Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Groovin' now

My post of last Saturday might have left a lingering impression of Homeschooling Is Intense, and I hope to correct that now. I'd say that my way of doing the learning curve is more on the structured and intensely observant end of things. It has paid off, I think.

Later last weekend I puzzled out a good stab at a daily plan and a weekly plan, using how last week went and adding in the beginnings of art, music, history projects, and science. We've pretty much followed it for the last three days and after a bit of tweaking I think the daily and weekly plans will work.

Who knew (not me!) that a bit of piano practice followed by Latin and math would be a pretty good start to our days. Or that one kid really could play separately while the other got Mom time with math or phonics. Or that they would finally be willing and able to work independently a bit and still stay on track (whew!).

We've also started some history projects, made little books at an art museum yesterday, and gotten going with some activities. They LOVE the homeschoolers' chess club (second meeting was this afternoon). They LOVE Cub Scouts (first meeting for Son1 was Monday night; for Son2, Tuesday night). Within 24 hours Son1 memorized everything he needed to get his initial badge (salute, handshake, Cub Scout promise, etc.)!

On the other hand, my boys seem to HATE being challenged in homeschooling, or doing anything that requires application and effort. So... I find that some Mom-at-your-elbow time really helps their willingness and short-circuits their frustrations. Mostly, anyway. Sending them outside for half an hour with firm instructions to Run Bike Do Handstands Play Basketball Anything Active also helps, yay.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Finding our groove

Last week was somewhat intense, as we figured out how to do regular homeschooling and find a new routine for our days. We had a goof-off day on Monday, the first day of public school: morning treats at a coffee place, MOMS Club get-together, as-promised GameCube blowout in the afternoon. Tuesday through Friday mornings were about tackling our core subjects for homeschooling (math, Latin, phonics for Son2, writing for Son1), handwriting, and history (prehistory and ancient times around the world).

I think it went really well. The doing of it was more complex and adjust-on-the-fly than I even expected, as we got a sense of the curricula I chose, what the boys know, and how we want to tackle the work -- as well as the boys getting used to working those brains in a structured manner again. Whew! I'll talk through the details on my homeschooling blog, A Bit of Bubbly. For me the last week has been an intensive, very worthwhile workshop about my kids, what makes them tick, and how they think. Very cool.

The Tupperware summer catalog was ending, so I also spent some energy to get ready for the new catalog and to decide what goals to set for September and how to reach them.

The church program year is approaching fast as well. Time to get ready for Sunday school (Godly Play). Some things will be new this year. Our kindergarteners will move on to the other GP class; I haven't heard whether all three of us leaders are returning this year, which may mean only one leader per class; the neighboring Montessori has begun using our GP rooms during the week so we will be learning to co-exist peacefully. Sunday school classes begin Sept 17. Whee!

I also offered to run an Intro to Godly Play the following Sunday, immediately after the late-morning service, with a potluck lunch and child care. I'll personally invite the parents of the kids in the two GP classrooms, as well as some other folks. I want to introduce GP to these folks AND sign up adults and teens as "classroom helpers", which we need, and which is also a first step toward discovering potential GP leaders.

About three weeks later, in October, I'm going to host a Faith at Home (or similar title) gathering -- maybe I'll call it a workshop -- at church as well, with tips and ideas for enjoying your faith with your kids. Same thing: after the late-morning service, with potluck lunch and child care. There are many families with young children around the church lately, and if there's interest I'd love to do this. I'll draw heavily from my Web site, Faith at Home, and have some projects for all ages to start and take home. I want to offer the possibility of meeting monthly or... what do they want? Gotta think more about that and get it fully planned and promoted.

On the day before the first day of Sunday school, my Daughters of the King chapter will hold a 50th anniversary celebration luncheon. Much planning is involved, and I am trying hard, as president, to keep up with my responsibilities AND ask the other officers to do things they can do. I tend to do too much and not ask for help; while I've been an officer in my DoK chapter the last few years the Daughters in my chapter have taught me a LOT about letting them share the tasks, and about unconditional, forward-looking forgiveness when I fall short and don't do what I intended. Anyway, we start a new year with some new things, and I need to do my proper part to help that happen.

Keeping all of the above in mind, I printed dated, blank calendar pages for September through December and wrote out everything that affects the family on those pages. The boys' natural history classes at the museum, their weekly chess club, Dear Husband's weekly bowling league, my Tupperware parties and meetings, the start of Sunday school, my activities, a few MOMS Club things, family birthdays, etc. It helps keep things in perspective, both short-term and long-term, when I can lay four months out on the dining table and look over everything. I simply cannot do that with my PDA calendar, either on the PDA or on the desktop computer.

Perspective is good, finding our groove is very good, moving from summer to autumn is fine. I don't feel like I'm in a blender, spinning too fast. Hurrah!

10-year-olds and life lessons

Another blogger mentioned this article by a baseball writer for Sports Illustrated who helped manage a Little League team this year. I loved the perspective on 10-year-old boys, especially as one member of that category is in our household.

Life's little lessons: A team of 10-year-olds reminded me what's important

Back to School Friday Five

Back to School Friday Five, with the RevGalBlogPals

1. What is your earliest memory of school?
Tactile and visual memories of the Montessori manipulatives. I started Montessori when I was not quite three (fall birthday), and stayed in Montessori through second grade.

2. Who was a favorite teacher in your early education?
My Montessori school principal, Mr. Detmer. As he established new schools we followed him, so I'm pretty sure my parents thought he was great, too. I also really liked my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Fujioka. (I wonder what her story was. This was about 1970 in the Seattle area, and Asian background was semi-rare but not unknown.)

3. What do you remember about school "back then" that is different from what you know about schools now?
My public elementary school was very small compared to the "small" schools in this area; now that size is not even considered a small school. Instead of 120 or so kids in a school, in our district a typical "small" school has 500 kids, and a "normal" school has 800-1000. Everyone at my elementary school was able to walk to school -- four blocks in my case. Most kids where we live now are bused to their "local" school. Drives me crazy.

4. Did you have to memorize in school? If so, share a poem or song you learned.
Very rarely if ever, assuming you don't mean the multiplication table... In high school, I memorized the first few lines of... well, apparently I forgot the poem's title! "In Xanadu did Kublai Khan his stately pleasure dome decree," and three more lines but No. 2 escapes me. Something something something, " caverns measureless to man, down to the sunless sea." Hmmm.

5. Did you ever get in trouble at school? Were there any embarrassing moments you can share?
Yep. Beloved Mr. Detmer spanked me, don't know what for. I was mouthy and independent when I was little, I think, and who knows what I did!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

You can go outside or you can do chores...

Moments ago, with a clear conscience and a firm tone of voice, I told the boys they can either go back outside to play or do chores inside for me. They can unload the dishwasher and sweep the dining room floor. Funny thing, they chose to go outside, heehee.

The clear conscience is because this morning we did math, Latin, and copywork. The boys played a little GameCube. After lunchtime, we had a mom and her three kids over and the kids all played rather wildly (my boys' fault; they got several scoldings from me) for a couple of hours while we moms talked. After they left, the boys were split up into separate rooms with a toy and a book of their choice for the obviously needed quiet time. They were actually pretty content to do that for an hour. Afterward they played and goofed around for a while, but 15 minutes ago it was getting a bit rowdy so With A Clear Conscience I sent them outside. They tried to come back in pretty quickly and at that point I gave them the two choices, both of which were fine with me. Out they went again!

And in 10 minutes they'll be brought inside to unload the dishwasher before we head out to get their dad from work. It's a reasonably full, good day. I'm not sure when or by whom that floor will be swept, though. And so it goes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reviving the homeschooling blog, A Bit of Bubbly

Since I'm now in the mode of endlessly analyzing, reading, and thinking about how our homeschooling is going to hang together, I've revived my homeschooling blog for that purpose. Over at A Bit of Bubbly I just posted several things about our curriculum choices, how that developed, and what we're waiting on.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A-homeschooling we go

After deciding homeschooling would be on the table for this fall, and then sort of ignoring the question all summer long, two weeks ago dear husband and I started talking about whether to homeschool one or both boys. We finally went over all of the things to consider and the decision was easy: we're going to homeschool both boys. Son1 is entering fifth grade and Son2 is entering first grade (homeschooled for kindergarten last year). I'm delighted and excited!!! Also, now I'm in a hurry to decide on a writing curriculum for Son1 and have him do the placement test for Singapore Math. Yay!

The boys were a little surprised and a little bummed at first. Within half an hour of telling them, though, they were cheerfully talking about how homeschooling would be different from school and what they'll miss about school. Too funny. Son1 appeared to be, dare we say, relieved, and that's a good sign. Looks like we've probably made the right decision.

My plans at this point:

Math -- probably Singapore Math. We have tons of manipulatives and other resources on our shelves, and two Family Math books of great games and activities for different age ranges. I'll have Son1 do a pretest to figure out where to start him in Singapore Math.

Writing skills -- Son1: not sure what to use. We need to focus on grammar and mechanics, and there are several good options I like; we'll work on his handwriting a bit, too. Son2: continue with Explode the Code 1 1/2 and the rest of the series (for phonics, other reading skills, writing practice).

Writing projects -- Creative Communications, on our shelf (lots of ideas for natural writing projects), and projects that arise from the boys' interest areas throughout the year.

History -- The Story of the World: Ancient Times, on our shelf, plus library resources. Also U.S. history when holidays come up, and Oklahoma history as topics arise (field trips, 89er Day, etc.)

Art -- either Drawing with Children, which I already have, or another resource that explores more art options and artworks. In the past Son1 showed talent in art; we're going to nurture that again.

Music -- piano and recorder exploration and familiarization for starters, while I figure out what direction to head. I'll probably get Teaching Little Fingers to Play or a similar early piano book. The boys have a lap harp, a harmonica, a tin whistle and a fife (thank you, grandparents, LOL!) that we can play around with even more once Son2 "gets" musical notation. Also, exploration of our quite diverse music collection.

Science -- botany, insects, birds, astronomy (when dusk is before bedtime), and weather. Resources on our shelves and at library, in our yard, on walks and bike rides, and at local parks.

For grammar help and for the coolness of learning a different language, I would really love to add Latin by mid-October. Several age-appropriate, inexpensive, fun programs are available.

As for a routine, I expect to do seatwork in the morning (math, writing skills, and similar subjects) with a brief "7th inning stretch" break. After lunch, more independent subjects (Daily: history reading/research or other writing projects. Not daily: art, music, science). Then, subject-related free reading (fiction and nonfiction) if it's not happening naturally throughout the week. I will probably tend toward doing Art Fridays, as I did last year with Son2, for messy art and science stuff and maybe field trips.

Can you tell this has been percolating for years?!?

Monday morning I'll deliver the withdrawal letters to their school (for Son2 it's just being thorough). We've already had fun buying school supplies we get to keep. Son2 carefully sharpened a new pencil for every pencil grip; too funny. We still need writing paper, art paper, some good art supplies, and probably three-ring binders for the boys. And those curricula I'm deciding on. We're going to have a fun day on the first day of public school, August 21, and then get rolling. Yahoo!

Friday, August 04, 2006

End of cheap energy

I wrote this to some friends and, as the saying goes, that'll blog! I've been thinking about this stuff for a while and not sure what I wanted to say or how, until today.


World production of oil and natural gas barely meet consumption -- we use nearly as much as is pulled out of the ground -- so there is a razor-thin buffer between us and very high prices due to "this, that, or the other thing."

I'm convinced we've seen the end of truly cheap energy. Remember the price of natural gas last winter? Stocks were low and there were supplier concerns about not actually being able to meet demand. Our cheap & easy oil and natural gas are becoming harder to find, deposits are much smaller, and the oil is of poorer quality, needing to be further refined. Natural gas is really hard to ship (i.e., to import); pipelines are the best, but on US soil we're using more and more natural gas but finding less.

The search for oil and natural gas continues, with more expensive techniques, in deep waters, arctic conditions, tar sands, and so on, but that stuff isn't going to be cheap when it gets to market.

The average American uses about 25 barrels of oil a year (household energy use, transportation, food growing and transportation, products, packaging, etc.). In China, it is about 1.5 barrels per year and increasing. In Europe, it is typically 10-12 barrels of oil per year. We could use less oil and still have a good lifestyle here in the USA. I'm starting to change my life now and stop assuming there will be endless quantities of cheap oil and natural gas forever.

Tom Brokaw's special on global warming a week or so ago had a really cool way of showing our energy use -- in cubes and blocks of carbon streaming from everything we used, piling up over a typical family's house. Then he talked you through reducing energy use, and it cut the pile of carbon in half pretty easily.
Tom Brokaw's global warming special
It'll be on the Discovery Channel again on Aug. 21.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Beat the heat, ease electric crunch

Air conditioners are beating the pulse of most of the nation right now, working hard to create cool or, sometimes, barely not-hot conditions in homes, offices, stores, and the engines of commerce and industry. It's hot, hot, hot, and we do mean hot, nearly everywhere.

I've been working to feel more comfortable in heat and to ease our electricity use. It occurs to me that if lots of people did lots of these things, the stresses on the power grids would be lessened and maybe brownouts and rolling blackouts would be unlikely rather than "Hmmmm..., honey, how about we buy a generator?"

It's been 100F to 110F here in Oklahoma for a month or so, with a several-day break about a week ago. The predawn low is around 77F most nights, so our house stays closed up all of the time. Here are my summer tips.

  • After several weeks of working on stretching our comfort zone, now we've found a combination of nighttime a/c setting and medium overhead fan that allows dear husband and me to sleep reasonably well upstairs at night with a flat sheet as our "blanket," and the kids are still comfortable downstairs.

  • I move the a/c in the nighttime direction when the kids go to bed, and to that lowest setting when I go to bed.

  • I run the dishwasher when I go to bed, and any warm-water load of laundry (about 2 per week).

  • Days
  • Immediately after the first time the a/c runs after the morning showers, I reset the a/c to the max setting. Nowadays that means the a/c runs rarely (as far as I can tell) until about 5 pm.

  • I use cold water for almost all loads of laundry. Less hot water to heat, and less warm moist air in the house.

  • We live downstairs except at night. I moved my business work from my office loft to a table in the living room, and am borrowing a laptop from my husband to lower the heat generation and electricity use even further.

  • We go outside for a little bit every morning and evening. Then indoors feels positively wonderful, but not in the brain-freeze way you get at some stores and restaurants.

  • I hang all of our laundry to dry in our sunroom, which is open to the backyard and closed off from the house. It keeps the moisture out of the house, and uses free sunshine rather than the clothes dryer.

  • We do relaxing, sit-around things in the late afternoon. Read, watch a TV show, read, play a board game, play the piano, play with Bionicles and Lego, knit, read.

  • All of our table and floor lamps use compact fluorescent bulbs. Now it's not an exercise in how hot can I stand it when I read or knit on a summer evening.

  • Food
  • No oven use! I use the microwave for some reheating and for steaming, and I use the stove about once a week to cook pasta or sausages or to warm up baked beans, and maybe once a week or so we have a cooked breakfast.

  • We grill dinner in the back yard once or twice a week, with planned leftovers.

  • We eat cold or room temperature foods for almost all of our meals. For dinner we grill, eat out (costly, though), or have salads: green salads with veggies and maybe meats or hardboiled eggs and/or cheese. Rice salad as a side (cold pilaf, I guess). Pasta salad.

  • We drink lots of water, and I make up Kool-Aid for the kids so they're more likely to drink enough fluids.

  • Myself
  • I decided to get used to being warm, not cool, in the summer. Being sweaty when I do household chores (sweeping, cleaning a bathroom) -- though I try to do that stuff in the morning while the house is still cool and, even better, before my shower.

  • I wear the lightest of my summer clothes. Usually a sleeveless top and light skirt or sleeveless dress. Shorts and a light top would work, too. Barefoot indoors, sandals outdoors.

  • Either outdoors or when I'm just rather warm indoors -- that's usually when I'm doing chores -- I roll up a bandanna diagonally, soak it, squeeze it out gently, and tie it around my neck. Very, very nice. I wear a hat when I'm outside in the sun, but mostly I totally avoid being outside between 11 am and 7 pm.

  • In the late afternoon I might be a bit uncomfortable; I make sure to have my bare feet flat on a cool floor. For us, it's our downstairs finished concrete floors. For someone else, that might be kitchen or entryway tile, or living room wood.

  • When I'm sticky and tired of it, I wipe my face, neck, and arms with a wrung-out wet washcloth and let myself air dry. Feels very nice.

  • Taking a break 'cause I'm hot. More later.

    Monopoly and Blind Man's Buff

    Son1 and Son2 spent many hours on Monday playing Monopoly. I was amazed at their interest and stamina! I spent most of that time on the sofa coaching them through the initial stage of acquiring properties, and over lunch I introduced them to the idea of buying and selling properties strategically. They were off and running!

    Monopoly lasted three days and one long, one short game before Son2's game patience wore entirely too thin yesterday and it wasn't too fun for anyone (stomp, stomp, yell, throw money. Oops). So, it's back on the shelf for two days chill out. Before that stage, though, the kids loved all the money. Son2 got lots of happy practice counting "dollars" and making change -- he would either work it out to get lots of 50s or lots of 100s or savor a few 500s, LOL.

    I must say it was sort of tough to see how bank-oriented Monopoly is, even with a National Parks veneer that is quite nice. It was especially prickly to see Son1 running out of money and relatively cheerfully selling tents back to the bank for half price and mortgaging properties for half the value. I supposed it wouldn't be so prickly uncomfortable if we hadn't had the experience some years ago of selling CDs and books to buy milk at the end of the month, and not really knowing how to make the paycheck stretch to the next month's meals. And it wasn't during grad school, either.

    Thankfully we're not in that situation any longer, but I sure don't like debt and don't ever expect to. The peace that comes from living within our means, even below our means in order to create a good rainy-day buffer, is our lesson learned. Not taught by Monopoly, though. Anybody up for "Living Simply, The Board Game"??


    Yesterday and today the boys spent some delighted minutes alternately giggling madly and being intently silent, with some quiet martial-arts-style moves and hula moves mixed in. Yes, one was blindfolded and the other was trying not to be found and/or touched. Sort of Blind Man's Buff but I think in BMB there is some sort of verbal clue-tossing. Or maybe that's Marco Polo.

    Son1 and Son2 had a ball. Eventually it got a little rowdy, or someone bounced off a wall or some such, and it seemed time to call it quits for a while. Still, a pretty great indoor game for two brothers on a hot, hot summer afternoon.

    As I padded around the blindfolded boy and his quarry in bare feet on our concrete floors, I decided they were too familiar with the sounds of Mom, 'cause they were never distracted by me. I love the idea that they know the sound of me without thinking about it.

    Gas prices

    Last year at this time we spent three weeks in Washington state. When we left (about July 25?), regular unleaded gasoline here in Oklahoma was $2.29. It's a lot more there; oil-and-gas-and-low-tax Oklahoma has low petroleum prices. Anyway, when we returned around August 15? gasoline here has risen 20cents in 22 days, to $2.49, and I was shocked and astounded.

    Then Katrina hit, and gas nearly touched $3.00 here in our fair small city. Expensive in our context.

    We all have watched gas prices do the roller coaster thing in the months since, but always generally trending upward. Still, sometimes it does shock me still.

    From yesterday to today, gas prices all over town went up 10c OVERNIGHT. And this isn't the first time we've seen it happen since winter.

    I'm expecting this to be the way of the future: the end of cheap energy. I'm just waiting for grocery prices to show the increased cost moving the lettuce from California and the cherries from Washington. I'm trying to get to the local farmers market early enough in the morning for a good selection of local food, but that's been difficult. I'm definitely placing an order with our Oklahoma Food Co-op this month.

    To buffer the price changes I try to keep my gas tank full. I concentrate on driving less like a speedy rabbit (my tendency) and more like a relaxed human being; it's very nice, actually, and not any slower!

    I've cut down a lot on car trips, which has also relaxed our days. We combine trips with a passion, and I plan to stay home most of the time most days, other than the trips to get my husband to and from work (5 minutes from home; I'm so thankful we bought the house we did, for this very reason). This afternoon my husband needed something brought to him at work, so I did a dollar store stop, topped off the gas tank, and brought him his item.

    I need to make a shopping trip to the warehouse store, so tomorrow morning the kids and I are going to go to store A and then store B and then get milk at the dairy store on our way home, where we will stay until time to pick up dear husband from work. Other than these days, we've pretty much stayed home all day, all week.

    It helps that it's so hot that it's unpleasant to do car-based errands after about 11 am!