Thursday, August 30, 2007

The snag in structured schooling...

We're not unschoolers, but I cling very tightly to our unschooling tendencies. For example, Chad finished his structured work yesterday in just over an hour and said, "YAY!" when he was finished. Then he went off to read a book about edible plants (and take notes), for fun. Just because he wanted to. We have a set of encyclopedias, a couple sets of children's reference books about everything you could think of, gobs of picture books and games, all of which the kids have access to whenever they like. Just about every day, at least one of them is parked on the couch looking through a book and announcing their discoveries. "Hey Mama! These people make boats out of reeds!" So yeah, we're pretty unschooly. Even our structured lessons aren't that structured. But it's not really unschooling either.

The problem with any kind of structured schooling is time. The kids have chores they do every morning and I freak out if we don't finish expect breakfast and chores to be done somewhere around 10. The idea is that lessons will be finished by lunchtime, and sometimes this works. If we have to spend an hour in the afternoon finishing, that's fine too. See? Not too structured. Except Every Little Fucking Thing disrupts this relaxed-but-structured schedule. Riley decides to play the harmonica right in the middle of math. My mother calls to ask a question and thinks of about 5 million other things to ask about while she's at it. They're working on the road outside and I decide - like a good unschooling parent, you understand - to call lessons off and go watch, then I get all upset later about what wasn't done and what needs to be "caught up" on.

Today we were going to go to the library. I want to make Thursday our library day this year (last year it was Tuesdays. I'm telling you, I'm a complete freak sometimes!). Everything was going along fine, lessons were getting done quickly and by 11:00 I knew we'd be finished before lunch and off to the library after. Then my aunt called. My uncle is having some tests done at the hospital, and due to some trauma patients coming in to the E.R., they're backed up. My aunt was supposed to be babysitting her granddaughter this afternoon, and would I mind taking her just for a few hours so they could wait at the hospital. "Not at all!" I say, "Bring her on over." Now my kids are off playing and schoolwork will never get done. We won't be able to go to the library until someone comes to pick up my little cousin, and by then it will be time to start dinner. Holy crap, this is SOOOO not a big deal. And I am so freaking out about what isn't getting done today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A nice light week...

I need a vacation from life right now. I can't even keep up with all the things I'm supposed to be remembering. I have little lists of things around the house. Lists of stuff I need to buy at the store. Lists of books I'll get from amazon if the much-needed help that has so generously been offered and is so greatly appreciated, ever actually comes. Phone numbers. Lists of books to get on our next library trip and books that need to be returned. Circled calendar dates. Little half-sentences like, "bday fri/colored pencils" written on napkins and the backs of envelopes. Disorganized stress-bomb anyone? Wow.

I decided to postpone the imminent breakdown due to lack of necessary materials for our History Odyssey program by a week. We are having a light week. Next week I'll have my breakdown. We didn't do anything at all until Wednesday, which just happened to be the first day of school for our district. I didn't do that on purpose, I was just busy babysitting Monday and running errands Tuesday, so it worked out that way. Wednesday there was much fighting and yelling and, "You stop talking." "No YOU stop talking, I'm not talking." "You're talking NOW. I didn't say anything." "Yes you DID!"

Yesterday, after finishing the second day of only handwriting and math, I'm ready to pull my hair out. Chad has this habit of asking to do something, then bitching that he "has to" do it. Like handwriting. I could personally care less how neat his writing is, as long as others can read it. He writes on his own, making little books or taking notes on books he's reading (this too is his own idea). Cadence loves handwriting practice. Anything in a workbook. So yesterday, when Cadence was doing handwriting, Chad asked if he could re-learn cursive (claims he forgot how). No problem. I spent about an hour digging up some practice worksheets online and printing them. Then today I handed him the "A" sheet only to have him say, "Why do I have to do handwriting?" What the hell? Some kind of juvenile Alzheimer's? I just handed him the cursive sheets and told him to do them if he wanted, use them for reference when writing, or throw them away for all I cared. Sheesh.

We took a trip back to the doctor for Riley again. That swollen lymph node from several weeks ago? Yep, still there and not getting smaller. The doctor was very nice, telling me not to ever read about medical stuff on the internet. "You probably read all about Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma didn't you?" Um.. well, yeah. He was a lot more informative than the last doctor, and explained how sometimes it can be long after the original infection clears before they go back to normal. He said they see this kind of thing a lot, and its very VERY rare that anything comes of it. More antibiotics for now, and if that doesn't work in two weeks we'll do a steroid shot. I guess if that doesn't work, they'll move on to biopsy, but he sounded pretty confident that Riley would be fine well before we need to do that. "She looks really healthy otherwise, no other symptoms, I'm sure it's nothing." I feel a lot better than I did before.

My old and ailing cat is no longer ailing. He's still old. No more puking everywhere though, which is nice because I don't have to worry about him so much, and also because I don't have to clean it off the carpets and furniture (computer, washing machine, bathtub...). Now he's spending most of his time sleeping and doing cat things. Like sleeping. Oh, and eating. And sleeping of course. I think I need a couple of days to be a cat.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Redneck Steam Cannon...

*Updated to add photos*

Ah, the Redneck life! You just can't do any better than good old redneck fun. Like most rednecks, we frequently build a bonfire in our back yard - right in the middle of town. The place we live technically IS a town, I mean, we have a post office. But I don't know if 5 or 6 square blocks really counts. Still, we have bonfires. And nobody cares, so long as it's "yard waste". For the record, the local fire department doesn't consider old wood siding that's fallen off your house INTO your yard, as yard waste. Go figure. "Ma'am, we mean the stuff that grows in your yard, not just stuff that happens to be there." Picky, picky.

Anyway, it's common while having a bonfire for Dad and the kids to play in the burning flames and coals. This is fun, right? This is the part where Vic laughs a lot and I say, "Please step back a bit," and, "Please don't run," and, "Please don't wave the flaming stick near your sisters." Usually, I get so stressed out I have to go into the house and find something to do. I trust my husband to be a good father and not allow them to get hurt. He's an old fire pro and is the reason my kids know how to build and bank a fire, which wood burns best, etc. But sometimes maintaining that trust requires me to leave the premises.

During one such backyard bonfire, Chad suggested making a steam cannon. Vic assisted the kids in a makeshift prototype, and after some tweaking and experimenting, this is what they were successful with:

The Redneck Steam Cannon
Supplies- one 2-foot (or so) piece of copper water pipe (diameter under 1-1/2 inches), red-hot coals (from a good couple of hours of burn is best), one wire coat hanger, water, and mud.
Assembly- With a pair of metal crimpers, pliers, or even a vice, bend up about 1-2 inches at the bottom of the pipe. Then, bend it up again, essentially "rolling up" or folding the pipe twice.
Make sure the "folds" are tight and flat. Straighten the wire coat hanger into one long wire. About 4 inches down from the top of the pipe, twist the coat hanger tightly, like a twist tie. You want it tight to make a secure handle that's not likely to slip. (In this version, we used a piece of bent metal, tied on with the wire, but the concept is the same)
Firing the "cannon"- Pour a small amount (1/4 cup or less) of water into your cannon. (As you can see in the photo, we usually just dip it in the nearest rain-filled outdoor object.) Plug up the top with a sticky clod of mud. Mud with very few pebbles is recommended; it lessens the air pockets and your risk of breaking window glass in the event of a misfire. You want your mud to be about the consistency of playdoh. If you're lacking this kind of mud, I suppose you really could use playdoh, although in my opinion it wouldn't be as fun. With a shovel or spade, make a big hill of your hot coals, at least 6 inches tall for good stability. Nestle your loaded cannon right in the middle of the coals, deep enough to prevent it from falling over. Remember to aim it away from people, houses, and your neighbor's car. (Since the kids would be heading to bed soon and I wanted a decent photo, we just braced the cannon with boards strangely straight sticks that fell off the tree. Ahem.) That's it! Within a few seconds, your cannon should fire, blowing a big ole mud clod high in the air. If it doesn't fire, give it a couple of minutes to make sure you're not just being impatient before trying to remove it from the coals. Check for leaks in the bottom of the cannon, holes in the sides, or cracks where steam could escape around the mud. Maybe your mud ammo is too thick or thin? Too much or too little water could also be the culprit. Experiment with different amounts of mud and water. Have fun with it.

This is great fire entertainment, and has become a camping (and backyard) favorite for the kids. Simple and using the basics of supplies, it's guaranteed to leave you grinning like a shit-eating possum.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Solitary Confinement for Schoolchildren...

A local school district just faced a lawsuit for keeping an autistic child in a "timeout room" for three hours. The timeout was videotaped.
"It was more than shock. It was pure mortification," her father later testified
during a legal proceeding. "We saw her hitting herself in the head. We saw her
just looking like a wild animal, essentially, for well over an hour, someone who
had just lost all control of herself and all hope."

I'd never even heard of timeout rooms before this story. Apparently, they're in use all over the state. They're just what you think they are - solitary confinement for children. The girl in this story asked to go to the bathroom and was denied. She tried at least 10 times to sit in the "body basics" position for the required 5 minutes, but every time she fidgeted, she was told she would have to start the count over. She wet her pants during her confinement, and still wasn't allowed to leave.
Kevin Took, a psychiatrist at Blank Children's Hospital in Des Moines, said he
deals with children who have been severely traumatized.Took testified that he
did not see anything traumatic about Isabel's videotaped timeout, even though
she wet her pants. Urination and defecation are fairly common issues with
children with autism spectrum disorders, he said.

While she is autistic, this is a child able to ask for a restroom break and function without accidents every day at school. This guy is supposed to be an expert in traumatic situations. Anyone who has ever been to school knows how traumatic wetting your pants can be. Her autism is no excuse for this abuse.
Records show Isabel was in timeout for 100 sessions between September and
December 2005, for as many as five sessions in a single school day, and
sometimes for an hour or more.

This whole article was maddening and horrifying. Especially this part:
As a result, Waukee is not bound to change the way it uses timeout rooms.Because
it was an administrative hearing, the Loefflers cannot seek damages, although
they could seek reimbursement for their $80,000 in legal fees. They also have
the right to sue for damages in civil court.There was no penalty for the school

Jesus Christ. "I'm glad we homeschool" isn't good enough this time. What about all those kids continuing to spend time in isolation rooms? Did anyone else even know they used these? Are homeschoolers still making an unfair comparison when we say public schools are like prisons?

Flat Stanley...

Since I've sent our Flat Stanley pictures off to Robinella, I thought I would share our Stanley adventures here.
I didn't get a picture of Cadence's Stanley pre-adventure, but she dressed him in a snappy black tshirt and some green waist-high waders. I think she was planning to take him to the river, before she realized water is a bad place for little paper boys. Since Riley's Stanley had upset Cadence so badly, Riley made another that we called Freckles because of his bright orange spots everywhere. Some kind of skin condition I guess. We took Stanley and Freckles to Ledges State Park, where there are enough hiking trails and lookout points to make you want to fall over and die.
The road is flooded out from the Des Moines River. It always is. This is actually part of the reason the kids like to go there. The kids wore their bathing suits most of the day.

The first stop was the picnic area for lunch. The kids found a tree frog right off the bat. No big surprise there. Stanley wanted to hold it too.

Next, we went for a hike.

The kids love the hiking part. You're hiking for hours on a trail that never seems to end. You keep thinking, "I'm sure we're almost there," but you're not. The kids always laugh and run ahead and say, "Come on!" about a million times. Stanley and Freckles had to stop to rest too.

Freckles is kind of a sickly kid, if you ask me. One of those scared-of-nature types. Allergies or something. We took a couple of breaks.See that green stuff in the foreground? That's poison ivy.

Then, to everyone's delight, we spotted this great little "cave."

You probably can't see it well in this picture, but there's a brown sign just to the left of the white fence in front of this "cave." It's teeny. Can't see it? Yeah, we didn't either.Up the side of the rocks! Cadence is obviously recovered from her broken collarbone, just in time to break something else. More green stuff. Yep, that's poison ivy too.Chad and Stanley, chillin' in the cliffs yo. After many shouts of, "Jesus, be careful!" and "Jesus, don't do that!" (should have named them all Jesus), we moved out. That's when we saw the sign.Oops. We moved on to the flooded road, aka the Swimming Area.Chad got busy damming up the road. Dams are his passion. They soon enlisted the help of about 6 other kids. Too bad my kids are lonely social outcasts and don't know how to interact with others.No matter how many other kids come around, my girls are still best pals.

Our next adventure with Stanley took place Down on the Farm. Well ok, it wasn't really a farm, but my friend's house is in a rural area, surrounded by crops. Does that count? We were happy to discover an old friend from Seattle was also visiting that day. Her daughter is just a few months older than Riley, and we hadn't seen them since last summer. Stanley donned his best farmer clothes (courtesy of Chad), and buddied up to the resident pet, a bantam rooster named Lone Ranger.

Notice the kids are holding Lone Ranger. He doesn't know he's a chicken and doesn't hang out with the other chickens. Hence his name. He spends his days guarding the garage so the other chickens don't get in, and hanging out around people.

Next was the corn field.

Children of the Corn. Remind me to make Cadence wear sandals the next time she wears those capris. Sheesh. Then they mowed the yard a bit. Stanley got to drive.This was taken before any mowing actually occurred. I think they mowed about 15 feet before running off to do something else. Kids are flighty like that.This green stuff is not poison ivy. It's actually soybean plants, although it does look a lot like poison ivy from a distance. Leaves of three and all that.

And speaking of poison ivy, Stanley suffered the effects of a whole day's worth of exposure:

Thankfully, my kids didn't get it. I mean worse than they already had it. Which was not too bad.

Now for the bad news.

This Stanley didn't make it. According to Riley, his extremities have turned black from frostbite. I don't know how many times I've said, "Wear your gloves. Frostbite will make your fingers turn black and fall off." (scare tactic parenting works like a charm) His lungs are intact, but the rest of his organs are "mixed up." His bladder, the dark swirly thing at the bottom, is full because the frostbite has rendered his ridiculously large penis functionally inactive. Poor Stanley. At first glance, you might think Stanley just got lost in the frozen mountains, but look closer. His brains have all come out of his head. We suspect foul play.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


Highlights of the last couple of days:

We took lots of pictures of Flat Stanley for Robinella. I've neglected her and her kiddos, and that makes me a very very bad friend. Public apology doesn't even make it right. I hope she can forgive me. We printed and colored our own Stanleys, I even made one. I asked the kids to think of somewhere they would like to take Stanley, and color him accordingly. Riley's Stanley has a very large penis, and several exposed organs. It's like Autopsy Stanley. Stanley Visits the Morgue?? Cadence was very upset about it, but so far, we have no pictures of that one. If we end up taking any of those, I'll post them here rather than email them. My kids are warped enough, we don't have to warp other people's kids. ;) Robinella, I'll get those organized and sent this weekend. I cross my heart and hope to die.

The poison ivy is looking better. Down to just a bunch of scabby spots. That's good right? I seriously don't know how this is supposed to work. I've been washing sheets and clothing every day in hot water. The kids have been showering with dish detergent and we have a nightly routine of baking soda paste. After much internet searching and a tip from Katherine, we discovered the weirdo bug we found was a soft tick, which I'd never even heard of, but apparently aren't known for carrying diseases. The swollen lymph node is "probably virus-related", and being treated by antibiotics (that I thought were for bacterial infections, not viruses). It's still swollen and painful, and we'll be heading to the doctor if it doesn't go away soon.

I am losing my voice. No throat pain or headache or anything, just scratchy and hoarse. It's weird. I'm starting to wonder if it's strep and related to Riley's lymph node thing. Hypochondria anyone?

Last night we went to a "steakhouse" which was really a more of a bar and grill with fancy prices. I had the first steak I've eaten in about a year. It was super good. I then spent the evening feeling lethargic and dumb, reminding me why I don't eat steak. But it was so worth it. Mmmm. I also had a Sam Adams, in an attempt to feel cultured, but quickly discovered culture isn't for everyone.

Hopefully later today I'll get around to actually posting something interesting. Right now I think I'll have some warm tea and a nap.