All Afternoon" :

1) Hogtying is an art.

2) Old bike innertubes make great slingshots.

3) Cats do not like duct tape.

4) Grubs are abundant when you dig.

5) Grubs make good bait and keep a long time in the refrigerator.

6) Napalm is easy to make.

7) Anything burns with napalm.

8) An air-powered pellet gun produces enough force to penetrate a metal car door.

9) Three sheets of 1/2 inch insulating foam board will support a child's weight in a pond.

10) Coca Cola makes the best burps.

Gotta love dad :)

While I'm in online ordering mode...

I've been hunting around online for a history/social studies curriculum for the kids. We've been ignoring the social studies books so far because they're lame and I have issues with the subject matter. The district curriculum starts in first grade with cities and road signs, then moves through the next four grades with states, government, the revolution, then the Roman Empire. Anyone else see a huge flaw in order here? I get the idea of starting with where you live and moving outward, but wouldn't it be easier to learn history chronologically?

For example, I'd rather my kids learn about government AFTER they understand why our government is structured this way. I'd rather save the revolution until they can read and comprehend the constitution. There are way too many people in America who are content to bend over and take it from the government because they don't understand in the slightest what the government's role is supposed to be. I believe we would not be where we are if more people understood how little England had to push before we told them to piss off. Most people have no idea at all the real meaning of words like "freedom" and "liberty."

Whoa, I digress. A lot. Anyway, I'm looking at chronological history. I've heard good things about Story of the World, and while we're quite capable of supplementing text with books from the library, I get the idea that's all this program is based on. Here's the general idea, now go learn about it somewhere else. Honestly if I was going to do that, I don't even need their "textbook." Since I'm really after an unschooly approach to history, it would probably be better if I did that anyway. I'm also concerned about religious material worming its way in. Religion is a big part of history and I'm okay with that, but I'd rather not have a Christian biased history. I guess I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, I'm ordering Saxon math materials for Chad next year. I'm debating on Cadence's math curriculum because I think she'd be bored and burnt out with the constant practice that Saxon demands. But right now she's using a program based mostly on manipulatives and workbook pages, which she just zips through and asks for more. She enjoys this, but I don't feel she's getting a lot from it. It takes her a bit to understand new concepts, so I'm reluctant to just move her ahead.

All this would be no problem whatsoever if I wasn't so terrified to design our own curriculum. I really want to homeschool in a relaxed and guided (rather than structured) manner, but I'm afraid I'll screw it up. I don't know everything. I'm a disorganized mess and have a lot of doubts about my ability to research the necessary stuff and present it to the kids. And I'm worried about the whole portfolio thing and how that relates to a non-text curriculum. Am I seriously supposed to list every friggin online resource, library book, workbook or project we've used the entire year? I'm afraid of the kind of organization that would require. I know I can do it, but it scares the crap out of me.

So, until I get the balls for that kind of schooling, I'll just keep looking for the right curriculum.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What I was gonna do today...

Things I was going to do today:

1) Clean off the computer desk, throw out old mail (yes, I'm one of those people), move out desk and everything on it, vacuum.

2) Go shopping for new desk, most likely the cheap kind that will fall apart in a few years, that way I'll be sure it matches everything else in the house.

3) Visit the library. It was Tuesday after all.

4) Organize my pan cupboard. The weirdest thing happens to my pans. I put them away in nice little stacks and after about a month it looks like an oversized junk drawer. Like that closet on Zaboomafoo, you open the door and tons of stuff just falls out everywhere. Ridiculous.

5) Measure the girls' room, design a bookshelf/toy cupboard, and compile a list of supplies needed. Make Vic build it.

Things I actually did today:

1) Caught a stomach bug, or something, complete with massive headache and overall ickiness.

2) Got an early visit from Aunt Flo, who was almost a week late last time. This kind of inconsistency has never happened before. Since I was 11, excluding pregnancies, I've been 28 and 1/2 days. Almost to the hour. I'm not sure what to think of it. Add some cramps and some more ickiness.

3) Lounged on the couch and whined a lot. The kids made their own dinner of pb&j and I didn't even feel guilty. I don't know what Vic ate, nor do I care much. I slept through dinner.

Now I'm awake at midnight, having slept most of the evening. Yuck. I'm hoping the stomach thing might actually be a menstrual side effect so the kids don't come down with it. I'm feeling a lot better now, after my stomach has settled and I've chased the cramps away with Merlot and about half a bottle of ibuprofen (ow! my liver!), so I'm hoping to attack all that stuff tomorrow. If all goes well, I won't have to add "Clean up kid vomit" to that list.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My seed order is in...

I just finished ordering seeds from High Mowing Seed Company. I'm excited about trying a new tomato this year and very much looking forward to the awesome lettuce I've become used to through the summer. This is the third year I've ordered from them, and have always been quite satisfied with the number of viable plants and the quality of the produce.

Well, that's not entirely true. Last year I ordered corn and was pissed when the plants only grew about 5ft tall, with about 1-1/2 inch stalks. We had a wonderfully sunny summer, which corn loves. I'd fertilized and adjusted soil pH in my terribly acidic yard. I watered every other day. We got plenty of corn, an average of 2 ears per stalk, and it tasted wonderful, but I was positive it would have been so much better if it had grown properly. When I visited their website to order my seeds this time, I intended to get a different type of corn and read each description carefully.

Turns out I'm just too used to Iowa. Most of the corn we grow here is feed corn for animals or "factory" corn for things like cornmeal, oil, syrup, etc. I was unaware that the corn I got last year was only supposed to get 5ft tall, not 6-7 like the corn around here on a good year. Not all corn grows like Jack's beanstalk and gets a whopping 3 inches thick. Who knew? So I went ahead and ordered the same stuff as last year. It did have great flavor after all.

Chad is a soil hound too, but this time he's getting his plants from Four Seasons Nursery. I'm trying to talk him out of about half his list, since they're trees or bushes and we just don't have the yard space. He's planning on getting a dwarf blueberry bush, supposedly able to live in a pot. I'm really really hoping that's true. I'm not a fan of peppers or onions (or lots of other icky crunchy vegetable-y things), so I only grow boring predictable stuff. This year I'm planting the corn of course, and slicing tomatoes, leaf lettuce, pie pumpkins and basil. I actually have tons of dried basil from two years ago, but I love the smell of flowering basil. It's a wonderful, thick smell but hangs only near the plant, so it doesn't overpower the whole yard. I plant it all along the border of my porch and along the side of the house. I also ordered some flowers for the front yard. Anyone else have a garden? What are you growing this year?

Monday, March 26, 2007

More backyard wildlife...

Last night, Chad came in the back door excitedly telling me there was a huge animal that had walked through our back yard into the nieghbor's yard. The last time he saw a "huge animal," he claimed it was a bear. No, insisted it was a bear, even though I was pretty clear about where bears live, which isn't in little towns in Iowa. Not even towns as little as ours. The last time, it was just a raccoon, and we've become pretty acquainted with them since then.

So, wondering which neighbor's dog had escaped, I took a flashlight and went out back. Nothing in our yard. Nothing in the neighbor's either. We walked around the front of the neighbors tall wooden fence and there around the corner was an animal alright. Its eyes were reflecting the light from the flashlight, but that's all I could see of it. I looked at it. It looked at me. We stood like that for a long time until I finally sent Chad in for the big Maglite. I'd probably been standing there, 20 feet from this thing for 5 minutes by the time we got a good light on him. And it wasn't a neighbor's dog.

It was a bobcat.

I backed up a bit, but not far. It was really exciting and the kids were crowding in behind me to get a better look. While bobcats aren't outwardly aggressive, I didn't want to give it any reason to feel threatened. After a few minutes, it finally got bored and walked away. I'm going to keep an eye out for it the next couple of nights. I'm hoping I can get a picture!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Four is a magic number...

There's a Bill Cosby comedy bit, I think from Himself, that describes a very long flight with a little boy named Jeffrey. Jeffrey is four years old and tells everyone on the plane, "I'm four years old." During the wedding rehearsal a few weeks ago, the adorable little ring bearer stood shyly by his mother eyeing Cadence by the snack table. Finally he mustered enough courage to approach her, but instead of introducing himself or even saying hello, he said, "You know what? I'm four."

Four is apparently a very important age. Most four year olds will tell you their age repeatedly, in case you forgot. Riley turned four yesterday and spent the entire day saying, "Now I'm four." Not, "It's my birthday," nothing about presents or cake - other than to ask when we'd have them, and only once all day - nothing about being bigger or asking when others' birthdays would be. Nope. Just, "Now I'm four." It's a big deal.

We never make a huge deal out of birthdays here. No Chuck E Cheese or rented hotel rooms or parties at the water park. The presents don't total more than $50 usually. Thankfully this time, the idea of turning four was way more important than presents anyway. Next month, I'll be 30. You can bet your ass I'll be counting on some presents. ;)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Digital cameras...

I mentioned before that I'm planning to buy a digital camera. I had one picked out, but now I'm starting to wonder if I should be more careful in my choosing. Does it matter how many megapixels it has? Is price just a matter of brand or does it reflect quality? Are there brands I should avoid for some reason? If my new computer is an HP, and the photo software I have is HP, should I get an HP camera too? This is becoming a bigger decision that I would have liked.

I really just want a stupid camera. Is there anything that fits just what I'm looking for?

-I'm not planning to submit anything to National Geographic. I just want to take pictures of my regular life.
-I don't want to email pictures the size of Canada to all my family members (Hello, family members and friends? Do you know how annoying it is to have to scroll down and over just to view pictures of your cat?), but I also don't want the picture quality to entirely suck.
-I don't want to hold the button down for 10 seconds before the camera takes the picture, and some sort of motion-correcting capabilities would be nice.
-I don't need to take thousands of pictures before I empty the memory, but it would be nice if I could take more than 50.
-I don't want to spend more money that I have to, but I also don't want something that will break by the third time I use it.
-I'd rather avoid a camera that requires a bunch of attachments to get the pictures from the camera to the computer, or anywhere else.

Any ideas?

The strangest thing happened...

We took the kids to a Des Moines restaurant called Ohana, a teppanyaki restaurant where they cook your food on a grill right at your table. You share a table with other diners unless you have a really large party - I think each table seats 10. They flip knives around and throw stuff, it's very cool. Until this time, this restaurant has been "our" place, meaning neither Vic or I have taken a date there before we were married. Silly, but sometimes silly things are still special. Finally though, our desire to share such a neat place with the kids overcame our silly possessiveness of the restaurant.

While we were waiting for our table, we sat in the lounge next to a biker-type guy with a bandanna on his head, his trashy looking female counterpart, and two young girls. When my daughters crowded around Vic for hugs and kisses, just because, this trailer park family giggled and whispered and hung all over each other saying, "Oh I LOVE you!" in mockery. I guess they thought there was something weird about parent/child affection? When they called our names, we learned we would be sharing a table with Trailer Park Family, and the mom whispered (loudly) to the biker dude, "Great, we get to share a table with the happy family with their little kids." (Hello, Bitch, I can hear you.) I centered myself and refused to let them ruin our meal, even though my first impulse was to punch her.

Vic and I had just been to this restaurant last weekend while the kids overnighted with Grandma and had been disappointed with our chef. He was kinda boring and his jokes weren't very funny and well, he was kind of a jerk. There was a drunk lady harassing him, so that may have had something to do with it. Either way, you can imagine how I felt when I saw the same chef pushing his little cart our to our table on our kids' first trip to this really neat place. Throughout the introductions and preparation of the appetizer, we learned Trailer Park Family consisted of Mom and daughters, 10 and 12, and stand-in boyfriend biker guy. The chef asked some I-really-don't-care questions about school and classes and stuff and the girls responded in the normal way: school kinda sucks, favorite "classes" are recess and lunch, not very good at any subject, etc. Then he turned to my kids and asked what grade they were in. "We homeschool," I told him. He looked uncomfortable, and I almost cringed when he said, "...Oh."

He said, "Um.. I don't want to be rude or anything, but.. well.. are you homeschooling because you don't believe in evolutionary theory?" I almost laughed. "Oh no," I said, "We're not homeschooling for religious reasons if that's what you're asking." He smiled and said, "So you homeschool because the current school system, based on an outdated institutional structure, fails to produce anything but moderately literate individuals incapable of independent thought..." he went on and on like this. I was dumbstruck. "Yeah, that's the one," I said finally. He asked my kids a thousand questions, and when Chad told him his favorite subject was science, the chef turned his cart sideways to show us a sticker that said "Talk Nerdy To Me," and rattled on about the best science magazines and books. He was delighted that we owned some Azimov and told us to look for some of his non-fiction publications because they were fascinating (which I will definitely do). Trailer Park Family squirmed a lot and chatted amongst themselves, and finally started making rude comments like, "I think I fell asleep for a second there." The Chef ignored them and continued serving food and chatting with us. He even went into significant detail about a teaching theory he'd read about, the name of the book, and the basics of the theory, finishing with, "See, I'm homeschooled too, only I'm homeschooling myself."

When we left our table, Chad and Cadence had to stop at the bathroom and Vic took Riley to get the car. I stood at the bar waiting for my older kids, and our chef was there talking to some of the other employees. He told me to keep up the good work, that what Vic and I are doing for our kids is a great thing, and that he doesn't often see such well-adjusted, intelligent kids as ours. I felt so great when we left that place. I know I'm doing the right thing for my kids. I know they're well-adjusted and intelligent. But since most of the feedback we get from family and people we come into contact with every day is negative or completely uninterested, it's great to get some compliments sometimes. We'll be returning to this restaurant with our children, and we might just ask for this chef again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Well it finally happened and my barely-hanging-on computer went caput. I was checking some blogs and mail with an old computer, but the keyboard port is broken on that one so no typing for me. Why do I have all these broken computers???

The tax return I've been waiting and waiting and waiting for finally came on Friday, so after the major bills and stuff were paid, we went computer shopping. Now I'm typing this on a brand spanking new keyboard with no missing keys, attached to a brand spanking new computer with Windows Vista. I'm having a hard time adjusting to Vista, but I think I'll live. I've never had a new computer before. Every computer I've ever owned has been either a hand-me-down from a friend or relative who replaced theirs or a discount rebuild from one of those shady rebuilt computer places. I can't even tell you how excited I am!

It's reeeally late here and I should be in bed but couldn't resist the peace and quiet of sleeping family members enabling me to type without distraction. I've been using that laptop with missing keys for so long I actually had to re-learn how to type properly. The space bar on the laptop was just a tiny plunger thingy, so I had been pushing it with an index finger - hard- for every space. It's a miracle I ever typed anything at all really. Now I'm having to train my index finger away from the space bar and teach my thumb to find it again. Funny how a few months of impairment have screwed up years of 70+ wpm.

Tomorrow I'm going shopping for a digital camera. It's like Christmas, only better since most of the new stuff is for me instead of everyone else. Hope everyone had a great weekend

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Grandma's Spaghetti Sauce...

Tonight we had the rare treat of Grandma's Special Spaghetti and Meatballs. My grandmother made the best spaghetti sauce ever, and I've spent the last 10 years trying to recreate her "secret" recipe. It's still subject to some tweaking, but here's my base recipe:

2 quarts tomato juice
2 cans (14.5oz) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 tsp each- basil, oregano, salt and rosemary
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground breakfast sausage
1 cup cracker crumbs
2 eggs
2 tbsp cooking oil

Dump the tomato juice, diced tomatoes, spices, onions, garlic and brown sugar in a large pot. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer (here's the kicker) 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally. When the sauce cooks down to a nice thickness, mix the ground beef, sausage, cracker crumbs and eggs in a mixing bowl (use your hands, it's more fun). Preheat a skillet with the cooking oil on medium heat. Roll meat mixture into 2 inch balls and fry, rolling around often to brown all sides, until cooked through. Drain off grease and dump meatballs into the sauce. Simmer another 15 minutes while you get your noodles together. By the time this cooks down, it's about 8 pretty generous servings. (?? I really have no clue??) We always have seconds.

I always add things every time I stir this sauce, mostly salt and brown sugar. However I'm a salt-hound, and a lover of sweet sauces, which may not apply to everyone. We scraped our leftovers into the bowl outside for the critters. Skittish was here early tonight and got the best of the offering, and let me tell you there's not much funnier than a raccoon eating spaghetti.

Monday, March 05, 2007

I'm an UNschooler...

Ok, I'm uschoolISH. Don't ask for a definition, I just don't have one. We dual-enroll, so we have books, we just don't use them much. We do book work for math and we read, read, read and we watch lots of educational programs and we learn from lots of other areas. A few weeks ago, I bitched to a local homeschool group about our reviewing teacher. When we started out, our choices were slim and I didn't know how to find a supervising teacher. An internet search brought me to the Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators, or NICHE. Great and all, but we're not Christian home educators.

I was clear with the teacher I chose that we were secular and unschool-leaning. She assured me that she'd worked for many years with many different types of homeschoolers. That first year, she suggested several religion-based homeschool textbooks, saying, "I know you're secular, but..." The second year when we decided to use the portfolio option instead of testing, she lectured me about including something that proved my son had learned grammar and sentence structure, proper writing technique, and a tape-recording of his reading. We hadn't studied sentence structure or grammar outside of the normal common-sense stuff. Most people speak with correct grammar by the time they're five, so writing this way is not difficult. Do we really need to break it down to nouns, verbs and adjectives, and discuss the proper tense? Do we really need to learn things like subject and predicate? I can honestly say in my entire adult life, I've never used the word "predicate" until this teacher required we include it in our portfolio. Chad is a reluctant writer, and pushing and forced writing activities only strengthen that reluctance. And what the hell does reading aloud prove? I can barely read Dr. Suess aloud without stumbling a bit, and saying "the" instead of "a" or something similar. He would lose points for every misread word, and he was then at the point of reading several 5th grade level books per week silently - big words and all.

So I cheated. I printed a couple stupid worksheets about parts of speech and subjects and predicates and I actually stood over my son while he did them. I briefly explained each worksheet and then asked him to answer aloud before writing the answer. If he was wrong, I simply told him the answer and we moved on. These cheated worksheets were my examples of his grammar lessons, and if he remembered any of that stuff longer than five minutes, he's doing better than most kids in public school as far as I'm concerned. Considering newspapers and the like are written at a 4th or 5th grade reading level, the fact that anything harder shows up on his reading list is a pretty good example of his reading progress. We picked a reading selection without too many multi-syllable words for him to read aloud, and I let him practice reading those two pages for almost half an hour before we recorded it. When we recorded, I let him run the machine, and if he misread or didn't like the way something sounded, he rewound and recorded again. The whole thing left me feeling icky and wrong, but it satisfied the teacher, and I was hoping once we were past all that silly grammar stuff it would not have to be repeated this year.

I was wrong. I just received a letter from our reviewing teacher, sealed with a sticker showing a sweet little boy praying and the word "Faithfulness" across the top. Ugh. The letter states her requirements for portfolio content as:

1. Results of baseline tests (this doesn't apply to us)
2. lesson plans, diary or written record of planning overview. (we don't plan, we just learn)
3. Outline of curriculum used (umm...)
4. Samples of work in each subject area: Reading, Math, Language, for grades 6+ add social studies and science (we have a reading list and math work, but language? .. I'm also concerned about next year and how the hell I'm supposed to prove he learned social studies and science? A list of videos and field trips?)
5. Any grades, assessments, written reports, test results, etc. (we do none of this)
6. A list of books read (covered)
7. A cassette tape of the child reading aloud (wtf? Why?!?)

I'm starting to think this woman doesn't understand the meaning of "unschooling," nor does she appreciate the benefits, obviously. I'm shopping for a new reviewing teacher this week for the next school year. I'll also spend the week making a fake lesson plan for the year and pretending I have a clue what days we did or did not "do school." Traditional school uses the same methods to prove learning as they do to teach. I'm not teaching my children to pass tests, I'm teaching them what they need to learn, in any way they need to learn it. So how the hell am I supposed to prove learning that isn't done simply to pass a test? I do not want to misrepresent my kids' progress and feel like a huge cheating loser for this, but I'm at a loss on a better way to handle it at this point.