August 31, 2009

Staying at Home

Choosing to stay at home was not in my plans for my life. A dozen years ago if you had me glimpse into my future I would not have pictured the life I lead today, nor would a single soul around me. I was a determined and motivated young woman with a lot of goals and grit to get there or so I thought. In 1996 if asked what will you be doing in 2009 my answer would likely have been working for an environmental law firm, or possibly coaching a college debate team, not the answer any of my regular readers who have likely guessed.

Not yet married and getting ready to start my masters program in Rhetoric and Argument I would not have guessed I would go on to spend the next dozen years at home raising young kids and eventually homeschooling them. I would not see the inside of an office building except to pick up my husband or sign some legal papers over the years. I would have very little need for any shoes other than my birkenstocks and tennis shoes. I would be happier and more content than I ever imagined.

Staying at home was not a choice that came naturally to me. When Serona and I first got married and talked about having kids I was sure I could not be the stay at home parent. We both agreed a stay at home parent was ideal if not necessary and would be an important goal of our family, we just expected it to be him and not me (or at least I did). I was not patient, I was not tender, patient, supportive or interested in spending a lot of time with young children so I thought. I planned to go on and work and when the time came he could stay home and I would continue to work. Obviously that has not been the case and it continued far longer than we ever expected.

When Maria was born something inside of me completely changed and I was able to make a transition to being a stay at home mom much easier than I ever anticipated and along the way the idea of going back to work started to disappear from my radar. There were things I missed, trade offs I knew I was making and days I thought I would go crazy from being alone all day in the house with a small helpless completely dependent and demanding human being who could not communicate other than by crying.

Moments of My Day

Today is one of those days that reminds me why we home school and that we really are just always learning, discussing and developing, even when it does not look like a traditional classroom and actually because of it.

This morning my day started with a cup of coffee and piece of crumb cake at the dinner table.  The kids had already had their breakfast but were not quite ready to start school.  Ciaran and Sirah were playing rounds of Guess Who in one of their bedrooms and temporarily getting along so I was enjoying letting that moment continue.  Maria decided to start an interesting conversation with me about science, religion, creationism, and evolution.  Yes she is 10 years old and I was taken aback by the length and depth of our conversation.

First subject for Sirah was math, we were learning division for the first time.  She tends to get scared off by what she thinks are big math terms and anything she has heard her siblings complain about.  Division sounded scary to her and her siblings complain often about long division, so math did not start on a good note.  I quickly showed her that she already does division all the time in her life, with treats and her siblings.  If I give you six cookies to split evenly how do you do that, how many do each you have?  Then we used real food to help demonstrate, that is always a highlight for the kids :)  I did not have chocolate chips so she had to settle for pretzel sticks, eating as many as she used for her examples.

August 28, 2009

Craving Quiet

It seems my life is always chaotic and loud. I know I will miss these days when my home is filled with silence unless I add something to it. I love the noises of kids and a very busy happy household. Still days like today I just crave the quiet even if just for a moment.

We are not quiet people, we don't use quiet voices, we listen to music, we talk, sing, play music, shout and generally all seem to be making noise at the same time. I think this is not uncommon for most families these days but every once in awhile I wonder how did we get this way? Why does it always have to be so loud.

Every once in awhile I try the whole "inside voices" and try to enforce quiet and it never seems to work or stick. Sometimes when reading they can all be quiet for just a few minutes. I love my kids and I love the sounds they make there are just days I wish I could turn down the volume some and this happens to be one of those days.

Enjoy your life whatever the level of noise it currently holds.

August 25, 2009

The Magic Dragon

The magic dragon visited our house today. Sirah, who just turned 6, received a special visit from this magical friend. She went into her bedroom to find the very messy bedroom had been transformed into an immaculately cleaned and vacuumed bedroom. Upon her bed she received a note from the magic dragon.

Dear Sirah

I was flying past your house and saw your messy room. I decided to stop by and clean it for you. Hope you have a great day and this makes you feel better.

Love the Magic Dragon

Every family member denied being the magic dragon to Sirah (yet I have my strong suspicion and possibly some insider knowledge that Maria was somehow involved.

What a special and wonderful blessing to give to a family member. How can you be a magic dragon today and how do you encourage your family members to have the hearts and actions of magic dragons as well?


August 19, 2009

Sirah turns 6 - her whole life blogged

Our youngest is turning 6 which is in some ways amazing to me. I don't feel the time has gone too fast but I am feeling the transition of not having real little ones in the house anymore.

Sirah is a sweet spirit and a tender young one so full of that youth that I think she will always keep a bit of that wonder and young spirit around our home. Yet we are done with slings, diapers, nursing, toddler things and have moved on to dolls, arts and crafts, reading and first grade. Yet she is still very snuggly and wanting thousands of kisses and hugs and snuggles. She would sit and just be with me all day if she could and her desires are simple and few.

Hard to believe on this night 6 years ago I had a 4 and 2 year old and was exhausted from several weeks of intense prodromal labor. Now as I type everyone is fast asleep in their own beds at the ages of 10, 8 and 6. I loved the early days and was a good mom to really young children but as they grow older I find I enjoy these ages even more and for that I am thankful. I was worried I was going to really miss those early days and think it all went by too fast yet I don't. I enjoy where we are at now as a family.

Yesterday I spent 2 hours playing Risk with Ciaran, today I had a bunch of Maria's friends over for movies, junk food and night games outsides, tomorrow we will spend the day doing whatever Sirah chooses all day long. I don't miss diapers, backpacks, and chasing after toddlers. I will always cherish the many years I spent breastfeeding and carrying the babies in a sling and the smell of newborn heads.

Along with celebrating 6 years of Sirah I realize I have been blogging for a little over 6 years having started this blog 2 months before she was born. Sometimes I look back at those early posts and years and think "What was I thinking?" othertimes I get great ideas to remember to take the time to do now again.

Recently I tried to use one of those self publish your blog websites and they told me my website was too big for their server to handle or the book to print. Amazing I have written that many words here over the years.

Anyway happy birthday Sirah and thanks for reading me all these years to my readers.

August 14, 2009

Maria's Top 50 Books and Series - 4th Grade

Maria decided to make a list of her favorite books from her 4th grade reading to share here. Often she included entire book series as a single entry.

Brisingr - Christopher Paolini
Eragon - Christopher Paolini
Eldest - Christopher Paolini
Princess Bride - William Goldman
Star Wars Saga - all 6 original movie books and the extended universe

The Warrior's Saga - Erin Hunter (20+ books
Guardians of Ga'hoole series - Kathryn Lasky (12 books)
Charlie Bone series - Jenny Nimmo
Caddie Woodlawn - Carol Ryrie Brink
Spirit Flyer Series - John Bibee

The Royal Diaries Series - Scholastic Press
Harry Potter Series (1-3) - JK Rowling
The Fellowship of the Ring - JR Tolkein
The Hobbit - JR Tolkein
Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart

Nancy Drew Series - Gertrude Chandler Warner
Peter and the Starcatchers Series - Ridley Pearson and Dave Barry
Samantha an American Girl Series - Susan Adler
Anne of Green Gables series - Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Sword Bearer - John White

Wizard of Oz series - L. Frank Baum
The Magic Thief - Sarah Prineas
Chronicles of Narnia series - CS Lewis
The Toothpaste Millionaire - Jean Merrill
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E. L. Konigsburg

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
Ramona Quimby series - Beverly Cleary
Gold in the Water - PH Mullen
Spies: The Undercover World Of Secrets, Gadgets And Lies - David Owen
Island of Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell

The Black Pearl - Scott O'Dell
Mr Poppers Penguins - Richard & Florence Atwater
On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder
Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & The Sea - Peter Benchley
Andrew Clements Books (Frindle, Room One, School Story, Week in the Woods, etc)

Seekers series - Erin Hunter
Mandy - Julie Andrews Edwards
Dragon Rider - Cornelia Funke
InkHeart - Cornelia Funke
Daring Book for Girls - Andrea J. Buchanan

Bully Be Gone - Brian Tacang
The Kid Who Became President - D. Gutman
Animorphs series - KA
The Boxcar Children Series - Gertrude Chandler Warner
Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh

Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt
Marley: A Dog Like No Other - John Grogan
Indian in the Cupboard series - Lynne Reid Banks
Kaya an American girl series - Janet Shaw
Chrissa an American girl series - Mary Casanova

August 5, 2009

Swim Team

I love swimming, I always have and now it is fun to watch my kids swim competitively. The older two are both doing swim team, though Maria has decided it is definitely her sport, while Ciaran is still just trying it out. Tonight they both had a swim meet together and it was fun to be a part of.

Maria managed to shave seconds off each of her races, qualifying with a B time in backstroke and improving each of her times for each stroke. She is starting to gain confidence and is just beginning to understand how much seconds and all out effort make a difference in this sport.

Ciaran had his first races, just 25m in each stroke. However he asked his coach if he could sign up for the 100free and the 100IM at the last minute and she agreed. I have to admit my heart was in my throat for those two races as I was not sure he would even be able to finish them. However he pulled that strength out and not only finished both but came in 1st and 2nd in his heats! It was a very proud moment since he was not supposed to be doing any race more than a 25m for his first meet.

We are still new to swimming as a sport beyond recreation and we are enjoying it. I love the fact that with swimming you have both the team and the individual event combination much more than in many other sports. You really work to improve purely upon your own skills as you try to beat your last personal best time. Yet you work together in relays and cheer for your teammates in all the other races.

As a parent and a fairly competitive individual I also really appreciate the high level of objectivity that comes with swimming as a sport. Many sports rely much more heavily on the subjectivity of umpires, coaches and sometimes other players. In swimming things are generally clean and easy. The rules are very clear and fairly rigid and you get disqualified when you don't follow them. The timers are electronic and located on the wall so it is done by the time they touch the wall and removes some of the room for human error or misunderstanding. The standards are the same for everyone and while heats may vary in ability and skill in the end the time is the sole determiner of who wins, loses or qualifies. It is an objective standard and one that is hard to argue with.

I know it is not perfect. There can be arguments about swim suit material, whether a flag was legitimate etc but in generally it is far more reasonable than things I have seen on the Little League baseball field just this past year. I also think the objectivity makes everyone relax just a little and be more congenial with each other. It is far easier to explain to my son why he was Dq'ed than why the coaches of the other team allow their team to play 5 outfielders while his coach only allows them 4 or why it is "okay" even though yes the umpire does seem to favor the other team.

Swimming is such a wonderful and healthy life long sport as well and one they can do on their own time. Besides there are far worse places to spend my time then poolside watching my kids swim laps. I hope they stay with it for awhile and I will enjoy cheering them and their team mates on while they are there.

August 1, 2009

Looking Back Looking Forward

The summer is an excellent time for reflection for me. Having just spent a week on the beach always seems to put me in a pensive reflective mood. As I type this I am sitting in our family/school room. I look at the "school" side of our room and I think back to the evolutions it has gone through and this next year I think we will be going through yet another evolution.

When we started the one request I had was for really great kid type bookshelves. We looked at them in catalogs and could not believe the pricetags in the several hundreds of dollars and Serona agreed he could make them. Working off a picture and dimensions from a catalog he proceeded to make three wonderful bookshelves just like you would see in an elementary or preschool classroom. He bought really good wood to build childrens bookshelves and people thought he was crazy but truthfully it was the wisest decision he made. He took many many hours in the garage cutting, sanding and staining the wood and then assembling the shelves. He was trying to finish before our youngest was born and he did so that would have been 6 years ago when we were just starting our homeschool journey. Those bookshelves are still and always have been the center and heart of our school room through two homes and many other changes. They are 4 ft long and 31 inches tall, just two shelves each, plus the top which has nearly always been used as a shelf, it is amazing all the things that have fit on these 3 special bookshelves through the years.

When we started the kids were 4, 2 and a newborn, those shelves were filled with toys and Montessori type materials. Maybe one or two of the 9 shelves was covered with good kids books. We had playsilks, blocks, legos, many wooden puzzles, various wooden toys, puppets, various musical instruments, trains, coloring books and crayons, sandbox (in a rubbermaid tub), our soundbox (a cardboard box we would fill each week with items that started with a different letter of the week, huge plastic dinosaurs and various lifelike plastic animals, wooden food and kitchen, toy cars, balls, etc.

Through the years what has been on those shelves has ebbed and flowed, replacing some of the toys with more and more "school" like materials. If you looked at my shelves today you would discover that 4 of them are covered with books from edge to edge (our school books and kids books to read) 2 more of them are filled with board and educational games and only the tops still hold the toys of earlier years. We still have and use the play silks, musical instruments, lifelike animals, puzzles, trains, blocks, and legos. Some of the other toys have moved to the kids room or to storage for young children when they visit and some of it has been given away.

In addition we now have 3 several drawer high plastic storage containers filled to the brim with arts and craft type supplies. I am not a crafty person at all and I hate glue, paint, sparkles, spangles, etc but my youngest seems to live to craft and we learned long ago to go with the flow. I knew I had grown or given up the day I realized my 4 year old had put on a smock, set up her paints, painted, cleaned up her paints and the mess she left behind, all kids paint is easily reached in our house and if I am not involved I find I don't mind it so much. We can always replace the carpet and sink (stained with paint and nailpolish) when they grow up and move out right?

We have an entire wall in that room painted with chalkboard paint and the kids still use it. Sometimes still for drawing but as I look at it today I see a half erased multiplication table and spelling lists that were never completely erased or cleaned from back in April I am guessing. Guess they haven't felt the need to use it recently. There are big cardboard cut out letters that hang from the wall that have been painted and various images have been glued on as the youngest learned her sounds and alphabet. Big maps cover the wall, artwork is scattered about, and various oversized books and items seem to be stuffed or falling out of various corners of the room.

We have a big kidney shaped table and chairs (the kind you might find in a pod styled classroom) and exercise balls lie under the table as they often replace the chairs for the kids. This table replaced individual flip style desks we once had. I can't say we do a ton of school work here but it is nice to have this table and it is definitely our craft table and board game table. Every once in awhile when I get serious about routine or schedules we try to sit there more often but I find it never lasts as the kids prefer to be on the floor, at the kitchen table, on a couch, the deck or in our home library, still it looks well intentioned.

The other side of this room (separated artificially by our couch) is our family room where we have our monitor for movies, video games and the computer (a big screen TV that does not get any television channels). We decorate that room entirely with Target book shelves that are filled with Wii Games, XBox 360 games, board games, dvds and the like. All the walls in that room are decorated with various Star Wars Movie Posters and Puzzles we have done as a family. Pictures of our family in Star Wars Costumes from Conventions, Disney and the Science Museum round out the decor. Video game rocker chairs are nearly always in the middle of the floor and a punching bag hangs from the ceiling during the winter and a mini trampoline gets pulled out of the closet. Creates a wonderful enriching learning environment right? Well it suits our family personality at this phase of our lives just fine.

As I look around the room I realize this is the time of year where I need to clear out last years lesson books and piles of paper and find homes for them and throw the rest in the trash. I need to think through how we will use this room this year and try as best I can to prepare it ahead of time. I have no idea. I know have a 5th, 3rd and 1st grader and no little ones to keep occupied through the day. Yet they are not quite out of toys completely and I don't want to be overly serious. Then other days I look around and I want to rent a dumpster and just purge it all (except the books)and make that room have a clean feel. Then I realize our learning environment is not sterile, it is not clean, it is full of life, chaos and all the things we want to surrond ourselves with. Learning is not neat and tidy all the time and as much as I try to put things away, really where am I going to store that solar system they built? Have I left it out long enough, taken enough pictures, can I pitch it away in the darkness while no one is looking the night before the trash is picked up? Or will I regret it the moment I do, will I even be able to lift it off the table to do so?

Do I miss the toys of earlier years? Not really one bit. They were wonderful while they were there but the books and board games are wonderful now. They are growing up and I am comfortable with that. I will miss the snuggling and the sweetness of small children, but not the toys and the clutter. Yet somehow when I look around at what is here today these are the things I think I will miss. The board games piled high, the Wii games no one can seem to put in the right case, the picture books we have so few years left of, yes even the endless arts and crafts supplies. These are just as much clutter I know but somehow it feels different. Perhaps because that is just where I am right now.

Looking forward I have no idea what this room will look like this year, next year or in 5 years. I know that it will always be filled with love, learning and a desire to to have fun as a family. It will grow and change just as we do as a family and as my kids do as individuals and maybe that is what makes this room such a special room in our house, clutter, chaos and all.