Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My kids are dirty...

I refuse to take my kids out in public looking like what my grandmother called "crumb bums". (I go into a fit of giggles every time I say that. The kids do too.) One afternoon I left the house in a huge hurry to get to the grocery store before they closed and called the kids from the yard with, "Hurry and get in the car, let's go!" I was so distracted with time that I only glanced in the back to see that everyone was buckled before pulling out of the driveway. I was so focused on the heavy traffic that I never once even did a rear-view check of the kids. After pulling into the parking lot, I turned around to see three filthy children, covered in dirt from head to toe. Mortified at the idea of taking my kids into the store this way, I turned around and drove home. We made a dinner of scrounged-from-the-cupboard stuff and went to the grocery store the next day.

I'm not a clean freak by any means. I don't care if the kids get dirty, as long as they aren't ruining some previously un-ruined clothing. I don't make a big deal out of stains, and the kids have plenty of stuff suitable for dirty activities like camping, fishing, or digging a moat in the yard. I've actually had conversations with the kids that went something like: (Me) What on Earth are you guys doing out here? (Them) We're digging a well. (Me) Oh. Well if you don't find water, fill it in when you're done. I seriously do not care if they're dirty. But the idea of letting the world know that I'm raising a bunch of crumb bums (See how funny that is?) has never sat well with me. What will people think of my parenting if they see my kids looking like filthy little urchins? What kind of gross neglect is that?

I haven't posted too many pictures of the kids themselves here because most of the time they're dirty. I've decided though, that to thoroughly share our lives and experiences, I'm going to have to suck it up. My kids are dirty. Almost all the time. They're not neglected at all, in fact quite the contrary. They aren't models and this isn't a sitcom. They're children, doing what I think all children should be allowed to do. They're free to play as they like, under sufficient adult supervision. And they like to play in the dirt. So without further ado, this is what my children actually look like, about 90% of the time:

And this is what happens when Mom joins in the fun:

7 Random Things About Me...

Over the weekend, I was tagged simultaneously by Katherine and Robin for this meme. I love these!:

1. I tend to like things simply because they're not what most people like. I tend to dislike things just because they're very popular.

2. I enjoy parenting a LOT more than I ever thought I would.

3. I developed a love for art in my early teens. I drew the picture I use here for my blogger profile when I was 15. While I still occasionally sketch and paint, I'm not nearly as happy with the results as I was back then.

4. I embrace my redneck nature. And stuff like this makes me all fluttery and woozy:

5. I grew up swimming in lakes and rivers. I'm afraid of the ocean.

6. I have two tattoos. I ditched the nose ring when Chad was born, but I've been thinking about getting one again.

7. I don't care what anyone thinks of me, as long as they don't think I'm stupid. I'd much rather be considered ugly (even repulsive) than ignorant.

Now I'm supposed to tag 3 people. I tag Ami, Just a Mom, and GailV.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fly - er, Hop Away Home..

After close inspection of our developing amphibians, we've decided we have a mix of Spring Peeper frogs and some kind of toad, probably just an American Toad. The Spring Peepers are smooth and brown/green, while the toads are darker and slightly bumpier. Spring Peepers have a bumpy appearance anyway, so identification, especially of such small specimens, has been pretty difficult. This would explain their great differences in development the last few weeks. Either way, they're pretty cool.

There were eleven frogs and toads ready to hop to freedom last Friday. Forgive the blurryish pictures. I couldn't use the viewscreen in the bright sunlight, but you should get at least a reasonable idea of the size of these teeny little guys. This is the "path" we walk through to get to the creek across the road. Poison Ivy, anyone?
I've never had poison ivy and so far the kids have proven to also be immune. While we don't count on immunity, as often as we're exposed it's still a good thing to have. We transported the frogs (and toads) in an old tea canister.

Aww, aren't they just So Freakin Cute?!?

Hop away, my tiny little friends! See how camouflaged they are in the sand and mud?On Sunday, we took another eight to my friend's pond, where the eggs were gathered weeks ago. On the walk back to the house, the kids found a very cool garter snake.
After several minutes of handling, the snake was not happy. Garters aren't venomous, but they will still bite. Here it is, pissed off and poised to strike at anything that gets too close. Like some crazy lady with a camera. Isn't it beautiful?
Here is a picture taken while I'm running from the beautiful snake that has determined I am close enough, and slow enough to take out its aggression.

Ah, wildlife!

We started with 26 live tadpoles and have so far released 19 frogs and toads. Yesterday two frogs died suddenly in the tank before their tails were fully absorbed. I'm not sure what happened there, but considering how many have made it, I think we've done pretty well in caring for them. For those of you that have a hard time with math, that means we have 5 left in the tank; two toads we're letting go this afternoon, one tadpole with only back legs, and two frogs (or maybe toads?) that still have significant tails. More updates soon.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Email forwards...

Guess I'm just in a bitching mood today.

If you receive an email that you think is so funny, or touching, or thought-provoking that you want to forward it on to others, please please PLEASE for the love of Bob, do a few things first:

1) Think about who you're forwarding to. Are they a good Christian like you believe yourself to be? Are you even sure of their religious preferences? Could they be Buddhist or Muslim or *gasp* Pagan? Do they agree with the opinions about race, homosexuality, immigration, national language, religion or parenting reflected in this email? Might they be insulted if they're not in agreement with you about how great this email is? Consider how your one-click attempt to save their soul or give them a good laugh might in fact cause them not to speak to you again. If you have hundreds of people on your email list, chances are most of them aren't your real friends anyway. Otherwise, it only takes a few more seconds to add people individually to your email forward instead of just clicking the "send to all" button.

2) Think about the age-appropriateness of the email. Some people have children in their homes, even if you don't. While your friend might enjoy a picture of a drunk guy with his penis hanging out of his shorts, they might not appreciate their kids seeing it. Even an email with graphic text can be a problem for those parents with reading children. Take the time to label your message "Adult" in the subject line, preferably right after the "FWD" part, in case it's a particularly long subject title.

3) Never spam your friends. If you're forwarding an email with coupons or details of an upcoming sale, consider whether the people you're forwarding it to will have any use for this information. If they are really your friends, then you know if they can or cannot afford a shopping spree at Bed, Bath and Beyond, even with a 10% discount. They don't care about gardening sales when they live in an apartment. They're not interested in a sale at Baby Gap when their kids are all over the age of 10. If they're going to get one look at your email forward, make a disgusted noise and click the "delete" button, you're no better than the senders filling their Junk Folder with crap.

4) Remember this because it's probably the most important: Truthorfiction and Snopes are your friends. Use them. Every time. If you forward an email to 10 people about carcinogens in canned lima beans that turns out to be false, not only have you misinformed 10 people and contributed to a rumor that could possibly have seriously ill effects on the lima bean industry, but you've convinced the friends that took five seconds to look it up on a rumor website that you are an idiot. Think of the lima bean farmers! Think of your reputation as a reasonably intelligent person for crying out loud.

I just received this hateful piece of crap in my email box today. Not only did Andy Rooney not say any of this stuff, most of it doesn't go along with my personal beliefs at all. I've had enough conversations with the sender that this should have been obvious. I was shocked not only that the "friend" that sent it would think it was so profound and funny, but that they would think I would agree. I had thought better of them. I replied and told them to check a rumor site next time, and that I didn't think their email was at all amusing. Maybe next time they'll think before they click "send to all."

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Check it out!...

Leetle teeny amphibians of some sort have started crawling out onto the rocks. None yet who have completely lost their tails. We're pretty sure most of our tadpoles have grown into some kind of toad, instead of Spring Peepers as we originally thought. Most of the tadpoles/frogs/toads are very dark, almost black in color, while some are brown and speckled. None of them appear to have the telltale markings of a Spring Peeper. Two days ago, three out of the 26 tadpoles had all 4 legs. Yesterday there were eight quadrupeds.

Check out this picture from above the tank:

While it's sort of difficult to see, the amphibian on the left has all four legs. The one on the top has just back legs, and those little bumps from its sides are front legs still tethered with the transparent skin covering they've had since hatching. The one on the bottom has its back legs just beginning to form underneath its body. There are still one or two in the tank with no signs of developing appendages yet.

We will be releasing the frogs/toads individually when they are fully formed with no remaining tail, and by the looks of things that may be as soon as two days from now. I'm actually very happy that they have developed at different rates because that gives us more time to watch them before they're all released. I'm guessing we'll only have them another two weeks at most.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Mother's Day Booty...

This morning I woke to gifts from my children. No breakfast in bed, but they're not allowed to use the stove anyway and I did make that rule about no food in the bedroom, so I guess that was my fault.

First a homemade card from Cadence:

Cadence frequently mixes up "th" with "sh". The inventive spelling is cute, eh? Inside the card was Cadence's very first attempt at poetry (translated below, for those of you who don't fluently speak and read Kid):

"If it is a nice day,

I will tell you what to do.

Go outside and play.

If you have a pool,

Play in it instead.

But you will need a swimming suit."

She signed it with her first and last names, which she often does in her letters and notes.

Next was a box from both of the girls, with this note on top:

Inside the box were oodles of gifts from the garage sale shopping the kids did with Grandma Saturday morning:

Three beautiful necklaces; one with the letter "A", a blue sparkly lightening bolt, and a black flower with a rhinestone center. And two baggies of hair ties. Can't ever have enough hair ties, can we? I loved them! Next was Chad's gift:

A gorgeous mantle clock with only the teeniest chip in the corner of the glass.

I think I liked the notes and poem best, but I was so thrilled that my kids picked and paid for gifts for me all by themselves. On this Mother's Day, I'm the happy Mom of three great kids. Here's hoping your Mother's Day was just as nice.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Those Crazy High School Days...

All this talk about high school is going around the blogosphere like a case of the chicken-pox, and has me thoroughly appreciating our choice to homeschool. I could share some horrible stories of what I endured from Kindergarten through high school. I could give all the aching detail of the teasing for every stupid little reason in the book. I could explain how my very big home issues impacted that school experience. But instead, I'm going to tell you about my sophomore year.

The summer before my sophomore year, the home issues I just spoke of led me to two "temporary home placements," both about 200 miles away from "home", and attending two new schools. The first school was relatively the same as my old school. Cliques and bullshit. Nothing notable. I tried to fit in, to no avail since the uncool kids must put out some kind of Dork Pheromones and nothing I tried worked for me. In the second school, I abandoned any efforts to fit in and steeled myself to finishing sophomore year with no friends at all. Not much of a problem, really. I decided at that point that if they didn't like me, I didn't have to like them either. I did my homework and went from class to class like a robot, and other people barely noticed I was there.

The door to my science classroom said Mr. Harvey*, and while there was a man always in the room sitting at a desk near the front, the class itself was taught by Mrs. Brown*. The first few weeks, I thought Mrs. Brown must be a student teacher or something and it didn't seem weird at all. After a while though, I started to notice that Mr. Harvey never addressed the class at all, not even for a few minutes. Not even to say "hello," or "sit down," or "go to the Principal's office." Finally I asked another student just what the deal was. Apparently, Mr. Harvey, at the age of fifty-something, had lived his whole life in his mother's house, and she had recently died. Mrs. Brown was brought in as a substitute while Mr. Harvey was on leave, then stayed on to help out in the classroom since he was dealing with so much grief. According to the student in the next desk, he hadn't taught a class or spoken at all for at least a month before I transferred to the school. Sad. And weird too.

A week or so after learning the scoop on Mr. Harvey, he resumed teaching classes. That first week, we learned about Hitler, Kennedy, and aliens. This was a biology class. It started to become obvious that Mr. Harvey was not just grief-stricken. He was crazy. Soon Mrs. Brown, who'd stayed in the classroom during Mr. Harvey's lectures, took over again. This time, Mr. Harvey was not silent in class. He shouted at people who moved from their seats. He sang Camptown Races. He threw paper airplanes around the room. Crazy.

After a couple of weeks of this weirdness, Mr. Harvey befriended a few boys in his various classes. You knew which boys they were because they all carried around The Anarchist's Cookbook, just like the copy on Mr. Harvey's desk. After school and between classes, Mr. Harvey gave demonstrations of various soda-bottle bombs; the smaller bombs inside the explosion box in the classroom, the larger bombs in the football field outside. The boys all thought this was very cool, of course, since most of the ingredients were household products, and wasn't Mr. Harvey just the awesomest teacher ever? The rest of us were growing concerned, including Mrs. Brown and a lot of the faculty.

I began to wonder why Mr. Harvey wasn't fired. Clearly he was not fit to be a teacher and was in no kind of mental state to be around kids. I finally asked Mrs. Brown. She told me it was because the school would be closing its doors for good after this year due to a district restructure. A lot of the teachers would be losing their jobs, Mr. Harvey included, and since we were nearing the end of the school year, the administrators didn't have the heart to fire the guy. In other words, it's only another month, and a little exposure to a man in the process of losing his mind won't hurt the kids too badly.

One Monday right before class started, a girl a few rows over snagged a pen from the boy behind her. They wrestled for the pen in the way flirtatious teenagers do, with lots of giggling and gag-me stuff. Mr. Harvey jumped to his feet and ran to them, screaming at the top of his lungs for the boy to, "LET HER GO!!" The horseplay immediately stopped and the boy reached out to the girl to retrieve his pen. "SIT DOWN!" Mr. Harvey shouted. The boy started to explain, "..but Mr. Harvey, I just--" Mr. Harvey reached across to the lab table, grabbed a scalpel, held it in the boy's face and said, "I SAID SIT DOWN NOW!!" The boy sat. Mr. Harvey returned to his desk, scalpel in hand. Nobody called the police or escorted Mr. Harvey from the room. Instead, we all sat silently for 45 minutes until the class let out. Mrs. Brown didn't even move from her desk. That was probably the most terrifying 45 minutes of my life. Mr. Brown wasn't just crazy, he was dangerously insane.

Mr. Harvey was not in class on Tuesday, and Mrs. Brown informed us he'd been let go. We had a test that day and nobody even complained because the relief was so great that Mr. Harvey was gone. We were supposed to get the test results the following day, but Mrs. Brown said she'd "misplaced" the tests and would get back to us after she'd found and graded them.

On Thursday, I walked into the science classroom to see Mr. Harvey once again, arguing quietly with Mrs. Brown. I joined the group of huddling students in the corner, all of us wondering if we should slip out before something awful happened. I heard snippets of the argument, mostly from Mrs. Brown like, "you should get some help," and "you can't be here." It seems Mr. Harvey had returned to the school late on Tuesday night, stolen the "misplaced" tests, graded them all, and walked into the school Thursday morning with graded tests in hand as if he had never been fired. Soon the Principal showed up and quietly escorted Mr. Harvey to his car. There was quite a scene in the parking lot when Mr. Harvey was asked to relinquish his keys to the building (why didn't they do that when they fired him?), that ended with Mr. Harvey shouting, "I'll get you! You'll Pay!" Again, no police were called.

Mr. Harvey was arrested two days later while attempting to buy very large amounts of the same chemicals (in higher, purer concentrations) found in the household products he was teaching the boys at school to make bombs with. Only then did the school faculty report Mr. Harvey's behavior in the previous months. When my sophomore year ended and I left my "home placement" for my real home once again, Mr. Harvey was living in a secured mental institution, where he should have been months before.

There are many reasons that I homeschool my children. Bullies, cliques and other self-esteem crushing factors come into play. At first though, I thought they were things we could deal with. In fact, by the time I enrolled my son in public school for kindergarten, I'd completely brushed off this horrifying incident as a "you won't even fucking believe this" experience that was rare and would never happen again. But when my son started having problems and the Principal, teachers and even the bus drivers did as they chose regardless of my concerns, I realized that my experience was worth more than a good story to tell to people at parties. It was a lesson. I, along with the rest of my 20 or so classmates that year, watched a teacher literally lose his mind, and were helpless to stop it. We were at the mercy of school administrators making decisions based on their personal feelings instead of our safety and well being. Someone could have been killed. Hell, everyone could have been killed. I realized that my kid was spending 8 hours each day at the complete and total control of school administrators and faculty just like those at my old school. Just like everywhere. People with personal feelings, weaknesses and agendas. Some people with hidden demons like addictions, pedophilia and mental disorders. Human beings that can make mistakes. And I'd be damned if one of those mistakes put my child at risk.

A lot of my friends and family members think I'm overprotective and have said things like, "You can't protect your kids from everything," but I say that protecting my kids is my JOB. And this comes down to the heart of the matter in why homeschooling is best for my family. As long as they are both living and learning in my home, I know every decision that effects them is made in their best interest.

*Names changed partly to protect anonymity, and partly because I no longer remember them. Blocked it out maybe. It was that bad.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

They grow up so fast!...

I took some more pictures of the tadpoles today. It's starting to become more difficult with the tank filling with muck. I tried to filter it some yesterday, but the tank is only about 3 inches deep with water, and the pump can't pull the water that far up apparently. I settled for a 50% water change, which helped, but I'll have to do a full change soon if they keep messing the water up like they've been doing.Here are three of them crowded into a corner. For size comparison, the larger shiny rocks in the tank are about the size of a quarter. Last time I pointed out the size difference between the late-hatcher and his companions. Since then we've found others that were smaller than most, and as they've grown it seems they aren't growing at the same rate. The largest tadpoles are about 1 and 1/4 inches long now, and 3/8 inch wide at their widest part of their (head? belly?) bodies. Spring Peeper tadpoles are supposed to grow larger than the frogs they eventually become, so this should be interesting to watch them grow. Their eyes, which started sort of on the sides of their heads, have moved to the top and very much resemble the eyes of an adult frog. They're still coated in the clear jelly-like skin over their whole bodies.

I zoomed in on this guy, post-photo so it's a bit blurry, so you could see their little back legs are developing. We saw this more than a week ago in the form of one solid appendage from their underbelly. We didn't realize at the time it was their legs forming, we just thought it was poop. (If you've ever had goldfish, you know what I'm talking about.)

I can't believe how much fun they are to watch. They've become a lot more active than they were shortly after hatching, and zoom around the tank at the slightest bump or glimpse of movement. When they get a bit bigger and more hearty, I plan to catch a couple and photograph them outside of the water.

Surviving High School...

RegularMom had a great post about the high school cafeteria. It got me thinking about how readily (and sometimes openly) people downplay my choice to homeschool. My grandmother, a wonderful and respectable woman that I admire more than anyone else, dislikes the fact that I homeschool. Maybe even hates it. A lot of my friends say they think it's a good idea, but they say it in that uncomfortable way you might tell a good friend, "You're right. Eating dirt IS a good idea. Get your minerals right from the source. Good thinking." and as with homeschooling, end it with, "I could never do it myself, but that's great that you are." In other words, I get the feeling they don't really mean it.

Sometimes though, people are outright critical. They bring up the "S" word. They talk about high school dances and sports, and most importantly, friends. They almost always say, "Well, you and I both went to high school, and we survived just fine." Surviving is something you do when you're involved in a plane crash over the Alps and stranded in a frozen wasteland with nothing to eat but other "survivors." Surviving indicates something you managed to live through, despite the odds against you. Surviving is something that disregards other things like happiness, security and contentment.

What these critics fail to see is that, like other survivors, they remember a lot of the good things and tend to block out the bad things. In the case of institutional schools, it's a pretty successful tactic. In a few short years, long enough to finish college and start having children of their own, people have almost completely forgotten everything but the few good things that kept them holding on through high school. High school dances, sports and friends are how teenagers cope with the trauma of high school. And just like a lot of finely tuned coping skills, they're hard to let go of, and become so deeply ingrained in their brains that they start thinking all kids need to have them. They've forgotten that dances, sports and friends are what they are - coping skills for an unhealthy environment - and that if you're not IN that unhealthy environment, you have no need for a way to cope with them. That's why so few high school friendships last beyond high school. You no longer need them to cope with your life.

I don't suffer from trauma-induced amnesia. I still very clearly remember that hot, sick feeling that starts in your stomach and moves through your head, brought on by someone else's laughter. I remember hearing "slut" and "bitch" coming from the seat behind me, not-so-cleverly disguised in a fake cough. I remember holding my bowels until I thought I would explode so I could use the bathroom at home rather than stink up the school bathroom and people would know it was me (God forbid I poop like everyone else does). I remember what it feels like to have a ball of paper, wet with someone else's saliva, stuck in my hair. I remember the feeling of complete elation at the realization that it was Friday and I wouldn't have to be in this horrible place for two whole days, and the subsequent feeling of depression on Sunday night. I bet if you think about it, you can remember these things, or other horrors, too. Like those critics, I survived high school. Thank goodness for my friends, or I may not have made it. Not everyone does.

My kids aren't involved in group activities, they don't go to many birthday parties, and we aren't involved in any playgroups. They won't go to prom. But my kids don't need coping skills. They possess qualities I never had in my childhood, like confidence, self-respect and a sense of security. My kids are fun-loving, independent and most importantly, happy. They're not just surviving. They're thriving.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

And it all started with a friendly game of cards...

I was playing Old Maid with the girls today. Riley asked what an old maid was, and I changed the subject. I could get into a big ole tangent about expectations of marriage and negative biases, etc. but for one thing, she's four and wouldn't follow me past the first few words, and second, I don't think "old maid" is a term people even use anymore. Not that it isn't still worth discussing at some point, I just didn't think it was worth discussing right then. Regardless, it stayed in my mind as cards were dealt and I separated the little cartoon people matches. Two Doctors. Two Teachers. Two Veterinarians. At least there were women in there, being pilots and bakers, and we'll just pretend the Movie Star isn't clearly holding one of those cigarettes-on-a-stick. Still, most of these people are men. And since when did "Witch" become a profession?

I was sitting there quietly, thinking these thoughts when Cadence said, "Why are all the women in these pictures wearing lipstick?" I looked through my cards. She was right. The Police Officer, the Baker, even the Old Maid wore lipstick. Cadence started flipping through her cards too and said, "You don't HAVE to wear lipstick. Oh I guess the witch isn't wearing any, but still." I nodded and said, "I hardly ever wear lipstick myself."

Riley, silent until this moment, spoke up then. "You don't wear lipstick, Mama. You're just like the witch."

"Yep," I told her. Just like the witch."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Stephen King, the brain-altering writer...

I have a love/hate relationship with Stephen King novels. He's one of my favorite authors, but sometimes his stories irritate me with their silliness. A hand of God descending from the clouds to wipe out Super Evil Guy? Really? I hated 'Salem's Lot. Vampires, Catholic priests and crosses. Gimme a break. Yet I read it all. Why? Because the way he writes speaks to me. He's not trying to flower up his novels with "sophisticated" vocabulary, he's just writing the damn story. I respect an author that can include a sex scene without using the words "member" or "honeypot." Jean M. Auel's Earth Children series pissed me off with the detailed sex scenes every other page until eventually I just started skipping my way through the books. In King novels, people have sex, then they move on with the story. Characters swear and urinate and speak with thick accents and aren't afraid to toss in a racial slur or two. It's real, and not just some rosy-colored version of real.

I am now reading the seventh and final book in the Dark Tower series. Honestly, the fifth book left me so annoyed I didn't know if I wanted to finish. But I have some kind of read-them-all-in-order book OCD, and if I didn't read the others it would bother me that I hadn't. The sixth was even more annoying. Recycling old characters. Stephen King as a messenger of God, controlling the universe with his keyboard. What a bunch of self-righteous crap. Oh I get it, sure. How do we know our lives are "real"? How do we know there aren't forces beyond our conscious mind doing things we may not even realize? And the references to King Arthur (Mordred, the evil son spawned to kill his father) are clear enough. I'm picking up what he's throwing down. It still annoyed me. And I still kept reading. And to be fair, despite the occasional annoyance caused by too much thinking on my part, I really am enjoying this series.

Now, halfway through the final book, I find myself doing something weird. The characters in The Dark Tower series have unusual mannerisms and phrases that are randomly slipping into my thoughts. I can't tell you how many times I've typed "if it does ya" on this very blog before deleting and changing it to "if you like" or "if you prefer." Maybe you'd say it was because I've been reading so much of it, and maybe you'd say true. But I think it's more than that. I've read lots of books and never picked up phrases like that. I think these particular phrases just feel right. Normal, if you kennit. I think it felt so right and normal to Stephen King that it just may have been one of the reasons to expand on the main character Roland in the fourth book Wizard and Glass by spending the whole novel in a town where everyone talked this way. If that was one of the reasons, I certainly don't blame him.

My friends used to joke that they could always tell when I'd been visiting with relatives from Minnesota because I was pronouncing all my O's funny, but spending time in the south never left me with a drawl. Around my Northern family though, I was comfortable and the accent and "don'tchaknow" just felt normal. I didn't feel like a weirdo talking that way. I'm telling you this because if the phrase, "if it does ya" happens to slip into my posts, it's because I've been brainwashed by the normalcy and comfort of Stephen King. And it doesn't make me feel like a weirdo at all.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Lesson of the Day: Don't Curse the Camera...

This morning I was pissed off at my camera. While studying the tadpoles, we noticed that, just like the illustrations of tadpoles we've seen, their tails are a dark line surrounded by a feathery transparent structure. We also noticed that, unlike the illustrations, a transparent jelly-like skin covers their whole bodies. I tried to take pictures of this, but closeups were blurry and zooming out again didn't show the really cool transparency around them. Cheap damn camera. I had much the same problem trying to take pictures of the ants on my peonies. Too close, blurry. Too far, can't see the tiny little ants. I cursed my camera. I called it some very bad names. The camera took my abuse quietly.

Then, my substitute dad called wanting to take me and the kids out to the lake to observe the flooding and "maybe fish a bit." Yay! I grabbed the crappy camera to document our trip.

This is the rarely-flooded area next to the lake. Normally, the lake sits beyond the furthest treeline in this picture. It might interest you to know that this 1000 acres or so of land, owned by the State of Iowa, is available for lease to farmers every year at a lowered price. Due to rising gas prices, and corresponding rising corn prices, the farmers paid about four times more than prior years per acre this year for this land. Leases were signed two weeks ago, before all this flooding. I'm betting some farmers are losing their ass on this one. While the day was overcast, the view was much brighter than this picture would indicate. Damn camera.

Cadence promptly caught a toad. This particular toad was an amputee, having lost one of his front legs, probably to a turtle. It was healed though, and while he wasn't very good at landing, his disability didn't affect his hopping skills.

Notice the crisp detail of the rocks and plants. Notice the shiny nail polish over dirt-crusted fingernails. Notice that Cadence has as many warts as her new handicapped friend. Now notice the blurry blob that's supposed to be a toad. That fuzzy stump is what's left of his front leg, but after taking four shots, this was the best picture I got of him. Grrr. Piece of shit camera.

After fishing for 45 minutes and catching only one teeny fish, we moved on. A long drive around the lake and down about a hundred gravel roads brought us to a nature preserve. (I forget the name now and it's driving me crazy!) This place had a large grassland with grazing bison and elk, and a Learning Center that offers classes, tours and information on Iowan wildlife. Very cool! We didn't have time to visit the Learning Center or the gift shop (it will make for a cool field trip at a later date), but we drove through the grazing area. I busted out my camera to take pictures. This is what I got:

The bison, buffalo if you like, were wildly and unpredictably lounging in the grass in the far edge of the pasture. I could have gotten some pictures of them, if my camera was good enough. Alas, they were too far away and I didn't even try. Heck, I couldn't even see them well. Grumble grumble.

We got home only minutes before Vic and I pulled out the camera to show off the (crappy) pictures I took today. As he handed it back to me, his fingers caught the wrist strap and the whole thing fell out of my hand onto the slate porch. Batteries went flying. The memory card skidded across into the mud. We got it assembled again and found a small dent in the lens casing and that some small piece of something under the glass viewscreen cover had peeled away at the corner. Bummer. When I turned it on, the lens wouldn't retract and the screen kept telling me "Lens error! Restart camera!" with lots of loud beeping. Fucking great. No matter how shitty, I did spend around 300 bucks for that camera and can't afford to replace it.

A few minutes of screwing with it got the lens working again and it seems that all is well after all. I'll have to deal with the little dent as my punishment for swearing at the camera all day. Cursing at your camera is very bad juju.


It's 3:00am. I'm sitting here composing for my silly little blog instead of sleeping, and I'm thinking about four things.

First, why are there so many homeschooling bloggers brimming with confidence when there are so many homeschoolers like myself who find themselves lacking in this area? Are people faking it? Are they deliberately not writing about the feelings of incompetence, doubt and disappointment because of some kind of denial? Are they afraid others will see them as bad mothers/teachers/people because they confess to some humanity? Or am I really in a teeny little minority and possibly AM a bad mother/teacher/person because I have these feelings when most people don't? And holy crap, am I depressing other people with my shortcomings?

Second, why can't I find a hobby I'm passionate about? Other people are passionate about things. I try new stuff all the time and I'm always excited about it. Of course I am, it's new and full of possibilities. Then I get bored and pick a new hobby. I still enjoy all the things I started: sewing, crocheting, knitting, gardening, etc., I'm just not passionate about them. And I really want to be passionate about something.

Third, how in the hell am I going to get everything together for the kids' portfolios that have to be turned in just a couple of weeks from now? My copier won't work because it's a Lexmark, and apparently that company is more concerned about selling printers than they are about whether those printers are compatible with the computer they're attached to. It will print, but it won't scan or copy, and I need about 3000 copies for my portfolios. Some of those copies will be from textbooks and novels, so that rules out Kinkos. I'm moving into full panic mode on these damn porfolios now.

Fourth, and probably most important of all, why is my whole family sleeping peacefully while I'm sitting up at 3:00am wondering/worrying about all this crap? Why won't my (lightly used) brain shut the hell up for long enough to go to sleep? They're all in there dreaming away about fuzzy little animals or floating boats in the stream or something, and I'm not dreaming at all. I don't care if I dream all night about being buried in yarn I've never used or frantically driving from one copy center to another, as long as I can GET to sleep to dream it. This lack of sleep leaves me groggy and grumpy and pessimistic (can you tell? Ha!).

Back to toss and turn for another three hours until the alarm goes off.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Why I can't teach reading & spelling...

When I was a very small child, I was read to. A lot. My mother signed up for book clubs and we had several sets of books on the shelves. The Entire Dr. Suess collection,the Sweet Pickles books, the Berenstein Bears. Everyone read to me, from my mom to my grandparents, aunts and uncles, older cousins. Basically whoever I could get to read to me, did. I had a very solid vocabulary at an early age and soaked up everything that had to do with language; spoken word, written word, double entendre, innuendo, jokes.. everything. Often, if I couldn't get someone to read to me, I'd pull out a book and "read" it to myself, having heard the story a zillion times and memorized it fully.

When I was four, during Christmas break at preschool, my grandmother heard me "reading" in the next room. After a few minutes of listening it was apparent I was not just reciting from memory, but actually reading the story. She came into the room, pointed to a word and said, "What's that word?" "The." I told her. "That one?" "About." She did this for several minutes before picking a book off the shelf that wasn't read to me often. And I read it. Front to back. I had learned to read simply by seeing the words as I heard them. Throughout my early school years, my love of language gave me an advantage in spelling as well. Most of the spelling words assigned were words I'd read and written a thousand times already. I can't say that I enjoyed a literature, composition or language class until high school. Before then I was just bored.

When Chad was born, I was determined to immerse him in language. I knew the fact that I was spoken to like a person instead of a baby, and read to so frequently, was the reason I could read and speak with such fluency at an early age. I intended to repeat the process with my kids. I bought gobs of books. I read to Chad every day, even before he was old enough to ask me to. We sang the ABC's and practiced letter sounds wherever we went. "Look at the sign for the fruit. See? 'F' says 'ffff' for 'fffruit'. I was happy when Chad entered preschool and the teacher expressed her amazement at his knowledge of letters, shapes and colors. He did not learn to read at home, but learned in kindergarten and 1st grade with a program called ReadWell in the public school. Unfortunately, by the time we started homeschooling halfway through second grade, Chad was not reading with much fluency. He was phonics-focused and it was impossible for him to read words like "friend" that can't be sounded out easily. So I began a whole-language word recognition exercise every day. It went something like this:

Me- This word is "boathouse." "th" usually says "thhh" but this is a compound word. Boat-house. Boathouse. Say it.
Chad- Boathouse.
Me- This word is "would." You don't hear the "L" in this word, but that's how it's spelled. Say it.
Chad- Would.
Me- What's this word again?
Chad- Boathouse.
Me- And this one?
Chad- Would.

We did this every day. For reading, it really helped. He now reads books one or two grades ahead of his grade level. But it was an exhausting process that left us both feeling like crap. I was pushing his reading like a drill instructor, and he was hating reading everything I gave him. He refused to read on his own, just for fun. It wasn't fun at all. He's finally found some books he actually enjoys and I think he'll turn into a reader after all, but the process sucked. I wouldn't have pushed him at all, but was positive that his reading and writing ability would be greatly damaged unless he learned to do it properly.

He still cannot spell at anything better than 1st or 2nd grade level some days. He can read, but he can't spell. He can read all the words he misspells. His spelling is also phonetic, regardless of how many times he's read the word to know it's not spelled like it sounds. I've tried daily spelling practice. I've tried spelling rules. I've tried spelling aloud. Nothing has worked for him.

I don't know what else to do. Through all the struggle with Chad's spelling and now Cadence learning to read and write (on her own initiative, thankfully), I've realized I don't have the slightest idea how to teach it. I just learned. I just knew. Explain how to breathe. Teach someone how to sneeze. I don't have a clue how to explain the thinking behind learning a new word because it's something I just do. I see the word, I pronounce it, I know it. I spell as if by instinct. I typed "entendre" in the first paragraph having never seen the word in print before, double-checked and found it correct. I'm not saying I'm perfect by any means, but the way I see spelling and reading, the way I think about them, is getting in the way of teaching them.

For now, I almost have no choice but to cycle through reading and spelling programs. This one didn't work. Nope, that one didn't either. I'm just shooting for fluent readers and spellers sometime before they're 30.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Get your exercise when you can...

My exercise routine for today-

Fill one 2 and 1/2 gallon bucket with warm water. Add whatever cleaner you use to mop (if applicable). Allow your kids to wrestle in the kitchen until the entire bucket gets dumped on your kitchen floor.

Spend the next 15 minutes soaking up as much as possible with a sponge mop. Be sure your mop handle is long enough that you don't have to bend over too much and strain your back. This is an excellent cardio/upper body workout.

Grab a clean(ish) bath towel. Toss it on the kitchen floor. Stand on the towel with feet shoulder-length apart. Without lifting your feet, scoot around the kitchen floor, pushing the towel over every part until the floor is dry. This should take about 10 more minutes, and makes for great leg exercise.

If your whole body isn't burning by now, move on to the next exercise:

Get a cat, preferably one that's scared of strangers and still mellow enough that he's not likely to scratch or bite the kids no matter what they do. Invite strange people over and let the kids torture him until he develops a stress-related shedding problem and takes to hiding under the bed.(Boxer, my beautiful but neurotic apricot-point)

Move the bed out and vacuum the same spot of carpet for 15 minutes. Give up on your vacuum and get the broom. Pull broom over carpet in short brisk strokes for about 20 minutes until all the cat hair is out of the carpet.

Repeat monthly for biceps of steel.

Stay tuned for more great home exercise ideas. I'm going to have a Tylenol and a nap.